USA Today: How the war was (almost) lost

A familiar narrative but read it anyway. What if Bush had switched to a counterinsurgency strategy three years ago? Arguably it would have stalled because AQI hadn’t yet alienated Anbar to the point where the Sunnis would switch sides and become U.S. assets. Or would it have strangled the insurgency in its crib, before the cycle of peak sectarian reprisals got going?

Tacitly the piece recognizes that the surge, under Petraeus’s guidance, is working, but at what a cost. The wages of denial:

[A] USA TODAY investigation shows that the strategy now used to defeat the bombmaking networks and stabilize Iraq was ignored or rejected for years by key decision-makers. As early as 2004, when roadside bombs already were killing scores of troops, a top military consultant invited to address two dozen generals offered a “strategic alternative” for beating the insurgency and IEDs…

Bush administration officials, however, remained wedded to the idea that training the Iraqi army and leaving the country would suffice. Officials, including Cheney, insisted the insurgency was dying. Those pronouncements delayed the Pentagon from embracing new plans to stop IEDs and investing in better armored vehicles that allow troops to patrol more freely, documents and interviews show…

“What’s astounding is how long we spent not applying traditional counterinsurgency principles to fighting what obviously was an insurgency,” says Fred Kagan, a military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute and former West Point instructor. “It’s not that we’ve solved the IED problem, per se. It’s that we’ve begun to have success in defeating the insurgents.”…

[Andrew] Krepinevich, [the consultant who addressed the generals in 2004,] who has advised several secretaries of Defense and the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, says “the American military is on the clock in this war, and the American people, in a sense, gave the administration several years to make progress. Those years, to a significant extent, were wasted.”

From one form of denial to another: Here’s Jim Moran, making the case tonight for pulling the plug on the war by alleging that “we” have “ethnically cleansed” Baghdad.

It’s more of a Shiite city than it used to be, but read this and soak in the nuance. Quote: “this is the first Eid since the (U.S.-led 2003) invasion where we feel like we’re in a relatively secure condition.” Col. Ricky Gibbs, stationed in Baghdad’s Rashid district, also disputes that the city’s been ethnically cleansed: “We have lots of mixed areas, we do have some Sunni only areas–and when I say Sunni only I mean 80 percent Sunni, the rest is Shia and others–but we’re not seeing any violence in those mixed neighborhoods. And that’s attributable to the reconciliation efforts we have ongoing here.” The Guardian’s out tonight too with a report of Sunni and Shia Iraqis patrolling together in mixed neighborhoods to keep out militants of whatever sort:

Muhammad, a Sunni Arab, and his Shia colleagues in the neighbourhood watch group are determined to reverse the ethnic cleansing. Last month, the group agreed to protect a Sunni mosque in his street from local Shia militias. They have also been mediating between the divided communities either side of the highway.

The result was an understanding: Sunni families would return to their former homes in the heavily Shia areas, while Shia families crossed back into the mainly Sunni streets. The two communities agreed to guarantee the safety of the returnees. Such was the popular backing for the deal that even the local Mahdi army commander had to acquiesce.

No good news from Iraq comes without a sinister note, though, so here it is via Bill Ardolino: If you believe the Gulf News, Maliki himself is trying to torpedo the Shiite “awakening” before it gets going so that they don’t pose any threat to the militias.