Monday, June 12, 2006

Military Plans for Iraq

Found this linked at the Belmont Club. Fred Kagan takes a look at the military issues with getting the Iraq solution correct. From all that I've read on the military problems in Iraq, I believe Kagan does a concise job of defining the problem. This article was written before the killing of Zarqawi.
Iraq today presents four military challenges: insurgency among the Sunni Arabs, the growth of Shiite militias, Islamist terrorism conducted by "Al Qaeda in Iraq" and related organizations, and a breakdown of law and order in some areas. American military strategy since the beginning of the insurgency has largely focused on Islamist terrorism. After the February bombing of the al-Askariya mosque in Samarra, however, General John Abizaid testified at a Senate hearing that, as the New York Times put it, "sectarian violence in Iraq was replacing the insurgency as the greatest threat to security and stability." From the beginning of the insurgency, American strategy for handling the Sunni insurrection has centered on helping the Iraqis to defeat the rebels, rather than doing it for them. Coalition efforts to clear out specific trouble areas, such as Falluja, Tal Afar, and the Upper Euphrates river valley have been largely reactions to immediate dangers rather than parts of any strategy for establishing security throughout the country.

Today, the Sunni Arab insurgency is the single most powerful force for disorder and violence in Iraq. Shiite militias, present since the beginning of the occupation, have grown in power in response to the spectacular bombings conducted by Islamist terrorists. Those terrorists, some of them foreigners, rely on the Sunni Arab community for safe havens, supplies, and other necessary assistance. They receive that support primarily because fear and disorder prevail. The breakdown of law and order in parts of the country reflects the difficulty of a robust Iraqi police force in the face of the insurgents' continuous attacks.

There is little the coalition can do to disarm the Shiite militias directly. Attempts to deploy coalition forces in Shiite communities, or to disarm the militias by force, are likely to backfire. The best hope of persuading the Shiite militias to disarm voluntarily lies in removing the threat to their communities that prompted the formation of those militias in the first place.

The coalition has had considerable success in disrupting the Islamist terror networks in Iraq, although it has not captured the senior-most leaders, and it has been unable to prevent those organizations from conducting significant attacks on Shiite holy sites and gatherings. It is not clear that these results have been worth the effort expended upon them. As long as the Sunni Arab community provides safe haven and support (and a small number of recruits) to the Islamist terrorists, military operations aimed at the terrorist networks are unlikely to eliminate the danger from them. The best approach, again, would be to eliminate the violence and disorder caused by the insurgency, since these are what fuels both active and passive Sunni Arab support for the Islamist terrorists.

Kagan goes on to discuss the Sunni Insurgency in more detail. Likely this insurgency is the most worrisome of the described groups. It strikes me that the Shiite militias are probably the least worrisome, seeing that they are mostly defensive groups. As long as sectarian violence can be controlled they will likely remain more like police forces than military units. There are likely areas where this won't remain true. Especially in areas where there is a greater amount of inter-ethnic or inter-sect interactions. It would be interesting to see what the present government of Iraq is going to do to control those militias.

Kagan's article almost reads like a high level feasibility study. He looks at troop requirements, operational plans and then the where's and who's of a plan. Pretty interesting. I'm thinking that such a discussion would help the public get behind such a strategy. In fact, I would hope that the present administration is considering going the route of actually cleaning up the insurgent's strong points. Such an action could actually lessen the amount of time that the US has troops in Iraq, by stabilizing the worst areas and giving the government and military of Iraq a stable starting point.

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