Patrick Cockburn is, according to Iraq expert Juan Cole, probably the best English-language Iraq reporter going right now. This report, which you will not see in any large American paper, explains why U.S. casualties are down since the election of the Iraqi parliament in January.
What's crazy about this moment in the history of the Iraq war is that if the after-the-fact justifications for the war (starting a revolution of democracy in Asia Minor) had any validity, at this precise instant the U.S. is in an incredibly advantageous position. We could easily allow Iraq to become a religious, Shiite-dominated parliamentary state much like Iran, and walk away amid relative stability and substantial popular goodwill, at least among the majority Shiites, and quite probably the Kurds as well. We would have more influence over Iraq than we do Iran, and we could use that influence to encourage them to secularize and modernize, which might then have the effect, over time, of encouraging Iran to do the same.
If, on the other, hand, we allow some loose connection with reality to enter into our analysis, we have to conclude that the primary goal of the Iraq war is now and has always been to ensure permanent U.S. dominance of the Arabian peninsula by U.S. ground forces stationed inside Iraq.
If this were not the case, U.S. forces could now be withdrawn in their entirety or very nearly so. There would be some unrest, certainly, as there is now, but right now the majority is in control (with the cooperation of a large, affluent minority), they have formed a government, there is no widespread hot war beyond the generalized lawlessness that necessarily prevails after a strongman is deposed; the basic components of home rule are there.
The trouble with this scenario is that it would cause us to lose our grip on Iraq. It is not specifically about U.S. corporate control of Iraqi oil, although that is obviously an important consideration. As I wrote long ago, the plan in Iraq is to fashion a state much like Turkey, which is a military-dominated parliamentary system with most military hardware and training supplied indefinitely by the United States (thus giving us leverage over the government there.) Also like Turkey, we would maintain a substantial standing army inside the country.
You'll notice that unlike the mainstream or conservative media, it has not been necesary for me to change my analytical model every couple of months in order to incorporate new facts. Having to do this is always a sign that you are working at variance with reality.
Making Iraq look like Turkey will not be easy - the countries and the cultures are very dissimilar. In fact, in the long run, and this is where our brave leaders' realpolitik calculations fall apart, Iraq can probably never be made into a Turkish-style military/parliamentary hybrid. There are too many obstacles.
So what will happen? Most probably, the current waning of U.S. casualties will continue until the resistance becomes bold enough to actually mount an assault on U.S. forces inside the Green Zone. Once this happens, the war will reescalate and U.S. troop levels will be increased, which will escalate the war further. At this point the U.S. will be in a bind because it will need to get a massive number of troops from somewhere, either much wider use of mercenaries or, possibly, a military draft.
The only way out of this future is probably to bounce a massive percentage of the U.S. congress in the 2006 elections. That means Republicans and pro-occupation Democrats. This probably isn't as tough as it sounds - you don't have to be a pacifist (or even a Democrat) to want U.S. troops out of Iraq now. Under the official rubric, there is simply no good reason for them to remain there. Our government should either come clean about its intentions in Iraq or get the troops out.