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Operation Alamo

"The Bush administration maintains that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki now possesses a hitherto undemonstrated willingness to confront the violence. However, there remains doubt that this alleged newfound resolve at the top can be carried out on the street." Photo courtesy AFP.

Former US commander in Iraq backed as US Army chief
Washington (AFP) Feb 08 - US Senators on Thursday approved the nomination of General George C. Casey as the new US Army chief of staff even as he came under fire for the chaos in Iraq. Casey, who has been replaced by Lieutenant General David Petraeus as the commander of US forces in Iraq, was overwhelmingly approved for his new post, even though several influential Republican senators voted against him for failing to stem the violence in Iraq.

"Do I hold others in the administration responsible? Absolutely," said Republican John McCain. "But this is a leader who is up for an increased responsibility and he has failed in his mission, and that it is what this is all about." "To somehow say the commander in the field in some way is not responsible in any way for the 'mistakes' I think flies in the face ... of the tradition we have in the United States of America, of placing the commanders in the field in positions of responsibility and making them accountable for their performance."

Casey's nomination was approved by an overwhelming 83 to 14 votes in the Democratic-controlled Senate, with presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton voting against and her rival for the Democratic Party nomination, Barack Obama, voting for. Democratic Senator Jack Reed said he was voting for Casey because: "I think he should be criticized for shortcomings that he admits readily, but he should not be condemned because he was carrying out a strategy and a policy that was seriously flawed when he arrived on the ground in Iraq. "He has done his best to do the job he was given."

by Lawrence Sellin
UPI Outside View Commentator
Washington (UPI) Feb 08, 2007
According to the conventional wisdom, President Bush's new strategy may be the last opportunity for the United States to salvage, at best, limited success in Iraq. Failure to stem Iraq's descent into total chaos and civil war will lead to regional instability and negatively affect America's strategic influence in the Middle East for years to come.

As predicted by many, the central component of the new strategy remains "clear, hold and build" only with more American troops and increased funding for economic development.

As the president himself correctly notes, "The most urgent priority for success in Iraq is security" and "only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people." That is, without the "clear" and "hold", there is no "build", and Americans have neither the intention nor the financial resources for an "open ended" commitment.

A key assumption in Bush's new strategy is that the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Security Forces will have the capability to "hold", once American forces "clear", in order to permit a "build".

The Bush administration maintains that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki now possesses a hitherto undemonstrated willingness to confront the violence. However, there remains doubt that this alleged newfound resolve at the top can be carried out on the street. The fact is that the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Security Forces are reluctant to confront militias such as the Mahdi Army both for reasons of power politics and out of fear that revenge might be exacted on family members. These security forces are also distrusted by the Sunnis, who view them as sectarian weapon brandished by the Shiite controlled government.

Bush stated that "America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced" and "if there is change in Iraq, it will have to come almost entirely from the government in Baghdad." The president's position is commendable, but what then happens if the Iraqis fail to deliver as they have in the past and there is no perceptual decrease in the level of violence?

It may also be the goal of the Iraqi Shiites to become the dominant sect in Iraq with no intention of sharing power with the Sunni and Kurd minorities to any significant extent. With that goal in sight the Iraqi Shiites may choose to enter into a modus vivendi with Iran to solidify their position.

As was the case with the original invasion plan, the new strategy, at least on face value, seems ill-suited to face such contingencies.

Top-down or violence-driven power grabbing can be countered by bottom-up nation building. That is, creating security and economic development locally as a means of balancing power, not depending solely on the outcome of potentially-flawed parliamentary and ministerial processes.

As stated previously by this author, the policy should be isolation and containment of violence and, wherever possible, securing areas of stability. Such efforts might be most productive by focusing on regions that would prefer the United States to win, like the Kurdish north, ensuring that it becomes an unquestionable success and a model for Iraq as a whole. When timely and actionable intelligence is available, U.S. military forces can counter militia or insurgent elements and curtail outside influence by interdiction along infiltration routes. The bulk of the effort to stem sectarian violence must remain with the Iraqis themselves. This is largely an internal Iraqi political power struggle.

An addition to the president's plan could involve voluntary relocation of Iraqis to the more secure areas (an example of this approach can be found in "A Bosnia Option for Iraq" by Michael E. O'Hanlon and Edward P. Joseph), where basic services and employment opportunities are more easily provided. It would be a policy of segregate, secure and build, not operating sequentially, but in parallel. The long-term solution to sectarian violence is an equitable distribution of political power and economic opportunity.

The American effort in Iraq is like any other human enterprise. Success is ninety percent dependent on the people chosen to conduct it. If you choose the wrong people to create a strategy, you will get a bad strategy. If you choose the wrong people to execute a good strategy, you will get a failed strategy. Or, to use a popular political phrase, it's the people, stupid. Those selected must fully understand that the complex and difficult conditions in Iraq today demand flexibility, innovation and practical solutions, not ideology.

The Bush administration has formulated a new strategy and identified a new team to execute it. One can only hope that the appropriate people were chosen for these critical tasks, because this may be our last chance to get it right.

(Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is an Afghanistan veteran)

(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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