First the purge, then the surge, now the urge – to withdraw. By the next anniversary of the Iraq war we will see the retreat. It won’t be called that, more likely it will be termed the ‘handover after victory’. Vietnam was the Bright, Shining Lie, Iraq is the Dark, Sordid Truth.
The war is lost and the signposts to retreat are clearly visible. It is not just the disputed death toll, it is not just the sheer terror of daily life, it is not just the sectarian strife, it is not even that the country is not functioning or the Green Zone is surrounded by a Red Zone.
The defeat lies in the number of refugees. More than 1,500 flee their homes daily. In a country of 26 million, at least two million have sought refugee status outside its borders and another two million within. This is a haemorrhage.
In more ways than one, the lifeblood of Iraq is being drained away. The refugees are not leaving to indulge themselves in the comfort of another country. They are leaving for the most part for Syria and Jordan, the first safe havens they can find but where life is miserable, a notch above unbearable. The Syrians and Jordanians try their best but their own limited resources are stretched too thin.
The refugees are aware that their plight will be miserable. Even so, fathers and mothers will bring their children to these refugee camps rather than endure another day in Baghdad or Fallujah.
Even taking this decision to escape carnage, carries the risk of death. They have already gambled with their lives to get the precious assurance of exit – a valid passport. The most dangerous thing to do in the early part of the 21st century is for a civilian to close their front door behind them in Baghdad.
There are different types of passports, but the most sought after are the security encoded G series, with digital numbers, watermarks. The paraphernalia of statehood without a functioning state. To get this involves queues and queuing, the daily staple of the suicide bomber. Refugees willing to risk death to get out. The war is lost.
General David Petraeus, the new commander of US forces, spoke of “encouraging signs” in Baghdad. The US troop ‘surge’ has allowed hundreds of families to return to homes abandoned in the face of sectarian attacks, he claimed.
But he was contradicted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees who said that they have no credible evidence of any family returning to their homes from which they were forced to flee and staying.
And so we have the incredible situation where the Americans have resolutely refused to do a body count of Iraqi deaths but feel obliged to tell the world that they know of returning refugees because they have counted them.
The Americans, simply put, do not have the manpower to man every intersection. The police are infiltrated, the Iraqi army too. Yet still we are fed the mind-numbing nonsense that things are getting better, that a corner is being turned, that that there is light. It is insulting to read it.
For the 2 million Iraqis in internal and external exile, to return means that they have a degree of confidence not just in the security forces but in their neighbours.
No foreign army can guarantee that. Iraq, or a form of it, will recover but not with an occupying army that is not in power nor with security services that are considered with a deep degree of suspicion.
The retreat is already being planned, the refugees will continue to escape the consequences of Shock and Awe. After more than $400 billion has been spent on destroying the lives of millions of people the UNHCR has only received $35 million of the $60 million it pleads for to ease refugee suffering.
The fifth anniversary will be accompanied by American forces preparing to leave, just like the refugees before them. That is the Dark, Sordid Truth.