2005 June 14 Tuesday
US Officers See No Military Solution In Iraq

Tom Lasseter of the Knight Ridder Newspapers has written an excellent article on the growing number of US officers who do not think the United States can win militarily in Iraq. (same article here and here and here and here)

BAGHDAD, Iraq - (KRT) - A growing number of senior American military officers in Iraq have concluded that there is no long-term military solution to an insurgency that has killed thousands of Iraqis and more than 1,300 U.S. troops during the past two years.

Instead, officers say, the only way to end the guerilla war is through Iraqi politics - an arena that so far has been crippled by divisions between Shiite Muslims, whose coalition dominated the January elections, and Sunni Muslims, who are a minority in Iraq but form the base of support for the insurgency.

"I think the more accurate way to approach this right now is to concede that ... this insurgency is not going to be settled, the terrorists and the terrorism in Iraq is not going to be settled, through military options or military operations," Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said last week, in a comment that echoes what other senior officers say. "It's going to be settled in the political process."

Think George W. Bush can be convinced to this way of thinking? Wouldn't it mean negotiating with terrorists? Watch for changes in language used by Administration spokesmen. Will the Press Secretary start saying that the insurgents are fighting because they do not understand US aims and that the US wants to hold talks with insurgents to clear up misunderstandings? Yeah, that's the ticket. We won't negotiate with terrorists. We'll negotiate with community leaders and influentials who have contact with the terrorists. If the spin starts going that way you will know that the Bush Administration has decided to negotiate with the insurgency.

Gen. George W. Casey, top US commander in Iraq expresses very similar sentiments in the article. Okay panglossian war camp, how you going to pass this off as just negative spin by the mainstream media?

We can't kill them all.

Lt. Col. Frederick P. Wellman, who works with the task force overseeing the training of Iraqi security troops, said the insurgency doesn't seem to be running out of new recruits, a dynamic fueled by tribal members seeking revenge for relatives killed in fighting.

"We can't kill them all," Wellman said. "When I kill one I create three."

Lasseter points out that the Sunnis do not have high religious authorities who are the equivalent of Shiite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani. Also, the insurgency itself does not have a single unified command structure. Both these facts are highly problematic for reaching a negotiated solution because the sheer number of groups that must be negotiated with might make a negotiated solution impossible to achieve.

Howard Fineman quotes from a letter from an officer stationed in Iraq.

I’m sitting here with a gloomy letter from Iraq, written by a high-ranking officer I cannot name in a branch of service I cannot name in a part of the country I cannot name. But trust me, because I trust him. Iraqis, he says, have no feel for or belief in the democracy we want to create, and our occupation is making them less, not more, capable of self-government.

"Our eventual departure,” he worries, “will leave nothing but cosmetic structure here.” “Every mission,” he writes, “requires a conscious escape from the resignation that there is nothing here to win and every occasion to fail.”

Small miracles do happen—a child is saved, a generator is installed. There remain “possibilities.” But sullen eyes along the roadsides give this officer “the feeling that we have stayed too long but can not leave.”

Writing for the New York Times Sabrina Tavernise and John F. Burns report on the poor state of the Iraqi military.

"I just wish they'd start to pull their own weight without us having to come out and baby-sit them all the time," said Sgt. Joshua Lower, a scout in the Third Brigade of the First Armored Division who has worked with the Iraqis. "Some Iraqi special forces really know what they are doing, but there are some units that scatter like cockroaches with the lights on when there's an attack."

The Iraqi troops' story is one of light and dark, American officers say. Especially in regions sympathetic to the insurgents, they have performed woefully, with Sunni Arab soldiers making little secret of their support for Saddam Hussein and their contempt for the Americans.

Projections for when US troop withdrawals will start keep getting delayed.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon suggested that an initial drawdown of the 140,000 American troops in Iraq might begin by the end of this year. Now, American generals are saying it could be two years, perhaps longer.

Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe reports that the insurgency has developed better tactics and remains just as effective in spite of continued casualties. (same article here)

Two years after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the Iraq conflict has evolved into a classic guerrilla war, they argue.

The insurgency has not been weakened at all.

Despite U.S. estimates that it kills or captures 1,000 to 3,000 insurgents a month, the number of daily attacks is going back up. Down to about 30 to 40 a day in February, attacks are up to at least 70 per day, according to statistics of U.S. Central Command. The insurgency has demonstrated a keen ability to shift its tactics in the face of persistent U.S. and Iraqi battlefield victories.

An internal Army report in April said that rather than what some saw as a drop in the number of daily attacks earlier this year, the insurgents had simply shifted their focus away from U.S. forces to attacks on more vulnerable targets, which were not being fully tallied at the time.

''The insurgency is still mounting an effort comparable to where they were a year ago," said Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer and specialist on counterinsurgency operations who directs the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent think tank in Washington.

"We do something we think will change things, but a month or two later, casualties and the level of violence are back to where they were," Krepinevich added.

So far this year, nearly 1,000 members of Iraq's police and security forces have been killed in attacks, almost as many as the total for the previous year and a half, according to Pentagon figures.

The insurgency has tripled the rate at which it kills Iraqi soldiers and police. At the same time, the US casuality rate is above the average since the war began. I have recently argued that the death tolls among various types of representatives of the Iraqi government are the more important indicators to watch. Well, here we see the insurgents have greatly increased their kill rate of Iraqi police. The insurgents are doing very well.

What are you going to believe? The figures and the US officers? Or the obviously wrong Vice President Dick Cheney?

"I think we may well have some kind of presence there over a period of time," Cheney said. "The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."

Is he so deluded that be believes what he is saying or is he lying?

Thanks to Greg Cochran for tips on the first two articles linked above.

War Nerd Gary Brecher says the insurgency has no single Mr. Big leader.

Which suits the insurgents just fine. That's the most depressing angle of all on Zarqawi: it's not just the Pentagon and Al Q who are happy to keep him in the spotlight. The real bosses of the insurgency must get down on their knees every night and thank Allah for the Z-man, because he keeps the heat off them.

They're not Mr. Big. There is no Mr Big. They're more like a few thousand Mr. Middles, a whole crowd of ex-officers and clan leaders in every Sunni town or village who have some kind of loose control over some of the insurgents. Not all-there are hundreds of insurgent groups fighting, and nobody controls them all.

But it stands to reason that some of the bigger, more professional networks have real leaders. These guys will turn out to be solid, intelligent men, usually young-20s, early 30s-who get respect in the neighborhood. They'll be homegrown Iraqis with real standing in the clan and tribal networks that really run things in Iraq.

To carry out the advice of many top officers in Iraq the US government will have to figure out how many insurgent groups it needs to negotiate with. Just discovering who to try to negotiate with will be difficult at best. But suppose that much can be done. What if most of those groups do not see negotiations as in their best interests?

Nixon and Kissinger famously engaged in a heavy bombing campaign against North Vietnam in order to get the North Vietnamese to sign and respect a deal long enough for US troops to withdraw. But George W. Bush and his neocons lack a lever to use in negotiations and might be unable to bring the relevant Sunni insurgent parties to the negotiating table. A scaling up of US military force in Iraq large enough to apply heavy pressure to the insurgents is simply not in the cards as the American people turn increasingly against the war. So what is Bush going to do? See my post from early May 2004 entitled "Unilaterally Withdraw From Iraq Or First Partition?" Time to consider whether to impose a partition in which we support a Kurdish secession or whether to totally bet on funding the Arab Shias in the civil war which will follow a US withdrawal.

I hope top policymakers do not wait too long before lowering their expectations far enough to the point of considering outcomes far less than they initially hoped to achieve. The longer they wait the weaker the cards will be in the hands they have to play. Even the much less ambitious outcomes will eventually fall out of their reach as popular opinion turns further against the war and the insurgency does greater damage to the Iraqi government.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 June 14 12:49 PM  MidEast Iraq Military Needs

Bartelson said at June 14, 2005 3:24 PM:

"What are you going to believe? The figures and the US officers? Or the obviously wrong Vice President Dick Cheney?"

Where the hell are the Democrats? Can't they do anything at all except complain about goof ball judicial nominees? There isn't a single prominent respected Democrat trying to do a damn thing about this pointless war. Clearly, they do not care. Their ox is not being gored.

Somwhat off topic - does the House of Representatives still exist? I don't think I've heard of them for 5 or 6 years now.

Randall Parker said at June 14, 2005 3:32 PM:


Joseph Biden has a speech coming up where he will lay down goals that must be met in some timeframe or else he says we should withdraw from Iraq.

My guess is that the Democrats do not want to take a hard line against the war because they are afraid of the effects on Israel if the US withdrew unilaterally. AIPAC always looms in the background.

Invisible Scientist said at June 14, 2005 10:08 PM:

The current administration, must be calculating what kind of environment the new president will inherit after the elections... IF it looks like the Democrats will win the elections, then Bush will set up the kind of environment that will make the Democrats look bad. It's all short term politics...

But seriously, IF the United States withdraws from Iraq, regardless of whether there is partitioning or not, Iran will then take over all of Iraq, and acquire significant leverage by combining its own oil. Additionally, I also worry that Iran will also be in a position to take over all of Saudi Arabia if the United States leaves Iraq. Once the United States leaves Iraq, not only would the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia would collapse, but also, Iran will be capable of taking over all of Saudi Arabia.

Braddock said at June 15, 2005 5:12 AM:

Iran may try to control the southern Iraqi oil fields through proxies in Iraq. An outright takeover of southern Iraq by Iran would provoke the regional Sunni arabs to respond, creating a regional war. No one wants that, not even Israel.

The US has "adopted" Iraq. Muslim Sunni fanatics from all over the world are attacking Iraq because they see it as a US possession now. A massive pullout of US troops from Iraq will not happen, unless Ted Kennedy is elected president. A Ted Kennedy/John Kerry administration, with Al Gore as Secretary of State, would certainly precipitate a massive pullout from Iraq, reminiscent of the Mogadishu retreat. That would certainly create a clean slate with the Sunni arabs, causing them to love us once again, as they did until Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.

Chicken Little said at June 15, 2005 9:49 AM:



Jesus, and you wonder why no one takes you looney tunes seriously.

Ned said at June 15, 2005 10:57 AM:

The Democrats are weak on this issue because most of them voted for the resolution authorizing the war and don't like to be reminded of it. To be precise, 29 of 50 Senate Democrats voted for the resolution, including John Kerry. A lot of Republicans aren't happy about the war either but don't want to be seen as unsupportive of their President. Also, "national security" is an issue on which voters usually favor Republicans over Democrats, so the Dems don't want to appear "weak on terror." If you want to read some mealy-mouth stuff, go back and review what Kerry said about the war during the campaign. I remember an interview on one of the talk shows with Richard Holbrooke, who probably would have been Kerry's Secretary of State. When asked what he would do differently about the situation in Iraq, Holbrooke replied, "We'll have to study the issues." How's that for a strong statement? No doubt about where they stand!

Actually, the long-term big winner here is probably Iran. Under the Shah, Iran was the regional superpower and a strong ally of the US. Even the Soviets treated Iran with respect. Iraq has traditionally served as a counterweight and barrier against Iranian power. This animosity goes back for over a thousand years, even to the time when Babylon was opposing Persia. The downfall of the Shah was followed by the punishing six year war between the two countries, in which the "brutal dictator" Saddam Hussein was a de facto US ally. This war, plus the US arms embargo, almost destroyed the Iranian military. But they've had almost twenty years to recover. The big prize here is Saudi Arabia, which has lots of oil plus the Muslim holy sites. Wouldn't the Iranians love to get their hands on that!

And don't forget China, which is quietly increasing its influence in the region as the US alienates all the Muslims.

Den said at June 15, 2005 1:23 PM:

Good point. Seems like we've been "alienating all the Muslims" since a few years back when we had the bad taste to put our buildings in their flight paths. When will we learn from our mistakes?

daveg said at June 15, 2005 4:09 PM:

Den, do you think invading Iraq was the most cost efficient (and life efficient) way to make america safe?

Stephen said at June 15, 2005 7:28 PM:

I don't think Iran would want all of Iraq (nor could it handle it), but they'll certainly be tempted to take the SE corner - that'll get them the biggest oil fields and the Bahsra ports & oil terminal which will leave the remains of Iraq land locked. It could be marketed to the Iranian people in terms of war reparations.

Even the 'freedom fries' senator has recanted - he thinks that the US has done enough for the Iraqi people... He expressely blamed the neo-cons for the mess.

daveg said at June 15, 2005 7:49 PM:

Hey chicken little, I can only wish that you were one of the men in this story.

It is too bad they are dying for a-holes like you who don't care whether went into Iraq for a neocon manufactured lie. These kids will never know their father. We should never have gone, but now that we know the truth we have no excuse for leaving these guys in harm's way for even another second.

Braddock said at June 16, 2005 4:34 AM:

The troops in Iraq are only 4 years old. They were kidnapped from daycare centers, put into uniform, and forced to fight and die in Iraq for a cause they do not understand--they have not had world history yet!! Child soldiers dying before their time, inducted into a Bushitlerian army of darkness, learning to administer a worldwide gulag of Stalinmaoian proportions. They had no choice, they were taken!!!

RP's article above is guilty of very selective quotation. By quoting a few negative officers it gives the impression that troop morale is low overall.

daveg said at June 16, 2005 6:25 AM:

Braddock, spoken like a true chicken-hawk.

I guess, becuase they are volunteers, we have no real duty to ensure these men are fighting for something that is likely to actually make this country safer, or that we actually had truthful information when we decided to place them in harms way.

I mean, we could just say "Al Queda" is at the bottom of this cliff, and have them march of the end of it, and not feel bad about it becuase they volunteered, right? They have no right to expect that the leaders of this country use the military resource prudently and for US interests.

Here is some background on the person who sent these guys to war.

Yeah, we are there for US security interests.

Braddock said at June 16, 2005 7:31 AM:

Save the children!!! Prevent kidnapping of pre-school americans and forced indoctrination and induction into the murderous anti-Iraqi anti-muslim invader force!!!

Do you even know anyone in the military, personally? Next time, take your penicillin.

daveg said at June 16, 2005 7:58 AM:

Good response Braddock. You got me.

I do have friends in the Military and I admit it is a sensative subject. People hate to feel their effort(s) were not purposeful. But when asked to do a reasonable task they performed beyond any reasonable expectation. They took Iraq in days.

The task they are being asked to do now is not reasonable. Israel was not able to pacify Lebanon and we will not pacify Iraq. Will it take us 300 billion more dollars and 1000 more lives to figure that out?

If you really cared about your friends and you were really an american patriot you would be screaming for us to get our troops out of Iraq (and perhaps place them on the border).

BTW, do you have one less friend now?

daveg said at June 16, 2005 8:53 AM:


I reread some of your posts and I think you are a patriot at heart, not some 5th column type. I sincerly want to try and convince people like you to think about what is in the best interest of the US, and not be convinced to go on costly glory missions overseas by manufactured evidence.

Believe me, I am not some pacifist who thinks we should placate the terrorists. Afgahastan was the right decision.

What you may be suprised to learn is that the people who wanted us to go into Iraq originally wanted to do so *before* afghanstan. Do these people really have the best interests of the US at heart?

Braddock said at June 16, 2005 8:54 AM:

The image of juvenile arabs dancing around the burned out remains of american fighting vehicles comes to mind whenever I read these threads. The spirit of jubilant celebration. Very hard to hide, no matter how many layers of whitewash are used.

During Vietnam they had a draft, people were sent involuntarily to fight and die. That really got people objecting strongly. Involuntary vs. voluntary risk. Most people see a difference.

Stephen said at June 16, 2005 6:30 PM:

Not really wanting to buy into this, but...

I don't think the issue is involuntary/voluntary recruiting. Once you're in the forces it doesn't really matter whether you volunteered or were drafted. Basically, if you refuse to follow a legal order you'll face a court marshall, and the penalty is the same irrespective of how you were recruited. My point being that once you're in the army you can't say, "I refuse to go to Iraq" because you'll be breaking the law.

Ned said at June 17, 2005 9:57 AM:

Good article from the hard right American Spectator about the recruiting problems that the Army and Marines are having and the damage that this war is doing to our military:

FriendlyFire said at June 17, 2005 5:17 PM:

Jesus, and you wonder why no one takes you looney tunes seriously.

Dont like hearing the truth ? So just do what Bush would do attack and ridicure the facts. Just ignor them since its only the hysterical left wing media. There not true patriotic Americans who support our troops and dont deserve to live in this country.

Just tell us if we cant support the troops to STFU. ... no wait these are the troops.

Friendlyfire said at June 18, 2005 5:44 PM:


The Time table most accepted by the military was that it would take a minimal of 3 years to train a police force and 4 years for the Iraq Army. Given the state of Iraq's forces this estimate would now be revised upwards. The high percentage of desertion, corruption and casualtie rate it seems the training of Iraq forces will never meet the prewar estimated effectiveness unless serious changes are made.

gcochran said at June 18, 2005 8:03 PM:

The military says it takes four years to train an army: so what magical process resulted in Stonewall Jackson and the Valley campaign a year or so after secession? I really want to know.

Stephen said at June 18, 2005 9:38 PM:

When command & control involves shouting and pointing; when weapon familiarisation involves fitting a bayonet; when firing involves pointing a gun in the general direction of deep line of brightly dress soldiers walking toward you; when acceptable losses were 10,000 per battle, then you could train an army in a year.

Friendlyfire said at June 19, 2005 6:16 AM:

Another point of interest: It took over three years for the "muj" in Afganistain to become coheshieve and effective against the soviet occupation.

It takes very little to train a soldier, you can simply issue a rifle and a few minutes of instructions.
For that soldier to be considered "effective" is another matter entirely. For green soldiers and green commanders to be thrown into battle and to perform with any type of effectiveness is something else. History is littered with examples of them.

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