The quiet about-face in Iraq

The president of the United States, joined by the prime minister of Iraq, all but declared the much-touted six-week old "security crackdown" in Baghdad an utter failure yesterday. And well he should have: The casualties among Iraqi civilians and security forces over the past fifteen days totaled two hundred and twenty-eight (according to reports compiled by the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count), rivaling the 233 fatalities during the previous fortnight, and surpassing again the 154 slain during the first two weeks of the crackdown. The "new" strategy of relying on Iraqi forces with Americans in a supporting role has proven ineffective, to say the least.

Bush's newest new strategy? More Americans. So much for rosy projections of dwindling US troop levels any time soon. Bush tried to put a brave face on the dour news, but came across as less than convincing:

"Obviously, the violence in Baghdad is still terrible, and therefore there needs to be more troops," Bush said in a news conference with Maliki.

"Conditions change inside a country," he added. "And the question is: Are we going to be facile enough to change with [them]?

Speaking of facile, Bush offered bland assurances that an improved security situation in other areas of Iraq would allow for shifting troops to Baghdad. Juan Cole has his doubts:

There is nothing obvious in this plan that would make you think it will succeed where other such plans have not. And, if they are moving US troops from someplace else to Baghdad, wherever they moved from would be in danger of falling into instability. This thing has become a shell game.

The big success story stressed by Bush and Maliki was the withdrawal of the British troops from the small Muthanna province in the south (pop. 500,000). Note that officials in the provincial capital, Samawa, complained that they weren't ready to take over their own security, that there have been a series of police riots there, and that if there is any order it is imposed by the Badr Corps, an Iran-trained Shiite paramilitary. Maliki promised further withdrawals, and one can predict the same sorts of outcome.

In the meantime, you have to wonder how the American public (that is, that portion of the public that has not been paying especially close attention) will react when it realizes that, as Dan Froomkin points out today, we're fighting a whole new war in Iraq:

It's a historic admission: That job one for many American troops in Iraq is no longer fighting al-Qaeda terrorists, or even insurgents. Rather, it is trying to quell an incipient -- if not already raging -- sectarian civil war, with Baghdad as ground zero.

Arguably, that's been the case for quite a while. But having the White House own up to it is a very big deal. [...]

How will people feel about our troops being sent into the crossfire between rival Muslim sects? That is not the war anyone signed up to fight.

Like it or not, it's now the war we've got.


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