W.'s not talking about this war anymore.
In his big speech at the American Legion convention in Salt Lake City on Thursday, W. said those who say Iraq is headed toward civil war are just dead wrong. "Our commanders and diplomats on the ground in Iraq believe that it's not the case. They report that only a small number of Iraqis are engaged in sectarian violence, while the overwhelming majority wants peace and a normal life."
I wonder which commanders and diplomats he's talking to, because his own Ambassador in Baghdad sent a secret memo back to Washington last month outlining the dire situation his embassy staff are facing simply trying to get to work everyday and the pentagon just yesterday gave a pretty bleak assessment of the situation to Congress reporting that: "Death squads and terrorists are locked in mutually reinforcing cycles of sectarian strife...Conditions that could lead to a civil war exist in Iraq." The report also says that militias are more entrenched then ever in Baghdad neighborhoods and are seen by most Iraqis as the only providers of security and protection they have.
It is amazing that W. and Co. have launched this new "say the course" PR campaign in the midst of some of the worse violence Iraq has ever seen (and that's saying something). If Karl Rove thinks highlighting the "successes" of the new security crackdown in Baghdad is going to win votes in November, he'd better go back to the drawing board. In the past week, over 400 Iraqis have died along with 15 US troops. After five weeks of “Operation Together Forward" things have gone from very bad to horrifically awful.
The deployment of some 12,000 US and Iraqi security forces to Baghdad has apparently only exacerbated the violence inside the city. As we've seen in other crackdowns, notably in Fallujah II, the insurgents have simply redeployed to other neighborhoods in Baghdad and cities around Iraq while the US forces go from house to house in areas devoid of insurgents. Fighting in the south and in the north, especially in Kirkuk, has rammed up. On Wednesday, an all out 12-hour battle between Shiite militias and Iraqi Army units in Diwaniya, 80-miles south of Baghdad, led to the deaths of 80 militia fighters and 20 Iraqi soldiers. During the battle about a dozen Iraqi soldiers were taken into the town square and executed by their militia captors when they ran out of ammunition. [Looks like the idea of us just sitting back and providing logistical support needs to be tweaked a bit] [AP]
In some whacko corners of the punditry the fact that Iraqi forces were able to hang with the militias for so long was seen a promising sign. To most sane people watching this catastrophe unfold it should have been seen as a sign that the old paradigm of the war in Iraq, the typical hit and run small insurgent unit engagements, is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. We're now seeing supposedly rag-tag groups of militia gunmen engaging division sized Iraqi army units in set piece battles. For their part, the Sunni insurgents are also showing the ability to fight in large organized formations against US Marines in Ramadi. Even the run-of-the-mill insurgent car bombings and mortar attacks are becoming even more spectacular.
On Thursday, Sunni insurgents set off bombs they'd planted in apartments; they had previously rented, and leveled an entire block in a Shiite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. Edward Wong reported in the NYT that "the attack appeared to be a well-organized strike on areas controlled by the Mahdi Army. . .Police officials counted seven explosions from a combination of car bombs and rocket or mortar fire." The attacks killed 43 and wounded over 200.
Starting a war within the war:
Naturally, these attacks will only inspire more Shiite revenge attacks on Sunni neighborhoods in the south and west and no matter how many troops we pump into the fight we're not going to be able to stop it. But don't tell that to the brains trusters in the Iraqi Defense Ministry. As if things weren't bad enough already, they're preparing to go after the Mahdi Army on its own turf. The AP reported today that Defense Ministry spokesman, Muhammad al-Askari, says "no neighborhood is off-limits. There's not a single neighborhood that's a red line for us. Any area that has terrorist activity, we will enter -- there will be no stop sign."
The American commander of the 101st Airborne says the only thing these militias understand is "a big stick," so that's what they're going to get. I'd say if we're going to go after Muqtada al-Sadr again we'd better bring a stick the size of a California Redwood, because we're talking about starting another war within the war. It's been recognized for quite a while now that the Mahdi Army is an even bigger danger to Iraq than the insurgency is. The question is what to do about it. Al-Sadr himself has supposedly been leaning toward "moderation" because his political Party, the Sadr Trend, has 30 seats in the parliament. He has a lot of political clout within the Iraqi government, because he was instrumental in getting Nouri al-Maliki into the PM job. But is al-Sadr in any position to deal? Newsweek reported last month that there's a new wrinkle to the Sadr story:
"The Mahdi Army's leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, seems to be losing his grip on the thousands of armed men who once followed his every word. 'There are forces that are controlled by Moqtada, but there are commanders that are not controlled by him.; there are death squads that are not controlled by him,' U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilizad told NEWSWEEK. The situation is so volatile that, according to the U.S. officials, Sadr now fears for his own safety and position."
In fact, many of these disparate factions of the Mahdi Army are getting their marching orders from Iran. So whereas it might have been possible to come to some sort of accommodation with al-Sadr after the elections in January, it now appear as if even he's no longer a viable player. It seems in this situation, as well, that Iran is holding all the cards. If the US and Iraqi forces really go after the Mahdi Army, they'll have to not only fight them in Baghdad but also in Najaf and in Basra, where Sadr is vying for control with the Badr Organization (also controlled by Iran). In this new scenario, our troops will be fighting the Sunnis in Anbar and western Baghdad at the same time they're re-fighting the Mahdi Army, a force that now numbers about 140,000; about three times the number when we fought them to a draw back in 2004.
I don't know, call me crazy, but something tells me our 140,000 troops fighting along side 200,000 very shaky Iraqi units that are prone to desert at the drop of a hat if they don't like their deployment orders, or just unexpectedly decide to run away, doesn't look like a very promising strategy for victory. If we're about to get involved in taking on both sides in this civil war, we should seriously consider reinstituting the draft. Calling up 26,000 Marine reservists isn't going to do the trick.
The "decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century?"
W. says pulling our troops out of Iraq now would be "absolutely disastrous. . .We would be handing Iraq over to our worst enemies -- Saddam's former henchmen, armed groups with ties to Iran, and al-Qaeda terrorists from all over the world, who would suddenly have a base of operations far more valuable than Afghanistan under the Taliban." It looks like al-Qaeda already has a perfectly fine base of operations in Pakistan's autonomous tribal areas --but regardless, if he really thinks this war in Iraq is "the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century," then he'd better get serious about waging it.
If we're going to take on all comers in Iraq; launch preemptive strikes on Iran's nuclear infrastructure; successfully defeat the resurgent Taliban in southern Afghanistan; help Israel deal with their Hezbollah and Hamas problems; and have enough assets left over to deal with the ever present possibility of a North Korean freak-out or a Chinese attack on Taiwan, we're going to need a much bigger military. If the war in Lebanon showed us nothing else (as if Vietnam wasn't enough of a lesson), it showed us that strategic air strikes are useless when waging asymmetrical warfare.
In the summer of 1940 FDR was able to squeak through Congress the Selective Service Act while we were still at peace because he could see what was coming with the German take over of Europe. He very responsibly analyzed the coming threat and rushed to prepare this nation for a major conflict. In 2003, this administration launched an invasion of a country that was absolutely no threat to this country and neglected to adequately prepare for any contingencies contrary to the rosy predictions of deluded chicken hawks. The consequences of these actions have placed our military in an untenable position. Our national security hangs in the balance and this administration continues to dither.
PR campaigns aren't going to provide the tens of thousands of more troops we need to conduct the war in Iraq. It is beyond irresponsible to keep sending the same units to Iraq again and again; for two, three or four tours and still expect to have any kind of viable fighting force left in the end.
But never mind about all that; they found another al-Qaeda number two man. You know what happened when they killed #1 guy, so prepare for much worse to come. Better change the subject. Talk about all the successes of the war on terror . . .
Posted by bushmeister0
at 7:31 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 6 September 2006 7:34 PM EDT