Surge a failure, lawmaker charges

It looks as though the administration will use a September report by Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, to paint a rosy picture of the situation there. Elected leaders and broad sections of the American people vow to “not be fooled again,” and are using the current congressional recess to ramp up the fight to set a date to withdraw troops.

“My experience in the region has convinced me more than ever that we must set a deadline to withdraw our troops from the religious and tribal civil war that’s going on in Iraq,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said in an Aug. 10 teleconference. She had just returned from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where she was on a bipartisan fact-finding delegation.

Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, a coalition of organizations including student groups, the Service Employees International Union and others, has instituted the Take a Stand Campaign, which it describes as “a nationwide organizing drive” for redeployment of U.S. forces out of Iraq. The campaign will culminate in town meetings across the country Aug. 28, directly before Congress comes back from its break.

According to Schakowsky, Bush’s surge in Iraq is a complete failure.

“The purpose was defined as reducing violence to create a secure environment, to create the space for political reconciliation, and Iraq is as far from that as it’s ever been,” Schakowsky said.

Violence continues to plague Iraq, she said, adding that the day she was in Iraq,

“there were four U.S. soldiers killed in Diyala, there was a Brit killed in Baghdad — small arms fire. Thirty-three Iraqis were killed in Tal-Afar, in a residential neighborhood, by a truck bomb. Six street cleaners were killed by an IED [improvised explosive device] in Baghdad. Two people on a minibus, 17 bodies found killed by death squads.”

At press time, news media reported that a string of bombings had killed at least 250 people in two Iraqi Kurdish villages near the Syrian border.

However, it is expected that Petraeus will give a report that claims the U.S. military is making progress in Iraq, in order to convince Congress and the American people to give the war effort more time.

United for Peace and Justice has urged the public to use the congressional recess as a time to meet with their senators and representatives. In an open letter, Sue Udry, UFPJ legislative action coordinator, called for protests against pro-war Republican senators, urging postcards, e-mails, call-a-thons and meetings with local representatives.

As a centerpiece of its work, UFPJ is building for 10 massive regional demonstrations Oct. 27 to demand an end to the war.

Schakowsky said Petraeus told the delegation that things were going better in Iraq. The 190,000 U.S. weapons that have been reported missing, Petraeus said, were not actually missing. The military had a poor accounting system, but the guns went where they were supposed to, he claimed. Schakowsky noted, “We have no evidence that that ever happened.”

The general told the lawmakers that he sees U.S. forces in Iraq for at least nine to 10 more years.

Schakowsky said she had the impression that a major public relations campaign was being readied, adding that Petraeus spoke at length about the success in which Sunnis in Iraq’s Anbar province were turning away from al-Qaeda in Iraq. But Schakowsky argued that this was not much progress, that Anbar Sunnis had only allied with al-Qaeda in Iraq against the U.S. presence, and had moved away from them when they began committing atrocities against local people. The point, she said, is that they never would have allied with al-Qaeda in the first place, had it not been for the occupation.

While Petraeus is able to point to a slight decrease in violence, Schakowsky said, “At this point, four years later, the American people are taking a broader view. What are we accomplishing here? Remind me what this mission is all about? Why is it that this young man that I met at Landstuhl [U.S. military hospital in Germany] has now been hit eight times by IEDs and is stuttering, and has difficulty focusing? Is this what we should be doing? None of what is being described satisfactorily responds to that.”

She added that over the past few years, the trend in violence has been upward, though there have been monthly ups and downs.

“We’re now at the highest troop strength yet: 165,000 U.S. forces, 180,000 contractors. And we’re spending a record $12 billion every month,” Schakowsky said. “We’re up to about $1 trillion in a war that in 2003 Treasury Secretary Lindsay estimated to be between $100-200 billion for the entire war, and the White House forced a new estimate of $50-60 billion, so we’re way over budget.”

At press time, MoveOn was preparing for nationwide release of its “Cost of War” report in hundreds of cities and towns on Aug. 16. The organization said that the report will be “locally tailored,” that is, it will describe specifically how the war monetarily affects each community.

dmargolis @pww.org