I agree that we should send more troops to Baghdad, but I don’t agree that we should send more troops to Iraq. We are already getting them over there–from local sources of recruitment that have in effect nearly doubled the size of the forces under Coalition command in just a year. The Pentagon report issued a few weeks ago, Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq, had a lot of good news in it:
The number of counter-insurgency operations conducted independently by Iraqi forces as a percentage of total combat operations continues to increase steadily. Approximately one-third of the company-sized operations in Iraq during the reporting period were conducted independently by Iraqi forces. As of August 7, 2006, there were 85 Iraqi Army battalions (5 divisions, 25 brigades) that have assumed the lead for counter-insurgency operations, a 35% increase since the last report [ i.e., in three months].
And these are not Ministry of Interior troops, but Iraqi-army forces fully integrated into the U.S. command structure, with the exception of one division which we just days ago transferred to Iraqi government control. So now for the first time the Iraqi government has troops of its own. Events are moving fast now on the positive side — while most of the violence stems from a low-grade civil war which, for all the dire warnings, is apparently of no strategic consequence. Government buildings haven’t been overrun, governing coalitions haven’t broken up, the prime minister hasn’t been gunned down by his own security forces, Iraqi-army division commanders haven’t turned against each other. Bill Kristol and Rich hint that Sadr stands to profit from this violence, but they do not explain how in practice Sadr could leverage that violence to his benefit. Indeed it’s not clear to me that he benefits from the violence at all — except insofar as he’s killing anti-government insurgents on the Sunni side, and thus protecting democratic majority rule by the Shia.
115,000 of the 137,500 objective end-strength army have been fully trained and equipped and are undertaking operations in the field. What seems clear is that the objective end-strength for the Iraqi army as it now stands is too small to permit an American withdrawal. Under Saddam in the final years, there were about 350,000 soldiers in the Iraqi army, and that seems about right.
The fight to secure Iraq’s democratic institutions can only be won by Iraqi forces–and so far they appear to be winning. Why? Because unlike insurgency against foreign occupation, which wins if it does not lose, insurgency against a domestic government generally loses if it does not win. U.S. has in fact been withdrawing from combat in Iraq for most of this year, and (outside Baghdad) the country has remained secure. The Iraqi army has assumed the lead in more than half of Iraq. Now they need to take care of the other half.
It is Iraq — and not the U.S. — that needs more troops in Iraq.