In one of the most somber assessments of the war by American commanders, a statement read by the spokesman, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, said the campaign had been marked by increasing attacks on American troops and a spike in combat deaths. Attacks soared by 22 percent, he said, during the first three weeks of Ramadan, the holy month now nearing its end. With three new combat deaths announced on Thursday, the number of American troops who have lost their lives in October rose to 73, representing one of the sharpest surges in military casualties in the past two years.
General Caldwell said American troops were being forced to return to neighborhoods, like Dora in southwestern Baghdad, that they had sealed off and cleared as part of the security campaign because "extremists" fighting back had sent sectarian violence soaring there. The security plan sent heavy deployments of American troops into troubled neighborhoods, reversing the previous policy, which was to allow Iraqi troops to police the capital.
[. . .]
President Bush, who ordered the rearrangement of troops to begin the campaign, is now left with only a handful of tough and politically unattractive options.
The general’s remarks, unusual for their candor and unvarnished portrayal of bad news, appeared to mark a new setback for the American military effort. Stark new videotape broadcast on Thursday by Al Jazeera from Ramadi, an insurgent stronghold 80 miles west of Baghdad, showed heavily armed insurgents taking over a busy city street in broad daylight to celebrate the proclamation by their leaders of an Islamic state in wide areas of Iraq’s Sunni heartland. There was no sign of any attempt to intervene by the heavy concentration of American and Iraqi troops in the city. The Iraqi government said the demonstrators fled after 15 minutes.
The above is from John F. Burns' "U.S. Says Violence in Baghdad Rises, Foiling Campaign" in this morning's New York Times. On her self-titled first album, Carly Simon covers the song "Dan, My Fling" (written by Jacob Brackman and Fred Gardner) which includes the lines "Dan, my fling is all flung out." To update it for the above, "Baghdad, my crackdown is all cracked out."
Staying on that theme, Martha notes Michael Abramowitz and Thomas E. Ricks' "Major Change Expected In Strategy for Iraq War" (Washington Post):
The growing doubts among GOP lawmakers about the administration's Iraq strategy, coupled with the prospect of Democratic wins in next month's midterm elections, will soon force the Bush administration to abandon its open-ended commitment to the war, according to lawmakers in both parties, foreign policy experts and others involved in policymaking.
Senior figures in both parties are coming to the conclusion that the Bush administration will be unable to achieve its goal of a stable, democratic Iraq within a politically feasible time frame. Agitation is growing in Congress for alternatives to the administration's strategy of keeping Iraq in one piece and getting its security forces up and running while 140,000 U.S. troops try to keep a lid on rapidly spreading sectarian violence.
On the campaign trail, Democratic candidates are hammering Republican candidates for backing a failed Iraq policy, and GOP defense of the war is growing muted. A new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll released this week showed that voters are more confident in Democrats' ability to handle the Iraq war than the Republicans' -- a reversal from the last election.
Few officials in either party are talking about an immediate pullout of U.S. combat troops. But interest appears to be growing in several broad ideas. One would be some kind of effort to divide the country along regional lines. Another, favored by many Democrats, is a gradual withdrawal of troops over a set period of time. A third would be a dramatic scaling-back of U.S. ambitions in Iraq, giving up on democracy and focusing only on stability.
Same topic, Steven Thomma's "Iraq threatens to cripple the GOP" (McClatchy Newspapers via San Jose Mercury News):
Regardless of what politicians and the media talk about from week to week - the Foley sex scandal in the House, a nuclear test in North Korea, a soaring stock market - what dominates American politics this fall is Iraq.
It's consuming George Bush's second term, threatening his party's control of Congress and endangering his dream of forging a Republican majority that would rule the country long after he retired to his Texas ranch.
Yet the debate over Iraq won't be settled on Election Day, Nov. 7.
Even as public skepticism about the war spreads, it's not producing any consensus on what to do about the mess, and thus the elections will offer little direction and no mandate for the U.S. government heading into next year.
Voters split four ways in a recent McClatchy-MSNBC poll - send more troops, keep the same level, start withdrawing, or withdraw them all. They split evenly in another poll over whether to keep troops in Iraq or pull them out.
That helps explain the growing cracks in Republican support for the White House's open-ended, stay-the-course approach to the war. And it makes clear why Democrats don't offer a clear alternative - and why they'd have a hard time reconciling their competing visions of what to do should they win the House of Representatives or the Senate.
"It is THE dominant issue," said Andy Kohut, the director of the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan research group.
Back to the cracked down 'crackdown,' Zach notes Louise Roug's "U.S. Rethinks Strategy to Cut Iraqi Violence" (Los Angeles Times):
Despite the joint operation, launched in June, sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Arabs continues unabated. And U.S. troops are increasingly being targeted, Caldwell said. He charged that Iraqi paramilitary fighters were attacking American forces more frequently because of the upcoming U.S. midterm election, in which the Iraq conflict and the American lives being lost are key issues.Caldwell said that at least 73 U.S. troops had been killed so far this month, putting October on track to be the bloodiest month for American forces since the battle of Fallouja in 2004. The U.S. military also announced that a Marine died Thursday and two U.S. soldiers on Wednesday. Ten American troops were killed Tuesday.On Thursday, seven suicide attackers struck across northern Iraq, targeting American and Iraqi troops as well as civilians. The bombing attacks killed at least 20 Iraqis and wounded 80. No U.S. troops were reported killed in the blasts. Elsewhere, at least 30 Iraqis died in various attacks.Most of the U.S. deaths this month have taken place in Baghdad despite the security crackdown aimed at reducing sectarian killings in the capital.
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