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US regime knows Iraq war is lost and is planning to withdraw

Running out of time in Iraq

In Congress and beyond, Iraq is deemed to be such a mess that withdrawal is the only option.

Opponents frequently accuse George Bush of being in denial over Iraq. But in recent weeks the dire urgency of the situation, in both Baghdad and Washington, appears to have penetrated even the insulating layers normally enveloping the Oval Office.

The White House is increasingly alarmed at the widely shared expectation that the progress report to Congress in September by the Iraq commander, General David Petraeus, and the US ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, will mark the beginning of the end of the occupation.

The 29,000-strong military surge, ordered by Mr Bush in February, has already been written off as a failure, or not nearly successful enough, by many in Congress and beyond. With US casualties running at roughly double last year's level, pressure for withdrawal may become irresistible almost whatever Gen Petraeus says.

"The real debate is not about whether the US should pull out troops. That is now inevitable," said columnist EJ Dionne. "The real challenge is to figure out the right timetable, whether a residual force should be left there, and which American objectives can be salvaged."

According to foreign policy analysts Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh in the Washington Post, "what the US needs now is a guide to how to lose - how to start thinking about minimising the damage to American interests, saving lives, and ultimately wresting some good from this fiasco".

Nor is this defeatism or realism (depending on one's point of view) confined to Democrats and liberals. Richard Lugar led a charge against Mr Bush's policy last week by Republican senators who, like many of their House colleagues, are now convinced that the war is seriously harming both the country and their party's 2008 electoral prospects.

Mr Lugar said, in sum, that domestic divisions had already fatally undermined the surge. "The strident, polarised nature of this debate increases the risk that our involvement in Iraq will end in a poorly planned withdrawal that undercuts our vital interests."

Democrats, spurred on by polls showing that most Americans want out of Iraq and are impatient for Congress to act, are doing their best to exploit opposition doubts.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will call a series of Iraq votes this month, on pullout timetables, continued funding, and length of combat tours, to force individual Republicans to show where they stand.

Members of both parties are meanwhile calling for a revival of the independent Iraq Study Group, whose findings last autumn were initially spurned by Mr Bush. At the same time, the anti-war movement is waging an "Iraq summer" campaign, targeting electorally vulnerable Republicans in 15 states from Maine to Nevada.

Mr Lugar's broadside sent national security adviser Stephen Hadley scurrying up to Capitol Hill to rally the troops. Mr Bush's dawning realisation that he is on the brink of losing control of Iraq policy has prompted a series of other steps to regain the initiative.

Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, has started playing down the importance of the September reports, suggesting they will represent merely a snapshot of a work in progress. Gen Petraeus's second-in-command, General Raymond Odierno, suggested that to be successful, the surge may continue until next spring or even longer.

US-designated political benchmarks denoting progress by Iraq's government have largely not been met so far, although a draft oil law was reportedly agreed by the cabinet today. Mr Bush has taken to stressing instead that advances made at the local and provincial level are more important.

"We need to look at Iraq from the bottom up," he said at the Naval War College in Rhode Island last week. "This is where political reconciliation matters most, because it is where ordinary Iraqis are deciding whether to support the new Iraq." This looked like an attempt to pre-emptively excuse political failure in Baghdad.

Yet still trying to avoid a trainwreck - and demonstrating unaccustomed energy - the president is simultaneously personally cajoling and pressurising Iraq's leaders, holding frequent teleconferences with prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to check on benchmark progress. A stream of senior administration officials has been sent to Baghdad. Discarding its usual secretiveness, the White House is trying to ensure these contacts receive wide publicity - to show at least that it is trying.

A "desperate" Mr Bush is "running out of time" at home and in Iraq, said veteran commentator David Broder. His attempt to avoid a September showdown with Congress looks likely to fail. What the upshot of that showdown will be is still in doubt.


The Guarduian, "Running out of time in Iraq", 3 July 2007.

"The Insider" mailing list article, 05 July 2007.

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Tags: Iraq, war, lost, troop, surge, failed, Bush, withdrawal, , conspiracy theories.

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