Patrick Cockburn pokes a super-sized hole in any notion that things are getting better in Mesopotamia:
Iraqi and United States-led forces were last night preparing to launch a rescue mission for up to 150 Shia hostages held by Sunni insurgents.
The threat by Sunni militants in the town of Madaen, south of Baghdad, to execute the hostages unless Shias leave the area, intensified the growing sectarian fears.
The upsurge in violence across Iraq in the past four days has left claims made by the Pentagon that the tide is turning in Iraq and there are hopeful signs of a return to normality in tatters...
Ironically, one reason why Washington can persuade the outside world that its venture in Iraq is finally coming right is that it is too dangerous for reporters to travel outside Baghdad or stray far from their hotels in the capital. The threat to all foreigners was underlined last week when an American contractor was snatched by kidnappers.
When I was travelling in the northern city of Mosul this week, my guards - Kurdish members of the Iraqi National Guard - said it was too dangerous for them to travel with me in uniform in official vehicles. They donned Arab gowns, hid their weapons and drove through the city in a civilian car.
Most violent incidents in Iraq go unreported. We saw one suicide bomb explosion, clouds of smoke and dust erupting into the air, and heard another in the space of an hour. Neither was mentioned in official reports. Last year US soldiers told the IoS that they do not tell their superiors about attacks on them unless they suffer casualties. This avoids bureaucratic hassle and "our generals want to hear about the number of attacks going down not up". This makes the official Pentagon claim that the number of insurgent attacks is down from 140 a day in January to 40 a day this month dubious.
US casualties have fallen to about one dead a day in March compared with four a day in January and five a day in November. But this is the result of a switch in American strategy rather than a sign of a collapse in the insurgency. US military spokesmen make plain that America's military priority has changed from offensive operations to training Iraqi troops and police. More than 2,000 US military advisers are working with Iraqi forces.
Read the whole piece and you'll come away with a vastly different picture than the one you get--well, when you get it--from Rummy et al, or the US journalists in their Green Zone safe haven. Cockburn notes, for instance, that Iraqi troop numbers, for all we know, might include, for instance, 14,000 police in Nineveh province--who are considered essentially insurgent troops by THE GOVERNOR. Soldiers report they don't bother to report attacks if no casualties occur--this minimizes the bureaucratic hassle, and conveniently allows commanders to claim reduced attacks when the reality is far from the case.
But I guess the public is focused on the next reality TV show, or something...
(Note: this will be a slow posting day, as several things have come up at work--and I gotta set my priorities, alas...work pays the bills).