Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Pentagon Speak: The subtle shift from insurgency to civil war

It was the summer of 2003, and General John Abizaid was the first high-ranking commander to term the continuing conflict in Iraq an insurgency. Colonel Hammes notes this as stating the "obvious" in The Sling and the Stone, however, it is important to pay careful attention to what the commanders will admit in public.

This is why when General Abizaid said that the nature of the insurgency was changing, it deserved notice. The A.P. from last week:
Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, suggested separately that Iraq has been moving in the direction of civil war and described the situation in Iraq as "changing in its nature from insurgency toward sectarian violence."
It would be foolish to say that General Abizaid is ahead of the curve on his analysis in Iraq, as he is expressing merely the potential for a civil war that Rep. Murtha and Senator Harkin -- among others -- state has been actualized.

But, the opinion of prominent commanders appears to be changing, and quickly. On the March 5 edition of Meet the Press, General Pace stated that the Iraqis were not trending toward a civil war.
MR. RUSSERT: Anything can happen. Seventy-three percent of the American people believe we are headed to a likely civil war.

GEN. PACE: Anything can happen, and I agree with George Casey, and he’s a very practical commander because he needs to be focused on the worst that could happen so he can be ready for it. Having said that, I believe that the Iraqi people having shown—shown in the last week to 10 days that they do not want a civil war. They are not attacking each other’s mosque—mask—excuse me—mosques. You know, there was reports that there were hundreds of mosques attacked, not true, the number is somewhere in the range of about 30, of which less than half a dozen actually had significant damage done. The Iraqi people want to have calm, and they’re working hard together, especially amongst their leaders, both political and religious, to maintain that calm.
General Pace's assessment, which can not be underestimated in its importance, seems to have changed. The Baltimore Sun reports that the General said:
"The Iraqi people themselves are standing at a crossroads, and they are making critical decisions for their country right now about which road they'll take," Pace said in a speech at the Hyatt Regency hotel.

"Everything is in place if they want to have a civil war," he said. "Everything is also in place if they want to have a united, unified future."

Pace spoke at the end of a day during which President Bush twice used the term "civil war" in a speech about Iraq, though only to describe the objectives of insurgents, supporters of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida members, not to characterize the current state of events.
The definition of this conflict is the most crucial question. Not only is it necessary to know the type of conflict in which one is engaged, it is vitally important to have this knowledge to ascertain the risk to U.S. troops.

CNN reports today:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Authorities said at least 86 bodies were found in the Iraqi capital during a 30-hour period ending midday Tuesday, sparking fears that sectarian reprisal killings are continuing at a grisly pace.
Reprisal killings in Iraq have become common and sustained. It is unlikely that the increased sectarian divides in the country combined with the recent bloody tit-for-tat will diminish. This presents a tremendous risk to our armed forces and must be the crucial point of debate going forward -- historians can ascribe blame for past errors.

The administration has two flaws: a reluctance to admit fault and a profound lack of situational awareness. We have seen this with the Dubai Port World deal, Hurrican Katrina, and many times in Iraq.

My fear is that these two flaws and the degrading situation in Iraq will result in a prolonged and dangerous involvement in the developing civil war. This administration exaggerated the country into a war it wanted to fight, it is going to stumble into a civil war. March 10's New York Times had the following exchange:
"In recent days, Iraq has only narrowly missed descending into an all-out civil war, and top administration officials acknowledged that the threat of civil war is still very real," Mr. Byrd said. "The Congress and the public have a right to know the administration's plans for Iraq before scores of additional billions of dollars, billions of dollars, are spent in that war."

He pressed Mr. Rumsfeld for assurances that any emergency money approved "won't be used to put our troops right in the middle of a full-blown Iraqi civil war."

"Senator, I can say that certainly it is not the intention of the military commanders to allow that to happen," Mr. Rumsfeld replied. "The plan is to prevent a civil war, and to the extent one were to occur, to have the — from a security standpoint — have the Iraqi security forces deal with it to the extent they're able to."
Some experts state that the question for Iraq is how to keep a civil-sectarian conflict from spreading throughout the region. On the March 12 edition of Meet the Press, Senator Joe Biden said:
MR. RUSSERT: But finish that statement. If they don’t get another government in the next six to eight weeks, what happens?

SEN. BIDEN: I think what happens is you’re—we have to decide how we’re going to deal with, it’s going to be a different circumstance. It’ll be closer to a civil war. We’re going to have to have a different function for our troops. You’re going to have to have a plan B. You’re going to have to figure out how to contain rather than how to, how to build. And that’s a very much tougher circumstance to be in.

MR. RUSSERT: Should we get out?

SEN. BIDEN: No. No, I think we’re going to have to get out. Look, this administration is already on the glide path to get out. We’re already drawing down troops. They’re going to draw down troops, as I said on your program a while ago, they’re going to get down to 100,000 before the end of this year. They’re going to be down to somewhere around 30,000 next year. There’s not a whole lot of difference between the Murtha plan, what these guys are talking about, in terms of timing, that’s the difference.

But, look, we, we have vital interests that are there. We—it’s bad enough it’s a civil war. It’ll be a lot worse if it’s a regional war. So, and I don’t see, look, if the president, instead of deciding to make a series of speeches here at home, should be on a plane. He should get on a plane and be dealing with world leaders to try to generate an international consensus to put international pressure on the parties to make the concessions that are needed. I can’t imagine if this were Reagan or Kennedy or FDR, they wouldn’t be on a plane. We don’t have to convince the Americans, but you’ve got to convince these folks to get together. And it’s very, very, very, very difficult. It will not be done just by our ambassador alone.
Military leaders must be aware of the nature of the conflict and the realm of possible actions. The window for rebuilding Iraq is closing at an alarming rate -- the cautions of many at the State Department before the war seem to be playing out. This administration, in a fit of pride and ignorance, will deny the actual nature of this conflict as the sectarian-civil war escalates in demographically mixed areas, such as Baghdad.

Something like the Murtha plan may be the answer. Murtha called for the redeployment of most American forces as soon as practicable. He also called for "a quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S. Marines shall be deployed in the region." This could leave some U.S. forces in the region, perhaps attacking known al Qaeda areas in the Sunni triangle. The over-the-horizon force could intervene to protect (by augmenting Iraqi military formations) civilian populations that may be in danger of reprisal attacks.

The people of Iraq, by in large, do not support al Qaeda in their country -- even if they support the likes of al Sadr. Operating in the troubled regions of Iraq to suppress al Qaeda would not be dissimilar to our smaller commitments in Taliban-held Afghanistan.

This dramatic shift in forces and mission is not a great plan. But, allowing this administration to stumble together its course of action would be a tragedy.


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