Editorial: Hopes for Iraq progress dry up


The picture is heartbreaking. Three little kids, maybe four to six years old. While they look like typical young children, the scene surrounding them is far from typical.

They are kneeling amid rubble in a Baghdad dumpsite, lapping water from a broke pipe. They are doing so because for the past week, much of Iraq's largest city has been without running water.

It's been plenty uncomfortable in central Illinois these past few days. Temperatures in the muggy mid 90s. Those of us lucky enough to have air conditioning are certainly thankful for it now. But few, if any of us, think to be thankful that we can walk to the kitchen sink and turn on the tap and receive potable water. That is, and should be, a given.

Such is certainly not the case in Baghdad, a city of 7 million people. And our high temperatures wilt in comparison to the broiling highs of the Iraqi summer - 117 degrees is not uncommon.

An Associated Press story last week quoted 52-year-old retired army Iraqi officer Jamil Hussein, who lives in the northeast section of the city, as saying that for the past two weeks his house has only had water for two hours at night.  And the water that does trickle from the tap is unclean, sickening two of his children with severe diarrhea even though Hussein said the water was boiled before drinking it.

It is 117 degrees in Baghdad, and the citizens have no water to drink.  So forgive us if we are less than impressed with reports that President Bush's military "surge" looks like it is working. The reason there is no water in Baghdad is because there is very little reliable electricity in Baghdad.

More than four years after we invaded this country and after sinking about $500 billion there, the country's basic infrastructure remains in shambles.

More troops can win battles. But no amount of troops can win the hearts and minds of people when they are dying of thirst and/or heat, when they can count on no more than a couple of hours of electricity each day, when their children are sickened or dying because potable water is unavailable.

In about a month, General David Petraeus is due to issue a report on the progress of the "surge." Petraeus receives high marks as a competent military man. It will be his job to play up the positive, and we do not doubt that our military men and women are doing their very best to accomplish the confused mission they have been given.

Yet, it seems implausible to us that Petraeus can possibly provide a truly upbeat report to the American public on the situation in Iraq just one month from now. Maybe if the surge had included thousands of plumbers, electricians and structural engineers the report could be rosier. Of course, one major reason the infrastructure remains in shambles is that in many areas it is too dangerous to fix it.

Actually, the goal of the surge was to stabilize Iraq enough so that the Iraqis could make political progress in peacefully ruling their own country. Of course, that is the goal everyone is hoping for. Yet, the political progress made thus far makes the Baghdad water and electricity supply look like a bright spot in comparison

At a time when 136,000 Americans soldiers are risking their lives daily in Iraq, with no water in the largest city and no progress on political conciliation, the country's parliament has gone on vacation - not that most of them show up for work regularly anyway.

The dysfunctional government makes the surge's goal of political progress far-fetched at best. If Petraeus suggests the surge is working, he should be asked how soon that will also apply to the water pipes in Baghdad.