U.S. ‘Lowering Expectations’ in Iraq, Paper Says

By: E&P Staff

The Washington Post, which on its editorial pages continues to offer ringing support for the U.S. venture in Iraq, published on its front page Sunday one of the more damning news assessments. A team of Chicago Tribune reporters, meanwhile, revealed a plunge in grassroots support for the war.

According to the Post report, by Robin Wright with Ellen Knickmeyer from Baghdad, U.S. officials are only now absorbing the reality of the situation.

?The Bush administration,? they write, ?is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad. The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.?

The Post reporters add that ?the realities of daily life are a constant reminder of how the initial U.S. ambitions have not been fulfilled in ways that Americans and Iraqis once anticipated. Many of Baghdad’s 6 million people go without electricity for days in 120-degree heat. Parents fearful of kidnapping are keeping children indoors?. Analysts estimate that in the whole of Iraq, unemployment is 50 percent to 65 percent.?

Crucially, the U.S. not only underestimated the strength of the insurgency, but also the insistence of the Shiites and Kurds on looking out for their own interests, not in creating a true democracy. The new constitution will likely require laws that comply with Islam, with women?s rights limited.

“We didn’t calculate the depths of feeling in both the Kurdish and Shiite communities for a winner-take-all attitude,” said Judith S. Yaphe, a former CIA Iraq analyst at the National Defense University.

Last week, the reporters point out, was the fourth-worst week of the whole war for U.S. military deaths in combat, and August already is the worst month for deaths of members of the National Guard and Reserve.

The reporters conclude: ?Washington now does not expect to fully defeat the insurgency before departing, but instead to diminish it, officials and analysts said. There is also growing talk of turning over security responsibilities to the Iraqi forces even if they are not fully up to original U.S. expectations, in part because they have local legitimacy that U.S. troops often do not.

“?We’ve said we won’t leave a day before it’s necessary. But necessary is the key word — necessary for them or for us? When we finally depart, it will probably be for us,? a U.S. official said.?

The Chicago Tribune report, based on interviews by reporters in the heartland plus recent opinion polls, opens: “As surely as sweet-corn stands and rolling farmland give way to the boxlike tract housing of new suburbs here, President Bush is losing ground on the battlefield of public opinion when it comes to the war in Iraq….Frustration and perplexity are voiced from Southern California to Terre Haute, Ind….

“Even among Republicans who cheered the invasion of Iraq two years ago, and some who supported Bush’s re-election and his exhortation to ‘stay the course,’ the ongoing loss of American life without a clear course for withdrawal is taking a toll.”

On another front, and sure to raise even more questions, a New York Times front page story today by Michael Moss reveals: ?For the second time since the Iraq war began, the Pentagon is struggling to replace body armor that is failing to protect American troops from the most lethal attacks by insurgents.

?The ceramic plates in vests worn by most personnel cannot withstand certain munitions the insurgents use. But more than a year after military officials initiated an effort to replace the armor with thicker, more resistant plates, tens of thousands of soldiers are still without the stronger protection because of a string of delays in the Pentagon’s procurement system.?

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