What "winning" in Iraq looks like

How many false claims of "war victory" do we need to hear before we stop believing them?


Glenn Greenwald
December 17, 2007 5:04PM (UTC)

(updated below)

A new article in The Guardian reports on the horrendous conditions in Basra, the strategically important, oil-rich city in Southern Iraq now abandoned by British troops. The headline: "UK has left behind murder and chaos, says Basra police chief."

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The article details that Shiite militias -- which British troops "unintentionally" armed for years by failing to realize that the "security forces" had no allegiance to the central government -- completely dominate the city. The militias are "strong enough to overpower security forces and brutal enough to behead women considered not sufficiently Islamic." According to the police chief, "Basra has become so lawless that in the last three months 45 women have been killed for being 'immoral' because they were not fully covered or because they may have given birth outside wedlock" -- Freedom is on the March -- and "Shia militia are better armed than his men and control Iraq's main port."

Needless to say, the British, upon withdrawing, claimed -- just as our government does endlessly -- that they had achieved victory in Basra. The British General in charge of Basra "said the province had 'begun to regain its strength'" and added: "I came to rid Basra of its enemies and I now formally hand Basra back to its friends." But residents of Basra who live with the reality of what our invasion has wrought are quite emphatic about what has happened. From the BBC several days ago:

More than 85% of the residents of Basra believe British troops have had a negative effect on the Iraqi province since 2003, an opinion poll suggests.

The survey for BBC Newsnight of nearly 1,000 people also suggests that 56% believe their presence has increased the overall level of militia violence.

Winning Hearts and Minds. And Basra is one of the places being held up as a Success Story in light of the British withdrawal.

* * * * *

One of the other Sterling Success Stories -- Fallujah, located at the heart of the Glorious Anbar Miracle -- was also the subject of a recent article in the foreign press, this one in Asia Times by Ali al-Fadhily, one of the very few reporters to have been in Fallujah this year. Behold the Fruits of Liberation:

Three years after a devastating United States-led siege of the city, residents of Fallujah continue to struggle with a shattered economy, infrastructure and lack of mobility.

The city that was routed in November 2004 is still suffering the worst humanitarian conditions under a siege that continues. Although military actions are down to the minimum inside the city, local and US authorities do not seem to be thinking of ending the agonies of the over 400,000 residents of Fallujah.

"You, people of the media, say things in Fallujah are good," Mohammad Sammy, an aid worker for the Iraqi Red Crescent in Fallujah, told Inter Press Service (IPS). "Then why don't you come and live in this paradise with us? It is so easy to say things for you, isn't it?"

His anger is due to the fact that the embattled city is still completely closed and surrounded by military checkpoints to make it look like an isolated island. Those who are not genuine residents of the city are not granted the biometric identification badge from the US Marines, and are thus not allowed to enter the city.

This isolation has destroyed the economy of the city that was once one the best in Iraq," Professor Mohammad al-Dulaymi of al-Anbar University told IPS. "All of the other cities in the province used to do their wholesale shopping in Fallujah, but now they have to find alternatives, leaving the city's businesses to starve," he explained.

All of the residents interviewed by IPS were extremely angry with the media for recent reports that the situation in the city is good. Many refused to be quoted for different reasons. . . . Many residents told IPS that US-backed Iraqi police and army personnel have detained people who have spoken to the media.

Writing at The Podhoretz Family's Commentary Magazine, right-wing blog favorite Michael Totten -- who says he has been the only reporter other than al-Fadhily in Fallujah -- takes issue with some of al-Fadhily's claims about the extent to which Fallujah was destroyed by our 2004 military assualt. In doing so, Totten revealingly points out that he, Totten, is always with the U.S. military, while the independent al-Falahdy "isn't embedded with the military and [] focuses his attention on Iraqi civilians," as though that makes Totten's assertions more credible, rather than less credible, than al-Fadhily's.

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In any event, even Totten acknowledges:

The economy and infrastructure really are shattered. Unemployment is greater than 50 percent, as he says. It's true that most Iraqis -- in Fallujah as well as everywhere else -- don't have access to safe drinking water. . . .

There is no "siege" in Fallujah. [Al-Fadhily] is referring here to the hard perimeter around the city manned by Iraqi Police who prevent non-residents from bringing their cars in. It's an extreme measure, no doubt about it. But it keeps the car bombers and weapon smugglers out. Iraqis who live in Fallujah are free to come and go as they please. The non-resident vehicle ban is a defensive measure, like a national border or castle moat. Its purpose is to prevent a siege from the outside. . . .

Fallujah is a broken-down, ramshackle, impoverished wreck of a city. It was ruined by more than three years of war.

Here we have the Inspiring Anbar Miracle -- we flattened huge parts of Fallujah, now force its residents to live in a charming "moat" where no visitors can enter, and created a "wreck of a city" where residents have had no safe drinking water for years. And that's the description of the right's favorite war blogger who is typically ensconced with the U.S. military and who writes in order to argue that things aren't as bad as al-Falahdy suggests.

Totten also asserts with no evidence of any kind that al-Fadhily's report of citizens being arrested for speaking with reporters is false, but in doing so, he does admit:

I have been to the Iraqi Police jail in Fallujah. It's a terrible place that probably ought to be investigated by Human Rights Watch or the like. (The Marines I spoke to insist it is an abomination.)

But al-Fadhily's reports are based on discussions with Falljuah residents. Moreover, in the interview I conducted with AP's Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll last month, she reported that the detention of Iraqi journalists such as Bilal Hussein and others have made it virtually impossible for AP to find Iraqis willing to work as journalists for fear of retribution. Al-Fadhily's claims in this regard are far more credible than Totten's.

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Independently, in his Iraq chat last week, Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks made virtually every point that needs to be made to demonstrate that these claims of The Great Surge Leading to Victory are just as deceitful as all the pre-war claims were and just as manipulative as similar happy claims made about Iraq by war supporters over the four years. Said Ricks:

* Decreased militia violence is due to the fact that "the various warring factions are laying low to see if we'll declare victory and go away."

* A key reason "Baghdad is quieter is that ethnic cleansing has been completed in much of the city" (along with the walls that have been erected).

* Shiites are in control and we provide them with security, which means they'll never compromise as long as we stay since they have no incentive to do so.

* To the extent that people talk less about Iraq, it isn't "so much boredom as despair that [is] turning people away."

* "The theory of the surge -- that improved security would lead to a political breakthrough -- hasn't happened."

* "The U.S. invasion of Iraq has actually strengthened Iran's hand in the region. That is, it appears to the big winner in this war so far."

Bless the Surge.

* * * * *

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And then, finally, there is this article from this morning's Post reporting that "President Bush is facing new pressure from the U.S. military to accelerate a troop drawdown in Iraq and bulk up force levels in Afghanistan" all in order "to confront a resurgent Taliban movement." Even worse, according to CNN, "Australia's new defense minister warned U.S. and NATO allies over the weekend that they risk losing the war in Afghanistan without a sharp shift in military and reconstruction efforts there."

The notion that we are losing to the Taliban is extremely confusing given that this is what George Bush -- with virtually no contradiction -- told the country in 2004 when he was running for re-election (h/t Blue Texan): "That's why I said to the Taliban in Afghanistan: Get rid of al Qaeda; see, you're harboring al Qaeda. . . . And the Taliban, I guess, just didn't believe me. And as a result of the United States military, Taliban no longer is in existence."

In April, 2004, Seymour Hersh wrote a lengthy article, based largely on the warnings of Richard Clarke, documenting that "the Taliban are still a force in many parts of Afghanistan, and the country continues to provide safe haven for members of Al Qaeda." As Hersh reported, claims of Victory from the administration in Afghanistan were being made "in the face of renewed warnings, from international organizations, from allies, and from within its own military . . . that the situation there is deteriorating rapidly." Hersh also noted that "Clarke depicts the victory in Afghanistan as far less decisive than the Administration has portrayed it."

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But nobody listened to them. Hersh is now a leftist loon and Clarke is some disgruntled Clinton refugee and neither is a Serious Foreign Policy figure. Everyone knew that we Won in Afghanistan, just like everyone knows now that The Surge Has Worked, that Things are Going So Great in Iraq that it's not even an issue worth discussing any longer.

UPDATE: Ricks also affirmed in his chat that the permanent bases we are creating in Iraq were precisely the type which, when in Saudi Arabia, were "used as justification by Osama bin Laden to convince 15 Saudis to fly planes into the World Trade Center." Remember all of this:

From The Washington Times' Donald Lambro, April 28, 2003:

The [New York] Times, in a front-page story last week, reported that the U.S. military was setting up "permanent" bases in Iraq intimating, of course, that we will be occupying the country forever. I read the story and it seems as if it was cooly calculated to inflame the Iraqis. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld countered that the report was totally and completely false, angrily condemning this kind of fear-mongering, "Henny Penny" reporting. Henny is a character in the children's tale about Chicken Little, who claimed that "the sky is falling." It wasn't, it isn't and it won't.

We are going to repair the damage done to Iraq, help the Iraqi people start a government, and then get out of there as soon as we can. The fact is that conditions there are improving: Food shipments are making their way into the region; water lines and electricity are being turned on; for the first time in weeks, street lights are on in parts of Baghdad; medicines are being flown in; police forces are being hired to protect civilians; and schools and shops have reopened.

Fox News, April 21, 2003, Special Report with Brit Hume:

BAIER: The secretary did seem in a rush to shoot down a Sunday "New York Times" story, though.

RUMSFELD: Well, I would say that that article probably takes the award for world class thumb-sucker of this year.

BAIER: The front-page story cited unnamed Bush administration sources saying the United States was planning a long-term military-to-military relationship with Iraq, one that would allow the Pentagon to operate bases inside the country.

RUMSFELD: The impression left around the world is we plan to occupy the country, we plan to use their bases over a long period of time, and it's flat false.

In 2003, anyone who suggested that the outcome of the U.S. invasion of Iraq would be the establishment of permanent military bases was dismissed as a paranoid, conspiracy-obsessed, American-hating radical. All of the Serious People knew that the Bush administration had no such designs. We were invading in order to Liberate and would not stay a day later than necessary.

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Glenn Greenwald

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