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The General's Thoughts Aside, What Do Iraqis Think?

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On this sixth anniversary of the multiple attacks on America, while General Petraeus is giving testimony before Congress and Ryan Crocker paints the Bush position, it might be a good time to check in on what Iraqis are thinking.
(Megan Greenwell, Washington Post) BAGHDAD, Sept. 10 -- Seven out of 10 Iraqis believe the U.S. troop buildup in Baghdad and Anbar province has made security worse in those areas, and nearly as many say their own lives are going badly, according to a new poll conducted by ABC News, the British Broadcasting Corp., and the Japanese broadcaster NHK.
That’s an interesting statistic, because it very nearly mirrors the belief of the American on the street (and in the bars, industrial plants, farms and businesses). Americans are amazingly supportive of the administration goals for the Middle East, but bailing quickly on how this president pursues them. Democracy is always an easy sell over here and we aspire to see more and more of the world heading that direction.

We know it is not merely a hatred of America and American freedoms, as President Bush has insisted, that inspired 9-11. We know in our heart of hearts that various inequities, many of them fed by America, are behind what has happened and is happening in the Middle East.

What we don’t know is what to do about it and, increasingly, we don’t think our president knows either. Thus support for this war has shifted away from the administration.
In November 2005, shortly before Iraq's historic open elections, 69 percent of residents said they believed life would be better in a year. That number decreased to 40 percent last March and 23 percent in the new poll.
That’s a stunning drop in confidence and what Petraeus is asking of us is to raise our own level of confidence that the Maliki government will prevail. If there were some small evidence of progress, if Iraqis believed in the direction the country was headed or if the factions within the country truly wanted democracy, then there might be a cause worth additional sacrifice.

It seems that none of those hoped-for realities are in place. Not one.
We hear of little lately but Anbar. Anbar Province is where the administration has bet all their marbles, as if Baghdad was lost, swept under the radar rug, best neither seen nor heard from;
Yet many of the differences between the official and popular views of conditions in Iraq are most pronounced in Anbar, where President Bush made a surprise visit last week and declared that "normal life is returning." Although the percentage of Anbar residents who have a favorable view of local security has increased to 38 percent from zero in March, 62 percent still rate security negatively overall. Meanwhile, the level of satisfaction in other quality-of-life categories -- including the availability of jobs, supply of clean water and freedom of movement -- has decreased since March.
Iraqis are tribal. What we are seeing in Anbar is far more likely to be agreement with the American acceptance of tribal Sunnis turned protectors than it is any degree of trust in the National Police. If Anbar is the example, then what we have to look forward to in Iraq is tribal militias holding power within their spheres of influence. More and more it looks like we are willing to accept that in the place of a national government controlling and protecting the country.

Any port in a storm if the storm is violent enough. It’s prescient to remember that there were places in Iraq where even Saddam dared not appear.
Many Iraqis say the violence has decreased because their freedom of movement has been severely restricted, not because fewer insurgents are planning violent acts.

Significantly fewer people reported confidence in the national government than in March, with a 10-point drop in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's approval level, to 33 percent. Nearly two-thirds of people -- 65 percent -- say the government has done a bad job.

There’s good reason to believe the violence has decreased because of the way we count violence.
(Washington Post, 9/6/07) The Pentagon and Administration’s definition of “Ethno sectarian violence” excludes many types of violence that would indicate that the security situation in Iraq is not improving. Shi’a on Shi’a violence in the South is not included. Sunni on Sunni violence in the central part of the country is not included. “According to one senior intelligence official in Washington. ‘If a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian,’ the official said. ‘If it went through the front, it's criminal.’"
There’s no doubt in my mind that a huge part of why there’s so little American support for this war is directly attributable to the administration saying whatever the hell it cares to without regard for facts.
(Associated Press, 8/25/07) According to figures compiled by the Associated Press, Iraq is suffering approximately double the number of war-related deaths throughout the country compared with last year. The average daily toll has risen from 33 in 2006, to 62 so far this year. Nearly 1,000 more people have been killed in violence across Iraq in the first eight months of this year than in all of 2006. The AP tracking includes Iraqi civilians, government officials, police and security forces killed in attacks such as gunfights and bombings, which are frequently blamed on Sunni suicide strikes. It also includes execution-style killings — largely the work of Shi’a death squads. Insurgent deaths are not a part of the Iraqi count. These figures are considered a minimum and only based on AP reporting. The actual numbers are likely higher, as many killings go unreported or uncounted. That said, the AP notes that UN figures for 2006 are higher than the AP’s.
As an example of cooking the books, the 500 deaths, in an August truck bomb attack on a Yazidi community in August (which was north of the capital and outside the areas directly affected by the surge) were not counted in the death toll.
(McClatchy, 9/10/07) . . . But an official in the ministry who spoke anonymously because he wasn't authorized to release numbers said those numbers were heavily manipulated. The official said 1,980 Iraqis had been killed in July and that violent deaths soared in August, to 2,890.  
Who the hell knows? Iraqis don’t think things are getting better. If they don’t think so—and they have innumerable reasons not to—then we are relegated to a holding pattern without a reason to hold. Petraeus wants what his commander in chief wants, which is good soldiering. Bush wants troops there when the new president takes office, no matter the cost, which is bad presidenting.

He’ll hold to that and lose another thousand kids (along with critically wounding five thousand), presumably because that would prevent ‘pulling out’ from occurring on his watch. That borders on criminal negligence.

One hardly dares call it a watch. It’s been more of a frightened but belligerent look at the expense of others--and a sad one at that.
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Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
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