The Journal Editorial Report | July 1, 2005 | PBS
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briefing and opinion
July 1, 2005

A Day in the Life of Iraq
Iraqi brothers
Abbas, far left, and his brother Hussein second from left, at the funeral of their father Fadil Udaa in the Sadr City district of Baghdad, June 26, 2005. Udaa, a member of the municipal council in Sadr City, was found dead on with his hands tied and shot in the head after he had been kidnapped by unidentified masked gunmen on June 24. (AP/Karim Kadim)

The White House is engaged in a fullscale effort to build public support for President Bush's policies in Iraq. The president led the campaign with a speech to the nation June 28 in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. A survey of events in Iraq on that same day shows how complicated the situation remains as Iraq marks its first anniversary as a sovereign nation.

  • An Iraqi parliament member, his son and three others were killed by a suicide bomber in Baghdad.

  • Reconstruction work continued on 950 schools.

  • South of Baghdad three Iraqis were killed and 17 were wounded in a hospital by a suicide bomber dressed as a policeman.

  • A remote control bomb killed two and wounded six in an assassination attempt against a police chief in Kirkuk.

  • Work continued on about 100 water treatment and 140 new primary health care facilities.
    Images: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4| 5| |

  • A car bomb killed four and wounded 33 in a market in Baghdad.
  • Seventeen thousand Iraqi security force volunteers neared completion of their training.

  • Three policemen were killed and five were wounded when gunmen attacked their headquarters in Samarra.

  • A U.S. soldier was killed by a suicide bomber near Balad and 161,000 Iraqis went to work rebuilding schools, clinics, roads and other projects.

  • A 20-year-old U.S. army specialist was killed in Baghdad by a roadside bomb that exploded near his humvee.

  • Three Iraqi employees of an oil company were killed when a bomb went off near their car in Kirkuk, while 27,000 new businesses opened for another day.

  • Five people were killed and nine wounded in three car bomb explosions in Bakuba.

  • An Iraqi news executive was killed by U.S. troops when he failed to pull over for an American convoy.

    There are 80 insurgent attacks in Iraq on an average day. Since the war began in March of 2003, nearly 1,750 U.S. troops have been killed, more than half of them since the start of Iraqi sovereignty one year ago. Another 13,000 have been wounded. Quagmire is synonymous with Viet Nam. The specter of another Viet Nam now influences public opinion and encouraged the president to speak out this week.

    Polls by the major news organizations had all indicated a loss of public support for the Iraq war, with numbers beginning to approach the negatives for Viet Nam in the early 1970s. There is disagreement in both parties about the strength of the insurgency. When Senator Edward Kennedy described Iraq as an "intractable quagmire," the commanding general in Iraq, General George Casey, disagreed, countering that the true summary of the Iraq situation was an "insurgency with no vision, no base, limited popular support, an elected government committed to Iraqis, to the democratic process, and Iraqi security forces that are fighting and dying for their country ever day. Senator, that is not a quagmire." Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggests the insurgency could last five to 12 years.

    In his Ft. Bragg speech, President Bush said that progress, rather than an "artificial timetable," would determine when the troops came home. "It would send the wrong message to the enemy, who would know that all they have to do is wait us out. We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed, and not a day longer."

    Iraq images
    Images: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |
    PAUL GIGOT: With me to discuss how we are doing in Iraq are Rob Pollock, a senior writer for the editorial page who has made several trips to Iraq, and Fouad Ajami, the director of the Middle East Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University. He is a contributor to the editorial pages of the WALL STREET JOURNAL and recently returned from another trip to Iraq and the Middle East. Welcome, Fouad, great to have you here again. How do you see it?

    FOUAD AJAMI: I think your own narrative at the top, in fact, summed up the story, because there is light in Iraq and there is darkness. There is the steady bleeding that we see, there are the car bombs, and we know that the month of May was a particularly vicious month -- 150 car bombs, seven American soldiers were killed, 700 Iraqis were killed -- so it was inevitable that we would come to this somber moment and this somber discussion of Iraq.

    But we should keep our eye on what's happening in Iraq, and that really is the positive things that you see: the building of a new political system, the constitutional drafting committee. I spent a day at the Iraqi national assembly in the Parliament, and I wrote it in your column -- nothing was nobler than that. I think you see both. You see the light in Iraq, and you see the darkness in Iraq. I think if we consider the broader Middle East as a whole and what Iraq is giving us in Syria and Lebanon and Egypt and Kuwait, I think the Iraq war will redeem itself. But the difficulties are there.

    GIGOT: I want to get to that point a little later on the broader Middle East. But when it comes to the security, Rob, security is particularly bad in Baghdad and then in the Sunni triangle. But in 14 of the 18 provinces, in the south and up in the Kurdish north, they say that the attacks are now limited to three a day, according to General Casey. So it's a mixed picture even with the security situation, is it not?

    ROB POLLOCK: I wouldn't say that's a mixed picture. That's actually a pretty good picture. Casey's testimony to the Senate was really interesting. He cited polls showing that 80 percent of Iraqis -- 80 percent -- say they are eager to vote in the referendum on the constitution, and also to vote in the elections following that. He also pointed out, he said "Look, even by the worst estimates, the worst estimates, the insurgency is less than one-tenth of one percent of the Iraqi population."

    DAN HENNINGER: Considering the nature of the insurgency, their weapon is the car bomb, a discreet, identifiable weapon. All of this violence is being set off by car bombs. Secondly, the insurgency is not spreading, enlarging in the population. They are not drawing larger numbers of people, as perhaps happened in Viet Nam. It is a discrete, identifiable group of people who are very intractable and hard to find, but it is not expanding.

    GIGOT: If you look at the insurgencies in history that have succeeded -- Fidel Castro in Cuba, or Mao Tse-tung in China against Chiang Kai-shek, or the Algerians, for example -- they did have some really large base of popular support. That doesn't seem, Fouad, at least from our vantage point, to be happening in this case. How do you see it?

    images from Iraq
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    AJAMI: Well I think the insurgency does have a swamp, if you will. The swamp remains the Sunni triangle and major elements of the Sunni Arab population. But even they are coming around. They have come to accept that they can't wage indefinite war. I spent some time with members of the Association of Muslim Scholars. That is the most militant of the Sunni Arab movement.

    GIGOT: Who boycotted the election.

    AJAMI: Exactly. And now they will tell you, not so much for public attribution -- they don't want to be named -- that it was a bad idea that they boycotted the elections. I think even they are coming around to this recognition that car bombs and truculence are not going to defeat this new order of things.

    GIGOT: On the political side, we've got some deadlines here. The August 15th constitution has to be written, and then we have an October referendum followed by a December election for a new, permanent government. Are they going to be able to meet that six, seven week deadline?

    AJAMI: I have tremendous patience with this. As you know, I am a professor. Late papers are things I can live with. I can tell you one thing. I know and like very much the chairman of the Constitutional Drafting Committee, Sheik Humum Hamudi, who is a Shiite cleric and one of the most enlightened people that you could meet in Iraq. They are committed to writing a good constitution, and they are committed to bringing the Sunni Arabs into the process. No one wants to exclude them. They held out an olive branch for them. The Constitutional Drafting Committee will be done, and whether it is going to be done by August or not, I think that is a different issue.

    POLLOCK: If you want to see proof of the fact that the so-called Shiite parties are committed to bringing the Sunnis in, just look at who was actually on the Shiite list that won the election. They had I think something like one-sixth or one-seventh of the candidates on that list -- the so-called Shiite list -- were Sunnis. I think absolutely, we have got a very good, very enlightened group of people now running the country in Iraq, and there is no reason not to be optimistic about progress on the political front.

    GIGOT: On the security side, I want to raise one issue and that is the issue of the number of troops. John McCain has said we need more of them. John McCain wants this to succeed very badly, so he wants to help. But let's listen to the president as he addresses the issue of whether or not we have enough troops in Iraq.

    PRESIDENT BUSH: Some Americans asked me if completing the mission is so important, why don't you send more troops? If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job. Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are in fact working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave.

    GIGOT: In contradiction to the argument for more troops, some people -- Michael Hanlon of the Brookings Institution -- says we have got to draw them down because we need to show Iraqis they can do it on their own. What do you make of this debate?

    HENNINGER: They do have to do it on their own. And secondly, our troops over there are fighting. They are a fighting force and they commit violence against the Iraqi people in the population. There is a sense in which that presence is indeed resented by some Iraqis. To increase the number, I think, mainly increases targets for the Iraqis and arguably increases the resentment. I don't know whether it would be your impression, Fouad.

    Iraq images
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    AJAMI: Well, I don't know if the Commander-in-Chief says to the commanders, you have to say that there are enough troops, and we understand -- we don't know whether there are enough troops or not. But I want to read you something. Now this is the mantra of General Petraeus, Lieutenant General Petraeus, who is training the Iraqi forces. He has been away from home now, this is his third year in Iraq, and he is an amazing officer. He loves all PowerPoint presentations. All our ministry loves PowerPoint. Here's one PowerPoint, one slide, which has a quotation from T.E. Lawrence, which General Patreas shows. This says, "Don't try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it horribly than you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them." That is his slogan. That is his mantra, and that is ours. Eventually, unlike what Senator Biden will say, we should talk to the French, talk to the Egyptians. Forget it. We have to train the Iraqis. It is their war, it is their country, and they will come to it.

    GIGOT: You also visited several other countries on your trip, Fouad. What do you see as the impact through the region of the vote in January in Iraq, and the insurgent struggle now?

    AJAMI: I think there is amazing, amazing changes, underpinned by the war in Iraq and paid for by our sacrifice in Iraq. We can't ...

    GIGOT: Can't bring up those.

    AJAMI: Exactly.

    GIGOT: They are very real and painful.

    AJAMI: Absolutely, absolutely. Our losses are concrete, our gains are abstract and hard to pin down. And that is why the president has such a difficult time telling us what we are doing in the Middle East. Look at Kuwait. For two decades they have tried to give women the right to vote. They gave it to them. Now, look at Egypt, the challenge to Hosni Mubarak. Look at the creation of a democratic country in Lebanon. Look at even that fragile Damascus spring, that there are now Syrian intellectuals and activists, Kurds and Arabs alike, who are beginning to challenge the regime. None of this would have happened without these gains in Iraq.

    GIGOT: That is fascinating. Dan, all of that true, at least from my vantage point, yet in Washington there has been so much pessimism about Iraq. Did the president rally support, do you think, from the country with his speech? Begin to turn the corner a bit in terms of public support?

    HENNINGER: Rally might be too strong a word. I think it helped. I think they should do much more of that. They have been very dismissive of the home front.

    GIGOT: You mean the administration?

    HENNINGER: The administration and General John Abizaid, head of the central command, was in Washington last week, and he said something that I really think needs to be paid attention to. He said he has never seen confidence around the Beltway lower. When he goes to Afghanistan or around the Middle East, they all say, are you going to stay with this? General Abizaid said this is a question about which we should have a frank conversation in Washington. Are we going to stay with it? Because if we are not, let's say so, so we don't commit ourselves under those circumstances.

    POLLOCK: I agree with Dan. Good speech. I hope the next time he does it, he does it in Baghdad to the Iraqi parliament.

    GIGOT: Fouad?

    AJAMI: Nothing is better than something that Bernard Lewis recently said, and he said he is cautiously optimistic about the Middle East. The optimism is about the Middle East, the caution is about Washington. Dan is right, it is about being able to withstand the fury of the insurgency, and to be able to tell Americans what is really being done. It is hard, but we have to do it.

    GIGOT: You have to distinguish, I think, between opponents, Democrats in Washington, because you have some Democrats -- and I would call these frankly the quagmire Democrats, Ted Kennedy, some others. They want to pull out right away, or they want to put an immediate timetable to pull out. They really do, I think, having grown up with Viet Nam, they think this is a replay. They don't want us to be over there. Then you have others -- Senator Biden and certainly Joe Lieberman who has been spectacular throughout this -- who really do understand the stakes in Iraq. They want the administration to succeed. Some of them are more critical than others, but I think the president has got to find a way to deal with them and bring them on board some way to make this a bipartisan policy going ahead.

    How long, Dan, do you think the president has here to be able to convince the American people that we are on the path to success in Iraq, before we really start to look at erosion of public support?

    HENNINGER: I would say a year. I think it depends a lot on the president interacting with the American people much more than he has on this subject, informing them, giving them details about the progress. Otherwise, you default to the television images.

    GIGOT: I think he made a mistake thinking that, you know what, we can talk about Social Security for four or five months. Iraq is the central drama of this administration, and of his presidency.