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U.S. troops to stay in Iraq beyond 2008
Offensive in Samarra boosts Iraqi military
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 70/No. 13April 3, 2006


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U.S. troops to stay in Iraq beyond 2008
Offensive in Samarra boosts Iraqi military
(lead article)
U.S. Navy/Getty Images/Shawn Hussong
U.S and Iraqi army troops exit a Chinook helicopter March 16 during Operation Swarmer, largest air assault by U.S.-led forces in Iraq since 2003 imperialist invasion.

WASHINGTON—U.S. troops will stay in Iraq beyond the end of his term, President George Bush said March 21 at a White House press conference. As he spoke, U.S. and Iraqi forces were in their sixth day of “Operation Swarmer.” According to press accounts, this is the largest air assault against armed groups organized and financed by supporters of the former ruling Baath party-regime of Saddam Hussein since the U.S.-led invasion three years ago.

A majority of the nearly 1,500 troops involved in the assault are Iraqi, reported the Associated Press. The U.S. military has praised the operation as an important step toward consolidating a new Iraqi military.

The attack is also part of pushing ahead to scuttle the old strategy that marked the 2003 invasion. That consisted of deploying an occupation force that reached Baghdad rapidly without engaging Hussein’s military, which melted away with elite units reorganizing later and launching guerrilla-type attacks.

The secretary of defense then as now was Donald Rumsfeld, who favored an even leaner expeditionary force to engage the Iraqi army, divide it, and win over some of its units to fight alongside U.S. troops, instead of having to face much later the war they avoided in 2003. However, the general who headed the 2003 invasion, Thomas Franks, who is now retired, was among the last remaining top military officers who clung to much of the outdated Cold War era methods.

The March 21 press conference was sandwiched between several speeches on Iraq by Bush on the third anniversary of the invasion. Asked whether U.S. troops will leave Iraq one day, Bush replied, “That’ll be decided by future presidents and future governments in Iraq.”

Bush also discounted remarks by Iyad Allawi, prime minister in the former U.S.-backed interim Iraqi regime, that Iraq has fallen into civil war following the recent bombing of a Shiite mosque. Among indicators to the contrary, Bush said, the U.S.-trained Iraqi army didn’t “bust up into sectarian divisions.”

U.S. and Iraqi officials said 50 suspected Baathists have been detained during Operation Swarmer, in which the Iraqi military was responsible for much of the planning and led house searches.

The operation was aimed in part at capturing those responsible for the February 22 bombing of the Golden Mosque, a Shiite shrine in Samarra, a key city in Salahuddin province. That province is a major part of the “Sunni Triangle,” where many of the Baathist-led attacks on U.S. and Iraqi security forces, suicide bombings, and kidnappings have occurred.

“By this summer, about 75 percent of Iraq will be…owned by Iraqi units,” said Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli in Baghdad. Building up Iraqi army and police units so that they can play a leading role in fighting Baathists and their allies is a key part of the White House “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.”

Dexter Filkins, a New York Times reporter based in Baghdad, was embedded with U.S. troops during the assault on Baathist strongholds in Fallujah in November 2004. Karl Zinsmeister, the editor of American Enterprise, has made several reporting trips to the country. Both said in recent articles that the U.S. military is making progress in accomplishing its goals.

“In nearly every military and diplomatic realm, the American effort in Iraq is finally beginning to show the careful planning and concentrated thinking that seemed to vanish the moment American troops entered Baghdad,” Filkins wrote in the February 19 New York Times Magazine. “The two top American commanders, Gen. George Casey and Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, are proponents of placing far less emphasis on killing guerillas and much more on working with the locals. In Baghdad, General Casey has set up a local counterinsurgency school.” This approach includes building a “new national army, a police force for every city and the logistical and educational apparatus to support them.” Citing a decline in Baathist and al-Qaeda attacks from their peak in October, Filkins said, “So far, there are signs that the new strategy may be working.”

Zinsmeister accompanied Iraqi security forces on operations in late December. “Iraqi soldiers, police, and guards were much more in evidence and much more competent” than during earlier visits, he wrote in the March issue of American Enterprise. In December, one-quarter of all combat operations were carried out exclusively by Iraqi troops, and another half jointly with U.S. forces.

These steps by the U.S. military are necessitated by the way the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was carried out in 2003. The force headed by Gen. Franks was smaller than the divisions assembled during the first war on Iraq but maintained much of the conventional “overwhelming force” character of the 1991 assault organized by then Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell. Franks, who headed the U.S. Central Command, in charge of Washington’s assaults on Afghanistan and Iraq, would later take early retirement rather than promotion. Powell became secretary of state under Bush’s first term and resigned that position following Bush’s reelection in 2004.

Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam by Lt. Col. John Nagl has become required reading for top U.S. military officers in Iraq, reported the March 20 Wall Street Journal. General Casey reportedly gave a copy of the book to Rumsfeld when the defense secretary visited Baghdad in December.

Nagl took the title for the book, released in 2002, from the statement by World War I-era British officer T.E. Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia, “To make war upon rebellion is messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife.” The book harshly criticizes the U.S. Army’s failure to learn from its mistakes during the war against Vietnam and its ineffective attempt to fight a guerilla insurgency with the same conventional methods used in World War II. It sharply attacks the view held by U.S. military leaders for most of the 1980s and ’90s that the army failed in Vietnam because it fought a limited war instead of conducting an all-out conventional assault, according to the Journal.

Nagl is among four authors of a 120-page draft of the military’s new counterinsurgency doctrine. Among the lessons it draws is the importance and difficulty of building local security forces that can carry on independently after U.S. troops depart, said the Journal.
Related articles:
Transformation of U.S. military hasn’t failed, it has advanced
Protesters call for end to U.S. war on Iraq

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