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Iraq: Worst Fears Realized

The Pentagon's first quarterly report assessing President Bush's Iraq strategy confirms what analysts broadly predicted at the onset: the escalation is a failure.

June 14, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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IRAQ

Worst Fears Realized

The Pentagon’s first quarterly report assessing President Bush’s Iraq strategy confirms what analysts broadly predicted at the onset: the escalation is a failure. Even with tens of thousands of additional U.S. forces deployed, overall levels of violence in the country “rose slightly” between February and May, as attacks “shifted away from Baghdad and Anbar” and into “cities and provinces that had been relatively peaceful before the Bush administration’s troop buildup.” Political reconciliation has stalled, suicide bombings “more than doubled” from January to April, sectarian deaths have increased beyond pre-escalation levels, and U.S. troop deaths are spiking. Desperate to avoid accountability, the Bush administration signaled yesterday that it no longer considers September a crucial date for determining whether the escalation has been effective, even as spokesman Tony Snow described the increasing levels of violence as “signs of success.” Indeed, war supporters continue to claim that if U.S. forces are redeployed out of Iraq, al Qaeda will be strengthened, Iraq’s central government will be weakened, and sectarian strife will abound. What they fail to acknowledge is that those fears are being realized today.

ESCALATION IS STRENGTHENING AL QAEDA:  The new Pentagon report “documents the movement of significant numbers of Sunni insurgents linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq, confirming anecdotal reports of Al Qaeda fighters leaving Al Anbar and setting up new bases in Diyala province.” But the report also shows that the violence “has moved beyond the well-publicized flare-ups in Diyala,” to Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, and the northern city of Tal Afar, “once touted by the White House as a case study in how its new counterinsurgency plan could be effective.” During confirmation hearings last week for the new “war czar” Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) quoted “the top CIA expert on radical Islam,” who told him recently that the U.S. presence in Iraq is generating more terrorists. “[I]n his opinion, our presence in Iraq is creating more members of Al Qaida than we are killing in Iraq,” Bayh said.

CENTRAL GOVERNMENT ‘INCREASINGLY IRRELEVANT’: With questionable logic, Bush has argued that he ordered the escalation “precisely because” the solution in Iraq is “more than a military mission,” adding that sending more U.S. troops provides “some breathing space for this democratically elected government to succeed.” Yet Iraq’s political leaders have “failed to reach agreements on nearly every law that the Americans have demanded as benchmarks, despite heavy pressure from Congress, the White House and top military commanders.” The New York Times reported yesterday that the deadlock has “reached a point where many Iraqi and American officials now question whether any substantive laws will pass before the end of the year.” Indeed, war supporters frequently argue that U.S. troops cannot withdraw from Iraq because the central government would collapse, and influence from Iraq’s neighbors would increase. But those fears are already being realized, even with 160,000 U.S. and coalition troops in the country. “In Shiite areas of southern Iraq, Sunni areas of the west and for Kurds in the north, Iraq’s central government has become increasingly irrelevant as competing groups within each faction maneuver at the local level for control of public money and jobs. In many cases, especially through mosques, Iran and other foreign powers often provide more institutional support than Baghdad.”

U.S. TROOPS STILL THE MAIN TARGET: Yesterday’s bombing of the revered Shiite shrine in Samarra, “whose partial destruction last year sparked a devastating increase in sectarian bloodshed,” have raised fresh concerns about a resurgence of such violence. Already, the number of unidentified corpses discovered in Baghdad “soared more than 70 percent during May,” from 441 in April to 726 last month, indicating that “sectarian killings are rising sharply as militias return to the streets after lying low during the first few months of the troop ‘surge.'” The latest “secret intelligence conclusions,” presented by top U.S. intelligence officials during a closed-door session with the Armed Services Committee last month, found that the state of Iraq’s insurgency “was in all likelihood going to be about where it is today a year from now.” Yet even with the increase in sectarian strife, the main focus of attacks in Iraq continues to be U.S. forces. The latest Brookings Institution Iraq Index shows the number of attacks on U.S. forces are greater than the number of attacks on Iraqi civilians and military forces combined.

UNDER THE RADAR

ETHICS — TOP WHITE HOUSE AIDES SUBPOENAED IN U.S. ATTORNEY PROBE: Yesterday, the House and Senate Judiciary Committees issued subpoenas to former White House counsel Harriet Miers, “who first suggested a mass firing of prosecutors after the 2004 elections,” and former White House political director Sara Taylor, who figured prominently in efforts to name Karl Rove-protege Tim Griffin as U.S. attorney in Arkansas. “Let me be clear: this subpoena is not a request, it is a demand on behalf of the American people for the White House to make available the documents and individuals we are requesting to help us answer the questions that remain. The breadcrumbs in this investigation have always led to 1600 Pennsylvania,” said House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI). The White House has continued to insist that it is willing to make officials available only for private interviews with no transcripts. But as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) notes, “The White House cannot have it both ways — it cannot stonewall congressional investigations by refusing to provide documents and witnesses, while claiming nothing improper occurred.” Taylor’s lawyer said yesterday that he would accept the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subpoena. But this move does not mean that Taylor will testify, because the “White House appears likely to assert executive privilege try to block the subpoena.” If the White House refuses the subpoenas, “Leahy and Conyers could move to hold the White House in contempt, then forward those citations to the full House and Senate for approval.”

CIVIL LIBERTIES — FBI SEEKING TO CREATE CONTROVERSIAL SIX-BILLION RECORD DATABASE: In the name of fighting terrorism, the FBI is seeking to create a new $12-million data-mining program that “bears a striking resemblance” to the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness program. Documents predict that this new program “will include six billion records by FY2012. This amounts to 20 separate ‘records’ for each man, woman and child in the United States.” Citing the FBI’s “track record of improperly — even illegally — gathering personal information on Americans,” House Science and Technology Committee members Brad Miller (D-NC) and James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) requested last week that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate the proposal. In 2005, the GAO found that the FBI’s Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force did not comply with all privacy and security laws. Earlier this year, an Inspector General’s report found that the FBI had repeatedly violated regulations while using National Security Letters to “obtain the personal records of U.S. residents or visitors.” In addition, an internal FBI audit published today by the Washington Post found “that the bureau potentially violated the law or agency rules more than 1,000 times while collecting data about domestic phone calls, e-mails and financial transactions in recent years.” “[T]wo dozen of the newly-discovered violations involved agents’ requests for information that U.S. law did not allow them to have.” These repeated violations of federal law are made worse in light of the fact that such data mining techniques have yet to be proven effective in counter-terrorism operations. A recent Cato Institute study found that programs similar to this new FBI program are likely do little but “flood the national security system with false positives — suspects who are truly innocent.”

CIVIL RIGHTS — SENATORS GRILL FEC NOMINEE OVER CONTROVERSIAL TENURE AT JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: A Senate committee confirmation hearing on four nominees to the Federal Election Commission grew “heated” yesterday as senators focused in on one of the nominees, Hans von Spakovsky, who has become a lightning rod for criticism over his controversial tenure in the Justice Department. On Tuesday, the day before the hearing, six former officials in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division wrote a letter to the committee, asserting that von Spakovsky “was the point person for undermining the Civil Rights Division’s mandate to protect voting rights.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chairwoman of the committee, said it was “very unusual” that so many career lawyers at the Justice Department publicly questioned his actions. Asked about his alleged role in blocking a 2004 investigation into voter discrimination against Native Americans in Minnesota, von Spakovsky claimed that he did not “remember that complaint at all.” Von Spakovsky’s claim of a faulty memory led Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) to remark, “[Y]our memory failed you, but we have seen that that is an affliction that many people in the Department of Justice suffer from,” referring to the frequent use of the phrase “I don’t recall” in recent congressional testimony by other Justice officials such as former Missouri U.S. Attorney Bradly Schlozman and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The committee did not vote on the nominees yesterday, as Feinstein wanted to give von Spakovsky a chance to respond in writing to the letter from the former Justice officials, as well as for him to fill in details he said he could not remember during the testimony. Feinstein has said she is “leaning toward” voting against von Spakovsky.  

THINK FAST

The Bush administration has recast the Justice Department’s role in civil rights “by aggressively pursuing religion-oriented cases while significantly diminishing its involvement in the traditional area of race.” The Department “has transferred or demoted some experienced civil rights litigators” while bringing in “graduates of religious-affiliated law schools…who favor the new priorities.”

“Three months into the new U.S. military strategy that has sent tens of thousands of additional troops into Iraq, overall levels of violence in the country have not decreased, as attacks have shifted away from Baghdad and Anbar, where American forces are concentrated, only to rise in most other provinces, according to a Pentagon report released yesterday.”

“Responding to shabby treatment of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center,” a bipartisan group of senators yesterday introduced a measure “to boost disability pay to those hurt in combat and improve care for brain injury.”

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) announced she would join Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s (D-OH) push for impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney. “Before, it was speculated that no one else would support impeachment,” Kucinich said. His measure has also gained the support of Reps. Al Wynn (D-MD), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Lacy Clay (D-MO), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).

Fox News Channel (FNC) is parting ways with Gen. Wesley Clark after two years of being an FNC contributor. A Fox source told the Politico that Clark was ditched in favor of new guest contributor former Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN), because Fox viewers “tell us they prefer looking at Ford to Clark.” Clark will now be joining MSNBC as a military analyst

In a call yesterday “with a group of liberal bloggers,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) “called Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ‘incompetent.'”

And finally: Live Earth Antarctica has been announced, living up to the extravaganza’s promise to hold concerts on all seven continents. The indie rock band Nunatak — which is “made up of five scientists aged 22 to 28 who are stationed on the generally unpopulated continent” — will be the sole performer. Nunatak will be playing to the smallest Live Earth audience — just 17 people — but will be broadcast to approximately 2 billion people.

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GOOD NEWS

“In an initiative to improve computer power use – equivalent to shutting down twenty 500 megawatt coal-fired power plants – Google and Intel have set up the Climate Savers Computing Initiative.”

STATE WATCH

NEW YORK: Massive development has rendered New York City’s historical waterfront “one of the most endangered places in the country.”

NEW JERSEY: State legislature releases for the first time information a list of pet projects tacked onto the budget.

MILITARY: “Twenty-eight governors automatically lower flags when troops from their state are killed, while 22 governors do not.”

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Gay marriage foe Bob Barr calls for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

COMMON SENSE: A new report busts the “conservative nation” myth.

NO COMMENT: White House Spokesman Tony Snow claims that West Peoria, IL, is a “battlefield” in Afghanistan.

FP PASSPORT: “Iraqi security forces lose equivalent of New York Police Department in 18 months.”

DAILY GRILL

“We can fall back easily into what the Democrats are talking about. … Don’t react, let things go, kind of act the way Clinton did in the ’90s. You know, we get attacked on the Cole. We don’t do anything about it.”
— Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, 6/12/07

VERSUS

“After the Cole, I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and launch a full-scale attack search for bin Laden. … The CIA and the FBI refused to certify that bin Laden was responsible while I was there. They refused to certify.”
— President Bill Clinton, 9/22/06