Friday, July 29, 2005

Waiting for Godot in Iraq

Here's some irony for you.

George W. Bush told Americans in his June 28 speech at Fort Bragg that setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq would "send the wrong message":

Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis, who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done. It would send the wrong message to our troops, who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy, who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out. We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed, and not a day longer.

Now it turns out that Iraq's interim Prime Minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, may be deliberately sabotaging the efforts to train the Iraqi security forces because he doesn't want the U.S. troops to leave.

A report to Congress by Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concludes that only "a small number" of Iraqi forces are capable of "taking on the insurgents and terrorists by themselves." By some estimates, this "small number" is as little as 5,000—only slightly more than the single battalion that could do the job last February.

For months, the administration has denied and disputed claims by Democratic critics—most notably Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and Carl Levin of Michigan—that training was moving too slowly. It could well be that the evidence is now too obvious to ignore.

Lieut. Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. officer in charge of training the Iraqi forces, was transferred this month to take over the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division during the early phases of the war, is widely viewed as one of the Army's most creative and competent generals. It's not yet clear whether the transfer stems from Petraeus' frustration with the job or from Rumsfeld's dissatisfaction with his handling of it.*

Either way, some of Petraeus' aides, if not the general himself, have recently learned of rumors that Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari doesn't want his army to be well-trained. A leading Shiite, Jaafari reportedly fears that if the U.S. troops leave Iraq, the insurgents will crush all resistance and hoist the Sunnis back to power. Since the Americans have said they will leave once the Iraqi security forces are self-sufficient, Jaafari figures it's best to keep that day at bay. This could explain why many Iraqi units lack such basic materials as reliable weapons, ammunition, and sufficient food and bedding gear.

One of Petraeus' aides hit the roof when he heard this rumor of Jaafari's recalcitrance a few weeks ago. This may be why Rumsfeld seemed more perturbed than usual after his meeting with Jaafari in Baghdad this week. It may be why, for the first time, he brought up the subject of eventually pulling out.

In other words, if this is true, Jaafari is using Bush's refusal to set a timetable for withdrawal, to do, in reverse, what Bush claims the insurgents would do if a timetable were announced: instead of outwaiting a timetable, he's trying to prevent there ever being a timetable.

No comments: