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As Congress gathers to hear the reports of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, no amount of Administration spin can hide the ugly reality in Iraq. A surge that should never have been tried and that could never have succeeded has predictably failed. While violence in some parts of Baghdad has declined to June 2006 levels, the number of deaths from political violence has increased in Iraq as a whole. Ethnic cleansing has proceeded apace, and the humanitarian catastrophe, already staggering, has worsened. Some 2.5 million Iraqis are now refugees in neighboring countries. Another 2 million are internally displaced. And despite Bush Administration claims to the contrary, most of Iraq’s cities and towns still lack regular electricity, sanitation and other basic services, and suffer from economic depression. Up to half of Iraqis are unemployed.
The stated purpose of the surge was to create enough security in and around Baghdad to give Iraqi politicians breathing room to pursue reconciliation. But with the exception of some very minor recent concessions on de-Baathification, the Shiite-led government has stuck to positions that have prevented most Sunnis from participating in the government. Moreover, it is increasingly difficult to speak of an Iraqi government that has power or authority outside Baghdad’s Green Zone. Real power resides with the militias on the ground, which are competing for resources and influence throughout much of Iraq. Even within the Green Zone, some seventeen ministries have withdrawn their support from the government and increasingly act as independent fiefdoms handing out resources to loyal constituents.
The surge has done nothing to change this–in large part because the United States, despite its sizable military and substantial economic largesse, is powerless to coerce or cajole change in the centers of power. Any gains the surge has produced may be gone tomorrow, like a footprint washed away by the tide.
The surge has thus been a cruel hoax on the American people and on our servicemen and -women (more than 600 of whom have been killed and 4,000 injured since the surge was announced). It is yet another Administration bid to stave off public pressure to withdraw and thus to avoid admitting failure. This irresponsibility–this morally indefensible sacrifice of American and Iraqi lives in pursuit of unachievable goals–must end. The Iraq War has long been lost, and it is time to bring it to a close. We continue to believe that a complete withdrawal of US forces, carried out as quickly as possible, is the best course of action for the United States, Iraq and the region.