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EDITORIAL
"Mission accomplished" again?

December 7, 2007 | Page 2

A NEW U.S. war lie--concocted by the Bush administration, endorsed by the Democrats, embraced by the mainstream media--has been deployed to justify continuing the occupation in Iraq.

The claim is that the Bush "surge" of 30,000 U.S. troops to Iraq worked--and is, at long last, bringing "peace" and "stability."

"Since the last soldiers of the 'surge' deployed last May, Baghdad has undergone a remarkable transformation," the Chicago Tribune reported.

"No longer do the streets empty at dusk. Liquor stores and cinemas have reopened for business. Some shops stay open until late into the evening. Children play in parks, young women stay out after dark, restaurants are filled with families and old men sit at sidewalk cafes playing backgammon and smoking shisha pipes."

But lurking behind the hype is a different reality--one that reporters working in Iraq readily admit.

A Pew Research Center poll of U.S. reporters working in Iraq found that "[n]early 90 percent of U.S. journalists in Iraq say much of Baghdad is still too dangerous to visit"--and that many believe U.S. media "coverage has painted too rosy a picture of the conflict."

The U.S. government's statistics showing decreased sectarian violence in Iraq are deceptive, according to Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks, just returned from a trip to Baghdad.

"Some Sunni neighborhoods are walled off, and other Sunni areas have been ethnically cleansed," Ricks wrote. "In addition, the Shiite death squads, in addition to killing a lot of innocents, also killed some of the car bomb guys, I am told."

What's more, writes Ricks, violence in Baghdad "is only back down to the 2005 level--which to my mind is kind of like moving from the eighth circle of hell to the fifth."

Amid the flurry of stories in the New York Times celebrating the "return of normalcy" to Iraq, one article by reporter Damien Cave pointed out that spin was standing in for substance in many reports.

Some 20,000 Iraqis returned from Syria, where more than 2 million Iraqis fled in the last couple years--until Syria refused to allow any more refugees to enter.

But as Cave writes, "The description of the scope of the return, however, appears to have been massaged by politics. Returnees have essentially become a currency of progress. Under intense pressure to show results after months of political stalemate, the government has continued to publicize figures that exaggerate the movement back to Iraq and Iraqis' confidence that the current lull in violence can be sustained."

In fact, a UN survey of 110 Iraqi families leaving Syria found that 46 percent could no longer afford to stay due to Syria's refusal to grant Iraqi refugees work visas; 25 percent cited problems caused by Syria's stricter entry policies for refugees; and just 14 percent said they heard that Iraq had become safer.

In any case, 20,000 people returning to a country of 22 million, where some 4 million people have been made refugees, hardly seems like cause for celebration.

In this light, the media happy talk seems less a reflection of reality and more a manifestation of the Bush administration's new justification for why the U.S. should stay in Iraq.

Before, we were told that U.S. troops had to stay to keep the country from descending into chaos. Now, we are told that U.S. troops have to stay because the occupation is working--and it would be a shame to withdraw right at the moment that military force is beginning to pay some dividends.

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U.S. MILITARY planners would like to figure out a way to translate this perception of improvements in security into a more durable political settlement by getting Iraq's Shia-dominated government to reach out to the Sunni resistance.

But the newfound alliance between the U.S. and Sunni fighters against the common enemy of al-Qaeda in Iraq leaves little reason for Sunnis to make any concessions. After all, the U.S. has already delegated local control to Sunni leaders and offered other support--both economic and military--to Sunni militias.

In any case, any settlement negotiated by the U.S. is likely to stoke more opposition to the occupation. "Any deal we broker, any leader we promote, any government we sponsor has just gotten the kiss of death," wrote journalist Robert Dreyfuss. "What unites Iraqi Arabs, from the Sunni resistance to the Mahdi Army, is opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, as well as opposition to Al Qaeda and to Iran's heavy-handed interference in Iraqi affairs."

There is little reason to think that whatever drop in violence has taken place can be sustained--if for no other reason than the U.S. hasn't given up its imperial ambitions of dominating the Middle East and controlling its energy resources, and that is the source of Iraqi resistance.

This is why Republican and Democratic leaders have moved closer on Iraq--they all agree on the goal of projecting U.S. power in the region. So you won't be hearing the leading Democratic presidential candidates do more than posture about Iraq, while quietly admitting that they don't support a U.S. withdrawal for years to come.

The bipartisan Washington establishment is rallying around the consensus that the surge worked because it provides the excuse for continued occupation. Opponents of the war need to expose this new war lie--and insist that life in Iraq will only really improve when the U.S. gets out.

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