Friday, May 2, 2008

Mission Never-Ending

Mission Never-Ending

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Five years ago, in a tightly-orchestrated public relations stunt that featured him landing on an aircraft carrier, President Bush announced to the world, "In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed." Asked a question about that declaration a few days ago, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino could do little more than express exasperation that "the media" would "play this up they do every single year." Yet the numbers speak for themselves. Since Bush declared the Iraq mission accomplished, 3,919 more Americans have been killed, and over 29,000 more have been wounded or maimed. There are more troops in Iraq today than there were when the president announced that "major combat operations have ended." In a speech yesterday at the Center for American Progress, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) remarked, "1,827 days later, the U.S. occupation of Iraq continues, and our 'mission' remains undefined and open-ended." In a starkly symbolic turn, U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, the aircraft carrier from whose flight deck Bush made his now infamous premature declaration of victory, was deployed once again this week to the Persian Gulf to support continuing combat operations in the region.

STILL SEARCHING FOR A STRATEGY: Since 2003, Americans have heard a series of constantly changing rationales for continuing the Iraq war, each of which was discarded when no longer politically useful or when its premises were revealed as false. The administration currently presents the war in Iraq as a fight against both al Qaeda terrorists and Iranian influence, insisting that "retreat" would embolden al Qaeda and Iran and put the United States at risk. This argument ignores the fact that al Qaeda affiliates in Iraq -- which did not exist prior to the invasion -- are rallied and emboldened by the open-ended presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, according to leading counterterrorism experts. This argument also ignores the fact that Iran's influence in Iraq is a main consequence of the invasion and occupation. The destruction of Saddam Hussein's regime created a new front that al Qaeda has used to recruit, indoctrinate, and train new followers, as well as to refine new terrorist tactics. Likewise, the newly-empowered Iraqi Shia majority, including Shia Islamist parties with close ties to Iran, have provided Iran with influence and access through the new Iraqi government.

A FAILING STATE: Late on Thursday, two suicide bombers killed 30 people and wounded 65 others when they detonated explosive vests in a market northeast of Baghdad. Iraqi government figures show April 2008 was the deadliest month for civilians since August 2007. U.S. forces are also engaged in some of the most intense combat since the height of the insurgency, battling Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in the markets, homes and alleyways of Sadr City. The "freeze" declared by Sadr, credited by Gen. Petraeus and others for much of the drop in violence over the last six months, is threatening to completely unravel and plunge Iraq back into civil war. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 4.7 million Iraqis have so far had to leave their homes -- roughly two million as refugees and another 2.7 million internally displaced. Sectarian militias such as the Mahdi Army are the main providers of services and shelter to displaced persons, resulting in these militias gaining support and allegiance at the expense of the central government. As Center for American Progress national security analysts Brian Katulis and Peter Juul wrote in a recent report, "Iraq’s internally displaced population -- not Al Qaeda in Iraq or Iranian influence -- is the primary threat to the country’s future stability. ... Ignoring it threatens the future stability of Iraq and the entire region." Yet, like so much else in Iraq, the Bush administration appears to have no plan for dealing with this problem.

NO END IN SIGHT FOR OVERBURDENED U.S. MILITARY: The recent nomination of Gen. Petraeus to be the next commander of U.S. Central Command, and the nomination of Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno to replace Petraeus in Baghdad, clearly indicate Bush's intention to continue his current strategy and maintain American forces in Iraq for as long as possible. This month, Congress will consider the Bush administration's latest request for war funding. CQ reported that "the House Democratic leadership is close to finalizing a decision to combine all outstanding Bush administration requests for war funding -- totaling at least $170 billion -- into one huge bill." American taxpayers are currently spending an estimated $2.4 billion per week on the Iraq war. The war also continues to put a crushing burden on America's armed forces. Murtha noted that since the beginning of the war, the readiness of our forces, both active and reserves, "has plummeted. " Today, there is not one brigade in the that is rated at the highest level of readiness. In so many ways, and on so many fronts, the mission of the next administration will be to clean up the messes of this one.

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