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Baghdad Offensive Expands to Seven Areas

Operation Together Forward Phase II is a joint U.S.-Iraqi military offensive in Baghdad based upon a “clear, hold and build” strategy of sweeping one neighborhood at a time and then working on rebuilding government and commercial institutions in the area. Begun the second week of August, Phase II appears to have successfully cleared a half dozen Baghdad city sections, but both attacks on coalition forces and brutal killings of local civilians continue elsewhere in the city of 6.8 million. As we discussed in our September 11 report on Phase II, July was the bloodiest of the war for Iraqi civilians, especially in Baghdad, with August seeing about a 25-30 percent drop in violence in the capital city. While recent “death squad” killings have been deliberately provocative, with victims’ mutilated corpses left in the streets, the overall death rate may have been lower than August, although that is not certain. In addition to the sweep operations integral to Phase II, there have also been targeted raids on cells belonging to Sunni insurgents and the Mahdi Army of radical Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Military press briefings, conducted by Major General James Thurman, Commander of MNF-Baghdad, and Major General William Caldwell, MNF-I spokesman, respectively, provide some update on Operation Together Forward (Pentagon Sept. 22 Briefing, MNF-I Sept. 27 Briefing). As indicated by the briefings, those areas of Baghdad in which clear and hold operations have been conducted have seen declines in violence, but some other areas have seen increases, possibly resulting in a slight decrease in violence for the first three weeks of September over August, although an aggregate picture is difficult to draw at this time. The Ameriya area of Baghdad has already been cleared as Phase II began. Ameriya is now in the build phase, and more recently Dura, Baya, Mansour, Kadhimiya and Adhamiya are the focus. Dura was identified by the Iraqi Baghdad security chief as the single worst area of the city over the summer, so if that area remains quiet it will be a very significant achievement. An examination of city maps indicates that these areas are in the south and west of Baghdad (two maps contained in the September 27 briefing linked above).

A September 14 release also reported that coalition forces had just begun clearing operations in the Baghdad neighborhood of Khadra. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that the Iraqi government had begun the process of building barriers around the city, using natural barriers where possible and otherwise restricting the flow of traffic into the city to monitorable routes.

Current foreign coalition and Iraqi forces in Baghdad were given as follows: 9,000 Iraqi soldiers, 12,000 national police (Interior Ministry forces), 22,000 local police, and 15,000 coalition forces. Maj. Gen. Thurman stated that he was requesting an additional 3,000 Iraqi soldiers from the Iraqi government to serve in Baghdad.

Maj. Gen. Thurman was asked directly about fighting with the Mahdi Army. He responded by saying that no specific organization was being targeted, but that coalition forces were taking down death squads whenever they were tipped off to them, and that likewise being a member of any organization would not protect someone deemed to be in a death squad. According to reporting by the international Arab newspaper Al-Hayat (Sept. 20, “Confrontations Between the Mahdi Army and American Forces”), there were multiple operations by coalition and Iraqi forces striking Mahdi Army members, whether the latter was being specifically targeted or not. The article reports that British forces killed Habib Jasim al-Abadi, a Mahdi Army leader, in Basra, and that multiple hits were made on Mahdi Army elements in Basra, Baghdad and Karbala. Sadrist representatives in the Iraqi parliament accused the U.S. of directly targeting the Mahdi Army in order to draw Sadrists into an open fight.

As noted above, there was significant violence in areas of Baghdad outside of current focus, and the second full week of the month saw the most gruesome effects. According to Al-Hayat (Sept. 17, “205 Corpses in a Week, Including 190 in the Capital Alone”), about 190 corpses were found in the streets in a week, usually with signs of torture. This included 60 corpses recovered on Wednesday the 13th, 50 corpses recovered on Thursday and Friday, and 47 bodies recovered on Saturday.

Al-Hayat, referring to that week as “Kill Week,” quoted Sadrists in the Iraqi parliament as blaming “Saddamist and takfiris [e.g. al-Qaeda],” while quoting Sunni members, as well as the Sunni Muslim Scholars Association, as blaming the same groups, but also blaming “political elements which are part of the government.” This statement could theoretically apply to either Sadr’s Mahdi Army or the Badr Brigades of SCIRI, the largest Shi’a faction, but the former is most likely. Sadr has openly called for calm and restraint by Shi’a in the face of Sunni attacks while Mahdi Army leaders claim that only rogue elements of their organization work in death squads. Yet the Sadrists have taken no visible steps to counter those kill squads which are operating out of neighborhoods they dominate, including Sadr City in Baghdad.

Feedback

Gee, it sound more and more like Vietnam with it's "village pacification" strategy. Could we be seeing the "Kissinger" philosophy taking hold in Iraq where the only exit strategy is victory----not a bad strategy for a warlord. Like my father would say, "Trow dah bum out."

Blackspeare:

I believe that you are misdescribing the Kissenger/Nixon strategy on Vietnam - their strategy was to Vietnamize the war while using airstrikes to inflict damage and withdraw regardless of what came after. There was never a strategy for victory, or even the intent; the focus was maintaining U.S. deterent posture while leaving.

We are trying to Iraqify the war, but there the analogy ends - in Iraq, unlike Vietnam, we have a vigorous and legitimately elected ally, in Vietnam we had the cities and nothing else; in Iraq our allies have 80% of the country largely pacified; in Iraq we condition withdrawal on leaving a stable and legitimate government behind, in Vietnam the Nixon administration just wanted to leave having inflicted enough carnage on the Vietnamese to make sure no one thought us weak.

Kissenger wrote that in an insurgency it is better to have 100% control of 70% of the country than 70% control of 100% of the country. In Iraq we have the former, and in Vietnam the latter, and that is the largest tactical difference here.

Mr. Sowell...

You analysis of the Vietnam War is interesting, but accurate only in the last year or so of the war. The Nixon Administration's aim was to divide the country vis-a-vis Korea and establish an American sphere of influence. Vietnamizing the war was only a buzzword to appease the public. Today we have history repeating itself with the Iraqifying of the war---another buzzword and another attempt to establish a sphere of influence. The best that can be hoped for is a loose federation system of three states; Kurdistan, Sunniville, and Shiatown and we all know that Shiatown will be under influence of Iran. And please don't tell me that the Iranian and Iraqi Shia don't get along----an old Arab adage says, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Blackspeare:

One can certainly question what the Nixon administration was really intending, but there was never an attempt to build a unified state accountable to its entire population, protected by a national army. U.S. strategy in Iraq and Vietnam could not possibly be more different.

A few points on the federalism issue:

First, your repetition of the common prediction that Iraq will be come three autonomous regions fails to take account of the fact that only SCIRI supports that plan. SCIRI is the most powerful party, but it is the only Arab party which supports a large Shi'a region, and even if joined by all independent Shi'a, it would account for just over 20% of seats. Dawa and Fadhila support autonomy in priciple, but Fadhila wants 16 regions versus SCIRI's four (Baghdad would be separate), and Dawa hasn't put forward a specific alternative, but has suggested they don't support the SCIRI plan. The Sadrists and of course the Sunnis oppose it.

I believe that there will be some sort of federal plan adopted, because it is in the constition and because support for a watered-down version is fairly broad; even some Sunnis say they would accept a federal plan that keeps the country united.

Second, I believe that the real determining factor will be the development of the national army. If it continues to gain strength as it has the past two years, it will be vastly more powerful than either the Mahdi Army or Badr. It is already stronger than they; the primary problem is political. If the national army holds together, all Iraq will; if it does not, then Iraq will not.

Third, your prediction that Iran would dominate the Shi'a south is questionable. The dominant theological currents in Iraq are completely different from that prevailing in Iran. If Sistani dies before Iraq stabilizes, then Iran might be able to supplant the others, although Arab nationalism would still be an obstacle. If the country solidifies before his death, Iran's influence will be limited.

Kirk, there is a certain group of people for whom Vietnam is the most important war in world history (if not the only one that occured), and the one to which all new American wars must be immediately compared. Blackspeare may be among them.

Best to do what you did in your last response, which is to stick to the subject of Iraq.

Tom-----when you consider that over 52,000 US soldiers were killed in Vietnam and at least three times that number injured both physically and mentally and when you add the fact that it was an ideological war under the banner of the “domino theory” that never materialized----yes, I’m afraid the Vietnam war makes a good yardstick. Even with president Reagan declaring the Vietnam War a “noble cause” did not make it a noble cause----those 52,000 soldiers gave their lives for naught!

But worse than that, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians, under Pol Pot were killed because the Vietnam War allowed the Kymer Rouge to flourish. After the defeat of the French in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu, by the Viet Minh under Ho Chi Minh, the US stepped in, under Eisenhower, declaring the elections that were held in the south to be fraudulent, and stopped Ho Chi Minh from unifying the country. If Ho Chi Minh had been allowed to proceed in 1954 you would have the same country you have today----maybe a little more industrialized, but the Kymer Rouge would never have come to power and a couple of my buddies would be alive today!!!

It appears from your screen name that you are a disciple of Joseph McCarthy----n'ce pas?

Blackspeare,

Its obvious that you have an obsession with Vietnam, so I'm not going to bother pointing out what I think are some causation problems in your arguments here. Even if your logic were sound, the problem is that your criticism doesn't have much to do with Iraq, nor does it indicate a good understanding of the situation. This is not to say that I don't think the administration couldn't have handled things better, or that I wouldn't handle things differently now were I making the decisions. We don't really talk about politics here at TW, but you may from time to time pick up on what I perceive the problems to be. At some point I'll write a commentary on Iraq and express my views on policy a bit, but the main point of my posts is to just help readers understand the situation better, and then they can draw their own prescriptions from that. I'm sorry that it seems that I am failing with you.

Kirk, Tom and Blackspeare -

Speaking as a co-founder of TW, I'd like each of you to know that we appreciate your readership, comments and contributions (Kirk).

This thread has slipped outside the norms that we attempt to maintain and while I believe their is much more that could be said and clarified - it seems unnecessary as the debate at hand is on Iraq and the WoT.

Whether it was our political failings, strategic or tactical errors, or the misgivings or misunderstanding as to the need for the war (along with any number of other possible causes) it ended without victory (however ill defined). Today we are challenged to not make the same mistakes. Period.

Let's try focusing on winning this war rather than fighting our prior wars or making inflamatory statements towards each other. We have enough enemies already.