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The Agony of Iraq: How Do We Tear Ourselves Away?

The family of a 13-year-old Iraqi boy after he was killed by gunfire during a pilgrimage to a Shiite shrine on Sunday.

The past couple of days have been relatively peaceful in Iraq — for example, only a couple of dozen people have been reported killed each day in and around Baghdad, about half the recent average.  Of course, it’s taken extreme security measures to achieve even that modest goal, as the New York Times noted yesterday:

Rooftop snipers and mortar fire killed 20 people and wounded 300 others as they walked through religiously mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad on Sunday to commemorate the death of one of Shiite Islam’s holiest figures, an Iraqi Health Ministry spokesman said.

American and Iraqi officials had been planning security for the pilgrimage for months, trying to avoid the huge loss of life during the pilgrimage last year, when more than 950 died after rumors of a suicide bomber caused a stampede on a bridge packed with pilgrims.

. . . But by early Sunday morning, rival groups were exchanging gunfire on Baghdad’s streets, officials and residents said, as processions of pilgrims, segregated by sex, ran into apartment blocs and under highway overpasses for cover.

. . .  The American military released a statement late Sunday that seemed to play down the deaths. “Iraqi military and civil leaders provided a comprehensive security plan to ensure there would be no recurrence of violence that marred last year’s event,” the American statement said. “As a result, there were no major attacks.”

That’s the kind of chaos that Iraq has developed into three and a half years after Dubya decided to bring them the gift of freedom and democracy, where a score of murders in broad daylight can be written off as minor.

To disagree somewhat with what Christy posted just below, it’s not so much that democratic ideas haven’t had a chance to blossom naturally over there, it’s that they never stood a chance in the crossfire.  Saddam Hussein turned the entire countryside into an arms depot in large part to fuel an insurgent war if he was ever deposed, and in the anarchy that followed the U.S. invasion, all of the groups that he had oppressed (especially the majority Shiites) quickly organized themselves into vigilante militias as their way of saying "Never again."

Once the American military proved itself incapable of enforcing order during the post-invasion frenzy of looting, the eventual outcome was clear to all sides — Iraq would continue to be a country ruled by guns and the police who come in the middle of the night. The only question left to be resolved is. whose guns and whose police?  Because there’s no way to compromise on that issue, especially after three years of spiraling bloodshed, there isn’t much realistic hope of a political solution emerging no matter what policy the U.S. adopts at this point.  In the Washington Post today, Dana Milbank quotes former U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith (a longtime advocate of Kurdish independence), calling for a U.S. withdrawal:

"If we do what I recommend, there will be horrific sectarian cleansing in the mixed areas, particularly in Baghdad, and civil war," he said. "If we stay the course, there will be horrific sectarian cleansing in Baghdad, and civil war." 

This is a nightmarish dilemma for anyone who cares about the ordinary Iraqis trapped in between the armed factions, anyone who feels the U.S. has a responsibility to minimize the deadly fallout of our invasion… and for Democrats trying to restore sanity to our own nation’s governance.  Dubya isn’t willing to admit the truth about how badly he’s failed, because he wants Democrats to be the messengers who get shot for delivering the unpleasant news.  He’s also trying to drive a wedge between Americans who think the war hasn’t been worth the cost (about 60%, according to polls) and those who want to believe we can still "win" or achieve some part of what we hoped originally (closer to 50%).

As I’ve said for awhile now, I think the goal isn’t to come up with the perfect proposal for what the U.S. should do in Iraq; it’s to change the conversation so that Americans are willing to listen to realistic proposals.  For better or worse, the disaster there has become so obvious that even former Bush supporters are almost begging for someone to guide the way.

Imagine an ad, for example, that contrasts the Bushites’ shifting happy-talk slogans against the growing evidence of failure — with each clip of Dubya intoning that "freedom is on the march" or "We have a plan for victory," a superimposed graphic shows the rising tide of U.S. casualties and insurgent attacks.  Then a voiceover (or your local Democratic candidate) says:

"We need a new direction in Iraq… to give our troops a mission they can accomplish, or bring them home.  Tell the President it’s time for common sense.  Vote Democratic on November 7th.

What do you think? 

 (Swopa appears courtesy of Needlenose.)

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Swopa has been sharing prescient, if somewhat anal-retentive, analysis and garden-variety mockery with Internet readers since 1995 or so, when he began debunking the fantasies of Clinton-scandal aficionados on Usenet. He is currently esconced as the primary poster at Needlenose (