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Iraq: why no news is bad news

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Robin Lustig | 12:43 UK time, Thursday, 13 March 2008

Have you noticed how Iraq rarely makes the front pages any more? Maybe it means that, at last, things are getting better there?

Fraid not. Yes, for several months last year, as the US “surge” policy put more than 20,000 extra troops in and around Baghdad, violence fell. But now the trend is upwards again: on one day alone this week, more than 40 people were killed. It’s beginning to look as if the bombers are back.

I got a message this morning from a young medical student in Baghdad. This is how she movingly described what’s happening. “Do you know what the most difficult thing is? When you have cancer. And your doctors are assuring you that you're really getting better, and that the tumour is declining, but in reality it turns out that it's only a latent period for the cancer cells, and that those cells have exploited this latent period to gather their strength and start to become apparent again. Can you imagine the disappointment when you find out this horrific truth? You'll feel so alone. And because your loved ones have got used to the idea that you're actually getting better, then they'll need a lot of time before getting used to the idea that your condition is deteriorating.”

I spoke last night to a senior US military spokesman in Baghdad, Rear Admiral Greg Smith. As you’d expect, he put it rather differently – but he accepted that the death toll trend is upwards again. (You can hear the interview here, together with an assessment from the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, Jessica Mathews.)

Here’s an account from last week of a day in the life of my Iraqi medical student friend. “Today I was supposed to have my big obstetrics exam. The majority of the main roads in Baghdad are blocked since yesterday because of the visit of [Iranian president] Mr Nijad to Baghdad. Early in the morning today at about 6:45am my driver came to my house to pick me up to go to college, my two girlfriends were in the car (it's extremely unsafe for Baghdadi girls to use the public transport to move around in Baghdad, so I and 3 of my best girlfriends have hired a private driver in order to take us to college). As we got closer to the district in which my college lies, a roadside bomb has exploded at a close distance ahead of us. So we all decided to go back home. On our way back home, another roadside bomb has exploded also at a close distance behind us. I saw the other car flying in the air. So in the end we got back home. And we missed our obstetrics exam. And that's a very ordinary day of our ordinary daily Baghdadi life.” (You can read her blog here.)

Within the next few months, the extra 20,000-25,000 US troops who made up the “surge” will begin to go home. It is likely that the upward trend in violence is the start of a new attempt by, in this case, mainly Sunni militias to reimpose their authority in areas where the Americans had, for a time, taken control. Over the past five days, 15 US servicemen have been killed.

But according to a survey by the Pew Research Center, as reported in the Washington Post today, fewer than one-third of US voters know that the total US military toll in Iraq since the invasion five years ago is now approaching 4,000.

So how long, I wonder, before Iraq returns to centre stage in the US presidential campaign? Because it may well be that by the time of the election in November, violence in Iraq will be considerably worse than it is now. According to Pew, in a single week last month, coverage of Iraq made up just one per cent of total US news coverage. I suspect that is about to change.

Comments

  1. At 02:51 PM on 16 Mar 2008, Mark wrote:

    Perhaps the purpose of the surge has been forgotten or perhaps people don't want to think about it. The surge was NOT intended and never could bring an end to violence in Iraq. It was intended as obtaining a temporary respite during which government officials from the major ethnic sub groups could come together and work out a compromise in which they would accept the new reality of Iraq and work out a way to live together peacefully. That has not happened, they have squandered the opportunity, wasted the precious time bought for them and now the violence is returning. They just don't get it. If Iraq becomes a major issue in the US Presidential campaign again and either Democrat wins, the US WILL pull all of its troops out, the only difference between Obama and Clinton is the timetable. When that happens, ALL of those government officials will be assassinated because they will be seen as collaborators, infidels. They have ignored the facts of the real world and they and all Iraqis will pay the consequences. They have been given an opportunity to live peacefully and prosperously together, not a guarantee. That they did not take advantage of that opportunity when they had it is nobody's fault but their own. Had there been more cooperaton with and supprt for the coalition from the rest of the world there might have been more time, more impetus and the outcome might have been different. We'll see how those in the Middle East and Europe deal with the aftermath when the US pulls out. It will be their headache then and they are much closer to the problem and therefore more at risk of it spilling over into their countries than the US is.

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  2. At 08:37 PM on 18 Mar 2008, Marko wrote:

    So Mark,

    What mistakes has the USA made in the last 15 years? Can you list examples of poor US governmental judgments and actions during this period?

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  3. At 08:48 PM on 18 Mar 2008, Marko wrote:

    So Mark,

    What mistakes has the USA made in the last 15 years? Can you list examples of poor US governmental judgments and actions during this period?

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