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Breathing Space in Iraq and the Benchmark of Withdrawal

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Message Ron Fullwood
In an address to the nation in January, Bush acknowledged the results of the election which had removed his republican majority in Congress and replaced it with Democrats pledged to end the occupation, by giving lip service to the need for a "change" in his "strategy" in Iraq.

There wasn't really going to be any pulling back from his occupation which had already claimed thousands of American lives, however. Instead, Bush insisted that he needed to double down on the protection the Iraqi government enjoyed, to give the beleaguered "the breathing space" he claimed it needed to "make progress" on political reforms which the previous elections and adoption of the new Iraqi constitution were supposed to take care of.

"This new strategy will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations, or IED attacks," he said. "Over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents. When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas," Bush insisted.

"A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations," he continued. "Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced."

Unless Bush is allowed, somehow, to change the terms under which he unilaterally escalated his occupation against the expressed will of the new Democratic majority in Congress, there is already a clear verdict on his 'strategy' of using the life and death sacrifices of our nation's defenders to provide "breathing space" for the new Iraqi regime reflected in the utter political collapse of support among Iraqi legislators for the Maliki coalition government.

This week five Sunni ministers - identified as members of the 'Iraqi Accordance Front' - walked away from their posts, led by Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zoubai. That walkout came after a period of complete inactivity and gridlock among the Iraqi parliament who insisted on fleeing the oppressive heat of Baghdad's summer to vacation for the entire month preceding the date when Bush's generals and diplomats are required to provide our Congress with an 'assessment' of effects and results from of their pumped-up occupation.

Less publicized were the subsequent resignations of nine senior Iraqi Army officers, including their commander-in-chief. The resignations threaten to leave the Maliki regime's cabinet without any representation from Sunnis, or from Sadr's group who provided so much of the support needed for Maliki to even consider operating a functioning government.

While Americans are being told by Bush to have "patience" as our soldiers fight and die at an average this year of over 100 a month defending the ground the Maliki regime occupies, there really is no government in Iraq in place and working toward the "benchmarks" Bush promised Americans he would "hold the Iraqi government" accountable for. It's more than reasonable that there won't be anything resembling a functioning Iraqi government when the legislators are scheduled to resume their kabuki dance to Maliki's comatose leadership, and to Petraeus' September apologia.

Bush insisted in January that, "America will change our approach to help the Iraqi government as it works to meet these benchmarks." No mention was made, however, of what his response would be in the face of the Iraqi legislators' epic stall that's emerged as their unapologetic answer to the months and months of Bush's signaling and building-up of forces.

If the almost 700 Americans who were killed in Iraq since the beginning of Bush's "surge" were responsible for providing the political "breathing space" he wanted to give the Iraqi government; those tragic deaths have unquestionably been in vain. Bush and the Iraqi regime, undoubtedly, want even more "breathing space" to reload his escalation while we wait for the Iraqi legislators to return and perform their dubious political acts which Bush still insists are supposed to cause "daily life (to) improve" and for "Iraqis (to) gain confidence in their leaders."

Yet, before there's any serious discussion about continuing in Iraq, there should be a complete accounting from the administration and their military commanders for the predicted failure of the escalation to achieve any of the political remedies which Bush claimed would spark reconciliation between warring Iraqis. There further needs to be an accounting from the administration for the nearly 700 Americans who were killed in Iraq while Bush was assuring us that the Iraqis holding power behind our soldiers' ultimate sacrifices of life and limb were somehow worthy of our "patience" as the legislators dawdled and then walked away.

"The question," Bush declared in January, "is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success . . . Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved," he said.

The squandering of our nation's defenders' lives in defense of an indifferent and opposed Iraqi political establishment, however, looks a lot less like success - even though our military has succeeded in cowing the Iraqi communities they occupy - and, is looking more and more like utter defeat for whatever jingoistic ambitions Bush convinced himself were important and achievable. "Success" in Iraq has come to mean, for most Americans, the prospect of the complete removal of our troops from the conflict. Until that "benchmark" of withdrawal is reached, there will be absolutely nothing at all achieved in Iraq which comes close to satisfying the increasing demands of Americans that the occupation be brought to an immediate end.
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Ron Fullwood, is an activist from Columbia, Md. and the author of the book 'Power of Mischief' : Military Industry Executives are Making Bush Policy and the Country is Paying the Price
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