Iraq deaths hit record; Congress talks tough, funds carnage

Six US soldiers were killed in three separate attacks in Iraq Nov. 5, bringing the number of deaths this year to 852—and making 2007 the deadliest year of the war for US troops. The news comes days after the military announced a steep drop in the rate of US deaths this year. In October, 38 US soldiers were killed in Iraq, the lowest monthly tally since March 2006. November’s total, if the current pace continues, would be higher, but still below the war’s average of 69 US military deaths per month. Despite the decline, US commanders acknowledged that 2007 would be far deadlier than the second-worst year, 2004, when 849 US soldiers died. (NYT, Nov. 7) The news also comes as Congress has yet again approved war funding—reported by the NY Times Nov. 7 under misleading headline “Military Bill Approved, but Without Iraq Increase.” The text reveals far greater wiggle room than the headline would indicate:

House and Senate negotiators approved a $459 billion military spending bill on Tuesday, but rejected a Republican bid to provide $70 billion more to continue fighting the war in Iraq without any restrictions.

Senior Democratic lawmakers said they would provide less money for the war, for a shorter time, with certain restrictions that are to be decided in the next few days.

Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, urged the House and Senate negotiators to provide the $70 billion for six months of combat in Iraq, money separate from the regular Defense Department budget.

Senator Robert C. Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said: “This amendment would send to the president additional funding for his horrible, misguided war in Iraq without any Congressional direction that he change course. No strings attached. That would be a tragic mistake.”

“No more blank checks for war funding,” Mr. Byrd declared.

Oh no? Wait for the fine print…

The new Democratic leaders of Congress have repeatedly been stymied in their efforts to bring troops back from Iraq or to force a change in President Bush’s war policies. But the Democrats made clear on Tuesday that they would try again to change course by using the power of the purse — what James Madison called “the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people.”

Yes, except the Democrats are completely unwilling to use it, appearances notwithstanding…

Representative John P. Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania and chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, said: “The public wants this war over with. Many Democrats were elected because they said this war ought to end.”

Mr. Murtha said he and Mr. Byrd would recommend “goals or timelines” for curtailing American military operations in Iraq.

Um, excuse us, but didn’t the Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007, passed in the spring, already impose “benchmarks”? Is there some subtle distinction between “goals or timelines” and “benchmarks”? And under the existing legislation, Iraq’s penalty for failing to meet “benchmarks” is not a US withdrawal—but a cut-off of reconstruction aid! Don’t you think the Times should wait to see the small print before jumping to conclusions?

“Our goal,” he said, “would be to get everybody out” by the end of next year.

“Would be”? Conditional on what? A stable client state securely in power in Baghdad? How likely is that? And meanwhile the US-funded carnage is to continue for at least another full year…

Mr. Byrd said he had drafted legislative language that would send “a clear message to the president that we must transition the mission in Iraq to encourage Iraqis to take a much greater role in securing their future.”

Right, as if Bush would like anything better than to secure a reliable client state in Iraq. As long as the argument is framed in these problematic terms, US troops will be in Iraq indefinitely…

See our last posts on Iraq, the body count, and the politics of escalation.