Frida Berrigan | Progress in Iraq?
Progress in Iraq?
By Frida Berrigan
Tuesday 04 November 2003
Shot Down, Killed, Wounded, Depressed
You just want to cry- for the dead and wounded and war 0atraumatized U.S. soldiers, and for the dead and wounded and war traumatized 0aIraqis, and for those who continue to hold on to the worn platitudes that our "mission" in Iraq is "accomplished" or ever could be.
Sunday's attack that downed a Chinook helicopter and killed 16 0asoldiers and wounded 20 more is the gravest attack on U.S. soldiers in the war - 0aso far.
Just last week, President Bush tried to explain the relationship 0abetween progress in Iraq and the mounting U.S. casualties. "There are terrorists 0ain Iraq," Bush said, "who are willing to kill anybody in order to stop our 0aprogress. The more successful we are on the ground, the more these killers will 0areact." At some point - and that point may be right around now -- Bush's logic 0afalls apart. The notion that more attacks on U.S. troops is a sign of "success" 0asurely can't be sustained for more than a very, very short run, assuming that 0athe argument has been thought through at all by Bush and his PR "spin" machine.
Judging from the U.S. blood spilt in Iraq in the past few weeks, 0aU.S. forces must be progressing rapidly, according to "Bush-think." This is the 0aworst attack of the war, and it follows on the heels of the bloodiest month-- in 0aOctober, 33 U.S. soldiers were killed in hostile fire, double the number killed 0ain September. The Pentagon is now estimating that for every soldier killed in 0aIraq, another seven are wounded. The numbers of U.S. troops wounded are running 0afar higher than Gulf War I, for obvious reasons. A military occupation is far 0amore dangerous and draining than driving an occupying power (Saddam Hussein) out 0aa country (Kuwait) that he has illegally invaded (Kuwait).
The frequency of attacks has increased as well. Throughout the 0asummer, Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez estimates, U.S. forces came 0aunder fire 10-15 times per week. By early October attacks were coming 20-35 0atimes each week.
The downing of the Chinook, shot out of the sky by a surface to 0aair missile, should also down the White House's posturing that progress is being 0amade in Iraq-- that the mission is being accomplished, that the "hostilities" 0aare waning, that the regime change is successful.
Just last week, Bush distanced himself from the slick banner - 0awith the words "Mission Accomplished" emblazoned across it in huge letters made 0ato be seen on TV screens across America and throughout the world -- that served 0aas his backdrop on the USS Abraham Lincoln where he announced an end to the 0ahostilities in Iraq.
At the time the banner seemed gratuitous and overblown, just one 0amore indication of the Bush team's obsession with photo ops and commitment to 0amake every public appearance part of Bush's re-election campaign. Now, it just 0aseems wrong.
Bush's "top gun" landing on the aircraft carrier was scripted 0adown to the last second. An advance team spent days on the ship preparing for 0athe event. And when Bush finally arrived, he brought an entourage of 75-100 0apeople with him. The carrier had to stay out at sea an extra day so that Bush 0acould do a "sleep over" with the troops. Not only did this delay their reunions 0awith their loved ones an extra day, but it cost taxpayers a cool $3.3 million (the cost of keeping a carrier task force afloat for one day).
The New York Times reported that Bush's speech was timed to 0acoincide with what image-makers call ''magic hour light.'' As one aide noted, ''If you looked at the TV picture, you saw there was flattering light on his 0aleft cheek and slight shadowing on his right.It looked great.''
But with casualties mounting and confidence lagging, it seems 0athat the American people are finally able to say- "image isn't everything." Bush 0amight look great, but the mission is far from accomplished, and in the mean time 0awhat is it costing us?
It does not take much digging to find overwhelming evidence that 0athe "mission" is not "accomplished."
Bush recently commented that military spirit was high and 0aobserved that life in Iraq "is a lot better than you'd probably think. Just ask 0apeople who have been there." He said.
Stars and Stripes did. The magazine, which is funded in part by 0athe Pentagon but retains editorial autonomy, conducted a survey of U.S. troops 0ain August. Their findings contradict the President's. Half of those polled said 0athat their morale is low, they are inadequately trained and they do not plan on 0are-enlisting when their tour of duty is up.
One third were critical of the way the administration is 0aprosecuting the war, saying that the their mission lacks clear definition and 0athe war in Iraq has little or no value.
The "The Ground Truth" series is online at http://www.stripes.com/morale/
For some, the spartan living conditions, the separation from 0afamilies, and the danger, stress and precariousness of living in a war zone has 0acaused severe mental distress and even led some to suicide. The Army has sent 0a478 soldiers home for mental health reasons, and has recently reported that at 0aleast 11 soldiers have committed suicide in Iraq in 7 months.
According to USA Today the Army is investigating at least a dozen 0aother deaths as possible suicides. This issue is starting to gain some attention 0ain the press, but it took months for the military services acknowledge they had 0aa deadly morale problem on their hands.
In the numbers game played by politicians, the wounded and 0anon-combat casualties get discounted and ignored. The Pentagon has been 0areporting only the combat casualties- not deaths from accidents, friendly fire, 0aand suicide.
The Pentagon has held off on reporting the number of wounded 0asoldiers, creating a major gap in reporting on the war. In late October, Stars 0aand Stripes reported that the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany had 0atreated 7,381 wounded American soldiers.
Maybe the saddest irony of this attack is that the soldiers on 0aboard the Chinook were beginning a "sanity break" but instead they became the 0alatest casualties in this insane war.
Frida Berrigan is a Senior Research Associate at the World 0aPolicy Institute's Arms Trade Resource Center. She can be reached at email@example.com
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