Saturday, June 25, 2005

Abizaid: Insurgency still strong

From the directly contradicted recent statements by the vice president and the secretary of defense. Canada's Globe and Mail reports that Gen. Abizaid "conceded yesterday that the Iraqi insurgency is as strong as it was six months ago, countering declarations by Vice President Dick Cheney that the revolt is 'in its last throes.' "

"In terms of the overall strength of the insurgency, I'd say it's about the same as it was," he said, declining to specifically criticize Mr. Cheney's upbeat assessment of the continuing conflict.

Gen. Abizaid also said that there are more foreign fighters entering Iraq today than there were six months ago. On Wednesday, a classified CIA document that was leaked to the media showed that the war in Iraq is becoming a urban warfare training ground for many of these foreign fighters. He also recently said there would be a surge in violence in Iraq, particularly against "soft targets" such as civilians and aid workers, as insurgents try to disrupt elections slated for September, but that the process would go ahead regardless of attacks.

When asked to explain the contradiction between his earlier statements and those of Gen. Abizaid. Mr. Cheney told CNN it all depends what you mean by "throes."

"If you look at what the dictionary says about throes, it can still be a violent period, the throes of a revolution," he said. "The point would be that the conflict will be intense, but it's intense because the terrorists understand that if we're successful at accomplishing our objective – standing up a democracy in Iraq – that that's a huge defeat for them.

Abizaid raised another key issue - public support of the war in Iraq. The Boston Globe reports that he warned that troops are starting to worry about public support for the war. The general "implored political leaders to engage in a frank discussion about how to keep the country behind a mission that the armed forces believe is 'a war worth fighting.' "

A recent CNN poll shows that public support for the war it as low as it has ever been - 39 percent of Americans still believes the US should be fighting in Iraq. The Globe and Mail also reports that US politicans are starting to see evidence of this swing in support even in solidly "red" states.

"Public support in my state is turning," said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, part of the heartland of Bush support. "People are beginning to question. And I don't think it's a blip on the radar screen. We have a chronic problem on our hands."

Cheney, in Thursday's CNN interview, said the Bush administration doesn't "pay much attention" to poll showing support for the war fading.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other US military commanders tried to assure a fractious Congressional hearing that things are not all that bad in Iraq. The Detroit Free Press reports that Gen. George Casey, commander of multinational forces in Iraq, "told lawmakers that the insurgents represent 'less than one-tenth of 1 per cent of the Iraqi population.' He expressed confidence that the insurgency would be defeated, although he added that the solution lay in the political process."

Rumsfeld and Gen. Casey say Iraqi troops now number 170,000, but declined to say how many have been fully trained. Rumsfeld also told the hearing that the US is "not losing the war in Iraq."

Salon writer Mark Benjamin details the "return of the body counts." For the first time in the Iraq war, and in direct contradiction to prior statements by top US military leaders, commanders in the field are now reporting the number of insurgents killed.

An extensive review of combat accounts from military commanders reveals that regular reporting of body counts appears to have begun with the battle for Fallujah in November 2004. US Marines' assault on the insurgent stronghold, launched immediately after the US presidential election, was considered critical to showing progress in the war. The Pentagon estimated 1,200 to 1,600 enemy fighters killed - though at the time the media noted a large and "mysterious" discrepancy in the body count reported following the battle.

If history offers any clue, counting dead insurgents is a misleading endeavor that can destroy trust in the Pentagon and ultimately lead to atrocities on the battlefield. During the Vietnam War, historians say, inflated body counts that sometimes included civilians shattered the Pentagon's credibility with the American people and undercut support for that war. Former soldiers from that era say that relying too much on body counts can drive soldiers in the field to commit atrocities in order to achieve a high number of kills – though there is no indication that is happening in Iraq.

The Guardian reports on a bold attack earlier this week by insurgents against Baghdad's largest police station, and the effect it had on inhabitants of the city.

Residents said their confidence in the government and security forces was severely dented. A rash of graffiti has spread across the area: "We will be back." One taxi driver, a Shia who loathes the mostly Sunni Arab resistance, shrugged. "Yes, they will."

Finally, CNN reports that a new poll taken by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows that the image of the United States "is so tattered overseas two years after the Iraq invasion that communist China is viewed more favorably than the US in many long-time Western European allies." The polls were taken in 16 countries, including the US, from late April to the end of May with samples of about 1,000 people from each country.