Dateline (AUS): "We are seeing it metastasizing, constantly morphing, reinventing itself."
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GEORGE NEGUS: This is Michael Ware speaking to us last night from Baghdad.
Michael, for your sins you've been there in Baghdad more or less since the outset of war back in 2003. How would you describe the situation on the ground in Iraq from a US perspective right now?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN BAGHDAD CORRESPONDENT: Well, George, it's nothing short of dire. There's no other way to describe it. Right now the US military is adopting its new strategy and fighting for victory but that victory is very narrowly defined. What we are talking about is essentially just dampening down the violence in the capital, Baghdad. The reason for that being to give the political apparatus, this so-called Iraqi government, a chance to breathe and make political developments. But meanwhile the rest of the country continues to be aflame as does the capital itself. We're seeing -- this is becoming a military sinkhole, costing the US around $2 million a week, on average something like three American lives a day. This whole war has radicalised this region instead of democratising it. And we are seeing the enemies that America came to target, principally Iran and al-Qaeda, emboldened as a result of this war and not weakened. And they consider it a good month when only 1200 tortured and executed bodies are found on the streets of Baghdad. So it's pretty dire, George.
GEORGE NEGUS: Well, it has been six months of the so-called surge now by the US. Would you say the conditions in Iraq are any better or worse?
MICHAEL WARE: Well, the surge has been a slow wind-up and it finally came to its peak a few weeks ago once all the troops were here and the US launched a series of massive operations involving up to 50,000 combat troops and assets. It;s essentially the largest offensive since the invasion itself. Now, they're trying to lock down the capital, that is having a minimal effect. They're trying to cut off the insurgents' supply lines. We have seen them attempt that before. I expect it will be no more successful than in the past. So the surge is having an impact but is it turning the tide of the war, is it buying that time for national reconciliation that the US Administration is desperately seeking? No, in those senses, it is not achieving that.
GEORGE NEGUS: Many of course are saying that if America pulls out, is it ready to pay the price? What's the price of pulling out, Michael?
MICHAEL WARE: You will see an expansion of Iranian influence. Already Iran has greater sway over the government here in Baghdad than do the Americans. You will see that consolidated. You'll see Iraqi Shia militia with even increased support, funding and training than they are getting now from the Iranian armed forces. At the same time, you can't see America's Sunni Arab allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Jordan sit back and watch the advancement of a regional power they consider to be hostile. You could see regional skirmishes, if not border-scale conflicts. And one thing is for sure the blood will flow here in Iraq. Now, any of these factors could start to happen as soon as America gets below a certain threshold of troop levels. That will further destabilise the region rather than stabilising it like the war was supposed to do. And it will ever weaken a sense of American power and American interests in this region rather than strengthen them. So they're the prices America is going to have to pay if it wants to pull out its troops at this moment.
GEORGE NEGUS: Surge or no surge, Michael, where to from here?
MICHAEL WARE: The coalition still isn't fighting this war. The troop levels they currently have aren't enough to do what they set out to do. And we're not seeing the balance provided in terms of real economic aid, real reconstruction. We're not seeing that all-encompassing holistic approach that counter-insurgencies desperately need for them to be won.
GEORGE NEGUS: Just in the last few days, the US commander in Iraq - General Petraeus - put a minimum of 10 years on the insurgency. Are you as pessimistic as him?
MICHAEL WARE: No insurgency has never been defeated by less. This is a very slow fight here in Iraq. And we are seeing it metastasizing, constantly morphing, reinventing itself. This war is going nowhere soon, George.