UPI International Editor
Victoria BC (UPI) Oct 23, 2006
In just a few weeks -- on Nov. 28, to be precise -- U.S. involvement in the Iraq war will have lasted a day longer than its participation in World War II. As a reminder, the United States officially entered WWII on Dec. 8, 1941, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the declaration of war, after the Japanese surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, destroyed much of the American fleet.
The war officially ended on Aug. 15, 1945, on Victory in Japan, or VJ-Day. For the United States, the war lasted three years, seven months and seven days. The war in Europe had ended a few months earlier, on May 8.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq began March 20, 2003, Baghdad time (it was still March 19 in the United States and some sources use March 19 as the official start date). By Nov. 28, the United States will have been fighting in Iraq one day longer than American GIs did during WWII.
But this is possibly the only parallel that may be drawn between the two conflicts.
The defeat of the Axis powers in WWII brought about the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Imperial Japan, and with the exception of the odd group of Japanese soldiers stuck in some remote Pacific island outposts who continued to believe the war was still on, the act of surrender meant the end of hostilities.
But in Iraq, the defeat of Saddam Hussein and the disbandment of his army and security services, along with the dismemberment of the Iraqi Baath Party, served as the signal for the start of real hostilities to begin.
The defeat of the Axis in WWII set the ground for a new beginning and for the rebuilding of a devastated Europe. The defeat of Iraq set the ground for an open-ended conflict, and with each passing month, the chances of a negotiated scale-back of violence seem more and more remote. In Europe, the deaths of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and the execution of Prime Minister Hideki Tojo in Japan signaled the end of WWII. In Iraq, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, on the other hand, triggered the start of the real war, and saw the beginning of the insurgency against the U.S.-led coalition.
And this guerrilla war that began shortly after the fall of Baghdad is proving to be far deadlier for both U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians than the actual invasion of the country, which started with the blitzkrieg drive by U.S. force from neighboring Kuwait in the south, right up to the Iraqi capital, and beyond.
Since President George W. Bush declared major combat operations over -- albeit somewhat prematurely -- when he landed in full flight regalia and in great pomp and circumstance aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, May 1, 2003, more U.S. military personnel have been killed in action in Iraq than during the actual invasion phase. From the beginning of hostilities in Iraq until Oct. 20, a total of 2,785 American service personnel have lost their lives; in Afghanistan 339 American troops died before Oct. 16.
The defeat of the Axis powers in WWII delineated a clear and unconditional surrender to the Allies. There were no questions regarding who won and who lost the war. This is far from being the case with the asymmetrical wars being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the lines remain blurred, where victories and defeats are hard to establish and where it appears more and more that a decisive military victory against the insurgents in Iraq or the Taliban in Afghanistan becomes less of a reality and more of a dream with every passing day.
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-led coalition is fighting a shadowy insurgency that, unlike a regular army, is proving hard to pin down. Victory remains very hard to define. The Bush administration went into Iraq with a clear set of plans, but once the initial objectives were achieved -- the removal of Saddam Hussein and eliminating his assumed threat of possessing weapons of mass destruction -- the rest remains un-defined.
How do you declare victory in Iraq? Bush thought victory would come with the fall of Baghdad, an almost anti-climatic event, given the speed and the ease in which the city fell. But the reality of the situation is proving to be far grimmer. The sad news is that it took the administration almost as long as the duration of WWII to finally begin to admit that mistakes were made. It was only last week that Bush finally admitted for the first time that parallels existed between Vietnam and Iraq. Bush said the increasing violence "could be" compared to the Tet offensive -- the turning point of the Vietnam War.
Maybe the turning point in the Iraq war will come with the realization that mistakes were committed, leading to the implementation of policy changes to rectify those errors.
earlier related report
But now it is the election timetables in the United States and Britain that are driving the process, with the prospect now looming that a Congress controlled by the Democratic Party from next January could start cutting back on the funds to prosecute the unpopular and increasingly discredited war.
Next month's midterm elections look like a grim experience for the Republicans. Opinion polls suggest that a tidal wave is building against them that is likely to wash away their majority in the House of Representatives and quite probably in the Senate as well. Traditionally safe Republican seats are suddenly looking vulnerable -- three of them in the state of Indiana alone.
The Republicans know that the single biggest factor in their unpopularity is Iraq, so whatever the Democrats do in the next two years, the Republicans will want to be sure that the ill-starred Iraq venture is over before they face the voters again in 2008. Iraq has become toxic, a vector for the infection of political defeat which has already afflicted Spain's Prime Minister Jose-Maria Aznar, Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and indelibly tarnished the otherwise proud record of Britain's Tony Blair.
In the United States, the battle in each party for the presidential nomination is going to focus intensely on Iraq, and who voted for what policy when. Democrats who can say they were against the war all along, including former Vice President Al Gore and the attractive new senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, are likely to start with an advantage. Voting for the war, in order to establish some national security credentials, may turn out to have been Senator Hillary Clinton's biggest mistake.
The political timetable is also likely to be unforgiving in Britain, where the war's unpopularity has already effectively ended the political career of Prime Minister Tony Blair. He stays in office as a lame duck, committed to leaving office within the year, and probably in May, in time to take the blame for what threatens to be a disastrous defeat for his Labor Party in local government elections that month.
The odds are that he will be replaced by the dour Scotsman Gordon Brown, who has been for the past nine years a very able Chancellor of the Exchequer, and a deeply uncomfortable partner in power for Blair. The internal machinations of the Labor Party have become so Borgia-like that Brown may yet be unseated at the last fence by John Reid, another Scotsman who is currently Home Secretary, the homely British title for the chap whose job elsewhere in Europe is called Minister of the Interior.
But Blair, Brown and Reid, and the new Conservative Party leader who might win the next election, David Cameron, are all on record as supporting the Iraq war, at least back in 2003. The only British politicians who were against the war back then were the Labor left-wing and the Liberal Democrats, a small third party which is unlikely to win power except as a junior partner in a coalition.
So just as the American parties want Iraq out of the way by 2008, so do the British, and the House of Commons on the River Thames is almost as obsessed with rumors about James Baker's Iraq Study Group as the U.S. Congress on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean. The expectations are becoming ridiculously high that Baker and his fellow "wise men" will come up with a formula that will permit a withdrawal of U.S. and British troops with at least a modicum of honor.
British and American politicians alike also hope that Baker will find a way to speed withdrawal without the shameful sense that so many of their young soldiers have died in Iraq for what seems to be tragically little.
That is why Tony Blair Monday told Iraq's deputy premier Barham Salih at their meeting in London that Britain will "hold its nerve" and remain committed to Iraq. Blair's spokesman denied reports that Britain was demanding undertakings from the Iraqi government that their own forces would be able to take over security duties "within a year." British Defense Secretary Des Browne has already said publicly that the Iraqis can and should meet that target.
"Obviously, there is a process of transition and handover going on," said a Downing Street spokesman. "And obviously we want this process to go as quickly as possible, but we will stay until the job is done."
The problem is that by forcing the pace and training Iraqi police and security forces "as quickly as possible," a very poor job has been done. Senior Iraqi police chiefs have been fired after investigations found that some of the Baghdad death squads came from the country's security forces. The British plan to hand over to Iraqi control more and more of the provinces of southern Iraq ran into trouble last week when militia forces overran police stations and took control of the city of Amara, forcing the British army to return and take over.
Iraq's police and army are riddled with former militia fighters, whose loyalties are at best suspect. In the absence of U.S. or British troops, it is an open question whether they would obey the orders of the Baghdad government, or instead rally to the defense of their own tribes and sects and neighborhoods. And after the bloodshed and breakdown of security and the civil war that Iraqis have been enduring for so long, who can blame them if they do so?
Anglo-American policy can still be shamed into a decent concern for the plight of the Iraqis, for it was the policies of Washington and London that landed them in this mess. But that shame is swiftly being overtaken by a concern for domestic political survival. So soured are British and American voters on Iraq that most of the Western troops will almost certainly be out by the time Britain and the United States face another election, whatever may be happening on the ground in Iraq.
Source: United Press International
Iraq: The first techonology war of the 21st century
Disputed Iraqi Bodycount
Washington (UPI) Oct 23, 2006
President Bush has dismissed new statistics showing that more than 650,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the U.S. invasion and the continuing insurgency. But the U.S. military's own estimates suggest that the casualty rate for Iraqis is five times what it was at the beginning of 2004.
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