Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The so-called "surge"

George W. Bush will announce Wednesday a “surge” of additional American military power to achieve his goal of a stable, democratic Iraq that is a reliable ally in the war on terror. The “benchmarks” that the president believes will lead Iraq to that goal are the same as they were more than two years ago: bring the Sunnis into the political process and develop a way to share oil revenue. While these have been the requested diplomatic objectives for the Iraqi government for some time, the amount of progress for both has been negligible.

The first point that should be addressed is that this is not a “surge”. This is a gradual increase in combat power over the next few months, brigade by brigade. The connotation of a surge is a massive increase in numbers in a short period of time. We can expect about 7,000 or so additional combat troops in Iraq in addition to the 130,000 that are presently there. Last month, Marines were removed from warships and sent to al Anbar. To replace this reserve force, a brigade of the 82nd Airborne has moved to the region. Reports indicate that some Marine units would stay in Iraq on longer tours; I believe the number was two regiments. This is what the so-called surge will look like: battalions of Marines held for additional months, brigades of the Army moved into place a little more quickly than originally planned.

Most likely, this incremental increase is called a “surge” not because that is an accurate description, but rather because the accurate description would resemble the term “escalation”. “Surge” sounds powerful and sudden – perhaps implying a quick recession or at the very least an overwhelming force. This step-by-step addition of more combat power seems more deliberate and longer lasting. It is a boost.

To augment the additional combat power from brigades of our military, the Iraqi government will commit three brigades in Baghdad – perhaps taking the lead in central Baghdad. In the last major operation in Baghdad (Forward Together/Together Forward) the Iraqis pledged six battalions – literally a fraction of their latest promise. For that operation, the Iraqis mustered merely two of the promised six battalions.

There is reason to believe, however, that this will not happen again. The Kurdish Peshmerga will comprise two of the three brigades pledged by the government. The Peshmerga is probably the best force the Iraqi government can wield at this time, however, they are a longstanding militia of Kurdistan. In the upcoming operation, the Peshmerga will be the best unit under the government’s banner, but they don’t even fly the Iraqi flag in their native region.

Why have the Kurds made this surprisingly robust contribution to this operation? The security situation in Baghdad is dire, and a collapse of the Iraqi government could disturb Kurdish business deals and their regional stability. For the Kurds, the Iraqi government is a promising institution for the next few years. The leaders of Kurdistan may also recognize that American political will continues to recede from Iraq. Without a change in the course of the war, that political will shall affect the country of Iraq after the 2008 elections.

One Kurdish issue that relates to the aforementioned political settlement is the oil-rich area around Kirkuk. That city was once held firmly by a Kurdish majority. Saddam, however, proceeded with an Arabization of the city to enrich his sectarian backers. The Kurds would like a referendum on the city’s fate in late 2007, to bring it into their semi-autonomous region. This is strongly opposed by the Sunni-Arabs in Iraq and by Kurdistan’s neighbor, Turkey.

I doubt a Shiite dominated army would be very effective against a Sunni insurgency in al Anbar. There is no oil in that region, and the Shiite are likely to look after their interests in the region where their population is based. They would only attack Sunnis in al Anbar if it meant security in Baghdad and the south. In Baghdad, a dramatic demographic shift has been underway for some time. Christopher Hitchens recently wrote, from the capitol, that the Shiite militias (who are a strong component of the security forces) were intimidating and killing Sunnis to provide for easy access to the Shiite power base in the southern part of the country. The inability of the Iraqi government to muster four of the previously promised six battalions in Baghdad serves as another notice that a cohesive, national security force is not yet present – and won’t be for some time.

This begs the question: why would the Kurds send their venerable Peshmerga into the sectarian bloodbath that is Baghdad? We shall only know their motivations when they are acting upon their desires. But, I am worried about this unusual Kurdish initiative outside of their region.

The last issue to consider is Maliki’s governance and Sadr’s militia. The latter, at least at an organizational level, has been the leader of the Shiite death squads. This is not to say that elements of Badr or Dawa are not also responsible for ethnic cleansing. Sadr’s band just has grabbed the headlines with their bloody work. Unless Sadr’s militia is kept in check, the Sunni insurgency will doubt the government and attack with furor. It is clear that Iraq is in a state of self-perpetuating sectarian violence. It’s probably worse than a classical civil war. The Sunni insurgency is quite strong, and will draw upon resources and volunteers from neighboring Sunni-Arab states.

Apparently, this so-called “surge” is based on the premise that if security is established, a political deal can be reached. The absence of political compromise has brought us to this point. It is hard to imagine how a compromise can develop in 2007, or how this small “surge” will substantial alter that important fact.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi C.E.,

Re: the Neocon's surreal "surge" strategy, have you seen this ??

Also, I quite liked Gary “War Nerd” Blecher's eulogy: behind the cynicism and gory “social Darwinism”, one finds admiration and respect for the man.

Même les polémistes "sans foi ni loi" ont un coeur as they say in Gallikistan!


6:56 PM  
Blogger Praguetwin said...

Perhaps the Kurds are looking to score points in order to extract a concession on the Kirkuk referendum. The ISG was adamant that such a referendum not take place in 2007 but the Kurds seem quite keen on making that happen.

It is indeed hard to see how an increase in troop levels up to previous levels that did not quell the insurgency or provide for general security in 2004 is going to achieve those goals in 2007.

Good analysis.

6:32 AM  
Blogger Chuck said...

The "surge" as depicted will be an increase in the number of troops over a period of time, maybe up to a year. This is not a surge but a trickle.

Hitler made the same mistake in France and in Russia where he fed his troops into battle piecemeal. He lost 6 armies this way and we all know the final result.

I have been very supportive of Bush all through the Iraq thing but I disagree with this approach. If we are going to win this war, we have to go in with an irresistable force up to and including massive artillary and air strikes. 20,000- 40,000 troops alone will not do the trick.

We have got to be ruthless in order to win or if we don't have the stomach for that, we should pull out.

9:08 AM  
Blogger copy editor said...

PT, that is what I was getting at with Kirkuk.

Chuck, your comments have been great lately.

Doc, that link did not work last night. I've read Blecher. He's interesting, but he needs to shave and go on a diet. ;-)

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi CE,

“I've read Blecher. He's interesting, but he needs to shave and go on a diet. ;-)”

It’s not ‘Blecher’ (a nom de plume/guerre) on that black & white picture- Wikipedia says it’s the photo of some obese Norwegian punk musician!

You say:
If we are going to win this war, we have to go in with an irresistable force up to and including massive artillary and air strikes. 20,000- 40,000 troops alone will not do the trick.

Problem is defining the word “winning” here: what’s the objective in Iraq? To destroy the Arab world’s most secular/Christian-friendly regime and hand a quarter of the world’s proven oil reserves to a puppet government controlled by Iran’s mullahs? If so, the brilliant Clausewitzes of Tex-Aviv have already achieved “victory”...

1:33 PM  

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