Bush described wonderful progress in the city of Najaf:
Najaf is now in the hands of elected government officials. An elected provincial council is at work drafting plans to bring more tourism and commerce to the city. Political life has returned and campaigns for the upcoming elections have begun with different parties competing for the vote.
The Iraqi police are now responsible for day-to-day security in Najaf. An Iraqi battalion has assumed control of the former American military base and our forces are now about 40 minutes outside the city.
A U.S. Army sergeant explains our role this way, “We go down there if they call us and that doesn’t happen very often. Usually we just stay out of their way.”
Residents of Najaf are also seeing visible progress and they have no intention of returning to the days of tyranny and terror.
One man from Najaf put it this way: “Three years ago we were in ruins. One year ago we were fighting in the streets. Now look at the people shopping and eating and not in fear.”
Najaf is a largely peaceful Shiite city 100 miles south of Baghdad that has not suffered from the sectarian attacks ravaging other parts of the country. But rivalries between Shiite factions have occasionally become violent, and many complain that militant political parties and militias dominate city government and security forces.
On Sunday, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi visited the Imam Ali shrine, among the holiest in Shiite Islam, and was attacked by a crowd that forced him to flee in a hail of stones and shoes. Allawi called the attack an assassination attempt. …
… In his speech Wednesday, Bush alluded to the expulsion of Sadr’s militia from the shrine last year.
But the militiamen who were from Najaf never left the city. They just stopped carrying weapons around the shrine area. In the summer, a fistfight in Najaf between followers and opponents of Sadr triggered battles throughout southern Iraq between the cleric’s supporters and followers of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a major party in the ruling Shiite coalition.
Funny, Bush didn’t mention any of that.
Robin Wright and Saad Sarhan write in today’s Washington Post:
In a tale of two cities, President Bush yesterday heralded progress in northern Mosul and southern Najaf as new models for rebuilding Iraq.
But last Friday, Iraq’s government imposed emergency law and a curfew in Sunni-dominated Mosul and throughout Ninevah province, and a senior U.S. official in Baghdad yesterday referred to the city of about 1.7 million as “nasty Mosul.”
President Bush on Wednesday cited a teaching hospital in Najaf as perhaps the top example of a successful rebuilding project in Iraq. Since the American-led attack against local militias leveled large portions of Najaf in August 2004, however, the hospital has been most notable as a place where claims of success have fallen far short of reality.
During two visits to the hospital by reporters for The New York Times over the past year, the most recent in late summer, work on refurbishing it had been limited to largely cosmetic work like new ceilings and lighting and fresh paint. Critical medical equipment was missing and the upper floors remained a chaotic mess.
Numerous Iraqis at the site said the hospital had not been ruined by the militia that occupied it during the 2004 fighting, but instead by looters who entered after the American military left it unguarded after the battle.
Update: Check out today’s Dan Froomkin column:
Some American journalists intent on fact-checking President Bush’s vision of Iraq are finding it too dangerous to inspect the areas Bush yesterday cited as models of success.
Which sort of tells you the story right there.