Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Kenneth Pollack and Pax Petraeus:

Kenneth Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon write in an Op-Ed in the NYT that things are really looking up in Iraq. "We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms," they claim. And wonders of wonders, “today, morale is high," amongst our troops. After spending eight days in Iraq, Pollack an early cheerleader for going after the menace of Saddam's vast arsenal of WMD, now says "the soldiers and Marines told us they feel they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they're confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers they need to make a real difference."

Why am I having a difficult time believing any of this? I'm kind of wondering whether O'Hanlon and Pollack talked to all these supposedly giddy troops when their CO's were around. I mean, even when things are going well grunts aren't exactly that effusive about the situation they're in. Someone really said Petraeus was a "superb" commander? Common', really! I think they might be laying it on a little thick. To buy the notion that these poor bastards over there are all of a sudden happy to be having to spend another 15 months with their new allies, the same bunch of people who were just a month ago planting IEDs, is a bit much.

The main thrust of their argument, though, is that General Petraeus has finally, after four years, found the knife to cut the Gordian’s Knot of Iraq's sectarian morass. Pollack and O’Hanlon write that as a result of Marine and Army units everywhere being "focused on securing the Iraqi population, working with Iraqi security units, creating new political and economic arrangements . . . civilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began."

Really? AP reported on July 27:

"With five days to go in July, an Associated Press tally showed that at least 1,759 Iraqis were killed in war- related violence through yesterday, a more than 7 percent increase over the 1,640 who were reported killed in all of June.”

I'm curious to find out where they're getting their information from because it looks like all this great success they witnessed from their zone of embedded safety might be slightly skewed.

In any case, as another example of the "significant changes taking place" in Iraq they cite their visit to Anbar Province where they talked to "an outstanding Marine captain" whose unit was "living in harmony with a (largely Sunni) Iraqi police unit and a (largely Shiite) Iraqi Army unit. There, this Marine captain "met with the local Sunni sheiks -- all formerly allies Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups -- who were now competing to secure his friendship."

Wow, that's amazing, how pathetically naive. Has either of these guys ever heard of the Roman General Aelius Gallus, who also thought the Arabs were his friends, too? The minute these guys feel they've got al-Qaeda out of Anbar, they're going to turn on us like there's no tomorrow. "Harmony" indeed!

Then, after basking in that miraculous achievement of Anbar, they moved on to Tal Afar, where the reports of peace and brotherly love are always greatly exaggerated. After that they then sojourned to Mosul, in Nineveh Province, where they say "the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate" and "reliable police officers man the checkpoints into the cities and Iraqi Army troops cover the country-side."

Nineveh is a model of Pax Petreaus.

They should have probably done a little more homework before declaring "mission accomplished" in Nineveh because only a month ago the NYT reported the violence in Nineveh "against the Kurds and other minorities is vicious and unrelenting . . . More than 1,000 Kurdish civilians have recently been killed in Mosul." James Knight, the head of the States Department's PRT, says "The intimidation of the people is one of the dramatic ongoing problems we have." [I guess, they didn't get around to talking to him.] Knight gave a ballpark figure of 70,000 civilians having recently fled Mosul, though he couldn't tell how many of those were Kurds.

The problem in Nineveh is that since the Sunnis boycotted the elections in 2005, they only have 10 of the 41 seats on the provincial council and, according to the NYT, all the Kurds hold the "top executive positions, even though Kurds make up only 35 percent of the province." An additional point of contention among the Arabs and Kurds is that the Kurds are looking to incorporate more than third of Nineveh -- and the northern portions of Diyala province -- into their autonomous enclave in the north. These areas they call the "disputed territories" and a little noticed provision of the Iraqi constitution allows them to do it, too.

There were supposed to be local elections to more accurately represent the Sunnis -- a move the American military considers to be legitimate -- but despite the "reliable police officers" no one thinks there's any possibility of that happening any time soon. Our tragic tourists write that "a local mayor told us his greatest fear was an overly rapid American withdrawal from Iraq." Of course, what he should have been more worried about was an overly rapid withdrawal from Nineveh, which is what the Americans have just announced.

The US military says they'll be shortly turning over Nineveh to the Iraqis because things there are going so swimmingly. According to the military the 40,000 or so Iraqi security forces in Nineveh are ready to step up to the plate.

Military.com reports: "Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon told the Associated Press that if current trends hold, he would like to begin this troop reduction and change in mission in Ninevah province, where he said Iraqi army forces already are operating nearly independently. He has proposed shifting the province to Iraqi government control as early as August."

The problem with the theory of all those "reliable police officers" in Nineveh is that they are the same Sunni cops who quit enmass when the insurgents who had "fled" Fallujah in November 2004, before the American onslaught, redeployed to Mosul running rampant through the streets killing everyone in sight and burning down police stations. The deputy governor of Nineveh, Khasro Goran estimates, according to the Times that, "a third to half of the existing police force still aids or sympathizes with the insurgency."

And although it’s great that the Kurds in the two Iraqi Army divisions in Nineveh are working well with Sunni General Moutaa Jassim Habeeb, the Sunni politicians in Baghdad are trying to replace him with a hardliner more to their liking. Deputy governor Goran tells the NYT that is this happens "no Kurdish soldier will remain in the division."

Pollack and O'Hanlon write that because of the additional troops available to General Petraeus in the surge, he can "hold areas until they are truly secure before redeploying units and the increasing competence of the Iraqis has another critical effect: no more whack-a-mole." Except in Nineveh, I guess, where we're leaving and many of the al-Qaeda types have reappeared to fight the Kurds and their ambitions for taking parts of Diyala and other "disputed territories."

The key is, really, how much force do you need." -- Gen. David Petraeus

We may or may not be finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least militarily, but when you see the latest report from OXFAM that says, "Seventy percent of Iraqi residents lack adequate water supplies, compared with 50 percent in 2003, while more than 4 million people have been displaced during that time. Yet funding for humanitarian assistance in Iraq has declined precipitously, from $453 million in 2005 to $95 million in 2006,"[WaPo] you have to wonder what the point is.

Are we going to drop a smart bomb on the sewage running down the streets or kick in the door of hunger? How many more troops do we need to put 4 million Iraqis back in their homes. How long will that take? Have you signed up you 8 year old yet for ROTC?


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