14,641 members of the US military have been wounded and 1,911 have been killed. Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in April 2004, has galvanized the anti-war movement. More than 100,000 Americans demonstrated against the war in Washington DC on Saturday, while more than 200 demonstrated in favor of the war on the same day and about 400 people the day after. Some of the anti-war posters read:
Make levees, not war; Yeeha is not a foreign policy; Blind faith in bad leadership is not patriotism; Osama bin Forgotten; Cindy speaks for me; Bush busy creating business for morticians worldwide; Liar, born liar, born-again liar; Pro whose life?; War is terrorism with a bigger budget.
The protests, polls and fatalities are not the reasons, why Juan Cole calls for pulling out the ground troops now. The professor of history at the Univ of Michigan and Fulbright Alumnus describes numerous mistakes and disastrous developments in Iraq and concludes that the ground troops are not accomplishing their mission, but they are:
making things worse, not better. Let's get them out, now, before they destroy any more cities, create any more hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons, provoke any more ethnic hatreds by installing Shiite police in Fallujah or Kurdish troops in Turkmen Tal Afar. They are sowing a vast whirlwind, a desert sandstorm of Martian proportions, which future generations of Americans and Iraqis will reap. The ground troops must come out. Now. For the good of Iraq. For the good of America.
The US generals in Iraq are more upbeat about their accomplishments, but worry about the eroding political support for their mission and plan a slow exit, writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post:
The commanders who are running the war don't talk about transforming Iraq into an American-style democracy or of imposing U.S. values. They understand that Iraqis dislike American occupation, and for that reason they want fewer American troops in Iraq, not more. Most of all, they don't want the current struggle against Iraqi insurgents, who are nasty but militarily insignificant, to undermine U.S. efforts against the larger threat posed by al Qaeda terrorists, who would kill hundreds of thousands of Americans if they could. (...)
What Abizaid and his commanders seem to fear most is that eroding political support for the war in the United States will undermine their strategy for a gradual transition to Iraqi control. They think that strategy is beginning to pay off, but it will require several more years of hard work to stabilize the country. The generals devoutly want the American people to stay the course -- but the course they describe is more limited, and more realistic, than recent political debate might suggest.
While Prof Cole wants the US ground troops out now he later clarified that the US "has a duty to manage the withdrawal so as not to provoke a massive civil war. I suspect that can be done with a combination of continued training and arming of the new Iraqi army and air power." Others are skeptical whether US air power and the Iraqi army can prevent a civil war.
Iraq has already replaced Afghanistan as Al Qaeda's training ground, confirms an expert panel created by the UN Security Council and led by British counterterrorism specialist Richard Barrett. Reuters quotes from their report:
Recruits travel there [to Iraq] from many parts of the world and acquire skills in urban warfare, bomb-making, assassination and suicide attacks. (...) When these fighters return to their countries of origin or residence and join those at home who are well integrated locally, the combination is likely to increase the threat of successful terrorist attacks considerably. (...) The threat from al Qaeda remains as pernicious and widespread as at any time since the attacks of 11 September 2001.
It is obviously in Europe's vital interest that the US led coalition succeeds in establishing stability and democracy in Iraq and does not allow Iraq to be the training base for the next 9/11 terrorists. Germany's Foreign Minister Fischer acknowledged at the Munich Security Conference in 2004, (exactly one year after his sharp disagreements with Rumsfeld about going to war with Iraq) that a US failure in Iraq would have severe negative consequences for the opponents of the war as well.
The Atlantic Review reported about more positive assessments of the developments in Iraq here and here.
We also wrote about the Bush administration lowering expectations regarding democracy in Iraq, women rights and defeating the insurgency.