Thursday, April 03, 2008

Amb. Crocker thought Maliki was going to move slowly in Basra

Ambassador Crocker learned March 21 that Maliki was going to use troops in Basra to bring order to the city, but he thought the plan was to methodically build up troops and gradually increase operations against the various Shiite militias and criminal gangs who have controlled it since the British pulled back from the city. What actually happened was that PM Maliki headed south and as the troops were still arriving he impulsively attacked. The government troops were not yet prepared for the attack they made, and did not expect the resistance they met. So the attack itself was not a surprise to American officials in Iraq, but the way it was done was not what was expected. According to Michale Gordon at the New York Times here is what happened:
The operation indicates that the Iraqi military can quickly organize and deploy forces over considerable distances. Two Iraqi C-130s and several Iraqi helicopters were also involved in the operation, an important step for a military that is still struggling to develop an air combat ability.

But interviews with a wide range of American and military officials also suggest that Mr. Maliki overestimated his military’s abilities and underestimated the scale of the resistance. The Iraqi prime minister also displayed an impulsive leadership style that did not give his forces or that of his most powerful allies, the American and British military, time to prepare.

“He went in with a stick and he poked a hornet’s nest, and the resistance he got was a little bit more than he bargained for,” said one official in the multinational force in Baghdad who requested anonymity. “They went in with 70 percent of a plan. Sometimes that’s enough. This time it wasn’t.”

As the Iraqi military and civilian casualties grew and the Iraqi planning appeared to be little more than an improvisation, the United States mounted an intensive military and political effort to try to turn around the situation, according to accounts by Mr. Crocker and several American military officials in Baghdad and Washington who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Two senior American military officers — a member of the Navy Seals and a Marine major general — were sent to Basra to help coordinate the Iraqi planning, the military officials said. Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division were pressed into service as combat advisers while air controllers were positioned to call in airstrikes on behalf of beleaguered Iraqi units. American transport planes joined the Iraqis in ferrying supplies to Iraqi troops.
The whole operation brings into question the effectiveness of the Maliki government. News reports suggest that this brings into sharp question how well the Iraqi Army is trained. It might. The most difficult and time-consuming training is of mid-level leaders and staff members, and this doesn't look like they performed well. But even well-trained mid-level leaders would be overridden by an impulsive commander who wanted to get everything over with quickly. I'd say that the failed operation should first be blamed on Maliki and top commanders before impugning the training and experience of mid-level commanders and staffers. When the commanders make incompetent decisions, it is hard to say how well the subordinates are performing.

The other question that comes into view is what can the American occupiers of Iraq do that is of any value to America? It is clear that any quick departure by U.S. troops will very probably mean the Maliki government disappears. The very weakness of that government is a pressure on the U.S. to keep troops in Iraq.

But then you have to ask why? What do we get out of staying in Iraq beyond protecting an incompetent government that most Iraqis don't support? Aren't we really just enabling slow, lengthy chaos with no resolution in sight in order to prevent rapid chaos that will rapidly be resolved by the parties directly involved?

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