Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 20, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

BAGHDAD SNAPSHOT....The New York Times reports on life in Baghdad:

The security improvements in most neighborhoods are real. Days now pass without a car bomb, after a high of 44 in the city in February. The number of bodies appearing on Baghdad's streets has plummeted to about 5 a day, from as many as 35 eight months ago, and suicide bombings across Iraq fell to 16 in October, half the number of last summer and down sharply from a recent peak of 59 in March, the American military says.

As a result, for the first time in nearly two years, people are moving with freedom around much of this city. In more than 50 interviews across Baghdad, it became clear that while there were still no-go zones, more Iraqis now drive between Sunni and Shiite areas for work, shopping or school, a few even after dark. In the most stable neighborhoods of Baghdad, some secular women are also dressing as they wish. Wedding bands are playing in public again, and at a handful of once shuttered liquor stores customers now line up outside in a collective rebuke to religious vigilantes from the Shiite Mahdi Army.

I sure hope they can make this stick. Until there's some serious progress at the political level I'll remain pretty skeptical, but it would sure be nice to be wrong.

Kevin Drum 1:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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Comments

Ok, we win. Let's come home.

Posted by: craigie on November 20, 2007 at 1:39 AM | PERMALINK

but it would sure be nice to be wrong

Thank you.

Posted by: John Hansen on November 20, 2007 at 1:58 AM | PERMALINK

The sooner we get out of there the sooner they can turn Iraq into an Islamic theocracy to serve as a shining city on the hill for the rest of the Moslem countries.

Posted by: Luther on November 20, 2007 at 2:14 AM | PERMALINK

To the extent this is true, it is to the credit of Petraeus. Of course, sadly, it also shows how Petraeus sold out to politics. As he was criticized from the right, to the extent the surge is working, and has worked, now is not the time for Petraeus to be removing troops, but instead he should be ensuring the training of the Iraqi Army and police force.

Posted by: jerry on November 20, 2007 at 2:17 AM | PERMALINK


One word of warning: Kirkuk.
Otherwise, a cautious optimism is not crazy.

Now, either the reduction in violence is because of "the surge", or it isn't. If it is, does that mean drawing down the surge will let the violence increase again? I don't know, but I wish our resident wingnuts would weigh in on that question.

My own guess is that, come next spring, the die-hard Bushies will be in a bind. If, as we hope, violence keeps decreasing (maybe even to the point where a month goes by without an American soldier killed), the Bushies will need some new excuse to keep half the Army in Iraq. It will be hard for them to explain why "the troops", having achieved "victory", still can't come home.

-- TP

Posted by: Tony P. on November 20, 2007 at 2:22 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not clear what's going on here: is the civil war over, did one side win? Have the Sunnis decided to give in to a Shia government?

If the civil war isn't over, is this just a ceasefire, or is it just that there's now enough US troops in Baghdad for it to become a safe zone?

If I was ridiculously America-centric, I'd guess this means Al Sadr wants Hillary to be president.

Posted by: Boronx on November 20, 2007 at 2:26 AM | PERMALINK

For a decidedly less rosy view of Baghdad see this piece in the Asia Times:

”I would like to agree with the idea that violence in Iraq has decreased and that everything is fine,” retired general Waleed al-Ubaidy told Inter Press Servce (IPS) in Baghdad. ”But the truth is far more bitter. All that has happened is a dramatic change in the demographic map of Iraq.”

And as with Baquba and other violence-hit areas of Iraq, he says a part of the story in Baghdad is that there is nobody left to tell it: ”Most of the honest journalists have left.”


In Iraq, The Silence of the Lambs

Posted by: nepeta on November 20, 2007 at 2:59 AM | PERMALINK

We still need more political cooperation between the Sunnis and Shias. I'll be very glad when we can bring our troops out of there.

Posted by: trashhauler on November 20, 2007 at 3:35 AM | PERMALINK

Could it be that between the 1 to 2 million people who have fled the country and the approximately 1 million Iraqi dead that there is either no one left to kill or no one alive to do the killing?

Destroying a country is not the same as saving it, by the way.

Oh yeah, craigie nailed it (again)!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on November 20, 2007 at 5:43 AM | PERMALINK

When every Sunni has fled or been killed already, violence against Sunnis stops. It's a Miracle!.

Posted by: lilybart on November 20, 2007 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

Baghdad is the entirety of Iraq!

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on November 20, 2007 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

The New York Times is finally reporting what Michael Yon and others were reporting two weeks ago. Better late than never.

Posted by: ex-liberal on November 20, 2007 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

To the extent this is true, it is to the credit of Petraeus.

Really? How does this report of alleged falls in violence and death fit in with:

1. The annual cycle of rising and falling violence in synch with the seasons: Isn't this the time of year when violence has been down each of the past four years?

2. The reduction in operations of MNF-I troops: Does the reduction in violence match the reduction in combat operations, making it a valid chicken-or-egg question?

Posted by: phein on November 20, 2007 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

We don't have any choice except to start reducing the number of troops in Iraq in the spring, unless we're willing to extend soldiers' tours of duty to 18 months. I don't think Americans will accept that--whether violence remains down or not. At this point both scenarios--less violence and more violence--justify troop withdrawal. Less violence means we won, so we should bring the troops home so the Iraqis can re-build their nation without the irritant of American occupation. More violence means we failed and there are no more military options, so we might as well bring the troops home.

If the plan was always to keep large military contingents in Iraq, I don't see how that can be justified any more.

Posted by: cowalker on November 20, 2007 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

Working, hell
It isn't that the surge is working. It's that in August, Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had ordered his followers to put down their weapons for six months. Why? I suspect it was to give us the opportunity to declare victory and get the hell out. Therefore, in the immortal words of Trex,
And let’s declare victory and get the fuck out of there, okay? OKAY?!

Posted by: bob on November 20, 2007 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

Let's see, the Shiites still want all the power for themselves, the Sunnis still want to retake control of the country, and the Kurds don't even want to be part of Iraq anymore. We're supplying the Sunnis with more guns and cash. The weapons we're supplying to the Shiite-dominated army are disappearing. Yup, everything's OK now.

Posted by: Speed on November 20, 2007 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

We have several factors at work here, none of which have anything to do with Petraeus or "the surge."

1. The Mehdi Army has stood down, at least temporarily.

2. A couple of million people have left Iraq.

3. Neighborhoods, and even entire cities, have been ethnically cleansed.

4. We're paying and arming the Sunni tribal and militia leaders to push out the wannabe leaders of AQI.

So what happens when the refugees return? When the people from the ethnically cleansed neighborhoods want to return home? When the Mehdi Army resumes action? When the Sunni tribal and militia leaders have consolidated their power in their own region? Where are the political benefits that were supposed to be the real measure of the success or failure of "the surge?"

Posted by: PaulB on November 20, 2007 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Actually Michael Yon has been reporting this story for years...while violence just ticked up and up and up - which is why he has no credibility.

Posted by: trex on November 20, 2007 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

I was actually going to send an email to both you, Kevin, and Steve over at Carpetbagger asking to post pretty much what you did: That the "success" we're seeing is actually real, and it is a good thing.

Yes, yes ... it has a lot to do with ethnic cleansing being effective, the mass exodus of people, and there is still no political progress. All of that is quite troubling, and there is no guarantee the success will last.

Let's at least acknowledge it, however, and recognize it as a good thing. Sure, the GOP may score some political points off the deal, and that kinda sucks.

But the benefits for the Iraqi people and our military personnel far outweigh any loss in the polls. It's sometimes hard to see past that, but it's important that we do. At least every now and then.

:-)

Posted by: Mark D on November 20, 2007 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Mark D,

Your statement that

the benefits for the Iraqi people and our military personnel far outweigh any loss in the polls

assumes as fact what many here are questioning: Is there any real benefit for the Iraqi people? Is there any real benefit for US troops? Or is this a normal lull in the cycle of violence, compounded by a few temporary external factors, that changes nothing?

And to imply as you do that, well, yes, we've killed or driven out 3 million, but look at the good that has brought, is not an argument that will gain much traction here.

Posted by: phein on November 20, 2007 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

Progress is being made in Iraq. There was a wedding and it was not bombed by the US.

Posted by: Brojo on November 20, 2007 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK
And to imply as you do that, well, yes, we've killed or driven out 3 million, but look at the good that has brought, is not an argument that will gain much traction here.

Um ... that wasn't my implication. And I'd think my hundreds of postings here would give me the benefit of the doubt. I guess not.

My point was not that it's simply wonderful that we invaded and worth all that's happened. Most certainly not.

Short version: We have no idea how long it will last, but since less death is a good thing, let's hope it lasts and something good finally happens.

Not sure why that's such a bad idea ...

Posted by: Mark D on November 20, 2007 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

trex: Actually Michael Yon has been reporting this story for years...while violence just ticked up and up and up - which is why he has no credibility.

That's utterly false. When violece ticked up between Sunni and Shia, Michael Yon was talking about a civil war. He was using that term earlier than the war critics were. He beat the Times on that story, too.

Posted by: ex-liberal on November 20, 2007 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

"ex-liberal" is desperate to push the Dolchstosslegende, not caring that he has no more credibility than Yon.

Posted by: Gregory on November 20, 2007 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

"That's utterly false"

ROFL.... No, that's utterly true. Gee, I can play this silly game, too, faux-liberal. The rest of your statement was equally false.

Posted by: PaulB on November 20, 2007 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

No one could have predicted that the Judith Miller Times would report Rosy Scenario in Iraq just in time for the release of "Neocon War 2.0 -- Persian Carpet Bombing"....

And no one could have predicted that all the usual pseudo-leftie hawk suspects would fall for it....

Posted by: Disputo on November 20, 2007 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

It's funny how the Bush defenders have nothing to say about how the present peace is in great measure due to brutal ethnic cleansing campaigns by both sides. Bush is a conservative, and one of the core principles of conservatism is private property rights. But an ethic cleansing campaign operates by forcing people out of neighborhoods and taking away their homes and businesses, a gross violatoin of property rights. So conservatives should be outraged, but instead they seem to think this is just fine.

Posted by: bob the chimp on November 20, 2007 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK
.... what Michael Yon and others were reporting two weeks ago....ex-lax at 9:55 AM
Yon has great credibility among neo-cons and war enthusiasts but none outside that circle

As every one but you knows, during civil wars, there is a ebb and flow of violence. The surge has failed at enabling any political reconciliation and is unsustainable. In the meantime Iraq suffers under Bush occupation

U.S. struggles to restore drinking water to Iraqis
By Bobby Caina Calvan | McClatchy Newspapers
AL-SADIYAH, Iraq -- The water tankers arrive twice a week in this parched village surrounded by fallow fields stretching into the horizon. The town's wells still pump out a flow, but few villagers dare drink from it unless in desperation....
Despite the fact that Iraq and U.S. officials have made water projects among their top priorities, the percentage of Iraqis without access to decent water supplies has risen from 50 percent to 70 percent since the start of the U.S.-led war, according to an analysis by Oxfam International last summer. The portion of Iraqis lacking decent sanitation was even worse -- 80 percent....

Despite your pro-war claims, Iraqis are worse off by far under the Bush regime's occupation then they were during Saddam's reign. Millions have voted with their feet. Bush's Iraq fiasco is a humanitarian disaster and a complete failure.

Posted by: Mike on November 20, 2007 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

My question is this:
Has violence in US-secured(occupied) areas dropped as much as they have in Basra, in the recent past?
That is to say, by 90%?
If not, it might be time to give the British strategy a try - i.e. get out.

General: Basra Violence Down 90 Percent

Posted by: kenga on November 20, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Robert Parry, over at Consortiumnews.com, points out that Iraq has become a laboratory for modern fascist techniques of torture, repression and slaughter of human beings. Over 30,000 Iraqi people are now being incarcerated by U.S. troops and subjected to torture and other experiments in mind control and domination.

There needs to be a detailed and very public inquiry into how the U.S. military determines that the huge number of indiviudals being slaughtered are "al-Qaeda"? Is it tatooed on them? Do they wear a uniform with an AQ insignia? Are the carrying an al-Qaeda ID card?

The truth is the military is just making up how many Iraqi citizens are "al-Qaeda" so that the American public don't get too squeamish over the wanton slaughter that is occuring over there, often times of unarmed civilians.

This may explain why the U.S. Army is experiencing a record number of desertions and veterans that commit suicide when they return home and come to grips with the mass murder they have committed.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on November 20, 2007 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Dr.Wu recommends taking the "Walk Baghdad Tour: The Neighborhoods, shops and people of Mesopotamia." (Not for the weak at heart!)

Tour Idea: The first hundred or so westerners who gather outside the main gate of the Green Zone will take a leisurely stroll through colorful neighborhoods, stop and rest at outdoor bazaars and exotic restaurants and finally take a pleasant dip in the Euphrates before returning home.

Rewarding Experience:Any Living Survivors of this tour will get front page coverage in both the New York Times and the Washington Post and be invited to speak at a joint session of Congress.

Though this is a one-time offer it is good for the next 10 years.

Posted by: Dr WU-the last of the big time thinkers on November 20, 2007 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Yep. I want to know what the mice (or, in al-Sadr's case, the rats) start doing when the cat's away.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on November 20, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

"If not, it might be time to give the British strategy a try - i.e. get out."

There are two factors at work here, I think. The first is, as noted, the lack of a direct occupying target at which to direct their anger and frustration, and the second is that the Sadr Brigades have pretty much won the day. We're turning Iraq into Afghanistan, with a weak central government and strong warlords and fiefdoms.

Posted by: PaulB on November 20, 2007 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

. . . sure, now that Iraq's middle-class has fled to other countries, shia and sunni neighborhoods are now fully segregated, and most of the sunnis who had any power or wealth at all have been murdered or otherwise marginalized; - in other words; Mission Accomplished: the genocide (or at least the strategic positioning for such) is pretty much done. Iraq is now set up to become a Shia-dominated state, and there are no Sunnis left in any kind of position to do anything about it.

This had nothing to do with any surge. We didn't stop, or even slow down this process. Again: the moment we leave, either the remaining Sunnis are going to just keep their heads down (forever), or be slaughtered.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on November 20, 2007 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Excuse me, but didn't Iraqis do all this walking around the neighborhoods far more safely under Saddam?

More had water to drink, lights to turn on, and more
family members still alive...

Posted by: wobbly on November 20, 2007 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

On this subject, Thomas Ricks was interviewed on Fresh Air today - violence is significantly down; and the Iraqi government is much more frustrating (to US forces) than ex-insurgents are...Here's the link.

Posted by: Mischa on November 20, 2007 at 11:39 PM | PERMALINK

I think what amazed me most about this post was that 5 bodies a day is seen as a success-That's over 90 bodies a month=over a thousand a year. Think of Rudy saying" I reduced the number of bodies found on the streets of New York to only one thousand a year"..do you think he could run for president on that record?
Just wondering...

Posted by: roger powelson on November 20, 2007 at 11:50 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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