In The Australian today, the top US commander in Iraq, General Petraeus, explains that the surge is working well.

For the Oz, this remarkable scoop (“General declares self a success”) warrants a separate section, handily headed “comment” (and you do need such labels) in which Dennis Shanahan explains that the good news from Iraq will “hit home”, bringing joy to Howard and presenting Labor with a “much tougher policy choice.”

If wishes were horses, Shanahan would be galloping around Randwick. Here’s some actual figures, compiled by the Associated Press:

Iraq is suffering about double the war-related deaths countrywide compared with last year – an average daily toll of 62 so far this year, as against 33 in 2006.

Nearly 1,000 more people have been killed in violence across Iraq in the first eight months of this year than in all of 2006. So far this year, about 14,800 people have died in war-related attacks and sectarian murders. AP reporting accounted for 13,811 deaths in 2006. The UN and other sources placed the 2006 toll far higher.

Baghdad has gone from having 76 percent of all civilian and police war-related deaths in Iraq in January to 52 percent in July, bringing it back to the same spot it was in roughly a year ago.

The Iraqi Red Crescent Organization says the number of displaced Iraqis has more than doubled since the start of the year, from 447,337 on Jan. 1 to 1.14 million on July 31.

These facts were released all of a week ago, so perhaps digging them out for an interview with General Petraeus would have entailed too much research. As luck would have it, though, the Oz’s peppy stories today coincide with the leak of a progress report requested by Congress from the Government Accountability Office. It finds that:

… the number of Iraqi Army units capable of operating independently has dropped sharply, while the number of civilian deaths has not declined.

The report from the Government Accountability Office will say that Iraq has failed to meet at least 13 of 18 benchmarks mandated by Congress for military and political progress…

Those benchmarks were to have been central to the president’s judgment, due by Sept. 15, on whether his troop increase has been effective and should be continued in some form.

What’s nearly as interesting is the rationale behind the leak: “The person who provided the draft report to The Post said it was being conveyed from a government official who feared that its pessimistic conclusions would be watered down in the final version.”

You mean the report might be manipulated for political reasons? Well, colour me dumbfounded!

In any case, all this is beside the point. As Fred Kaplan argues in Slate, even if the surge were working (and it’s not), it simply can’t be sustained. By about April, the Americans will no longer have enough troops. Continuing past then would involve either extending (once again) the rotations of serving soldiers, calling up the entirety of the reserves (which they didn’t dare do even in Vietnam), convincing other nations to send troops (good luck with that!) or introducing a draft.

So if, like the Australian, you see the Iraq occupation simply in terms of partisan political advantage, well, let’s just say there’s not much here for Howard. The real story, of course, is the misery of the Iraqis. And for that, as the US plunges deeper into the quagmire, there’s no end in sight.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey