Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Iraq: New Plan Wanted
Hands up, everybody who believes that the "hundreds" of troops that the Pentagon plans to move from the rest of Iraq into Baghdad will suffice to secure the capital against the sectarian militias now waging war upon the civilian populations of the city? Anybody? No, I didn't think so.
To take back the capital from the militias that now terrorize it will take thousands, not hundreds, of American plus tens of thousands of Iraqis. No sector in Iraq can spare the loss of so many forces (our current troubles in Anbar date back to the decision in 2004 to shift troops from Anbar to the siege of Fallujah - when they returned, they discovered that every pro-US informant and ally in the province had been murdered, usually horribly and publicly). So a real plan for success in Baghdad will have to be built upon additional troops from out of area, potentially raising US troop levels back up to the 150,000 or so of late 2005.
Manifestly, neither the administration nor the Congress will contemplate such a move. Which means, most likely, continuing violence in Iraq and a continuing rise in the power of the militias, especially the Iranian-backed Shiite militias: the Hezbollah of Iraq.
What then? Well, then ...
Uncontrolled militias (some of them working tacitly with the pro-Iranian Islamists at the Ministry of the Interior) will wage intensifying war against each other.
The Sunnis will use random terror: car bombings, suicide bombings, kidnappings and massacres.
The Shiite militias - supported by their friends in the Ministry of the Interior and in the police forces - will respond with increasingly coordinated terror, such as that which killed dozens of Sunnis in the al-Jihad neighborhood on July 9. It is hard to imagine that a few hundred American advisers can put a stop to such atrocities.
As the tide of urban warfare turns in the Shiites' favor, those Sunnis who can flee the city will do so .
Gradually, Baghdad will come to look like Basra, Iraq's Shiite-dominated second city, now effectively ruled by Iranian-backed Shiites with the tacit acquiescence of the British military authorities.
Baghdad - and therefore central Iraq - will in such a case slide after Basra and the south into the unofficial new Iranian empire. (Classically minded readers will remember that the pre-Islamic Persian empires of the Parthians and Sassanids were ruled from Ctesiphon, about 20 miles southeast of Baghdad. And here is a map of the boundaries of the Safavid empire in the 1500s, the last time the Persians counted for much of the history of the world: Pretty much all of present-day Iraq except Anbar is on the inside.) American troops will be free to stay or go, depending on whether we wish to deny or acknowledge defeat.
The consequences for the region and the world will be grim.
Averting such a fate means fighting to win Baghdad. But if the president decides against such a fight - either because it would be too bloody or too politically costly or even because he doubts that the US can ultimately succeed - then we need a backup plan. The present plan - "as the Iraqis stand up, we stand down" - has not worked to date, as the president admitted yesterday, and there seems little reason to hope it will work better over the next months than it has in the recent past.
This is not, as some American commentators argue, because the Iraqis refuse to fight for their country. Thousands of brave Iraqis, civil and military, have laid down their lives fighting or working for a secure and democratic Iraq. But Iraq has powerful enemies, inside and out. To date, the US has fought only a limited war against those enemies. Iran understands that the war in Iraq is a regional war. Syria understands it too. Only the US has tried to pretend that the war zone stops at the international border. In some horrible rerun of Vietnam, the US has let the enemy establish safe havens just on the other side of the line, from which it draws supplies and reinforcements with impunity. It's like some baby boomer nightmare: after decades of swearing that we would never repeat the mistakes of our parents, we are re-enacting the errors committed in Indochina in the 1960s and 1970s, every single one.
As I said, we may need a backup plan.
Peter Galbraith offered an interesting one on the NYT oped page yesterday. Galbraith it should be noted served as US Ambassador to Croatia in the 1990s and was a brave first-hand observer of Saddam's murderous extermination campaigns against the Kurds in the late 1980s.
As an alternative to using Shiite and American troops to fight the insurgency in Iraq’s Sunni center, the administration should encourage the formation of several provinces into a Sunni Arab region with its own army, as allowed by Iraq’s Constitution. Then the Pentagon should pull its troops from this Sunni territory and allow the new leaders to establish their authority without being seen as collaborators.
Seeing as we cannot maintain the peace in Iraq, we have but one overriding interest there today — to keep Al Qaeda from creating a base from which it can plot attacks on the United States. Thus we need to have troops nearby prepared to re-engage in case the Sunni Arabs prove unable to provide for their own security against the foreign jihadists.
This would be best accomplished by placing a small “over the horizon” force in Kurdistan. Iraqi Kurdistan is among the most pro-American societies in the world and its government would welcome our military presence, not the least because it would help protect Kurds from Arab Iraqis who resent their close cooperation with the United States during the 2003 war. American soldiers on the ground might also ease the escalating tension between the Iraqi Kurds and Turkey, which is threatening to send its troops across the border in search of Turkish Kurd terrorists using Iraq as a haven.
From Kurdistan, the American military could readily move back into any Sunni Arab area where Al Qaeda or its allies established a presence. The Kurdish peshmerga, Iraq’s only reliable indigenous military force, would gladly assist their American allies with intelligence and in combat. And by shifting troops to what is still nominally Iraqi territory, the Bush administration would be able to claim it had not “cut and run” and would also avoid the political complications — in United States and in Iraq — that would arise if it were to withdraw totally and then have to send American troops back into Iraq.
It's a second best. First best is to win. But that will take more commitment than the administration was prepared to offer yesterday. If we forfeit the best outcome, and refuse to plan for * second best *, we stand in very grave danger of ending up with the worst.
07/26 06:39 AM