Saturday, June 23, 2007


Two articles from the best Iraq writers of the NYTimes and WAPO respectively (John Burns and Thomas Ricks).

Burns here.

The question is whether Baquba, the linchpin of a new (another new) military plan to root out al-Qaeda in Iraq has actually worked. The leadership has fled and the low/mid level grunts are left to take on the US/Iraqi forces. Will it become another Fallujah and an image throughout the Muslim world of America as imperial aggressors? Fallujah is the Muslim world's Alamo. But in this case we are Santa Anna.

Here's Burns:
Before the Baquba operation, American commanders had said that one difference from previous offensives that had failed to net top Qaeda leaders would be the use of “blocking maneuvers” around the city to close off escape routes. Although that appears to have failed, American commanders in Baquba said Friday that several hundred Qaeda fighters — about 80 percent of the recruits who were there when the offensive began Tuesday — remained in the western half of the city, and that there would be tough fighting to root them out for units of the 10,000-person force of American and Iraqi troops committed to the battle. The force is one of the largest assembled for any operation outside Baghdad since the recapture of Falluja, and closely resembles, in its aims, the Falluja offensive of November 2004.
And worse:
American hopes that the Falluja offensive would deal a mortal blow to Al Qaeda were thwarted when the leaders who fled the city moved elsewhere, and resumed the Islamic militants’ trademark pattern of suicide bombings and assassinations at a higher intensity than before. Since Falluja, Qaeda groups have shown a remarkable resilience in the face of relentless pursuit by the American forces, regrouping time and again after American offensives. Even Falluja has not escaped. American commanders said this week that, more than 30 months after the city was recaptured, Qaeda groups have reinfiltrated the city, mounting suicide bombing attacks, assassinating police and city council leaders and forcing a fresh American and Iraqi offensive this month that has been aimed at capturing or killing the Qaeda fighters.
There is also questioning of the decision to announce the plan on the Sunday morning talk show circuits (Petraeus was on FoxNews Sunday last week).

Now Ricks.

The new offensive has yet again raised the issue that there are simply not enough troops even including the surge numbers. The Army Bureaus have informed the political leadership and command structure that the current levels of troops can only be maintained until Spring 2008. Even these are insufficient. With the new offensive has come of course higher American and Iraqi troops casualties and death tolls.

One of Petraeus's nerviest gambles is that enemy fighters will not be able to move and disrupt other areas. The biggest concern for U.S. commanders is the big northern city of Mosul, where insurgents counterattacked the last time the U.S. military conducted an operation this size, in November 2004. That is especially worrisome because the United States now has only one battalion of about 1,000 troops stationed there, far fewer than were there then.
Except that is exactly what Burns' article implies they will do and have done already (and have done throughout the conflict).

And then this stunner:
In terms of the fighting, the question may be academic. "There isn't much more land power available for use in Iraq and Afghanistan," retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, a former Army chief of staff, recently commented. "We are now 'all in' " -- that is, in poker terms, the U.S. armed forces have put all their chips on the table.
Extra manpower must then come from the Iraqi Army, which while achieving some results since say its 2004 days, is still largely unreliable. The central government for which it fights is splintered along sectarian lines, as are the recruits. There is no real govt for which they fight.

This operation does not include "holding" as in "clear and hold" strategy. It is just fighting and trying to break up networks that create car bombs, suicide bombs, etc in the outer regions then brought into Baghdad.

But then what? The final line of the piece, the clincher:
Even so, some insiders worry that the new push will still prove to be too little, too late. "We have lost the fight for public and political support, so no matter how successful we are militarily, we are being led to failure," said one U.S. intelligence expert involved in Iraqi operations.


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