Saturday, August 28, 2010






Last week, Gallup and AP polls were released offering the findings that most Americans are opposed to the Iraq War and feel it should never have been started. Gallup found 53% judge it as a failure, 55% judged it a failure. AP's poll with GfK Roper Public Affairs found that 65% opposed the Iraq War. Now Brian Montopoli (CBS News) reports on CBS' poll (but doesn't explain why the New York Times took a pass) which finds "nearly six in ten say it was a mistake to start the battle in the first place, and most say their country did not accomplish its objectives in Iraq." The number saying it was a mistake is 59% which is in stark contrast to March 2003 when a majority, 69%, stated the US was correct to declare war on Iraq (the US-led invasion began in March 2003) and only 25% of respondents then (March 2003) said it was a mistake. The most telling response is to question eleven:
Do you think the result of the war with Iraq was worth the loss of American lives and other costs of attacking Iraq, or not?
Only 20% of respondents say the war was worth the costs while 72% say it was not worth the costs. Looking at the costs to the US, 72% are, in fact, calling the illegal war a mistake.
57% of Americans believe the Iraq War is going well (don't blame them, blame a media that's forgotten Iraq) and who do they credit for that? Montopoli reports that "one in three say both the Obama and Bush administrations [deserve credit]. Twenty-six percent credit the Bush administration, 20 percent credit the Obama administration, and 19 percent say neither deserves credit." Cynthia English reviews Gallup's latest poll which sureveyed Iraqis and found a five-percent drop in approval of US leadership from 2008 (35%) to 2010 (30%) and an increase in approval of Iraqi leadership during the same time (2008: 28%; 2010: 41%).

Jim Michaels and Mimi Hall (USA Today) report on USA Today's poll which found 60% expressing the belief that the Iraq War was not worth it. The reporters then survey a variety of people about the war and we'll note this section which includes Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan:
"I don't think there's been any measurable thing that we could cite that this occupation of Iraq has made better. We achieved exactly nothing," says Cindy Sheehan, an anti-war activist. Sheehan says the war made things worse for Iraqis and others.
"My work has gone from trying to stop these wars to trying to alert people to the problems of being subjects of a military empire," she says.
Empire as a shell game? That would require the Orwellian use of language to misdirect the citizens and misidentify what is going on. In other words, that would be Barack Obama calling the military "non-combat" forces and calling bases "outposts" and calling the continuation of the Iraq War the 'end.' Today the Council on Foreign Relations' Bernard Gwertzman interviews the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf.
Bernard Gwertzman: President Obama is planning to give a speech on Iraq next week marking the pullout of U.S. combat troops from the country. Does their departure make a big difference in Iraq?
Jane Arraf: It really doesn't. A lot of that is because it isn't a development that has had much of an impact on the ground. Some have called it a "rebranding" of the conflict, and there is some truth to that. What we've got left are fifty thousand other troops, a substantial number, and a lot of those are actually combat troops. Any brigade here is erady, equipped, and trained for combat. It's just that the mission is changing. So with that many troops on the ground, the latest withdrawals really don't have that much of an impact, particularly since we haven't been seeing the United States in unilateral combat missions since June of last year. As part of the security agreement signed by the Bush administration, the U.S. forces are taking ab ackseat to the Iraqi forces. The bottom line is that nothing will change on September 1. What we're really looking at is what happens as next year's deadline of December 31, 2011, approaches for all the troops to leave.
[. . .]
Bernard Gwertzman: Will the United States be providing long-term air defense? Or is that supposed to end next year too?
Jane Arraf: Everything ends next year, so it really all has to be negotiated. The commanding general in charge of training Iraqi forces told me they are in the midst of negotiating an agreement to allow NATO to continue training. Such an agreement of course to replace the Iraq-U.S. security agreement will actually have to be negotiated by whatever new government is formed. The assumption is that it will be a pro-Western, pro-U.S. government, but that's not a certainty. What if, for instance, the Sadrists have a large role to play in the new government? What if it's a much more Iranian-friendly government than some people are suggesting? They could turn to Iraq for a security agreement.
On public radio today, the security agreement was briefly touched upon. On the second hour of today's The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Diane was joined by Courtney Kube (NBC News), Moises Naim (El Pais) and David Wood (PoliticsDaily).
Diane Rehm: Let's turn to Iraq. For the first time since the US invasion in 2003, US troop strength in Iraq has dropped below 50,000. Is Iraq prepared to defend itself, Courtney?
Courtney Kube: Well I think you have to remember -- I don't think you'll find many average Iraqis on the street in Baghdad or anywhere in the country that would say that just because Operation Iraqi Freedom is technically ending in a few days, Operation New Dawn begins, US combat forces are out, I don't think the average Iraqi believes that that means a light switch is going to flick off and violence is going to end. The Iraqi security forces are certainly going to be tested in the coming days, weeks, months probably. But the US force that exists there now -- it's still almost 50,000 troops, they're not going anywhere, they're not going any beyond this until next summer.
Diane Rehm: But you did have a wave of coordinated attacks in thirteen cities just --
David Wood: Yeah, just a horrific thing. Mounted apparently by al Qaeda in Iraq, the sort of home grown, foreign directed, Sunni terrorist organization. What was particularly striking, I thought, was that after these bombs went off in these thirteen cities in a two hour period, the Iraqi people rushed in to help and people stoned them and shouted at them and were very angry and yelled: "Why can't you protect us!" And it was, I thought, "Uh-oh." It was a real uh-oh moment because clearly the Iraqi security forces cannot keep this kind of thing from happening.
Diane Rehm: Moises?
Moises Naim: August was the deadliest month for Iraqi security forces in the past three years, at least 265 have been killed in June alone. And if you look at these places where the attacks took place. They bring back names that had gone out of the news. Falludi, Ramadi, Tikrit, Kirkuk, Basra. These were places where we used to talk about them all the time and then they disappeared. This is a way of telling the world and telling Iraqis, we are still here -- on the part of insurgents in Iraq. And explaining the fact that the US troops are leaving is creating -- plus -- the very important backdrop to this story is that Iraq doesn't have a government. They had an election several months ago. That election does not yield a clear result. And now they have been struggling to create a functioning government.
Diane Rehm: How are these 50,000 so-called non-combat troops going to be able to stand back and watch as this kind of desecration happens.
Courtney Kube: Well they won't be standing back at all. I mean 20,000 of those 50,000 are assigned to advise-and-assist brigades that -- Just today, there was an advise-and-assist, some US troops that went out with Iraqi security forces, arrested seven al Qaeda in Iraq suspected members. They won't be sitting back. Almost half of those forces are going to be involved in combat missions, frankly, it's just that they cannot do it alone.There really hasn't been a big change in posture of US forces since last summer, since the US forces were no longer allowed to operate on their own, no longer allowed to conduct missions within Iraqi cities. So the only real difference that we're seeing right now is the numbers are down a little bit, the combat troops that were assigned to, you know, so-called combat brigades are now out and they're now reassigned to advise-and-assist.
Diane Rehm: There is more than a little ambiguety here, David Wood.
David Wood: I think it's deliberate. I want to pick up on something Moises was saying and that was that there's no Iraqi government in power, of course. There's been a lot of political turbulence since March when there were presidential [C.I. note: Parlimentary elections] elections and nobody won a clear majority or enough to put together a government in Parliament. One of the -- one of the upshots of that is that the United States is supposed to be, by law, withdraw all of its military forces from Iraq by December 31st of next year. I think that agreement was made in the last months of the Bush administration with the understanding that it would be renegotiated because, if it were carried out, you wouldn't even be able to have Marine guards at the US Embassy. With no government, you can't regnegotiate it. And the clock is ticking. And al Qaeda in Iraq has noticed and the statement they issued after this bombing was: "The countdown has begun to return Iraq to the embrace of Islam and its Sunnis with God's permission." Pretty chilling stuff.
Diane Rehm: Moises.
Moises Naim: So the story here again is one of calendars versus conditions. There is a political -- a Washington based or a US politics-centered calendar that people are following and then there are realities on the ground. And these two are clashing. The realities on the ground in Iraq are not in synch with deadlines and with timelines and the calendar that has been decided by purely domestic US politics kind of consideration and calculations.
Diane Rehm: So next week President Obama is going to make an Oval Office speech, next Tuesday. What's he expected to say, Moises?
Moises Naim: He's going to confirm two things that may be a bit contradictory. I think. One is that the troops are going out and this was his campaign promise and that Iraq is in better shape than before and so on. But at the same time he's going to claim the continuing support and commitment of the United States to the building of a democratic Iraqi nation.
Staying on the 'end of war' 'treaty' 'requirement,' Gareth Porter (IPS via Dissident Voice) reports, "All indications are that the administration expects to renegotiate the security agreement with the Iraqi government to allow a post-2011 combat presence of up to 10,000 troops, once a new government is formed in Baghdad But Obama, fearing a backlash from anti-war voters in the Democratic Party, who have already become disenchanted with him over Afghanistan, is trying to play down that possibility. Instead, the White House is trying to reassure its anti-war base that the U.S. military role in Iraq is coming to an end." The editorial board for the Seattle Times notes the drawdown is phase one, "Remember, the operative description is Phase One. The departure of all U.S. military is supposed to come at the end of 2011. Do not confuse that goal with an end of U.S. presence or involvement in Iraq. Parsing out the future depends on definitions and interpretations. The exist of designated combat forces still leaves 50,000 American troops in Iraq, with another 79,000 U.S. contractors. Men and women in uniform are essentially replaced by taxpayer supported mercenaries who attract a lot less public attention." Elise Labot (CNN) reports:

For the people of Iraq, the withdrawal of U.S. forces will be largely symbolic. The average Iraqi has not seen U.S. forces since June 2009, when they redeployed to the outskirts of Iraqi cities under the terms of the 2008 security agreement between the United States and Iraq.
Since then, Iraqi forces have been in charge of urban areas: manning most checkpoints, conducting operations against extremists and maintaining law and order.
But for the United States, the transfer from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn is monumental. The handover will put the U.S. State Department in an expanded and indeed unprecedented role, one it is forced to scale back before it even starts due to budget constraints.

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