In a recent conversation I had about the coming election, a friend reiterated the campaign rhetoric that the "surge" in Iraq has worked, and that Barack Obama ought to admit that John McCain was right in advocating the surge long before President Bush made it a reality. Because I wasn't so sure that the surge deserved such lauding, I did some research, and what I found was very disturbing.
Yes! The violence has de-escalated, just as my friend had pointed out, but the reasons I discovered as to why it has de-escalated have caused me much consternation. Consider the following:
1.) To the south of Baghdad, in the region around the strategic port city of Basra, violence has declined because the radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is now firmly in control. His militia, supplied by Iran, has been a challenge to the official government of Nouri al-Maliki, which has little control in the region because the U.S.-backed Maliki troops have just about ceded this region to al?Sadr. This assessment, which, not surprisingly, differs from that given by the Bush administration, is substantiated by foreign analysts such as Joost Hiltermann, deputy program director for the Middle East and North Africa for the International Crisis Group.
2.) It is true that to the west of Baghdad, in Anbar Province, the violence against Shiites by Sunni Muslims has largely abated -- but not because of the surge. Violent attacks on the Shiites by Sunnis have been so intense that most Shiites have fled the country. Almost a million of them have become refugees in Jordan and are suffering from extreme poverty because the Jordanian government, faced with a lack of jobs for their own citizens, will not give these refugees permission to be gainfully employed.
3.) Another reason that the violence in Anbar Province has declined is because, according to The Times of London, America is bribing the insurgents not to fight. Paul Craig Roberts, the assistant secretary of the Treasury during the Reagan administration and a former associate editor of The Wall Street Journal, reports that the Bush administration is paying $800,000 a day for Sunni insurgents not to attack U.S. forces. This is outrageous, especially given what's happening to the U.S. economy.
4.) Then there is this -- Assyrian International News Agency reports that the Christians of Iraq have been suffering severe persecution. Fifty percent of Assyrian Christians, who prior to April 2003 comprised 8 percent (1.5 million) of the Iraqi population, have fled the country. There are now 150,000 of them in Jordan and 70,000 in Syria. Fifty-two churches have been attacked or bombed since June 2004. In the north of the country, the Kurds have kidnapped Christian children and forcibly transferred them to Muslim families. Ironically, Christians had extensive freedoms and were protected from persecution under Saddam Hussein.
Yes, I agree with my friend. Violence is down in Iraq, but I'm not so sure that the surge deserves the major credit for this, nor am I convinced that the results of what has transpired in Iraq over the past year are anything to cheer about. In addition to the horrendous loss of lives, which should be our primary concern, there is the matter of our military presence in Iraq costing the American taxpayers $250,000 a minute, and this at a time when we're facing a financial crisis. It's time that some truth-telling is done, not only about the surge, but concerning what's really happening over there in Iraq.
Tony Campolo is founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (EAPE) and professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University.