It will be 18 months ago this election eve, since President Bush on May 1, 2003, donned a flight jacket, landed on the carrier Abraham Lincoln and before a “Mission Accomplished” banner announced the end of “major combat” in Iraq. He proudly said: “The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We have removed an ally of Al Qaeda and cut off a source of terrorist funding.” Only 114 US service people had died in what an administration US official called “a slam-dunk” war.
As Bush spoke gunfire ominously sounded in the streets of Iraq, and since the news was bad. US teams searched in vain for weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda. The CIA’s expert, Ahmed Chelabi, promised our troops would be greeted with flowers, but instead they became targets. Misrepresentations, miscalculations and rising casualties made members of the Coalition of the Willing more willing to head home.
As resistance stiffened that July, less the three months after “Mission Accomplished,” US General Arbizaid, said he faced “what I would describe as a classical guerrilla-type campaign against us.” Pentagon experts blamed the violence on Al Qaeda, Saddam loyalists, and foreigners, but it was growing wider and deeper.
The administration remained confident. That September the President said: “We have carried the fight to the enemy . . . so that we do not meet him again on our own streets.” In December, after Saddam Hussein was pulled from a hole in the desert, victory was again proclaimed. But members of Iraq’s diverse religious groups, increasingly found a common home in the insurgency.
Several weeks ago President Bush told a TV newsman he would do it all over again — the flight jacket, the carrier, the victory speech. After all, he insisted, Hussein is in prison, the government is preparing for elections, democracy is trumping terrorism and he has Hussein’s pistol as a trophy.
However, today more than a thousand US soldiers are dead, and the toll this September of more than 76 is up from 42 in June, and higher than any of the previous three months. At least 7,000 other servicemen and women have suffered severe injuries, 18,000 have been medically evacuated from the war zone, and 33,000 have sought medical care from the Veterans Administration. Upwards of 13,000 Iraqis have died, largely women and children. US forces face attacks 87 times a day, and Iraq pipelines are hit nearly every day. This October insurgents penetrated the secure “green zone” to kill Americans and local collaborators.
Hans Blix, chief UN weapons inspector, now calls the US invasion “a tragedy and failure” and says it “has stimulated terrorism.” The coalition has shrunk: Americans are nearly ninety percent of the troops in Iraq and more than ninety-five percent of casualties. Abu Ghraib, known as the dictator’s worst prison, today is even more infamous in the Middle East as a symbol of American decadence and domination.
With insurgent forces in control of Falluja, Samara, Karbala, Ramadi and parts of Bagdad, a New York Times article stated, “One by One Iraqi Cities Become No-Go Zones.” Dexter Filkins of the New York Times [October 10th, 2004] reported from Bagdad that most European reporters have left, and fewer Americans remain than a few months ago. “To be an American reporter in Iraq, any kind of American, is not just to be a target yourself, but it is to make a target of others, too,” he concluded.
US-selected Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi can deliver an up-beat speech to the US Congress, but he cannot travel in Baghdad or other cities without a massive US military presence. Some 2,429 insurgent attacks shook Iraq this September, 997 in Baghdad. Afghanistan also spins out of control, so when President Hamid Karzai leaves his Kabul palace for another city, he requires a US protective shield. Osama Bin Laden is still at large, and the Talaban is regrouping there and elsewhere.
The Pentagon claims that only 5,000 are involved in the Iraq resistance, but less biased US sources place the number at 100,000. Insurgents are itching to get at the 140,000-strong US occupation force. On September 16th USA Today reported, “Insurgents in Iraq Appear More Powerful Than Ever,” and the New York Times headlined a CIA report “Pessimism on Iraq’s Future: Civil War Called Possible.” London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies reports that “over 18,000 potential terrorists are at large with recruitment accelerating on account of Iraq.”
As the holiday of Ramadan began in October, the front page of the New York Times reported more grim news. US military assaults on Falluja “sent a wave of panic through” its citizens and prompted Bagdad clerics to threaten “to call for a ‘holy war’ against the American forces.” As attacks increased Philip Carter, a former US Army captain, said, “There are no rear units in Iraq any more.” 18 men and women of the 343rd Quarter Master Company, a Reserve unit, were arrested for refusing a direct order to deliver supplies. They claimed they had “broken-down trucks” and lacked armed escorts, armor, training, and spare parts. In interviews with the Times CIA officials, guards and others assigned to Guantanamo revealed long before Abu Ghraib became known many inmates were subject to abuse that “fried them” and left them “completely out of it.” On an inside Times page, Marek Belka, the Polish Prime Minister, told his Parliament of plans to reduce Poland’s 2,400 troop contingent, since more than 75% of Poles oppose the war.
For some Iraq has been a bonanza. Today Halliburton has $18 billion in contracts for Iraq, an 80% increase over the previous March; Bechtel holds $3 billion in contracts; Lockheed Martin’s shares have tripled between 2002 and 2004; and Chevron’s Iraq oil contracts have soared 90% in the last year. Former US administrator for Iraq Paul Bremer ruled US business profits do not have to be invested in Iraq or its recovery, so these corporations increasingly donate to the party that rewards them.
For the many of us the question is: Will what goes around come around on election day?
WILLIAM LOREN KATZ is the author of forty US history books. His website is: williamlkatz.com