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We Are Losing the War In Iraq

by : Joseph Cirincione
Wednesday September 22, 2004 - 01:34

by Joseph Cirincione

Every major military indicator shows the war in Iraq is going badly. The United States is losing ground, losing hearts and minds, and losing the war. Three U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq on average every day in September, up from August, which was up from July. Major cities are now considered too unsafe for U.S. forces to enter, including Fallujah, Samarra, Ramadi and other cities in Iraq’s Sunni regions. The Shia populated urban areas are not-for the moment-in open revolt, but it is difficult to find large cities outside the Kurdish regions where U.S. forces have effective control, including large sections of Baghdad. Time magazine reported this week that insurgents loyal to Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, the most wanted terrorist in Iraq, are patrolling one of Baghdad’s major thoroughfares-within mortar range of the U.S. embassy. Washington officials insist Iraqi elections will take place as planned in January 2005, but officials in Baghdad are more pessimistic. "We are in deep trouble in Iraq," warned Senator Chuck Hagel last Sunday.

Reconstruction projects critical to improving the daily lives of Iraqis never took off at the rate promised by administration officials and now are stalled. A senior Iraqi official with the Baghdad Ministry of Public Works complained to the New York Times, "For a year we have been talking, with beautiful PowerPoint documents, but without a drop of water." Little has been actually built and the prospects for turn around are poor. The administration request to transfer $3.4 billion to security forces from the $18 billion Congress allocated for reconstruction means that many projects will be cancelled. Baghdad officials say their water and sewage budgets will be cut in half, for example. This is on top of the already dismal record. Of the 100 projects the U.S. originally planned, they say, only four are scheduled to start by the end of the year.

The plan Senator John Kerry detailed September 20 offers a solid, reasonable approach for salvaging the situation. Whoever is president should pursue this plan to internationalize the security responsibilities, the attempts to promote democracy and the reconstruction projects (including the contracts). The strongest argument in favor of this approach is that it may be the last chance. Judging from the comments of leading Republicans over the past few days, there is widespread concern about the deteriorating situation in Iraq and there may be the basis for forging a new bipartisan approach along the goals outlined by Kerry. The strongest argument against the Kerry approach is that it may be too late.

There may not be a solution to Iraq. There have been so many profound mistakes, starting with the decision to launch this war against a weapons threat that did not exist, that it may not be possible to salvage the situation. The U.S. cannot cut and run, but neither is it wise to simply stay and die. Officials should start planning for a careful, safe withdrawal, almost certainly on a timetable considerably faster than the four years Kerry suggests.

This is not a reflection on the performance of U.S. troops or leadership. As Cornwallis learned at Yorktown, Napoleon at Moscow and Hitler at Stalingrad, sometimes the best generals, the best troops and the best weapons cannot compensate for deeply flawed strategic vision.

http://www.carnegieendowment.org/np...



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