In a front-page story Jan. 25, “US Asking Iraq for Wide Rights in Fighting War,” the New York Times writes: “With its international mandate in Iraq set to expire in 11 months, the Bush administration will insist that the government in Baghdad give the United States broad authority to conduct combat operations and guarantee civilian contractors specific legal protections from Iraqi law, according to administration and military officials… The American negotiating position for a formal military-to-military relationship, one that would replace the current United Nations mandate, is laid out in a draft proposal that was described by White House, Pentagon, State Department and military officials on ground rules of anonymity. It also includes less controversial demands that American troops be immune from Iraqi prosecution, and that they maintain the power to detain Iraqi prisoners.” Meanwhile, a video posted on YouTube of a Jan. 3 appearance in Derry, NH, has presidential candidate John McCain responding to a question about whether US troops could be in Iraq 50 years: “Make it 100. We’ve been in Japan for 60 years, we’ve been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That would be fine with me.”
Reporter Michael Gordon writes in the New York Times Jan. 20 of covering the “parallel universes” of Iraq and the campaign trail. The “think piece” portrays an open-ended occupation as the only realistic option:
The American officers I met were hardly of one mind on how to proceed in Iraq, but they were grappling with decisions on how to try to stabilize a traumatized country with a hard-headed sense that although there have been significant gains, a long and difficult job still lies ahead — a core assumption that has frequently been missing on the campaign trail.
The politicians, on the other hand, seemed more intent on addressing public impatience with an open-ended commitment in Iraq, either by promising prompt withdrawal (the Democrats) or by suggesting that victory may be near (the Republicans).
Anthony Cordesman, a military specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who regularly visits Iraq, put it this way: “You have to grade all the candidates between a D-minus and an F-plus. The Republicans are talking about this as if we have won and as if Iraq is the center of the war on terrorism, rather than Afghanistan and Pakistan and a host of movements in 50 other countries.
“The Democrats talk about this as if the only problem is to withdraw and the difference is over how quickly to do it.”
On the ground with the troops, it is clear that a major military change was in fact made in Iraq last year — not so much the addition of 30,000 troops, but the shift to a counterinsurgency strategy for using them… But counterinsurgency is inherently a long-term proposition, and that assumption has driven much of the military thinking about the future, even as it heightens the political debate at home.
US and Iraqi troops are now moving on the northern city of Mosul, after two explosions there killed almost 40 people. The US military says that Mosul is the last major city where al-Qaeda maintains a strong presence after largely being driven out of Baghdad and Anbar province. On Jan. 23, at least 34 people were killed and 224 wounded after a local apartment building, reportedly used as bomb making factory, exploded. After a suicide attack which killed two police officers at the same site the following day, a curfew was imposed on the city. (AlJazeera, Jan. 25)
A suicide car bomber attacked a high school north of Baghdad on Jan. 22, leaving students and teachers injured. In an attack at a tribal gathering near Fallujah Jan. 20, the bomber was a 15-year-old boy carrying a box of candy. Women are also being used more in suicide bombing—four times in the past three months. (AP, Jan. 23)
The “Soldiers of Heaven” Shi’ite cult militia has reportedly re-emerged in southern Iraq, launching simultaneous attacks in Basra and Nasiriyah, targeting police as well as worshipers participating in Ashura ceremonies, leaving scores dead. (DPA, Jan. 22)