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    Middle East
     Aug 3, 2007
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US military has a lose-lose dilemma in Iraq
By Michael Schwartz

President George W Bush has called on Congress, the American public, the Iraqi people and the world to suspend judgment - until at least September - on the success of his escalation of the war in Iraq, euphemistically designated a "surge". But the fact is: it has already failed and it's obvious enough why.

Much attention has been paid to the recent White House report that recorded "satisfactory performance" on eight Congressional

benchmarks and "unsatisfactory performance" on six others (with an additional four receiving mixed evaluations). Fred Kaplan of Slate and Patrick Cockburn of the Independent, among others, have demonstrated the fraudulence of this assessment. Cockburn summarized his savaging of the document thusly: "In reality, the six failures are on issues critical to the survival of Iraq while the eight successes are on largely trivial matters."

As it happens, though, these benchmarks are almost completely beside the point. They don't represent the key goals of the "surge" at all, which were laid out clearly by the president in his January speech announcing the operation:
Our troops will have a well-defined mission: to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs.
The success of such "benchmarks" can be judged relatively easily. As Bush himself put the matter: "We can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents."

This was supposed to be accomplished through two major initiatives. Most visibly, the US military was to adopt a more aggressive strategy for pacifying Baghdad neighborhoods considered strongholds for the Sunni insurgency. Occupation officials blame them for the bulk of the vehicle bombs and other suicide attacks that have devastated mainly Shi'ite neighborhoods. The second, less visible (but no less important) initiative involved subduing the Mahdi Army of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - the largest and most ferocious of the Shi'ite militias - which occupation officials blame for the bulk of death-squad murders in and around the capital.

These changes should have been observable as early as July. By then, as a "senior American military officer" told the New York Times, it would already be time to refocus attention on "restoring services and rebuilding the neighborhoods".

To judge the "surge" right now - by the president's real "benchmarks" - we need only look for a dramatic drop in vehicle and other "multiple fatality bombings" in populated areas, and for a dramatic drop in the number of tortured and executed bodies found each morning in various dumping spots around Baghdad.

By these measures, the "surge" has already been a miserable failure, something that began to be documented as early as April when Nancy Youssef of the McClatchy newspapers reported that there had been no decline in suicide-bombing deaths; and that, after an initial decline in the bodies discarded by death squads around the capital, the numbers were rising again. (These trends have been substantiated by the Brookings Institution, which has long collected the latest statistics from Iraq.)

A more vivid way to appreciate the nature of the almost instantaneous failure of the overall "surge" operation is anecdotally by reading news reports of specific campaigns - like the report Julian Barnes and Ned Parker of the Los Angeles Times sent in from Baghdad's Sunni-majority Ubaidi neighborhood, which was headlined "US troop buildup in Iraq falling short". It concluded ominously, "US forces so far have been unable to establish security, even for themselves."

Or we might note that, instead of ebbing, violence in Iraq was flooding into new areas, just beyond the reach of the US combat brigades engaged in the "surge". Or perhaps it's worth pointing out that, by July, the highly fortified Green Zone in the very heart of Baghdad - designed as the invulnerable safe haven for American and Iraqi officials - had become a regular target for increasingly destructive mortar and rocket attacks launched from unpacified neighborhoods elsewhere in the capital. According to New York Times reporters Alissa J Rubin and Stephen Farrell, the zone has been "attacked almost daily for weeks".

Or we could focus on the fact that the long supply lines needed to support the "surge" - massive convoys of trucks moving weapons, ammunition and supplies heading north from Kuwait into Baghdad - have become a regular target for insurgents. Embedded reporter Michael Yon, for instance, recently reported that, for convoys on this route, "it's not unusual to be diverted or delayed a half-dozen times or more due to real or suspected bombs".

In the end, though, perhaps the best indicator is the surging strength of the primary target of the "surge" in Shi'ite areas. Since the "surge" plan was officially launched in mid-February, according to the Times' Rubin, the Mahdi Army "has effectively taken over vast swaths of the capital".

Twenty thousand more American combat troops are now in and around the capital. (The rest of the 28,500 troops the president sent surging into Iraq have been dispatched to other provinces outside the capital.) This has meant a tripling of American troops on patrol at any given time, but it has failed to produce either significantly "fewer brazen acts of terror" or progress in "restoring services and rebuilding the neighborhoods". So it can be no surprise that the "surge" has failed to generate "growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents".

Why don't US troops protect Shi'ite sites?
Why then has the "surge" failed? And so quickly at that?

This only makes sense when you explore the strategy utilized by the US military to reduce the number of suicide bombers and the "multiple fatality bombings" they perpetrate. Terrorist attacks of this sort need four elements for success: an organization capable of creating such bombs; a pool of individuals willing to risk or sacrifice their lives to deliver the explosives; a host community willing to hide the preparations; and a target community unable to prevent the delivery of these deadly, indiscriminate weapons of massive destruction.

Virtually all of these attacks are organized by Sunni jihadis and, while the Brookings database shows that many of them are aimed at military or government targets, the majority of deaths occur in spectacular bombings of public gathering spots - "soft targets" - in Shi'ite neighborhoods. It might then have seemed logical for US commanders to concentrate their increased troop strength on these obvious delivery areas, setting up checkpoints and guard posts that would scrutinize car and truck traffic entering highly vulnerable areas.

This tactic might indeed have worked if the US were willing to form an alliance with local Shi'ite neighborhood defense forces. As it happens though, the Shi'ite communities in Baghdad are already well patrolled by the Mahdi Army, whose street fighters have proven effective in either spotting alien vehicles or responding to reports from local residents about suspicious cars or people.

However, enormous public spaces, filled with large numbers of non-residents and outside vehicles, require dense patrolling 

Continued 1 2

Iraq withdrawal follies (Jul 28, '07)

Iraq exit a simple alternative for US (Jul 20, '07)

1. The great biofuel fraud  

2. India's quiet sea power 

3. China's primal scream  

4. A shot in the arm for Lebanon

5. A new crisis in Russia-Iran relations

6. Slaving away for Uncle Sam  

7. Al-Qaeda's theological enforcer

8. Pakistan ripe for regime change

9. Peace or appeasement with Pyongyang?

( 24 hours to 23:59 pm ET, Aug 1, 2007)


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