Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ricks of 'Wash Post': Don't Celebrate Turnaround in Iraq Just Yet

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ricks of 'Wash Post': Don't Celebrate Turnaround in Iraq Just Yet

Article excerpt

Thomas Ricks of The Washington Post has been one of the level-headed, and accurate, reporters on the Iraq war since its inception. His book "Fiasco" was one of the best on the subject.

Just back from Baghdad again, he sat for a www.washingtonpost.com online chat this week, in which he frequently warned that, despite gains, no one should get too excited about the "turnaround" in U.S. fortunes in Iraq. Here are a few highlights.*

Boonsboro, Md.: When will it be okay to state that we are winning in Iraq and all the naysayers ("the war is lost") were wrong? Even the New York Times is admitting things are going well.

Thomas E. Ricks: Well, things are going better. I just got back from Baghdad last week, and it was clear that violence has decreased. But it hasn't gone away. It is only back down to the 2005 level -- which to my mind is kind of like moving from the eighth circle of hell to the fifth.

I interviewed dozens of officers and none were willing to say we are winning. What they were saying is that at least now, we are not losing. But to a man, they were enormously frustrated by what they see as the foot-dragging of the Baghdad government.

_______________________

Bethesda, Md.: Tom, I note you were in Iraq last week and I am really interested in your perspectives on the security in Baghdad and its sustainability. My understanding is that the neighborhoods are safer but am wondering if that's because they have been walled off and ethnically cleansed.

Thomas E. Ricks: Yes, one reason that the city is quieter is because of the presence of American troops. But yes, another reason is that some Sunni neighborhoods are walled off, and other Sunni areas have been ethnically cleansed. In addition, the Shiite death squads, in addition to killing a lot of innocents, also killed some of the car bomb guys, I am told.

Where is Iraq going, in political terms? Currently, nowhere. That is the worrisome stalemate I wrote about in last week's article. The U.S. is placing great hope in bottom up movement, and many officials think that provincial elections will break the political logjam.

_______________________

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii: Mr. Ricks: I've long favored a withdrawal from Iraq and relocating more forces to Afghanistan, but given the recent stunning -- albeit limited -- success of the surge and the remarkable lessening of the violence (particularly in Baghdad) do you foresee the Democrat-controlled Congress altering their anti-Iraq stance and supporting, at least with funding, the current working Petraeus strategy? Can this strategy continue to succeed if it's adequately funded and the troop level is maintained?

Thomas E. Ricks: I can't figure out where the Democrats are at on Iraq now. Ever since the September hearings, they seem to have moved on to other issues. Yet today's Post reports that for voters in Iowa (where the caucus is coming up soon), Iraq remains the single most important issue. So I just don't get it.

_______________________Kingston, Ontario: Mr. Ricks: Here's a two-part question. Do you think that the success in reducing violence in Iraq is because of a decisive breakthrough against the insurgency, or are the insurgents just biding their time? And do you have the sense that the Americans have any control at all over the political process in Iraq, or are the Iraqi factions just pursuing their own strategies? …

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