The escalating bloodshed in Iraq continues. This headline could have been written on any number of days, in any number of weeks, in the past three years, and it is as true now as it was then. My best advice for at least asking the right questions about the policy debate in Iraq stats with a chilling documentary, The Lost Year in Iraq, presented by Frontline last week (watch it free, here). It is a film that presents clearly, in the protagonists own words, the first year of United States occupation and its ultimate failure. The film does not lay out the standard Leftist-laundry list of concerns and criticisms about the Administration and its policies in Iraq, instead it focuses on just four crucial moments: the lack of planning for the occupation and the transition of power, the failure to provide security and prevent looting for over a month after Saddam fell, the destabilizing effects of de-Baathification, and the decision to disband the Iraqi army. In retrospect, it is clear that these mistakes led directly to two of the wars that we face in Iraq today: first the war between common criminals and peaceful citizens that emerged in the lawlesness of the early occupation, and a second the war between the central government and Sunni/Baathist insurgents removed from the Iraqi power strucutre. These failures also paved the way for the emergence of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (as allies of the Sunni insurgency) and the eventual devolution of power from the central government to the warring sectarian militias that have filled the security vacuum.
The United States now faces four wars in Iraq; in nearly four years we have made little progress in winning any of them. The question that must be asked then: given the failures in our policy is it possible for the United States to achieve any of its objectives in Iraq. If so, what will be the cost?
PS. Frontline and its counterpart Frontline World have a treasure trove of other documentaries, all available for free and viewable with a broadband internet connection. They also have interviews and other goodies.