Mortar attacks on the Green Zone, the American controlled and massively fortified citadel in the heart of Baghdad, were already on the rise when, late last week, a suicide bomber managed to penetrate the Parliament building inside the Zone and kill at least one legislator, while wounding others, in its cafeteria. Some parliamentary representatives were soon declaring the still unfolding American “surge” plan in the capital a dismal failure.
“‘Someone can walk into our parliament building with bombs. What security do we have?’ said Saleh al-Mutlaq, who heads the Sunni National Dialogue Front in the Iraqi parliament.
“‘The plan is 100% a failure. It’s a complete flop,’ said Khalaf al-Ilyan, one of the three leaders of the Iraqi Accordance Front, which holds 44 seats in parliament. ‘The explosion means that instability and lack of security has reached the Green Zone.'”
In the meantime, while the Americans could point to a drop in Iraqi civilian deaths in the capital (along with a rise in American ones), overall Iraqi deaths throughout the country were, not surprisingly, surging as guerrilla operations and sectarian struggles simply shifted to places of less American strength. Baghdad was hardly untouched though: a famous bridge across the Tigris River was severed by a truck bomb last week, while a fierce battle against Sunni insurgents was fought in central Baghdad, using helicopters.
Faced with intensifying fighting, rising casualties, and chaos, the Bush administration, which has resisted setting timetables of any sort in Iraq, finally set one. In a Pentagon news briefing on Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced a set of “clear guidelines that our commanders, troops and their families could understand and use in determining how future rotations in support of the global war on terror would affect them.” Thanks to the thoughtful timetable-setting of the Bush administration, Army families, who might previously have hoped that their loved ones would come home at the end of a 12-month tour of duty in Iraq, are now assured that they will definitively have to wait another three months. This is certainly a sign of desperation for the faltering all-volunteer military in a situation fewer and fewer Americans would care to volunteer to be part of.