While most of the world watches helplessly, the war in Lebanon and Gaza rages on and Condoleeza Rice shuttles back and forth uselessly between the mideast and the White House with the pretense of diplomacy supposedly aimed at bringing about a cease-fire between Israel, Hamas and the Hezbollah. (Cool as a cucumber, Rice described the conflict in Lebanon as “birthpangs of a new Middle East” and some are now calling her the Midwife from Hell) We and the rest of the world believe that one phone call from the US could stop the war although Bush would have us believe that Syria is calling the shots here. (And we refuse to talk to Syria.) One doesn't have to be a cynic to suspect that at least part of the reason why Israel is being encouraged in its prolonged and relentless attack on Lebanon is to keep the eyes of the world averted from Bush's failed war in Iraq. While the news media are focused on Israel and Lebanon, we hear little about the deadly conflict that continues unabated in Baghdad and its vicinity. In the run-up to the 2006 elections, it is politically prudent for the Bush White House to distract us with someone else's war.
Americans were beginning to clamour for a swift end to the Iraq war and troop withdrawals. Now we aren't hearing much of that any more although nothing has improved in Iraq. Instead, troop levels in Iraq have quietly gone up with more increases to follow. Iraq is no less dangerous and ungovernable today than it was a few months ago. But Bush does not mention Baghdad much any more while we watch Beirut, Haifa and the Gaza strip with growing trepidation. How's that for a sleight of hand?
US in quiet U-turn on Iraq troop numbers
"'The US administration has quietly reversed its goal from whittling down troop numbers in Iraq before the mid-term congressional elections in November.
A Pentagon spokesman on Friday confirmed that US troop levels in Iraq rose to 132,000 during the past week – the highest since late May – from 127,000 at the start of the week. The spokesman said troop numbers often fluctuated and “there might be temporary spikes during periods of troop rotation”.
However, analysts said an increase in troop numbers was more likely than a reduction because the number of sectarian killings in Iraq had almost doubled since the start of the year. The rise will prompt fears that the US is becoming increasingly bogged down in an unwinnable conflict.
On Thursday, the Pentagon said it would extend for up to 120 days the 3,700-strong deployment of the 172nd Stryker brigade in Iraq, among other rotations. There were 3,169 Iraqis killed in June, compared with 1,778 in January.
The rise in US troop levels comes as the world’s attention is on Lebanon but also coincides with a reported upsurge in anti-US sentiment in Baghdad’s Shia neighbourhoods following the launch of the US-backed Israeli campaign against Hizbollah.
This week Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi prime minister, agreed to a joint US-Iraq military operation to regain control of Baghdad.
George W. Bush, US president, also faces growing difficulties with Iraq’s new government, which is making anti-US noises to shore up its credibility with Iraqis. Mr Maliki is under domestic pressure to demand that trials of US soldiers take place in Iraq. The US says this is not possible.
However, US officials deny that the new campaign to stabilise Baghdad undermines Mr Bush’s promise that “as the Iraqis stand up we will stand down” – a phrase he has almost stopped using. In a departure from Mr Bush’s normally upbeat language, he this week said the violence in Baghdad was “terrible”.