Several items in the news indicate that our new strategy in Iraq is already working:
Item 1: Sadr tells his Mahdi Army to stand down[*1] and for his followers to return to the Iraqi political process.
Last Friday, in a bid to fend off an all-out American militaryoffensive, al-Sadr ordered 30 lawmakers and six Cabinet ministers underhis control to end their nearly two-month boycott of the government.They were back at their jobs Sunday.
Al-Sadr had already orderedhis militia fighters not to display their weapons. They have not,however, ceded control of the formerly mixed neighborhoods they havecaptured, killing Sunnis or forcing them to abandon their homes andbusinesses.
Item 2: In the same article, Iraq Prime Minister al-Maliki tells Sadr his militia is no longer off-limits to American forces.
Iraq’s prime minister has dropped his protection of anti-Americancleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia after being convinced by U.S.intelligence that the group was infiltrated by death squads, two Iraqigovernment officials said Sunday.
By the way, did you know that all of the troops who make up the “surge” were scheduled to go to Iraq anyway[*2] ? The “surge” is simply speeding up the schedule to send new units in, along with delaying the return of some units which are already there. That’s it.
Meanwhile, the Small Wars Journal reminds: Don’t confuse the “surge” with the strategy.[*3]
What matters here is not the size of forces (though the strategywill not work without a certain minimum force size), but rather theirtasks. The key element of the plan, as outlined in the President’sspeech, is to concentrate security forces within Baghdad, to secure thelocal people where they live. Troops will operate in small, localgroups closely partnered with Iraqi military and police units, witheach unit permanently assigned to an area and working its “beat”.
This is different from early strategies which were enemy-centric(focusing on killing insurgents), or more recent approaches that reliedon training and supporting Iraqi forces and expected them to secure thepopulation.
The new strategy reflects counterinsurgency best practice asdemonstrated over dozens of campaigns in the last several decades:enemy-centric approaches that focus on the enemy, assuming that killinginsurgents is the key task, rarely succeed. Population-centricapproaches, that center on protecting local people and gaining theirsupport, succeed more often.
Here’s how I look at it. I can listen to and believe a bunch of politicians crying Withdraw! Withdraw!, many of whom have never seen the business end of an AK-47, or I can listen to and believe a large group of professonal soldiers, including the guy who wrote the book updating U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine. Now, I never served in the military–I guess I’m one of those “chickenhawks” that the left delights in attempting to shout down. But I can either listen to the actual chickens, or I can listen to the actual hawks, to try to determine what the best path forward might be.
No matter which way we go, I think we owe ourselves an honest answer to a seemingly-simple question: If we do XYZ, what happens next?