April 05, 2004

Why Iraq Isn't Ready for Iraqification

Exhibit A:

"The signs of the battle indicated that the success of the plan for American-backed Iraqi police to take control of the city was uncertain. "Mahdi Army men took over the police station," a young man who gave his name only as Mohammad said, speaking of the militiamen. "The Iraqi police don't like problems. So they stepped aside and said "Welcome.' "

-- Christine Hauser, writing in the NYT.

And then, John Burns, with Exhibit B:

"Taking advantage of an American policy that has largely kept American and other occupation troops out of volatile Shiite population centers like Sadr City, Najaf and Kufa, the militiamen succeeded in taking control of checkpoints and police stations in all three cities that had been staffed by the new Iraqi-trained police and civil defense force.

Residents in the three centers said the Iraqis had abandoned their posts almost as soon as the militiamen appeared with their weapons, leaving the militiamen in unchallenged control and punching a huge hole in American hopes that American-trained Iraqis can be relied on increasingly to take over from American troops in providing security in Iraq's major cities."

Methinks the Iraqi police ain't ready for prime time (as I blogged back in October of 2003).

The Challenge of Moktada al-Sadr

But don't panic (yet) about the Sadrist insurrection.

Sistani may yet exert some form of moderating influence helping prevent the great Shi'a majority from getting overly 'Sadrized'. (Yes, I'm conscious that pinning hopes on Sistani's munificence vis-a-vis the Coalition is a pretty thin reed).

It's also worth noting, not all Shi'a, even in Sadr strongholds, are cheerleading a revolt (though they espy ominous times ahead):

"Mr. Sadr's men may be eager for a showdown. But many Kufa residents are dreading it. At a kebab stand in front of the grand mosque, a man winced as truckloads of armed young men whizzed past.

"This is bad," said Adil Sahab, a doctor's assistant. "Look at how idle these boys are. Trouble is coming. Can't you feel it?"

Let's be clear. The big news of the past 36 odd hours is that a second front has just opened up--one outside the "Sunni Triangle."

Relatedly, we can't have major parts of, say, the capital city become no-go zones for coalition forces.

That would promptly give the lie to the notion that we control the situation in Iraq.

So it is critical that we robustly beat back these two main resistance forces--while somehow avoiding, as much as possible and in very difficult conditions--further alienating Sunnis in places like Fallujah or Shi'a in Kufa.

A huge challenge? You bet.

Impossible? Not just yet.

The Case for More Troops

But given that, as we saw above, Iraqification efforts are not ready for prime time--now is most assuredly not the time for troop reductions.

Quite the opposite is required. [John McCain, speak up (very) loudly now.]

Order and security are absolutely critical to the democracy-building effort.

Security, as a CFR report recently put it, is the 'critical enabler' for all else we hope to achieve in Iraq.

And right now, we don't have the overwhelming force required to get the job done properly.

Put differently, now is not the time for experiments in 'light' manpower operations and speculative forays into reduced forced structures and such.

It's a time for overwhelming force, intelligently and, as much as feasible, humanely applied.

And quite apart from debatable notions of how best to maximize operational efficacy--increasing our troop committment in Iraq now will signal to the entire world (not least hostile combatants in Fallujah and Sadr City) that the United States is intent on 'staying the course' in Iraq (another key recommendation from the CFR report, one that sounds blindingly obvious, but that bears repeating from the Presidential level on down to signal our resolve to all relevant parties).

All efforts to forge a viable, democratic, unitary Iraqi state must now be vigorously pursued to the fullest--whatever the requirements.

Otherwise the Middle East region is in for an awful chapter indeed (yes, it can get worse, much worse).

I won't bore readers with musings about the trouble-making potential of Iraqi neighbors like Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia should Iraq capsize into para-states defined by internecine warfare.

Suffice it to say, the repercussions will be felt from Jakarta to Tel Aviv to Los Angeles to myriad points beyond.

Other Regional Factors

Oh, memo to Arik Sharon:

Now is most assuredly not the time to kill Yasser Arafat. (or Sheikh Nasrallah, for that matter).

Note that I'm not necessarily reassured that Sharon's spokesman has said that Sharon's recent comments are meant as: "more of a deterrent measure than an operational message."

Legions of Hamas sympathizers want nothing more than to blow themselves up in a crowd of Israelis in revenge for Sheikh Yassin's killing (yes, of course, many wanted to blow themselves up before the killing too).

Does any suicide bombing in the days ahead, even if Hamas or Jihad Islami (and, holed up in the Muqada, does Arafat even control al-Asqa Brigades these days, really?) mean Sharon can move to kill Arafat?

He's a sovereign leader who will have to make up his mind.

But he should bear in mind that it's not in the current American national interest for him to kill Arafat.

Let's hope that's part of his calculus--and that, if it isn't, that Bush is reminding him to plug in that variable into his decision-making process.

The 'region' can't take too many more inflammatory actions right now. The cup is running pretty full already.

And this isn't a case of asking Sharon to pursue an appeasement strategy so Bush can play cuddle with Prince Bandar in Washington.

Not killing Arafat is in Israel's long term interest too.

It might make the broad center to hard right of the Israeli body politic feel good to kill Arafat.

But it won't materially enhance their security situation (anarchic conditions in the Territories will not present a net gain, security-wise, to the Israeli people).

And many informed Israelis working in places like Shin Bet know that.

Here's hoping Sharon is listening to them.

UPDATE: George Bush, echoing a key recommendation from Ambassador Pickering's ably run CFR task force report, says the U.S. is intent on "staying the course."

Let's now see if he will back such pronouncements up with more troops--a recommendation his key force commander appears more likely than ever to make.

Democrats like Ted Kennedy will score cheap partisan points and, should Bush increase troop deployment levels, cry Vietnam ever more vociferously.

But Bush can't allow that to be a factor in his decision-making--despite the impending election.

And to the extent Kerry teams up with Kennedy on such attacks--his seriousness as a potential alternative to Bush will be diminished.

Nor is this Kerry quote much help at the present hour:

"He called the absence of Arab neighbors as part of the stabilization force "staggering," saying, "All have a major stake in not having a failed Iraqi state, no matter how they feel about our getting there."

No neighboring countries should be allowed in.

If a Syrian, Jordanian or Saudi role is allowed--what's to stop Turkey from entering Kurdistan or Iran more vigorously pursuing its interests through large swaths of Shi'a territory? This would be a disaster.

Sure, some Morroccan or Egyptian forces, who speak the local language, wouldn't hurt.

But there impact, all told, would be pretty de minimis right now.

Kerry needs to suggest real, viable policy alternatives rather than let Ted Kennedy cry Vietnam for him while calling elements of U.S. policy 'staggering[ingly]" incompetent when, in fact, they actually make good sense.

Posted by Gregory at April 5, 2004 11:54 PM
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