Iraq withdrawal, Iraq victory becoming elusive

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Words like "victory" and "mission accomplished" aren't heard much anymore as the United States enters its fourth year of war in Iraq.


The slogans now are "political process" and handing over "battle space" to Iraq's new army so that the Iraqis themselves can carry the fight to the insurgents and build their promised democracy.

All those plans are now under review in light of another ominous phrase "civil war" that has crept into the debate since the wave of sectarian violence set off by a Feb. 22 bombing at a Shiite Muslim mosque in Samarra.

The shift from the upbeat slogans of 2003 represents an acknowledgment by the U.S. command that the war against an insurgency dominated by Iraq's Sunni Arab minority cannot be won by U.S. arms alone.

Instead, the best chance for peace is to encourage the insurgents to lay down their arms and join the political process, while building up an Iraqi force capable of dealing with those who refuse.

But slogans obscure the complexities at play. The rising tensions between Sunnis and Shiites raise the new question of whether building up Iraq's army forces the supposed solution might instead set the stage for civil war.

How events play out in the coming months will determine how long U.S. troops remain in Iraq and in what numbers. All signs point to a lengthy American commitment in Iraq, even if Washington draws down significant numbers of troops this year as expected.

At no time since the fall of Saddam Hussein have the words "Iraq stands at a crossroad" been truer. The next few months will determine whether Iraq stands at the threshold of recovery or at the brink of disaster.

In the wind-swept plains of western Iraq, where the insurgents are strongest, American officers speak of 2006 as "a year of risk" that will determine whether the U.S. campaign for a stable, democratic Iraq succeeds or whether the war drags on for years with or without Americans in the fight.

Despite major losses and defeats, Sunni insurgents are estimated to number about 15,000 to 20,000 roughly the same as two years ago, according to the Brookings Institution. Roadside bombs, assassinations and scattered clashes occur with such regularity that they draw little attention.

As the fourth year of war approaches, the American strategy is moving along two tracks: encouraging a broad-based government of national unity that can win trust from all communities and transferring security responsibility to the new Iraqi army and police.

Both tracks are well under way, but fraught with risks.

The violence that swept Baghdad and other areas after the Samarra shrine attack suggests the Sunni-dominated insurgency could change into a full-scale civil war between the rival Muslim sects.

"The question is not whether there will be sectarian strife, but rather whether the central state can hold together and contain the violence," said Jeffrey A. VanDenBerg, director of Middle East studies at Drury University in Springfield, Mo.

In the March issue of Foreign Affairs, Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations argues that Washington should slow the expansion of Iraq's security forces most of whom are Shiites and Kurds until there is a "broad communal compromise."

For the time being, however, the process of placing an Iraqi face on the war is accelerating.

About 60 of Iraq's 102 battalions "control their own battle space," said Lt. Col. Michael J. Negard, a U.S. military spokesman. That means they plan and carry out military operations within their area of responsibility.

If all goes according to plan, by the end of the year all Iraqi battalions expected by then to number 112 will have that status.

Assuming the Iraqis prove up to the task, the U.S. military can begin sending thousands of soldiers home. The top commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., is expected to recommend reductions in the 136,000-strong force beginning later this spring.

Casey refuses to talk publicly about numbers. But it is widely assumed U.S. troop strength in Iraq will fall below 100,000 by the end of the year or early 2007. Privately, American officers say that figure is reasonable.

Pentagon estimates have proven wrong before, however. In late 2003, the Pentagon predicted troop strength would drop to 105,000 by the next May. Instead, insurgent attacks forced an increase to nearly 140,000 in mid-2004.

U.S. officers also caution against inferring that a greater security role for Iraq's army will mean a total American withdrawal. U.S. troops will leave the cities, but be nearby in case of trouble. U.S. convoys will have to resupply Iraqi units, and American jets will provide air cover.

And the withdrawal timetable could get snagged if some Iraqi battalions cannot be trained and equipped in time.

"If a unit is not up to task or if equipment or personnel become an issue ... then we take the time needed," Negard said. "So we're very hesitant to put a mark on a calendar and say 10 months down the road the Iraqi army will control all its battle space."

U.S. officials have praised the performance of Iraqi soldiers. But the Americans were equally optimistic in 2004 until many Iraqi units fell apart in battle. The entire 5,000-member police force in Mosul deserted after an insurgent uprising in November 2004.

This time, the U.S. command insists training is better. Measures have been taken to build up a strong cadre of noncommissioned officers a major weakness in 2004.

Privately, however, U.S. officers say desertions and absences still dog Iraqi units, especially in the volatile west where hundreds of soldiers have left their commands since a November offensive.

This is where the political track comes in. The December election raised the amount of Sunni Arab representation in the new parliament more than threefold. Talks are under way to put together a unity government with participation by Sunni Arabs, Shiite Muslims and Kurds.

At the same time, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has been reaching out to Sunni leaders in insurgent strongholds such as Ramadi. The process is continuing, despite the assassinations of local Sunnis willing to talk.

But success won't come quickly.

"Even if a broad inclusive national government emerges, there almost certainly will be a lag time before we see a dampening effect on the insurgency," the U.S. national intelligence chief, John Negroponte, a former ambassador in Iraq, told a Senate committee Feb. 2.

All that points to much work and sacrifice ahead.

"Because of the nature of counterinsurgency, it's often hard for people to define what victory is," Casey, the U.S. commander in Iraq, said recently. "It's not D-Day. There's not a big battle and it's all over. It's about people making choices, so it evolves over time. And that's exactly what you see here."

So it appears that Bush has finally got out of his dissilussional world. America doesn't appear to win this, and will hand this off to an Iraqi government like they did in Vietnam and that government will collapse.
It is starting to look like Cival War is around the corner, I hope not.

It is starting to look like Cival War is around the corner, I hope not.

It appears that way. I think America has lost nonethe less no matter what they do. And from what it appears in the article they want to transfer control to Iraqis, back out and then watch the government fall just like in Vietnam.
I truely believe the Americans went into Iraq with the best intentions but if they leave that country to fight a Cival War I will beyond appalled. Clean the mess up no matter what the cost-period.
If, after the withdrawal of the United States of America , and it looks as though the Government of Iraq would become unstable and "fall," I would hope that the Government of Canada would invite delegates from Iraq for conferences and discussions on how to address the problems and restabilize the nation.
That might not be possible if they are too buzy trying to kill each other because the government now is just set up to settle old scores and the insurgents at least some of them want to just kill Shites.
The Americans can never leave Iraq, they have not built those four huge military bases for nothing. They can not possibly stop a civil war since they are most responsible for the situation which makes the war inevitable in the first place.And it may be seen that Iraqi civil war will strengthen the American position and acctualy improve thier hold on the nation.

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