Measuring ‘Success’ in Iraq

The fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq should have been an occasion for the chief war planners in the Bush administration to pause and soberly reflect on the fiasco that the Iraq war had become.


Instead, President Bush and his Vice-President Dick Cheney engaged in the usual rhetoric about ‘progress’ and ‘victory’. The stubbornness of this discredited rhetoric suggests that there is no end in sight during the Bush administration for the calamities that befell Iraq and its people.


In fact, Bush’s top military commander in Iraq presented him with plans to maintain troop levels in Iraq through 2008 at nearly the same level as they had been through the past five years of the war.. (NYT, March 25, 08)


Vice President Dick Cheney confirmed the administration’s intention to continue the policy of violence escalation. “It would be a mistake now,” he said during his recent visit to Iraq, “to be so eager to draw down the force that we risk putting the outcome in jeopardy.” (NYT, Mar 18.08)


To justify the decision to maintain a high level of violence, the Bush administration contended that the surge had been successful and that progress was being made in Iraq


‘Success’ and ‘progress,’ however, must be measured against reasonable and credible criteria, not against self-serving allegations, discredited claims or degrees of failure.


Bush claimed that the invasion of Iraq was “a remarkable display of military effectiveness” that will be studied for generations. But he did not say why the same machine of military effectiveness had to use extreme violence to conquer Falluja and other areas of resistance. US Captain Paul Fowler explained to The Boston Globe the military strategy used by US forces against Iraqi insurgents: ‘The only way to root them out is to destroy everything in your path." (Nov 28, 2004).


During his visit to Iraq in mid March Vice President Dick Cheney praised the improvement in the security in Iraq as “phenomenal.” At about the same time, a bombing in the Shiite holy city of Karbala killed 43 people-dramatically illustrating the gulf that separates the rhetoric of the Bush administration from the reality in Iraq.


Cheney continued to repeat his discredited claim that the war was worth launching because of the link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. As usual he provided no evidence.


A growing body of evidence has discredited the Cheney claims. The New York Times reported in March that “ an exhaustive Pentagon-sponsored review of more than 600,000 Iraqi documents captured during the 2003 U.S. invasion found no evidence that Saddam’s regime had any operational links with the al Qaida terrorist network.” (March 18, 08)


On the political front, there is no cause for celebration. The US-backed government in Iraq has failed to broaden its popular support and foster its legitimacy as truly representative of the Iraqi people. The Baghdad reconciliation conference designed to bring the warring factions to a negotiated settlement has been plagued by abstentions and boycotted by the leading Sunni bloc and by the Shiite faction led by Muqtad al Sadr.


Even if some reconciliation were to be achieved, Bush cannot take credit for it since the occupation and its strategy of extreme violence are largely responsible for fomenting ethnic frictions and for vast movement of populations. This resulted in ‘the ghettoization of Bagdad’ where once mixed and peaceful neighborhoods had now become ethnically-defined and mutually hostile ghettos.


The central government’s decision to launch a military offensive against Al Sadr forces in Basra to seize control of the oil-rich region, was marred by massive desertion. More than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers refused to fight their fellow Shiites and abandoned their posts.”. (NYT, Apr 4.08).


The gulf between people and government has embittered many Iraqis who view their government as a puppet of the American occupation forces. “Maliki was responding to U.S. pressure to go after Sadr,” an Iraqi told the Washington Post. "This government is taking orders from the Americans," He reminisced about life under Saddam Hussein: “Back then, there was electricity for 22 hours a day.” He added that “he hasn’t had any electricity in eight days. (Washington Post. March 31)


The surge’s more modest objective of securing Baghdad has proven problematic as evidenced from the rockets and mortars launched from Shia neighborhoods in Baghdad on the heavily fortified Green Zone, in response to the American-supported offensive against Basra.


Nir Rosen described the predicament of the American army when it joined the ‘Battle for Baghdad” in 2006: “the American army [is] one of the many militias operating in Iraq. But the American Army is lost in Iraq… Striking at Sunnis, striking at Shias, striking at mostly innocent people. Unable to distinguish between anybody, certainly unable to wield any power, except on the immediate street corner where it’s located.” (Democracy Now,, Nove 27, 2006)


Since body count is used as a measure for success by the Bush administration, and it does not keep count of Iraqi bodies, information from the Iraqi organization The Body Count Project (BCP), would be helpful to figure out the ‘success’ the Iraqi people are allegedly experiencing under the surge. The BCP reported during the same week Bush and Cheney were celebrating the ‘phenomenal’ improvement in Iraq, that: “This past week 300 civilians lost their lives in violence, 14 of them children. US forces alone killed 31. The March death toll is already over 1,000”


The death of hundreds of thousands of civilians and the tragic lives of those left behind; the displacement of some 4 million Iraqis forced to flee the violence, the destruction of basic infrastructures, the shattered lives and the impoverishment of a whole nation, are the inescapable realities of war and occupation. There can be no success without ending the root cause of this shameful tragedy. 

Prof. Adel Safty’s latest book, Leadership and Democracy, is published in New York.

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