If there was ever any doubt about who is really running the war in Iraq, George Bush erased it last Wednesday night. Subsequent testimony before Congress by administration spokespeople and various news reports make it clear that the White House and the Pentagon are firmly in control of making policy and military decisions regarding that debacle. Indeed, hints have been dropped by Secretary of State Rice and Secretary of Defense Gates that if the current regime in Baghdad drags it feet in helping the US military institute its raids and lockdowns of the city it could find itself no longer in power.
Initial reports from the US powers running the war explain that the first neighborhoods to be attacked will be primarily Sunni in makeup. Once these neighborhoods are pacified--gunships attack, soldiers come in, the men rounded up and the areas locked down and fenced in, the remaining residents will be issued identification cards which will most likely include retina scans and will be limited in their travels outside of the region assigned to them by the US command. The plan then apparently calls for a similar effort in the Shia areas of Baghdad, including the area known as Sadr City. This is when the Green Zone regime of al-Maliki will be challenged. Will he give in to US demands and support the almost certainly bloody raids into this part of the city? Will he accept the US plan to turn the Shia regions of Baghdad into the equivalent of the Vietnam war's strategic hamlets? Since it is quite unlikely that Muqtada al-Sadr or his followers will, if al-Maliki were to do so, he would most certainly lose the support of this important bloc of Iraqis. If he opposes US attacks and lockdowns of Shia areas of the city, then he would most likely lose his job.
The scenarios outlined above do enough to prove that it is Washington that really runs the war in Iraq. The major difference between the situation before Mr. Bush's speech and now is that the post-speech plan strips away even the pretense that the Iraqi Green Zone government is in control. What this means on the ground is that the US command will no longer even pretend to ask the Green Zone government for permission to conduct its activities. This change was graphically illustrated almost immediately after Mr. Bush's speech when US troops raided the Iranian diplomatic mission in Irbil and captured six Iranians. No Iraqis even knew about this raid until after the fact. In fact, the Kurdish military units guarding the region almost killed some US troops trying to enter the region because they were unaware of their intentions. We will surely see more examples like this in the coming weeks and months.
I am reminded of Vietnam once again. Although Washington was always firmly in control of that mission, it often pretended early on that it was merely a partner of the Saigon regime and its army. There was a point, however, when Washington took over for good. If I were to pinpoint that time, it would be the late winter of 1965. In February Lyndon Johnson ordered the aerial bombardment of northern Vietnam in an operation called Operation Rolling Thunder. The following month, the first two battalions of US combat troops arrived in country. By the end of 1965, there were 180,000 US troops in southern Vietnam. The US military had taken over the war and would continue to run it as it saw fit until its end in May 1975, despite the myths of Vietnamization.
An interesting article appeared in the U K's Guardian newspaper on January 13, 2007. The essence of the article was that the Sunni insurgency seems to be split between attacking the US troops or concentrating on the Shia. In the article, the reporter pieces together anecdotal evidence describing an overall sense by the insurgents that they were used by al-Qaida forces to fight for its agenda, not against the occupation. This became clear when the targets became Shia and not US soldiers. Now, the article continues, the general rule is not to attack US troops unless they are accompanying the Iraqi military, whom the insurgents see as Shia death squads. This brings up an interesting and relevant question. If the US military begins its attacks to "quell the violence" in Sunni neighborhoods as it apparently intends to do (the recent attack on Haifa Street in Baghdad being the most recent such incident), isn't it inviting the Sunni-led resistance to make them their primary targets once again?
The purpose of the minor escalation in Iraq is difficult to decipher right now. Nominally there to end the sectarian violence and the insurgency, the question that no one has asked is will there be more if that mission fails or will Bush and company accept the loss and pull the troops back? Given the administration's prior history, it's unlikely that Mr. Bush will pull back at all no matter what the outcome of his most recent plan. In addition, as I outlined in an earlier piece (Coalition of the Lunatics, January 10, 2007), Mr. Bush is using a plan put forth by the American Enterprise Institute technocrat Fred Kagan which calls for a total increase of around 30,000 US troops by the fall of 2007. This seems to point, then, to the introduction of more and more troops as long as the Pentagon can find them. Furthermore, Secretary of Defense Gates went on record stating that there is no plan to withdraw US troops even if the Bush escalation fails. It's clear that most US residents and a good number of our legislators disagree with the Bush escalation; the question is can we mobilize enough resistance to make a troop withdrawal a reality? As a Washington Times story on January 13, 2007 made clear, it's not enough to oppose the funding of the recent escalation since, as White House spokesman Tony Snow stated, the monies "for the forces and to dispatch them to the region, it's already in the budget. So we're going to proceed with those plans." To truly end the war, funding for the entire war must be opposed.