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The Gross National Debt

Friday, November 24, 2006

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos and ePluribus Media)

As recently as late June of this year our esteemed Vice President, Darth Cheney, stood by his assertion that the insurgency was in its "last throes".

This bears some investigation. Things are coming together in Iraq and in the Middle East. I am surrounded by an intense feeling that this is a pivotal period in Iraq that is coming to a head and doing so quickly.

Stay with me over the fold as I work through this.

Juan Cole kicks us off.

Friday, November 24, 2006

233 Dead in Civil War Carnage
Health Ministry Besieged
3,000 Widows Created Each Month

So as Thursday began, Sunni Arab guerrillas surrounded and attacked the Ministry of Health, which is dominated by followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The guerrillas trapped 2,000 employees in the compound and threatened to kill any who came outside. They also subjected the building to mortar fire. The ministry guards, who are probably Mahdi Army, kept them at bay but lost 7 men doing it. It took US and Iraqi forces 2 hours to respond, and the guerrillas were only finally dispersed by helicopter gunships. The siege probably came in revenge for the Mahdi Army attack on the Sunni-run Ministry of Higher Education two weeks ago.

If you're still recovering from your Turkey/Family Day, yesterday was a brutal and bloody day in Iraq. On a day where we were celebrating our national traditions, Iraqi civilians were brutally assaulted:

BAGHDAD, Nov. 24 -- A barrage of car bombs, mortar attacks and missiles battered the Shiite Muslim slum of Sadr City on Thursday afternoon, *killing around 200 people and injuring as many more* in the single deadliest assault on Iraqi civilians since the start of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

This is yet another information point in what has long ago become a deadly environment for Iraqi civilians:

More than 1,000 Iraqis a day are being displaced by the sectarian violence that began on Feb. 22 with the bombing of the Shiite Askariya shrine in Samarra, according to a report released this week by the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration, a U.N.-associated group.

This increasing movement of Iraqi families, caused by the lack of security and by the growth of armed local militias and criminal gangs, is adding to the already chaotic governmental situation in Baghdad, according to U.N., U.S. and non-governmental reports released over the past weeks.

An email received by Juan Cole illuminates these events:

'It is desperate in Iraq, *worse then ever and there is no end in sight*. I had lunch with [a former high ranking medical educator in Iraq] two days ago. [He] noted that Iraq no longer has neuro-surgeons, no cardiac surgeons, few pediatric doctors - they are all gone, killed or fled to neighboring countries like him. He was given seven days to get out or be killed. He is one of the lucky ones. He and his family have an opportunity for a new life in the US. But what about all the others. Where are they to go?

Another friend, a Sunni sheikh of the Shammar tribe noted to me that *thousands of former officers are prepared to assault the G[reen] Z[one]*. It is no longer a matter of can they do it, they are *only mulling over the timing*. The breach of the Green Zone security the other day was a test of their ability to get in, and not a real attempt at a coup, though it is reported as such. Every Iraqi I talk to says unambiguously that the resistance attached to the former regime would take out the Shiite militias with barely a fight, but that the resistance will not commit wholesale revenge against the Shiite population. They just want to get rid of the "carpet baggers" from Iran.'

Chaos. Adding a twist to the entire situation is the latest ultimatum from Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr:

Powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is threatening to withdraw support from Iraq's government if Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki meets President Bush next week, an al-Sadr representative said Friday.

Such a move could jeopardize the stability of the administration of al-Maliki who has relied on the support of both the United States and his fellow Shiites.

The White House said talks between Bush and al-Maliki in Jordan next week would go ahead as planned. Al-Maliki's office has not responded to the threat by Salih al-Akeili, a member of the al-Sadr bloc in Iraq's parliament, that aired on Iraqi TV.

The move came as attacks on Sunni mosques were reported in apparent retaliation for a bloodbath in a Shiite area on Thursday.

This puts incredible pressure, as the article notes, on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Needing the support of both the US /and/ Al-Sadr, Al-Maliki will alienate one faction or the other if he either proceeds with his meetings with Bush or pulls out of those meetings with Bush. Al-Sadr's statement (or warning) is the throwing down of a proverbial gauntlet that Al-Maliki will have to address.

As I am writing this, CNN is reporting that a spokesman for Al-Sadr has said that Iraqi forces, backed by US forces, have entered Sadr city from the Eastern and Northeaster sides of the city to impose calm and control on the area. Coalition aircraft and helicopters are reported to be involved in this effort.

This just gets worse and worse. Iraqi civilian attacks and deaths are at an all-time high. The price these people are paying for our hubris is astonishing and shameful. I find it difficult to believe that there is even a /question/ about going big, going long, or going home.

I have a read a variety of even-handed voices arguing against going home. The basis for their argument is, of course, that to go home now will plunge Iraq into a pattern of violence and civil war that is unconscionable. I hear and understand these arguments. But at some point, the only choices left are bad ones. That is the state in which we find ourselves today. We have so badly botched the "liberation" of Iraq that not only are we faced with utter and complete defeat - we are faced with empowering other nations who seek to do us harm.

At let me be clear: we don't have to be attacked, at home or abroad, to suffer this harm. Case in point: Iran and Syria. Both are emerging as the only potential way out of the death and destruction our incursion into Iraq has created. Via the Boston Globe:

The Iranian parliamentary speaker, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that Saturday's summit in Tehran is designed to bring Iran, Syria, and Iraq closer together. "We hope the summit will boost relations between the three countries," he said.

--snip--

The United States insists Iran and Syria are helping fuel the turmoil in Iraq, and it wants Iraqi leaders to send a strong message to Tehran to stop interference. Iran is believed to give backing to Shi'ite militias accused in Iraq's sectarian violence, and Syria is accused by the United States of turning a blind eye to Iraqi insurgents that use its territory as a base.

At the same time, the Bush administration is under increased pressure at home to open a dialogue with Iran and Syria to help calm Iraq. The Tehran summit may be an attempt by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to show that any dialogue over his country's role in Iraq will be on his terms.

Consider this: four years ago, could anyone, regardless of politics, have envisioned a /worse/ outcome? We are, despite our protestations, driving power and influence to Iran and Syria. They're no fools. Our administration likes to paint these two countries with language that leaves the impression of a backward people, archaic in their mindset and tactics. Yet every move we make in Iraq lends credence to the /idea/ that only Iran and Syria can exert influence that will help calm the bloodshed in Iraq. Iran and Syria are playing this /perfectly/. The fact that they are instrumental in creating the chaos they seek to assist in controlling is irrelevant.

We have allowed this.

There were a plethora of options as we planned our incursion into Iraq. I was adamantly against this war from the beginning. HOWEVER - once the war itself was begun, I resigned myself to wishing most aredently for excellent planning and execution on the part of the United States. I am frequently reminded of one of the best lessons I learned from a childhood neighbor who was also a Pastor at a local Methodist church. He encouraged my parents to bring me to his "Children's Sermon", which they did. In one of those sermons, he took a traditional tube of toothpaste and paper plate. He squeezed that toothpaste out onto the plate in front of the assembled children. He handed me the plate with the mound of toothpaste and said one thing:

"Now put it back in."

Of course I couldn't. And I am frequently drawn back to that lesson as events unfold in Iraq. We squeezed the tube and we can't put it back in. And we opened the door for Iran and Syria to come out with increased influence and position in the region as being the /only ones who can save the carnage/ that occurs every day in Iraq.

I choose "Go Home". The /best/ we're left with at this point is to apply a tourniquet to our reputation and simply stop the bleeding. We're going to lose the limb. There's no helping that. And it's going to take time and new leadership to allow us to be healthy again. I don't expect to see restoration of our reputation in the world in my lifetime. But we have to start working towards that end /NOW/ if there's any hope.

Apologize and leave. It's the only option left to us.



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