Is US Success in Iraq a Failure?
Tom Engelhardt

Recently, Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has shown striking signs of wanting to be his own man in Baghdad, not Washington’s (as has Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul). What happens when parrots suddenly speak and puppets squawk on their own? The answer, it seems, is simple enough: You listen in; so, at least, the latest revelations of journalist Bob Woodward seem to indicate. “The Bush administration,” reports the Washington Post, “has conducted an extensive spying operation on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his staff and others in the Iraqi government,” according to a new book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward. “We know everything [Maliki] says, according to one of multiple sources Woodward cites about the practice. This is perhaps what is meant when it’s claimed that President Bush and Maliki have a “close working relationship.”
Iraq by the Numbers:
Is This What Success Looks Like?

The statistics below make us wonder – at what has the Bush administration succeeded?
US troops currently stationed in Iraq: 146,000
US-employed private contractors in Iraq: 190,0001
Number of Iraqi refugees (displaced to other countries):  over 2 million2
Number of Iraqis internally displaced:  over 2.8 million3
Number of Iraqi civilians killed so far in Sept. (as of 9/17): 3184

1 as of early 2008,
3 Ibid

An Iraqi government spokesman responded to the revelation with shock: “If it is a fact, it reflects that there is no trust and it reflects also that the institutions in the United States are used to spying on their friends and their enemies in the same way. If it is true, it casts a shadow on the future relations with such institutions.”

“Trust”? Please... Wasn’t that always just a synonym for electronic eavesdropping?

As for “success” in Iraq, which we’ve been hearing quite a lot about lately in the US, here’s one way to measure the administration’s trust in its own “success”: The Pentagon, we now learn, has just “recommended” to President Bush that there should be no further troop drawdowns in Iraq until a new president enters office in January 2009 – and even then, possibly in February, that no more than 7,500 Americans should be withdrawn, and only if “conditions” permit. So the administration’s “success” in Iraq could, in terms of troop levels, be measured this way: The US invaded and occupied that country in the spring of 2003 with approximately 130,000 troops. According to Thomas Ricks in his bestselling book Fiasco, by that fall, top officials fully expected to have only about 30,000 troops still in the country, stationed at newly built American bases largely outside major urban areas.

In January 2007, when the President’s desperate “surge” strategy was launched, there were still approximately 130,000 US troops in the country, and, of course, tens of thousands of hired guns from firms like Blackwater Worldwide. Today, there are approximately 146,000 troops in Iraq (and the US is spending more money on armed “private security contractors” than ever before). By next February, according to Pentagon plans, there would still be about 139,000 troops in Iraq, 9,000 more than in April 2003, as well as more than early in Bush’s second term, as Juan Cole pointed out recently -- and that’s if everything goes reasonably well, which, under the circumstances, is a big “if” indeed.

As Michael Schwartz indicates [in “Who Lost Iraq”], for all the talk over the years about “tipping points” reached and “corners” turned, it’s just possible that while the Bush administration and the McCain campaign are pounding the drums of “success,” the US might be heading for an unexpected and resounding defeat. Moreover, it might well be administered by the very government Washington has supported all these years, whose true allies may turn out to be living not in Camp Victory, the huge US base on the outskirts of Baghdad, but in Tehran. Let Schwartz, whose superb new history of this nightmare, War Without End: The Iraq War in Context, is due out later this month, explain to you just how the Bush administration is likely to wrest actual defeat from the jaws of self-proclaimed victory.

Originally published at, where you can also read Michael Schwartz’s recent essay, “Who Lost Iraq? Is the Maliki Government Jumping Off the American Ship of State?” Michael Schwartz will speak at the October 4 Northeast Winter Soldier Hearing in Rochester.

Tom is founder and editor of