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Friday, October 15, 2004

A 'Transition' to Failure

By Erik Leaver, AlterNet. Posted October 6, 2004.

There is no better proof of the consequences of the Bush "plan" for Iraq than the grim reality on the ground three months after the so-called "transition" of power.

In the first presidential debate, President Bush insisted over and again that the way to win the war in Iraq is to be "steadfast and resolved."

"We've got a plan in place," he said. "The plan says there will be elections in January, and there will be. The plan says we'll train Iraqi soldiers so they can do the hard work, and we are." What Bush failed to mention was that his plan – which is, in effect, staying the course – will only increase the Iraq War’s already horrific human and economic costs borne by both Americans and Iraqis.

There is no better proof of the consequences of the Bush "plan" than the grim reality on the ground three months after the so-called "transition" of power. Since June 30, U.S. military casualties have risen dramatically. The death rate for non-Iraqi contractors has doubled. The Iraqi resistance has quadrupled its forces.

The centerpiece of the administration’s plan is to improve the Iraqis’ fighting ability, allowing American troops to take a back seat in combat operations and eventually pull out of Iraq. But the Iraqi police and National Guard have largely failed to provide security for the Iraqi people and the situation appears to be only worsening.

The death of 34 Iraqi children in a car bombing on the same day as the debate underscored the grim fact that it is the Iraqis who are paying the highest price for this war. These children, seeking candy from U.S. soldiers, were casualties of a war that puts anyone who is physically near or associated with a U.S. soldier at risk. At least 13,000 Iraqi civilians have died so far. (If the data for the Iraqi dead is incomplete, it is because the U.S. government has consistently refused to tally the civilian death toll.) Members of Iraq’s security forces are being killed at a higher rate than before the “transition." At least 127 were killed in June and July 2004, raising the total body count since January 2004 to more than 700.

While the toll of the war on Iraqis has not been well documented, the cost of the occupation-by-another-name in U.S. lives painfully clear. Over 1,000 U.S. soldiers and their families have paid the ultimate price for the Iraq War. And just as the number of deaths has risen for Iraqis since the “transition,” so has it for the U.S. The total number of U.S. soldiers killed and wounded during these three months stands at 747 per month, exceeding the pre-transition rate of 449 casualties per month prior to June 30.

The high casualty rate reveals the insurgency as stronger than ever. The monthly average of insurgent attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces. more than doubled from 1,005 in the eight months prior to the “transition,” to 2,150 in the months since the "handover." And many, including U.S. Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, believe that it is likely that insurgent attacks will escalate as Iraq’s elections approach.

The Pentagon has acknowledged that the number of insurgents is on the rise. In November of 2003, the Pentagon estimated that there were 5,000 Iraqi resistance fighters. In September 2004, the number had risen to 20,000. The British Deputy Commander of the forces in Iraq estimates the resistance may be double that number. The rise is even starker when we factor in the additional 24,000 Iraqi resistance fighters who have been detained or killed.

With the insurgency showing no signs of abating, soldiers are forced to endure lengthy deployments that now average over 320 days. At least 45,000 troops have been given “stop loss” orders which, like a form of the draft, keep soldiers in service beyond the agreed-upon term of enlistment. Reservists and National Guardsmen are also feeling the effects of the war in their pockets as 30 to 40 percent of them are now earning a lower salary when they leave to seek civilian employment. Just in Washington state’s Thurston County alone, where Fort Lewis military base is located, more than 250 military families rely upon food stamps.

Under Bush's "plan," there is no hope that these troops will receive any respite. During the debate, the president repeatedly referred to Poland as a valuable member of the coalition. Ironically, soon after, the Polish government announced a reduction in their troops, shrinking the coalition even further At the war’s start, coalition countries represented 19 percent of the world’s population. Today, the remaining countries with troops on the ground represent only 13.6 percent of the world’s population. Many of these nations have tiny contingencies, such as Moldovia’s force of 12.

Just as the “transition” didn’t result in a reduction in the 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, it also didn’t result in a substantive change in power. Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, formerly on the CIA payroll, was forced to accept the nearly 100 orders given by the head of the occupation, Paul Bremer, dictating the development of the Iraqi economy. Hundreds of U.S. advisors remain stationed in the Iraqi ministries and the U.S. controls the purse strings over the $18.4 billion reconstruction package.

Despite the constant talk of reconstruction by the Bush administration, normal life remains a distant dream in Iraq. Schools were supposed to open on Sept. 11, but opening day has now been moved for the fourth time due to the lack of security. Iraq’s health care system lacks critical supplies, with the director-general of the Iraqi Health Ministry recently noting, “The drug shortage is our number one problem.” Electricity is still in short supply, and drinking water scarce. The opening ceremony for a water treatment plant in Baghdad was the location for the brutal attack that killed 34 children.

The social costs being borne by the average American, though less obvious, are just as high. The price tag for the war currently stands at $151 billion, with Congress likely to approve another request for additional funding after the election. The word on Capitol Hill is that it will total at least another $50 billion. To put Iraq war spending figures in perspective, the monthly cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars now rivals the average monthly cost of the Vietnam War. Operations costs in Iraq are estimated at $5 billion per month while the average cost of U.S. operations in Vietnam over the eight-year war was $5.2 billion per month, adjusting for inflation. On top of the staggering sums of taxpayer money that we are doling out today looms the federal budget deficit at a record $422 billion – a bill that will be paid for by future generations.

While certainly the Iraq War does indeed represent “hard work” – as the President pointed out more than 22 times during the debate – it more importantly symbolizes the colossal failures of the Bush administration. As the daunting statistics of the “transition” reveal, “remaining steadfast” will only compound a terrible error in judgment.


Erik Leaver is the policy director for the Foreign Policy In Focus project at the Institute for Policy Studies("http://www.ips-dc.org"). He’s one of the authors of a recently released IPS and FPIF report titled "A Failed 'Transition': The Mounting Costs of the Iraq War."

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