Posted 12:00am April 17
by Aaron Huertas
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
The Bush Administration is trying to strike a balance between resolve and restraint in its efforts to both bring stability to Iraq in the face of uprisings and to assure the American people that the war is still justified and winnable.
“In this conflict, there is no safe alternative to resolute action,” Bush told the nation before a news conference Tuesday night. “The consequences of failure in Iraq would be unthinkable. Every friend of America and Iraq would be betrayed to prison and murder as a new tyranny arose. Every enemy of America and the world would celebrate, proclaiming our weakness and decadence, and using that victory to recruit a new generation of killers.”
“We will succeed in Iraq,” he added.
The prime time press conference, Bush’s third, comes on the heels of the first positive news to come out of Iraq in the past week.
Seventy-three Americans have died in April and several civilians and military personnel have been taken hostage. The military deaths occurred across much of Southern Iraq as U.S. forces fought militant Iraqis.
Last week, four U.S. contractors were killed and mutilated by a crowd of Iraqis in the town of Fallujah. Pictures and video of the incident were seen in the United States. It was the first time dead Americans had been seen from the Iraq war on a large scale. (While CNN and Fox News decided not to air footage, The New York Times carried streaming video of the incident on its Web site for a few hours and both it and the Washington Post carried grisly pictures the next day. Since then, both newspapers have shown dead American soldiers on their covers for the first time in this conflict.)
The event, U.S. reaction to it and perhaps a latent antipathy activated by militant clerics spurred larger scale action across Iraq. The administration’s positive news is that it has a tenuous cease-fire with insurgents in Fallujah.
When asked about the attitude of the Iraqi people towards the American occupation, Bush seemed to give two separate answers, reflecting the divided feelings of the Iraqi people.
“They’re really pleased we got rid of Saddam Hussein,” he said. He added, “They’re not happy they’re occupied. I wouldn’t be happy if I were occupied either.”
The uprisings have their roots in Iraqi dissatisfaction with the United States and coalition forces rebuilding efforts. Many Iraqis do not see how their lives have improved beyond Saddam Hussein’s brutal government’s absence.
Also, the nature of an occupation in a foreign land is one that builds enmity over time. Iraqis have complained of unfair detainments, raids and searches by U.S. troops. While these actions are no doubt necessary to ensure security, they build up a feeling of helplessness in occupied forces.
Finally, the political arm of the Bush White House rejected requests by the Pentagon to send in 300,000 troops as preparations for the war went underway, thinking such a high number would be an unsellable proposition for the American public. By sending in half that number, say opponents, the Bush administration is occupying Iraq short-handed.
The United States also didn’t include radical clerics or those sympathetic to them in the Iraqi Governing Council. Political analysts have suggested their fractiousness might have been channeled through peaceful debate instead of armed uprising.
The Bush administration maintained in the past week that the uprisings are the work of a few anti-Western clerics stirring up a small segment of the Iraqi population.
On April 8th the New York Times published an article quoting top U.S. intelligence officials as saying the Bush Administration was downplaying the intelligence they were supplying.
“United States forces are confronting a broad-based Shiite uprising that goes well beyond supporters of one militant Islamic cleric who has been the focus of American counterinsurgency efforts,” the officials told the Times.
An April 9th article in the Washington Post reported that Iraqi citizens, Shiite and Sunni, in Baghdad were coming together to donate food, money and even blood to the insurgents in Fallujah.
“There is an old Iraqi saying — very old,” one man in Baghdad told the Post. “Me and my brother against my cousin. Me and my brother and my cousin against a stranger.” He and others collecting aid for the citizens of Fallujah refused to tell the Post reporter if they were Sunni or Shiite.
Tuesday night, Bush told the nation the uprisings were the work of three groups.
“Some remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime, along with Islamic militants have attacked coalition forces in the city of Fallujah. Terrorists from other countries have infiltrated Iraq to incite and organize attacks,” he said.
“It’s not a civil war; it’s not a popular uprising. Most of Iraq is relatively stable. Most Iraqis, by far, reject violence and oppose dictatorship,” Bush added later.
In an interview with a Lebanese television network Muqtada al-Sadr, the most prominent of the militant clerics, controller of the city of Najaf, and Iraqi public enemy number one, told Iraqis to keep fighting even if he was killed or captured.
“I am ready to sacrifice (myself) and I call on the (Iraqi) people not to allow my death to cause the collapse of the fight for freedom and an end to the occupation,” said al-Sadr.
Currently, 2,500 US troops surround the city of Najaf, al-Sadr’s stronghold.
Bush’s Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry had been mum on the recent developments in Iraq. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, he said “To be successful in Iraq and in any war for that matter, our use of force must be tied to a political objective more complete than the ouster of a regime. To date, that has not happened in Iraq. It is time it did.”
He called for a NATO run occupation to bolster non-U.S. troop numbers and a U.N.-run system for the transition to power, scheduled to take affect on June 30.
The race for the White House might turn into a race to see if President Bush can legitimately claim Iraq is stabilized. People voting in an election featuring an incumbent often vote based off their judgment of the guy who’s been in charge for four years, and not the challenger.
In a recent Newsweek poll, 50 percent of respondents said they would vote for Kerry if the election were held today. Forty-three percent said they favored Bush. When independent Ralph Nader is factored into the race he gets 4 percent; Kerry’s support drops to 46 percent and Bush’s to 42.