Bush’s Baghdad Plan

Bush’s Baghdad Plan

President Bush’s new "surge" plan to clear and hold Baghdad’s neighborhoods faces a tough challenge from high levels of sectarian violence.

January 18, 2007 1:48 pm (EST)

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At the heart of President Bush’s new stabilization plan on Iraq is securing Baghdad, depicted in this interactive map. A large percentage of the additional 17,500 U.S. forces going to the capital will be deployed to protect the local population. Unlike previous efforts to secure Baghdad, the plan calls for more American soldiers to be embedded with Iraqi forces, to remain in cleared areas around the clock, and to be given greater freedom to take on Shiite militias as well as Sunni insurgents. Once security is established, the U.S. military will then focus on economic reconstruction and handing security operations over to the Iraqi authorities.

What are the specifics of the Baghdad plan?

The plan relies on U.S. soldiers, working with their Iraqi counterparts, to establish a stronger physical presence in neighborhoods rife with violence. Unlike previous missions, analysts say, the nature of the plan is more defensive than offensive: to help Iraqi forces secure Baghdad’s population, not kill large numbers of insurgents. Some specifics of the plan:

  • The number of U.S. forces in Baghdad, currently twenty-four thousand, will be initially boosted to thirty-one thousand—an addition of two brigades. There are also three additional brigades (roughly ten thousand troops) that could be "put in the pipeline on the U.S. side that are on orders to go," according to the congressional testimony of Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • U.S. forces will be scattered throughout Baghdad’s nine zones, each of which will be patrolled by one Iraqi police or army brigade and one American battalion (roughly 600 soldiers divided into four companies of 150 each). The number of Iraqi security forces in Baghdad will eventually grow from forty-two thousand to fifty thousand.
  • U.S. troops will be housed in the neighborhoods they patrol in so-called "joint security stations" (essentially thirty-odd police stations outfitted with beds) with their Iraqi counterparts. Unlike previous missions in which U.S. soldiers departed areas soon after clearing operations, U.S. soldiers will remain in clear areas "24/7," as one military official put it.
  • Two of the three Iraqi brigades sent to Baghdad will be Kurdish peshmerga forces, which are highly disciplined but may trigger resentment among Sunni Arabs. Gen. Pace told Congress that Kurdish forces should help "balance" the forces and mitigate Shiite-Sunni divisions.
  • An Iraqi commander, Lt. Gen. Aboud Qanbar, will oversee the security plan, with the help of two jointly appointed division commanders to oversee operations east and west of the Tigris River. U.S. and Iraqi officers will be paired down the chain of command, though it was not immediately clear whether Qanbar would have command authority over U.S. forces.
  • The U.S. military plans to double or even triple the number of military transition teams, which are embedded with Iraqi security forces to train Iraqis on policing, security, and counterinsurgency operations.

Which neighborhoods will be targeted?

Gen. Pace says mixed Shiite-Sunni neighborhoods, particularly those in Baghdad’s center, will be targeted first. This includes areas around the fortressed Green Zone and east of the Baghdad International Airport. Frederick W. Kagan, research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and architect of the surge plan, advises against incursions into Sadr City, a slum of some two million Shiites, because it may damage the prime minister’s political base and provoke street-to-street fighting between the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia, and the U.S. military. But some American officials say Sadr City remains the source of the violence in Baghdad and must be drained of its sectarian militias.

How is this plan different from earlier efforts to secure Baghdad?

Unlike previous efforts to clear and hold neighborhoods that have failed, U.S. forces will have, in effect, freer rules of engagement to target Shiite militias. Last October, when U.S. forces apprehended a top commander of the Mahdi Army, Shiites protested and the prime minister ordered him released. Now, U.S. forces will be given more freedom to target Shiite militia strongholds without interference from the prime minister. Under the plan, U.S. forces will also remain once particular areas are cleared of insurgents instead of relying on Iraqi forces to hold them. This, military experts say, was what doomed the Operation Together Forward plan to secure Baghdad last summer.

Does the current plan only include Baghdad?

No. It also calls for around four thousand U.S. troops to be deployed to Anbar Province, principally to target al-Qaeda and other insurgents in the region west of Baghdad. Kagan writes that the violence in Baghdad and the insurgency in Anbar are inextricably linked because of "spillover effects." The plan also calls for doubling the number of so-called provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs)—civil-military development units in rural parts that have had some success in Afghanistan—to twenty-two and a fivefold increase in the number of reconstruction specialists to five hundred nationwide. An additional $10 billion will also be given to the Iraqi authorities to accelerate reconstruction efforts.

What does the Iraqi government think of the plan?

It’s unclear. In late November, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reportedly proposed a drawdown of U.S. forces out of Baghdad and redeployment to the city’s periphery and Anbar Province, thus allowing Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish forces to restore order in the capital. Advisers to Maliki, as well as members of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a large and influential Shiite political party, have gone on record opposing more U.S. troops in Baghdad. But after a long telephone conversation with President Bush, Maliki later signed onto the White House’s surge plan. It remains unclear if Maliki or Qanbar, his appointed commander, will be in charge of the Baghdad operation. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in her testimony before the Senate, stressed that Bush’s plan was based on input from Maliki as well as senior U.S. military officers on the ground.

What are the timelines to carry out this plan?

While the U.S. military has not laid out any definite timelines or benchmarks to meet, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told lawmakers he expected results within a matter of months, not years. "With these kinds of counterinsurgency campaigns, you’ll know if you’ve failed probably within six months," says Andrew Exum, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "But you won’t know if it’s completely successful for about ten years." Kagan predicts the plan would require at least eighteen months to show results.

What evidence is there that such a plan may work?

Some experts point to previous success stories in Tal Afar and Mosul where counterinsurgency operations worked and insurgent strongholds were cleared and held. But not everyone agrees these models can be applied to Baghdad, a city of six million inhabitants, given its size and sectarianism. "The bottom line is we’ve been touting up Tal Afar [as a model] for the past two years, but we’ve never done it," says Exum. "The idea that we’re going to do it now [in Baghdad] seems ridiculous." But proponents of the plan say the appointment of Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, a top counterinsurgency expert, signals the mission will be managed better than previous efforts. "He’ll act with vigor," a former CIA officer tells Harpers.org. "There’ll be no more micromanagement from Washington."

What are some common criticisms of the plan?

  • It’s a military solution to a political problem. "We don’t know with any clarity exactly what the new political objectives that the administration is trying to achieve are," says Gen. Charles G. Boyd, who heads Business Executives for National Security, in an interview with National Interest online. "There is a very good understanding that, in the end, you’re not going to solve [this war] with military force." CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Vali R. Nasr agrees. "There is violence in Iraq because there is no political agreement among Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds," he writes. "The new strategy presents no roadmap out of this."
  • It’s only temporary. The surge of forces into Baghdad cannot be sustained indefinitely, military experts say. "Insurgents and militias have an incentive to wait us out by hiding their weapons, melting into the civilian population and reemerging as soon as conditions improve for them," writes CFR Senior Fellow Stephen Biddle .
  • Force ratios are insufficient. Some advocates of the surge originally sought between eighty thousand and one-hundred thousand troops to secure Baghdad and Anbar province. They point to a preferred force ratio of one soldier per forty or fifty civilians (Baghdad’s six million residents would require a joint U.S.-Iraqi troop presence on the magnitude of over one hundred thousand).
  • Chain of command is unclear. U.S. military officials stress that the new plan is Iraqi- conceived and Iraqi-led, but Gen. George Casey, the head of multinational forces in Iraq, says "American forces will remain under American command, period."
  • Iraqi forces are unreliable. Secretary Rice, testifying before Congress, said she was "confident" Prime Minister Maliki would provide the troops he promised in a timely fashion. But there are increasing doubts among lawmakers in Congress about the reliability of the Maliki-led government in Iraq to deliver on his promises of more Iraqi forces.

Does this kind of urban warfare portend greater U.S. casualties?

It is very likely, military experts warn. "We must expect more Iraqi and American casualties," said President Bush in his January 10 address. Much will depend on how and in which parts of Baghdad the U.S. forces are stationed. "If you start more aggressive patrolling you should expect more casualties," says Exum. "Especially if they try to take on the militias, you’ll see really intense heavy fighting." Similar efforts to secure Iraqi cities led to spikes in American combat casualties, most notably Fallujah in November 2004 (seventy-one killed) and Baghdad in July 2006 (around eighty killed). Analysts say casualties are typically higher in the early stages of any counterinsurgency campaign than later on.

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