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One Size Does Not Fit All In Iraq

Gen. Petraeus is unlikely to improve the situation in Iraq, but he could make it worse. Moreover, to find a Grant you must also have a Lincoln, and there is little to indicate that President George W. Bush is a Lincoln. Today, moral courage seems absent at both the military and the political levels of leadership.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington DC (UPI) Feb 12, 2007
Gen. David Petraeus, who was promoted to four star status this weekend to command U.S. and allied ground forces in Iraq, has a deeper, better understanding of the principles of guerrilla war and counter-insurgency than probably than any other four-star office in the U.S. Army. But he is being sent out to command a situation that has deteriorated far beyond the parameters of conventional guerrilla war.

The greatest danger facing Petraeus as he seeks to implement nationwide in Iraq the principles that worked well for him in the northern region of the country when he commanded there, is that he may not be able to adapt to conditions and problems very different from -- and far worse than -- the conditions he experienced in the north, or that he discussed in the U.S. counter-insurgency manual he co-wrote with Conrad Crane.

Petraeus' work on the counter-insurgency manual was widely recognized as first class and it filled a major, outdated gap in the combat doctrine of the U.S. Army.

One of the many tragedies and "might-have-been" missed opportunities of the Iraq war is that Petraeus was not sent to command in Baghdad three or even nearly four years before he did. Had he applied the principles he discussed in the counter-insurgency manual on the ground in the Iraqi capital of six million people in April 2003 and onward, the Sunni insurgency might never have metastasized as dangerously as it did.

Ironically, at that time, Petraeus signed on to the "lean, mean, fast" strategy of then U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that only 130,.000 to 150,000 U.S. troops were required to hold all of Iraq after the country's long-time dictator Saddam Hussein had been toppled by the lightning thrusts of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division.

The one senior U.S. Army commander who got the situation right was Gen. Eric Shinseki, who was publicly humiliated by Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, for warning before the start of combat operations on March 19, 2003 that hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops would be needed to secure Iraq once it had been conquered.

In any event, any manual, however prescient, comprehensive and brilliant, has to be applied in different ways to different cases.

Petraeus heads for Iraq confident in the relative success of his pacification efforts in the north of the country. But he was securing a major city, Mosul, is Iraq's third-largest city with about 1,750,000 people, but there are at least six million in Baghdad, two million of them in the Mahdi Army Shiite militia stronghold of the Sadr City district alone. And the Sunni insurgency he faces is far more ferocious by orders of magnitude in Baghdad than it was up north.

Worse yet, there was the makings of a basic government backed by general popular consensus in the Kurdish-dominated north. The Kurds had hated Saddam and have always been by far the most pro-American of all the ethnic and religious groups in Iraq. By contrast, the Shiite majority in Baghdad is not even reliably loyal, let alone enthusiastic, about their own Shiite-dominated government.

A network of rival Shiite militias, some more anti-American, some less so, in various stages of competition and conflict with each other, are the real framework of whatever order -- without any law -- that now rules in Baghdad.

As UPI Military Matters columnist William S. Lind has noted, these militias, the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the Shiite religious establishment led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani have shown themselves willing to wait on the sidelines and avoid any significant conflict with U.S. forces so long as those U.S. troops in Iraq do their own dirty work for them and fight or eliminate the Sunni insurgents and militias that are the only effective government in Sunni neighborhoods.

Lind predicts that when Petraeus implements the first stage of his strategy to drive the Sunni insurgents out of Sunni neighborhoods in the Iraqi capital, the Shiite militias will stand back and let it happen. But he warns that, if or when Petraeus then attempts to apply the same tactics against Shiite militia forces, all the furies of a popular uprising may break loose on the suddenly beleaguered U.S. forces.

There are other dangers that could derail the Petraeus "surge and secure" strategy. If the United States undertakes air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities while the anti-Sunni drive is in progress, the Mahdi Army and some other Shiite forces supported by Iran are likely to jump off the fence and start attacking U.S. forces immediately. A messy, confused and chaotic three-way war would then erupt in the streets of Baghdad, with an outcome no one could predict.

Also, the failure of the democratically elected Iraqi government to provide the most basic standards of security and public services to the Iraqi people, especially in their own capital, has allowed power to fragment entirely into the hands of the militias. Iraq, and especially Baghdad, today therefore is very different from the South Vietnam model that Petraeus used as the basis for his work on the counter-insurgency manual.

There is no credible national government in Iraq such as there was in South Vietnam for the U.S. armed forces to support. U.S. intelligence on both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias -- with the exception of the misplaced focus on the relatively small al-Qaida elements -- is woefully inferior to the intelligence on the Viet Cong that was amassed through the CIA's Phoenix program in South Vietnam in the mid and late 1960s.

And finally, the Iraqi army, which Petraeus played the lead role in recruiting and training, is far more unreliable as a U.S. ally than the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam, or ARVN, ever were.

The most important principle that Gen. Petraeus should remember in his new command, therefore, is: "One size does not fit all."

earlier related report
Petraeus Myth And Reality
By Douglas A. Macgregor - UPI Outside View Commentator Washington (UPI) Feb 08 - A few years ago when it looked like Colin Powell might run for U.S. president, columnist George Will described him on the NBC This Week with David Brinkley show as "an empty vessel into which people pour their hopes and aspirations."

George Will had a point. In the world of rapid fire, shift-with-the-wind Sunday talk show journalism, where yesterday's obsequious aide, speechwriter or military assistant is today's celebrated warrior, distinguishing the Grants and Pattons from the empty vessels in uniform is a lost art. Americans seem unaware that today's generals are products of a bureaucratic system successful wartime presidents must over-turn to secure victory.

When the Civil War began, General George B. McClellan was lionized in the press as the new Napoleon, the gifted leader who would deliver victory. Ulysses S. Grant was unknown and no longer in an army that did not want him. But fate returned Grant to the Army where he won battles while McClellan cultivated politicians, journalists and generals in Washington. Even then, McClellan and Lincoln's de facto chief of staff, "Old Brains" Halleck, worked to destroy Grant. Fortunately, Lincoln ignored them.

In 1939 President Franklin Roosevelt promoted Brig. Gen. George C. Marshall over the heads of 60 more senior generals to four stars. With Roosevelt's backing, Marshall began firing generals who could not shake the bureaucratic mindset replacing them with unknown captains, majors and colonels. Among these was George S. Patton, jr., an old, irascible colonel whose abrasive personality, and independence of mind made him unpopular with the Army hierarchy. Marshall promoted the unpopular Patton. The rest is history.

Lincoln and Roosevelt achieved victory by rejecting what the status quo offered. They selected men like Grant and Patton who provided their soldiers with clear direction, direction that often put Grant and Patton at severe personal risk on the battlefield and, more to the point, in Washington's corridors of power. These generals had a capacity for independent action and risk-taking, essential ingredients for success, but ingredients acutely absent from the leadership of peacetime armies and, sadly, current operations in Iraq.

In Iraq, the consistent failure of our generals to provide meaningful direction and effective leadership has been disastrous. The result in April 2004 was a Sunni Arab rebellion against the American military occupation. Like the British Army in Ireland between 1916 and 1921, the generals commanding U.S. troops in Iraq managed to transform a minor insurgency in the summer of 2003 into a full-blown Sunni Arab rebellion by the spring of 2004.

By the time Gen. George Casey arrived in Baghdad during the summer of 2004, in medical terms, the U.S. military occupation was already on life support. But instead of choosing a new strategic direction, Casey reinforced the strategy he inherited. He expanded the occupation's big-base strategy of Maginot-like forts and launched thousands of troops on sweeps that created more enemies than they killed. The cost of occupation went through the roof while the conflict expanded into a civil war. For this handiwork, Casey moves up to become Army Chief of Staff.

Of the remaining generals on active duty, Gen. David H. Petraeus, is the most popular with the retired four-stars and his superiors in the Pentagon. He comes with effusive praise heaped on him by politicians and journalists desperately seeking an answer to the Iraq conundrum. But, in truth, no one really knows whether Petraeus is Grant or McClellan.

We do know that when the 3rd Infantry Division raced to the gates of Baghdad in less than five days at the cost of just two casualties, Petraeus together with his bosses, generals Wallace and McKiernan, urged a halt to the advance, forecasting disaster if more troops were not committed to overcome the hollow Republican Guard units and irregulars in pick-up trucks -- all of which presented themselves as easy targets to American firepower whenever they fought, which was rare.

A week later, Baghdad fell to one brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division. Discouraged by the 101st's limited role, Petraeus's assistant division commander said the U.S. Army's V Corps fought the war "with one hand tied behind its back" relying almost entirely on the 3rd Infantry Division.

In Mosul where Petraeus made a reputation as the one general who truly understood Arab hearts and minds, the town reverted to insurgent control within hours of his division's departure. Similarly, we know that the new Iraqi Army he built was seriously flawed from Shiite domination and corruption to its inability to operate without U.S. support, and sometimes even with it.

We also know Petraeus is a politically skilled officer. In a break with the U.S. military tradition of political neutrality, he published a passionate op-ed piece in the Washington Post on behalf of Bush's Iraq policy on Sept. 26, 2004. There, he claimed, "Today approximately 164,000 Iraqi police and soldiers (of which about 100,000 are trained and equipped) and an additional 74,000 facility protection forces are performing a wide variety of security missions... Most important, Iraqi security forces are in the fight... "

In truth, Gen. Petraeus is unlikely to improve the situation in Iraq, but he could make it worse. Moreover, to find a Grant you must also have a Lincoln, and there is little to indicate that President George W. Bush is a Lincoln. Today, moral courage seems absent at both the military and the political levels of leadership.

(Douglas A. Macgregor is a retired U.S. Army colonel and a decorated Gulf War combat veteran. He has authored three books on modern warfare and military reform. His latest is Transformation under Fire: Revolutionizing the Way America Fights. He writes here for the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C.)

earlier related report
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

Source: United Press International

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Top US Democrats have expressed skepticism about US government claims that Iran is secretly channeling weapons to militants in Iraq, arguing the issue is best resolved through negotiations rather than confrontation. The comments followed a US press conference in Baghdad, during which senior defense officials insisted that Iranian-built bombs smuggled into Iraq had killed at least 170 US and allied soldiers since June 2004 and wounded 620.

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