Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy anniversary again

Sub-titled "And now back to your regularly-scheduled bleakness."

A public opinion poll for the Iraqi government and a Pentagon study, taken together, provide a good picture of where things are at in Iraq. (Both items via Juan Cole.)

The poll was a confidential, door-to-door survey of more than 4,000 residents of Baghdad Province done in mid-February.

- Just 3% of respondents said local security had improved over the past three months.
- Just 10% expected it to improve over the next three months.
- Only 32% considered their neighborhoods secure, down from 43% in September.
- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's approval rating is in George Bush territory: only 34% percent, down from 45% in September - but up from the low of 25% approval he got in December.
- On a more positive note for Maliki and the US military, support for neighborhood militias has declined, with 32% saying in September that they make the city safer but only 23% now.

The Pentagon study (available here in .pdf format), released this week, concluded that the war
has clearly morphed from a Sunni-led insurgency fighting foreign occupation "to a struggle for the division of political and economic influence among sectarian groups and organized criminal activity."

In other words, "some elements of the situation in Iraq are properly descriptive of a civil war."
While nosing out some hopeful signs, such as a decline in violent incidents in Baghdad since the start of the escalation, the report can't hide the state of affairs in, for example, the judiciary.
According to the report, judges who don't succumb to the myriad threats against them often fear handing down guilty verdicts against defendants with ties to insurgent groups or militias. In the local courts, the report adds, "judges often decline to investigate or try cases related to the insurgency and terrorism." What's more, the Iraqi prison system remains overcrowded, and correctional services are "increasingly infiltrated by criminal organizations and militias."
And then there's the economy:

- Inflation in 2006 averaged 50%.
- Estimates of unemployment range from 13.4% to 60%.
- In a January survey by the US military, a mere 16% of city residents said that their income supplies basic needs - that's an 84% poverty rate.
- Electricity is available in Baghdad only about 61/2 hours a day and peak generation is only about half of peak demand. (Nationally, it was somewhat better; electricity was available, on average, nearly 11 hours a day.)

No wonder
two thirds of Iraqis say that conditions for peace and stability are worsening,
over two million are living outside the country, and as many as 9,000 more leave the country every month - while those that remain are split on whether the government is doing the right things or the wrong things to make it better. (Unhappily, many of the million-plus expatriates and refugees now in Syria have found that while they did flee the war, their troubles are not over.)

Iraq is a political and economic disaster, one that we have caused, we have unleashed, and one that - and this is the important, the only important point now - our military presence is not helping. In fact, it's making it worse.

And the Iraqis know it. A poll of Iraqis in September (full results in .pdf format here) done by laid out some cold figures:

- 71% of Iraqis said they wanted US forces out within one year. More than half of those (37% of the total sample) would have it done in six months. Even 69% of Kurds supported a two-year limit.
- 78% said the presence of US troops provokes more conflict that it prevents.
- Majorities agreed that a US withdrawal in six months would strengthen the Iraqi government and result in a decline in "inter-ethnic violence" and an increase in "day to day security for ordinary Iraqis."

The meaning of all that can be boiled down to a simple expression: Out Now! Out Now! Out Now!

And encouragingly, people are saying just that. (You can consider this part an extension of the good news post.)

It began with
[t]housands of Christians pray[ing] for peace at an anti-war service Friday night at the Washington National Cathedral....

Afterward, participants marched with battery-operated faux candles through snow and wind toward the White House, where police began arresting protesters shortly before midnight.
Over 200 were arrested for their nonviolent civil disobedience in demonstrating on the White House sidewalk.

It continued with
[t]ens of thousands of protesters march[ing] to the Pentagon's doorstep Saturday demanding "US out of Iraq Now," ahead of the fourth anniversary of the US invasion.

Demonstrators from across the United States gathered in a cold winter day to descend on the US Defense Department offices and decry the conflict that has killed more than 3,200 US soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
Here, there, and everywhere.
In Los Angeles, several thousand demonstrators took to the streets. ...

In European cities, protest turnout ranged from 6,000 in Istanbul to several hundred in Copenhagen, Prague, Athens and Thessaloniki in Greece,
topped off by "tens of thousands" in Spanish cities. Other protests were seen in Australia, Britain, and Canada.

And it's not over. United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) has a list of over 1,000 events, big and small, to mark the fourth anniversary of the Iraqi insanity, many of them still to come over the course of the week, including Portland, Oregon, New York City, and San Francisco on Sunday (with a follow-up at Nancy Pelosi's office on Monday), Chicago on Tuesday, and Boston on Saturday.

Out Now!

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