Not to say that things in Iraq are going from bad to horrible or anything but: the AP reports today that the Iraqi Interior Ministry is going to start building trenches around Baghdad -- Yes, trenches, you read it right. Apparently, this is the third part of "Operation Together Forward," a security crackdown that began June 15 and which was been widely successful (unless you take into account the 1,800 or so people being killed every month since it began).
Part one apparently involved setting up check points, part 2 was the sealing off of mainly Sunni neighborhoods and going house to house, and part three is to cordon off Baghdad from the rest of the country and begin going into Shiite districts. According to Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul-Kareem Khalaf, there will be "28 inlets into Baghdad while all other inlets will be blocked. Supports will be added to the trenches to hinder movements of people and vehicles. The trenches will be under our watch."
Boy I don't know about you, but I feel better already. This sort of thing has worked out so well in Ramadi, Fallujah and Tal Afar, why not just dig 60 miles of trenches around the capital city to show everyone how confident you are about your ability to get the country under control. And while they're at it, why not make everyone carry biometric identity cards, like the citizens of Fallujah have to? There are only about 6 million people in Baghdad, that shouldn't cause much trouble.
This whole thing has got to be a joke, right? What are the chances that building trenches around the entire city of Baghdad is going to have any effect on the violence going on there? I would say about the same as setting up road blocks and going house to house. Zilch! So this is the "defining moment, the defining battle of the war," according to General George Casey? (I thought that was Fallujah in November of 2004). The plan is to hide behind trenches?
'whack-a-mole' is not working:
Not that the military is over stretched or anything, but the US military is pulling troops from other parts of the country and rushing them into the "Battle of Baghdad." (Didn't we already win that thing back in April of 2003?) Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli says stopping the sectarian violence is a higher priority then going after the insurgents. He said, "the main effort is in Baghdad, and we must ensure that we weight the main effort." That's fine, but al-Anbar is in pretty piss-poor shape right now, too. In fact, it's so out of control that a Marine intelligence officer has said in a secret report that although we haven't been beaten militarily, "we have been defeated politically -- and that's where wars are won and lost." [WaPo] So I guess pulling troops out won't make a difference anyway, right?
Yanking troops out of Anbar to keep Baghdad from imploding would appear to me to be a pretty desperate gambit. Just how bad are things in Iraq? According to a NEWSWEEK article, "privately, senior U.S. officials say the Iraqi government has only a few months to stop the killing or collapse." Now, I can see why instead of the promised troop reductions that were being talked about in the summer, units scheduled to go home are being held up and sent to Baghdad.
The sad tale of the 172nd Stryker Brigade:
Like, for instance, the 172nd Stryker Brigade from Fairbanks, Alaska. The 172nd has been in Iraq for over a year and they were scheduled to go home last month. Instead, they were told to pack up and move to Baghdad. Apparently, they've been the victims of their own success; a NEWSWEEK article about Blackhawk Company 4-23 infantry battalion, says that after a year in Iraq, they've lost only 20 injured of their 4000 troops and no one has been killed in action. Their Stryker armored vehicles are "almost indestructible" which has made them an ideal item to have in Baghdad's mean streets.
Unfortunately, although their vehicles might be indestructible, the people inside them are not; particularly when they're not in them, a concern being expressed by families of the 4-23. The soldiers say they're spending most of their time outside their Strykers, doing what the Iraqi security forces should be doing. In a meeting with family members back in August, Rummy got an earful about this. One woman complained to Rummy that, "My husband hasn’t set foot in a Stryker since he arrived in Baghdad." Rummy answered that "Over 90 percent of the house clearings are being handled by the Iraqis."
At this point, according to the NEWSWEEK article, women in the audience started shouting "no!" and "that's not true." Rummy shot back, "Don't say 'No,' that's what I've been told. It's the task of the Iraqis to go through the buildings." [This is also the same guy who said he knew exactly where the WMD were.] Members of the 4-23 say they, not the Iraqis, do 95 percent of the house clearing. "'I'd like to punch [Rummy] in the gut, says one seasoned NCO on his second Iraq tour. He treats us like we're not human. He acts like he's not destroying families.'"
Where do I sign up?
Looks like that guy needs a few more deployments to Iraq to straighten out that attitude; but morale is high, just look at all the National Guard soldiers falling all over each other to go back. The Philly Inquirer reported this week that "in Pennsylvania, 500 of the 15,000 members of Army National Guard and 10 of the 4000 Air National Guard have chosen to go back. In New Jersey, 2 to 5 percent of the Army National Guard and about 20 percent of the Air National Guard's 2,300 have volunteered to return."
That's alright, there's always Stop Loss, the Individual Ready Reserve, and sleazy recruiters ready to threaten potential recruits with jail if they don't sign on the dotted line. Rummy once said "you go to war with the Army you have, not the one you would like," but right now he's lucky to have the remnants of what he originally went in with. Maybe, we can ask NATO for some troops?