As the Iraq war drags on, it's beginning to look a lot like Vietnam
By ROBERT DREYFUSS
The news from Iraq is bad and getting worse with each passing day. Iraqi insurgents are stepping up the pace of their attacks, unleashing eleven deadly bombings on April 29th alone. Many of the 150,000 Iraqi police and soldiers hastily trained by U.S. troops have deserted or joined the insurgents. The cost of the war now tops $192 billion, rising by $1 billion a week, and the corpses are piling up: Nearly 1,600 American soldiers and up to 100,000 Iraqi civilians are dead, as well as 177 allied troops and 229 private contractors. Other nations are abandoning the international coalition assembled to support the U.S., and the new Iraqi government, which announced its new cabinet to great fanfare on April 27th, remains sharply split along ethnic and religious lines.
But to hear President Bush tell it, the war in Iraq is going very, very well. In mid-April, appearing before 25,000 U.S. soldiers at sun-drenched Fort Hood, in Texas, Bush declared that America has succeeded in planting democracy in Iraq, creating a model that will soon spread throughout the Middle East. "That success is sending a message from Beirut to Tehran," the president boasted to chants of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" from the troops. "The establishment of a free Iraq is a watershed event in the global democratic revolution." Staying on message, aides to Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, later suggested that U.S. forces could be reduced from 142,000 to 105,000 within a year.
In private, however, senior military advisers and intelligence specialists on Iraq offer a starkly different picture. Two years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq is perched on the brink of civil war. Months after the election, the new Iraqi government remains hunkered down inside the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, surviving only because it is defended by thousands of U.S. troops. Iraqi officials hold meetings and press conferences in Alamo-like settings, often punctuated by the sounds of nearby explosions. Outside the Green Zone, party offices and government buildings are surrounded by tank traps, blast walls made from concrete slabs eighteen feet high, and private militias wielding machine guns and AK-47s. Even minor government officials travel from fort to fort in heavily armed convoys of Humvees.
"I talk to senior military people and combat commanders who tell me that the situation is much more precarious than admitted," says Col. Patrick Lang, former Middle East chief for the Defense Intelligence Agency. "Even inside the Green Zone you are not safe, because of indirect fire. And if you were to venture outside at night, they'd probably find your headless body the next morning."