Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Iraq Situation

It has been five years since the invasion of Iraq. It has been almost a year since my last Iraq specific post. So I suppose it is time to look at the way things are going.

Back in February 2005 in An Event Table Not a Timetable I commented on the many calls for a “Timetable” to withdraw from Iraq:

Some are calling for the Administration to publish a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. The Administration is politely declining to do so.

And so why not?

Any timetable assumes that specific events will happen before any point on the timetable. If the table is published all those who disagree, especially the insurgents, can plan their activities to ensure that the required events cannot happen on time. Even if militarily insignificant every failure to meet the table is a political and psychological defeat. All guerrilla wars are highly influenced by political and psychological factors. Announcing a timetable is a set up for embarrassment at least.

But doesn’t there have to be some sort of basis for planning?

Well yes, but a published timetable is not it. The proper way is to have a table of the desired events. This would underlie a timetable any way, but if the events move forward or backward, or are out of sequence we are not trapped by an artificial artifact.

And going out on a limb I pointed out one of the big events.

This week’s dead tree version [of the Army Times} carries the headline. “Your ‘Ticket Out of Iraq’ - 15,000 troops whose tours were extended are coming home – How fast can the Iraqi soldiers take over for the rest?” There is a four-page spread on different units and experiences in training Iraqi units. The Iraqi units involved are paired with US units. The message is clear “’get these guys trained!’ so we can come home and stay there.”

So how is this going? The Iraqi troops in the articles were “not up to US Army standards” but getting better. The US trainers had good relationships with the Iraqi’s and were confident in their success. The best overall source is from Global Security here and here. It appears that progress is being made - slowly.

And a quote from General Petraeus I had forgotten about “. . . I want to get the hell out of here."

It is symptomatic of the handling of the Defense Department that sending trainers to train the new Iraqi Army did not happen until close to 18 months after the collapse of the old Iraqi Army and the capture of Baghdad.

I spent most of my military time in training units, staffs and schools. Training an Army from the the ground up is a massive job, during a war is not the ideal time and place, even so it has taken longer than I expected.

In July 2007 I ranted about possibility of a A March UpCountry? included an overview of the situation:

The original insurgency of pro-Saddam Baathists has been effectively defeated since the end of 2005. Of course like all insurgencies some idiots will be throwing bombs for years, but it is really an Iraqi police problem at this point. Al Quida is on the run, its policy of trying to get Iraqi support by killing Iraqis, only got Iraqis mad. They may be more than a strict police problem at this point, but AQ is not likely to overthrow an Iraqi government of any type. Since about the beginning of 2006 a number of armed groups that had been sitting out the original insurrengency decided it was time to use force to get a better bargaining position for the final settlement, maybe even settle old scores, and get rid of some competitors. This is a very different dynamic than previously, which could be analyzed in the framework of standard guerilla warfare. Now we have groups that purport to represent major portions of Iraqi society, though if they weren’t armed and willing to kill people it is doubtful how much support they would have. When commentators in the last year or so have been worried that Iraq was slipping into a civil war they are expressing a concern that these groups may be able to pull whole sections of Iraqi society in to combat with other sections. Some of these groups have better outside forign connections than the Baathists which is why we are seeing more foreign (especially Iranian) weapons and other support than the Baathists received

The role of military action is limited but critical. They have to keep all the non-government factions from getting into a military position where they can dictate their terms, hurt them enough that a peaceful settlement will get them more than they have the ability to take by force. This has to be done without alienating the larger groups the militants claim to represent. Basically this is protecting the Iraqi Governments efforts to reach a peaceful settlement. The war will not be won by a straight military victory in the field, but also it can’t be done without military operations. The war can be lost militarily.

Now the the Long War Journal in [the] Iraqi Army presses into Sadr City tells us that

The Iraqi Army said three of its brigades were involved in the operation, and moved into Sadr City in seven convoys. Six of the nine available battalions from the three brigades were pushed into Sadr City. Between 4,000 and 5,000 Iraqi troops are now operating inside Sadr City.
The US military, including the advisory teams, has not entered the northern areas of Sadr City. "No U.S. troops have gone beyond Quds Street," said Lieutenant Colonel Steven Stover, the chief Public Affairs Officer for Multinational Division Baghdad, in an e-mail to The Long War Journal. "This is an Iraqi planned, led, and executed operation. US soldiers are providing advice, intelligence and enabling support."

This is an operation the size of the attack on Fullajah in November 2004. That the Iraqi's are able to launch it pretty much on their own is compelling evidence of a major training success for the Iraqi Army. It was the failure of a similar Iraqi only operation in December 2005-January 2006 that set the events in place that led to the surge. That operation failed because they did not have enough strength and too many of the units were not up to the opposition they faced. With the success of the Iraqi dominated operation in Basra recently it seems that the Iraqi Army has achieved a decent level of maturity.

The Long War Journal adds:

Sadr and his political movement have become increasingly isolated since the fighting began in Basrah, Baghdad, and the South. The Iraqi government, with the support of the political parties, said the Sadrist political movement would not be able to participate in upcoming provincial elections if it failed to disband the Mahdi Army. On April 13, the cabinet approved legislation that prevents political parties with militias from contesting provincial elections this year. The bill is now in parliament for approval. Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, the top Shiite cleric in Iraq, said the Mahdi Army was not above the law and should be disarmed. Sadr has refused to disband the Mahdi Army.

Militarily, as noted above the original Baathist insurgency is defeated. Al Quida in Iraq is pretty much confined to the Mosul area and fighting to survive. Most of the Sunni groups have sought a separate peace with the Iraqi Government, and the Sadr forces are the last major Shia holdouts.

Some events that are late by any time table that would have been made in 2005, but real none the less.

Since you can click on my links and see how many predictions I got wrong, I’m not going to make any more.

My Iraq topic posts.


Roy said...

Hank: Thanks for noting that slowly, but surely, we're getting there. Your post of posts reminds me that occasionally we have to step back and view the aggregate. The progress is impressive. I will pass it along to fellow advisors on the ground here. Thanks again!

hank_F_M said...


Thanks for the comment.

Keep up the good work!

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