Sunday, July 17, 2005

Let's Get Back Where This Blog Belongs - In Iraq!

In all the excitement, I didn't bother to write about the "Reid memo" regarding a proposed drawdown of western forces in Iraq. Yet another big story broken by the Times's Michael Smith, the document suggests that US forces might be down to 66,000 next year and UK forces to 3,000. Among "Risks" given in the document were that the Japanese engineer battalion might quit if their force protection was provided by the Iraqis, and that the Australians might not hang around either. Well, obviously. If a drawdown of foreign forces is in prospect, it seems overly hopeful to think the other foreigners won't notice.

I doubt very much if this is realistic. There has been plenty of this already. Drawdowns from Iraq are always just around the corner, and there has been much unfavourable news about the new-Iraqi forces recently (ghost recruits, corruption, general crapness). The only way this plan could be achieved would be to, in essence, accept partition and civil war. Presumably, the British withdrawal would be made possible by giving the SCIRI a free rein to run the state they want. (Anyone else spot that the governor of Basra was demanding a bigger share of oil revenue yesterday? "The patience of the sons of the south will not last forever". Sumer here we come.) And much of the US withdrawal would come from...wait. There is only one brigade up north as it is (the 173rd Airborne), and its main function is to deter the Kurds and Turks from attacking each other. Now, with 170,000 troops concentrated in central Iraq and Baghdad, we don't control territory well. How well will we do with 66,000, given that only small commitments elsewhere can be liquidated?

If this "plan" will happen, it can only happen in the context not of "drawdown" leaving the Iraqi government in charge, rah rah and Rule, Britannia, because it will mean abandoning much of urban Iraq, but of retreat. Would you want to be in the 66,000? I wouldn't. This only makes sense as the first phase of a phased withdrawal leaving the New-Old Iraqi Army, the SCIRI and the Kurds to fight like cats in a sack.

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