Democrats insist victory in war is ‘out of reach’
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.