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The way ahead in Iraq

By Jeff Lukens
web posted May 14, 2007

Recently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid bluntly stated that he believes the war in Iraq is lost. His party gained control of Congress last fall on the voter's belief that a new approach toward the war was needed, but not simply to cut and run. Sen. Reid and his party have never been honest about their intentions regarding the war, but now they are in the open.

We can be sure that Democratic opposition to the war will become ever more brazen in the time ahead. Even ardent supporters of the war must concede that the time for a major US presence in Iraq is growing short.

So, what do we do about bringing a successful conclusion to our involvement in Iraq? Many reports from Iraq discuss the current conditions, but few address comprehensively what to do about resolving the war.

The search for a realistic assessment and comprehensive plan for the future of Iraq brings us to retired US Army General and Adjunct Professor at West Point, Barry McCaffrey. He recently returned from Iraq after meetings with military and political leaders, and has reported his findings.

McCaffrey has been generally independent in his evaluations of the war effort, and has no political ax to grind. His frank and analytical appraisal is illuminating on what must be done now to achieve some measure of victory. The following is a summary of his report.

The Problem

Iraq is embroiled in a low intensity civil war that is slowly worsening. As many as 3000 of its citizens are murdered every month. Although we have killed and arrested and huge numbers of insurgents they continue to regenerate their numbers. Their sophistication and lethality increase even while incurring staggering losses.

Meanwhile, US domestic support for the war has dissipated, and many Americans now think the war was a mistake. Congress now is fixated on constraining the Administration in Iraq. US casualties in Iraq now exceed 27,000 killed and wounded, and the war is costing us $9 Billion per month.

Stateside troop readiness is deteriorating and equipment is wearing out. Many units have served multiple deployments, and we are now extending those deployments for longer time periods. At this rate, the continued deployment rate is simply not sustainable with the troops we have available.

This year, we will need to call up many National Guard units for involuntary second tours this year. Some believe another round of call-ups could destroy the National Guard structure and endanger domestic security.

Iraq's neighbors (except Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) provide little political or economic cooperation to the Maliki government. Our allies, including the UK, are leaving, and we will soon be largely on our own. Moreover, the war in Iraq could spillover into a larger Middle East struggle, and could produce another generation of Americans who lack confidence in our politicians, media, and military leadership.

The Current Situation

Since the arrival of General David Petraeus in Iraq our circumstances have measurably improved.

The Maliki government has authorized the elimination of elements of Sadr organization. Sadr and many of his leaders have fled. The Madi army has grounded their weapons, taken down checkpoints, stopped the intimidation of Sunnis, and ended resistance to coalition forces.

Violence has dramatically dropped. The Iraqis themselves are now stepping up with more volunteers for Police and Army units. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are showing greater determination to pursue insurgents. The Iraqi people are encouraged, and Baghdad has sprung back to life.

Many Sunnis now understand that they made a mistake by not participating in the elections. Sunnis are now joining the ranks of the Iraqi Police, and many are now battling Al Qaeda terrorists. Sunnis have also become concerned about the tenuous presence of coalition forces, and that those forces are all that stand between them and an overwhelming Shia-Kurdish majority who were barbarically treated by Saddam.

McCaffrey acknowledges that time is limited, but we can still establish a stable and lawful Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors, and that governs in a consensus among Shia, Sunni, and Kurds.

Reconciliation of the internal warring elements in Iraq will be how we eventually win the war in Iraq --- if it happens. There is a very sophisticated and carefully integrated approach by the Iraqi government and Coalition actors to defuse the armed violence from internal enemies and bring people into the political process. There are encouraging signs that the peace and participation message does resonate with many of the more moderate Sunni and Shia warring factions.

The Way Ahead

No one doubts that opponents of the war will badger President Bush for the remainder of his term. Yet Democratic control of Congress may inadvertently provide a useful backdrop that Ambassador Ryan Crocker could use to stress upon the Maliki administration that they must act quickly.

While it is unlikely that Democrats can constitutionally force President Bush to withdraw, the next President will likely have 12 months or less to "get Iraq straight" before he or she will be forced to depart. Therefore, our "planning horizons" should assume that a substantial US presence in Iraq will not last beyond 2009. Considering that some form of insurgency could last a decade, our withdrawal from Iraq presents a "fundamental dilemma for US policymakers."

The primary war winning strategy for the United States in the coming 12 months must be for Ambassador Ryan and General Petraeus to focus their considerable personal leadership skills on getting the top 100 Shia and Sunni leaders to walk back from the edge of all-out civil war. Reconciliation is the way out. There will be no imposed military solution with the current non-sustainable US force levels. Military power cannot alone defeat an insurgency — the political and economic struggle for power is the actual field of battle.

McCaffrey believes the current surge is necessary to provide to US leaders on the ground the political backing and resources they need to achieve their goals. Gen. Petraeus has said, we must "achieve an outcome sustainable by the Iraqis."

The surge must be accompanied by a corresponding surge in Iraqi troops, but that effort is staining the limits of their forces as well. The Iraqi government must continue to increase the size of ISF forces to replace US forces while we draw down. The increased US presence during the surge will give them time to do so.

A sufficient but not necessary condition of success is adequate resources to build an Iraqi Army, National Police, local Police, and Border Patrol. We are still in the wrong ballpark. The Iraqis need to capacity to jail 150,000 criminals and terrorists. They must have an air force with 150 US helicopters. (The US Armed Forces have 100+ medevac helicopters and 700 lift or attack aircraft in-country.) They need 5000 light armored vehicles for their ten divisions. They need enough precision, radar-assisted counter-battery artillery to suppress the constant mortar and rocket attacks on civilian and military targets. They should have 24 C130's---and perhaps three squadrons of light ground attack aircraft. I mention these numbers not to be precise — but to give an order of magnitude estimation that refutes our current anemic effort. The ISF have taken horrendous casualties. We must give them the leverage to replace us as our combat formations withdraw in the coming 36 months.

Finally, we must focus on the creation of a regional dialog led by the Iraqis with US active participation. The diplomatic process in the short run is unlikely to produce useful results. However, in the coming five years --- it will be a prerequisite to a successful US military withdrawal --- that we open a neutral and permanent political forum (perhaps in Saudi Arabia) in which Iraq's neighbors are drawn into continuing cooperative engagement. A regional war would be a disaster for 25 years in the Mid-East. A continuing peace discussion forum may give us the diplomatic leverage to neutralize these malignant forces that surround and menace Iraq.

McCaffrey also stresses that US Armed Forces cannot sustain the current deployment rate. The United States will be at risk to the many other threats around the world if we do not strengthen "our undersized and under-resourced" ground forces. The rebuilding process could go on years after we draw down from Iraq.

Last November, voters said they wanted a new approach to the war, and President Bush has given it to them with Petraeus and his counterinsurgency strategy. Domestic opinion is not calling for sudden withdrawal, but we cannot expect their patience for a large US presence in Iraq to last beyond 2009.

The surge has improved our situation, as well as our chances for ultimate success, in Iraq. It would be the height of folly to not see the surge through just as we are beginning to see signs of success. ESR

Jeff Lukens is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc.. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. Jeff Lukens can be contacted at www.jefflukens.com.


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