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 Monday, October 30, 2006

Iraq: Why the US is Losing the War Against the Militias


Martin Sieff

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The U.S. strategy for suppressing the militias of Baghdad has failed disastrously.

The reasons are far-reaching.

The price of adopting an unsuccessful confrontation policy with the militias of Baghdad has been very high for the United States.

  • American troop casualties for October soared to very high levels.

  • Political and strategic tensions and distrust between the U.S. government and the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are worse than they have been in the half a year since Maliki took office.

  • The militias are stronger and more credible than ever.

  • And the Bush administration has been forced to make an urgent reassessment of its Iraq strategy when it never expected to have to do so at this time.
  • Little time need be assigned to considering U.S. officials` demand for the Iraqi government to meet 'benchmarks' in taking over responsibility for controlling the militias and ending the widespread sectarian violence that is in reality a state of civil war in many regions of the country.

    For all previous U.S. official predictions and timetables for progress in Iraq have proven to be unfounded fantasies with no tangible connection to evolving political and security realities on the ground there.

    There is NO indication that the latest projected 'timetables' will be any different.

    Nor does President George W. Bush`s widely reported comment at his news conference Wednesday that 'we are winning' in Iraq conform in any way to the widely reported realities on the ground there.

    The grim truth is :
    As we have repeatedly noted in these columns since the metastasizing of the sectarian conflict in late February this year, the Iraqi government produced by the ambitious and convoluted political process imposed by Bush administration policymakers on Iraq is NOT an independent or viable national government in any significant sense of the word.

    Maliki has proven himself an able politician and national leader insofar as he is able to be one, but he is trying to build a house on a foundation of thin air.

    His government only has credibility and can guarantee security insofar as it cooperates with the Shiite militias in Iraq that are willing to cooperate with it.

    Instead, current U.S. policy demands that the Maliki government and its still very unreliable security forces try to roll back the militias, Sunni and Shiite alike.

    U.S. policy has been aggressively focusing on trying to destroy the power of anti-American charismatic Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army in their main Baghdad stronghold, the working class, predominantly Shiite, district of Sadr City.

    So far, that policy has utterly failed.

    There still seems to be LITTLE UNDERSTANDING within the Pentagon and none whatsoever in the White House or among Republican congressmen as to WHY that policy has failed.

    On Tuesday, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee of the House of Representatives, sent a letter signed by him and 32 other Republican members of the House to President Bush urging him get at least 20 more battalions of the new Iraqi army deployed as quickly as possible to strengthen the drive against the militias in Baghdad.

    Hunter`s call is reminiscent of the calls on President Harry S. Truman during the darkest days of the Korean War in late 1950 to 'unleash' the military forces of Chiang Kai-shek from Taiwan, then widely known as Formosa, against the newly installed Mainland Chinese Communist government of Mao Zedong.

    There was no recognition among those armchair strategists of 56 years ago that, as Truman and his top Pentagon generals well knew, Chiang`s armies, supposedly millions strong, had melted away like snow in the Sahara as Mao`s communists swept across China in 1948. Chiang did NOT have a tiger to unleash on the mainland. His military forces at the time were more like a drowned whale.

    Similarly, the new Iraqi armed forces have proven repeatedly UNABLE or UNWILLING or BOTH to seriously engage militia forces, especially Shiite ones in Baghdad.

    And when operating by themselves, they have proven far LESS effective than the small, over-stretched, U.S. military forces in protecting Iraqi civilians from terror attacks by Sunni insurgents.

    The underlying reason for the continued weakness and lack of credibility of the new Iraqi forces is very clear:

    Maliki`s government is unable to function credibly by itself and its much touted armed forces, raised far too fast and with far too rapid training and individual security checks, fail to command the depth of loyalty the militias have.
    For the militias are rooted in their local communities and have proven far more credible at providing basic security and order in the enclaves they control than the central government has.

    The U.S. policy of forcing the new Iraqi army to try and shut down the Shiite militias, especially the Mahdi Army, has therefore been comparable attacking a man in strong steel army, with a brittle, rusty old iron sword. The sword will shatter against the armor.

    And the Iraqi army is shattering against the militias that enjoy far stronger local support than it does.

    Maliki this week showed in his rejection and defiance of U.S. pressure that he recognizes this reality.

    But Bush administration policymakers DO NOT.

    Until they do, conditions in Baghdad will only get FAR WORSE.

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