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Military Matters: Growing chaos in Iraq

Pentagon slow to spend on safety for US troops in Iraq
The Pentagon often has dragged its feet or refused to spend on safer equipment for US troops in Iraq, forcing the Congress to step in, a study published in USA Today on Tuesday found. The report came as a crucial report on the military situation is due within days in Washington. Among many examples, the newspaper cited hesitance by US army officials to buy Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles despite eager requests from commanders in Iraq. The acquisitions have become higher priorities since Robert Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld as defense chief in December more than two years after the first request from Marines in Iraq. The Defense Department said in August it had a tough time finding manufacturers and that it could only deliver to US troops in Iraq 1,500 such vehicles -- half the number due by the end of the year. Faced with Pentagon heel-dragging, the US Congress boosted budgets by several billion dollars to better fund equipping troops in Iraq, USA Today said. Lawmakers boosted by 5.2 billion dollars the budget George W. Bush's administration sought to armor Humvees used by the army in Iraq. The USA Today report quoted Senator Joseph Biden as saying Rumsfeld "and many top administration officials believed the war would end quickly," so in their view, there was "surely no need to spend large amounts of money for equipment. "The cost of ignoring the facts on the ground ... has been the lives and limbs of our sons and daughters," he said.
by William S. Lind
Washington (UPI) Sept. 4, 2007
As good news continues to flow from the U.S. "surge" -- some of it true, some of it false, and all of it spun -- it is easy to forget the bottom line. The bottom line is whether we are beginning to see the re-emergence of a state in Iraq. Recent news stories throw some light on that question, and it is not a favorable light.

Recent figures show that the number of killings taking place in Baghdad is now back to where it was a year ago.

These figures illustrate an old saying about counterinsurgency, namely that it is like trying to pick up mercury. When counterinsurgency forces surge in one place, as we have in Baghdad, the insurgents roll someplace else. Meanwhile, the insurgency as a whole continues to grow.

A story titled "Militias Seizing Control of Electricity Grid" by James Glanz and Stephen Farrell ran in the Aug. 23 New York Times. It reports, "Armed groups increasingly control the antiquated switching stations that channel electricity around Iraq, the electricity minister said Wednesday.

"That is dividing the national grid into fiefs that, he said, often refuse to share electricity generated locally with Baghdad and other power-starved areas in the center of Iraq. żż

"In some cases, Mr. Wahid and other Iraqi officials say, insurgents cut power to the capital as part of their effort to topple the government.

"But the officials said it was clear that in other cases, local militias, gangs, and even some provincial military and civilian officials held on to the power simply to try to help their own areas."

The use of the term "fiefs" is a truth-teller of some importance. The rise of fiefdoms and the transfer of loyalty to local regions are signs of movement away from a state, not toward the re-emergence of an Iraqi state. That has already happened in Iraq with regard to security. The fact that it is now spreading even into distribution of electricity from what was once a national grid is not good news. Arguably, it tells us more about the general direction of Iraq than do claims of success from the "surge."

Another story titled "Children Doing Battle in Iraq" ran in the Aug. 27 Los Angeles Times. It points to further long-term disorder in Iraq:

"Child fighters, once a rare presence on Iraq's battlefields, are playing a significant and growing role in kidnappings, killings and roadside bombings in the country, U.S. military officials say.

"Boys, some as young as 11, now outnumber foreign fighters at U.S. detention camps in Iraq. Since March, their numbers have risen to 800 from 100. żż

"The rise of child fighters will eventually make the Iraq conflict more gruesome, said Peter W. Singer, a Brookings Institution expert on child fighters.

"He said militant leaders often treat children as a cheap commodity, and peace will be less attainable because 'conflict entrepreneurs' now have an established and pliable fighting force in their communities."

As we have seen in Africa, when children become fighters at an early age they provide a pool of men who for at least a generation cannot do anything but fight. It is difficult to "deprogram" them into peaceful citizens. In turn, this leads to what we might call "supply-side war," war driven largely by the presence of men who want to fight.

This kind of half-war, half-brigandage swarmed over Europe during the interval between the end of the Middle Ages and the rise of the state. After the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, the state put an end to it by rounding up the brigands and hanging them. In Iraq, where the fictional state cannot even round up kilowatts, supply-side war suggests that disorder will be rampant, and a state non-existent, for quite some time.

When the U.S. Congress comes back into session in September to hear Gen. David Petraeus' report, we may hope that it will pursue these indicators and other truth-tellers like them and not confine itself to what the general tells it. Truth may be found more at the margins of what Petraeus says or in what he chooses not to address. For once, we need members of Congress to think like statesmen, not like lawyers.

(William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.)

related report
US commander hints at Iraq troop reduction in 2008
The US military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, hinted he may recommend a reduction of US troops there by March next year, in an interview released Tuesday.

"There are limits to what our military can provide, so, my recommendations have to be informed by -- not driven by -- but they have to be informed by the strain we have put on our military services," Petraeus said in the interview with ABC television in Baghdad.

Asked if troops could be drawn down in March 2008, the general said: "your calculations are about right."

Recommendations from Petraeus and the US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker will form a key element of a pivotal White House progress report to the Democratic-led Congress on the Iraq war due September 15.

While Democrats have demanded George W. Bush set a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces, the US president has pleaded for patience and called on lawmakers to wait for Petraeus' assessment.

While troop levels would be scaled back over the "long-term," the US general told ABC he sees the war effort as a "traditional counter-insurgency" that could last a decade.

"Iraq will be dealing with a variety of issues for quite some time, without question. What everyone needs to figure out is how much will we need to contribute, and I think the answer is, less," he said.

In an interview in June with Fox News, Petraeus said that difficulties in Iraq would not be resolved "in a year or even two years."

"In fact, typically, I think historically, counter-insurgency operations have gone at least nine or 10 years," he said at the time.

The general's reference to a possible reduction in US troops deployed in Iraq came a day after Bush, in a surprise visit to Iraq, said a reduction in combat troops was possible.

In a visit to a desert base in the western Anbar province, Bush said Monday that Petraeus and the US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, believed that "if the kind of success we are now seeing (in Anbar) continues, it is possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces."

US officials have been encouraged by former Sunni insurgents joining with US forces to fight Al-Qaeda extremists in the Anbar province, and Petraeus in his interview cited developments there as significant progress.

"That (change in Anbar) was the result, not of military actions, certainly, alone. It was the result of, really, a political shift where the population led by the sheikhs of major tribes decided to reject Al-Qaeda and its Taliban-like ideology, and the extremist behavior that they have come to associate with it," he said.

Petraeus said while Iraq was still "very dangerous" and insurgents remain "capable" of carrying out major attacks, he said the surge of extra US troops launched this year has produced an "initiative, in general, against al-Qaeda, which is a change, and that is an important change."

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Bush says fewer troops needed to maintain Iraq security
Al-Asad Air Base, Iraq (AFP) Sept 3, 2007
US President George W. Bush said during a surprise visit to Iraq on Monday that security could be maintained with fewer US troops if a turnaround in the restive province of Anbar continues.







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