A Preview of General Petraeus' DC Dog-and-Pony Show

On September 10 and 11, army counterinsurgency guru David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, will deliver a much-anticipated report to Congress on the status of the occupation. The White House is exerting a heavy hand in shaping the report, so it will be heavy with spin.

Expect the decline in violence in parts of Anbar Province to provide a hook on which Petraeus and Crocker will hang the claim that the troop escalation begun in February is working. As the AP notes, even that modest good news had little to do with the troop surge: "In truth, the progress in Anbar was initiated by the Iraqis themselves, a point [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates himself made, saying the Sunni tribes decided to fight and retake control from al-Qaida many months before Bush decided to send an extra 4,000 Marines to Anbar as part of his troop buildup."

The reality of where we are in Iraq is this:

  • The civilian death toll in Iraq has climbed throughout the surge, according to Iraqi government statistics obtained by Reuters (the government itself stopped releasing official data). According to Agence France Presse, the figures for July represented a 30% increase over the month before.
  • Similarly, US military deaths have been significantly higher since the start of the surge than in 2006, despite the Orwellian claims that the opposite is true.
  • The Iraqi government continues to teeter on the brink of collapse, with PM Nouri al-Maliki facing a crisis of legitimacy at home for doing Washington's bidding and criticism from Washington for being unable to build a consensus in Iraq for doing Washington's bidding.
  • Talk of a coup, perhaps led by former Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, an erstwhile Baathist thug and alleged CIA operative who might have gone on a rampage and murdered a half dozen prisoners during his last brief tenure leading Iraq, continues to swirl around Baghdad and the luxury hotels of Amman and London where most of Iraq's elites are holed up. Allawi recently retained the high-power DC lobbying firm Barbour, Griffiths and Rogers for $300,000 to prepare the ground in Congress and among the media for a "palace coup."
  • Fewer than one in five Iraqis have confidence in US and UK occupation forces, compared with six in ten who have confidence in the Iraqi army and two out of three who have confidence in the Iraqi police. Three out of four say coalition forces have done "quite a bad job" or "a very bad job" carrying out "their responsibilities in Iraq"; Seven out of ten Iraqis say "the presence of US forces in Iraq is making security worse" in Iraq and seven out of ten Iraqis "somewhat" or "strongly" oppose the "presence of coalition forces in Iraq" (PDF)
  • Fraud is rampant within both the occupying coalition --- where reports of a massive American bribery network represent just the latest in a series of mini-scandals that's resulted in the Iraqi government's refusal to accept most reconstruction projects -- and in most Iraqi ministries.

The University of Michigan Middle East scholar Juan Cole summed up the situation well, calling it a debate over a country that's looking more like "Night of the Living Dead" than a nascent democratic state:
People lack potable water, cholera has broken out even in the good areas, a third of people are hungry, a doubling of the internally displaced to at least 1.1 million, and a million pilgrims dispersed just this week by militia infighting in a supposedly safe all-Shiite area. The government has all but collapsed, with even the formerly cooperative sections of the Sunni Arab political class withdrawing in a snit (much less more Sunni Arabs being brought in from the cold). The parliament hasn't actually passed any legislation to speak of and often cannot get a quorum. Corruption is endemic. The weapons we give the Iraqi army are often sold off to the insurgency. Some of our development aid goes to them, too.
Iraqis still lack regular electricity, face a public health crisis and have seen 40 percent of their middle class flee the country as refugees.

Next week, we'll likely get a very different perspective. Stay tuned.

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