Recently, after his 10th trip to Iraq, Bing West, a former Marine and current correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, noted that 70 percent of U.S. casualties are not from bullets but from roadside bombs. The enemy rarely engages in sustained firefights with U.S. forces, so U.S. forces are killing fewer insurgents than the insurgents recruit. Furthermore, U.S. units spend 15 percent to 30 percent of their time training Iraqis: ``If winning is not a direct goal for U.S. units, we don't need so many troops in Iraq. If winning is a direct goal, we don't have enough units in Iraq.''
Under a ``Laird-Abrams'' approach, winning would be the ``direct goal'' of Iraqi units. There is, however, this sobering arithmetic: Based on experience in the Balkans, an assumption among experts is that to maintain order in a context of sectarian strife requires one competent soldier or police officer for every 50 people. For the Baghdad metropolitan area (population: 6.5 million), that means 130,000 security personnel. There are 120,000 now, but 66,000 of them are Iraqi police, many -- perhaps most -- of whom are worse than incompetent. Because their allegiances are to sectarian factions, they are not responsive to legitimate central authority. They are part of the problem. Therefore even a substantial surge of, say, 30,000 U.S. forces would leave Baghdad that many short, and could be a recipe for protracting failure.
Today, Gen. George Casey, U.S. commander in Baghdad, is in hot water with administration proponents of a ``surge'' because he believes what he recently told The New York Times: ``The longer we in the U.S. forces continue to bear the main burden of Iraq's security, it lengthens the time that the government of Iraq has to take the hard decisions about reconciliation and dealing with the militias. And the other thing is that they can continue to blame us for all of Iraq's problems, which are at base their problems.''
Baghdad today is what Wayne White -- for 26 years with the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, now with the Middle East Institute -- calls ``a Shiite-Sunni Stalingrad.'' Imagine a third nation's army operating between -- and against -- both the German and Russian forces in Stalingrad. That might be akin to the mission of troops sent in any surge.
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