Baghdad resident Mahmoud Mekki
“The army is worn out. We are just keeping
people in theatre who are worn out.”
U.S. soldier in Iraq
Reading the Los Angeles Times and the Observer (UK) in which these plaintiff statements are found, one can almost hear the cry for help that forms the context in each case.
Yet to read the statements and the reports of Members of Congress and academicians as they return from visits to Iraq (and Afghanistan), it is as if there are two Iraqs existing side by side in parallel universes, each totally oblivious to the existence of the other.
For Iraqis, the period right after President Bush’s January 2007 announcement of the U.S. troop increase brought some relief from the string of successive 3,000-plus fatalities per month among Iraqi civilians, most of whom were found in and around Baghdad. By March, however, those numbers began to rise again as the militias and death squads adjusted to the increased U.S. troop levels by shifting the methods and locations of their operations.
Much is made by the returning visitors of the “alliances” that have been struck with the tribal sheiks and other leaders of groups who live – and fight – in Iraq’s vast western al-Anbar province. Completely overlooked – possibly because the visiting dignitaries are too busy talking and are not hearing what is being related – is the fact that these new “allies” have decided that the quickest way to get the occupation forces out of their province and their country is to get rid of the foreign al-Qaeda-affiliated groups who have set up shop in Iraq to fight the U.S. and coalition. Once these extremists are forced to flee or are killed, there will be a “decent interval” for the coalition to pack up and start leaving. Should the U.S. not do so, the probability that these groups and tribes will start attacking western troops again must be high.
And yet, other reporting portrays General David Petraeus, the overall coalition commander in Iraq, telling congressional visitors in Iraq that the United States “will be in Iraq in some form for 9 or 10 years.” (The Hill) Listening to the generals who have been saying every six months for more than three years “give us six months and we can finish the job,” at least part of the “presence” General Petraeus envisions will be military.
Whose military, in what condition, and just where they will be located, remains up in the air. One analyst in Washington who writes under the name of Herman Mineshaftgap projects that if non-U.S. coalition forces continue to pull out of Iraq at the same average monthly rate that has prevailed since January 2006, they will be all out by February 2009, the first month with a new president in office.
What about U.S. troops? An American officer stationed in Mosul in the relatively quiet norther part of Iraq, seemed to summarize the level of Army and Marine Corps’ mental and physical exhaustion when he said that “We’re plodding through this….I don’t know how much more plodding we’ve got left in us.” (Observer UK)
When troops in the field reach that state, they are more of a danger to themselves and to each other than they are to an enemy. Moreover, at some unknown future time and place, some unique set of circumstances will combine to initiate a psychological event that could explode into the larger communiand se troops who re-enter “normal” society And they will be a danger to the society they re-enter at some unknown future time and place and in a manner that that cannot be predicted.
The other point that emerges in the post-Iraq trip news conferences is the nearly complete absence of references to what ordinary Iraqis like Mahmoud Mekki are enduring in terms of living under what is a virtual state of siege in their neighborhoods. In the first week of August, families in three different parts of Baghdad had electric power each day from the national grid for 15 minutes (Shi’a dominated area), 12 minutes (Sunni dominated), and 0 minutes (mixed). Neither electric power generation nor oil production has returned to pre-war levels under the occupation. In fact, Dr. Mineshaftgap has correlated increases in U.S. troop strength in Iraq with oil and electricity production and found that when U.S. troop numbers rose , the other two parameters fell and when troop strength fell, the power and oil output went up.
So, what are we doing talking about 9 or 10 more years in Iraq? Why, given the record of the past five years, should Iraqis even want us to stay? Ask the troops; ask Iraqis like Mahmoud Mekki.
And listen to what they say – really listen.