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Listen to the General on Iraq (No, not Petraeus!)

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By Dave Lindorff

In a couple days, Americans will be deluged with effusive, praise-filled stories in what passes for news organizations, print and electronic, in the US, quoting Gen. David Petraeus on the glories of his and President Bush’s brilliant so-called "surge" strategy in Iraq.

There will be little critical comment on his report, which will claim that the surge is working but that Iraqi’s “need to do more” to take advantage of the surge in stability to create a stable government in Baghdad.

He will claim, and the media will help him here, that the collapse of President Nouri al-Maliki’s “defining moment” attack on the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr in Basra, with 1000 of his crack troops and two leading officers defecting to the other side, and Maliki himself having to be rescued by American troops, was a minor event. He will claim that the rise in violence in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq back to pre-surge levels is of no significance—a statistical aberration.

And President Bush will ask for another $102 billion from Congress to continue funding his catastrophic war in Iraq.

Just to keep our sanity and clarity, it would be good to listen to another general, Lt. General (ret.) William E. Odom, who on April 2 testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Gen. Odom told the committee that the last time he had testified about Iraq was in January of 2007. He had been asked about the “surge”. He said, “Today you are asking if it has worked. Last year I rejected the claim that it was a new strategy. Rather, I said, it is a new tactic used to achieve the same old strategic aim, political stability. And I foresaw no serious prospects for success. I see no reason to change my judgment now. The surge is prolonging instability, not creating the conditions for unity as the president claims.”

Gen. Odom said, “Violence has been temporarily reduced but today there is credible evidence that the political situation is far more fragmented. And currently we see violence surge in Baghdad and Basra. In fact, it has also remained sporadic and significant in several other parts of Iraq over the past year, notwithstanding the notable drop in Baghdad and Anbar Province. More disturbing, Prime Minister Maliki has initiated military action and then dragged in US forces to help his own troops destroy his Shiite competitors. This is a political setback, not a political solution. Such is the result of the surge tactic."

Odom went on to say, “No less disturbing has been the steady violence in the Mosul area, and the tensions in Kirkuk between Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomen. A showdown over control of the oil fields there surely awaits us. And the idea that some kind of a federal solution can cut this Gordian knot strikes me as a wild fantasy, wholly out of touch with Kurdish realities.”

As for the Bush claim that Sunni Muslims in western Iraq and Fallujah were now siding with the US (the government never mentions that they are being handsomely paid to do so), Odom said,
“Their break with al Qaeda should give us little comfort. The Sunnis welcomed anyone who would help them kill Americans, including al Qaeda. The concern we hear the president and his aides express about a residual base left for al Qaeda if we withdraw is utter nonsense. The Sunnis will soon destroy al Qaeda if we leave Iraq. The Kurds do not allow them in their region, and the Shiites, like the Iranians, detest al Qaeda. To understand why, one need only take note of the al Qaeda public diplomacy campaign over the past year or so on internet blogs. They implore the United States to bomb and invade Iran and destroy this apostate Shiite regime.”

Odom said America was buying Sunni backing in just one region for $250,000 a day, and he warned, “we don’t own these people, we rent them.”

Then Odom let fly a real bomb. “As an aside,” he told the committee, in a statement that you won’t read in your daily paper or hear on the TV news, “it gives me pause to learn that our vice president and some members of the Senate are aligned with al Qaeda on spreading the war to Iran.”

Saying the Bush administration’s argument that it could build a stable democratic government by working with local strongmen in Iraq, he challenged the senators to “Ask them to name a single historical case where power has been aggregated successfully from local strong men to a central government except through bloody violence leading to a single winner, most often a dictator. “

The general’s conclusion: “We face a deteriorating political situation with an over-extended army. When the administration's witnesses appear before you, you should make them clarify how long the army and marines can sustain this band-aid strategy.”

Odom instead called for immediate withdrawal, “rapidly but in good order.” He said, “Only that step can break the paralysis now gripping US strategy in the region. The next step is to choose a new aim, regional stability, not a meaningless victory in Iraq.”

He said if Bush and Cheney would simply stop threatening “regime change” by force as a policy, and in specific if it stopped threatening Iran, it would lead Iran to reduce its support of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and to change its policy toward Iraq, too. The US “needs to make Iran feel more secure,” he said.

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Dave Lindorff, winner of a 2019 "Izzy" Award for Outstanding Independent Journalism from the Park Center for Independent Media in Ithaca, is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper (more...)

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