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August 16, 2006
Needed: A Commitment To Win

The death toll in Iraq continues to rise, as civilian deaths hit a new high in July, mostly in Baghdad and the Sunni triangle. By any measure, the war in Iraq has shifted dangerously, and the strategies employed to this point have failed to bring security to Iraq's capital:

July appears to have been the deadliest month of the war for Iraqi civilians, according to figures from the Health Ministry and the Baghdad morgue, reinforcing criticism that the Baghdad security plan started in June by the new government has failed.

An average of more than 110 Iraqis were killed each day in July, according to the figures. The total number of civilian deaths that month, 3,438, is a 9 percent increase over the tally in June and nearly double the toll in January.

The rising numbers suggested that sectarian violence is spiraling out of control, and seemed to bolster an assertion many senior Iraqi officials and American military analysts have made in recent months: that the country is already embroiled in a civil war, not just slipping toward one, and that the American-led forces are caught between Sunni Arab guerrillas and Shiite militias.

The numbers also provide the most definitive evidence yet that the Baghdad security plan started by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki on June 14 has not quelled the violence. The plan, promoted by top Iraqi and American officials at the time, relied on setting up more Iraqi-run checkpoints to stymie insurgents.

The officials have since acknowledged that the plan has fallen far short of its aims, forcing the American military to add thousands of soldiers to the capital this month and to back away from proposals for a withdrawal of some troops by year’s end.

At the same time, the Iraqi government has continued to press for transfers of security in other provinces to their control. While they cannot keep the violence down in the capital, the Interior Ministry and the Army has peformed well enough to replace American forces in outlying areas. The Kurdish provinces have done exceptionally well, but those have less sectarian diversity than Baghdad.

Unfortunately, the response from the US has been slow and reluctant, mostly for domestic political reasons. The Bush administration finally decided last month to increase troop strength in the capital, a move that probably should have taken place months ago when the level of violence was more manageable. The Army will find the necessary troops by delaying rotations out of the theater and putting off drawdowns that the administration hoped to deliver by the end of this year. Those expectations came from the month-long debate over the cut-and-run demands of Democrats, who demanded retreat from Iraq in a time frame that ranged from immediate to July 2007.

The political pressure created an environment where the one option that would address the Baghdad situation could not get public mention, which is to commit more troops to fight the war rather than keep the peace. Part of this stems also from the administration's insistence in casting the situation in the best possible light. That strategy ended when CENTCOM commanders told Congress that the situation had a good chance of descending into civil war.

Now that we have that on the table, the US has a choice to make in Baghdad. Either we fight to win or we get out, but the continuance of the strategies employed in the first half of the year and prior obviously will not work and will get more people killed. Early in the war, we took on the sectarian militias, especially Moqtada al-Sadr's, and we subdued them. Somewhere we lost the initiative against armed militias in Baghdad, and we need to get it back. That will require more troops and an honest acknowledgement of the mission, not just pretty words and shrugging shoulders.

In my opinion, we cannot afford to lose Iraq. In strategic terms, we cannot allow the terrorists to take over Baghdad and push us out. That means that we have to start fighting this war to win it and not simply to avoid losing it, and the new deployments are a step in the right direction. The White House needs to commit overwhelming force against the militias and insurgents that have tried to touch off a civil war in Iraq's capital and clearly have had some success in their efforts. The people of Iraq elected their representative government and rejected government by the gun, and we need to ensure that their trust in the electoral process has not been misplaced.

UPDATE: Here are the quotes from Gen. Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and CENTCOM's Gen. John Abizaid:

"The sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it," Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. military operations in the Middle East, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "If not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war." ...

"We do have the possibility of that devolving to a civil war, but that does not have to be a fact," said Pace. ". . . We need the Iraqi people to seize this moment."

To me, that sounds like more than just a remote possibility, but perhaps "good chance" might overstate the significance the two generals assigned it. YMMV.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 16, 2006 5:52 AM

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Tracked on August 16, 2006 2:59 PM


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