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A General For Iraq

US Lt. Gen. David Petraeus.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Jan 16, 2007
President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates chose an able and experienced officer in Lt. Gen. David Petraeus to command U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. The only trouble is, they appointed him three-and-a-half years too late.

Gen. Petraeus has arguably a better command record in Iraq over the past nearly four years than any other American general. He commanded the 101st Airborne Division in the undermanned drive that toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein with minimal U.S. casualties in March-April 2003. Since then, he has earned an enviable reputation as the most thoughtful and subtle U.S. senior commander in analyzing the ever intensifying Sunni insurgency.

The traditional "American way of war" has been to fight conventional wars with overwhelming firepower. That approach, however, usually backfires in counter-insurgency conflicts because the more civilians are killed by the counter-insurgency forces when they're "unleashed," the more hatred for the counter-insurgency forces becomes widespread among the community that the insurgency is operating and recruiting among.

That is the reason that the great Israeli military historian Martin Van Creveld has argued that the main reason the British Army was so successful in the 1980s in fighting the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland was that, almost uniquely among counter-insurgency forces in modern times, it operated with such enormous restraint that it deliberately took greater casualties than it inflicted from the insurgent forces.

Gen. Petraeus has studied and sought to apply lessons learned from this and other counter-insurgency campaigns of the 20th century, both successful and unsuccessful, more than any other senior U.S. ground forces officer in the Iraq theater. President Bush and recently appointed Defense Secretary Gates may therefore now hope that Petraeus will play the role in Iraq that Gen. Matthew Ridgeway played in the 1950-53 Korean War and that Gen. Creighton Abrams played in the Vietnam War when he succeeded Gen. William Westmoreland. In both cases, the new ground forces commander brought a fresh and vigorous mind to the problem and instituted radically different tactics and command doctrines that dramatically transformed the combat situation for the better.

The problem with applying these historical analogies to Iraq, however, is that while Gen. Petraeus would have been easily the best of the available U.S. commanders to grapple with the overall challenges of the Sunni insurgency as it steadily grew from May 2003 onwards, he is now being asked to apply that expertise in a radicaly different ground situation where it is already obsolete.

For as we have repeatedly noted in these columns over the past 11 months, since Feb. 22, 2006, the war in Iraq has no longer been a classic "us versus them" counter-insurgency guerrilla conflict. It has metastasized into something far worse.

Feb. 22 was the day that Sunni insurgents bombed the al-Askariya, or Golden Mosque, in Samara, provoking a wave of murderous random reprisal killings from furious Shiite militias across Iraq. Since then, Iraq has been in the throes of a rapidly widening sectarian ethnic civil war, and, even worse, the country has been so fractured that militias within the Sunni and Shiite communities, especially the latter, have waged murderous struggles with each other as well.

The additional 20,000 U.S. troops now being sent to Iraq, primarily to help try and secure Baghdad, are therefore being thrown into the middle of a fractured country where according to officially acknowledged figures, more than 20,000 people have been killed in the past year. The real figure could easily be two or three times that.

Also, Gen. Petraeus also may very well be given strict orders to resume offensive military operations with U.S. forces against the Shiite militias in southern Iraq and Baghdad, especially against the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr. But the more he unleashes U.S. forces on these targets, the more he risks alienating the wider Iraqi Shiite community that controls the new national army and police force.

All successful counter-insurgency operations of the past century such as the British in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, in Malaya in the 1950s, Borneo in the 1960s, and in the Mandate territory of Palestine in 1936-39, have enjoyed the strong active support of large communities in the country, especially those running the local armed forces that operate in alliance with the occupying foreign peacekeeping force. But Petraeus may be forced by Washington policymakers into a situation where every Iraqi's hand is against him, Shiite and Sunni alike.

Even if that does not happen, the classic lessons of how to win hearts and minds and reduce civilian casualties or keep them low becomes irrelevant when there is no loyal, reliable central government capable of providing the basic human necessities, including security, such as remains the case in Iraq.

Gen. Petraeus therefore runs the risk of finding himself the right man in the right place at the wrong time. He would have had far more going for him had previous Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld not bullheadedly refused to consider him for the ground forces command over the past three-and-a-half years. Further, he may be forced by Washington policymakers to implement contradictory policies at the same time: Trying to win hearts and minds among the Sunnis while being forced to carry out offensive operations against Shiite militias that run the risk of turning most of the 60 percent majority Shiite community in the country into deadly enemies.

That is why, even for the U.S. general arguably best suited to tackle the challenge, the Iraq command may yet prove to be "Mission Impossible."

Source: United Press International

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No sooner did the United States invade Iraq in March 2003 than Iran poured hundreds of agents into Iraq to aid the majority Shiites in consolidating a sudden geopolitical bonus -- majority control (60 percent) over the minority Sunnis (20 percent) that had kept them in vassalage for generations. This was payback time.

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