Thursday, June 12, 2014

Try Responsibly Winning the Iraq War

It's about bloody time we go back to Iraq. Responsibly ending the war accomplished? I don't think so.

Given that Iraq is fighting al Qaeda, I've wanted to help the Iraqis fight. Relying on Strategypage assessments from their sources, notwithstanding my unease at al Qaeda advances, I figured the Iraqi forces had the upper hand despite the time it was taking to counter-attack in Anbar. But I thought we should help fight a common enemy.

Now it is more important for us to intervene than ever because the Iraqis are losing, given the loss of the city of Mosul to al Qaeda fighters.

As jihadis are able to mass, they can overrun Iraqi security forces who now fear to stand and fight. Once atomized by our presence, al Qaeda now moves large amounts of fighters to take ground. This capacity to mass must be ended or the war in Iraq will become as bloody as the Syria war:

The desertions threaten to transform Iraq’s vicious conflict into something even more dangerous, by starving the government of fighters as it struggles to recapture lost territory: in Falluja, which was taken over by the militants six months ago, and now in Mosul. With fewer men to face the militants, the army is relying on artillery and airstrikes — including, human rights workers say, the use of indiscriminate barrel bombs — increasing the risks to civilians.

As the army falters, Shiite militias are also playing a growing role in the conflict, nudged toward the fight by the government of Mr. Maliki. As the militiamen face radical Sunni jihadists, the threat of a wider sectarian conflagration grows.

Our ability to sustain persistent surveillance and execute precision strikes must be introduced back into Iraq because the Iraqis lack this capability. This will help atomize the enemy and restore the ability of Iraqi troops to hold their ground and fight:

Over the last two years, I've said that we need to atomize the enemy in Iraq. As long as the enemy can mass in company-sized units, they can overrun police stations. If they can mass in platoon strength, they can wipe out road blocks and patrols.

If Iraqi patrols, road blocks, and police stations can't hold alone, it is more likely that more sophisticated forces with tanks and artillery and air power will be needed to fight the enemy. Right now, that's US forces.

Make it so that the enemy can only gather squads or fire teams, and low tech Iraqi light infantry and police can fight the enemy effectively. Iraqis can provide reaction teams to reinforce threatened Iraqi units.

We did that in Iraq. We need to do it again. The jihadis just took Iraq's second- or third-largest city, for God's sake!

Instead of a death spiral as the enemy climbs the escalation ladder, if we start breaking up these jihadi concentrations we will introduce a cycle of success building on success.

And we have to whip Iraqi logistics into shape with advisors and contractors.

Just four days ago I called for the need for us to return to Iraq. After the loss of Mosul, that is more important than ever if we are to salvage our 2007 battlefield victory there.

And I'll repeat what I said in early January when the jihadis first burst into Anbar province--send Vice President Biden to Iraq and park him there until he can hammer out a new deal between the Shias, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds to fight al Qaeda and settle internal divisions of resources and power enough to do that.

I mean what the Hell? Is the situation not yet bad enough to react? Go back to Iraq before it is too late.

UPDATE: Kurds took control of Kirkuk. Hopefully this was done in coordination with the Iraqi government:

Iraqi Kurds seized control of the northern oil city of Kirkuk on Thursday, while surging Sunni Islamist rebels advanced towards Baghdad, as the central government's army abandoned its posts in a rapid collapse that has lost it control of the north.

The Kurds have been the best fighters against the enemies so far.

Also, as Strategypage noted months ago, the best Iraqi forces are around Baghdad. So I expect the government to hold the line.

But counter-attacking is the problem. Remember, that when al Qaeda burst out into Anbar, the government said they'd be ejected from Fallujah and Ramadi in days. That did not happen.

As Mali showed, when the jihadis try to control territory, they are vulnerable to good troops with accurate firepower support and good surveillance to track the jihadis.

If we don't supply the air power for firepower and surveillance, who will? Let's work the problem.

Or do we think it is fine if the Iraqi government barrel bombs its way to control?

UPDATE: Stratfor notes that al Qaeda is rising up in areas they were active before our efforts ground them down. So moving into the capital area won't be easy:

The most important priority for Baghdad right now is to secure its capital and oil infrastructure and begin pushing north to meet ISIL units approaching from Mosul down the Tigris River Valley. This does not mean that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant can be eradicated from these areas: Small ISIL cells will continue to operate across the region, and indeed in Baghdad itself. It does mean, however, that the Iraqi army will try to disrupt large mobile ISIL columns seeking to raid and to establish control over towns and cities. By concentrating its forces, the Iraqi army campaign in Anbar, especially around Ar Ramadi and Al Fallujah, will inevitably be at a disadvantage as it falls to a level of secondary importance. The campaign to rid Iraq of ISIL, which was never realistic so long as the jihadists held a virtual sanctuary in eastern Syria, becomes even more tenuous over the long term.

In the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Baghdad holds a potential advantage, but one which the al-Maliki government has been loath to use so far. This advantage is a greater reliance and cooperation with the Peshmerga (Kurdish security forces) in a combined fight against the jihadists. For political reasons ranging from disputes over territory to energy resources distribution, the central government in Baghdad had sought to maximize its direct control over the north, while minimizing the Kurdish security presence beyond Kurdistan Regional Government-administered areas.

This isn't evacuate our personnel from our embassy via helicopter territory.

But it is a reminder that we made a mistake in leaving Iraq on their own in a dangerous neighborhood--which we watched get more dangerous across the border in Syria while twiddling our thumbs.


James M. Dubik, a retired Army lieutenant general who oversaw the training of the Iraqi army during the surge, summed it up this way: “We should fly some of our manned and unmanned aircraft and put advisers into Iraq that can help the Iraqi Army plan and execute a proper defense, then help them transition to a counter offensive.”

The war on al Qaeda is being waged in Iraq right now and the enemy is advancing. Could we try to give a damn about this?