Saturday, March 25, 2006

can't stand up for standing down

while efforts to recruit and train iraqis into a competent, independent and professional fighting force have been purportedly ongoing, with halting progress, since the overthrow of saddam hussein, at the end of last november the president officially declared these efforts to be one of the linchpins of his exit strategy, during his "strategy for victory in iraq" tour, a series of speeches aimed at once again shoring up his dying support among increasingly skeptical americans:

as the iraqi security forces stand up, their confidence is growing. and they're taking on tougher and more important missions on their own.

as the iraqi security forces stand up, the confidence of the iraqi people is growing, and iraqis are providing the vital intelligence needed to track down the terrorists.

and as the iraqi security forces stand up, coalition forces can stand down. and when our mission of defeating the terrorists in iraq is complete, our troops will return home to a proud nation.

— president bush, annapolis naval academy, november 30

his strategy has been compared to "vietnamization", nixon's handing over of military operations to the south vietnamese army — a comparison the administration understandably has ignored, not wanting to evoke unsettling images of the fall of saigon.

the exact number of trained and ready iraqis once again became controversial in february when the only battalion — comprising 700 to 800 men — with a "level one" rating, meaning that it should be able to fight on its own, was downgraded by the pentagon to "level two", meaning that it requires support from coalition forces. "level three" battalions must be chaperoned by coalition forces.

in october the pentagon raised the number of iraqi battalions at level two to 53 from 36. 45 battalions are at level three. almost 100 iraqi army battalions are considered operational, and more than 100 iraqi security force battalions — those "under the direction of the iraqi government" — are operational at levels two or three. according to this accounting then, there are between 68,600 and 78,400 iraqis under the coalition's wing and at least 70,000 or more than 80,000 iraqis available to the iraqi government. (one question: those iraqi security force battalions at level three, therefore requiring a chaperone, are they under the command of the government or the coalition? my bets are on the coalition.)

meanwhile, either because of or in spite of the explosion of full-blown chaos after the bombing of golden dome, the newly-elected iraqi government remains stillborn amid intense sectarian disagreements, among them ibrahim jaafari's re-nomination to prime minister. it seems incapable of forming a "unity" government:

ap: leaders offered a myriad of reasons for the delay in forming a government, and their reasoning often reflected their religious or ethnic loyalties. shiite leaders accused american officials of interfering too much, saying the americans want to give sunnis more power than they earned in the election. sunnis charged that the other parties are not committed to a national unity government and are unwilling to share power.

beyond the simple act of opening parliament, the government is long overdue to perform any of its mandated duties, the very first being the naming of the speaker of the house:

juan cole: the iraqi parliament opened on thursday [march 16], and the 275 members took their oath of office, administered in the absence of an elected speaker of the house (on whom parliament could not decide) by senior statesman adnan pachachi (on the grounds that he is the oldest mp). some of the members objected to the form of the oath administered by the chief justice, on the grounds that it differed from the text that had been distributed beforehand, and some said it the way it had been written (-al-sharq al-awsat). the autnorities [sic] decided to let that pass.

pachachi attempted to make a speech from the floor, lamenting the recent sectarian violence, but was interrupted by shiite cleric abdul aziz al-hakim, who said it was inappropriate for pachachi to do more than swear in the members of parliament.

and the non-"civil war" rages on unabated with its clearly ethnic bombings, reprisals and executions, with the continuing participation of iraq's security forces:

ap: also since the start of march, gunmen — mostly masked, many wearing police uniforms — have stormed at least six baghdad businesses. on wednesday, eight people were killed at the al-ibtikar trading company when they were lined up against a wall and shot, and six others were wounded. at least 90 workers have been kidnapped and tens of thousands of dollars stolen in the five other assaults.

can "iraqization" succeed under these conditions? not bloody likely. in at least one crucial aspect it is a very different process from "vietnamization". the government of south vietnam, corrupt and unpopular as it was, was not wracked to the core by sectarianism. the south vietnamese government could reasonably count on the loyalty of its troops, if not their strength.

there has been almost no reportage whatsoever on the issue of troop loyalties. to me it seems to be one of the elephants in the room regarding bush's exit strategery.

in order for "iraqization" to succeed, first, the mutually antagonistic elements of the duly elected iraqi government must come together as one and begin governing. until then it is a government in name only. second, the mutually antagonistic elements of the iraqi military and police forces will have to put loyalty to the government and its laws above loyalty to their particular family, tribe and imam. unfortunately, i don't see that happening with the current generation, certainly not while ethic violence continues in a self-consuming orgy. loyalty to the government cannot be taught in eight weeks of boot camp. what the bush administration calls "standing up", i call building american-trained and american-armed death squads.

if american troops are going home anytime soon, it won't be because the iraqi army is ready to "stand up".

(image courtesy of get your war on.)

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