Friday, August 31, 2007

New GAO Report on Iraq

A new report from the Government Accountability Office seems to support what most objective observers of Iraq have long realized: the country as a whole has fallen apart and there is little reason to believe that the so-called "surge" can doing anything to turn it around. The GAO report itself finds that the Iraqi government has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated "benchmarks" -- after the White House claimed earlier this summer that eight had been met. Of course, as University of Michigan professor and Middle East expert Juan Cole points out at his blog, the debate over the these ambiguous benchmarks and the accompanying argument over whether the "surge" is "working" is rather absurd considering how little it has to do with actual conditions on the ground for the Iraqi people.

I personally find the controversy about Iraq in Washington to be bizarre. Are they really arguing about whether the situation is improving? I mean, you have the Night of the Living Dead over there. 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.

The average number of Iraqis killed in 2007 per day exceeds those killed in 2006. Independent counts by news organizations do not agree with Pentagon estimates about drops in civilian deaths over-all. Nation-wide attacks in June reached a daily all-time high of 177.5. True, violence in Baghdad has been wrestled back down to the levels of summer, 2006 (hint: it wasn't paradise), but violence levels are up in the rest of the country. If you compare each month in 2006 with each month in 2007 with regard to US military deaths, the 2007 picture is dreadful.

Iraq as a country has ceased to exist. By any reasonable measurement it is a failed state. But turn on any Sunday talk show and the same discredited pundits and think-tank ideologues are there, obfuscating and distorting the painful reality on the ground for political reasons. If you're instead looking for a realistic view of conditions in Iraq look to people like Professor Cole, British journalist and reporter for the Independent (UK) Patrick Cockburn, and one of the few outlets to not buy into pre-war hysteria about Iraq WMD's, McClatchy news service -- not cable news. Not only will you save money on your utilities, but you might actually learn something.

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