It's interesting but somewhat sad that there are still people who believe that things have not improved in Iraq.
From the UK's Independent comes this op-ed from Patrick Coburn, little more than an extended plug for his book on the same topic, that Iraq is still in the grips of a civil war, anchored on one side by Mookie, aka Muqtada Al Sadr, head of what used to be the largest militia in Baghdad.
"...many are under the quite false impression that the crisis there is at last drawing to a close. "Is it better? Is the surge working?" people keep asking me and in a certain sense, it is "better", but only compared to the bloodbath of 2006-7. American military casualties may be down, but 851 Iraqi civilians and security personnel were killed last month."
First off, US casualties in July were the lowest for any month of the entire war. Second, the 851 Iraqi casualties is in point of fact, still high, but it represents Iraqis taking responsibility for their own country. That is, of course, the endstate that the US government has been consistently pushing for for the last 5 years.
"There has been something absurd about the way that John McCain and Barack Obama debate the timing and extent of a US military withdrawal as if this is an issue that is going to be settled solely by American domestic politics. Every opinion poll taken in Iraq since 2003 shows that the great majority of Iraqis outside Kurdistan oppose the occupation and want it ended."
First myth here is that the US is in 'occupation' of Iraq. Since late 2003, the US worked to help Iraq hold democratic elections to choose it's own course. Those elected leaders are the ones who have, every year since 2004, petitioned the United Nations for military forces to help keep the peace in Iraq while they get their country back on it's feet. The UN, being composed mostly of countries devoted to their own national interests, has quietly tasked the US with the security of Iraq.
The second myth is that the US is not in control of the timing and pace of US troop withdrawals. As much as PM Maliki would like to show his countrymen he is the Big Man on Campus by telling the US to get out, he knows that an orderly transition from US to Iraqi military is in his country's best interest. He also knows that the US pays for it's own military presence, which means Iraq has more money to spend on it's own infrastructure.
But more importantly, it will in fact be the next US president that determines how long the US is willing to keep troops in Iraq. It is our determination to do right by Iraq and our desire to spread democracy across the world that is the determining factor in when as a country we decide that the benefits outweigh the cost. The supposed lesson of the 2006 Congressional elections was that the voters wanted out of Iraq. Nonetheless, we held the line against the defeatists and even brought in reinforcements that in the end saved the battle from defeat. It is the president, not the Congress, that controls troop levels.
"When the US and Britain invaded Iraq, they started three wars. The first is the insurgency in the Sunni community against the American occupation; the second the struggle by the Iraqi Shia, sixty per cent of the population, allied to the Kurds, to take control of the Iraqi state, previously controlled by the Sunni; and the third a proxy war between the US and Iran about which of them is to have predominant influence in Iraq."
Amazingly, Mr Cockburn mentions nothing about the main US threat in Iraq, AQI, also known as 'the guys who take their orders from Osama'. AQI produced most of the headline events of suicide bombings and beheadings over the last few years. On the positive side, they also produced the barbaric treatment of civilians that spawned the Anbar Awakening, which has now transformed into the Sons of Iraq.
If there is anyone out there who still doubts the progress made in Iraq since the surge, tune in to the 8 Vets for Freedom members going back to Iraq to the same neighboorhoods that they patrolled to see the difference firsthand.
And lastly comes late word that Al Sadr, the 'anti-American Shia cleric' is planning to disarm his Mahdi militia and put them to use as social workers. Bogeyman, indeed.