Saturday, October 01, 2005


During Congressional testimony this week, military commanders revealed that the number of battle-ready, or "Level-1", Iraqi battalions had shrunk from three to merely one during the course of the summer. Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told Congress that only one Iraqi army battalion is presently ready to go into combat without U.S. support. Strangely, Casey said he did not know the specific reasons for the decline in Level 1 Iraqi forces. Admissions of this type are unusual during war, and estimates of troop strength and preparedness are normally classified. The revelation stunned members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who were in attendance.

Casey said that one brigade and two battalions had originally been rated in the top category, but that there is now just a single battalion with a Level 1 rating, and it is not even one of the three original units.

Congressman Harold Ford of Tennessee recently returned from a briefing in Iraq where he was told that the Iraqis need 107 battalions of combat-ready, trained soldiers to fully take over the military duties in their country. By that indication, it seems there's a long way to go.

Despite Casey's testimony, the very next day Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld angrily insisted, "The important fact is that every day, every week, every month, the Iraqi security forces are larger, they're better equipped, they're better trained and they're more experienced."

Initially labeling the decline in Level 1 units as "irrelevant", minutes later Rumsfeld retracted the remark, saying that "its relevance is minimal" compared with other factors.

Also during his testimony, Gen. Casey made it clear that aside from the Iraqi troop inefficiencies, Sunni Arab opposition to Iraq's draft constitution has increased the potential for instability and lowered the possibility of substantially reducing U.S. troop strength next spring.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released last week revealed that 63% think that U.S. troops should be partially or completely withdrawn, up 10 percentage points from August. But while at his Crawford, Texas ranch this August, President Bush said that "when the mission of defeating the terrorists in Iraq is complete, our troops will come home."

Bush's plan for bringing US troops home from Iraq is tied to training the Iraqi military to handle their own security matters. And on Saturday, in the face of Casey remarks, Bush said he is encouraged by the increasing size and capability of the Iraqi security forces.

"All Americans can have confidence in the military commanders who are leading the effort in Iraq, and in the troops under their command," Bush said. "They have made important gains in recent weeks and months; they are adapting our strategy to meet the needs on the ground; and they're helping us to bring victory in the war on terror."

The President's comments came at the end of a week in which more than 200 people were killed in Iraq - including 13 U.S. servicemen - and the total number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq is now approaching 2000. As has become customary, Bush's remarks directly conflicted with the news from Iraq and the assessments of his top commanders.

"We are constantly adapting our tactics to the changing tactics of the terrorists, and we're training more Iraqi forces to assume increasing responsibility for their country's security," said the President on Saturday.

Oddly, whereas the President claims that maintaining a strong U.S troop presence on the ground in Iraq is critical to building and adequately training the Iraqi military, Gen. Casey insists that U.S. troop reductions are necessary to "take away one of the elements that fuels the insurgency - that of the coalition forces as an occupying force."

The General made the case that a smaller U.S. presence could diminish some of the anger that feeds the insurgency. Casey also said that reducing American forces is essential in order to force more Iraqi troops onto the front lines and to encourage a greater self-reliance among them in their fight against an an insurgency that could last a decade or more.

A Central Command advisor said that U.S. commanders were concerned that Iraqi troops could become too dependent on American forces. "There's a line between what constitutes casual dependence and what constitutes not being ready to fight," he said. "For the most part, [Iraqi troops] are not ready to do the job. And stepping back is just going to leave them vulnerable to a battle-tested army of insurgents."

The U.S. is effectively caught in a catch-22. Because the Iraqis are not yet capable of battling the insurgency on their own, U.S. troops must stay and fight for them. But the mere presence of U.S. troops is actually compelling and nurturing that very insurgency.

The President's sinking approval ratings have resulted in constant damage control by the White House, and a twisting and distorting of truth and facts.

There is so much inconsistency among the players that the public's confidence has been lost. In August, White House officials admitted that their aims for a model democracy in Iraq, a self-supporting oil industry, and a secure and economically stable society have essentially been dashed. Furthermore, the administration also admitted that it no longer expects to be able to defeat the insurgency before withdrawing, but just to weaken it. You may not have heard any of this, bit that's because the contradictions are constant and unyielding. In fact, during a Rose Garden speech earlier this week, Bush claimed he had a "plan to win" in Iraq.

The President and Secretary Rumsfeld make arguments about U.S. and Iraqi troops that fly in the face of commanders on the ground. During a visit to iraq this summer, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tells troops, "This war came to us, not the other way around." Vice President Cheney says that the insurgency is in its last throes, while Donald Rumsfeld asserts that it could go on for a long as 12 years.

The contradictions are as disturbing as they are disheartening, and the deviations from truth (some would less politely call them lies) have bred a national cynicism regarding this war and the Administration that has waged it. From its outset, this has been a war built on lies and deception, and like a house of cards, the walls of denial are starting to crumble. When and how to get out of Iraq, no one seems to know for sure. But one thing seems sure; the trust and patience of the American people is waning, if not already gone. And trust is a very difficult thing to get back one it's been lost.

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