PROVIDENCE - Observers of the situation in Iraq lashed out at the Bush administration Thursday ahead of the president's prime time address to the nation.
They contend that General David Petraeus gave a misleading report to Congress this week when he said "significant progress" was being made in Iraq, including a sharp drop in the number of attacks on American forces and a lessening of sectarian violence.
"What people came away with from the report is that the situation is better for people living in Iraq and that's just not true," said Yifat Susskind of the women's rights organization MADRE. "That's refuted both by the fact that statistics don't bear it out and in the experiences of the regular Iraqis we speak to on a daily basis."
A joint ABC/BBC poll released this week shows 70 percent of Iraqis believe security has deteriorated since the Bush administration increased the number of troops in Iraq this Spring. Some 60 percent believe attacks on U.S. forces are justified, a number that includes 93 percent of Sunnis.
According to the poll, only 29 percent of Iraqis now think the situation will get better, compared to 64 percent who shared that optimism before the so-called "surge" of troops began.
"One of the most cynical things General Petraeus did was celebrate the fact that there's a decline in sectarian violence," Susskind said. "But that drop reflects the success of ethnic cleansing rather than anything the U.S. military has done. The reality is that there are places where killing is down because there's nobody left to kill."
According to the group Refugees International, nearly 5 million Iraqis have been forced from their homes since the fall of Saddam Hussein. More than 2 million people are now displaced inside the country, the group says, and an additional 2.5 million have fled to neighboring countries.
The numbers continue to grow with as many as 100,000 per month newly displaced within the country and another 40,000 to 60,000 fleeing to Syria.
The Bush administration has allowed only a few thousand Iraqis to enter the United States.
In addition, two retired Generals -- Lt. General Robert Gard (U.S. Army, Retired), who now works at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, and Brigadier General John Johns (U.S. Army, Retired), a board member at the non-profit Council for a Livable World -- released a statement arguing the continued American occupation of Iraq is destroying the U.S. military.
"Continued engagement in Iraq's civil war distracts the United States from our more urgent missions in Afghanistan and enhanced homeland security, stretches the U.S. military to the breaking point, inflicts psychological scars on returning veterans and breaks up their families, causes mounting American casualties, increases the drain on the U.S. treasury, and erodes our stature in the world," the Generals wrote in a statement.
Gard, who served in combat during both the Korean and Vietnam wars, said Petraeus' report and Bush's speech tonight remind him of 1967, when then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told President Lyndon Johnson that he thought the Vietnam war was lost.
"Lyndon Johnson privately agreed, but no president wants to lose a war," Gard told OneWorld. "So we surged. In 1968, we had lost 24,000 young men. Five years later we had lost 58,000 and nothing was accomplished."
"Now we're going down the same path," he said. "We didn't alter the outcome by that surge and now you've got Bush in office and he isn't going to be changed unless he's forced to do so."
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