Published on Tuesday, November 4, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
Progress in Iraq?
Shot Down, Killed, Wounded, Depressed
by Frida Berrigan
You just want to cry- for the dead and wounded and war traumatized U.S. soldiers, and for the dead and wounded and war traumatized Iraqis, and for those who continue to hold on to the worn platitudes that our "mission" in Iraq is "accomplished" or ever could be.
Sunday's attack that downed a Chinook helicopter and killed 16 soldiers and wounded 20 more is the gravest attack on U.S. soldiers in the war - so far.
Just last week, President Bush tried to explain the relationship between progress in Iraq and the mounting U.S. casualties. "There are terrorists in Iraq," Bush said, "who are willing to kill anybody in order to stop our progress. The more successful we are on the ground, the more these killers will react." At some point - and that point may be right around now -- Bush's logic falls apart. The notion that more attacks on U.S. troops is a sign of "success" surely can't be sustained for more than a very, very short run, assuming that the argument has been thought through at all by Bush and his PR "spin" machine.
Judging from the U.S. blood spilt in Iraq in the past few weeks, U.S. forces must be progressing rapidly, according to "Bush-think." This is the worst attack of the war, and it follows on the heels of the bloodiest month-- in October, 33 U.S. soldiers were killed in hostile fire, double the number killed in September. The Pentagon is now estimating that for every soldier killed in Iraq, another seven are wounded. The numbers of U.S. troops wounded are running far higher than Gulf War I, for obvious reasons. A military occupation is far more dangerous and draining than driving an occupying power (Saddam Hussein) out a country (Kuwait) that he has illegally invaded (Kuwait).
The frequency of attacks has increased as well. Throughout the summer, Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez estimates, U.S. forces came under fire 10-15 times per week. By early October attacks were coming 20-35 times each week.
The downing of the Chinook, shot out of the sky by a surface to air missile, should also down the White House's posturing that progress is being made in Iraq-- that the mission is being accomplished, that the "hostilities" are waning, that the regime change is successful.
Just last week, Bush distanced himself from the slick banner - with the words "Mission Accomplished" emblazoned across it in huge letters made to be seen on TV screens across America and throughout the world -- that served as his backdrop on the USS Abraham Lincoln where he announced an end to the hostilities in Iraq.
At the time the banner seemed gratuitous and overblown, just one more indication of the Bush team's obsession with photo ops and commitment to make every public appearance part of Bush's re-election campaign. Now, it just seems wrong.
Bush's "top gun" landing on the aircraft carrier was scripted down to the last second. An advance team spent days on the ship preparing for the event. And when Bush finally arrived, he brought an entourage of 75-100 people with him. The carrier had to stay out at sea an extra day so that Bush could do a "sleep over" with the troops. Not only did this delay their reunions with their loved ones an extra day, but it cost taxpayers a cool $3.3 million (the cost of keeping a carrier task force afloat for one day).
The New York Times reported that Bush's speech was timed to coincide with what image-makers call ''magic hour light.'' As one aide noted, ''If you looked at the TV picture, you saw there was flattering light on his left cheek and slight shadowing on his right.It looked great.''
But with casualties mounting and confidence lagging, it seems that the American people are finally able to say- "image isn't everything." Bush might look great, but the mission is far from accomplished, and in the mean time what is it costing us?
It does not take much digging to find overwhelming evidence that the "mission" is not "accomplished."
Bush recently commented that military spirit was high and observed that life in Iraq "is a lot better than you'd probably think. Just ask people who have been there." He said.
Stars and Stripes did. The magazine, which is funded in part by the Pentagon but retains editorial autonomy, conducted a survey of U.S. troops in August. Their findings contradict the President's. Half of those polled said that their morale is low, they are inadequately trained and they do not plan on re-enlisting when their tour of duty is up.
One third were critical of the way the administration is prosecuting the war, saying that the their mission lacks clear definition and the war in Iraq has little or no value.
The "The Ground Truth" series is online at http://www.stripes.com/morale/
For some, the spartan living conditions, the separation from families, and the danger, stress and precariousness of living in a war zone has caused severe mental distress and even led some to suicide. The Army has sent 478 soldiers home for mental health reasons, and has recently reported that at least 11 soldiers have committed suicide in Iraq in 7 months.
According to USA Today the Army is investigating at least a dozen other deaths as possible suicides. This issue is starting to gain some attention in the press, but it took months for the military services acknowledge they had a deadly morale problem on their hands.
In the numbers game played by politicians, the wounded and non-combat casualties get discounted and ignored. The Pentagon has been reporting only the combat casualties- not deaths from accidents, friendly fire, and suicide.
The Pentagon has held off on reporting the number of wounded soldiers, creating a major gap in reporting on the war. In late October, Stars and Stripes reported that the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany had treated 7,381 wounded American soldiers.
Maybe the saddest irony of this attack is that the soldiers on board the Chinook were beginning a "sanity break" but instead they became the latest casualties in this insane war.
Frida Berrigan is a Senior Research Associate at the World Policy Institute's Arms Trade Resource Center. She can be reached at email@example.com