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Escalating an Anniversary

Four years ago today, U.S.-led coalition forces marched into Baghdad and toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein, marking the "liberation" of Iraq. But four years later, the Iraqis are still waiting.

Four years ago today, U.S.-led coalition forces marched into Baghdad and toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein, marking the “liberation” of Iraq. “The Americans call the 9th of April the liberation of Baghdad,” said one man who identified himself as Alaa, “but it was just an invasion, and liberated the city from Saddam for them, not for us.”  In a harsh condemnation of the U.S.’s mismanagement of Iraq, former Iraqi government minister Ali Allawi writes, “The corroded and corrupt state of Saddam was replaced by the corroded, inefficient, incompetent and corrupt state of the new order.” Symbolic of the nation’s current lack of security, the cities of Baghdad and Najaf have declared bans on vehicle traffic today in an attempt to stave off any attacks on the anniversary. Tens of thousands draped themselves in Iraqi flags and marched through the streets of two Shiite holy cities Monday in a demonstration against the U.S. presence in Iraq. Salah al-Obaydi, an organizer of the protest, said, “We’re hoping that by next year’s anniversary, we will be an independent and liberated Iraq with full sovereignty.” The Center for American Progress has a plan to accomplish that, and do so in a responsible way that serves the security interests of both the U.S. and the Iraqis.

The escalation strategy has not cut down on the violence, it has just moved it around. The escalation strategy, which officially began on Feb. 14 and sent 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq, has shown “little sign” of “accomplishing its main purpose: to create an island of stability in which Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and Kurds can try to figure out how to run the country together. … The rate of American deaths in [Baghdad] over the first seven weeks of the security plan has nearly doubled from the previous period, though it has stayed roughly the same over all, decreasing in other parts of the country as troops have focused on the capital.” Because of the escalation, “death squad killings have been reduced in Baghdad, but car bombings in the city have continued and violence has surged in the regions just outside the capital.” 

Terrorists in Iraq have adopted new tactics in response to the U.S.’s escalation. Last week, the U.S. military confirmed that an Army helicopter went down south of Baghdad, marking at least nine U.S. helicopters that have crashed or been brought down by hostile fire this year in Iraq. Also, this weekend, “a suspected al-Qaida in Iraq suicide bomber smashed a truck loaded with TNT and toxic chlorine gas into a police checkpoint in Ramadi on Friday, killing at least 27 people — the ninth such attack since the group’s first known use of a chemical weapon in January.” “January and February were particularly bad months for car bombing deaths; nearly 1,100 were killed in February alone. That number dropped to 783 in March, still high compared with months earlier in the war, according to an American military official. But the overall number of bombings actually increased: there were 108 car bombs that either detonated or were disarmed in March, a record for the war.”

Prominent Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr still represents a significant threat to American forces and Iraqi security. Sadr exhorted Iraqi security forces on Sunday to unite with his militiamen against the American military. Sadr, who has laid low during the troop surge, urged his militia members to “stop fighting and killing because that is what our enemy and your enemy and even God’s enemy hope for.” The head of his bloc in the Iraqi parliament, Nassar Rubaie, insisted that the movement was committed to nonviolent resistance. “We are now at the stage of political action,” Rubaie said. “Peaceful means is the right way and has proved to be correct.” Sadr’s own words belie such a reading of his motivations. Describing the U.S. as the “archenemy,” Sadr urged Iraq’s army and police to remain independent of U.S. forces and to avoid being “drawn after the occupier, because he is your stark enemy.” “Sadr’s statement did not explicitly call for armed struggle against the Americans, but it still represented his most forceful condemnation of the American-led occupation since he went underground after the start of an intensified Baghdad security crackdown nearly two months ago.”