Abizaid and Casey say no. A group of troops who met with Gates earlier today in Baghdad say yes. Take advantage of the slow Christmas season news day that’s shaping up and read these four pieces on the subject. None is very long.
1. Mario Loyola: no surge. Why force more troops on generals who insist they don’t need them? All we’ll end up doing is antagonizing Iraqis who are already hostile to occupation. Besides, he says, “the deteriorating security situation in Baghdad is at root not a military problem but a political one.” Really? Most Iraqi bloggers I’ve read claim the government’s widely regarded as a joke, its authority completely nonexistent outside the Green Zone. How would reconciliation between Sunni and Shiite politicians to whom no one pays any attention change that? Gangs aren’t known for dissolving themselves and giving up their territory in the spirit of fraternal comity.
2. Time: surge in Baghdad, not Anbar. It could work in Baghdad. It’s worked before:
In areas where U.S. troops control traffic through checkpoints and mount regular patrols, sectarian murders tend to drop. Would-be killers who fan out across the city from militia strongholds have a difficult time carrying out attacks amid car searches and street watches by U.S. troops. Perhaps the most visible example of this came in October, when U.S. forces threw up a temporary blockade around the Shi’a slum of Sadr City, home to the Mahdi Army militia blamed for much of the sectarian killings around Baghdad. During the days when the Sadr City cordon was in place, Baghdad saw noticeably fewer murders. The episode revealed two important things. First, U.S. forces can ratchet down the killings in Baghdad, at least for a time, with basic tactics like roadblocks and military policing. And second, as of now, the militias so eager to kill civilians are reluctant to confront American troops.
Why not Anbar? Because (a) it’s mostly Sunni, so there’s less sectarian killing happening there, (b) the U.S. presence is despised and would be despised more intense with more troops, and (c) the locals are joining the police force (per the Patriquin plan) and dealing with the jihadis themselves.
3. Reuel Marc Gerecht: never mind the surge — fight smart. If you have time to read only one, read this one. It’s Cheney’s “side with the Shiites” strategy, essentially. He thinks it’d be a huge mistake to confront al-Sadr before the Sunni insurgents in Baghdad have been dealt with. Otherwise we risk starting a civil war within a civil war by pitting some Shiite leaders against others (there’s already considerable tension between them), which would light a fire in the south of Iraq and probably force a bidding war among them for Iran’s favor. Follow the Kagan-Keane plan instead, he says, and bring down the hammer on the people who are making the Shiites so jumpy in the first place.
If the administration first focuses militarily on the Sunni insurgency, as called for in the Keane-Kagan plan — and the press indicates Mr. Bush is taking the two men very seriously — the United States and the Iraqi government would be better able to diminish sectarian violence. With more troops, we can clear and hold Sunni areas in Baghdad and thereby prevent Shiite militias from streaming out of Sadr City to attack defenseless Sunnis.
Shiite militias are clever predators. They fear American power — the confrontation in Najaf in 2004, during which thousands from the Mahdi Army perished, taught them about the destructive capacity of the American military. If the Americans leave sufficient forces in cleared Sunni areas, they will stay away. But if we pass the holding part of counterinsurgency campaigns to ill-equipped units of the Iraqi Army and to the Iraqi police, who often aid Shiite militias, they will pounce…
Mr. Sadr’s reputation can be reduced and his charisma countered if ordinary Shiites have more moderate alternatives, backed by American power, who can protect them from insurgency-loving Sunnis and death-squad Shiites.
Maliki himself favors this plan, sort of. We send in more troops and deal with the Sunnis, he says, and he’ll use sticks and carrots to deal with Sadr. Which of course is something he’s been promising to do for months but hasn’t, and now he risks precisely the same intra-Shiite battle that Gerecht’s so worried about. A Shiite coalition is meeting with Sadr today; supposedly he’s been chastened by talk of a coalition being formed to isolate him and has agreed to a one-month ceasefire. If you believe Gerecht, that’s not a bad outcome — we’ll have to deal with him eventually, but if we can buy him off until the Sunnis are broken, that’ll make it much easier.
Question: how are Sunni political leaders going to sell their constituents on political reconciliation if we’re focused entirely on fighting Sunnis while Sadr walks free?
4. Fred Kaplan: if we surge, it shouldn’t be a Kagan-Keane surge. The number of troops we’d need just isn’t there, he says.
So there you go. Meanwhile, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Saudis must really be worried about Shiite influence.
Update: Okay, make it five pieces you should read. Stanley Kurtz responds at the Corner to Loyola’s politics-before-war solution and finds it wanting for the same reason I do — if the state has no monopoly of force, its policies mean nothing in practice. He also says this about Gerecht’s op-ed:
By the end of the piece, Gerecht is saying we need to ignore Iraq’s elected politicians and disarm the militias (in careful order). Whatever this is, it is not democracy. It was clearly a mistake to believe that elections would bring democracy without our first disarming the militias. Implicitly, Jed Babbin’s tough questions on Iraq strategy reinforce that point. (HT Glenn Reynolds) The only way to success in Iraq lies through effective cancellation of the militia-tainted “democracy” we’ve had up to now.