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Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Staying the Course, Without Choice

Iraqis Are Only Option for Security
By Thomas E. Ricks and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 29, 2003; Page A18

Three days of rocket attacks and car bombings in and around Baghdad, the bloodiest anti-U.S. assaults since the conventional war ended in April, have not changed the Bush administration's strategy for winning the peace in Iraq.

Rather, the attacks intensified the officials' determination to pursue the two-part "Iraqification" approach they have emphasized since midsummer: Rely increasingly on Iraqi police and soldiers to provide security; and move U.S. troops more to the background, where they can be poised to conduct raids and other concentrated attacks on resistance fighters.

"The strategy remains the same," President Bush told reporters yesterday.

What the president did not say is that this is really the only approach open to the U.S.-led coalition right now. The two major alternatives to this plan essentially have been considered and rejected.

One would be to deploy thousands of U.S. troops on top of the 130,000 already there. But there really are not many available, because most active-duty divisions in the Army have completed tours of combat duty in Afghanistan or Iraq over the past two years.

The other would be to persuade more foreign nations to contribute forces, but few have been willing to send more than a token contribution. The big battalions of Pakistani or Moroccan troops that could ease pressure on U.S. forces by taking up some guard duty work, or by conducting patrols with troops who can speak Arabic with locals, have not been forthcoming.

That means the U.S. exit strategy rests squarely on getting Iraqis to provide security. In meetings over the past two days, the only notable difference from earlier discussions is that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top administration officials have sought to figure out how to accelerate the training of Iraqi police.

The stance now, one top general said at the Pentagon yesterday, is "stay the course, faster."

"I believe we're looking at the beginning of a sustained insurgency. I don't think this is the mopping-up the administration cast it as a couple of months ago," said Steven Metz, a professor at the U.S. Army War College. He sees the potential for the violence to go "on and on and on, with a shooting here and a bombing there . . . somewhere between the Palestinian intifada and Northern Ireland."

Yet Metz, an insurgency specialist, does not think the militants can stop the Bush administration from building an Iraqi government or restarting the economy. Nor, he said, does he think "they can kill enough Americans that it would lead to a collapse of the American will."

It's not the will of the Americans in Washington which is the problem. But the will of GI's on the ground. The insurgents only need one big strike, a major explosion at a US site, to collapse US morale, which is already low.

There are two real issues, if we can prevent a national uprising and keep US morale up. There is no support for anything like an intifada or Ulster. If that's what's being faced, the US will flee. What foreign policy experts forget is that the American public's appetite for foreign adventures are limited. Years in Iraq is not fiscally or poitically possible. Americans, at the end of the day, would be perfectly content to leave Iraq a larger Lebanon. Anyone forgetting that will be reminded of that next November.

posted by Steve @ 1:41:00 PM

1:41:00 PM

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