Violence continues to escalate in Iraq while President George W. Bush continues to delay any decision on changes to his failed policies. Three dozen American soldiers and hundreds of Iraqis have died in the last three weeks.
Gunmen dressed as Iraqi military kidnapped dozens of employees of the Red Crescent international relief company Sunday. In the meantime, Bush says he "will not be rushed" into announcing any changes in his Iraq war policy.
The Associated Press reports:
Gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms staged a mass kidnapping on Sunday at the office of the Iraqi Red Crescent in downtown Baghdad, police said.
An official of the Iraqi aid group said the assailants abducted 20 to 30 employees and visitors, but left women behind. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.
Police, however, said they did not know how many people were kidnapped at the office in Andalus square. They said the gunmen arrived at the office in five pickup trucks.
The Red Crescent, which is part of the international Red Cross movement, has about 1,000 staff and some 200,000 volunteers in Iraq. It works closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which visits detainees and tries to provide food, water and medicine to Iraqis.
Several mass kidnappings have been carried out in the Iraqi capital in recent months, possibly by armed groups on either side of the sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites.
On Thursday, gunmen in military uniforms kidnapped people from a commercial area in central Baghdad, police said. The attackers drove up in about 10 sport utility vehicles and began rounding up shop owners and bystanders. Police said 50 to 70 people were abducted, but at least two dozen were later released.
Last month, gunmen in Interior Ministry commando uniforms abducted scores of men from a Higher Education Ministry office building. The Education Ministry is predominantly Sunni Arab. About half of the victims were released.
But while Baghdad burns, Bush ponders and doesn’t really want to change his policy, even if it is a failure.
Writes Peter Baker in The Washington Post:
In the late 19th century, the queen of England sent the president of the United States a desk made from the timbers of a decommissioned ship, the HMS Resolute. Almost every occupant of the White House since then has made the Resolute his desk. Perhaps more than most, President Bush has taken its name to heart.
But now, as Bush rethinks his strategy in Iraq and approaches one of the most fateful moments of his presidency, he confronts difficult questions: At what point does determination to a cause become self-defeating folly? Can he change direction in a meaningful way without sacrificing principle?
For Bush, this is a tension that goes to the heart of his political identity and governing style. He captured and retained the presidency in part by portraying two successive Democratic opponents as finger-in-the-wind politicians without a core set of beliefs. The notion of bending to critics or even popular will cuts against his grain. Yet it is also true that at key moments in his career, Bush has been willing to abandon his position and shift gears dramatically.
No position has been more central to Bush’s leadership than his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and his unyielding defense of his conduct of the war ever since. But he went out of his way last week to give the appearance of a man genuinely seeking new ideas as he shuffled between the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon’s ultra-secure "tank," and then delayed making a decision while he and his team debated the options.
"I think George W. Bush is a totally pragmatic politician," said former senator Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.), a member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which recommended a new course. "He’s going to do outreach. . . . He is a total realist. He knows that the solid, march-in-step Republicans, at least in the House, are gone. . . . Now his legacy depends on the national interest, not partisanship."
Others don’t buy it. On its Web site last week, the Democratic National Committee said Bush could be "the most stubborn man on Earth" for not immediately embracing the study group’s plan. Critics predicted that any new strategy he announces after the holidays will be little more than a dressed-up version of "stay the course." And a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 66 percent of Americans do not think Bush is willing to change his policies in Iraq.
Gunmen in police uniforms kidnapped dozens of people at a Baghdad branch of the Red Crescent on Sunday, the same day as British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived in the capital to meet Iraq’s embattled leaders.
A Red Crescent official and witnesses said the gunmen stormed the office in central Karrada in pickup trucks, separated men from women and then took off with some 25 employees, visitors and private security guards.
Police said between 10 and 20 people were kidnapped.
"They took all the men, separated them from the women and left," a witness told Reuters.
Baghdad is plagued by daily kidnappings, both political and criminal. Last week, gunmen in camouflage fatigues abducted some 30 people in an industrial area in central Baghdad but released most of them a few hours later.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government is struggling to contain soaring sectarian tension and daily violence that U.N. officials estimate kills more than 100 people a day.