by Juan Cole
For all those journalists and politicians who keep insisting that there are new "glimmers" of "hope" in Iraq because of the new security plan started 6 weeks ago, here is a sobering statistic from the Iraqi government. (I'm looking at you, John McCain. See below for more on McCain).
Iraqis killed in February: 1806 (64.5/day)
Iraqis killed in March: 2078 (67/day)
As the wire services report, that is a 15% increase if figured by the month. I provided the figures, above, to show that it is an increase even if figured by the day (4%). (I should have, in the earlier version of this post, highlighted the latter in the exposition rather than getting carried away by the wire service headline, as some readers have kindly or sometimes acerbically insisted.)
(Of course, the real numbers are much higher than these government statistics suggest, since passive information gathering on casualties only catches a fraction).
While 44 Iraqi soldiers died in action, the total for US troops in March was 85. AFP is suspicious about the disparity given that US and Iraqi authorities have said that Iraqi troops are leading the security crackdown. If that were true, they should have more casualties than the Americans.
So the over-all death toll has actually increased since the surge began.
Another cautionary note is that major attacks on Shiites in the capital and elsewhere seem to me to be way up. They may not take revenge immediately, but they will eventually. That the US has forced the Shiite militias off the street will be held against America, since Iraqis conclude that they are being killed because the Americans are not letting them defend themselves.
Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi told the Associated Press that he met with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and 3 other grand ayatollahs in Najaf on Sunday, and that they rejected a measure recently passed by the Iraqi cabinet offering to reinstate Baath officials to their jobs in government if they severed links to the insurgency. Chalabi is quoted as reporting, "The grand ayatollahs said it is dangerous for the criminals to return to leading posts in the state." Chalabi has often proved himself willing to lie, as when he hoodwinked the US into invading Iraq on false pretences, and was indicted in Jordan and Switzerland for embezzling $300 million from his Petra bank. Nevertheless, this particular statement is likely true, since one of Sistani's clerical aides underlined the position in his Friday prayers sermon a few days ago (I blogged it Saturday). The majority Shiites in parliament, and their Kurdish allies, would already be reluctant to pass the provision, since they have a grudge against the Baath Party, which persecuted them and killed their relatives. Sistani's opposition may well doom the measure, which the Bush administration had set as one of four benchmarks it wanted the al-Maliki government to achieve by June.
Iraqi guerrillas killed 6 US GIs on Saturday and Sunday in the Baghdad area.
A British soldier was also killed on Sunday, in the south down at Basra.
Reuters reports political violence in Iraq on Sunday. Among the bloodier episodes:
* Police found 16 bodies in Baghdad, victims of sectarian death squads
* Sunni Arab guerrillas set up a fake checkpoint in Baquba, northeast of the capital, and kidnapped 19 Shiite civilians from a nearby village.
* Kamikazes detonated two suicide truck bombs near Mosul at an Iraqi army base, killing 2 and wounding 17 (the wounded were mostly soldiers).
* Omar al-Juburi, a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, barely escaped assassination by roadside bomb in western Baghdad.
This grandstanding trip that John McCain took to Baghdad on Sunday is another occasion for propaganda to shore up his falling poll numbers in his presidential campaign. He said, "Things are better and there are encouraging signs. I've been here . . . many times over the years. Never have I been able to drive from the airport, never have I been able go out into the city as I was today."
He said that only three days after the US embassy issued an order that personnel are to wear 'personal protective equipment' when moving between buildings inside the Green Zone! He said it the day two suicide belt bombs were found inside the Green Zone. So he could ride in an armored car in from the airport. That's the big achievement? What about when he gets to the Green Zone? Then he has to put on PPE to go to the cafeteria.
Look, I lived in the midst of a civil war in the late 1970s in Beirut. I know exactly what it looks and smells like. The inexperienced often assume that when a guerrilla war or a civil war is going on, life grinds to a standstill. Not so. People go shopping for food. They drive where they need to go as long as they don't hear that there is a firefight in that area. They go to work if they still have work. Life goes on. It is just that, unexpectedly, a mortar shell might land near you. Or the person ahead of you in line outside the bakery might fall dead, victim of a sniper's bullet. The bazaars are bustling some days (all the moreso because it is good to stock up on supplies the days when the violence isn't so bad). So nothing that John McCain saw in Baghdad on Sunday meant a damn thing. Not a goddamn thing.
It makes my blood boil.
Because McCain, you see, knows exactly what I know about guerrilla wars and civil wars. Hell, people used to shop freely in Saigon in the early 1970s! And if he is saying what he is saying, it is because he is attempting to convey an overly optimistic picture with which to deceive the American public.
The deception will get even more of our young men and women in uniform blown up, at a time when their mission has become murky and undefined. If the American public sacrifices the lives of the troops with their eyes open, for what they see as the sake of the security of the United States, then the loss of life is regrettable but the mission is clear, defined, and has public support. But if the American public is lied to and only thinks a mission is being accomplished as a result, then the sacrifice of soldiers' lives is monstrous. The Iraq War has become monstrous in this way. And John McCain, whom I had long respected as a straight shooter, has now been seduced into playing illusionist with the lives of our troops.
I have a great deal of admiration for General Petraeus. I believe he really cares about the welfare of Iraqis, that he knows something serious about counter-insurgency, and that he will do the very best he can to restore security to Baghdad. I don't think the key is the extra 17,500 troops, but how exactly the troops already there are deployed. But according to press reports, he laughs when people ask him if the surge is working yet. He knows that it is a long haul. And he also implied that if he thinks it isn't working by June, or the Iraqi government hasn't done everything it could by then, he may have some tough decisions to make, since he can't go on risking his troops' lives for a mission that isn't getting done.
That's what McCain should be saying. That it is too early to tell, militarily. He should let us hear the doubt in his voice. And that if it doesn't work, if al-Maliki doesn't step up, then the US troops will come first. I don't hear that kind of realism, and dedication to the welfare of the troops, from McCain. I used to, when he wasn't running for president. He isn't going to be president, and the albatross of this war he has bought into is why. Not only because it is an unpopular war, but because he cannot see it in a clear-eyed way. We don't need any more presidents with big blinders on.
Kyra Phillips, who is CNN's correspondent in Baghdad, bravely took on McCain and the retired generals who are peddling this horse manure about how improved the situation in Iraq is, on Sunday on Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer. The transcript:
[Blitzer]: In Iraq, meanwhile, earlier today, Senator John McCain and some other Republican congressmen spent some time getting a personal view of the security on the streets of Baghdad, elsewhere.
Joining us, now, from Baghdad, CNN's own Kyra Phillips.
Kyra, you've had a chance to hear what Senator McCain and his delegation have to say today. First of all, update our viewers, Kyra, on what their bottom line is.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's what's interesting, Wolf. And this is what I'm taking away from all of this, as I listen to these politicians and also go out onto the streets throughout Baghdad and greater Baghdad, is that it's very easy to go into certain areas and say things are improving.
For example, I went into Dora Market yesterday with General David Petraeus. Things are improving. Shops are opening up. But, still, Al Qaida is active in the area. They're still dealing with a death squad.
So, I could see a John McCain coming forward today, like he did, saying, look, I'm not saying this is mission accomplished, but there's still a lot going on. There's still a lot of challenges. There's still a lot of danger.
It's the easy answer, Wolf, for anybody. There are improvements going on throughout this country, but, also, there are incredible security challenges and violence that plagues this country.
BLITZER: Kyra, when you went out with General Petraeus this weekend and you walked around some streets in Baghdad, describe for us how much security he and you had.
PHILLIPS: I would probably say triple the presidential entourage, Wolf.
Now, I'm exaggerating a little bit, but in all seriousness, outer, inner, and perimeter security; sniper teams, personal security guards, humvees, helicopters — you name it.
That man cannot travel this country without security. And he even said to me, you know, we'd be in a lot of trouble — all these men around me would be in a lot of trouble if anything happened to me.
There's a great responsibility. He is the general commanding all U.S. forces in Iraq. He has to have security. Anywhere he goes, he must be protected because he's the man in charge of all the military action that's happening in this country.
So, yes, we went through Dora Market, and we had security everywhere. He wore a soft cap. I didn't wear a helmet. We felt comfortable. Why? We had lots of security.
BLITZER: But for average — I take it then — correct me if I'm wrong, Kyra, and you've been there for a few weeks now — for a U.S. soldier to simply leave his or her base and get into a car and drive to a coffee shop...
PHILLIPS: No, forget it.
BLITZER: ... go to a restaurant and just meet with a bunch of friends. That's outrageous?
PHILLIPS: No. That's a pipe dream, Wolf. I mean, I wish — even driving down the streets of Baghdad, you see the closed-down restaurants.
People aren't going to — whether you're a journalist, whether you're military, whether you're a leader in this country, whether you're an Iraqi civilian, you are taking a risk.
I talked to shop owners on the streets. I can only stay there a short time. Sometimes I can't even go there at all. I'm a target. I'm an American.
But even the Iraqis say, yes, I have to come to work, but every day I'm worried something is going to happen to me.
Everybody is at risk. There is not one type of individual that is safe in this country, including the extremists.
Remember that Baghdad market visited on Sunday by Senator John McCain to show how calm things are? James Hider of the London Times writes, , "21 Shia market workers were ambushed, bound and shot dead north of the capital. The victims came from the Baghdad market [Shurja] visited the previous day by John McCain, the US presidential candidate, who said that an American security plan in the capital was starting to show signs of progress."
Kirk Semple of the NYT bothered to actually interview the merchants at Shurja market. They were surprised at Indiana congressman Mike Pence's characterization of it as “like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime . . .”
Yeah, those Indianans are hard core. Why, they'll kidnap a couple dozen Methodists at the outdoor market, blindfold them, drill holes in them, expose them to acid, and dump them on Main Street just before dawn to get a rise out of the police patrolmen when they show up for coffee and donuts.
If I were from Indiana, I'd be rather angry about Pence's comparison, and would vote him out in the next election.
In Kirkuk, Hider of the Times says, a huge truck bombing killed 14 and wounded 130, many of them children at a nearby school. [Late reports put the death toll at 15]:
' Buthayna Mahmud, 10, was horrified to see the bodies of her classmates strewn on the ground in flames. “Everyone I saw was wearing the blue school uniform drenched with blood. Some of their dresses were torn. I only saw fire. I heard teachers and students shouting,” she said. “When we rushed out of the school, we saw pupils on the ground, some of them burning.” “We were at the last lesson and we heard the explosion. I saw two of my classmates sitting near the window. They fell on the floor, drenched in blood,” said Naz Omar, a girl in the fifth form. “They could not speak. I was terrified. I said, ‘God is Great. I need my mother. I need my father’.” '
The Kirkuk bombing comes in the context of rising tensions over the Kurdish plan to annex the province, over the objections of the Turkmen and Arabs, as Iraqslogger notes. This source also discusses dissent inside the Sadr Movement over Muqtada's decision to cooperate with the new security plan.
Iraqi guerrillas killed 3 US troops on Monday.
Reuters reports other political violence in Iraq on Monday.
Juan Cole blogs at Informed Comment
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