An elite team of officers advising US commander General David Petraeus in Baghdad has concluded the US has six months to win the war in Iraq – or face a Vietnam-style collapse in political and public support that could force the military into a hasty retreat.
The officers – combat veterans who are leading experts in counter-insurgency – are charged with implementing the “new way forward” strategy announced by president George Bush on January 10. The plan includes a controversial “surge” of 21,500 additional American troops to establish security in the Iraqi capital and Anbar province.
But the team, known as the “Baghdad brains trust” and ensconced in the heavily fortified Green Zone around the US embassy, is struggling to overcome a range of entrenched problems in what has become a race against time, said a former senior administration official familiar with their deliberations. “They know they are operating under a clock. They know they are going to hear a lot more talk in Washington about ‘Plan B’ by the autumn – meaning withdrawal. They know the next six-month period is their opportunity. And they say it’s getting harder every day,” the former official said.
By improving security, the plan’s short-term aim is to create time and space for the Iraqi government to bring rival Shia, Sunni and Kurd factions together in a process of national reconciliation, us officials say. If that works within the stipulated timeframe, longer-term schemes for rebuilding Iraq under the so-called “go long” strategy will be set in motion. But the next six months are make-or-break for both the US military and the Iraqi government.
“There are some promising signs. There is a new overall Iraqi commander in Baghdad. A number of joint operations have just begun. The number of political murders has fallen. Iraqi forces are showing up as promised, admittedly a little bit under strength, and are taking up some of the responsibilities that Maliki said he would,” the Pentagon official said.
“We have to be realistic. We’re not going to stop the suicide bombers and the roadside explosive devices for some time. And the military alone are certainly not going to solve the problem. Maliki has to meet the benchmarks. A civilian surge is needed, too. The Iraqis have to do it themselves.”
So if we check off what had to be done by six months from six months ago…
1. Gov’t of national reconciliation… Um, no.
2. Improving security… the Pentagon talks a lot about this, but no numbers are ever provided and the cheerleaders still refuse to walk the streets of Baghdad alone and unescorted. Conclusion… this hasn’t happened either.
3. Benchmarks… heck no.
From this the cheerleaders conclude… the surge is working, and any attempt to say otherwise is to move the goalposts.