Monday, August 06, 2007

What's Really Happening In Iraq--Improvement Is Not "Victory"

A week ago, the right wing blogosphere got all excited about a piece in the New York Times by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack entitled "A War We Might Just Win." O'Hanlon and Pollack are no apologists for the Bush administration. They reported on a recent trip to Iraq in which they found U.S. troop morale relatively high, the quality of Iraqi troops improved, and security in at least some parts of Iraq--those they were selectively taken to, we might add--better.

At the close of their upbeat report, however, O'Hanlon and Pollack delivered the bad news (widely ignored on the right):

"In the end, the situation in Iraq remains grave. In particular, we still face huge hurdles on the political front. Iraqi politicians of all stripes continue to dawdle and maneuver for position against one another when major steps towards reconciliation — or at least accommodation — are needed. This cannot continue indefinitely. Otherwise, once we begin to downsize, important communities may not feel committed to the status quo, and Iraqi security forces may splinter along ethnic and religious lines."

Now, are things really going all that well in Iraq? It's always hard to tell. Given how bad things have been, it's certainly possible to have improvement and still be awful. And that's the way it looks.

Here's a terrific piece from yesterday's Washington Post Outlook section, a first hand account from a Dr. Mohammed, a dentist who lives and works in Baghdad, entitled "A Week In The Death of Iraq." It sounds a lot more like "No End In Sight" than "A War We Might Win."

Dr. Mohammed, who also writes a blog called "Last of Iraqis" ( ), gives us a look at one week--a recent week, the same week the Iraqi national team won the Asian soccer cup--and it ain't pretty.

"I walk to my job at a government clinic 15 minutes from my home at the intersection of a Sunni and a Shiite neighborhood. We've had lots of bombings nearby. On my way, I see the hulks of burned-out cars. Barbed wire and concrete blocks line the streets. The ground is strewn with bullet casings. Death is in the air. A car passes me slowly in an alley, my heart beats rapidly and I pray that I won't be kidnapped or asked what sect I belong to."

Dr. Mohammed is afraid of the guards who work at his clinic. Most of the time they have no electricity, unless they pay someone on the neighborhood. He pays $120 a month for eight hours a day of electricity through such an arrangement. To get fuel at a gas station requires a six to eight hour wait. He's afraid to drive his BMW anywhere in town. It's 120 degrees out, but he cannot wear shorts because the Muslim militias don't allow it.

On Thursday, an explosion rocks his house before dawn. When he gets to work, the other dentists are all sitting in the courtyard--there's no electricity because the clinic's generator is out of fuel. The director hopes to get more fuel in a month or so.

Thursday night, he and his wife take a taxi to see his father-in-law. "The driver, as usual, is afraid to enter the neighborhood" and lets them off at a gate in a nearby square. "As we make our way to my father-in-law's house, a confrontation starts behind us. We dash into an alley. I relive in my mind what happened the previous week: A sniper from the Iraqi National Guard shot at us and forced us to cower in a ruined building for what seemed like hours."

Just as he's going to bed at this father-in-law's home, "there's an explosion in front of the house, followed by gunfire all around. We rush downstairs, where it's safer, and sleep on the floor. We spend another day full of nonstop explosions and gunfire at my father-in-law's before heading back home at noon on Saturday."

Even Iraq's dramatic soccer victory leads to mixed results--in Baghdad, two are killed and six wounded by rounds falling from the sky from people firing weapons in celebration; and dozens are killed in other parts of Iraq in violence surrounding the celebrations. On the other hand, Dr. Mohammed wanlks down a "death street" to find a celebration of Iraqis of all sects. "An Iraqi National Guard convoy rolls through, with soldiers dancing on top of the Humvees. I laugh out loud and feel safe for the first time since returning to Iraq [he and his wife had briefly fled to Jordan, but could find no work]."

A couple days later, however, Dr. Mohammed is back in usual mood. "After I finally go to bed at 3 a.m., after the neighborhood generator stops, the eternal questions start up again. Will it ever end? When will I die?"

While O'Hanlon and Pollack may have been cautiously optimistic after their guided tour of Iraq, Dr. Mohammed's stark account of life for an average Iraqi citizen shows the reality on the ground. We're far from "victory" in Iraq, whatever that is.

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