The Magazine

Time for a Heavier Footprint

Recently in The Weekly Standard:
More American troops are needed to break the cycle of violence in Iraq.

Nov 27, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 11 • By FREDERICK W. KAGAN and WILLIAM KRISTOL
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The senators pressed Abizaid about the timeline for success. He said that it was important to get Baghdad under control within four to six months, and that the Iraqis must do it. But it is very hard to be sanguine that the situation in Iraq will hold for half a year at the present level of violence in the capital. We must also keep in mind that violence in Baghdad--and around the country--has been rising, rather than falling. Abizaid's confidence that we can afford to wait six months to address this problem is unfounded and misplaced.

His optimism about the Iraqi military's ability to accomplish the tasks he is setting for it is also misplaced. It will take time to locate and train additional U.S. soldiers to embed with Iraqi units. It will take more time for those embedded soldiers to bring the Iraqi units to a higher level of military capability. Providing equipment to the Iraqis, including the necessary spare parts and ammunition, will take time. Familiarizing them with the equipment and with how to use it effectively in combat will take more time. Developing the logistical systems necessary to sustain Iraqi units in combat will take still more time. Even if Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed tomorrow to purge the Iraqi army and police of rogue elements, doing so would take time, as would finding replacements and retraining units distorted by the presence of such leaders. A significant increase in the capabilities of the Iraqi military and security forces is almost certain to take months. Only then, according to Abizaid, should the clearing and holding of Baghdad begin. That process will take additional months--we've been working on it, after all, since August 8, when the most recent effort, Phase II of Operation Together Forward, began. So Abizaid's Iraqi-centered scenario for progress is, simply put, unrealistic in the short term.

And that's only with respect to Baghdad. Apart from Falluja and Ramadi, the largest cities in the province, to be sure (see Michael Fumento's "Holding Ramadi" elsewhere in this issue), al Anbar is largely out of U.S. and Iraqi government control. Pressed about the need to work on that province while improving the situation in Baghdad, Abizaid declared that Baghdad was the main effort and Anbar would have to wait. So for at least the next six months, while we and the Iraqis focus on Baghdad, the insurgency in Anbar province will continue to thrive.

The continuation of the insurgency in Anbar is more important than Abizaid is making out. It may be a secondary effort for us, but the fact of an uncontrolled Sunni Arab insurgency is the most important factor preventing Maliki from disarming Shiite militias. We are caught in a vicious circle. Because we have not effectively suppressed the Sunni Arab insurgency, the Shiite communities in Iraq demand protection. We refuse to provide it to them, so they turn to militias. Those militias, in turn, victimize the Sunni Arab population. That victimization fuels the insurgency. It is a straightforward cycle that seems to be escaping our military leaders. Demanding that Maliki break it by disarming the militias is folly--as long as the Sunni Arab insurgency continues to burn, no Iraqi political leader will be able to convince the Shiite community to abandon the forces it sees as essential for its self-defense. And as long as the Shiite militias continue to victimize Sunni Arabs, it will be incredibly difficult to bring the Sunni Arab insurgent leaders to the negotiating table, even if they could bring their followers with them. The U.S. military is the only force in Iraq capable of breaking this cycle by bringing security to the country, and Abizaid and his senior commanders in Iraq continue to reject that solution.

The question of troop levels in Iraq is fundamental. With the forces currently deployed, according to Abizaid's own testimony, the United States is unable to accomplish the following tasks all at once: Train Iraqi troops as quickly as necessary, support them in their efforts to clear and hold Baghdad, and reduce the violence in Anbar. Indeed, Lieutenant General Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, also testified last week. He stated that, despite all of our joint efforts, the Sunni Arab insurgency has actually gained strength and capacity. Operation Together Forward II, he declared, has achieved "limited success." Sectarian violence decreased in August, when the operation began, but "as armed groups adapted to the Coalition presence, and the I[raqi] S[ecurity] F[orces] was unable to exert authority once Coalition forces moved on, attacks returned to and even surpassed preoperational levels." In other words, the operation has failed so far because there are not enough U.S. forces to support Iraqi efforts to hold the cleared neighborhoods.