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The Latest Assault on Iraq
Eleventh Hour Spin

The US military in Iraq has described the offensive against insurgents near Samarra as the biggest airborne operation since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, with 50 aircraft and 1,500 troops involved. In fact it looks more like a PR exercise. There has been little serious fighting and certainly none of the intensity that marked the invasion or even the attack on Tal Afar in September. The latter operation involved 6,000 Iraqi troops and 4,000 Americans, forced the evacuation of the town’s population and resulted in 157 militants dead and another 683 captured. The present operation has resulted so far in the seizure of a few weapons and uniforms and the arrest of a mere 40 suspects, 17 of whom were released shortly afterward.

So why all the hype? Why were US officials so keen to publicize the attack, releasing video footage almost as soon as it started?

Presumably to convince a weary American public opinion that there is much more to do in Iraq and that this is not the time to lose heart and want American troops out. Is it purely coincidental that the operation was launched just as the US Congress appointed former US Secretary of State James Baker to head a bipartisan inquiry into the effectiveness of American policies in Iraq? No. It is bad enough for President Bush that American public opinion and the media now increasingly question US involvement in Iraq, but for Congress to follow suit, including Republicans, with the man who was his father’s secretary of state and who played a pivotal role in ensuring his own election in 2000 heading an official inquiry, must set off alarm bells in the White House. It is inevitably going to harden the swing against Bush’s Iraq policy and make it unsustainable.

That the White House would want to counteract this is understandable, but this particular piece of spin demonstrates how inept Bush’s advisers on Iraq are. Not only is the spin not going to fool US public opinion or halt the slide in the president’s ratings, it is going to result in an own-goal when the operation ends with no prizes to parade on TV. If ever there were any major insurgents in the area targeted, the birds have flown — which suggests that they knew about the attack in advance. That in turn suggests that their intelligence is just as good as, if not better than, that of the Americans and that they have well-placed operatives in the new structures of power. That is not a good message to give to the American public, or to Iraqis either.

Meanwhile what hope for Iraq? Very little. The increasing activities of death squads and militias enforcing sectarian cleansing and punishment simply pile on the communal mistrust and hate. Iraq is being pushed remorselessly down the road of disintegration and partition — and George Bush is powerless to do anything about it. Only the Iraqis themselves can pull back from the abyss. It is not too late, but it is getting near the eleventh hour. Still the country’s political leaders refuse to put national needs above communal ones.

The picture is more than depressing; it is dire.

 

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