To understand the Petraeus report to congress it is important to also understand the subsequent report to be given by President Bush. Bush will brief the US congress with regard to the eighteen benchmarks that the congress has set as a measure of the performance of the Iraqi government.
This military occupation is, you see, a very political project. It is aimed at specific political outcomes over and above merely military considerations. Too often the question of whether the troops should stay in Iraq is couched in terms of "making Iraq safer." This, it is thought, is the primary question; more precisely, it is thought that troops remain in Iraq in order to make Iraq safer for Iraqis. In fact this interpretation is not consistent with the facts.
Let me give one example. In July, President Bush presented an "initial benchmark assessment" to Congress, as he was obliged to do under the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007 (Public Law 110-28).The third of these benchmarks starts as follows: "Enacting and implementing legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources to the people of Iraq..." So far, so noble. But the sting is in the tail. The final sentence of this section reads as follows: "Prime Minister Maliki intends to submit the Revenue Management Law to the Council of Ministers soon, for subsequent consideration by the Council of Representatives along with the framework Hydrocarbon law. "
This Hydrocarbon law has largely passed beneath the radar of the Western press, but its significance for the future of Iraq is immense. According to the NGO,War on Want, the law "would allow long-term contracts to be signed with foreign oil companies, with terms that may not be changed by future Iraqi governments for decades to come. The oil companies will be immune from accountability in Iraqi courts."
Now according to the US congress, the passing of this law is considered a measure of the performance of the government of Iraq. But what do the people of Iraq think? A recent survey, found that "Iraqis oppose plans to open the country’s oilfields to foreign investment by a factor of two to one." And that view is shared across all ethnic and sectarian groups - "there are no ethnic, sectarian or geographical groups that prefer foreign companies." Or, as the Guardian put it, Iraq says No to Oil Theft.
So then, by the standards of democracy, a better benchmark of the Iraqi government's performance in this area would be their opposition to US efforts to get this law passed! Indeed one can go further. Subhi al-Badri, head of the Iraqi Federation of Union Councils, has said that "the law is a bomb that may kill everyone." In other words, US efforts to push this law through the Iraqi legislature have the potential to fuel, rather than reduce, the violence gripping the country.
And this demonstrates exactly the absurdity that lies at the heart of the reports being tabled by General Petraeus and President Bush. They purport to outline progress towards a stable democracy. In fact, they merely demonstrate the occupiers' continued commitment to their own political goals, which they pursue regardless of the wishes of the Iraqi people. The reports purport to outline progress towards making Iraq safer and more secure. Yet the political aims of the occupying forces are consistently at odds with the safety and security of ordinary Iraqi people. And so, inevitably, the occupation will continue to fuel violence and tragedy in Iraq until the troops finally leave.