Regardless of your feelings or beliefs about sending more U.S troops to Iraq, you must accept the painful truth that anything we do to salvage or strengthen the existing Shia-dominated government in Iraq redounds to the benefit of Iran. If we weigh in on the side of the Sunni insurgents we run a serious risk that the Shias will attack us in strength and, at least for the short time, cut our supply lines that run through the heart of Shia territory. Moreover, anything we do to militarily challenge Iran will weaken our influence in Iraq and jeopardize the mission of our forces in Iraq.
George Bush has made his choice and it is calamitous. He rejected out of hand the proposal to “Go Home”. And dismissed the “Go Long” course of action, which would have emphasized counterinsurgency, public works vice combat, and diplomatic overtures to Iran and Syria. Instead, he has thrown his weight behind “Go Strong”.
The key elements of the “go strong” plan are outlined in the accompanying analysis by Pat Lang (see Stalingrad on the Tigris?). What is not yet announced, but implicit in the plan, is a direct attack on Moqtada al Sadr and his militia, the Jayshi al Mahdi (JAM). During their meeting in Jordan last month, George Bush reportedly told Maliki in no uncertain terms that he would have to separate himself from al Sadr or become a casualty in the upcoming offensive against the bearded cleric. Ironically, Moqtada al Sadr has discouraged sectartian strife rather than egged it on and, among the various Shia clerics, is more receptive to working with Sunni counterparts to rebuild Iraq.
It is no surpise that Maliki returned to Iraq and is making a desperate bid to align himself now with Hakim and the “moderates” in the current government and is signaling he will abandon al Sadr. Bush, in his zeal for a deal in Iraq, is either ignorant or oblivious to the fact the al Hakim (a recent visitor to the White House) is closely aligned with Iran; in contrast to al Sadr who is more independent. Notwithstanding these facts the “Decider”-in-Chief” has rolled the dice and will try to rub out Sadr’s JAM. He also is betting he can do so without provoking a full scale revolt among the Shia.
Ah, but here’s the rub. When you attack al Sadr you elevate his status. He becomes the face of the Iraqi opposition. Unlike the Jordanian Zarqawi, who met his end in June, a martyred al Sadr becomes more powerful in life than in death. It is not a question of “will the Shia retaliate”? They will. And in the process U.S. forces will once again “make” news destroying neighborhoods and civilians in Sadr City as the insurgent forces melt away; just as we did and they did in Fallujah.
But unlike Fallujah, the Shia can hurt us and hurt us bad. The vast majority of the supplies–the food, water, bullets, and bandages–sustaining our troops in Iraq flow from Kuwait in the south along the highway the runs through the middle of Shia-controlled territory in Iraq. If the Shia retaliate, as they have in the past, our lines of communication will be in jeopardy, at least over the short term.
This is more serious than going without toliet paper for a couple of days. With the anticipated surge in troops to Baghdad the logistics demands will increase. That makes the supplies from the south more, not less, critical. The tactical challenge of keeping the resupply line open is daunting. In June of this year one in every 20 convoys was attacked while heading from Kuwait to Baghdad. Now that figure is approaching one in every five. Most of these attacks appear to be the work of criminal gangs intent on filling their pockets. But the ease and frequency of these attacks should keep military commanders up at night. A concerted effort could effectively shut down our resupply effort. Any one remember Jessica Lynch and her ill-fated colleagues?
We also need to accept the fact that the ethnic partitioning of Iraq is underway and the battle is focused in and around Baghdad. The Shia essentially control the east half of Baghdad. The Sunni control the west half. Scattered throughout the city (but primarily on the outer suburbs) are mixed Sunni/Shia neighborhoods. That’s where the fighting is occuring So far the Shia appear to have the upper hand.
Early last week President Bush was touting the body count of insurgents and implying things were getting better in Iraq. But he failed to report that notwithstanding the insurgent bodies we are stacking up that the level of violence has continued to soar. The last three months in Iraq–September, October, and November–have been the most violent since George Bush announced Mission Accomplished. And December is on track to keep pace with this disturbing trend. With more troops headed into the fray more of our boys and girls will be added to the casualty lists.
Now that Bush has taken the Go Home and Go Long options off of the table we also should acknowledge that whether intended or not (and I believe it was intentional) the President has tied Bob Gates’ hands, much to the relief of the neo-cons. Gates faces a senior military leadership roiled by dissent and disgust. Many are appalled that they are being blamed for the fiasco in Iraq because they followed the orders and dictates of Bush and his political appointees. Some, like Pete Schoomacher, have seized the initiative and are going to speak candidly without regard to the effect on their careers. Schoomacher, who was called back from retirement, really does not give a shit if he is rocking the boat as long as he his certain that he is acting in the best interest of his soldiers and his country.
I am waiting for the Congress to wake up and realize that no one in the military has done an assessment of our “progress” in the war. So far the only written assessments have come from the CIA and the National Intelligence Council. No one in either CENTCOM, SOCOM, JCS, or DIA appears to have done an analysis of the trends. If they have it is the best protected secret in the U.S. Governement. I think the Generals learned from the fate of the two CIA station chiefs who provided their stark assessment in the early days of the insurgency (they sent back what is known as an AARDWOLF) about the disastrous course of the war and wound up losing their jobs. So much for rewarding candor. The military leadership got the message and has shied away from putting in writing what many concede in private to be the case.
For now the focus is on Iraq, but do not imagine for a second that the neo-cons and their patrons in the Bush Administration have given up their quest to take down Iran. The dream is alive. Iran is the longterm obsession. What the Bushies in their zeal fail to realize is that their efforts to get control over events in Iraq are destined to backfire and will make it more difficult to contain the threat they claim we face from Iran. Bush and Cheney don’t have a learning curve, it is a flat line.