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General Petraeus can’t disguise grim truth about Iraq

This article is over 16 years, 10 months old
George Bush is trying to sell his "surge" of US troops in Iraq as a success. General David Petraeus, the US commander tasked with assessing the occupation, this week painted a glowing picture of the situation to the US Congress’s house committee on foreign affairs.
Issue 2068

George Bush is trying to sell his “surge” of US troops in Iraq as a success. General David Petraeus, the US commander tasked with assessing the occupation, this week painted a glowing picture of the situation to the US Congress’s house committee on foreign affairs.

“The military objectives of the surge are in large measure being met,” Petraeus told the committee. He insisted that the extra 30,000 US troops had cut sectarian killings by 75 percent, stabilised the government of Nuri al-Maliki and won over a substantial section of the previously hostile Sunni Muslims.

Yet the facts on the ground bear no relation to General Petraeus’s fantasies. The last few months have been the bloodiest for US and British troops since the occupation began in 2003.

In March this year the US lost 81 soldiers, in April 104, in May 126, in June 101, in July 79. This is almost double the numbers for the same period in 2005 and 2006, at the height of the Iraqi insurgency.

The majority of US deaths have been in Baghdad, where the general said the surge had been most effective, and in the restive Anbar province, where the population is said to have turned against the resistance.

The main aim of the surge, when it was first announced, was to clip the wings of rebel Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

But Sadr drew back from any armed confrontation with US forces and took the opportunity to purge his organisation of his political opponents.

Meanwhile his supporters are filling the vacuum left by British troops when they retreated from the southern city of Basra earlier this month.

‘Proxy war’

Petraeus says he wants the extra US troops to stay and crush the Shia resistance. He told the committee, “Iran seeks to turn the Iraqi special groups into a Hizbollah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq.”

These thinly veiled threats against the Shia come as the US military announced it will build a military base four miles from the Iranian border. The US is also building up forces for an anticipated strike on Iran.

In Anbar province, the US has claimed that it is receiving “cooperation” from sections of the resistance. Yet even here the success has been spun.

The nationalist section of the Iraqi resistance has been battling to drive out the groups affiliated with Al Qaida whom they hold responsible for sectarian attacks on Shia Iraqis.

Petraeus claimed that the violence in Baghdad has dropped dramatically. It is true that figures for ethnic cleansing and the daily tally of bodies in the “battle of the corpses” have dropped dramatically since 2006.

But that is because the systematic segregation of the capital into Sunni and Shia neighbourhoods is almost complete. Baghdad is now a vast network of walled ghettos, surrounded by three metre high barriers, barbed wire and watchtowers.


At the peak of the killings last year, some 80,000 Iraqis were heading into exile a month. This exodus of people fleeing their homes continues today, though the rate has now dropped to 20,000 a month.

Over four million Iraqis have already abandoned their homes for exile in neighbouring countries or for the safer parts of the Iraq. There are ghost towns across vast areas of the country.

A further complication involves the level of US troops in the capital. In February this year there were 2,700 and by June this had risen to 16,700.

Many soldiers are on their second or third 15 month deployment. This is feeding growing unrest inside the military that is helping to build the US anti-war movement.

One crucial indicator of the failure of the “surge” was illustrated by a wide ranging opinion poll conducted by the US broadcaster ABC News, the BBC and the Japan’s NHK.

The poll, published as Petraeus faced the committee, revealed that few Iraqis share the optimism in Washington.

According to the poll, “More Iraqis say security in their local area has got worse in the last six months than say it’s got better, 31 percent to 24 percent, with the rest reporting no change.

“Far more, six in ten, say security in the country overall has worsened since the surge began, while just one in ten sees improvement.”

General Petraeus’s report on the surge is a desperate attempt to rally the US to the idea that the occupation of Iraq can still be a success.

All the facts on the ground disprove this – what he spelled out is a “strategy” for the indefinite continuation of bloodshed, instability and war.

A dayschool on Britain’s Other War
called by the Stop the War Coalition
Speakers include l Lindsey German l Dr Elaheh Rostami Povey l Craig Murray l Lynda Holmes l Jane Shallis l Andrew Murray
Saturday 15 September, 9.30am to 5pm

Room 101, ULU, Malet Street, London WC1

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