Iraq Progress Report: A Time to Assess and Reflect

Iraq Progress Report: A Time to Assess and Reflect

by Stephen Lendman

The Bush administration is required to submit three
progress reports on Iraq to Congress in September
after it returns from its August recess. The US
Comptroller General will issue one around September 1
on how well so-called congressional benchmarks have
been met. Near the end of the month, the Center for
Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
conservative think tank will report on “The readiness
of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to assume
responsibility for maintaining the territorial
integrity of Iraq, denying international terrorists a
safe haven, bringing greater security to Iraq’s 18
provinces in the next 12 to 18 months, and bringing an
end to sectarian violence to achieve national

Then, on or about September 15, General David
Petraeus, US “Multi-National Force” - Iraq (MNF-I)
commander will submit his assessment of progress
before multi-billions more funding are released for a
war the Pentagon and most others in Washington know is
unwinnable and lost. No matter, his report (and the
others) will state progress has been made and the
“surge” is working even though details will be sketchy
in what’s expected to be a vaguely worded deceptive
snapshot of contrived positive trends. It’ll fool no
one, but Congress will be asked to accept it (and the
others) on faith that more time, money, sustained
troop levels and patience are needed.

That’s assured from friendly Democrats and Republicans
alike. They continue turning a blind eye to the daily
nationwide out-of-control carnage like the August 14
Kurdish area truck bombings local Nineveh province
officials report killed at least 500 (far above
initial reports), seriously wounded hundreds more, and
destroyed over 30 homes in the northwest Yazidi

No matter, and who in Washington is watching and
counting. The generalissimo’s wishes are all that
matter, and he’ll have a list of them prepared for him
by his bosses and handlers in “the White House, with
inputs from officials throughout the
government,“according to an August 15 report in the
Los Angeles Times. All Petraeus has to do is
transcribe them to his letterhead, sign them, and
return them to Washington in the enclosed
stamp-addressed envelope.

The generalissimo knows what’s expected of him which
is why he was picked for the top Iraq job. He’s also
an image-maker’s creation portrayed by the White House
and dominant media as aggressive in nature, an
innovative thinker on counterinsurgency warfare, a
talisman, a white knight, a do-or-die competitive
legend, and a man able to turn defeat into victory.
Those of us old enough don’t remember adulation that
strong for Eisenhower or MacArthur. Nor did we read
about it for John Pershing in the earlier war or for
George Washington either, for that matter. As for
heaping it on Petraeus, borrowing a quote from a past
article - “Phew.”

The generalissimo has now been in Iraq six months, and
despite claims of progress, conditions are worse than
ever and heading south under his stewardship. Still,
the commander’s hope springs eternal and won’t likely
wane (at least publicly) lest he risk another 4-star
aspirant stepping in to replace him. With upper lip
stiffened and reciting his prepared lines, he tells a
New York Times reporter “we’re going to try (to) win
(this war, but)’s likely to muddle along for
quite a long time.”

The boy emperor “commander-in-chief” back home has his
ideas, too. He plans to continue the “surge” well into
next year, all the while claiming “our new strategy is
delivering good results, and our commanders recently
reported more good news.” Army Chief of Staff George
Casey (who got bumped in February for Petraeus) was
part of the amen chorus August 14 after a weekend
visit to Iraq. “Our guys are seeing progress on the
security front,” he claimed. “From the time I was
there, there was progress….every day….and there
continues to be progress….We will succeed….if we
demonstrate patience and will.” More hype still came
from an August 10 White House document citing positive
reports from “several unexpected (unidentified)
sources” and a recent uptick in polling numbers any
able pollster can produce.

It’s all part of a careful Washington-scripted scheme
to band-aid-over an unfixable gaping wound. It
includes dispatching hordes of congressmen, senators,
friendly journalists and assorted think tank types to
a series of staged events and meetings in Iraq, far
removed from what’s, in fact, happening on the ground.
Their mission is to get it all down and tell it to the
home folks on return, and that’s what’s happening.

Some of it comes from two on-off-and on again
war-supporting flacks, Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth
Pollack. It was in their New York Times July 30 op ed
piece titled “A War We Just Might Win.” Neither one is
credible, and that status earned them prominent space
in “the newspaper of record” to pile on more hype for
a failed and illegal enterprise.

Both men supported (illegally) attacking Iraq in the
run-up to war when a quick victory looked easy. When
it failed, they became harsh critics of administration
bumbling until now. After being whisked to Iraq as
part of the thinly veiled PR scheme, they returned
after eight days of dog and pony show theater claiming
the following: “the political debate in Washington is
surreal (with its) critics unaware of….significant
changes taking place (in Iraq.) We are finally (making
progress), at least in military terms….In previous
trips….American troops were angry and
frustrated….Today, morale is high….they see real
results.” This over-the-top assessment stopped just
short of claiming the troops are so elated they can’t
wait to come back for another tour when their current
one ends.

After four and a half years of failure in a war longer
in duration than WW I or II, and likely to exceed the
latter one in inflation-adjusted cost before it ends,
it’s hard believing Congress would swallow any
assessment ignoring reality. But you can bet it will
on both sides of the aisle even though the
generalissimo says success depends on a long-term US
presence likely to be at least “9 or 10 years.” In
plain English, that means permanent occupation and
turning a blind eye to defeat until the pain gets so
great we give it up and leave.

That’s not imminent as the administration-friendly
horde descended on Iraq for an advance taste of what’s
coming next month straight from the generalissimo’s
mouth. They heard progress is slow but being made in
places like Al Anbar province where Sunni tribal
leaders have been armed and enlisted to help in an act
of desperation likely to backfire. These same men are
former and almost certain future resistance fighters.
They turned against fellow Iraqis (called Al Queda as
standard hot button Pavlovian scare talk) because
their views and actions got too extreme. That will
change when American duplicity again is seen as the
main threat. At that point, these same tribal leaders
will rejoin the fight to liberate their country from a
hostile occupier they and other Iraqi fighters won’t

The present detente will prove short-lived when they
become as disillusioned as the main Sunni Accordance
Front 44 seat bloc that left the Shia-dominated
power-sharing government August 1 because their
demands were ignored. A week later, five more
ministers joined them by announcing a boycott of
cabinet meetings. There’s now no Sunni representation
in the al-Makiki government causing fissures in it big
enough to drive an M1A1 tank through, and all the
Pentagon and Bush administration can do is blame it on
Iranian meddling and al-Maliki’s inability to contain
it. It makes as much sense as a 1960s pop song blaming
a magic spell of love on the bossa nova, but that
Latin beat hasn’t been cited yet for any of Iraq’s

In a sign of desperation, al-Maliki assembled top
Iraqi political leaders August 13 to prepare for an
August 14 summit of sorts to end the current crisis
and restore unity. “Everything (he said would) be on
the table,” to resolve the impasse that may be
unresolvable. Major contentious issues remain, and one
of the biggest is Big Oil’s drafted grand theft oil
law unacceptable to most Iraqis and still to be
legislatively settled one way or another. Nothing
permanent will be settled, however, until a real Iraqi
government is in place after the occupation ends, and
the puppet one is gone. How pathetic it is showed when
the “crisis summit” met. Like previous efforts, it
produced nothing, and the largest Sunni bloc leader,
Adnan Dulaimi, said there were no negotiations,
nothing political was discussed, but it was a nice

It’s more evidence claims of progress are pure
fantasy, and despite the hype, the so-called “surge”
is a bust. All that’s “surging” is the number of:

—daily attacks played down in the major media;

—deaths that a Just Foreign Policy report calculates
at over 1 million since March, 2003 based on updating
an earlier Lancet study estimating 655,000 or more
deaths through July, 2006;

—uncontrollable violence throughout the country;

—refugees fleeing for safety; the International
Rescue Committee and UNHCR estimate the number at
around four million including the internally displaced
with a further 40,000 Iraqis fleeing their homes each
month; and

—a near-total breakdown of essential services like
electricity, drinking water, sanitation, medical care,
education, security and even food compounded by mass
unemployment and extreme poverty; the result is a
crisis level humanitarian disaster of epic proportions
that continues to worsen.

A July 30, 2007 Oxfam International and NCCI network
of aid organizations report had grim findings. It

—eight million Iraqis need emergency aid - one-third
of the population;

—four million can’t buy enough to eat;

—70% of Iraqis have no adequate water supply;

—80% lack adequate sanitation;

—28% of children are malnourished;

—the rate of underweight baby births has tripled;

—92% of Iraqi children suffer learning problems due
to fear; and

—there’s been a mass exodus of around 80% of
doctors, nurses, teaching staff at schools and
hospitals and other vitally needed professionals.

This writer observed back in February and earlier that
conditions would continue to deteriorate, and the
greater number of US forces there are on the ground,
the worse things will get. That’s the current
situation, but it’s not being reported. Nor do we hear
about Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael G.
Mullen’s end of July assessment that “no amount of
troops in no amount of time will make much of a
difference,” agreeing with other military analysts
with similar views going back decades.

Instead, spin begets super-spin in an effort to keep
defeat from becoming Armageddon or at least dampen or
conceal it until a new President takes office and then
it’s his or her problem to sort out and explain. So
far, it doesn’t look promising according to accurate
reports, some of which are Department of Defense (DOD)
ones hushed up.

DOD notes the average number of daily attacks peaked
in June at a level higher than any month since May,
2003, right after the invasion. Other independent
reports note Baghdad is an out-of-control battle zone
looking hopeless, conditions are nearly as bad in
other parts of the country, and dead bodies are
everywhere in numbers too great to keep accurate
count. Morgues can’t handle the volume and don’t even
try. To conceal the true toll, journalists aren’t
allowed at bombing site scenes and are kept out of
hospitals and wherever else they can document carnage.
The Bush administration calls it progress, and the
hyperventilating media play along with people denied
the truth unless they rely on unembedded independent
journalists as growing numbers are doing.

Few parts of the country have escaped turmoil that’s
even in the Kurdish North as the August 14 bombings
there proved. It’s also hitting the British-occupied
South around Basra that was never spared violence but
once got much less than in American-controlled areas.
Now it’s pretty intense forcing the Brown government
to consider heeding the recommendation of its senior
military commanders that “nothing more can be
accomplished” in Iraq and the remaining 5500 British
troops should be withdrawn “without further delay,”
according to an August 19 report in the London

An earlier August 7 Washington Post report said
“Shiite militias there have escalated a violent battle
against each other for political supremacy and control
over oil revenues” or maybe for other reasons the Post
ignored. The report continued stating “Three major
Shiite political groups are locked in a bloody
conflict that has left (Basra) in the hands of
militias and criminal gangs, whose control extends to
municipal offices and neighborhood streets.” Their
main goal, in fact, may be no different than other
resistance groups - to drive out a repressive occupier
(the British in the South in their case) and reclaim
their sovereignty. Afterwards they can sort out how to
run their country.

Things are little different in Afghanistan according
to an August 19 London Guardian report revealing a
shocking human toll on British forces (likely
affecting Americans, too) that may signal a future
withdrawal there as well as from Iraq. It cites
military figures showing nearly “half of frontline
troops have required significant medical treatment
during this summer’s fighting….in southern Helmand
province (that) offered some of the most intense
fighting (British troops had been engaged in) for 50
years.” One soldier on the ground said “You could be
in the army for decades and you will never get
anything like that again.” It’s so intense, many
British soldiers intend to leave the military when
their duty tours end - if they survive them.

Back Home It’s Politics As Usual

Bush-supportive Republican and Democrat hopefuls have
their own issues to deal with and getting reelected
(or elected President) tops them. They’re stuck with
the Iraq quagmire they backed from the start, know
America is in Iraq to stay, but have to appeal to
their base with soothing rhetoric even knowing
expecting victory is pure fantasy. Billions spent on
huge super-bases, an extensive base infrastructure and
the largest US embassy in the world dispel talk of
withdrawal with proof on the ground. So while pledging
to end the war and bring home the troops, all major
Democrat and Republican candidates say it will take
years to accomplish and America must stay engaged for
the duration. They mean forever.

The reasons given are pathetic and the usual kind of
campaigning blather by aspirants trying to have it
both ways - withdraw, but leave enough there to

—Iraqi genocide,

—civil war,

—violence from spilling into other countries,

—out-of-control lawlessness and the country becoming
a breeding ground and staging area for broad-based
“terrorist” attacks anywhere - that, in fact, the
occupation incites,

—instability only our presence can contain (that, in
fact, causes). We also must:

—protect American personnel (who shouldn’t be there)
and Iraqis (we’re “killing” with our “kindness”),

—train Iraqis (who can run their own country quite
nicely without us),

—contend with all other possibilities, and more.

Rhetoric goes even further with Hillary Clinton citing
the need to fight “terrorism” and stabilize the
Kurdish North, never mentioning the serious threat
Turkey may invade in force and ignite a whole new war
with untold consequences if it happens.

The logistical problem of troop withdrawal then comes
up. Candidates claim it’ll take a year or more to
accomplish when, if fact, the only issue is the will
to do it. Iraqis will be delighted to help. Candidates
like flexible options, however, so it’s easy saying
future policy depends on conditions at the time that
now look “uncertain” at best.

Hillary Clinton is a metaphor for the times by her
pious comment that if George Bush doesn’t end this
war, she will if elected. She won’t say when, and in a
turnaround states her real view that America has
“remaining vital national security issues in Iraq”
(spelled O-I-L) requiring our permanent presence in
the country. So for her and other hopefuls, withdrawal
is nice-sounding rhetoric, but when it gets down to
policy, America is in Iraq to stay, so get over it.

Her leading opponent, Barak Obama feels no different
with high-minded speechifying that “It is time to
bring our troops home because it has made us less
safe” (never mentioning the toll on Iraqis). He then
admits away from supportive crowds he supports a
permanent military presence in the country for the
usual phony reasons hiding the real ones.

Dick Cheney’s hidden ones just surfaced in a 1994
video explaining why he advocated leaving Iraq after
the Gulf war. When asked then if US or UN forces
should have occupied Baghdad, he answered “no” because
it would become “a quagmire if you go that far and try
to take over (the country).” He then highlighted the
issue of casualties stating “how many additional dead
Americans is Saddam worth? Our judgment was, not very
many, and I think we got it right.” Indeed he did, yet
he ended up doing in 2003 what he thought foolhardy
nine years earlier. So much for leadership, let alone
honor and respect for the rule of law and rights of
people everywhere to be sovereign and free.

Honor, public service and respect for sovereign
freedom aren’t parts of the New York Times agenda
either, nor was it ever going back decades. A recent
example was its August 13 editorial titled “Wrong Way
Out of Iraq” in which it argues for a permanent US
military presence in the country and against a
significant troop drawdown. The Times position is
pathetic but typical of its kind of reporting and
editorial positions. It pledges allegiance to the US
empire and the corporate giants for which it
stands….with liberty and justice for them alone.
Wars of aggression, scorn for the law, massive human
suffering and deprivation are just business as usual
for “the newspaper of record,” indifferent to it all.

The editorial bluntly stated “The United States cannot
walk away from the new international terrorist front
it created in Iraq” while never admitting our presence
causes violence that won’t end while the occupation
continues. It then added “there should be no illusions
about trying to continue the war on a reduced scale.
It is folly to expect a smaller American force to do
in a short time what a much larger” one couldn’t do
over a longer period.

From the start, the Times was in the lead (with Judith
Miller its chief front page voice) supporting the Bush
war agenda to establish imperial control over the part
of the world with two-thirds of all proved oil
reserves. Look for more “stay the course” editorials
and front page features in the run-up to Petraeus’
mid-September “progress” report calling for continued
patience, no troop drawdown, and lots more funding
indefinitely. Democrats and Republicans alike are
supportive with the Times out in front as lead

Unmentioned is that the war is unwinnable and Dick
Cheney’s 1994 prediction proved accurate. Those
factors likely played into Karl Rove’s August 13
resignation, but he didn’t let on why beyond the usual
stuff they all say about wanting more time with his
family. Nonsense, but shed no tears for a man who may
have outsmarted himself, yet isn’t going away. Rove
may move out of the spotlight, but he’s not out of the
game. He’s sure to continue as a master-manipulator
elsewhere, for another right wing scheme, or perhaps
for the entire Republican party behind the scenes in
some reengineering or new strategizing capacity if
anyone wants him. Later on they’ll be lucrative book
deal and lecture circuit fees sweet enough to keep any
fallen politico living happily ever after.

In the end, however, the record will show Bush’s
Svengali failed to pull off his greatest scheme -
solidifying the Republican base, building a
generation-long super-party majority in Congress, and
assuring a Republican gets elected President in 2008.
His bungled post-9/11 strategy also resulted in the
2006 mid-term election defeat with things looking even
bleaker as 2008 approaches.

Rove may also be leaving for another reason that at
this point is pure conjecture. It may involve avoiding
further congressional scrutiny. It’s not off the
table, but soon may be as part of a White House deal
with Democrats softening in return for something its
leaders want. That’s how business is done in
Washington where the criminal class is bipartisan and
one favor begets another. Expect anything ahead in the
dirtiest game around for the highest stakes with the
public left out, in the dark, and nowhere in sight.

Looking Ahead in Iraq

In his August 10 article titled
“Mechanistic Destruction: American Foreign Policy at
Point Zero,” distinguished historian Gabriel Kolko
notes the US rarely ever “lost any conventional
military battle since at least 1950. Nor has
it….ever won a war.” In all its wars since Korea, it
failed to win a single victory. It’s good at
overthrowing governments, but the political fallout
often ends up “far, far more tenuous. In a word, in
international affairs it bumbles very badly” making an
“unstable world far more precarious” than if it left
well enough alone. “All this is very well known,”
Kolko states. “The real issue is why the US makes the
identical mistakes over and over again and never
learns from its errors.”

We’re now “losing two wars and creating a vast arc of
profound strategic and political instability from the
Mediterranean Sea to South Asia.” In addition, we
reignited the arms race in Europe, turned a friendly
Russia into a foe, and are heading the country toward
possible bankruptcy through reckless fiscal policy. In
sum, “this administration has been at least as bad as
any (in the nation’s history and perhaps it’s) “the
worst” ever.

By its record (with plenty of Capitol Hill help), it’s
fair to compare Washington to an asylum with members
of both parties the inmates. An outside observer would
have to conclude the inmates were in charge, and it
shows by what’s happening. It also brings to mind the
Wile E. Coyote cartoon character as a way to explain
it. Bush’s political agenda has been disastrous, yet
both parties continue supporting the same mistakes
expecting a different outcome.

Impossible, according to Kolko, saying the nation is
“at point zero in the application of American power in
the world.” We can’t win two “extremely expensive
adventures nor will (we) abstain from policies”
hurting other nations and our own. Myopia,
self-interest and a lot of arrogance have led us to
this “impasse,” and Kolko isn’t optimistic. He’s also
a noted expert on the Vietnam war having written the
seminal work on its history he says was “purchased by
many base libraries, (and) military journals (treat)
it in detail and very respectfully.”

With that in mind, it’s fitting to draw parallels to
that earlier time. They’re striking even though marked
differences exist as well. By the late 1960s, victory
in Southeast Asia was considered unattainable and a
new strategy was needed, even though it developed
slowly. It was called Vietnamization combined with
duplicitous and delaying diplomacy orchestrated by
Nixon’s Svengali, Henry Kissinger. He also ended
discredited with Karl Rove his Bush administration
equivalent for domestic policy in the role of former
Deputy Chief of Staff to the President as of August

The Pentagon has a current version of the Vietnam era
plan. It’s been arming and training Iraqi Security
Forces (ISF) as our enforcer hoping US troops
eventually can stay hunkered down in super-bases as
backup. In the early to mid-1970s, Vietnamization
failed because, as Kolko explained, victory isn’t just
about tactics, weapons and winning battles. Economic,
social, political and morale factors come into play.
The same holds true today in Iraq.

In Vietnam, the revolution was a powerful defense
against a foreign invader. An emboldened North used
it, was more committed, and had majority popular
support on its side. They had enough of the Japanese
earlier followed by the French and Americans making
any alternative an improvement as long as it meant
peace with their own leaders in charge.

Those leaders didn’t resist the Japanese and then
fight a 30 year war to give it up in the end a foreign
occupier and its imperial ambitions. At least that’s
how it was then. Vietnam kept its territory but, in
the end, surrendered its economic sovereignty to the
lord and master of the universe it could outlast on
the battlefield but not in the marketplace.

Iraq one day may be no different turning a future
resistance victory into eventual economic defeat
somewhere down the road. The country has enormous
untapped oil reserves thought by some analysts to be
potentially greater than Saudi Arabia’s they believe
are overstated. Iraq’s remained undeveloped because of
almost continuous war preventing any since September,
1980, or for nearly 27 years.

Even so, it has around 10% of proved world reserves
that will be far greater when all potential deposits
come online. Whoever controls them will have an
economic bonanza worth many trillions of dollars. It
may entice a future Iraqi government to partner with
the US-led West, and by so doing let America win in
the marketplace what it can’t achieve in battle. In
the end, Iraq may surrender as Vietnam did and lose
everything now being fought for. How this plays out
will only be known in the fullness of time. Millions
of Iraqis hope equity and justice will triumph over
greed and are betting their lives on it. May their
struggle not be in vain.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
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