High stakes plan to secure Baghdad shows critical situation facing U.S. Mission

High stakes plan to secure Baghdad shows critical situation facing U.S. Mission
August 6th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: High stakes plan to secure Baghdad shows critical situation facing U.S. Mission

High stakes plan to secure Baghdad shows critical situation facing U.S. Mission
BAGHDAD, Iraq_American generals have laid bare the facts: Baghdad is on the
brink of chaos, and the specter of all-out civil war looms.

Instead of standing down, as had been hoped this year, the U.S. military is
preparing for a major operation to try to take back Baghdad's streets from
Shiite and Sunni extremists. The goal is to stem sectarian violence that
Iraqi security forces could not control.

The stakes could not be higher: The fate of the U.S. mission in Iraq is on
the line as fighting in Lebanon to the west and the rise of a militant Iran
to the east threaten American interests throughout the Middle East.

Without a firm grip on Baghdad, the U.S. and its Iraqi allies cannot control
the country.

But Baghdad's diverse population of Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Turkomen and
Christians makes for a volatile mix as the country's religious and ethnic
groups compete for power in the new Iraq. All the tensions that threaten to
tear the country apart play themselves out in Baghdad.

Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, bluntly
spelled out the situation Thursday before a Senate committee.

"I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I have seen it,
in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq
could move toward civil war," Abizaid said.

That was hardly news to the 6.5 million residents of Iraq's shabby,
tumultuous capital.

Many Iraqis believe their country has been in a low-intensity civil war
since the February bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra. That blast
triggered a wave of reprisal attacks against Sunnis, accelerating a pattern
of tit-for-tat killings, kidnappings and bombings.

Abizaid's comments marked a stunning departure from the public position
taken by U.S. military officials here for months. A bare two months ago,
Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. general in Iraq, was talking about
reducing the U.S. military presence this year as Iraqi units took
responsibility for more and more territory.

Two months after the Samarra bombing, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said U.S. forces
had found no "widespread movement" of Shiites and Sunnis away from mixed
areas _ at a time the Iraqi government estimated 90,000 people had fled
their homes.

Abizaid's comments also represent a stark admission that Iraq's vaunted
national unity government of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds is united in name

Sunni politicians have yet to bring Sunni insurgents to the bargaining
table. Some key Shiite politicians maintain close links to militias.

Without a political agreement on how to share power and wealth, it is
unlikely the Baghdad security operation will be little more than a stopgap

U.S. and Iraqi officials have given few details about the upcoming
operation, expected to start within days or a few weeks. The U.S. military
said 3,700 soldiers from the 172nd Stryker Brigade were being shifted from
northern Iraq to Baghdad. As many as 2,000 additional soldiers eventually
may be added to the capital district, officials say.

American troops will move into flashpoint neighborhoods _ often with Iraqi
troops _ in hopes of intimidating the gunmen and winning the confidence of
residents who don't trust Iraqi forces to protect them regardless of their

If all goes to plan, the next stage will be to fan out to religiously mixed
areas around Baghdad to prevent Sunni and Shiite extremists from
infiltrating the capital.

At the same time, Iraqi officials say they plan to retrain the 26 national
police battalions _ the Interior Ministry's paramilitary units _ and weed
out those suspected of ties to sectarian militias and criminal gangs.

But to succeed, the plan must overcome the same obstacles that have plagued
the U.S. effort in Iraq since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime more
than three years ago.

The most serious are a lack of enough troops to secure the country,
weaknesses in an Iraqi security force rebuilt from scratch after the U.S.
disbanded the Iraqi army in 2003 and rivalries among Iraqi religious and
ethnic groups.

To reinforce Baghdad, the military is pulling troops out of areas that had
been identified as major infiltration routes for foreign fighters entering
Iraq from Syria. And northern cities such as Mosul and Tal Afar _ now
relatively quiet _ could flare up again if the U.S. presence is diminished.

Reinforcing Baghdad inevitably means weakening U.S. and Iraqi abilities
elsewhere, warns former Pentagon analyst Anthony Cordesman.

The fact that the United States feels it must is a "grim warning of just how
serious the situation in Iraq has become," he said.

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