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Monday, October 23, 2006

To die in Baghdad

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Capt. Richard Low, right, talking with members
of the Iraqi National Police recently. Two Iraqi
officers, from different checkpoints in Baghdad,
discovered that their radios did not have
matching frequencies.

To Stand or Fall in Baghdad: Capital Is Key to Mission
Published: October 23, 2006

BAGHDAD, Oct. 22 — After three years of trying to thwart a potent insurgency and tamp down the deadly violence in Iraq, the American military is playing its last hand: the Baghdad security plan.

The plan will be tweaked, adjusted and modified in the weeks ahead, as American commanders try to reverse the dismaying increase in murders, drive-by shootings and bombings.

But military commanders here see no plausible alternative to their bedrock strategy to clear violence-ridden neighborhoods of militias, insurgents and arms caches, hold them with Iraqi and American security forces, and then try to win over the population with reconstruction projects, underwritten mainly by the Iraqi government. There is no fall-back plan that the generals are holding in their hip pocket. This is it.

The Iraqi capital, as the generals like to say, is the center of gravity for the larger American mission in Iraq. Their assessment is that if Baghdad is overwhelmed by sectarian strife, the cause of fostering a more stable Iraq will be lost. Conversely, if Baghdad can be improved, the effects will eventually be felt elsewhere in Iraq. In invading Iraq, American forces started from outside the country and fought their way in. The current strategy is essentially to work from the inside out.

“As Baghdad goes, so goes Iraq,” observed Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, who commands American forces throughout Iraq.

Many ideas — new and not so new — are being discussed in Washington, like a sectarian division of Iraq (which the current government and many Iraqis oppose); and starting talks with Iraq’s neighbor, Iran (which the Iraqi government is already doing, but the United States is not). Some of these ideas look appealing simply because they have not been put to the test.

However the broader strategy may be amended, nothing can work if Baghdad becomes a war-torn Beirut. Baghdad security may not be a sufficient condition for a more stable Iraq, but it is a necessary condition for any alternative plan that does not simply abandon the Iraqis to their fate.

It is hard to see how any Iraq plan can work if the capital’s citizens cannot be protected.

The current operation is called Together Forward II, the second phase of an effort begun in July to reduce violence in Baghdad. The name reflects the core assumption that the Iraqi government is to be an equal partner in regaining control of its capital. Necessarily, the security plan requires an integrated political and military approach, since its goal is not to vanquish an enemy on a foreign battlefield but to bring order to a militia-and-insurgent-plagued city.

But the early returns have raised searching questions as to whether the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is truly prepared to tackle the mission.

“It is a decisive period,” said Maj. Gen. J. D. Thurman, the commander of the Fourth Infantry Division and the senior commander of the American forces in Baghdad.

“They either seize the opportunity or they don’t,” he said. “If they don’t, then our government is going to have to readjust what we are going to do, and that is not my call.”

Since it would take several months to secure and begin reconstruction in the dozen or so strife-ridden neighborhoods that are the focus of the plan, American commanders said the viability of the strategy could not be properly assessed before the year’s end. So far, however, the plan has been short on resources as well as results. The Iraqi Defense Ministry has supplied only two of the six Iraqi Army battalions that General Thurman has requested.

That is not just a question of numbers. Some American military officers say they believe the Iraqi Army may be more effective than the Iraq police, and more trusted by local citizens. Yet several Iraqi battalions have deserted rather than follow orders to go to Baghdad, according to American military officials. In the case of these units, summoning them to the Iraqi capital was tantamount to demobilizing them.

Because they are regional formations, like most of the world,outside the US and France uses. They are not going to die in Baghdad.

This is the first step to withdrawal. I wonder how the Americans will learn of the coming Iraqi betrayal, an ambush of an American unit, an assassination, how will they signal that this is a farce.

posted by Steve @ 2:27:00 AM

2:27:00 AM

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