US Iraq War Death Toll Reaches 4000
The grim milestone came at a time when attacks against the U.S. military are ebbing and officials have claimed significant progress against Iraq’s deadly insurgency and sectarian violence. It was reached about 10 p.m. on a day when more than 60 Iraqis were killed and dozens injured in attacks in Baghdad and north of the capital.
And there are disturbing signs that the overall level of violence in Iraq may again be rising. First were reports that General Petraeus might favor a "pause" in further withdrawals of US troops once troop levels got down to about 140,000 this summer. Perhaps he was just being prudent by giving US commanders time to assure themselves that the progress they had achieved from the surge would continue even as the US drew down its forces.
Then, despite warnings from General Casey, Secretary Gates and others in the Pentagon concerned about the health and readiness of the Army if withdrawals don’t continue, Admiral Fallon felt compelled to resign, reportedly because of disagreements with Petreaus about the pause.
Petreaus has been especially cautious in not claiming a lasting effect from the surge he commanded. If there were signs of lasting effect, it’s hard to imagine the White House would not be trumpeting them. Instead the White House is reported likely to agree this week to a pause, even though it’s months away from taking effect. It is a sign the WH is concerned, and there are other signs that matters are worse than they’re admitting.
There have been reports, though not widely circulated, that some of the 60-90,000 Sunnis the US has been paying to fight al Qaeda and not fight the US have threated to turn against the Americans or at least go "on strike," both because many are not being paid as promised and because there has been virtually no progress in gaining their acceptance by the Shia-dominated central government. And it hasn’t helped that there have been several "mistake" US attacks on the Sunnis, with dozens of them killed. Mistakes happen in an active war zone, but the frequency of these incidents suggests there is still extensive combat in areas that are supposed to be pacified and under the local Sunni’s control.
It appears violence levels have begun to rise again, after having fallen to 2005 levels and remaining more or less stable for a few months. Now we are seeing major attacks every few days with dozens killed each time. And several of the attacks yesterday, in which at least 60 were killed, were centered in the heart of Baghdad, with repeated mortar shellings falling in or near the supposedly "safe" Green Zone.
For months, the Administration and John McCain have been telling us that the surge was a great success, that its purpose in bringing relative security to Baghdad in particular had been achieved, even as US forces continued to pursue insurgents into areas outside the capital. But today’s news makes clear that Baghdad can quickly revert to a war zone.
It is not just that random "extremists" may be lobbing a few mortars at the Green Zone, acts that are difficult for even a large occupying Army to prevent completely. The Times story reveals there were repeated episodes, and that the night before the mortar attacks, US aircraft were bombing surrounding neighborhoods, though the story is vague about the connection. But the level of combat occurring in and around Baghdad is not a good sign.
John McCain has based his campaign on convincing Americans the surge was the right idea and has succeeded, and that some ill-defined victory is at hand. As Attaturk’s post noted, the surge’s neocon architects tell us all is well. But these continuing attacks suggest the surge has not even succeeded in securing the capital or driving insurgents into remote areas. It is discouraging news, no matter what it’s political consequences.
Update: General Petraeus tells reporters that Iran is behind the recent rocket attacks on the Green Zone. (h/t TPM)
Update II: In response to a question from ABC about the 4000 deaths, VP Cheney responds with "they volunteered," and that the President bears the heaviest burden.