Recently, in one of many speeches melding his
Global War on Terror and his war in Iraq, George W. Bush said,
"Victory in Iraq will be difficult and it will require more sacrifice. The fighting
there can be as fierce as it was at Omaha Beach or Guadalcanal. And victory
is as important as it was in those earlier battles. Victory in Iraq will result
in a democracy that is a friend of America and an ally in the war on terror.
Victory in Iraq will be a crushing defeat for our enemies, who have staked so
much on the battle there. Victory in Iraq will honor the sacrifice of the brave
Americans who have given their lives. And victory in Iraq would be a powerful
triumph in the ideological struggle of the 21st century."
Over three years after the 2003 invasion, it's not unreasonable to speak of
George Bush's Iraq. The president himself likes to refer to that country as
the "central front [or theater] in our fight against terrorism" and a National
Intelligence Estimate (NIE), part of which was recently leaked to the press
and part then released
by the president, confirms that Iraq is now indeed just that a literal motor
for the creation of terrorism. As the document puts it, "The Iraq conflict has
become the 'cause c้l่bre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment
of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world, and cultivating supporters for the
global jihadist movement." A study by a British Ministry of Defense think
tank seconds this point, describing Iraq as "a recruiting sergeant for extremists
across the Muslim world."
So what exactly does "victory" in George Bush's Iraq look like 1,288 days after
the invasion of that country began with a "shock-and-awe" attack on downtown
Baghdad? A surprising amount of information related to this has appeared in
the press in recent weeks, but in purely scattershot form. Here, it's all brought
together in 21 questions (and answers) that add up to a grim but realistic snapshot
of Bush's Iraq. The attempt to reclaim the capital, dipped in a sea of blood
in recent months or the "battle of Baghdad," as the administration likes
to term it is now the center of administration military strategy and operations.
So let's start with this question:
How many freelance militias are there in Baghdad?
The answer is "23" according to a "senior [U.S.] military official" in Baghdad
so write Richard
A. Oppel Jr. and Hosham Hussein in the New York Times; but, according
to National Public Radio, the answer is "at least 23." Antonio Castaneda of
Press says that there are 23 "known" militias. However you figure
it, that's a staggering number of militias, mainly Shi'ite but some Sunni, for
one large city.
How many civilians are dying in the Iraqi capital, due to those militias,
numerous (often government-linked death squads), the Sunni insurgency, and al-Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia-style
thousand one-hundred and six people in July and August, according to a recently
released United Nations report. The previous, still staggering but significantly
lower figure of 3,391 offered for those months relied on body counts only from
the city morgue. The UN report also includes deaths at the city's overtaxed
hospitals. With the Bush administration bringing thousands of extra U.S. and
Iraqi soldiers into the capital in August, death tolls went down somewhat for
a few weeks, but began rising again towards month's end. August figures on civilian
wounded 4,309 rose 14 percent over July's figures and, by late September,
suicide bombings were at
their highest level since the invasion.
How many Iraqis are being tortured in Baghdad at present?
are obviously in short supply on this one, but large numbers of bodies are found
in and around the capital every single day, a result of the roiling civil war
already underway there. These bodies, as Oppel of the Times describes
them, commonly display a variety of signs of torture including: "gouged-out
in the head and genitals, broken bones of legs and hands,
electric and cigarette burns
acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical
substances, missing skin
missing teeth and wounds caused by power drills or
nails." The UN's chief anti-torture expert, Manfred
Nowak, believes that torture in Iraq is now not only "totally out of hand,"
but "worse" than under Saddam Hussein.
How many Iraqi civilians are being killed countrywide?
report offers figures on this: 1,493 dead, over and above the dead of Baghdad.
However, these figures are surely undercounts. Oppel points out, for instance,
that officials in al-Anbar Province, the heartland of the Sunni insurgency "and
one of the deadliest regions in Iraq, reported no deaths in July." Meanwhile,
in Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad, deaths not only seem to be on the
rise, but higher than previously estimated. The intrepid British
journalist Patrick Cockburn recently visited the province. It's not a place,
he comments parenthetically, "to make a mistake in map reading." (Enter the
wrong area or neighborhood and you're dead.) Diyala, he reports, is now largely
under the control of Sunni insurgents who are "close to establishing a 'Taliban
republic' in the region." On casualties, he writes: "Going by the accounts of
police and government officials in the province, the death toll outside Baghdad
may be far higher than previously reported." The head of Diyala's Provincial
Council (who has so far escaped two assassination attempts) told Cockburn that
he believed "on average, 100 people are being killed in Diyala every week."
("Many of those who die disappear forever, thrown into the Diyala River or buried
in date palm groves and fruit orchards.") Even at the death counts in the UN
report, we're talking about close to 40,000 Iraqi deaths a year. We have no
way of knowing how much higher the real figure is.
How many American and Iraqi troops and police are now trying to regain control
of the capital and suppress the raging violence there?
Fifteen thousand U.S. troops, 9,000 Iraqi army soldiers, 12,000 Iraqi national
police, and 22,000 local police, according
to the commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, Maj. Gen. James Thurman and
yet the mayhem in that city has barely been checked at all.
How many Iraqi soldiers are missing from the American campaign in Baghdad?
Six Iraqi battalions or 3,000 troops, again according
to Thurman, who requested them from the Iraqi government. These turn out
to be Shi'ite troops from other provinces who have refused orders to be transferred
from their home areas to Baghdad. In the capital itself, American troops are
reported to be deeply dissatisfied with their Iraqi allies. ("Some U.S. soldiers
say the Iraqis serving alongside them are among the worst they've ever seen
seeming more loyal to militias than the government.")
How many Sunni Arabs support the insurgency?
Seventy-five percent of them, according
to a Pentagon survey. In 2003, when the Pentagon first began surveying Iraqi
public opinion, 14 percent of Sunnis supported the insurgency (then just beginning)
against American occupation.
How many Iraqis want the United States to withdraw its forces from their
Except in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, strong majorities of Iraqis across
the country, Shi'ite and Sunni, want an immediate U.S. withdrawal, according
to a U.S. State Department survey "based on 1,870 face-to-face interviews
conducted from late June to early July." In Baghdad, nearly 75 percent of residents
polled claimed that they would "feel safer" after a U.S. withdrawal, and 65
percent favored an immediate withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign forces. A
recent Program on International Policy Attitudes or PIPA poll found 71 percent
of all Iraqis favor the withdrawal of all foreign troops on a year's timetable.
(Polling for Americans is a dangerous business in Iraq. As one anonymous pollster
put it to the
Washington Post, "If someone out there believes the client is the
U.S. government, the persons doing the polling could get killed.")
How many Iraqis think the Bush administration will withdraw at some point?
According to the PIPA poll, 77 percent of Iraqis are convinced that the United
States is intent on keeping permanent
bases in their country. As if confirming such fears, this week Jalal Talabani,
the Kurdish president of the U.S.-backed Iraqi government ensconced in the capital's
well-fortified Green Zone, called
for Iraqis to keep two such permanent bases, possibly in the Kurdish areas
of the country. He was roundly criticized
by other politicians for this.
How many terrorists are being killed in Iraq (and elsewhere) in the president's
Global War on Terror?
Less than are being generated by the war in Iraq, according to the just leaked
National Intelligence Estimate. As Karen
DeYoung of the Washington Post has written: "The war in Iraq has
become a primary recruitment vehicle for violent Islamic extremists, motivating
a new generation of potential terrorists around the world whose numbers may
be increasing faster than the United States and its allies can reduce the threat,
U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded." It's worth remembering, as retired
Lt. Gen. William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency, told
a group of House Democrats this week, that al-Qaeda
recruiting efforts actually declined in 2002, only spiking after the invasion
of Iraq. Carl Conetta of the Project for Defense Alternatives sums
the situation up this way: "The rate of terrorism fatalities for the 59-month
period following 11 September 2001 is 250 percent that of the 44.5 month
period preceding and including the 9/11 attacks."
How many Islamic extremist Web sites have sprung up on the Internet to aid
such acts of terror?
Five thousand, according to the same NIE.
How many Iraqis are estimated to have fled their homes this year, due to
the low-level civil war and the ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods?
Three hundred thousand, according to journalist Patrick Cockburn.
How much of Bush's Iraq can now be covered by Western journalists?
Approximately 2 percent, according
to New York Times journalist Dexter Filkins, now back from Baghdad
on a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. Filkins
claims that "98 percent of Iraq, and even most of Baghdad, has now become 'off-limits'
for Western journalists." There are, he says, many situations in Iraq "even
too dangerous for Iraqi reporters to report on." (Such journalists, working
for Western news outlets, "live in constant fear of their association with the
newspaper being exposed, which could cost them their lives. 'Most of the Iraqis
who work for us don't even tell their families that they work for us,' said
How many journalists and "media support workers" have died in Iraq this
and six media
support workers. The
first to die in 2006 was Mahmoud Za'al, a 35-year-old correspondent for
Baghdad TV, covering an assault by Sunni insurgents on two U.S.-held buildings
in Ramadi, capital of al-Anbar province on Jan. 25. He was reportedly first
wounded in both legs and then, according to eyewitnesses, killed in a U.S. air
strike. (The U.S. denied launching an air strike in Ramadi that day.) The most
recent death was Ahmed Riyadh al-Karbouli, also of Baghdad TV, also in Ramadi,
who was assassinated by insurgents on Sept. 18. The
latest death of a "media support worker" occurred on Aug. 27: "A guard employed
by the state-run daily newspaper al-Sabah was killed when an explosive-packed
car detonated in the building's garage." In all 80, journalists and 28 media
support workers have died since the invasion of 2003. Compare these figures
to journalistic deaths in other American wars: World War II (68), Korea (17),
How many U.S. troops are in Iraq today?
according to Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, significantly
more than were in-country just after Baghdad was taken in April 2003 when the
occupation began. Abizaid does not expect these figures to fall before "next
spring" (which is the equivalent of "forever" in Bush administration parlance).
He does not rule out sending in even more troops. "If it's necessary to do that
because the military situation on the ground requires that, we'll do it." Finding
those troops is another matter entirely.
How is the Pentagon keeping troop strength up in Iraq?
Four thousand troops from the 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, operating
near Ramadi and nearing the end of their year-long tours of duty, have just
been informed that they will be held in Iraq at least six more weeks. This is
not an isolated incident, according
to Robert Burns of the Associated Press. Units are also being sent to Iraq
ahead of schedule. Army policy has been to give soldiers two years at home between
combat tours. This year alone, the time between tours has shrunk from 18 to
14 months. "In the case of the 3rd Infantry," writes Burns, "it appears at least
one brigade will get only about 12 months because it is heading for Iraq to
replace the extended brigade of the 1st Armored." And this may increasingly
prove the norm. According
to senior Rand Corporation analyst Lynn Davis, main author of "Stretched
Thin," a report on Army deployments, "soldiers in today's armored, mechanized,
and Stryker brigades, which are most in demand, can expect to be away from home
for 'a little over 45 percent of their career.'"
The Army has also maintained its strength in through a heavy reliance on the
Army Reserves and the National Guard as well as on involuntary deployments of
the Individual Ready Reserve. Thom Shanker and Michael R. Gordon of the
New York Times recently reported that the Pentagon was once again
considering activating substantial numbers of Reserves and the National Guard
for duty in Iraq. This, despite, as reporter Jim
Lobe has written, "previous Bush administration pledges to limit overseas
deployments for the Guard." (Such an unpopular decision will surely not be announced
before the midterm elections.)
As of now, write Shanker and Gordon, "so many [U.S. troops] are deployed or
only recently returned from combat duty that only two or three combat brigades
perhaps 7,000 to 10,000 troops are fully ready to respond in case of unexpected
crises, according to a senior Army general."
How many active duty Army troops have been deployed in Iraq?
Approximately 400,000 troops out of an active-duty force of 504,000 have already
served one tour of duty in Iraq, according to Peter
Spiegel of the Los Angeles Times. More than one-third of them have
already been deployed twice.
How is Iraq affecting the Army's equipment?
By the spring of 2005, the Army had already "rotated 40 percent of its equipment
through Iraq and Afghanistan." Marine Corps mid-2005 estimates were that 40
percent of its ground equipment and 20 percent of its air assets were being
used to support current operations," according to analyst Carl Conetta in
"Fighting on Borrowed Time." In the harsh climate of Iraq, the wear and
tear on equipment has been enormous. Conetta estimates that whenever the Iraq
and Afghan wars end, the postwar repair bill for Army and Marine equipment will
be in the range of $25-40 billion.
How many extra dollars does a desperately overstretched Army claim to need
in the coming Defense budget, mainly because of wear and tear in Iraq?
Twenty-five billion above budget limits set by Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld this year; over $40 billion above last year's budget. The amount the
Army claims it now needs simply to tread water represents a 41 percent increase
over its current share of the Pentagon budget. As a "protest," Army Chief of
Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker chose not even to submit a required budget to Rumsfeld
in August. The general, according to the
LA Times' Spiegel, "has told congressional appropriators that he
will need $17.1 billion next year for repairs, nearly double this year's appropriation
and more than quadruple the cost two years ago." This is vivid evidence of
the literal wear-and-tear the ongoing war (and civil war) in Iraq is causing.
How is Iraqi reconstruction
Over three years after the invasion, the national
electricity grid can only deliver electricity to the capital, on average,
one out of every four hours (and that's evidently on a good day). At the beginning
of September, Iraq's oil minister spoke hopefully of raising the country's oil
output to 3
million barrels a day by year's end. That optimistic goal would just bring
oil production back to where it was more or less at the moment the Bush administration,
planning to pay for the occupation of Iraq with that country's "sea"
of oil, invaded. According to a Pentagon study, "Measuring security and stability
in Iraq," released in August, inflation in that country now stands at 52.5 percent.
(Damien Cave of the New York Times
suggests that it's closer to 70 percent, with fuel and electricity up 270 percent
from the previous year); the same Pentagon study estimates that "about 25.9
percent of Iraqi children examined were stunted in their physical growth" due
to chronic malnutrition which is on
the rise across Iraq.
How many speeches has George W. Bush made in the last month extolling his
War on Terror and its Iraqi "central front"?
Six so far, not including press conferences, comments made while greeting foreign
leaders, and the like: to the American
Legion National Convention on Aug. 31, in a radio
address to the American people on Sept. 2, in a speech
on his Global War on Terror to the Military Officers Association on Sept. 5,
in a speech
on "progress" in the Global War on Terror before the Georgia Public Policy Foundation
on Sept. 7, in a TV
address to the nation memorializing Sept. 11, and in a speech
to the UN on Sept. 19.
This week, the count of American war dead in Iraq passed
2,700. The Iraqi dead are literally uncountable. Iraq is the tragedy of
our times, an event that has brought out, and will continue to bring out, the
worst in us all. It is carnage incarnate. Every time the president mentions
"victory" these days, the word "loss"
should come to our minds. A few more victories like this one and the world will
be an unimaginable place. Back in 2004, the head of the Arab
League, Amr Moussa, warned, "The gates of hell are open in Iraq." Then it
was just an image. Remarkably enough, it has taken barely two more years for
us to arrive at those gates on which, it is said, is inscribed the phrase, "Abandon
all hope, ye who enter here."
[Note to readers: Among the many sites I found helpful in compiling this piece,
I particularly want to recommend (as I so often do) Juan
Cole's Informed Comment, Antiwar.com,
and War in Context. All three do invaluable