Democrats in­sist vic­tory in war is ‘out of reach’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By S.A. Miller and Sean Lengell

Top Democrats on Nov. 15 re­jected re­ports of U.S. mil­i­tary progress in Iraq, say­ing vic­tory re­mains “out of reach” as long as po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions roil Bagh­dad.

“It’s not get­ting bet­ter; it’s get­ting worse,” said Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat. “The goal re­mains out of reach.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, said the re­duced vi­o­lence in Iraq wasn’t enough to win her sup­port for the mis­sion.

“Cer­tainly any time our mil­i­tary is en­gaged in mil­i­tary ac­tion, we want the best pos­si­ble out­come for them, and they have pro­duced that,” she said. “But their sac­ri­fice and their courage has not been met by any ac­tion on the part of the Iraqi gov­ern­ment.”

Rank-and-file Democrats echoed the cri­tique, say­ing U.S. troops were “ref­er­ee­ing a civil war” and the Iraqi gov­ern­ment “has got to take some re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

The out­look is fu­el­ing Democrats’ push for leg­is­la­tion that man­dates a U.S. pull­out from Iraq start­ing im­me­di­ately with a

and top mil­i­tary lead­ers are wary of any temp­ta­tion to cel­e­brate pre­ma­turely.

“We’re not shout­ing vic­tory by any stretch,” Col. Steven Boy­lan, spokesman for the U.S. com­man­der in Iraq, Gen. David H. Pe­traeus, said in a tele­phone in­ter­view from Bagh­dad. “We are still fo­cused on ex­trem­ists and crim­i­nal-type el­e­ments within the re­gion. The vi­o­lence is still too high.”

The gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki said last week that sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence be­tween Shi’ite and Sunni fight­ers in Bagh­dad had dropped 77 per­cent from last year’s high.

Mr. al-Ma­liki called it a sign that sec­tar­ian fight­ing in the cap­i­tal “is closed now.” Some skep­tics coun­tered that the drop re­flects the fact that eth­nic cleans­ing has now been com­pleted in many on­cemixed ur­ban neigh­bor­hoods.

An al­liance of con­ve­nience be­tween U.S. forces and once-hos­tile Sunni tribes against al Qaeda has be­come so solid that for­mer Sunni in­sur­gents say they warned Amer­i­can troops to stay away as they took on al Qaeda ter­ror­ists them­selves in a pitched bat­tle late last week in the city of Sa­marra that pro­duced heavy al Qaeda ca­su­al­ties.

For or­di­nary Iraqis like Has­san, a doc­tor rais­ing his small fam­ily in Bagh­dad, things have clearly changed for the bet­ter. He said street life and pub­lic mar­kets are re­turn­ing to the city, which was un­der a vir­tual state of siege just a year ago.

“Now peo­ple are mov­ing; you can hear voices in the neigh­bor­hood; and for the first two hours of the evening peo­ple can walk, just some short dis­tances,” said the doc­tor, who de­clined to have his full name pub­lished.

Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice said that se­cu­rity im­prove­ments stem­ming in part from Mr. Bush’s 30,000-troop “surge” this year are one rea­son that Iraq no longer dom­i­nates U.S. press cov­er­age and po­lit­i­cal de­bates.

“No one would say that this bat­tle is over against in­sur­gents and vi­o­lent peo­ple, but clearly the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion is im­prov­ing,” she said in an in­ter­view with a Nashville ra­dio sta­tion Nov. 13.

“The Iraqis are try­ing to prac- tice more nor­mal pol­i­tics, nor­mal eco­nomics, and per­haps that’s why you’re see­ing less re­port­ing,” Miss Rice said.

Crit­ics still have plenty of grounds for at­tack­ing a war that has gone on far longer, cost far more, and spilled far more Amer­i­can and Iraqi blood than of­fi­cials ini­tially pro­jected.

De­spite re­cent trends, 2007 is the dead­li­est year for U.S. forces since the war be­gan in March 2003. Even on a day like Nov. 12, con­sid­ered a rel­a­tively quiet one with no re­ported coali­tion ca­su­al­ties, at least 33 Iraqis were killed and an equal num­ber wounded in vi­o­lence around the coun­try.

While de­clin­ing, the fight­ing in Iraq has just re­turned to lev­els seen be­fore the Fe­bru­ary 2006 bomb­ing of the Shi’ite shrine in Sa­marra by ex­trem­ists — an at­tack that sent vi­o­lence be­tween Sun­nis and Shi’ites soar­ing.

And or­di­nary Iraqis say the streets are full of dan­ger, even with the im­prove­ment in se­cu­rity.

As­maa, a mid­dle-aged Iraqi wo­man who did not wish to have her full name pub­lished, said daily life in the cap­i­tal was still dan­ger­ous, de­spite the of­fi­cial fig­ures.

“It is true that the vi­o­lence is 20 per­cent less in Bagh­dad, but there is still bomb­ing and kid­nap­ping,” she said in an e-mail ex­change. “There is still cor­rup­tion ev­ery­where, es­pe­cially in the par­lia­ment.”

With U.S. forces and the weak Iraqi gov­ern­ment still fac­ing im­mense chal­lenges, the cen­tral ques­tion in the Iraq war de­bate has shifted from who is win­ning to how to de­fine vic­tory — a ques­tion made even more ur­gent as the first of the U.S. troops that helped swell the mil­i­tary surge are now be­ing with­drawn.

Mr. Bush him­self jus­ti­fied the es­ca­la­tion as a tem­po­rary mea­sure to give Iraq’s feud­ing eth­nic and sec­tar­ian groups the space to come to­gether on such dif­fi­cult is­sues as shar­ing the coun­try’s oil wealth, dis­band­ing re­li­gious mili­tias and amend­ing the con­sti­tu­tion.

“When you con­sider that Iraqi lead­ers are dis­cussing the same is­sues to­day that they were fight­ing about in 2004, it’s hard to see that the surge led to any for­ward po­lit­i­cal move­ment,” said Brian Kat­ulis, a na­tional se­cu­rity an­a­lyst spe­cial­iz­ing in the Mid­dle East at the Wash­ing­ton-based Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress.

“While the num­bers do seem to have come down on the vi­o­lence, un­for­tu­nately the wheels have come off on the Iraqi po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion,” he said.

Bagh­dad re­mains a ma­jor se­cu­rity chal­lenge; ri­val Shi’ite fac­tions bat­tle in the streets for power in south­ern Iraq; and con­trol of the eth­ni­cally mixed city of Kirkuk looms as a flash point be­tween the coun­try’s Arab and Kur­dish pop­u­la­tions. Huge num­bers of Iraqis have been driven from their homes, though Iraqi of­fi­cials say some are fi­nally re­turn­ing as the vi­o­lence lessens.

An­thony Cordes­man, a de­fense an­a­lyst at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, said in a re­cent anal­y­sis that “vic­tory” in Iraq, how­ever de­fined, will fall well short of the orig­i­nal hopes of many war sup­port­ers.

“What is clear is that the mil­i­tary progress of the last 10 months is all too easy to waste at the po­lit­i­cal level, and that de­feat­ing al Qaeda is at best a pre­lude to deal­ing with the rest of Iraq’s prob­lems. Time is run­ning out and Iraq’s lead­ers need to act,” he wrote.

Sara Carter con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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