The heat is on

Published : Jul 15, 2005 00:00 IST

In California on May 30, a U.S. map shows American casualties in Iraq since President George W. Bush took the country to war in March 2003. The crosses in the sand represent soldiers killed. - ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS

In California on May 30, a U.S. map shows American casualties in Iraq since President George W. Bush took the country to war in March 2003. The crosses in the sand represent soldiers killed. - ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS

President Bush's popularity takes a beating as calls for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq become louder in the wake of increasing violence and mounting American casualties in the occupied country.

WITH opinion polls conducted in May and June showing public dissatisfaction with President George W. Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, calls for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq have become louder. An opinion poll taken in mid-June showed that while 59 per cent of Americans disapproved of Bush's handling of the war, 51 per cent thought the United States should not have invaded that country. American political analysts have compared the prevalent anti-war mood among the public to the one after the 1968 "Tet" offensive in Vietnam. After 1968, American public opinion irrevocably turned against the war in Vietnam. It took a few more years for U.S. troops to withdraw from South Vietnam.

Until early June, more than 1,720 Americans have been killed since the war started two and a half years ago. Seventy-seven U.S. soldiers were killed in May alone, making it one of the bloodiest months for the occupation forces. As the U.S. casualty figure mounts by the day and the Iraqi freedom fighters show no signs of easing the pressure, there is increasing realisation among influential sections in Washington that the time has come to envisage an exit option from the quagmire that Iraq has become.

Importantly, several Republican lawmakers have demanded the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel said in the third week of June that the Bush administration's Iraq policy was "disconnected from reality". In an interview with the American weekly U.S. News and World Report, he said the U.S. army was "losing" the war in Iraq and that things were getting "worse" for the Americans in the occupied country. More and more Republican Senators and members of Congress are expressing concern over the deteriorating situation, Hagel said. Another Republican Senator, Walter Jones - who two years ago demanded that French fries be renamed "freedom fries" on the congressional cafeteria's menu as a mark of protest against the French government's opposition to the Iraq war - called on Bush to present an "exit strategy".

Republican Senator John McCain said the Bush administration should specify a time-frame to end U.S. military presence in Iraq. He said he thought that U.S. troops would be in Iraq for a couple of years more. McCain is a ranking Republican and fought in the Vietnam war. Many Republicans fear that the U.S. public's growing disillusionment with the Iraq war would in the short term help the Democrats take control of Congress in the 2006 mid-term elections and of the White House in 2008.

President's Bush political capital has already diminished considerably. For instance, the Senate refused to confirm John Bolton, Bush's choice, for the Ambassador's post. The Republican-led House voted to scrap a provision of the Patriot Act which allowed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to check library and bookstore records of individuals in connection with anti-terrorism operations.

Opposition to Bush's handling of the war increased with the release in April of the "Downing Street Memo", which reportedly contains the minutes of a high-level meeting of British officials held in 2002 during the build-up to the war. The previously classified documents conclusively revealed that the Bush administration had a pre-meditated plan, which was ready by the summer of 2002, to invade Iraq. The head of British intelligence wing, who is quoted in the memo, said that Bush was intent on removing Saddam Hussein. "Intelligence and facts were fixed around that policy," the "Downing Street Memo" noted. Many influential Americans are of the opinion that Bush's wilful misleading of the American people is an impeachable crime under the country's Constitution. The "Downing Street Memo" indicates that in 2002 British Prime Minister Tony Blair was told by the head of Britain's MI6 intelligence service that the Bush administration was selectively choosing evidence to support the case for going to war. It said that the administration was consciously ignoring evidence that showed that Iraq had destroyed its weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

Eighty-eight Democratic Congressmen have written to Bush demanding a response on the "Downing Street Memo". Impeachment proceedings were started against former President Bill Clinton on the comparatively small issue of lying about an affair with a White House intern. Former President Richard Nixon was almost impeached by Congress for the "Watergate" scandal, which basically involved a burglary and a cover-up. Bush's actions in Iraq, on the other hand, led to the wanton destruction of a nation and the killing of at least 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians. The close relatives of U.S. soldiers killed in action in Iraq have started demanding explanations from the White House, after the leaking of the "Downing Street Memo".

Democratic Congressman John Conyers, who is presenting a petition signed by 500,000 Americans on the "Downing Street Memo" to the White House, said, "we got into a secret war we hadn't planned, and now we are in it we can't get off". Fifty Democratic members of the Congress have formed a "caucus" to work towards expediting the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The group wants the Bush administration to formulate a plan for the withdrawal. Senator Joseph Biden, a leading Democrat, said recently that the Bush administration was "not telling the truth" about the situation in Iraq.

Meanwhile, 82 newly elected members of the Iraqi Parliament, cutting across party lines, demanded the withdrawal of U.S. troops from their country. In a letter to the Parliament Speaker, the legislators criticised the interim government in Baghdad for asking the U.N. Security Council to prolong the stay of the occupation forces. At the request of Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, the Security Council agreed on May 31 to extend the mandate of U.S.-led forces in Iraq "until the completion of the political process".

The Iraqi government does not have a choice in the matter as it depends on U.S. protection for its very survival. "Can you imagine what would happen if we ask [the Americans] to leave? This could mean the beginning of a civil war," Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari said early this year. The Iraqi Cabinet members and top officials all live and work out of the U.S. Army-protected "green zone" in Baghdad. U.S. military commanders have indicated that they plan to pull out their troops from Iraqi towns and cities and redeploy them in four big bases strategically located in the north, south, west and centre of the country. The plan is being touted as a prelude to the full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. The Americans have already started the process of handing over 100 military bases back to the Iraqi Army they created. However, many Iraqis view the U.S. decision with suspicion. They feel that the U.S. forces are thinking in terms of establishing permanent military bases in the country.

There is no dispute that the guerillas enjoy widespread support in the Sunni "triangle". The U.S. troops, on the other hand, are overextended. Military experts have pointed out that there are only around 70,000 combat troops in Iraq and it is unlikely that their numbers can be increased. The new Iraqi Army consists predominantly of Shias and Kurds. It is clear that the U.S. occupation troops are only welcome in the Kurdish-dominated areas of northern Iraq.

The Iraqi Kurd leadership has for a long time enjoyed a cosy relationship with U.S. intelligence agencies. They have a single-point agenda of establishing an independent Kurdish state with Kirkuk as the capital. The Americans seem to be discreetly encouraging them in this endeavour. There are reports that the U.S. has done a preliminary survey for pumping Iraqi oil from Kirkuk to Haifa in Israel. Iraq stopped supplying oil to Israel in 1948, after the Zionist state forcibly expelled Palestinians from their homes. The reported U.S.-backed move has not gone down well with the Shia parties in the Iraqi government and neighbouring countries. Turkey is said to be particularly upset and has reportedly warned Israel that it would affect bilateral relations.

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