Will we ever get a straight story from the Bush administration on Iraq?
On Thursday, an Associated Press story reported that "A top U.S. diplomat in Iraq predicted progress by fall on bringing together Iraq's feuding factions." The U.S. diplomat was Daniel Speckhard, who also said, "My expectations are…that they'll rise to the challenge of producing some key legislation by September."
September, of course, is when U.S commander in Iraq David Petreaus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are scheduled to report to Congress on the progress of the "surge."
Come Saturday, we discovered that the largest Sunni bloc in Iraq's Parliament suspended their membership in the ruling body over the issue of an arrest warrant for Culture Minister As'ad al-Hashimi. The Iraqi Accord Front holds 44 seats. Another Sunni group with 11 seats stopped attending Parliament meetings last week, and earlier this month, 30 members loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr boycotted Parliament. That could leave the 276-seat house with only 191 legislators.
No Military Solution
Last week, Brigadier General Mick Bednarek, commander of the offensive (Operation Arrowhead Ripper) in the Diyala province capital of Baqouba, said his Iraqi partners may be too weak to hold on to the gains. "They're not quite up to the job yet," Bednarek said, and added that the Iraqi military does not have enough ammunition.
One has to wonder how Iraqi units committed to an offensive operation can show up with too little ammunition. It's not like there's a shortage of AK-47 bullets in the country of Iran. Do you think maybe the Iraqi soldiers are giving their ammunition to their militia pals?
Bednarek's counterpart in Baghdad, Major General Rick Lynch, said much the same. There are too few U.S. troops to garrison newly cleared districts. "We have what we have," he said. "There's got to be more Iraqi security forces," he said in a news conference, suggesting that Iraq's army should be expanded by 20,000 troops.
But again: what good is adding more troops to the Army if they a) don't show up for an operation if they don't feel like it or b) show up without enough ammo when they do show up?
And what on earth is happening with the U.S. troops involved in these operations? According to numerous sources, the Baqouba operation involves 10,000 U.S. troops. At one point the stated aim was to round up what was believed to be 300-500 al-Qaeda in Iraq militants holed up in the western part of the city. The al-Qaeda types had run away from Anbar province during the offensive there, so this time, U.S. commanders tried the novel idea of cutting off escape routes. Some news outlets suggest that a lot of the bad guys escaped anyway. A bunch of them have been killed or captures. As of Sunday, 24 June, Brigadier Bednarek estimated that 50 to 100 militants were trapped inside a security cordon in the city.
I of all people don't like playing dime store general at the tactical level, and it's impossible to draw an accurate ground picture from a handful of newspaper reports. But if you look at the basic numbers involved, Arrowhead Ripper doesn't make sense. 20 to one numerical advantage in an offensive operation is not necessary. If most of the 10,000 U.S. troops involved are actually there to hold neighborhoods, then why is Bednarek complaining there aren't enough Iraqis with enough bullets involved in the operation?
Speaking of bullets… While Brigadier Bednarek complains his Iraqi army cohorts don't have enough ammunition, other U.S. commanders have been authorized to arm Sunni groups that agree to fight al-Qaeda. The program was first tried out in Anbar province, where it was considered a great success. Yeah. It was so successful that it drove al-Qaeda out of the province, and up to Baquaba, where the assigned Iraqi forces don't have enough ammunition to contribute to the mission.
Have you noticed lately how everything regarding Iraq and the rest of the so-called war on terror gets framed in terms of al-Qaeda? Al-Qaeda, blamed for inciting nearly all other violence in Iraq, had, according to reports, taken over Anbar province, even though their strength was estimated to be only a couple or a few thousand. We had a heck of a lot more Marines than that in the province, yet in September of 2006, a senior Marine intelligence officer concluded the struggle for the region was all but lost.
By the time we got around to surging in Anbar and chasing al-Qaeda up to Diyala province, their reported numbers were 500 or less, and now Brigadier Dednarek says his 10,000 man force is going toe-to-toe in Baqouba with fewer than a hundred of them.
We don't know how many al-Qaeda members are actually in Iraq, but we know there are 170,000 something coalition forces and upwards of 300,000 Iraqi security forces. At best, al-Qaeda totals are in the mid to low four figures. Al Qaeda in Iraq is not the main problem in Iraq, and many argue that al-Qaeda in Iraq isn't even really al-Qaeda.
Similarly, administration tales of Iranian involvement in fomenting violence in Iraq are too tall to be credible. Iran, supposedly, is smuggling arms across its border. I can't give you an ounce of proof that they're not, but why should they bother to smuggle arms into Iraq? Prior to the invasion, U.S. military officials estimated there were between one and seven million AK-47s in private hands in Iraq. That doesn't include whatever weapons stockpiles Hussein had cached. We brought a half million weapons into that country, and we don't know what happened to the vast majority of them. Now we're handing out weapons to militia groups that have attacked us in the past, and we're blaming the proliferation of weapons in Iraq on the Iranians?
We hear the Iranians are behind the Shiites in Iraq because, well, Iranians are Shiites. But we also hear that the Persian Iranian Shiites are behind Hamas an Arab Sunni group, and that Iran is the major ally of Arab Sunni Syria, and that Iran is now the biggest bestest buddy of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
There's no telling how much of this Iran talk is true, but it can't all be true, especially considering that the people talking the talk have a reputation for shunning the truth.
The main thing to keep in mind is that at this point, within the smoke, behind the mirrors, under the bed of bull feathers, there is no coherent strategy for Iraq, and the only tactics being practiced there are stall tactics.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.