WASHINGTON, March 24 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush acknowledged reality on a day when the drive to Baghdad suddenly no longer looked like a walk in the desert park.
"It is evident that it's going to take awhile to achieve our objective," the president said on his return to the White House Sunday from a weekend at Camp David. And then he added that he could assure the American people "that this is just the beginning of a tough fight."
Yet the war on Iraq was not sold to the American people as a tough fight. It was sold to them as a combination of a walk in the park, an essential operation to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and, most of all, as a crusade to free the Iraqi people from the tyranny of President Saddam Hussein.
The curious thing is, almost none of them appear to be want to be saved.
For the past year and a half, the civilian war hawks running the Department of Defense have repeatedly and, according to Pentagon sources, even contemptuously overridden the concerns of regular senior Army and Marine officers about the difficulty of conquering Iraq by relying upon the flood of intelligence provided to them by Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress. For Chalabi and the INC had assured them that Iraq was straining at the seams and ready to bust apart acclaiming U.S. forces as liberators as soon as they walked in.
As UPI has repeatedly reported and noted, so highly did Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz think of this intelligence that they repeatedly injected it into the proceedings of Principals' and Deputies' Committees meetings that coordinated the highest policymaking of the United States government without filtering it past the CIA, the State Department or any other organ of government first.
Yet now the drive into Iraq is well underway, what are U.S. policymakers -- and their brave, embattled troops in the field finding?
First, the Shiite Muslim majority of Iraqis have not risen up in the south to rally around their American liberators. They have not risen up at all. And they are not raising a finger to oppose Saddam or help the United States.
Instead, as we noted on Saturday, Mohammed Baqir Hakim, head of the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the main Shiite opposition movement in Iraq issued a statement quite specifically telling the Shiites not to aid the United States in any way. And his admonition, broadcast on the Qatar-based al-Jazeera television network, is being heeded.
In the north, the situation is equally unexpectedly dire and disappointing for the DoD civilian war planners and their loud cheering section among neo-conservative intellectuals.
First Turkey, favored above all Middle East nations by the DoD planners, refused to let the U.S. Fourth Infantry Division even to deploy in its territory, let alone launch an invasion through Northern Iraq from there. Instead, the Turks have been moving across the border and look set to try and seize the oil-rich, Kurdish-majority areas around Kirkuk and Mosul for themselves.
Nor are the Kurds of northern Iraq rising up to take advantage of the U.S. invasion to eagerly throw Saddam out as war planners and their media Greek chorus had also repeatedly predicted and expected. Instead, they are turning to fight the Turks, their historic enemies with far greater enthusiasm and ferocity than anything they have shown towards Saddam and the Iraqi army.
Where does that leave the already embattled U.S. forces as they drive towards Baghdad? It leaves them on their own.
There have been no TV reports this time showing huge crowds cheering their liberation as happened in the capitals of Eastern Europe following the collapse of communism, or in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan after the Taliban were routed there in 2001, or, for that matter in Kuwait City after U.S. forces liberated it in 1991 after the first Gulf War.
Instead, Iraqi forces are faking surrenders and then turning their weapons on U.S. troops. They are abandoning their uniforms and striking from behind. They are melting away in the face of heavily armed U.S. armored columns but ambushing supply convoys as soon as they take wrong turns in unfamiliar territory.
On Sunday alone, U.S. casualties were reported to be at least 20 missing or dead. If no more than that die per day in the next week or two and then Baghdad falls, the war will still be one of the cheapest in casualties the United States has ever fought. But if the war should drag on at that level even after all of Iraq should be occupied, within a mere 100 days, 2,000 Americans would have died -- the greatest U.S. death toll in war in more than 30 years since Vietnam.
In fact, it could yet turn out to be far, far worse. As UPI Chief International Correspondent Martin Walker noted last week, the United States and Britain are invading Iraq with only 500 Main Battle Tanks. Iraq has 2,600 of them -- and another 2,800 heavy artillery pieces. They are old and individually far inferior to the Allied weapons. But they are Soviet-built, robust and work well. And unlike in the first Gulf war, this time Iraqi commanders are avoiding as much as possible sending them out in the open to be knocked out by Allied air power.
As of Monday afternoon, Iraqi time fighting continued to be reported heavy as the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division drove to within around 50 miles of Baghdad. Hopes for the rapid and casualty-light capture of the Iraqi capital still existed but were certainly fading, especially in the light of the president's somber statement Sunday.
Here at UPI Analysis we note simply that we repeatedly expressed skepticism at the endless claims of neoconservative hawks and DoD war planners that Iraq was going to fall apart and that popular resistance to U.S. forces would be negligible.
Will it indeed be all over by Easter? That is still possible. But it is looking less likely by the hour.