Increasingly, I grow more and more frustrated by the Bush administration's complete ignorance -- or unwillingness to be honest -- about the difficult counterinsurgency work remaining in Iraq. Yes, more Iraqi units enter the field every day. Yes, their training improves on a daily basis as well. But, American forces are undermanned in Ramadi and throughout the country.
Todd Pitman of the AP
Though not powerful enough to overrun U.S. positions, insurgents here in the heart of the Sunni Muslim triangle have fought undermanned U.S. and Iraqi forces to a virtual stalemate.
"It's out of control," says Army Sgt. 1st Class Britt Ruble, behind the sandbags of an observation post in the capital of Anbar province. "We don't have control of this ... we just don't have enough boots on the ground."
Reining in Ramadi, through arms or persuasion, could be the toughest challenge for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's new government. Al-Maliki has promised to use "maximum force" when needed. But three years of U.S. military presence, with nearly constant patrols and sweeps, hasn't done it.
Today Ramadi, a city of 400,000 along the main highway running to Jordan and Syria, 70 miles west of Baghdad, has battles fought in endless circles. Small teams of insurgents open fire and coalition troops respond with heavy blows, often airstrikes or rocket fire that's turned city blocks into rubble.
"We're holding it down to a manageable level until Iraqis forces can take over the fight," Marine Capt. Carlos Barela said of the daily violence battering the city.
Counterinsurgency doctrine calls for one soldier/Marine for every 25 civilians in the area. That would mean a force of 16,000 just
for Ramadi. TIME
magazine reported on Sunday that Ramadi is under the control of the Army's 2/28th Brigade Combat Team. As of June 2005
, that unit had 4,000 men to field. I would expect that number to be accurate, or close to accurate, for their strength today.
Political pressure is mounting in Britain and America to sizeably reduce the foreign footprint in Iraq. The Times of London
reports that British withdrawals could be a matter of weeks away. It is no secret that Bush and the Pentagon would like to announce a troop level of 100,000 before the November elections. However, Rumsfeld and Bush have bullied the military into accepting too few troops throughout the Iraq campaign. With false pride, they assert that only the Bush White House has the guts to stick with this mission till it is accomplished; hence they refuse to set a timetable to withdraw (though one exists to some extent as evidenced by that 100,000 signpost).
Yet, our troops fight on -- and they are still needed in parts of Iraq.
Bing West for Slate
on Palestine Street, Baghdad:
Lt. Altawee stopped before a long table that blocked half the street. Sitting on stools and broken chairs were a dozen men with weathered faces, too poor to afford coffee or tea, sitting idly, staring at the soldiers.
"Iraqi soldiers, yes! American soldiers, yes!" an older man burst out in English. "Police, no!"
"Fadhal has a mean reputation," Davenport said. "You don't come down here if they don't want you here. They fought the police the other night. They don't trust them."
The patrol continued past a large mosque guarded by soldiers.
"Sadr's militia tried to take it over," Capt. Muhamed Eba, 28, explained. "We got here first. They drove up, shouting and honking horns. Then they drove away. They knew they'd lose. We have the Americans."
He pointed his finger toward Davenport. As the twilight darkened, the traffic thinned out, and the shopkeepers began pulling down the aluminum siding that protected their storefronts.
Bush wants to package some quick exit and incomplete mission as his gutsy legacy. Perhaps he's using his spotty record with the Air National Guard as a guide. No one who authors a competent history of this period will be deceived, and few who witness this so-called war-time president are deceived today.
My fear is that Bush and Rove will lose the Fall elections and paint an exit from Iraq as a left-wing goal. As I see it, there are three options. Bush's stumbling toward failure. A quick-exit to restore the military. Or, following actual counterinsurgency doctrine (for once) and trying to win a war. The first option is the worst. The second the least costly, and the third may not be politically tenable. But, that needs to be the debate.
How much longer will they have the Americans? Will the war still be conducted by the terrible team of Bush and Rumsfeld?