Friday, June 16, 2006

Iraq War: Can the US and Iraq's Shi'a government take control of Baghdad?

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

Lots of people noticed that Bush was making a political "offensive" at home the last couple of weeks on the Iraq War.

This report from "stay the course" advocate Anthony Cordesman makes me wonder if a big reason for the domestic "offensive" was to cover for the fact that a major operation against guerrillas in Baghdad itself is underway:  Securing Baghdad: Understanding and Covering the Operation 06/14/06.

Cordesman reports:

The US and Iraq are obviously conducting a major security operation.  Reports indicate that a total of 70,000-75,000 men, two regular Iraqi divisions, two MOI security force divisions, and substantial amounts of US troops may be involved.  At least nominally, this is twice the number of forces involved in the last major effort to take control of Baghdad, Operation Lightning, which was conducted in May 2005.

Yes, more than three years after Bush's Mission Accomplished moment in his flight suit and codpiece, another "major effort to take control of Baghdad" is underway.

Cordesman is a war supporter.  But he's been far more pragmatic about the realities involved than most other supporters have.  He's been saying straightforwardly that the war there will be going on for years to come.  And he's had a very critical eye for propaganda exaggerations by the Bush administration on measures of success.

In this paper, he sets out some ways that analysts and reporters can better understand the results of the new Major Effort to Take Control of Baghdad.

He clearly isn't expecting miracles, even in the best case:

It is fine to talk about "inkspots" and expanding areas of security.  It is also a bit silly.  A major city linked to the nation’s entire economy, operating in mixed ethnic and sectarian areas, and with constant flows of shipping and population movement simply cannot be turned into a giant green zone.  Moreover, driving the focus of civil conflict to Mosul, Basra, Kirkuk, towns in Anbar, or outskirts does not win.  Victory in Baghdad will always have its limits until there is a much broader defeat of insurgents and a political process that that Arab Shi'ites, Arab Sunnis, Kurds, and others can support.  There cannot be a lasting military or security victory in Baghdad without such developments.  (my emphasis)

And he writes:

One thing is clear, follow-up and persistence are the only way to give the effort meaning, bring security to Baghdad, and establish government control and credibility in the most critical area of the country. There won't be quick turning points or success, and inevitably the insurgency (and perhaps militias) will try to lash out to discredit the operation over time.  (my emphasis)

Cordesman stresses how important it is politically within Iraq to give the Iraqi forces the highest amount of credit feasible for the operation.  I'm sure he's also aware that it would look good for the Republicans in the American midterms if the news makes it sound like the Iraqi forces are "standing up so that we can stand down", in Bush's famous phrase.  But Cordesman has been a realist about the preparedness of the Iraqi forces, something that he's followed carefully:

Given the political nature of this struggle, Iraqi and Coalition sources should stress Iraqi successes, Iraqi tips and HUMINT, and Iraqi control and planning.

Such claims will often be correct, but Iraq does not yet have anything like the intelligence and command and control capabilities to conduct such an operation on its own. It still needs a US partner, although this partner should be as silent about its intelligence and special operations role as possible (and media should be extremely discrete) and minimize its importance in operations.  (my emphasis)

I have to chuckle at this advice that the "media should be extremely discrete".  Yeah, like Western reporters can go roaming around Baghdad outside the Green Zone without fearing for their lives every moment.  And how many articles have you seen about the current Major Effort to Take Control of Baghdad?  Cordesman's paper is the first I've seen.  So I don't think he has to worry much about our "press corps" digging deeply to publicize the details of this operation.

Finally, this is a fairly good marker by which to measure the success of the Major Effort:

Prime Minister Maliki has been very clear about the need to bring militias under control, and their has been some discussion of relocating some elements, giving them jobs, disarming them, etc. They cannot be treated in the same way as the insurgents, but they must be dealt with. Moreover, the clear litmus test is Sadr City and the Mahdi militia. Any operation that does not deal with this problem cannot bring security or stability to Baghdad.  (my emphasis)

Sadr City is the Baghdad neighborhood where Muktada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army is based.  Bush and Rove were sensible not to make their domestic Iraq War "offensive" dependent on the success of the Major Effort.

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

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