This Is Winning?

Editorial

Los Angeles Times

April 29, 2005

President Bush offered a rosy assessment Thursday of developments in Iraq, but the reality is that Iraqi politicians spent most of the nearly three months since their widely hailed national election settling old scores and maneuvering for sectarian gains. They dithered as insurgents regained their momentum. This week's declaration by Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that insurgents are as able to wreak havoc now as a year ago calls into question the credibility of his other assertion that the United States and the Iraqi people are "winning" this fight. More than 100,000 American troops patrol the nation and more than 100,000 Iraqi security forces have supposedly been trained, yet guerrillas show increasing coordination in their attacks. We'd hate to imagine what "losing" this fight would be like.

With Iraqis soured on their government, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari finally announced a Cabinet on Thursday, yet even then key portfolios were filled by temporary ministers and other posts left vacant. Jafari kept the ministry of defense for himself. The United States took pains after the Jan. 30 election not to pressure Iraqis on the formation of their new government. But in the end, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney felt compelled to lobby for an end to the stalemate. That's hardly shocking; the paralysis was helping the guerrillas. It was also necessary for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to warn the new leaders during a quick visit to Iraq this month not to purge each and every Baath Party member from the security forces. The U.S. erred greatly at the outset of the occupation by removing many Baathists from government ministries and abolishing the security forces. That put thousands of people with weapons onto the streets, without jobs but with great anger for the invaders.

On Wednesday, guerrillas shot to death a National Assembly member, one of the 275 elected in January. The list of horrors for this month alone includes staggered car bombings in Baghdad, scores of corpses found in the Tigris River and the downing of a commercial helicopter. Eleven people, including six Americans, died in that incident, and a militant website showed charred bodies and a lone survivor, the pilot, being executed by off-camera insurgents.

Regardless of what the Pentagon maintains, this does not make Americans feel like they are "winning." Keep in mind that these insurgent attacks aren't merely important for their shock value. The general lack of security is impeding the important work of rebuilding Iraq, and is draining resources from that task.

Saturday marks the 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, a conflict that officials continually said was going well, even when, as they later admitted, they knew it was unwinnable. As we have said before, Iraq is not Vietnam. Most Iraqis are glad to see Saddam Hussein gone, and are still hopeful that their nation can become a tolerant democracy. It's for their sake that Washington needs to avoid repeating its Vietnam-era mistakes.