The Toll of War
Brutal fighting over the past week brought a new, grisly milestone in Iraq, as the number of troops killed in Iraq passed the 1,000 mark. Also, as an indication of the intensity of battles in urban areas, about 1,100 U.S. soldiers and Marines were wounded in Iraq last month, "by far the highest combat injury toll for any month since the war began." So far, over 7,000 soldiers have been wounded in combat. Attacks in sovereign Iraq have been on the rise: Since the transfer of power on June 28, U.S. forces have been attacked an average of 60 times a day, up 20 percent from the three-month period before the transfer of power on June 28; more troops have died in the months after the transfer of power than in the months just before. Condoleezza Rice admitted yesterday, "Not everything has gone as we would have liked it to." And in a press conference yesterday, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that the situation in Iraq is likely to get worse, not better, in the coming days. The efforts of American troops, the Wall Street Journal writes, have "been made all the harder by the hesitancy of their civilian leaders in the White House." (Americans can remember our fallen soldiers with a new, poignant exhibit, "Eyes Wide Open.")
President Bush's leadership in Iraq is often hesitant. This has huge ramifications for the war, as now, according to top Pentagon officials, insurgents are in control of crucial sections of central Iraq. According to the New York Times, the U.S. military has decided to pull out or stand back from many of these towns, even if that means the town will fall to rebels. "That certain Iraqis believe their cities and neighborhoods would be better off without American soldiers is neither new nor surprising; that is what the guerrillas' insurgency, now in its 17th month, is all about. What is new, however, is that the Americans, in certain cases, appear to agree or have decided that the cost to prove otherwise would be too high." As the WSJ writes, the hesitance in towns like Fallujah has set a terrible precedent, as "other Sunni towns like Ramadi and Samarra now appear to be slipping away from the control of legitimate authority, and Fallujah continues to serve as a haven for the terrorists and bomb-makers targeting American forces and Iraqi civilians."
The New York Times reports that the Bush administration, citing the need to use Iraqi troops, has decided to delay using force in retaking areas in Iraq which have been seized by the insurgents for a couple of months: a two-month hiatus "would also mean a delay until after the American presidential election." Jane's Defense Weekly reports, "a U.S. officer in Sadr City, a restive Shia area of Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: 'We're supposed to turn our zones over to the [Iraqi government] by October. They're not ready for that, so unless it's a coincidence it seems politically driven – bearing in mind the presidential election in November...everything we do is driven by political considerations. We don't have enough forces to stay here. We move into Sadr City and then we leave and each time the Mahdi Army comes straight back in."
Another possible casualty of war: elections in Iraq. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday "warned that violence in Iraq could make it more difficult to create the conditions for successful elections in January 2005. Officials say there is increasing concern that "if significant parts of the Sunni areas cannot be secured by January, it may be impossible to hold a nationwide balloting that would be seen as legitimate. Putting off the elections, though, would infuriate Iraq's Shiite majority."
Vote for Us or Die
Speaking in Iowa yesterday, Vice President Cheney took fear mongering to a new level when he indicated that the United States risked suffering another terrorist attack if voters make "the wrong choice" in November. "It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2nd, we make the right choice," Cheney said, "because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again. We'll be hit in a way that will be devastating." In January, 2002, President Bush assured Americans he had "no ambition whatsoever to use [national security] as a political issue."
Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, weighed in on Cheney's comments: "I have heard a lot of outrageous statements at various times in my president's elections, but I think this kind of scare tactic by the vice president of the United States is irresponsible."