January 15, 2007


We Might 'Win', But Still Lose (Fareed Zakaria, 1/22/07, Newsweek)

Administration officials have pointed to last week's fighting against Sunni insurgents in and around Baghdad's Haifa Street as a textbook example of the new strategy. Iraqi forces took the lead, American troops backed them up and the government did not put up any obstacles. The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger concluded that the battle "looked like a successful test of unified [American-Iraqi] effort."

But did it? NEWSWEEK's Michael Hastings, embedded with an American advisory team that took part in the fighting, reports that no more than 24 hours after the battle began on Jan. 6, the brigade's Sunni commander, Gen. Razzak Hamza, was relieved of his command. The phone call to fire him came directly from the office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite. Lt. Col. Steven Duke, commander of a U.S. advisory team working with the Iraqis, and a 20-year Army veteran, describes Hamza as "a true patriot [who] would go after the bad guys on either side." Hamza was replaced by a Shiite.

Joint operations against Shiite militias are far less likely, and not only because of political interference from the top. Groups like Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army don't generally start fire fights with the Americans or attack Iraqi forces. Their goals are different, quieter. Another U.S. adviser, Maj. Mark Brady, confirms reports that the Mahdi Army has been continuing to systematically take over Sunni neighborhoods, killing, terrorizing and forcing people out of their homes. "They're slowly moving across the river," he told Hastings, from predominantly Shiite eastern Baghdad into the predominantly Sunni west. If the 20,000 additional American troops being sent to the Iraqi capital focus primarily on Sunni insurgents, there's a chance the Shiite militias might get bolder. Colonel Duke puts it bluntly: "[The Mahdi Army] is sitting on the 50-yard line eating popcorn, watching us do their work for them."

He hears the quacking but can't accept the duck.

U.S. and Iraqis Are Wrangling Over War Plans (JOHN F. BURNS, 1/15/07, NY Times)

First among the American concerns is a Shiite-led government that has been so dogmatic in its attitude that the Americans worry that they will be frustrated in their aim of cracking down equally on Shiite and Sunni extremists, a strategy President Bush has declared central to the plan.

"We are implementing a strategy to embolden a government that is actually part of the problem," said an American military official in Baghdad involved in talks over the plan. "We are being played like a pawn."

The American military's misgivings came as new details emerged of the reconstruction portion of Mr. Bush's plan, which calls for more than doubling the number of American-led reconstruction teams in Iraq to 22 and quintupling the number of American civilian reconstruction specialists to 500. [Page A7.]

Compounding American doubts about the government's willingness to go after Shiite extremists has been a behind-the-scenes struggle over the appointment of the Iraqi officer to fill the key post of operational commander for the Baghdad operation. In face of strong American skepticism, the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, has selected an officer from the Shiite heartland of southern Iraq who was virtually unknown to the Americans, and whose hard-edged demands for Iraqi primacy in the effort has deepened American anxieties.

The Iraqi commander, Lt. Gen. Aboud Qanbar, will be part of what the Americans have described as a partnership between the two armies, with an American general, Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., commander of the First Cavalry Division, working with General Aboud, and American and Iraqi officers twinned down the operational chain.

For the Americans, accustomed to clear operational control, the partnership concept is troublesome -- full of potential, some officers fear, for dispute with the Iraqis over tough issues like applying an equal hand against Shiite and Sunni gunmen.

It would be like going after both the Viet Cong and the South Vietnamese Army just to be even-handed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 15, 2007 9:23 AM

There is something seriously wrong with the way the pundits (of all varieties) have been treating war plans and military operations as just another political campaign, subject to the same sort of analysis. It sure seems like these people only one way to interpret things, and they'll keep doing it long after it's shown that they have no idea what they are talking about.

I'm not making any Leftwing chickenhawk argument, because even the "war heroes" are just yammering. It just that everyone seems to be treating last weeks speech as just another political maneuver, or something that has failed to push up Bush's poll numbers, or how they're micro-nit-picking details of which they are totally ignorant. I really don't give a damn about [pundit X'x] opinion on the subject, as [pundit X] has no track record of success on which to base any of its opinions about this subject. Yet none of them has the intellectual honesty to admit, "I have no idea about this", but that's not stopped any of them from blathering on at length.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at January 15, 2007 6:06 PM

Of course it's just internal politics. What do we have to do with the future of Iraq? That's lesson one of of the history of intervention. We can remove regimes easy. we can't dictate what comes after.

Posted by: oj at January 15, 2007 9:42 PM


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