Bush Upbeat on Surge in Iraq: “The War is Not Lost”

US President George Bush defiantly hit the road this week to promote his troop surge in Iraq as a strategy that will lead to victory, following one of the bloodiest weeks on record since the US-led invasion and amid revelations that the US is building a wall in northern Baghdad to separate Sunnis and Shiites.

Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has stressed the limits of US patience and warned Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that legislation providing for political reconciliation urgently needs to be passed by the end of summer.

Both Mr Bush and Mr Gates have vigorously rejected the assessment of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) this week that “the war is lost”.

On Thursday and Friday, Mr Bush visited the small predominantly Republican towns of Grand Rapids, Michigan and Tipp City, Ohio to deliver his upbeat message that “the direction of the fight is beginning to shift” and that “so far the operation is meeting expectations”.

In his Friday presentation to an audience of 500, mostly members of the Western Michigan World Affairs Council, a group that promotes discussion of foreign policy, Mr Bush pointed to maps that showed shrinking bases for insurgents in Ramadi in Anbar province. He also said that tip-offs to US and Iraqi forces regarding insurgent hideouts had hit an all-time high during the past three months, and noted that the number of deaths in Baghdad had been halved since the new joint security strategy was launched in mid-February.

Yet the most recent developments in Baghdad appear to contradict the President’s optimistic view. Although insurgent attacks had been temporarily displaced to other areas of Iraq, violence is now making a painfully obvious comeback in the capital.

One week after a suicide bomber struck in the heart of the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses Coalition forces and the Iraqi parliament, violence is again raging in central Baghdad. On Wednesday alone, a series of bombings and gunfire left over 200 people dead, mostly Shiites, with hundreds more wounded.

In the worst single attack since the US-led invasion, a suicide car bomb ripped through the crowded Sadriyah market in central Baghdad, killing 140 people and wounding 150. Several cars were set ablaze and, as the fires raged, relatives of the victims hurled stones at Iraqi and US soldiers and chanted, “Down with Maliki! Where is the security plan?”

A series of earlier explosions had already rocked the capital and set nerves on edge. Another suicide car bomber slammed into an Iraqi police checkpoint in Sadr City, killing 35 people and wounding 45. Before that, a parked car packed with explosives had been detonated near a hospital in the central neighborhood of Karradah, killing 11 people and wounding 13. Later in the day, a bomb left on a bus exploded, killing four people and wounding six. Four Iraqi policemen were also killed while on patrol in southern Baghdad when they were ambushed by gunmen.

The following day, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on his third visit to Iraq that the Bush administration will review the Maliki government’s progress towards political reconciliation at the end of summer, and hinted that if the Iraqis had not made reasonable progress then the US might begin to recall its troops.

“Our commitment to Iraq is long-term, but it’s not a commitment to having our young men and women patrolling Iraq’s streets open-endedly,” said Mr Gates.

In another indication that the military strategy is failing to stem the violence in the war-ravaged capital, US troops are constructing a three-mile wall around the northern Baghdad district of Adhamiya – the only Sunni Arab enclave left on the east bank of the Tigris River. The area is also a known Sunni insurgent stronghold and a long-standing flashpoint for violence in Baghdad.

Yet doubts have been raised that the wall will be able to prevent violence between the warring sects. Shiite insurgents have already demonstrated their resolve and ability to attack the area regardless, firing six Katyusha rockets into Adhamiya on Thursday evening as local Sunnis walked to evening prayers.

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