Iraq in a Nutshell as of December 2007
Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 04:37PM
Skeptic in Iraq, Mr. Bush's War

For a comprehensive, balanced 7-page assessment of the military and political situation in Iraq by retired General Barry McCaffrey after his visit in December 2007, click here. He concludes that the force level that the US could feasibly maintain in Iraq over the decade to stamp out an insurgency is half or less of what would be needed to "probably succeed." 

McCaffrey's assesses (top of page 10) that "an active counter-insurgency campaign in Iraq could probably succeed in the coming decade with twenty-five US Brigade Combat Teams."  In January 2007, we had 15 combat brigades in Iraq.  Then the "surge" announced by Bush added 5 more combat brigades by mid-year.  In September, General Petraeus re-affirmed the plan to reduce the level back to 15 combat brigades by July 2008.  New York Times, September 11, 2007.  This reduction has been widely reported as being absolutely necessary because the military is too small to sustain higher troop levels beyond then.  McCaffrey says, "We can probably sustain a force in Iraq indefinitely (given adequate funding) of some 10+ brigades.  However, the US Army is starting to unravel." 

If we know we have only about half the resources necessary to give us a probability of military success, what should be our strategy? 

Update on Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 11:21AM by Registered CommenterSkeptic

An NPR report today is based on interviews of McCaffrey and others and highlights where there are--and are not--differences of opinion about the success of the "surge."  Transcript.  Everybody agrees the violence is down dramatically, but the question is whether it was 30,000 more troops in Baghdad and/or something else that made the difference. 

One opinion is that the elevated troop presence is keeping the bad guys underground or has driven them into the northern provinces to regroup.  If that's the primary factor, one has to be concerned about what will happen when the "de-surge" starts in March 2008.  McCaffrey is quoted saying this is the least important factor underlying the improved conditions. 

Another opinion is that violence has been reduced because, under the leadership of Gen. Petreaus, the US military is making deals with the Sunni insurgents, especially in Anbar (where US troop levels were not surged).  The US is paying local militiamen $10 per day to keep the peace (and not attack Americans).  There is concern that the Sunnis are using the money and US-supplied arms to be better prepared for a likely civil war with the Shia. 

A third opinion is that the ethnic separation of Sunnis and Shia has been substantially completed so that death squads are no longer embedded in the neighborhoods of their ethnic victims.  Of course, all three opinions may be correct to some degree. 

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