2005 May 19 Thursday
US Officers In Iraq Offer Bleaker Assessment Of War Progress

Eric Schmitt and John Burns of the New York Times say US officers who a few months ago were offering very optimistic assessments of progress in Iraq are now offering much more negative views. (same article here)

In interviews and briefings this week, some of the generals pulled back from recent suggestions, some by the same officers, that positive trends in Iraq could allow a major drawdown in the 138,000 American troops late this year or early in 2006. One officer suggested Wednesday that American military involvement could last "many years."


But the officer said that despite Americans' recent successes in disrupting insurgent cells, which have resulted in the arrest of 1,100 suspects in Baghdad alone in the past 80 days, the success of American goals in Iraq was not assured.

"I think that this could still fail," the officer said at the briefing, referring to the American enterprise in Iraq. "It's much more likely to succeed, but it could still fail."


"I think it's going to succeed in the long run, even if it takes years, many years," he said.


One of starkest revelations by the commanders involved the surge in car bombings, the principal insurgent weapon in attacks over the past three weeks that have killed nearly 500 people across central and northern Iraq, about half of them Iraqi soldiers, police officers and recruits.


The senior officer who met with reporters in Baghdad said there had been 21 car bombings in the capital in May, and 126 in the past 80 days. All last year, he said, there were only about 25 car bombings in Baghdad.

The car bombing rate is up by an order of magnitude. Yet, supposedly the US military is making progress against the insurgency. Also, the 500 Iraqi people killed in the last 3 weeks works out to an annual rate of over 8500. Given that half of them are Iraqi security foces the Iraqi security forces are experiencing a death rate of over 4200 per year. But Iraq's population of 26 million is about an eleventh of the US population. So to scale up that death rate to the US population level imagine that we were experiencing about 47,000 military deaths and an equal number of civilian deaths per year from a civil war or rebellion.

Japan looks set to join Honduras, Italy, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Spain, and Poland (and did I miss any country?) in withdrawing their troops from Iraq.

The police are crucial and the police are lagging.

Iraqi army units have slowly become better trained and disciplined. But the police, who make up one-third of Iraq's security forces, have made fewer gains and are more prone to corruption, said Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command.


"Ultimately the police become more important in the final stages of the insurgency than the military," Abizaid said.

The Bush administration says the Iraqi police are adequately trained and equipped, a view not shared by U.S. commanders in Iraq.

The statements of the political appointees in the White House and Pentagon can not be trusted. The US officers in Iraq see a very tough situation and believe the war will last for years. These officers obviously do not want to fail. But note that their optimistic assessment is a war that lasts for many years which we eventually win.

Brian Michael Jenkins, a senior advisor to the president of the Rand Corporation, says the pattern in the Middle East is easy conquest followed by much more difficult occupation.

''IT IS EASY to conquer an Arab country," observed the general. But drawing on years of experience in the Middle East, he added that the Arabs' ''natural inclination to rebellion makes it difficult for the invader to maintain his control."

This prescient warning came in 1957 from Sir John Glubb, a British general who fought Iraqi insurgents in the 1920s.

Jenkins says we might make progress and gradually bring the insurgency under control. On the other hand, he also says the whole thing could fall apart.

On the other hand, insurgents could carry out spectacular and costly attacks against US forces, undermining claims of progress and strengthening arguments for prompt withdrawal.

Iraq could collapse into fighting between religious and ethnic groups leading to even more disorder and violence. A tragic error in targeting or new revelations of abuse by coalition forces could intensify hostility in Iraq and cause revulsion in the United States.

The police in Iraq are neutralized by bribes, threats, and killings.

"The US needs to reorganise its intelligence system. Most of the resources - platforms, analysts - are at the national and strategic level. We have to decentralise and get the assets down to the tactical level. We rely on technical means but the insurgency disarms technology. It is mainly a human endeavour."

The US is trying to build Iraq's fledgling security forces and new intelligence bodies but, judging from the insurgents' ability to kill police chiefs and kidnap regional governors, there is evidence that the new Iraqi security apparatus is deeply penetrated by insurgent sympathisers.

There are unconfirmed stories of police chiefs being appointed only to be turned against the coalition within months through bribes and threats.

James Atticus Bowden, a former Army officer who served as a company commander, says Rumsfeld is McNamara.

Additionally, the big shock and awe bombing campaign was a bust. It didnít collapse the regime. It killed civilians and destroyed records that would be very useful for the nationwide intelligence needed to restore security. Clearly, Rumsfeld thought the war meant defeat Hussein and get out. The plans called for a reduction from about 150,000 U.S. troops rapidly down to 30,000. How could the Sec Def not know there would be an Occupation?

The colonels at the Army War College knew it. The Army Chief of Staff, GEN. Eric Shinseki, who was let go, knew it. Just like they knew, and recommended, to keep the Iraqi Army on the payrolls, intact, and selectively weed out the Baathist bad guys.

Rumsfeld didnít understand the fundamentals of the war, which war, OIF was. Our forces on the ground did well to overcome the failures of understanding and planning. But, it cost us.

Bowden is quite correct about the occupation. Then Army chief of staff General Eric Shinseki did say a few hundred thousand soldiers would be needed for an occupation. The US Army is hard pressed to even maintain current troop levels. Recruitment is declining. Short of instituting a draft can the US military fight in Iraq for years to come? Also, will US public opinion move so far against the war that continuation of the war will become politically impossible? Any predictions?

To those who support continuation of the US fight against the Iraqi insurgents I have a question: How many more years of war do you think it is worth fighting? 2 years? 5 years? 10 years? If you knew it would take 20 years to defeat the insurgency would you still be for keeping over a hundred thousand US soldiers in Iraq for 20 years? Also, what benefits to US national interests do you expect to see from fighting there many years?

Thanks to Greg Cochran for the first link.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 May 19 08:39 AM  MidEast Iraq Military Needs

V.Ko said at May 19, 2005 9:31 AM:

There is the hope that we will establish a more stable Middle East than exists now, one in which Islamofacism is less prevalent and from where terrorist groups will no longer be able to attack America or other democratic countries. As Thomas Friedman writes, "the world is becoming flat. Several technological and political forces have converged, and that has produced a global, Web-enabled playing field that allows for multiple forms of collaboration without regard to geography or distance - or soon, even language." (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.05/friedman.html?pg=1), and this refers to security boundaries as well, which will become easier to cross if we do not establish them ourselves.

True, things are not going well in Iraq, as you write in the article. However, as you say, things may change in the long term, as they often do in history, and who knows what will become of Iraq? This is not of course an exact comparsion, but events such as the Greek Wars (http://www.crystalinks.com/greekwars.html) lasted twenty years, also conducted between some of the most "civilized" governmental entities at the time.

My overall point? In the long run, I believe that we will accomplish a stable, economically viable Iraq that not only benefits the United States but more than that, benefits the citizens of Iraq and treats them like they need to be treated as human beings and members of society. But maybe I am just an optimist.

gcochran said at May 19, 2005 10:26 AM:

There's a difference between an optimist and an idiot. Subtle but real.

Spending hundreds of billions of dollars to occupy a country that didn't even produce any anti-US terrorists before invasion is just fucking insane. The idea that we'll turn Iraq into happyland is also insane. The idea that Iraq even _matters_ (other than for its oil) is insane. I'm getting to say " I told you so" ebvery God-damn day but I'm not enjoying it the way I should.


Daveg said at May 19, 2005 1:41 PM:

The saddest thing is that the troops, whose lives are at stake, will be that last ones to admit the effort should be shut down.

When I first started my company I learned some things about human nature. People *hate* to find out that they been working on something that was not succesful, even if the failure had absolutely zero to do with their efforts. The best example is an engineering project that gets cancelled becuase the market conditions shift. This is just devistating for people working on the project, even though they were paid, will have a new project, and the project was canceled due to reasons outside their control.

While this is obvious to most, it came as a huge suprise to me initially.

I hope enough troops will be able to rise above this normal part of human nature and realize it is in their best interest to rap this thing up.

(sorry for typos but I spend to much time on this stuff as is)

blurp said at May 19, 2005 9:10 PM:

After millions were paid in ransom for the Italian journalist, we have large increases in bombings.

What a surprise.

PacRim Jim said at May 19, 2005 9:14 PM:

If the Iraqis continue to be unwilling to fight for their own freedom, they ultimately will lose it--and they won't have deserved it. Americans will not die indefinitely because of Iraqi cowardice and corruption. Even the South Vietnamese were willing to fight.

playrink said at May 19, 2005 9:39 PM:

which figure is fishy? If Iraq's pop is 26 million, that's a lot smaller than one seventh US pop (more like one eleventh)

Randall Parker said at May 19, 2005 9:51 PM:


Oops, you are right. The seventh was wrong. I fixed it. So the impact on Iraq is even larger if this death rate continues.

Randall Parker said at May 19, 2005 10:00 PM:

V. Ko,

I do not share your optimism about Iraq. I also do not have optimism over democracy in the Middle East. I also do not agree with the argument that the Middle East must become democratic in order to become less of a source of terrorists.

Oh, and I also think by invading Iraq we became less secure, not more secure.

Imagine other ways to spend a few hundred billion dollars (and counting) to increase security of America. We could, for example, hire many more intelligence agents, train them in foreign cultures and languages. We could build up a bigger anti-terrorist capability in the FBI and other domestic agencies. We could do a much better job of guarding our borders. We could implement better computer systems for processing visa applications and tracking foreign visitors to the United States. We could bribe workers in foreign governments to give us useful intelligence. We could do all these things and more for a lot less than the Iraq Debacle has cost.

Richard said at May 20, 2005 5:45 AM:

"After millions were paid in ransom for the Italian journalist, we have large increases in bombings.

What a surprise."

Work with me here, Blurp. I would think after the ransom was paid we would see an upsurge in profitable kidnappings rather than bombings that earn no money and usually cost an insurgents life.

Braddock said at May 20, 2005 6:36 AM:

The arab world has always been a disaster. Anyone who thinks he can get arabs to work together in a civilized manner is a greater optimist than I am. Truly a stone age people, primitive and senselessly violent. Combining suicide and mass murder into one act is the pinnacle of arab ingenuity. Kurds have done well since Saddam's influence was neutralized. But the arabs truly seen hopeless.

GUYK said at May 20, 2005 7:01 AM:

1500 years of rule under Islam and a couple of thousand before that under tribal Shieks doesn't show a lot of history that indicates a people wide open and ready for democracy. The Ottamans ruled the Arabs with an iron fist and sharpened impalement stakes and managed fairly well for centuries. The Ottamans seemed to have more problems with the Persians than the Arabs

Point is that Islam is not a religion receptive to individual freedom, especially freedom of religion. Although I am not a fan of true democracy which leads to tyrany by the majority, an elected government that is accepted by the majority in Iraq might be better for the USA and what we have left for allies than another strong man, murdering egotist, such as Saddam Hussein. Of course that does give the USA an option. Remind the Iraqis that Saddam is still alive and if they don't clean up their act and do it quick we will turn the bastard loose!

Proborders said at May 20, 2005 7:47 AM:

Randall, I think that the US presence in Iraq could continue for many years.

What might cause more Americans to turn against the US presence in Iraq? A military draft, especially a military draft that has no college student exemption(s) even for those attending Americaís best colleges and universities.

Invisible Scientist said at May 20, 2005 8:04 AM:

The cost of keeping Iraq occupied is at least $100 billion per year, which means that in another 7 years, total will be at least $1 trillion. Note that the money supply M2 is approximately $6.5 trillion and the GDP is just over $10 tillion. Had Bush invested $100 billion per year in a national Bronx Project For Energy Research, this would have almost certainly made the already proven biodiesel (from 100 % American vegetable oil) and clean gasoline from coal close to the price of gasoline (the United States has enough coal for several centuries!), and these things would be available already, making the US independent of foreign oil, and we could then even sell this technology to other countries. Clearly Bush and his gang knew that $100 billion per year would have solved the problem, but they squandered all our energy.

GUYK said at May 21, 2005 4:15 PM:

Maybe Invisable Sci, but about twenty or so years ago I read an article in the US Oil and Gas Journal which claimed that there was sufficient natural gas in the USA to provide all of our energy needs for the next 200 years.

I know people in the oil patch and they tell me that there is natural gas. But, it is not only damn expensive to get, they have to fight with the environmental nuts everytime they want to drill, let alone put in a feeder pipeline to connect with the main lines. In addition some of the main transport lines are decades old and need replacing. But again, fiscal and environmental concerns prohibit this.

Point is I suspect the same problems with any type of new fuel sources unless it is squeaky clean and doesn't disrupt the environmentalists idea of a perfect natural world. Thus, any type of refining process and coal mining is out. back in the seventies my father, who worked for a major oil company in the Okla oil patch, said that the companies could flood main street with oil if the price was right. And, he was right, they did and the price dropped to eight bucks a brral soon after. Do you think for a coondog second that oil companies will take that chance again, let alone pay a forty percent "old oil" windfall profit tax as they had to do before.

John S Bolton said at May 22, 2005 3:04 PM:

There is also the question of the damage that is being done to the US government's reputation for the abilty to put down an insurrection. Will this outlast the developments in Iraq?

James Atticus Bowden said at May 22, 2005 8:01 PM:

Whoa, battalion commander in Vietnam? My Dad was the Engineer advisor there in 56-57. I volunteered to go there as an advisor (2LT) because the last US combat battalion stood down the week I graduated from Vietnam. I was a Vietnam vet wannabe. Went to West Point when I was 17. War was called off when I was in Winter Ranger - Hooah. Went straight to 82nd Abn, not Vietnam - ever.

Braddock said at May 23, 2005 4:46 AM:

Hey Bolton, you do understand this "insurrection" is a worldwide islamic terrorist movement that just happens to be focused on Iraq currently. Previously it was focused on Chechnya and the Russians looked pretty incompetent. Likewise in Afghanistan the Soviets folded like a house made of soggy cardboard. European countries are laying down belly up whimpering in fear that the islamists will focus on them next.
This is not a local insurrection. The terrorists are coming into Iraq from all the arab nations as well as some central asian nations.

gcochran said at May 23, 2005 7:06 AM:

What nonsense. 95% of the trouble in Iraq is caused by locals, none of whom ever gave us any shit before we invaded. A few percent are walk ons from elsewhere, mostly from Saudi - although my favorite was a guy from Syria who said that if we don't fight the US in Iraq, we'll have to fight them in Syria. He sounds just like the morons in this country, except that he's actually got the truth on his side.

The Army has said, over and over and over, that only a few percent of those fighting against us in Iraq are non-Iraqis. Yet mouth breathers keep talking about the global Islamic insurrection -why? Because they're trying to force some kind of meaning or purpose on Iraq. In the same way, lots of Americans still beleive that Iraq was some kind of military threat, stuffed with invisible weapons of mass destruction made by ragheads paid with sand. Or that Saddam was the instigator of 9-11, against all evidence. Because, you see, then there would have been a reason for the whole show: we'd still be fighting an expensive, dirty guerrilla war, but at least there would be a reason.

But there is no reason, nor was there ever any reason.

Braddock said at May 23, 2005 8:46 AM:

What utter nonsense and poppycock. The homegrown Iraqi component to the terrorism is driven by fascist Baath elements who are not ready to admit defeat, and the criminal elements who have no better way to earn money with Saddam out of power.

The foreign fighters and Saudi/Gulf magnate oil money is driving the bulk of the suicide bombings which cause the greatest civilian casualties. Even if the Sunni population largely decides to join the Iraqis and stop fighting, the foreigners would maintain the bulk of civilian deaths. Foreign al qada elements have declared war on "collaborators"--civilians who want to live in peace.

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