Saturday, April 07, 2007

A Grim Record in Iraq

CNN: Tal Afar toll tops record for Iraq war's deadliest attack

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A suicide truck bombing in the northern city of Tal Afar last week is the deadliest single attack since the Iraq war began in 2003, a high-ranking Iraqi Interior Ministry official said Monday as a new death toll for the blast surfaced.

The Wednesday attack -- in which a truck packed with 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms) of explosives detonated in a Shiite area of the city -- was initially blamed for 85 deaths, according to an Iraqi army officer in Tal Afar who estimated the death toll Thursday. Hundreds of others were wounded.

But the Interior Ministry official said Monday that the death toll was 152, making it the war's deadliest single attack.

This news should indeed give us pause, not only due to its lethality, but also because of the harsh setback it has had on the recent troop surge. However, we should not lose heart. Progress is being made.

As Jules Crittenden noted today, the AP reported that the US has captured the leaders of a car-bombing ring. Despite this good news, and scores of other reports, of which many blogs, including this one, have noted, there is no shortage of pessimists. Some, at least, are honest:

Max Hastings of The Guardian: "I cannot quit my place among the gloom-mongers. We still look like losing, Whatever the tactical successes of the US surge, it is hard to believe that anything other than defeat and disaster await."

Well. At least we know where he stands. Hastings begins on a positive note:
Despite the latest Iraqi government figures showing civilian deaths up in March, the evidence is that Bush's "surge", entrusted to Petraeus's direction, is achieving real results. In Baghdad, there has been a dramatic fall in the rate of murders, suicide-bombings, insurgent attacks. Many Sunnis have become deeply hostile to the depredations of al-Qaida's foreign fighters. In some cases, Sunnis have taken violent action to expel or eliminate the intruders, whom they no longer want as allies.

Aided by much improved intelligence, so-called Tier One special forces - of which almost one-third are British SAS - have been carrying out intensive operations to "harvest" insurgent leaders. Hundreds have been captured or killed. The Americans have exchanged a policy of dispatching troops daily on armoured excursions from their huge bases for one of holding positions to provide visible security in the midst of Iraqi communities.

But ends with desultory cynicism:

At the end of my own spasm of soul-searching, I cannot quit my place among the gloom-mongers. It is hard to believe that, whatever tactical military successes Petraeus's people are achieving - and these are real enough - Iraq's leaders, security forces and citizens can take the strain in real time. We still look like losing.

Yet this should never become cause for exultation, even among the bitterest foes of the Washington neocons. If defeat, chaos, regional war indeed come to pass, the Iraqi people and the security interests of the west will suffer a disaster for which the disgrace of George Bush and Tony Blair will represent wholly inadequate compensation.

The good days in Iraq are few. For now. A strong sense of skepticism is healthy, but an all-consuming sense of failure will do absolutely no good. Reading Michael Yon, a writer and former member of the Army special Forces, one does not get this sense. In a recent post from Iraq, Yon considers the current state of media reports, media accuracy, and media freedom within Iraq. Journalists are buzzing with activity inside and out of the Green Zone. There are many stories to be told, far more than body counts. Yon has a sense that the reporting is getting better, and journalists have become more concerned with getting eyewitness accounts in person, rather than transmitting cables from inside hotels in the safe zones.

This may be just one sign of progress, among many. One cannot discount the progress that has been made, nor the hope for the future held by most Iraqis.

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