February 12, 2004

Iraq Watch

Spence Ackerman has yet another take on the now famous Zarkawi memo.

BTW, the bounty on Zarkawi's head has been raised to USD10MM. People in Washington appear to be waking up to the fact that 50 Iraqi police dying every day can't go on for much longer.

As Ackerman blogs elsewhere:

"I want very badly to believe this CPA official was stonewalling Banerjee. If he really thinks our 100,000 troops can deter factional violence, he needs to get out of the Green Zone and walk through the carnage in Baghdad. We don't have enough troops to defeat the insurgency, and we don't have enough Iraqi security forces to make up for the shortfall. According to yesterday's CPA briefing, insurgents attack our troops 22 times every day. After the Pentagon's laborious force rotation is completed in the spring, we'll have 105,000 soldiers and Marines deployed in Iraq--a reduction of about 30,000 soldiers--who will face a steep learning curve. Now, you never hear about the attacks that our forces deter, for the obvious reason that they don't occur. I have no doubt that our forces have deterred or preempted an untold (and, to use a Rumsfeldian phrase, untellable) number of assaults through our raids and patrols. But 100 Iraqis died in the last 24 hours alone because deterrence failed. And that was in central Iraq, where the bulk of our forces are.

Beyond deterrence is the absolutely crucial question of when and how our forces will engage to forestall a widening conflict. Banerjee quotes an allied military official as saying, "Wherever we see a spark, we have to dampen it quickly." This means our troops will have to do to something they're largely not trained to do: preventative security operations, a large number of which will surely be police actions. True, we have Special Forces in Iraq and we're going to have Marines there shortly, and they're more familiar with these types of missions. And we're also bolstering our intelligence capabilities, a necessary component of success. But determining what's a "spark" and what's not is an inescapably difficult task--and our poorly trained Iraqi security forces aren't going to be able to do it by themselves. Preventing conflict escalation among factions is not something with much of a margin for error, especially when we've been unable to disarm militias and the parties that control them appear to consider politics in the new Iraq a zero-sum game. Here's someone else Banerjee quotes, a Sunni named Ahmed Taha al-Jibouri, whose father is a tribal leader: "Let the elections occur, and if they bring a government we don't like, we will have demonstrations to get rid of it. And if that's not enough, we'll take it with weapons." [my emphasis]

Regular readers know that, pretty much since "major combat" ended, I've been discussing the need for highly trained constabulatory forces to go in theater (securing areas after combat forces), the need for more troops generally, the need to make sure we are not too focused on force protection to the detriment of robust counter-insurgency operations and deterrence capability, perhaps having an administrative corps to assist with infrastructure/water/power needs in war-ravaged areas.

And, above all, not to declare a sovereignty handover, pull out our troops (or have most of them tied up with force protection duties or engaged in routine patrols around our bases) and Iraqify too hastily.

Ackerman expresses some of this better that I have.

But the point is that huge stakes are riding on how we handle all this. A civil war isn't going to happen tomorrow. But some ruthless individuals are pretty focused on ratcheting up inter-communal strife and getting militias to face off against each other.

No, it's not just al-Qaeda that's causing the strife, of course. Much of it is due to natural, residual tensions as among federation-minded Kurds, crude majoritarianism-minded Shi'a, and aggrieved (formerly privileged) Sunnis worried about their new lot in a post-Saddam Iraq.

Put all this together, along with rumblings of Americans in lock-down behind Green Lines, and everyone is watching the clock and waiting to make their gambits.

This is not the optimal way to pursue our greatest foreign policy challenge of the moment. We must do better.

Where's Paul Wolfowitz on all this (he is one of the few really smart persons with influence serving in government today. As in most professions--there are sadly very few truly competent people at the top--so we need these rare guys to be on the right side of the policy debate)? He needs to move towards the Tom Donnelly's and Bill Kristol's on this issue and persuade Rummy to ratchet up our force posture in the coming months.

Not brute force that alienates legions more Iraqis. But more constabulatory forces, special forces, marines, intelligence operatives.

Who knows the exact time when new recruits are lining up at police stations--the better to blow up dozens at a time? How and why do they know this? Is it widely publicized in a town on placards? If so, don't (or protect the damn station from suicide cars on recruitment day...)

How are these hundreds of pounds of explosives getting to the bad guys? How to better interdict such movement of materiel?

Why aren't U.S. forces guarding these police stations? Or, at least, better trained Iraqi forces? And so on.

Or do we simply continue to let nascent Iraqi police forces provide security? That is, when they are not being slaughtered like lemmings to the tune of fifty a day?

Another month of this and we'll have to deem the routinization of such major casualty attacks (and the administration's handling of it) in the FUBAR category--f**ked up beyond all recognition.

UDPDATE: More here from the WaPo. Read the whole thing.

Posted by Gregory at February 12, 2004 01:38 AM
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