Monday, February 04, 2008

Reasons for caution in Iraq

Here's a link to the Register's editorial today critiquing Bush's characterization of the situation in Iraq in his State of the Union message. We conceded the decline in violence and reasons to feel more optimistic than in past years, but noted several potential problems.

The "Anbar Awakening" preceded the surge and could be transient, especially if the Sunni militias fighting al-Qaida and patrolling meighborhoods aren't integrated somehow in the Shia-dominated national government's security forces. Muqtada al-Sadr is getting pressure to end the cease-fire he imposed on his Mahdi Army last summer. And the Iraqi government has taken maybe 3 of the 18 steps defined as essential benchmarks a year or more ago. Even the de-Baathification program looks like less than meets the eye.

I ran across a WaPo piece today that suggests other reasons to be pessimistic. According to Thomas Ricks, Army commanders in Iraq see three wars going on or worth worrying about. One against al-Qaida in Iraq, two against the domestic Sunni insurgency, and "the third conflict, and perhaps the most vexing for U.S. commanders, is with Shiite extremist militias. All three enemies adapt quickly to changed U.S. tactics, finding ways to adapt and keep stirring things up, as by switching from car bombs to suicide bombers when better cvheckpoints made car bombs less easy to detonate.

It's hard enough to win against one insurgency when you're a foreign occupying power. Handling three at once won't be easy.

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