Monday, October 30, 2006

Tomgram: Truths of a Lost War

[Note to Tomdispatch readers: This is part 2 of a dispatch on the Bush administration and Iraq. Part 1 was Losing the Home Front. One of the sections below is devoted to Riverbend, the pseudonymous "girl blogger" of Baghdad. For it, I read the collection of her blog entries that the Feminist Press at CUNY published in 2005, Baghdad Burning, Girl Blog from Iraq, and then the newest volume, Baghdad Burning II, More Girl Blog from Iraq, just now being published. These represent an unparalleled record of the American war on, and occupation of, Iraq (and Riverbend writes like an angel). The two volumes are simply the best contemporary account we are likely to have any time soon of the hell into which we've plunged that country. I can't recommend them too highly. Tom]

Fiasco Then, Fiasco Now

Why Baghdad Will Keep Burning
By Tom Engelhardt

Are we now officially out of our minds? On Tuesday, General George W. Casey, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, and Zalmay Khalilzad, our ambassador to Iraq, gave a joint press conference in Baghdad that was all for home consumption. By home, I mean Washington DC. I mean Indiana. I mean Texas. Baghdad's Green Zone was essentially a stage set for a political defense of the Bush presidency.

If the news hadn't been quite so grim, this tandem's act might have qualified as an Abbott and Costello comedy routine, including the moment when the lights went out -- while "gunfire and bomb blasts echoed around the city" -- thanks to our inability to resuscitate Iraqi electricity production. In fact, the New York Times just reported that, on some projects, more than 50% of U.S. reconstruction dollars are being spent on "overhead" as, for months at a time, whole reconstruction teams sit idly with the meter going waiting to begin work.

Some Democratic critics had been calling on the Bush administration for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. Well, a timetable they got (though Ambassador Khalilzad preferred to call it a "timeline"). The catch was: The hopeless, essentially powerless Iraqi "government" inside Baghdad's Green Zone was to deliver that timeline as a pre-election present to a disgruntled American public. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki himself would produce it with genuine "benchmarks" for upping oil production and splitting oil revenues, for disarming and dismantling Shiite militias and police death squads, and for negotiating with Sunni rebels.

Not only that, Maliki would have his "plan" in place (perhaps for the Iraqis to withdraw from their own country) "before the end of the year" -- and this was just one of a welter of mini-schedules offered by the ambassador and general that would shove Iraqi matters at least beyond November 7th, if not into the relatively distant future. The ambassador, for instance, assured Americans that all those benchmarks would be met and "significant progress" achieved "in the course of the next twelve months" -- the slight catch being: "assuming that the Iraqi leaders deliver on the commitments that they have made."

General Casey chimed in with his own timeline: "And it's going to take another 12 to 18 months or so until I believe the Iraqi security forces are completely capable of taking over responsibility for their own security." ("Still probably with some level of support from us.") Probably? These are the same forces some of whose battalions "demobilized" rather than accept transfer assignments to work with Americans in the dangerous streets of distant Baghdad. These are battalions that can have 30-50% of their troops either on leave, AWOL, or perhaps as ghost soldiers for whom commanders receive pay?

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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