Small Wars Journal

31 January Iraq Updates

While not all inclusive, here are some of the items that caught my eye and interest so far this week...

A Report From Iraq - Bing West, The Atlantic

Earlier this month, at the invitation of General Petraeus, Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and I visited 11 of our brigades operating throughout the Sunni Triangle. After returning to areas I had been to repeatedly since 2003, the dominant impression I drew was that of a military campaign systematically breaking al-Qaeda in Iraq's hold on the Sunni population and driving the extremists into smaller and smaller pockets.

We Are Winning, We Haven't Won - Max Boot, Weekly Standard

Nine months ago, when I was last in Iraq, the conventional wisdom about the war effort was unduly pessimistic. Many politicians, and not only Democrats, had declared the surge a failure when it had barely begun. Today we know that the surge has succeeded: Iraqi and American deaths fell by approximately 80 percent between December 2006 and December 2007, and life is returning to a semblance of normality in much of Baghdad. Now the danger is that public opinion may be turning too optimistic. While Iraq has made near-miraculous progress in the past year, daunting challenges remain, and victory is by no means assured.

A Report from Fallujah - Michael Totten, Middle East Journal

At the end of 2006 there were 3,000 Marines in Fallujah. Despite what you might expect during a surge of troops to Iraq, that number has been reduced by 90 percent. All Iraqi Army soldiers have likewise redeployed from the city. A skeleton crew of a mere 250 Marines is all that remains as the United States wraps up its final mission in what was once Iraq's most violent city.

The Next Iraq Phase - David Ignatius, Washington Post

The question is whether this Iraqi renaissance can continue as the United States reduces its surge of combat troops. The Iraqi military is still far from ready to take over the country's security. The military's transport systems won't be finished until the summer of 2009, and it could be two years before Iraq's military can operate fully independent of U.S. forces.

U.S. Commanders in Iraq Favor Pause in Troop Cuts - Thomas Ricks, Washington Post

Senior U.S. military commanders here say they want to freeze troop reductions starting this summer for at least a month, making it more likely that the next administration will inherit as many troops in Iraq as there were before President Bush announced a "surge" of forces a year ago.

There are about 155,000 U.S. troops in Iraq now, with about 5,000 leaving every month; the proposed freeze would go into effect in July, when troops levels reach around 130,000. Although violence is dropping in Iraq, commanders say they want to halt withdrawals to assess whether they can control the situation with fewer troops.

At White House, a Second Look at Iraq Troop Cuts - Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Thom Shanker, New York Times

Within the Pentagon, senior officers have struggled to balance the demands of the Iraq war against the competing demands to recruit, train and retain a robust and growing ground force. That institutional tension is personified by two of Mr. Bush's top generals, David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff. General Petraeus's mission is to win the war; General Casey must also worry about the health of the whole Army.

Drawdown of U.S. Forces in Iraq Hinges on July Review - Jim Michaels, USA Today

Gen. David Petraeus isn't ready to commit to additional force reductions until after the 30,000 extra troops added last year leave this summer, U.S. military officials say.

Instead, Petraeus will tell Congress and the White House in April what he thinks the overall security situation in Iraq will look like, said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a military spokesman in Iraq. Then, Smith said, Petraeus will have to "confirm that assessment" after the initial cuts in U.S. troops are completed in July.

President Bush has said he could accept a recommendation from Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, that did not include a continuation of the drawdown after July.

U.S. to Expand Outposts Across Baghdad by 30% - Amit R. Paley, Washington Post

The U.S. military plans to boost the number of neighborhood outposts across the capital by more than 30 percent this year even as American forces begin to withdraw, the new commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad said Tuesday.

Baghdad's Housing Boom - Kimi Yoshino and Caesar Ahmed, Los Angeles Times

Soaring prices. Precious few homes. Bidding wars. Sound like Southern California a few years back? Welcome to an unexpected bright spot in global housing: Baghdad. Attracted by news of decreased violence, thousands of displaced Iraqis returning to Baghdad's safer neighborhoods are fueling a bit of a real estate frenzy.

Why Are We Succeeding in Iraq - or Are We? - Herschel Smith, Captain's Journal

For all those readers who care about counterinsurgency - how to wage it, what we have done wrong in Iraq, what we have done (and are doing) right in Iraq, and what the campaign in Iraq does for our doctrine - there is a discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal that in our opinion is the most important one that has been started. Without hesitation and in no holds barred fashion, it became a fascinating and most useful strategic slug-fest of competing ideas and narrative accounts of the campaign in Iraq. If the main stream media reports have become boring and repetitious and the blogs have become outlets for talking points, this kind of discussion is at the same time professional, honest, forthright and intellectually complex, and should be engaged by all professional military who want to learn about both making war and peace.

Death Squads Threaten Surge - Abu Muqawama

As readers of this blog well know, securing the civilian population is at the heart of good counter-insurgency campaigns. Protecting those actively supporting you--and labeled collaborators by opponents--is doubly important. (Which is why our previous clear-but-not-hold strategy meant that we literally lost a generation of moderate Iraqis: nearly all those who worked with us from 2003-2005 were killed because we couldn't provide security.)

What Will the Surge Teach Us? - Westhawk

The received wisdom today is that by sending 30,000 more combat troops to Iraq, in the form of five additional Army brigade combat teams and two additional Marine infantry battalions, the U.S. military in Iraq would then have enough manpower to protect the Iraqi population by being able, for the first time, to staff small combat outposts throughout Iraq's urban neighborhoods. Protecting the population is thought to be an essential counterinsurgency tactic. Once the population sees that the government forces are protecting them against the insurgents, the population will then feel safe enough to give up the rebels hiding in their neighborhoods.

With violence down dramatically and al Qaeda in Iraq now virtually destroyed, few can seriously question the results of Mr. Bush's dramatic January 2007 decision. But what lessons will future American policymakers learn from this episode?

The Mosul Offensive - Bill Roggio, The Long War Journal

Just over one year after the surge officially began Coalition and Iraqi forces continue to pursue al Qaeda in Iraq. After al Qaeda has been driven from its havens in Baghdad and the surrounding belts regions, and most recently in Diyala, the city of Mosul has emerged as the latest battleground.

Al-Qaeda's in Iraq New Sponsor: Libya - Iraq the Model

We shouldn't be surprised to see young Gaddafi being accused of sponsoring terrorism in Iraq, not should we be surprised if he turns out to be actually involved in sponsoring that "battalion" of terrorists. The dictators of the Middle East have a long-established trend of sponsoring terrorism and provoking chaos in any relevant, or irrelevant, part of the world they have access to. The 2nd half of the 20th century was full of examples of this sort; Saddam funding insurgents in Chad, Egypt becoming part of a civil war in Yemen, Tunisia hosting the PLO, Saddam providing shelter for Dzhokhar Dudayev in 1993, and the list goes long.

Spoken - The Belmont Club

One of the persons following the Belmont Club discussion over whether it is necessary to confront political Islam as an anti-Western ideology is a Marine in Anbar province. His email to me has been reproduced in toto below. It is clear and eloquent. I am grateful for it, not in the least because it lends some substance to my hope that "because of the size of the stakes this whole question will be resolved, not by some politician but by the 'decision of crowds'." Here's his email in toto.