Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Surge as Holding Tactic in a Losing Cause

Lest you fall for the orchestrated "the surge is working" perception management program, be aware that the political goals of the U.S. troop buildup have not been achieved.

And military "successes" -- especially those as ephemeral as are being currently bragged about -- without consequent political effects are not successes at all, but holding tactics in a losing cause.

The U.S. military buildup that was supposed to calm Baghdad and other trouble spots has failed to usher in national reconciliation, as the capital's neighborhoods rupture even further along sectarian lines, violence shifts elsewhere and Iraq's government remains mired in political infighting.

In the coming days, U.S. military and government leaders will offer Congress their assessment of the 6-month-old plan's results. But a review of statistics on death and displacement, political developments and the impressions of Iraqis who are living under the heightened military presence reaches a dispiriting conclusion.

Despite the plan, which has brought an additional 28,500 U.S. troops to Iraq since February, none of the major legislation that Washington had expected the Iraqi parliament to pass into law has been approved.

The number of Iraqis fleeing their homes has increased, not decreased, according to the United Nations' International Organization for Migration and Iraq's Ministry for Displacement and Migration.

Military officials say sectarian killings in Baghdad are down more than 51% and attacks on civilians and security forces across Iraq have decreased. But this has not translated into a substantial drop in civilian deaths as insurgents take their lethal trade to more remote regions. Last month, as many as 400 people were killed in a bombing in a village near the Syrian border, the worst bombing since the war began in March 2003. In July, 150 people were reported killed in a village about 100 miles north of Baghdad.

And in a sign that tamping down Sunni-Shiite violence is no guarantee of stability, a feud between rival Shiite Muslim militias has killed scores of Iraqis in recent months. Last week, at least 52 people died in militia clashes in the Shiite holy city of Karbala.

At best, analysts, military officers and ordinary Iraqis portray the country as in a holding pattern, dependent on U.S. troops to keep the lid on violence.

"The military offensive has temporarily suppressed, or in many cases dislocated, armed groups," said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group. "Once the military surge peters out, which it will if there is no progress on the political front, these groups will pop right back up and start going at each other's, and civilians', throats again."

There is, however, another possible strategy inherent to the White House PR campaign centered around Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker's upcoming assessment of the situation in Iraq that is part of the ongoing domestic information operation about the progress of the war.

All the happy talk from the administration about the success of the surge, may end up giving them political cover to declare victory and start withdrawing troops.

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