Monday, January 29, 2007

Baghdad is Key

The administration believes that securing Baghdad is the key to Iraq:

The president's review also concluded that the strategy with the best chance of success must have a plan for securing Baghdad. Without such a plan, the Iraqi government and its security institutions could fracture under the pressure of widespread sectarian violence, ethnic cleansing and mass killings. Chaos would then spread throughout the country -- and throughout the region. The al-Qaeda movement would be strengthened by the flight of Sunnis from Baghdad and an accelerated cycle of sectarian bloodletting. Iran would be emboldened and could be expected to provide more lethal aid for extremist groups. The Kurdish north would be isolated, inviting separation and regional interference. Terrorists could gain pockets of sanctuary throughout Iraq from which to threaten our allies in the region and our security here at home.

The new plan for Baghdad specifically corrects the problems that plagued previous efforts. First, it is an Iraqi-initiated plan for taking control of their capital. Second, there will be adequate forces (Iraqi and American) to hold neighborhoods cleared of terrorists and extremists. Third, there is a new operational concept -- one devised not just to pursue terrorists and extremists but to secure the population. Fourth, new rules of engagement will ensure that Iraqi and U.S. forces can pursue lawbreakers regardless of their community or sect. Fifth, security operations will be followed by economic assistance and reconstruction aid -- including billions of dollars in Iraqi funds -- offering jobs and the prospect of better lives.

This also notes that we had previous efforts in recognition of the importance of Baghdad. I've written that as 2006 progressed we first had to determine if the surge in killings after Samarra was lasting, then give the Iraqis a chance to put down one of their own (Sadr), then tried an operation at the end of the summer under the old rules of engagement and operational assumptions. Now we are trying something new to correct the problems of past efforts.

I've long recognized the importance of securing Baghdad as killings escalated (see here, here, here, and here). I don't believe I've been guilty of wishful thinking.

The new approach has promise to correct past failings. I still think the new approach is more important than the new troops, but new troops won't hurt.