We've turned more corners in Iraq than there are in Manhattan, so I'm skeptical about early reports that the surge strategy is working. General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, says there are fewer reports of sectarian violence, but that may be because some militia groups have run away or gone underground. And it's not like Baghdad has turned all peace, love and understanding all of a sudden. 10 U.S. soldiers were killed and four were wounded in the city last week.
If that's an indication that the surge strategy is "working," aspirin is a cure for genital herpes.
Work in Progress
Of course Petraeus would say that the surge plan is working. It is, in part, his baby, and his endorsement of it is what got him planted in his present billet. Only two of the five combat battalions allotted for it are in place now. The other three won't be on station until June, and Petraeus needs to help the White House keep pressure on Congress to ensure the legislative body doesn't cut off funding for the surge before the surge has a chance to prove it can work.
Whatever "work" means.
As Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times notes, when Mr. Bush first announced his surge strategy, Shiite militias were considered the main antagonists. The Shiite militias have faded into the brickwork, making room for Sunni Militias to strut their stuff.
Col. J. B. Burton, the commander of the Second Brigade Combat Team for the First Infantry Division, told reporters on Friday that the Sunni militants were also taking advantage of the decision of some Shiite militias to become less active or leave Baghdad. Sunni militants “have seen an opportunity with Shia extremists out of the area to strike with much violence,” Colonel Burton said. “What we have seen is when the Shia extremists departed our area of responsibility, specifically in western Baghdad, incident rates in the Shia areas dropped dramatically,” he said. “Incident rates in the Sunni areas increased a bit with vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices targeting Shia gathering places and Iraqi security force locations.”
Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the two-star public affairs officer in Iraq, said that of the 77 car bombings in February, 44 occurred in Baghdad. But Baghdad isn't the problem, per se, because the car bomb factories aren't in Baghdad. They're in outlying areas.
According to U.S. commander in Iraq General David Petraeus, “They tend to be in the outskirts in these very rural areas, small villages and outlying houses and farms, and so forth, and we clearly have got to find as many of those as we can to destroy them and then, obviously, to interdict those that are still able to be built."
Petraeus added, “Although the focus, the priority, clearly is Baghdad, anyone who knows about securing Baghdad knows that you must also secure the Baghdad belts, in other words, the areas that surround Baghdad.”
The areas that surround Baghdad--like, you know, the rest of Iraq. And maybe outlying countries like Iran and Syria and Egypt and Turkey and who knows where else.
We're facing a cat stampede, and we'll never get all the critters back in the corral no matter how many cowboys we throw at the problem. But, boy, that doesn't keep the men in charge from pumping out the happy talk. On Face the Nation Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said "I think that the way I would characterize it is so far so good--it's very early."
Sure, Gates admitted, the violence is spreading, but General Petraeus expected that. A "squirting effect" Petraeus calls it.
The important thing, Gates said, is that we wait weeks and months to see if the new strategy works, and whatever we do politicians in Washington must not handcuff the military commanders with "specific deadlines and very strict conditions."
Gates also said, "I would say that the Iraqis are meeting the commitments that they have made to us, that they have made the appointments." That's an interesting comment in light of this report last week in theNew York Times:
WASHINGTON, March 14 — The Bush administration, which six months ago issued a series of political goals for the Iraqi government to meet by this month, is now tacitly acknowledging that the goals will take significantly longer to achieve.
We're making progress. We need to be patient. No deadlines or conditions. The Iraqis are "standing up."
All of this should sound very familiar to you. It sounds like "stay the course" to me. It sounds like "four more years."
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.