"Brain trust" tells Petraeus: Six months or bust

Time for another Iraq post no one’s going to read. Maybe I’ll start doing these as link dumps so people can just scan the headlines, pick what they want, or not, and move along. We’ll see.

In the meantime, the Guardian drops a non-bombshell from a “senior administrative official”: Gen. Petraeus doesn’t exactly have an infinite time horizon to get this done. And as usual, troop levels are a huge problem.

An elite team of officers advising US commander General David Petraeus in Baghdad has concluded the US has six months to win the war in Iraq – or face a Vietnam-style collapse in political and public support that could force the military into a hasty retreat…

The main obstacles confronting Gen Petraeus’s team are:
· Insufficent numbers of troops on the ground
· A “disintegrating” international coalition
· An anticipated upsurge in violence in the south as the British leave
· Morale problems as casualties rise
· A failure of political will in Washington and/or Baghdad…

Possibly the biggest longer-term concern of Gen Petraeus’s team is that political will in Washington may collapse just as the military is on the point of making a decisive counter-insurgency breakthrough. According to a senior administration official, speaking this week, this is precisely what happened in the final year of the Vietnam war…

Despite the problems identified by Gen Petraeus and his advisers, a senior Pentagon official said this week that it was too early to gauge the strategy’s chances of success – but that preliminary reports were encouraging.

The more success they have, the shriller the cries of “it’s not working!” will be. Meanwhile, U.S. and Iraqi troops raided Sadr City yesterday and arrested at least 16 members of “rogue” Mahi Army cells. Except, according to Bill Roggio, it’s a lie: according to his intel sources, there really aren’t any “rogue” Mahdi Army cells, no matter what Gen. Caldwell would have us believe about the alleged lack of command and control within the JAM. Designating the guys we kill or capture as “rogue” is just our way of distinguishing Sadr as “non-rogue” so that he can plausibly lay down his arms and rejoin the political process in the future. Which is incredibly stupid, if true, but Roggio would certainly know better than I.

He also believes that the rumors of Sadr whacking his own guys is nonsense, and that in fact it’s U.S. and Iraqi forces who are responsible for “disappearing” them as part of shadow warfare. No wonder so many of his top deputies ran to Iran.

Finally, a timely op-ed in the IHT about the upcoming referendum in Kirkuk that would put the oil-rich city in Kurdish hands and scare the hell out of Turkey, which fears an uprising among its own significant Kurdish minority:

Iraq’s Kurdish leaders have a problem. They know that to hold the referendum is to provoke Shiites, Sunnis and the Turkish government. Few Kurdish leaders who oppose a vote are popular enough to count on unconditional backing from voters, a clear majority of whom want Kirkuk under Kurdish regional government control. Though support for the referendum is politically expedient, it may reap the whirlwind.

Virtually every Kurdish leader understands that the surest way to protect the relative stability and prosperity the Kurdish region of Iraq has gained is to postpone the vote. But none of them wants to pay the political price.

For the moment, Kurdish officials continue to insist publicly that it is postponement of the referendum, not the vote itself, that will provoke bloodshed…

Shiites, Sunnis, Turks, and even the Americans may raise pressure for postponement. But that pressure could backfire and fuel Kurdish determination to seize their prize.

Uh oh.