Iraq Sinks into the Gap between US Strategy and Reality

Ten US Marines of the 2nd Division were killed and 11 injured while on foot patrol near Falluja Thursday, Dec. 1. They ran into a bomb trap made of several artillery shells. This disaster came at the worst possible moment for president George W. Bush. Just 24 hours earlier, he delivered a Victory in Iraq speech at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. Ahead of the speech, a White House report titled National Strategy for Victory in Iraq was released as an outline of the administration’s rationale, strategy and measures of progress.
By next year, said Bush, US commanders expect Iraqi security forces to be able to assume more of the direct combat roles now performed by US troops.
“We will continue to shift from providing security and conducting operations nationwide to conducting more specialized operations targeted at the most dangerous terrorists, he said”
He emphasized recent progress in the training of Iraqi security forces, noting that they now control several sections of Iraq, including large portions of Baghdad.
The lethal incident near Falluja once again show Washington’s best plans for winning the Iraq war and passing security to the Iraqis to be overoptimistic.
debkafile‘s military sources underline the four primary obstacles on the road to a victorious US departure from Iraq.
1. The 160,000 US troops fighting in Iraq are already below the strength needed to attain victory. Political criticism at home prevents any further buildup. In fact, the Pentagon expects a further drawdown of US forces in 2006.
2. The US president’s predictions of Iraqi military numbers are statistically correct when the units fighting alongside US forces are counted. There are certain many more Iraqi battalions in combat than a year ago. But those battalions are sorely deficient in other ways: they lack their own regional commands, heavy weaponry, air support in the form of warplanes and helicopters, and, above all, a reliable intelligence branch, without which no modern army can fight. For all these resources, the Iraqi army remains totally dependent on the Americans. It will take years to fill in these blanks.
3. The Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda have deeply penetrated Iraqi security forces at all levels – from field units up to staff commands and government ministries in the capital.
4. But the most formidable impediment may be the chasm between the political goals set by President Bush for Iraq’s future – a unified democratic country – and the reality evolving on the ground.
Whereas Bush correctly lauds the impressive milestones of elections and a referendum on the road to democracy, this process goes one way and a contrary process of Iraq’s fragmentation into three independent entities, Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish, is pulling the country in the opposition direction. Each community puts its own agenda way ahead of the requirements of a unified Iraq. Only this week, debkafile‘s sources learned that President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, during his acclaimed visit to Tehran last week secretly signed an agreement for the oil pumped in the fields of Kurdistan near the northern city of Kirkuk to be piped 500km to Iran’s southern refineries at Abadan.
This transaction was carried out without notifying Washington or the government in Baghdad. Even now it is not clear if Talabani signed the deal in his capacity as president of Iraq or as head of the Kurdish PUK party that controls the Kirkuk oilfields.
This and other such episodes demonstrate that while the Bush administration is working hard to build Iraq into a democratic republic, its politicians are breaking off pieces in accordance with their personal, partisan, ethnic or religious interests.
The dissonance between Washington’s strategic planning for victory and the activities of Iraqi politicians is fully exploited by former Baathist insurgents and Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s bombers to impede America’s goals and exacerbate the divisions in Iraq.
By the same token, very little has come of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the Bush administration’s plan to use it as a lever to put the Palestinian economy on a healthy footing – because of the same US remoteness from the realities. Israel’s departure from the territory has had a single tangible result: Terrorist groups from other parts of the Middle East have taken advantage of the Gaza Strip’s accessibility and are heading there in droves. Palestinian terrorists groups have moreover thrust Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority aside and opened the door wide to al Qaeda, bringing the jihadists in from Sinai to a base on Israel’s southern border. The general lawlessness there is the enemy of any sort of reconstruction of economic development.

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