December 1, 2008

What's Next in Iraq

I'm working on a long dispatch from the Sadr City area. Here is a short piece in COMMENTARY to hold you over in the meantime. Thank you for being patient. Everything, including writing and publishing, is a gigantic hassle in Iraq.

BAGHDAD – For the past two weeks I’ve been embedded with the United States Army in Baghdad, and I find myself unable to figure out what to make of this place. Baghdad, despite the remarkable success of the surge, is as mind-bogglingly run-down and dysfunctional as ever, even compared with other Arabic countries. Iraq is a dark place. At times it feels like a doomed country that has only been temporarily spared the reckoning that is coming. Other times it is possible to look past the grimness and see progress beyond the mere slackening off of violence and war. Is Iraq truly on the mend, or has a total breakdown been merely postponed? Opinions here among Americans and Iraqis are mixed, but nearly everyone seems to agree about one thing at least: terrorists and insurgents will respond with a surge of their own in the wake of the upcoming withdrawal of American forces.

Sergeant Nick Franklin took me to meet an Iraqi woman named Malath who works with the local Sons of Iraq security organization in the Adhamiyah district of Baghdad. When I asked her if she thought her area was ready to stand on its own without American help, she bluntly answered “Of course not.” She doesn’t think Iraq needs another year or two or even three. She thinks it will need decades. “We won’t be ready until young people replace the older generation in the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police. They need to replace the old Baath Party members who are still inside.”

Her view is the darkest. But Iraqis who think the job should only require a few more years are still pessimistic about what they think is likely to happen when the negotiated Status of Forces Agreement goes into effect and American troops withdraw from Iraqi cities in 2009. “We’ve seen hell,” an Iraqi intelligence source said when I met him in his house. “And that hell, if the American forces evacuate, will repeat. If Obama forces an evacuation from Iraq soon, everything will turn against him in this land.”

Read the rest in COMMENTARY.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 1, 2008 12:16 PM
Comments

No comments here, lots in Commentary.
Michael, do you have a preference for where we should comment?

I'm glad you agreed that the surge worked damn well.

I just read a note about the UN realizing that 'peacekeeping' only works when there is an active police force, i.e. the peacekeepers become the police.

Too many aid / development oriented do-gooders forget that the first and most important job of gov't is to use force against the unjust bad guys.

I wish Baghdad was more clearly better -- it's great to hear what I believe is the truth, even when it's not quite the reality I'd have preferred to be true.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at December 2, 2008 2:49 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 12/02/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by: David M Author Profile Page at December 2, 2008 11:18 AM

According to the Bush administration the overall objective is to establish a "unified, democratic federal Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself, and sustain itself, and is an ally in the War on Terror." In other words, the goal is a democratic Iraq that can sustain itself without US troops on the ground. If in a year, or two, or three after the departure of US troops either all hell breaks lose or Iraq ceases to be democratic, can it be claimed that the US was successful? I truly hope this does not become a repeat of the Nixon/Kissinger face-saving "decent interval" in Vietnam.

Posted by: Kolya Author Profile Page at December 2, 2008 2:29 PM

Michael, you may recall meeting “Grim” on your journey to Baghdad last year. (We all ate at Pizza Hut one night.) He’s there again, too - doing some work with Human Terrain Teams (about which controversy arises elsewhere - http://pajamasmedia.com/instapundit/28775/) and blogging here: http://grimbeorn.blogspot.com/ If you have the opportunity (if you’re still there, even) you might want to make contact, some interesting story possibilities there.

What you describe doesn’t surprise me. I’m not sure what degree of despair (fatalism?) is attributable to anticipation that our next President will make good his promise to pull 1-2 “combat” Brigades monthly beginning February until all are out, but the way things are looking right now that won’t happen. He “endorsed” the SOFA via subtle changes in wording on his web site and comments when introducing Bob Gates as SecDef, and the document itself is a bit softer than some among the punditry would have us believe. Still, and unfortunately, If I lived in Baghdad I’d consider Jan 20 +/- a few days as a good time to avoid crowds…

I’m not certain there won’t be other spikes in violence and other reasons for that (provincial elections there wonderfully timed to coincide with innaugeration here) but honestly the Iraqis have surprised me (not to be read in the sense of “delighted” or “shocked”) over the past year, even beyond just Sadr City, Basra, etc. (Though I’m looking forward to your promised longer report). They’ve moved further faster than I expected, and I thought myself an optimist.

I don’t think Obama wants to be the guy who “blows it” in Iraq - regardless of whether he shoulders any blame in the media or from the public should that happen. I really think he wants to do the right thing. The question is, can those who desire otherwise sustain themselves byond his personal limit? Such things define us great or small.

Take care, Michael. And thanks.

Posted by: Greyhawk Author Profile Page at December 2, 2008 6:08 PM

So, either we stay many more years, or stay for decades? Is that our choice? If their analysis is correc, then, we should leave by the end of 2008, as practically speaking, staying longer will accomplish nothing.

I of course believe we should leave by the end of 2008 regardless of the consequences, since for sure no matter when we leave, a disaster will follow.

Posted by: Seymour Paine Author Profile Page at December 5, 2008 12:13 PM

Thanks for awaited dispatch. I can't wait for the long version.

As far as what the Iraqi woman Malath they need to put her in charge. I think she has great insight. There might be people that think the Iraqi forces are growing by leaps and bounds, but she's right it's a generational thing. I'm sure there a honest Iraqis within the government and security forces that want to move their country forward. On the other hand there's probably just as many or if not more that like doing things the old way. America needs to help cultivate a culture of new responsible leaders to take over Iraq. That won't happen in 3 years, let alone the 16 months the Obama campaigned on. When and if the Obama abandons Iraq it'll just be portrayed as victory by the terrorists and Iran. And if you think the "ARAB STREET" doesn't like us or trust us now, just wait when Iraq turns into a real hellhole.

Posted by: PeteDawg Author Profile Page at December 5, 2008 9:41 PM

She doesn’t think Iraq needs another year or two or even three. She thinks it will need decades. “We won’t be ready until young people replace the older generation in the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police. They need to replace the old Baath Party members who are still inside.”

Absolutely. Example is Russia. They already going through this process for the last 17 years and progress is very modest but it is there.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at December 6, 2008 12:52 PM

"Absolutely. Example is Russia. They already going through this process for the last 17 years and progress is very modest but it is there."

I don't quite understand, Leo. Do you mean that the US should maintain a high level of troops in Iraq for, say, five or ten additional years? That's certainly not what the Bush administration said in 2002 and 2003. Would most Americans be supportive of the Iraq War if they knew that five-and-a-half-years after taking Baghdad there would be more than 100,000 US soldiers in Iraq and that Afghanistan would be getting worse and worse?

Posted by: Kolya Author Profile Page at December 7, 2008 8:41 PM

Yes, I believe it will be necessary to retain permanent contingent for a while.

"That's certainly not what the Bush administration said in 2002 and 2003."

As they say, "Man proposes, god disposes".

"Would most Americans be supportive of the Iraq War ...?"

Do Americans object to or even think about American presence in Germany, Japan, S. Korea, ...? When was the last time this question became an agenda of any internal political process?

"...would be more than 100,000 US soldiers in Iraq...?"

Not as nearly as 100K. Just few small bases hidden away from sight somewhere in the desert.
Will work wonders as morale buster for Iraqis and as deterrent for the rest.
Plus, of cause, active consulting of civil authorities to make sure Iraqis do not fall back on their wicked ways.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at December 8, 2008 8:31 AM

Would most Americans be supportive of the Iraq War if they knew that five-and-a-half-years after taking Baghdad there would be more than 100,000 US soldiers in Iraq and that Afghanistan would be getting worse and worse?

Kolya

As my "Obama Follower" friends keep telling me "Get over it!"; you should get over that tired arguement "if only the Americans people knew how long we would be in Iraq.". That's a bunch BS. It's time for you to grow up and be an adult. The Democrats claimed they were swepted into power in 2006, because supposedly the American people were tired of the Iraq War. They could've stopped this war 1 1/2 years ago, but they still kept funding the war. And they'll fund it again in 2009 with the Obama at the helm.

Now Kolya you should be honest with yourself and ask the Democrats "If you pledged to "END" the Iraq War back in 2006,why are we still in Iraq in 2008?"

Posted by: PeteDawg Author Profile Page at December 9, 2008 1:15 AM
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