Les Roberts, the lead author of The Lancet medical journal, differs and reported on February 8, 2006, that there may be as many as 300,000 Iraqi civilian deaths. Roberts is one of the world's leading epidemiologists and lectures at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He has also worked for the World Health Organisation and the International Rescue Committee. If true, and Roberts’s methodology is unquestioned, this human tragedy must end and soon.
Whether or not one completely accepts the dire reporting of The Lancet, it appears that the tragedy in Iraq is far more extensive than we in America have been led to believe, and what we have been led to believe is more than dismal in the first place. Iraq is a disaster crying for a solution, and, to be frank, little is getting done.
Many Americans are extremely concerned – as well we should be because we created the problem – but proposed solutions to the dilemma vary widely. One option is escapism. A minority of Americans believes that we should simply withdraw now because we have already lost the war and the idea of winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis is a quest long dead.
That surrendering to jihadists could prompt serious repercussions around the world doesn’t seem to concern these short-sighted Americans.
"Why Muslims don't get mad at the Muslims who are killing Muslims in all these [recent] attacks? Iraq, Egypt, Palestine… Most of the killings are being done by Muslims."
Another option is to keep on doing what we have been doing for the past three years since the fall of Baghdad, to "stay the course", as our president puts it to an increasingly jaded public.
Polls indicate that Bush’s approval rating for the conduct of the war in Iraq has plummeted to the low 30s. All of this produces a conundrum. A minority of Americans favours withdrawal, and a minority of Americans feels that Bush is doing a terrific job in conducting his war.
It appears that even Bush is disconsolate over the conduct of the war. Recently he said: "That [eventual withdrawal of American troops], of course, is an objective. And that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq." Bush is scheduled to remain president until January 2009.
One of the more compelling reasons for Rumsfeld’s resignation is that the US needs a fresh look.
Senator John McCain, noting that "sweeping and leaving" was not working, suggested: "Rather than focusing on killing and capturing insurgents, we should emphasise protecting the local population, creating secure areas where insurgents find it difficult to operate."
This is called the Oil Spot Theory, implying that the secure areas would increase in size like "oil spots".
Furthermore, he said that such a strategy would require more troops and resources, arguing against the idea of reducing US forces this year. This plan was suggested in November and not much has been said about it since. Good thing.
It is merely a variance of the Bush theme, a half-measure, and it is like putting a sticking plaster on the chest of a man who has just had a heart attack. However, it should be noted that Senator McCain is not at all happy with the progress of the war, like most Americans and Iraqis.
In fact there is a widespread hue and cry concerning the desperate plight of the Iraqi people. Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow in defence policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, states that Iraq is undergoing an undeclared civil war.
He also says: "Communal civil wars … feature opposing sub-national groups divided along ethnic or sectarian lines; they are not about universal class interests or nationalist passions. In such situations, even the government is typically an instrument of one communal group, and its opponents champion the rights of their subgroup over those of others.
"Unfortunately, many of the [Bush] policies … are ill-adapted to the war being fought. Turning over the responsibility for fighting the insurgents to local forces, in particular, is likely to make matters worse. Such a policy might have made sense in Vietnam, but in Iraq it threatens to exacerbate the communal tensions that underlie the conflict and undermine the power-sharing negotiations needed to end it.
"Washington must stop shifting the responsibility for the country's security to others and instead threaten to manipulate the military balance of power among Sunni, Shia, and Kurds in order to force them to come to a durable compromise. Only once an agreement is reached should Washington consider devolving significant military power and authority to local forces."
Biddle’s position is buttressed by Sidney Blumenthol, former senior adviser to President Clinton. After noting that violence from the "incipient communal civil war" is on a sharp rise and that last month there were eight times as many Iraqi killings by Shia militia then by the Sunni resistance, which continues to mutate, Blumenthol concluded: "President Bush's strategy of training Iraqi police and army to take over from coalition forces – ‘when they stand up, we'll stand down’ - is perversely and portentously accelerating the strife.
A minority of Americans favours withdrawal, and a minority of Americans feels that Bush is doing a terrific job in conducting his war.
"State department officials in the field are reporting that Shia militias use training as cover to infiltrate key positions. Thus the strategy to create institutions of order and security is fuelling civil war."
Thomas Friedman, a writer for the New York times and a frequent visitor to the Middle East, states: "Once this kind of venom gets unleashed - with members of each community literally beheading each other on the basis of their religious identities - it poisons everything. You enter a realm that is beyond politics, a realm where fear and revenge dominate everyone's thinking - and that is where Iraq is heading.”
He adds: "People conclude that the only thing that can protect them is a militia from their own sect, not the police or the army." He then criticises as "criminally negligent" the decision by Donald Rumsfeld, "not to deploy enough troops in Iraq to begin with, creating this security vacuum".
Which, of course, leads us to the conclusion reached by some prominent generals recently. Their credentials read like the Who’s Who in the military.
Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni is a former commander of CentCom. Major General Charles Swannack led the Army's 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq. Lieutenant-General Gregory Newbold is the former director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Major General Paul Eaton is the former commander of US and other forces in Iraq, and Major General John Batiste commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq.
These formidable men all came to the same conclusion. Rumsfeld must resign because of his ineptness, arrogance, for ignoring the advice of his field commanders, and the stark evidence of three years of failure.
Bush wants to turn matters over to the Iraqi army as soon as possible so that Americans can withdraw. However, US and Iraqi commanders have become increasingly critical of a policy that lets Iraqi soldiers leave their units virtually at will - essentially deserting with no punishment. They blame the lax rule for draining the Iraqi ranks, in some cases by 30% or even half. The Iraqi army does not require its soldiers to sign contracts.
US and Iraqi commanders have become increasingly critical of a policy that lets Iraqi soldiers leave their units virtually at will - essentially deserting with no punishment.
That means they can quit any time and casually treat enlistments as temporary jobs. Soldiers can even pick up their belongings and leave during missions - and often do without facing punishment. The thud you just heard was the coffin slamming shut on this piece of Bush strategy.
The US has no choice but to finish what it started, to bring peace to Iraq. Moreover, simply installing a central government in Baghdad won’t quell the violence, another exquisite piece of Bush fantasy.
Sadly, this brings us to the third option. Failure is not an option because endless death and destruction in Iraq is not acceptable. The US uses less than a quarter of its available military strength in Iraq. Battle-weary units are rotated out of Iraq as units that have been there before return, often ordered to take the same places they took on an earlier tour of duty.
This vicious cycle has been going on for three years. One of the more compelling reasons for Rumsfeld’s resignation is that the US needs a fresh look. A new defence secretary is needed, one that will listen to his field commanders and give them the resources they need to accomplish their mission.
The third option - a massive effort to bring security to Iraq - is a gamble, but war is always a gamble. However, the prize is a peaceful, thriving Iraq as opposed to what we have now. That is worth fighting for, and it is assumed that the Iraqis will do their part for their nation.
Sandy Shanks is the author of two novels, The Bode Testament and Impeachment. A keen historian, he is also a columnist specialising in political/military issues.
The opinions expressed here are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position or have the endorsement of Aljazeera.