Sunday, June 17, 2007

New Phase in Iraq (Same as Old?)

Important piece today in the NYTimes on a new offensive being launched by the US Army in Iraq.

The Baghdad security plan was to move the soldiers into the forward bases and more onto the street. Unfortunately 60% of Baghdad is still out of control by Army estimates. And worse the violence overall in the country is at the same levels it was prior to the surge.

The problem with this strategy has always been that the counterinsurgency promoted in Baghdad historically only works in rural areas not urban cores. Moreover, focused as it is on the city, the bomb making units exist in the countryside and then are trucked in. The COIN (counter-insurgency) employed requires an "ink-blot" strategy: create one blot of peace and security and keep spreading outwards.

Read more

Unfortunately this requires total shut down, which can be done in a rural area but not a city. Commerce is killed leading to further unemployment, which sends more people to the insurgent groups.

On the new plan:
The commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, in a news conference in Baghdad along with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, said the operation was intended to take the fight to Al Qaeda’s hide-outs in order to cut down the group’s devastating campaign of car bombings. The comments by General Petraeus were a signal that the United States military had yet again entered a new phase in Iraq, four months after the start of the so-called troop surge and a security plan focused on dampening sectarian violence within Baghdad. They reflected an acknowledgment that more has to be done beyond the city’s bounds to halt a relentless wave of insurgent attacks that have undercut attempts at political reconciliation.
The new emphasis on attacking the insurgent cells and bomb-making factories outside the capital is expected to be a sustained one, involving tough fighting. But creating lasting effects from such pushes has been challenging; in the past, insurgents have repeatedly been driven from one location only to resurface in another...The decision to mount more attacks in the Sunni belts is a trade-off in a military sense because it will limit the number of American forces available to secure neighborhoods in the capital.
While benchmarks are defeatmarks or whatever the languaging is, the September meeting of Petraeus with Congress is always on the lips of the US political class. So that becomes a de facto timeline--whether or not Bush pulls out troops--that works the same negative as Bush always correctly points out: increase the attacks right before the deadline.

That plus heading to the country plus the forward base/more exposed position of the US troops means there will be even heavier American casualties this summer. And sadly as the article points out, there is no effective government and the terrorists/insurgents will move somewhere else and the violence will not substantially abate.

It also assumes al-Qaeda in Iraq is this unified group, when we know more often they are small cells of fluid membership that temporarily align for a purpose. And AQI is only one shoot of a larger tree known as the Islamic State in Iraq. But even it can have temporary alliances with the Islamic Army of Iraq (Baath elements of insurgency).

It reminds me of the old line that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. I'm really worried for the troops. This summer is going to be brutal and as always Joe Biden's question: to What End? What next?

What are we actually doing? They are out of ideas. Arm Sunnis one day, train the Iraqi Shia Army the next, make it the next South Korea, no don't judge the surge until all the troops are in. Which is it?

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