Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The surge has failed - Dora Marketplace is a hoax

By Libby

Building on a post that I just put up at Newshoggers on how the surge has failed because, as we all agreed back in March, military gains are meaningless, let's look at this piece in the WaPo that expands on how illusionary even the military progress Petreaus and the White House PR team are touting really is, by analyzing the much ballyhooed resurgence of the market in Dora.
Even U.S. soldiers assigned to protect Petraeus's showcase remain skeptical. "Personally, I think it's a false representation," Campbell said, referring to the portrayal of the Dora market as an emblem of the surge's success. "But what can I say? I'm just doing my job and don't ask questions."

On the surface it might appear it's a small success. They met their goal of 300 shops reopened only a month later than the target date and by last count there are 349. Still shy of the goal of 500, and far short of the 850 shops that were there pre-invasion. But nonetheless, it's progress. Or is it?
Still, the Dora market is a Potemkin village of sorts. The U.S. military hands out $2,500 grants to shop owners to open or improve their businesses. The military has fixed windows and doors and even helped rebuild shops that had burned down, soldiers and others said.

Some shopkeepers said they would not do business in the market without U.S. support. "The Americans are giving money, so they're opening up stores," said Falah Hassan Fadhil, 27, who sells cosmetics.

1st Lt. Jose Molina, who is in charge of monitoring and disbursing the grant money, said the U.S. military includes barely operating stores in its tally. "Although they sell dust, they are open for business," said Molina, 35, from Dallas. "They intend to sell goods or they may just have a handful of goods. But they are still counted."

Okay, so we're building and financing the shops ourselves. In fact, "in the past month alone the military had approved 35 grants totaling more than $87,000." But the place is secure for the residents now that we established security, right? Right?
Security measures in the market are rigorous. Vehicles are not allowed inside for fear of car bombs. Customers are body-searched at checkpoints. Humvees constantly patrol the area, which is the sole focus of the 50 or so soldiers of Combat Outpost Gator.

...Before the invasion, many of its stores stayed open past midnight. Today, they are open for just a few hours, and by noon the market is mostly deserted. The shopkeepers, who are mostly Sunni, said they rarely see customers from outside Dora because it is too dangerous to travel here.

Okay so they still need help with security, but the other prong of the Petraeus surge strategy was training the Iraqis to take over. Surely they've met that metric.
"If the Americans were not here, we would close earlier, maybe one or two hours," said shopkeeper Alaa Hussein Mahmoud, 32. "I'm always scared about the militias."

Two days earlier, a squad of Iraqi police entered the market. Shoppers left and shopkeepers scurried to shutter their businesses. The police are widely said to be infiltrated by Shiite militias. "We were scared of them. Everybody ran away," said Hussein Ali, 37, another shop owner.

Okay, so they're not quite ready yet but it's a hard job and the local security forces are really trying to get up to speed. Right?
Minutes before the delegation arrived, Bartran instructed 1st Lt. Ali Husham Salih, 27, the commander of the Iraqi army's 4th company, 1st Brigade, to have his soldiers put on their uniforms and combat gear.

Salih said later that his men could protect the market on their own but that they depended on the Americans for support and weapons. "If the American soldiers leave, you'll find the Iraqi army destroyed in one month," he said. "We still want and need the Americans to stay for a long time until we are strong."

Okay then. Americans are welcome as long as they're handing out cash and weapons and doing the Iraqis' job for them. But perhaps nothing describes the success story of the Dora market so well as this.

The head of the Chamber of Commerce for Rashid, the district where the Dora market is located, Mr. Shamary was invited by US military brass to visit the market.
Shamary agreed on the condition that the U.S. military escort him. The previous director of the chamber had been murdered. Shamary was not about to enter the Dora market alone.

Imagine for a moment that Baghdad was New York. The success of the Dora market would be the equivalent of erecting a concrete barrier around 14th Street and making it a zone where you could only enter on foot and are subject to rigorous body searches both on entering and while shopping. Unless you lived within, let's be generous and say 20 blocks in any direction, you wouldn't be able to shop there because it's too dangerous to get there. The mayor won't go there himself without an armed guard. Brooklyn might as well be in a foreign country.

There's no trash service so stinking piles of garbage line your route. There's no running water so there's no public bathrooms. People piss in alleys. You're limited by what you can carry because there's no electricity, thus no streetlights and the traffic is a mess. Forget about finding parking. Besides you can't afford the gas and you're afraid you might get killed at a vehicle checkpoint along the way.

Taken in that context, it's difficult to see how any reasonable observer can call even this small gain in Dora any sort of real success. I have to reiterate my disappointment here in all those moderates who promised me back in March, that they would join us in opposition to the occupation if it didn't meet metrics we all agreed upon at the time. Those that are now pretending that temporary military success was the only original goalpost all along, are quickly losing my respect and my trust in their judgment.

[cross-posted to The Reaction]

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