Is there progress in Iraq?

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Maria Appakova) - U.S. President George W. Bush said that "significant progress" has been achieved in stabilization in Iraq in the past year.

He made the statement on April 10, the day after the fifth anniversary of Baghdad's downfall, and following congressional hearings on the situation in Iraq. The president spoke to the accompaniment of continuous reports on new clashes and acts of terror in that country.

Bush said that the surge he announced in early 2007 has fully justified itself. He admitted problems with security but concluded that "a major strategic shift has occurred."

But did he persuade anyone except his closest supporters?

During the hearings, the Democrats, which control both the House and the Senate, lashed out at the president for his policy in Iraq. A number of Republicans joined them. Congressmen concluded that tactical successes of U.S. troops cannot conceal that Iraqi security is still fragile. The main challenge remains - national reconciliation between different political groups in Iraq has not been reached. The Iraqi government does not shoulder enough responsibility for what is happening in the country.

No matter how hard the president and other high-rankers may try to persuade Congressmen and the American public that "a major strategic shift has occurred," the losses are frightening. General David Petraeus, Commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq, had to admit as much during the hearings. Contrary to his own statements about signs of progress, he noted that the number of victims among civilians has increased and the fundamental reasons for the emergence of religious and other conflicts have not been removed.

Gen. Petraeus had no choice but to admit that because on the eve of the hearings the situation in Iraq was sharply exacerbated by an operation initiated by the Iraqi government in late March. Its goal was to disarm the fighters of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr. The media reported that the operation was carried out by American and British troops, although it was planned by the Iraqis independently. So far, American military and political experts cannot say whether it was a success or not. There is no answer to what is happening in Iraq now - is it the agony of militants and terrorists of all hue and cry (Bush's favorite idea), or yet another round of endless violence?

In any event, discussion of the subject pales into insignificance when both the United States and Iraq are summing up the results of the war.

By the fifth anniversary of its start, U.S. casualties surpassed 4,000; about 60,000 were wounded. The war cost the United States $2.7 trillion, and the prospects of dividends from investment in Iraq look very vague. These figures eclipse any statements about security and economic successes for those Americans that value the lives of their compatriots and are rational about money.

There are some successes, and it would be unfair to accuse the Iraqi government of being completely idle.

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh told the Washington Post that the annual underlying inflation rate went down from 36% in late 2006 to 14% in March 2008. Moreover, the Iraqi government is independently funding almost the entire recovery effort, and paying a considerable share of expenses for the upkeep of its security force.

But these hundreds of millions of dollars are incomparable with the growing American spending on Iraq. In the meantime, Washington has other concerns, like Afghanistan, which also needs money and military resources.

Saleh's optimistic words and other statements on the restoration of the economy and the Iraqi government's control of nine provinces are lost in the host of other reports - about constant clashes in Baghdad and the shelling of the "green zone," the most protected district in the capital, and probably in the rest of the country.

The economic news is no better. Al Jazeera TV channel collected this information specially for the fifth anniversary of the war: Almost one third of the 27 million Iraqis live beneath the poverty line; more than 60% of the working age population have no jobs; corruption is rampant; every year Iraq loses more than four billion dollars because of fraud committed with the funds allocated for its recovery.

Needless to say, the United States and Iraq may accuse Al Jazeera of bias, but statistics of losses speaks for itself. During the past five years about a million Iraqis were killed, more than three million injured, two million fled abroad, and another 2.5 million moved to safer areas inside the country. The fact that only 923 civilians perished last March compared with 1,861 a year before is no consolation here. Nobody knows what will happen in April, May, or even tomorrow.

At the end of his speech Bush said: "And while this war is difficult, it is not endless." But neither he, nor anyone else can say when it will end. Likewise, nobody knows what price America will still have to pay despite the progress it has achieved.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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