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27 September 2007 Edition

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INTERNATIONAL : US military steps up a gear

Today, Iraq —tomorrow, Iran?

THE FACT that the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks against New York's World Trade Centre and General David Petraeus's testimony to the US Congress coincided serves as a reminder of President George W Bush’s attempts to cast the American invasion and occupation of Iraq as part of the larger war on terror, a logical and supposedly unavoidable step to prevent the next 9/11 or avenge the last.
The falsity of the claimed connection was long ago exposed but the Bush administration is still resisting the facts. Now the Iranians’ nuclear programme has assumed the role of Iraq’s supposed ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ of Iraq in the mind of Bush and his acolytes: the perfect excuse for military intervention.
The ‘War against Terror’ was, from the start, a campaign of lies, unsuccessful missions and several other problems.
First it was the promise of democracy, pacification and security of the so-called 'rogue states’. To this end, the US allied itself with the dictatorships of General Musharraf in Pakistan and the Wahabi dictatorship in Saudi Arabia.
Bush’s ‘democracy’, made impracticable (if ever it was) by the increasing violence and insecurity in Afghanistan and Iraq, has ensured that US companies have made millions of dollars, secured contracts and the oil streams through to the US. However, Bush's first objective, the capture of 'International Public Enemy Number 1’, Osama bin Laden, remains unfulfilled. In fact, Osama has disappeared from the map, reappearing on the worldwide web and satellite TV via his tapes or videos, much to the annoyance of the US. Or is it to their relief, as his apparent freedom allows them to keep pursuing their particular 'pacification' agendas of places they find troublesome.

A single force drives all discussion about Iraq. It’s not so much about Iraqis. Washington’s concerns are the future of the US military, US prestige, US access to oil, and broader US strategic interests in the Middle East. Neither Petraeus nor US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker could convincingly claim that the latest Bush strategy, the American military escalation in Iraq, is achieving its original goals. Having assured us last spring that we would learn by September whether the so-called "surge" is a success, according to those benchmarks, the general and the diplomat now ask us to disregard the original measures, look elsewhere for wisps of hope, and give the Bush plan yet another six months.
General Petraeus gave a misleading report to the US Congress when he said "significant progress" was being made in Iraq, including a sharp drop in the number of attacks on American forces and a lessening of sectarian violence (
"What people came away with from the report is that the situation is better for people living in Iraq and that's just not true," said Yifat Susskind of the women's rights organisation MADRE. "That's refuted both by the fact that statistics don't bear it out and in the experiences of the regular Iraqis we speak to on a daily basis."
In fact, a joint ABC/BBC poll showed that 70 per cent of Iraqis believe security has deteriorated since the Bush administration increased the number of troops in Iraq this spring. Some 60 per cent believe attacks on US forces are justified, a number that includes 93 per cent of Sunnis.
According to the poll, only 29 per cent of Iraqis now think the situation will get better, compared to 64 per cent who shared that optimism before the so-called "surge" of troops began.
The survey cannot be said to contain any data from which even the most facile manipulator could make a colourful collection of upbeat charts. The proportion of Iraqis who rate their local security positively (43 per cent) is unchanged since March. When asked to assess the “surge” overall, Iraqis are particularly negative: more than two-thirds say the stepped-up US military presence has worsened security, worsened the country's political dialogue, and worsened the pace of reconstruction and economic development.
"One of the most cynical things General Petraeus did was celebrate the fact that there's a decline in sectarian violence," Susskind said. "But that drop reflects the success of ethnic cleansing rather than anything the US military has done. The reality is that there are places where killing is down because there's nobody left to kill."
A poll by ORB, a British polling agency that has conducted several surveys in Iraq, has suggested that the total number slain during more than four years of war is more than 1.2 million.
According to the group Refugees International, nearly five million Iraqis have been forced from their homes since the fall of Saddam Hussein. More than two million people are now displaced inside the country, and an additional 2.5 million have fled to neighbouring countries.
The numbers continue to grow with as many as 100,000 per month newly displaced within the country and another 40,000 to 60,000 fleeing to Syria.

While General Petraeus portrays the eventual withdrawal of several brigades as the result of "success", the truth is that the US Army, Marines and National Guard will soon reach breaking point.
In addition, two retired US Army generals – Lieutenant-General Robert Gard (who now works at the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington), and Brigadier-General John Johns (a board member at the non-profit Council for a Livable World) - released a statement arguing the continued American occupation of Iraq is destroying the US military.
"Continued engagement in Iraq's civil war distracts the United States from our more urgent missions in Afghanistan and enhanced homeland security, stretches the US military to the breaking point, inflicts psychological scars on returning veterans and breaks up their families, causes mounting American casualties, increases the drain on the US Treasury, and erodes our stature in the world," the generals wrote in a statement.
Gard, who served in combat during both the Korean and Vietnam wars, said that Petraeus's report and Bush's speech afterwards reminded him of 1967, when then-Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara told President Lyndon Johnson that he thought the Vietnam War was lost.
"Lyndon Johnson privately agreed, but no president wants to lose a war," Gard told OneWorld. "So we surged. In 1968, we had lost 24,000 young men. Five years later we had lost 58,000 and nothing was accomplished.
"Now we're going down the same path," he said.
"We didn't alter the outcome by that surge and now you've got Bush in office and he isn't going to be changed unless he's forced to do so."

International opinion is now occupied, though, not so much by the surge in Iraq but with the increasing probability of an attack against Iran. With the US keen to push for a third UN Security Council resolution authorising a further tranche of sanctions against Iran, both London and Washington have increased the heat by alleging that they are already fighting a proxy war with Tehran in Iraq.
Perhaps more worrying are the well-sourced claims from conservative think-tanks in the US that there have been 'instructions' by the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney to roll out support for a war against Iran.
Pentagon and CIA officers say they believe that the White House has begun a carefully calibrated programme of escalation that could lead to a military showdown with Iran.
General Petraeus’s denunciation of Iran’s “proxy war” in Iraq point out to the administration’s intention to launch the campaign against Iran in the near future - maybe with raids from bases in Iraq.

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