The General’s Thoughts Aside, What Do Iraqis Think?

On this sixth anniversary of the multiple attacks on America, while
General Petraeus is giving testimony before Congress and Ryan Crocker
paints the Bush position, it might be a good time to check in on what
Iraqis are thinking.

On this sixth anniversary of the multiple attacks on America, while
General Petraeus is giving testimony before Congress and Ryan Crocker
paints the Bush position, it might be a good time to check in on what
Iraqis are thinking.

Greenwell, Washington Post) BAGHDAD, Sept. 10 — Seven out of 10 Iraqis
believe the U.S. troop buildup in Baghdad and Anbar province has made
security worse in those areas, and nearly as many say their own lives
are going badly, according to a new poll conducted by ABC News, the
British Broadcasting Corp., and the Japanese broadcaster NHK.

That’s an interesting statistic, because it very nearly mirrors
the belief of the American on the street (and in the bars, industrial
plants, farms and businesses). Americans are amazingly supportive of
the administration goals for the Middle East, but bailing
quickly on how this president pursues them. Democracy is always an easy
sell over here and we aspire to see more and more of the world heading
that direction.
We know it is not merely a hatred of America and American freedoms,
as President Bush has insisted, that inspired 9-11. We know in our heart of hearts that various inequities, many of them fed by America, are behind what has happened and is happening in the Middle East.
What we don’t know is what to do about it and, increasingly,
we don’t think our president knows either. Thus support for this war
has shifted away from the administration.

November 2005, shortly before Iraq’s historic open elections, 69
percent of residents said they believed life would be better in a year.
That number decreased to 40 percent last March and 23 percent in the
new poll.

That’s a stunning drop in confidence
and what Petraeus is asking of us is to raise our own level of
confidence that the Maliki government will prevail. If there were some
small evidence of progress, if Iraqis believed in the direction the
country was headed or if the factions within the country truly wanted
democracy, then there might be a cause worth additional sacrifice.
It seems that none of those hoped-for realities are in place. Not one.
We hear of little lately but Anbar. Anbar Province is where the
administration has bet all their marbles, as if Baghdad was lost, swept
under the radar rug, best neither seen nor heard from;

many of the differences between the official and popular views of
conditions in Iraq are most pronounced in Anbar, where President Bush
made a surprise visit last week and declared that “normal life is
returning.” Although the percentage of Anbar residents who have a
favorable view of local security has increased to 38 percent from zero
in March, 62 percent still rate security negatively overall. Meanwhile,
the level of satisfaction in other quality-of-life categories —
including the availability of jobs, supply of clean water and freedom
of movement — has decreased since March.

Iraqis are tribal. What we are seeing in Anbar is far more likely to be agreement with the American acceptance of tribal Sunnis turned protectors
than it is any degree of trust in the National Police. If Anbar is the
example, then what we have to look forward to in Iraq is tribal
militias holding power within their spheres of influence. More and more
it looks like we are willing to accept that in the place of a national government controlling and protecting the country.
Any port in a storm if the storm is violent enough. It’s prescient
to remember that there were places in Iraq where even Saddam dared not

Many Iraqis say the violence has
decreased because their freedom of movement has been severely
restricted, not because fewer insurgents are planning violent acts.

fewer people reported confidence in the national government than in
March, with a 10-point drop in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s
approval level, to 33 percent. Nearly two-thirds of people — 65
percent — say the government has done a bad job.

There’s good reason to believe the violence has decreased because of the way we count violence.

Post, 9/6/07) The Pentagon and Administration’s definition of “Ethno
sectarian violence” excludes many types of violence that would indicate
that the security situation in Iraq is not improving. Shi’a on Shi’a
violence in the South is not included. Sunni on Sunni violence in the
central part of the country is not included. “According to one senior
intelligence official in Washington. ‘If a bullet went through the back
of the head, it’s sectarian,’ the official said. ‘If it went through
the front, it’s criminal.’”

There’s no doubt
in my mind that a huge part of why there’s so little American support
for this war is directly attributable to the administration saying
whatever the hell it cares to without regard for facts.

Press, 8/25/07) According to figures compiled by the Associated Press,
Iraq is suffering approximately double the number of war-related deaths
throughout the country compared with last year. The average daily toll
has risen from 33 in 2006, to 62 so far this year. Nearly 1,000 more
people have been killed in violence across Iraq in the first eight
months of this year than in all of 2006. The AP tracking includes Iraqi
civilians, government officials, police and security forces killed in
attacks such as gunfights and bombings, which are frequently blamed on
Sunni suicide strikes. It also includes execution-style killings —
largely the work of Shi’a death squads. Insurgent deaths are not a part
of the Iraqi count. These figures are considered a minimum and only
based on AP reporting. The actual numbers are likely higher, as many
killings go unreported or uncounted. That said, the AP notes that UN
figures for 2006 are higher than the AP’s.

As an example of cooking the books, the 500 deaths, in an August truck
bomb attack on a Yazidi community in August (which was north of the
capital and outside the areas directly affected by the surge) were not counted in the death toll.

9/10/07) . . . But an official in the ministry who spoke anonymously
because he wasn’t authorized to release numbers said those numbers were
heavily manipulated. The official said 1,980 Iraqis had been killed in
July and that violent deaths soared in August, to 2,890. 

Who the hell knows? Iraqis don’t think things are getting better. If they don’t think so—and they have innumerable reasons not to—then we are relegated to a holding pattern without a reason to hold.
Petraeus wants what his commander in chief wants, which is good
soldiering. Bush wants troops there when the new president takes
office, no matter the cost, which is bad presidenting.
He’ll hold to that and lose another thousand kids (along with
critically wounding five thousand), presumably because that would
prevent ‘pulling out’ from occurring on his watch. That borders on criminal negligence.
One hardly dares call it a watch. It’s been more of a frightened but belligerent look at the expense of others–and a sad one at that.
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