Saturday, July 14, 2007


Prime Minister Maliki expresses confidence in a post-US future:

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari warned earlier this week of civil war and the government's collapse if the Americans leave. But al-Maliki told reporters Saturday, "We say in full confidence that we are able, God willing, to take the responsibility completely in running the security file if the international forces withdraw at any time they want."

But he added that Iraqi forces are "still in need of more weapons and rehabilitation" to be ready in the case of a withdrawal.

Speaking of how the Iraqis will fight without us must take into account that even the Democrats would leave troops behind rather than pull out all US forces--say 7 brigades as a guess plus special forces and other support forces (such as Navy infantry to patrol rivers). So we might have 3 brigades plus other ground forces in direct combat, plus four brigades as a reserve and a force to deter Iran, and air and artillery support plus logistics and other intelligence and recon support. We could also get around some restrictions by making sure MPs and contract personnel escort convoys rather than combat units.

Plus, drawing down from 20 brigades to 7 would take time. Perhaps a year from when it begins.

So assuming that a real drawdown doesn't begin until March 2008, we must look at fall 2008 just to judge Iraqi capabilities at pre-surge American troops strength. And March 2009 before we are in minimal mode. Assuming casualties at 5 KIA per brigade per month, and assuming Iraq can fight without us at higher strength, we'd have casualties near Afghanistan levels.

Yes, there is a little bravado there. But it would make the situation no better if Maliki curled up in the fetal position now standard for our Congress, and wailed about the doom about to descend on Iraq.

I suspect that Maliki is right in his judgment based on my assumption that Iraq will be significantly better by fall 2008 and that the Iraqis could fight in our place.

Before that, the chance of civil war would go up, of course, which is why it is important to buy time--and use it wisely.

Plus, judging victory depends on whether you think Iraq can win using our gentle tactics to persuade Sunni Arabs to side with the government or whether you think the Shias and Kurds will just go postal on the Sunni Arabs to end the minority problem the traditional Middle Eastern way.

I think we can still get the former. And so create an example for the rest of the region and a real ally that will help us fight terrorism. One day, Iraqi troops will make good candidates for peacekeeping missions with their training and combat experience.