THE WAR IN IRAQ: FIVE YEARS
San Francisco Chronicle (2008-03-17)
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Since U.S. forces began bombarding Iraq in 2003, the impact of the war has been felt far beyond the battlefields.
Monday, March 17, 2008
2004 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry rallies support around anti-war sentiment. During debates with President Bush, he reminds voters that Bush failed to gain international support for the Iraq invasion, and that his major premise for the war - weapons of mass destruction - proved untrue. He calls for more NATO troops to be sent to Iraq and expanding the training of Iraqi security forces.
2006 CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS
Democrats take control of Congress after polls show a majority of Americans want a withdrawal or an end to U.S. military involvement in Iraq. "This election is about Iraq. If indeed it turns out the way that people expect it to turn out, the American people will have spoken, and they will have rejected the course of action the president is on," says San Francisco Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
2008 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
The Iraq war is a dominant campaign issue. On the Democratic side, Sen. Barack Obama, an early opponent of the war, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who voted to authorize military force in Iraq, say they will end the war. While Obama says he will withdraw U.S. troops within 16 months, Clinton says she will bring them home "as quickly as we can." Both want to keep some U.S. troops in Iraq to battle al Qaeda in Iraq and protect diplomats and aid workers, and both are vague about how long those troops would stay.
Presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain
, on the other hand, revives a floundering candidacy over renewed optimism over the success of Bush's "surge." McCain
says he will fight the Democrats on early withdrawal, which he dubs "a date for surrender." McCain
says U.S. troops could spend "maybe 100" years in Iraq.
Jan. 10, 2007: Bush announces a plan to send 21,500 additional U.S. troops to Baghdad and Anbar province to improve security, avert civil war and provide time for political reconciliation among Iraq's major factions. Another 8,000 support forces are later deployed. The troop increase, which has dramatically reduced violence in those areas, is scheduled to end in July 2008. Critics, however, say the decline in violence is due more to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's August 2007 unilateral cease-fire.
FUTURE U.S. TROOP WITHDRAWAL
To date, one of the five extra Army brigades sent to Iraq as part of the increase has returned without being replaced, reducing the number of brigades from a peak of 20 to 19. Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, operations chief for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the number will drop to 18 this month. By July, it will drop to 15, with troop levels likely to be about 140,000 U.S. soldiers. That compares with 132,000 when Bush approved the increase and the current total of 159,000.
Blackwater Worldwide, the largest of the private security firms in Iraq with some 1,000 employees, has received millions of dollars in contracts from the State Department to protect U.S. officials and some foreign diplomats. The North Carolina firm also has been involved in controversy:
On March 31, 2004, four Blackwater employees are killed in Fallujah and their bodies hung on a bridge. U.S. forces attack the city in response.
On Sept. 16, 2007, Blackwater employees shoot and kill 17 Iraqi civilians, at least 14 of whom are killed "without cause," according to an FBI investigation. Whether the group will be legally prosecuted is not clear.
On Oct. 5, 2007, the U.S. State Department announces new rules for Blackwater's armed guards in Iraq. Under new guidelines, State Department security agents will accompany all Blackwater employees in and around Baghdad, install video surveillance equipment in Blackwater armored vehicles, and record radio communications between Blackwater convoys and the military and civilian agencies that supervise their activities.
The Iraq war has created nearly 4 million refugees, almost 16 percent of the population. This includes 2 million people who have fled the country - mostly to Syria and Jordan - and 1.9 million internally displaced people. Although Christians make up just 5 percent of the population, they comprise 40 percent of refugees now living in neighboring countries, according to the United Nations.
MOVIES AND DOCUMENTARIES
When filmmakers started weighing in on the Iraq war, ideologies clashed. No sooner had "Saving Jessica Lynch" painted a picture of heroism in a 2003 made-for-TV movie than heavyweight documentarian Michael Moore unleashed his "Fahrenheit 9/11" broadside in 2004. That film, along with Robert Greenwald's "Uncovered," scorned the Bush administration's case for going to war in the first place. "Gunner Palace," a documentary released in 2005, offered a ground-eye view of soldiers gritting it out under fire in Baghdad four months after Bush's "Mission Accomplished" declaration.
Many other documentaries followed, from "The Ground Truth" (about Iraq war vets) to "The War Tapes" (made from video footage shot by National Guardsmen in Iraq) in 2006 to last year's widely praised "No End in Sight" (about the mangled conduct of the war).
Steven Bochco broke new ground with his 2005 TV drama "Over There," a fictional treatment of both the Iraq war zone and the home front. The first major wave of Iraq war feature films hit theaters in 2007. They included the mournful "In the Valley of Elah," the angry "Rendition," Robert Redford's dogmatic "Lions for Lambs" and Brian de Palma's rough-hewn "Redacted," about the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl by American soldiers in 2006. Audiences stayed away from all of them, prompting many critics to speculate that the public wasn't ready to see an ongoing war and its fallout reflected back at them onscreen.
Books about the war came thick and fast, with many of them, like Tomas E. Ricks' best-selling "Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq" (2006) and George Packer's "The Assassins Gate: America in Iraq" (2006), capturing wide attention.
The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, wrote two popular histories of the Bush war years - "Plan of Attack" (2004) and "State of Denial" (2006).
Bernard Lewis' presciently timed "The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror," came out in March 2003.
U.N. inspector Hans Blix recounted his aborted search for weapons of mass destruction in "Disarming Iraq" (2004).
Larry Diamond, a Stanford professor and colleague of Condoleezza Rice, published "Squandered Victory: The American Operation and the Bungled Attempt to Bring Democracy to Iraq" (2005).
Everyday soldiers told their side of the story - Colby Buzzell's "My War: Killing Time in Iraq" (2005) and John Crawford's "The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq" (2005).
So did prominent figures such as former chief U.S. counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke - "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror" (2004).
Satirists haven't sat out the conflict either - Matt Wuerker's "The Madness of King George" appeared in 2004.
An all-woman country band from Texas became front-page news just before the war began. At a March 10, 2003, concert in England, band member Natalie Maines introduced the song "Travelin' Soldier" with the widely circulated remark, "We do not want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas." Less well reported was band member Emily Robinson's statement that they supported the American troops 100 percent. The Dixie Chicks became an instant cause celebre. Their concerts were boycotted (about half their appearance dates dried up) and their recordings were publicly destroyed in anti-Dixie Chicks demonstrations. Maines apologized on March 14: "I love my country, I am a proud American." But both the damage and the flash-point fame had taken over. In May of that year, the Dixie Chicks appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, their nude bodies inscribed with words about the pressures of exercising free speech in wartime - "Boycott," "Dixie Sluts," "Peace," "Traitors." A 2006 documentary film, "Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing," told the story of the band's tribulations.
Protesters took to the streets before the invasion began. The largest prewar demonstrations took place on Feb. 15, 2003, when millions marched in cities around the world.
The San Francisco protest took place the following day in what turned out to be a contentious event. Organizers said 200,000 showed up; The Chronicle used its own photographs to peg the number at about 65,000.
Protests continued internationally through the spring as combat neared and began; they included thousands of candlelight vigils on March 16 and a March 20 protest that blocked some San Francisco city streets. Signs, stilts, costumes, speeches and music helped conjure a form of political street theater not seen since the Vietnam era.
On April 7, 2003, protesters skirmished with police at the Port of Oakland. The occupation of Iraq drew marchers back to the streets later that year and on subsequent anniversaries of the war's onset and other dates. A June 5, 2004, protest march in San Francisco was answered by a healthy number of pro-U.S. policy demonstrators.
Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, camped out near Bush's vacation home in Crawford, Texas, in August 2005.
Peace marches lost momentum as the war ground on, but have continued to the present, with actions planned around the world for this month's fifth anniversary of the invasion.
Women began stripping in Marin in the fall of 2002, assembling on a beach, a playing field and a pasture to put their bodies on the line to protest the impending war. Unreasonable Women of West Marin Baring Witness, sometimes more than 200 of them at a single showing, gathered to spell out "No War" or a giant human peace symbol with their naked forms.
"It got your attention, didn't it?" asked organizer Donna Sheehan of a Chronicle reporter. Critics called it an empty stunt by bored housewives and exhibitionists.
In London a group called Bare Witness spelled out its feelings on a lawn in front of the Houses of Parliament when Bush visited in November 2003. Hundreds of naked protesters assembled in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere.
And then there were the freelance soloists, like the woman who paraded naked through New York's Washington Square in 2005 with "Stop the War" painted on her backside and something written in Arabic on the front.
The abuse, humiliation, torture and alleged murder of Iraqis held at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison shocked the world in 2004 when photographs appeared on "60 Minutes," in the New Yorker magazine and around the world.
Prisoners were stripped, menaced with dogs, forced to simulate sexual activity, sodomized and posed with hoods over their heads and wires attached to their bodies.
A number of U.S. soldiers were court-martialed, convicted and sentenced, all of them of relatively low rank.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld testified to Congress, "These events occurred on my watch." He said, "I am accountable for them." Rumsfeld resisted calls for his immediate resignation. He remained in office until 2006.
VALERIE PLAME WILSON
In July 2003, a former U.S. ambassador named Joseph Wilson published a New York Times opinion piece about his 2002 mission to Africa to investigate a possible nuclear build-up in Iraq.
He found no evidence that the Iraqi government had purchased or tried to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger. The Bush administration, Wilson wrote, had distorted the truth to "exaggerate the Iraqi threat" as a justification for going to war.
The following week, newspaper columnist Robert Novak revealed the name of Wilson's wife, a covert CIA operations officer named Valerie Plame Wilson. Allegations that White House insiders had leaked her name to Novak and other reporters led to a grand jury investigation, the appointment of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and the 2005 indictment and 2007 conviction of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Bush commuted the 30-month prison sentence.
The incident had several bizarre twists. Suspected leaker Karl Rove, Bush's closest adviser, said it was journalists who told him of the Wilson connection. New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who never wrote a word about the agent, went to jail for 85 days for refusing to reveal Libby as her source, even though he had released her from their confidentiality agreement.
According to various sources, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the first to leak Wilson's name to the press.
Plame retired from the CIA in 2005. A civil suit (Plame vs. Cheney) was dismissed in 2007. Her memoir, "Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House," was published in 2007.
BUSH APPROVAL RATINGS
President Harry Truman had the lowest rating ever in the Gallup Poll with 23 percent approval in 1952 during the Korean War; President Richard Nixon reached 24 percent during the summer of 1974 before he resigned during the Watergate scandal. Bush reached his lowest approval rating in the Associated Press-Ipsos poll on Feb. 28, when only 30 percent said they like the job he is doing, including an all-time low in his support by Republicans.
In March 2003, various polls, including ones conducted by ABC-Washington Post, CBS-New York Times and CNN-USA Today-Gallup showed Bush with an approval rating ranging from 62 to 70 percent.
This article appeared on page A - 16 of the San Francisco Chronicle