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The Occupation: Veteran Correspondent Patrick Cockburn Reports from Iraq

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As President Bush calls on Congress to support his call to send more troops to Iraq, we go to Baghdad for a report from London Independent correspondent Patrick Cockburn. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush’s State of the Union comes during one of the bloodiest periods in Iraq. On Monday alone, at least 140 people were killed or found dead across Iraq, including at least 88 killed in a double car bombing in Baghdad. On Saturday, 25 U.S. soldiers died, making it the third deadliest day of the war for the United States.

For the latest on the ground in Iraq, we turn to Patrick Cockburn, a journalist with the London Independent, author of the new book, The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq. He joins us on the phone from Baghdad. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Patrick.

PATRICK COCKBURN: Nice to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick, can you hear me? Can you talk about your response to what President Bush has just said and the escalation?

PATRICK COCKBURN: I think my first response is that what he said [inaudible] was very out of date. He talked about chaos coming to Iraq. Well, I mean, I’m in the center of Baghdad, and it’s difficult to imagine anything more chaotic. There’s heavy fighting going on in an area called Haifa Street just near the Green Zone. I can hear mortars occasionally going off. It’s said that there is an attempt to assassinate one of the vice presidents a few streets away from here. So we have almost total chaos in Baghdad at the moment.

AMY GOODMAN: And overall, the response on the ground to President Bush’s solution to the situation in Iraq, what he calls the “troop surge”?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, you know, Iraqis spend most of their time just trying to survive day to day, just trying to stay alive, not get kidnapped. So I think they’re pretty cynical about the troop surge. I mean, it sounds quite a large number — 16,000, 17,000 U.S. soldiers in Baghdad — but this is a city of six million. And it won’t — these will be very spread out on the ground. So I think that there isn’t much optimism here that the extra troops are going to have that much of an effect. I think maybe they could clear some of the roads for a short period, but I don’t think the people see it as a solution at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Cockburn, are you talking with U.S. troops, and what are they saying?

PATRICK COCKBURN: I haven’t really been talking to them about the latest events. I mean, you know, you can go a long way in Baghdad without seeing any U.S. troops whatsoever. I was coming from — I was on one of the more dangerous roads, the airport road, yesterday. I didn’t see any U.S. troops on that road. In the area that I am in, you see checkpoints, but they’re not manned by U.S. forces. So despite all the talk in the U.S. about the U.S. American troops presence here, you know, you can spend days in Baghdad without seeing a single American soldier.

AMY GOODMAN: And the effect if the U.S. troops were to totally pull out immediately?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Probably things would get worse, but I’m afraid they’re going to get worse anyway. I mean, and it’s not just Baghdad. It’s provinces around Baghdad. You have ethnic cleansing, sectarian cleansing, people on the run everywhere. Whoever is the minority, Sunni or Shia, is getting out. You know, what most people worry about most here is checkpoints that are suddenly set up. You don’t know who has set them up. There are armed men in civilian clothes, sometimes in military uniforms. Now, do you stop at these checkpoints, in which case you might get killed if you have the wrong ID, or do you try to run the checkpoint, in which case they may open fire anyway? And that’s really what the Iraqis spend their time thinking about.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Cockburn writes for the London Independent. He has just written a new book called The Occupation, speaking to us from Baghdad.

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