At least 31 were killed and 60 wounded in a car bomb attack Sept. 12 in the center of the Shi’ite town of Dujail, north of Baghdad. The bombing occurred at dusk as many residents rushed to make last-minute purchases from the central market before going home to break the Ramadan fast. Dujail is one of the few largely Shiite towns in Salahuddin Province, which had been among the most violent in Iraq before former Sunni insurgents joined Awakening Councils and began cooperating with US forces. Saddam Hussein was sent to the gallows in December 2006 for ordering the execution of 148 Dujail residents after a failed attempt on his life when he visited the town in 1982.
In another attack on Shi’ites that day, two people were killed and 12 were wounded when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vest among residents engaged in Ramadan prayers in the town of Sinjar, Nineveh province. Sinjar lies in an area of the north that is disputed by Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Yazidis. (NYT, Sept. 13)
The Iraq war has been replaced by the declining economy as the most important issue in America’s presidential election campaign, in part because Americans have come to believe that the tide has turned in Iraq: the troop “surge” has supposedly cowed the insurgents, bringing a decline in violence. The implications are clear: a show of power wins the day…
To be sure, the reduction in violence is welcome, and the surge in troops may have played some role. Yet the level of violence, were it taking place anywhere else in the world, would make headlines; only in Iraq have we become so inured to violence that it is a good day if only 25 civilians get killed.
And the role of the troop surge in reducing violence in Iraq is not clear. Other factors were probably far more important, including buying off Sunni insurgents so that they fight with the United States against Al Qaeda. But that remains a dangerous strategy. The US should be working to create a strong, unified government, rather than strengthening sectarian militias. Now the Iraqi government has awakened to the dangers, and has begun arresting some of the leaders whom the American government has been supporting. The prospects of a stable future look increasingly dim.
That is the key point: the surge was supposed to provide space for a political settlement, which would provide the foundations of long-term stability. That political settlement has not occurred. So, as with the arguments used to justify the war, and the measures of its success, the rationale behind surge, too, keeps shifting.