Three months into the job, General David Petraeus says it is difficult to predict, before the full number of troops arrive, if the surge in Baghdad will succeed. And he now says he will not have a definitive answer about prospects for progress by September, when he is to report back to Congress.
But how to define “progress”in Iraq? (And why should the US have the right to decide what progress in Iraq means? Shouldn’t we, instead, be given the task of measuring the destruction we have caused and held to account for repairing the human and physical damage we have helped inflict?)
But if one does engage in this defining-progress project, here are some early measurements to consider:
*Iraqis have already defined progress with their feet — consider that some two million have left or fled their country. And the outflow continues. In Syria, there are estimated to be 1.2 million Iraqi refugees; another 750,000 in Jordan, 100,000 in Egypt, 54,000 in Iran, 40,000 in Lebanon and 10,000 in Turkey. The number of displaced Iraqis still inside that country’s borders was given as 1.9 million. This would mean approximately 15 percent of Iraqis have left their homes.
*The Iraqi Central Organization for Statistics and Information Technology (COSIT) with the support of UNDP released statistics this week showing a key indicator of progress trending in the wrong direction. Insurgent death squads dumped 234 bodies around Baghdad in the first 11 days of May, a 70.8 percent increase from the 137 bodies dumped around the capital during the first 11 days of April.
*Some 88 violent deaths were reported across Iraq on Wednesday, including 32 people who died the night before when a car bomb exploded near a market in the Shiite area of Abu Saydah northeast of Baghdad.
*A leading British think-tank, Chatham House, reported on Thursday that the surge has failed to reduce overall violence across the country, as insurgent groups have shifted their acts outside Baghdad.
*UN agencies working in Iraq warned that a chronic shortage of drinking water may increase diarrhea rates, particularly among children. Diarrhea is already the second highest single cause of child illness and death in Iraq.
*The survey by the Central Statistical Bureau reports that 43 percent of Iraqis suffer from “absolute poverty” and another 11 percent of them live in “abject poverty.”
*The Iraqi parliament has proposed a bill, signed by a majority of members, demanding American troop withdrawal and an end to the occupation. (For those in our Congress who have placed so much stock in the idea of democracy, isn’t it time to drop the neo-colonial paternalism and listen to your Iraqi counterparts. As Senator John Kerry put it today, “There are some people who would send our troops to fight and die for democracy and then not honor it.”)
But the reality is that for many legislators who refuse to support a timeline for withdrawal, especially Republicans who continue to support their bunkered-in President, the question of how to measure progress in Iraq will not be answered by how many Iraqi children are dying or refugees fleeing. The answer will be the polls in their districts.