So far, what exactly is surging in Iraq?
US casualties, which are at a post-invasion high: According to an Associated Press analysis, more American troops were “killed in combat in Iraq over the past four months–at least 334 through Jan. 31–than in any comparable stretch since the war began”; and February, with 34 American deaths in its first nine days, is exceeding this pace. These loses are largely due to roadside bombs (IEDs) and to the fact that U.S. troops are now engaged in almost continuous urban warfare. Before the invasion of Iraq, the possibility of fighting an urban war in the Iraqi capital’s streets and alleys was the American high command’s personal nightmare. Now, it’s their reality–and the President’s surge plan can only make it more nightmarish.
Downings of U.S. helicopters, six in less than three weeks: With road travel, even in convoys, now so dangerous, thanks to IEDs, the helicopter has been a transport workhorse for the U.S. military in Iraq. The sudden surge in downed helicopters raises the specter of new tactics by the insurgents as well as the possibility that they have new, advanced missiles in their hands. It raises a warning flag of the first order. Let’s not forget that the beginning of the end of the Russian occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s came when CIA-supplied Stinger missiles began to take down Russian helicopters in significant numbers.
Iraqi and American no-shows: The first Iraqi Army units promised by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the beginning of the February surge in the capital have shown up. But as with everything involving that Green Zone government and Iraqi forces generally, there is a catch: The initial Iraqi brigades are evidently at only 55-65% troop strength. Undoubtedly, these no-shows are Kurds and Shiites who didn’t want to leave their home areas to fight in Baghdad. In addition, according to McClatchy’s Tom Lasseter, who went out on patrol with Iraqi forces in Baghdad recently, despite the $15.4 billion the American military has so far poured into “standing them up,” they are militia-infiltrated, incompetent, and exceedingly corrupt. Nor have most American troops designated to surge into Baghdad arrived yet. Louise Roug of the Los Angeles Times estimates that only 20% of the promised surge forces, Iraqi and American–about 5,000 troops in all–have even made it to the capital. (The fifth and final American brigade in this plan isn’t scheduled to arrive until May!) In the meantime, senior American diplomats, voting with their analytic feet, are resisting taking posts in Iraq, assignments which, unlike military personnel, they are not obliged to accept. (They are evidently doing so on the same basic what-the-hell-am-I-going-there-for principle as the Kurdish and Shiite troops.)
Iraqi refugees: One out of every seven Iraqis has by now “fled his or her home or sought refuge abroad,” reports the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “Every day,” according to McClatchy’s Warren Strobel, “violence displaces an estimated 1,300 more Iraqis in the country; every month, at least 40,000.” According to UN officials, in surging Iraq, things are only expected to worsen. “The UNHCR projects that the number of internally displaced in Iraq could grow to about 2.7 million by year’s end.” An in-depth assessment conducted by the International Medical Corps, a humanitarian organization, suggests that “over one million residents of Baghdad could be driven from their homes in the next six months if Iraq’s sectarian violence continues at its current level.” That would be a surge indeed.
The devastation of Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad: Some of these are being turned into ghost areas, as Ilana Ozernoy and Ali Hamdani indicate in a limited survey of one street in a Sunni area of the capital that appeared recently in the Atlantic. Other accounts seem to verify this. For instance, New York Times reporter Damien Cave, in a piece on how the vast Shiite slum of Sadr City is beginning to thrive under the protection of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and with reconstruction money from the Maliki government, comments in passing that, in contrast, “middle-class Sunni enclaves are withering into abandoned ghettos, starved of government services.”
Massive publicity about the details of the slow-to-happen surge operation: These have been offered copiously by the supposedly security-conscious Bush administration, giving Sunnis and Shiites opportunity to prepare both defenses and evasions. It has meant, according to early American military assessments, that in the first search operations in key neighborhoods, they are finding little or nothing. (“‘I don’t know if it’s bad information, bad intelligence, of if they knew we were coming and left,’ said Capt. Isaac Torres of the Army’s 3rd Brigade Stryker Combat Team. ‘They were all dry holes.'”)
Oh, as for the surge plan itself, Michael Schwartz at Tomdispatch.com points out that the President’s new surge plan has already been tested in the last few weeks in an offensive that began on Baghdad’s Haifa Street, adjacent to the Green Zone, a day before Bush officially announced his plan and was found to be most successful — in further depopulating the capital’s Sunni neighborhoods as well as creating more destruction, greater sectarian violence, and new levels of animosity. His is a devastating piece on another bit of Bush administration planning that takes us right through the “gates of hell.”