So Admiral William Fallon, the top military commander in the Middle East, testified today before Congress “that officials will probably need some time this summer to reassess the situation in Iraq before drawing down more troops.”
And The Almighty Petraeus will return to also testify before Congress next month on the state of things (April 8-9th as of now, or his version of that anyway).
What will Petraeus recommend? Depends “on conditions that we find” to make sure we don’t lose “the security gains our military has achieved.”
What will Fallon thus recommend? Don’t know, but we’re on track to reduce our brigades from 20 to 15 by July, with Petraeus recommending “a period of assessment” and telling Dubya to wait “until as late as September to decide whether to bring home more troops.”
Somehow I think they’d be less duplicitous if they just said “Give us six more months; this is a recording.”
And doesn’t it just get you that, as always, the concerns of the vast majority of this country don’t exist as far as these people are concerned?
Well, since I really can’t count on much of our media to give us even a vaguely realistic picture of what is going on, I checked the site of the Times of London and found this account by correspondent Martin Fletcher...
There is less gunfire, and fewer explosions. No longer do I instinctively look for mutilated torsos floating down the Tigris. I have ventured out to shop and eat - albeit in one of Baghdad's safest districts. The night-time curfew has been relaxed. Schools, markets and the national theatre have reopened. Families visit refurbished parks. Men sit outside cafés drinking sweet, black tea. Children play soccer on side roads.Fletcher’s entire account is excellent; I’ve only highlighted key passages. You would do well to take a minute or two and read it in its entirety (yeah, I guess we’ve achieved gains when it comes to fewer mutilated torsos anyway…dear God).
I found myself writing less about death than rising oil exports, the opening of Baghdad's first Chinese restaurant, and the resumption of a rudimentary passenger train service to Basra. It has been a welcome change.
American soldiers are increasingly focused on encouraging reconstruction, not preventing destruction, and for the first time I sensed that they felt good about their mission. The Iraqi security services - particularly the army - are gradually expanding and improving. Moqtada al-Sadr, the volatile Shia cleric, has just extended the six-month ceasefire of his infamous Mahdi Army militia that was responsible for so much sectarian killing. The threat of civil war has receded, and talk of Iraq breaking up has, for now, died away. The centre has held - just.
But all this must be set in context. What passes for normality in Iraq would be utterly abnormal anywhere else. The number of Iraqis killed in January was the lowest in 23 months, but still numbered 541. Hundreds of thousands of Baghdadis now live in walled-in, ethnically cleansed, heavily guarded enclaves that they are terrified to leave. Sunnis do not venture into Shia areas, and vice-versa. Sectarian hatreds have been contained, but not resolved.
The capital is choked by checkpoints and more than 100,000 sections of concrete blast barrier. Coils of razor wire roll across pavements like tumbleweed in Texas.
Some 50,000 exiles have returned from abroad since last autumn, but several thousand were so horrified by what they found that they left again. There are still four million displaced Iraqis.
Al-Qaeda, though on the defensive, is far from defeated. It still mounts spectacular attacks, notably last month's bombings of Baghdad's pet markets. Its killings of Sunni “traitors” - the concerned local citizens (CLCs) who switched allegiance to the Americans last year - have doubled since October. Headless bodies are found quite regularly in those provinces north of Baghdad where al-Qaeda is still a force.
To talk of America “winning” a conflict that has lasted longer than the First World War is now grotesque, whatever the outcome. There has been far too much suffering for that. This long ago became a salvage operation - and one whose success is still not assured.
I want to thank Fletcher for reporting “the reality on the ground,” which is obviously too much to ask of those either elected to represent us or to serve us in the defense of our country.