Friday, October 20, 2006

Chaos Reigns

It looks like things have been pulled back from the brink of all-out civil war in Iraq (returning to the festering, low-grade civil war that is indeed taking place) with the Mahdi Army withdrawing from the city of Amarah:
As many as 25 people, including 10 policemen, were killed in street fighting and mortar attacks that raged in Amarah, a predominantly Shiite city about 190 miles southeast of Baghdad, from mid-day Thursday until about 2 p.m. local time Friday. The militia attacked the headquarters and two stations of the city police department, which is reportedly aligned with the Badr Brigades, an arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a powerful Shiite religious party.

The fighting reportedly erupted when a top SCIRI police official was killed, then the brother of a Madhi Army leader was arrested, and both sides blamed the other in a cycle of retaliatory clashes with tribal overtones.

The takeover ended, according to Maj. Charlie Burbribge, a British military spokesman, "when Moqtada al-Sadr told them to stop. The situation now is calm but tense."

But this is just another very visible sign that the spiraling chaos of Iraq is spiraling ever closer to out of control. US casualties have been at their highest level in months (via the WSJ):
In a briefing to reporters yesterday, the U.S. command in Iraq said attacks in Baghdad had risen 22% during the first weeks of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan despite thousands more U.S. and Iraqi forces in the city. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, chief U.S. military spokesman there, said commanders are working with the Iraqi government to "refocus" security measures. October has been an especially bloody month for U.S. forces, with 10 soldiers killed Tuesday -- the most single-day fatalities since January 2005 -- and 73 American troops killed overall.

And finally, the administration is facing the reality-based reality that they so often turn away from (via Salon's War Room):
On a larger level, the Bush administration is in for some refocusing as well. As David Sanger and David Cloud write in the Times, the president now faces some of his "ugliest choices" yet in the three-and-half-year-old war: He can rearrange U.S. forces again, as he did when he launched the Baghdad plan over the summer, or he can take the bigger step of reassessing the entire mission and lowering the bar for what "victory" means. As the Times notes, Bush has already stopped talking about the idea of creating a real democracy in Iraq.

As the Washington Post explains, the need for a change in U.S. policy stems from both reality on the ground in Iraq and political pressure back home. "Growing doubts among GOP lawmakers about the administration's Iraq strategy, coupled with the prospect of Democratic wins in next month's midterm elections, will soon force the Bush administration to abandon its open-ended commitment to the war," lawmakers and foreign policy experts told the paper.

"Soon," of course, means "sometime after Nov. 7." The Republicans might be happy to have Americans believe that a change is coming after the midterm elections -- remember all the talk of troop reductions we've heard so many times before? -- but they really can't be seen as jumping ship on the "stay the course" plan before voters go the polls. So while the president now acknowledges that the war in Iraq is looking at least a little like the war in Vietnam, he's apparently content to leave matters in the hands of the maker for at least a few more weeks. If the current death rate continues, an additional 70 Americans will have died in Iraq by Election Day.

Dan Froomkin at the WaPo's White House Briefing adds:
When it comes to Iraq, Bush's political strategy in the run-up to the mid-term elections has been to stress the possible downsides of the "cut and run" approach -- civil war, increased carnage, instability at the heart of the Middle East, Iraq as a base for terror -- while refusing to acknowledge that his "stay the course" approach, ironically, appears to be delivering all those things and more.

Now, a presidency that has been all about aggression risks a major public rebuff as a sizeable majority of the Americans appears to have accepted what Bush can't: That his brassy approach has backfired -- and that it's we who are getting beaten up.

And soon, the Bush approach is about to get vilified even by The Simpsons:
Anyone who thinks Hollywood is run by a liberal cabal won't change his mind after watching The Simpsons' annual Halloween special. The episode, which airs Nov. 5, concludes with an Iraq war satire that may rank as the most pointed political statement the show has ever made. In the segment, aliens invade Springfield to prevent mankind from obtaining "weapons of mass disintegration," but their mission, called "Operation Enduring Occupation," turns into a quagmire. "You said we would be greeted as liberators!" accuses one alien.

"We were looking for an ending to the episode, and it just kind of suggested itself," says Simpsons executive producer Al Jean. "I'd like to take credit for being adventuresome, but I think we're expressing a viewpoint 69 percent of the country agrees with."




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