Useful security missing in Iraq

The Bush administration continues its blind focus on domestic politics.

Nearly one year has passed since President George W. Bush made the infamous declaration that major combat in Iraq was over. Since then, the U.S.-led occupation adopted a hodgepodge of increasingly futile strategies to quell unrest in Iraq while simultaneously trying to undo domestic political damage. This week was no exception. The Bush administration condoned shutting down an Iraqi newspaper, recommitted its search for weapons of mass destruction and admitted our troops accidentally killed two Arab journalists.

Meanwhile, four international contractors died in an explosion and their charred bodies were dragged through the streets and ripped to pieces. Fallujah, Iraq, is now so dangerous that there was no military or security response to the incident. The administration’s actions demonstrate an enormous disconnect between its agenda and the reality on the ground in Iraq. As the situation deteriorates into chaos, U.S. leadership must reconfigure its priorities – which seem squarely focused on Washington – and present an effective response to the problem of Iraqi security.

It is increasingly obvious the U.S. military effort in Iraq was not prepared effectively for this war. On Sunday, the administration put chains on the door of an Iraqi newspaper and ordered it to close for two months. Al Hawza is aligned with a Shiite cleric and was formally accused of inciting violence, but the argument is weak. L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, said the paper was “inciting hatred,” which in his view inevitably puts U.S. soldiers at risk. The newspaper has a circulation of 50,000, and its closing caused an outpour of angry protests.

Only three months remain until power is transferred to Iraqis. The real sources of unrest are unemployment – now at 50 percent – and the failed Iraqi infrastructure. Shutting down newspapers and arguably trampling those lauded civil rights we promised might not be the most effective strategy for Bremer, particularly when combined with the accidental killing of Iraqi civilians by the U.S. military. Our administration is engaged in an embarrassingly transparent attempt to defend the very war it now stands to lose, in part, because of its obsession to defend it.