Friday, February 16, 2007
On this day:

Tryin' to lose the war

Alabama's two Democratic House members - Bud Cramer and Artur Davis - voted today in favor of a non-binding resolution condemning President Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq.
The resolution states:
(1) Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq; and

(2) Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.
Whether you're pro-surge or anti-surge, I just don't see what possible good can come about if this resolution is passed in both houses. Its only purpose seems to be to embarrass the President and to undermine his new Iraq strategy. While it's too early to tell whether that strategy will work over the long term, the news from Iraq in recent days has been quite encouraging.

Below, I've included a few excerpts from stories which have appeared over the past week in the New York Times. In order to get a real feel for what's going on and for what challenges lie ahead, I suggest reading them in their entirety.

New York Times (2/17): "Baghdad Plan Is a ‘Success,’ Iraq Prime Minister Tells Bush"
BAGHDAD, Feb. 16 — Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki told President Bush on Friday that the increased effort to provide security in Baghdad had gone exceedingly well so far, Mr. Maliki’s office said in a statement.

The two spoke via video link and, according the statement, Mr. Maliki said, “The security plan has been a dazzling success during its first days.” ...

Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., commander of the First Cavalry Division in Baghdad, told reporters on Friday that there had been a substantial reduction in violence in the past 48 hours, which he attributed both to the increased troop presence and the decision by Sunni and Shiite militants to keep a low profile.

“They’re watching us carefully,” he said. “There’s an air of suspense throughout the city. We believe, there’s no question about it, that many of these extremists are laying low and watching to see what it is we do and how we do it. How long that will last, we don’t know.”
New York Times (2/16): "Dispute Over Iraqi Cleric, Said to Have Gone to Iran"

In the southern Sunni area of Dora, gunshots and mortar fire rang out all morning as American troops set up tanks on corners and surrounded parts of the neighborhood, residents said. In the northeastern Shiite districts of Shaab, Ur and Bayda, American troops with Iraqi policemen continued to search homes for weapons. About 300 Iraqi security forces worked in the area with 2,500 American troops, said Col. Steve Townsend, the commander of the Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

For the second day of their sweep, American troops found almost no resistance, instead mostly encountering compliant residents and children begging for attention. In the afternoon, some troops decided to cruise through nearby Sadr City. From the hatch of a 19-ton Stryker armored vehicle, the district appeared far less friendly than the three nearby neighborhoods had. There were lots of antagonistic hand gestures, hard stares and grimaces from young men.

About an hour later, near a restaurant in Sadr City, six people were killed when a minibus exploded outside a popular restaurant. With American troops on the neighborhood’s edges and Iraqi forces inside, witnesses said that the heightened security presence helped evacuate bombing victims more quickly.

Salaam Sabri, 35, a microbus driver who ran to the scene after hearing the explosion, said that police cars and army vehicles were hauling bodies to the hospital while policemen and soldiers searched cars and pedestrians for signs of who might be responsible for the attack.

“It wasn’t like before,” he said. “They surrounded the area and they checked all the cars and all the people walking by.”
New York Times (2/15): "Few Encounters in Sweep of Baghdad, the Americans’ First Under Bush’s Security Plan"

BAGHDAD, Feb. 14 — Thousands of American troops in armored Stryker vehicles swarmed three mostly Shiite neighborhoods of northeastern Baghdad on Wednesday, encountering little resistance during what commanders described as the first major sweep of the new security plan for the capital. ...

For some Iraqis in Ur and in other neighborhoods searched in recent days, the question was whether such gains could last. The current security plan is the third major effort to bring peace to Baghdad, and in each case, initial progress was supplanted with a return to chaos.

“If the Americans keep doing it, they can make a difference,” said Ali Muhammad, 37, an ice cream shop owner who lives in Ur. “But they have to stay. Otherwise it will never work.” ...

At the border of Shaab and Ur, American troops encountered a warmer reception. Some residents in both areas seemed hopeful. Mustafa Jasim, 27, a Sunni, said that the idea of bases in the neighborhood convinced him that the Americans would not leave immediately. “With them here, now I can feel safe,” he said.
New York Times (2/14): "Iraqis Announce New Crackdown Across Baghdad"

BAGHDAD, Feb. 13 — The Iraqi government on Tuesday ordered tens of thousands of Baghdad residents to leave homes they are occupying illegally, in a surprising and highly challenging effort to reverse the tide of sectarian cleansing that has left the capital bloodied and Balkanized.

In a televised speech, Lt. Gen. Aboud Qanbar, who is leading the new crackdown, also announced the closing of Iraq’s borders with Iran and Syria, an extension of the curfew in Baghdad by an hour, and the setup of new checkpoints run by the Defense and Interior Ministries, both of which General Qanbar said he now controlled.
New York Times (2/11): "U.S. Troops Enter Eastern Baghdad as New Push Begins"

BAGHDAD, Feb. 11 — American troops locked down a large industrial area of eastern Baghdad on Sunday while Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, without indicating how he would do it, vowed to speed the deployment of Iraqi forces throughout the war-ravaged capital.

American commanders described the operation in the area, the Rusafa district, as an early taste of the large-scale sweeps expected in eastern Baghdad to take back some measure of control from militias. Soldiers from the Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team, from Ft. Lewis, Wash., were fired on by insurgents with automatic rifles. The soldiers detained 10 Iraqis while searching for a car-bomb manufacturing site in the area, a violent sectarian fault line between a Shiite enclave and the insurgent-ridden Sunni neighborhood of Fadhil.

The operations in eastern Baghdad are to be a centerpiece of the so-called surge of 21,000 troops that many here view as a last-ditch effort to save the country from all-out civil war. Eastern Baghdad “is a focal point for us right now,” said Brig. Gen. John Campbell, deputy commander of coalition troops in Baghdad. American-led forces say they have conducted 3,400 patrols and detained 140 suspects in the past week. ...

Residents in and around Fadhil said they hoped the presence of American soldiers would quiet the fighting that has trapped some in their homes for weeks. They said their streets and alleys have become a frontline battleground for Shiite fighters from neighborhoods to the northeast, near Sadr City, and Sunni gunmen who have sought to protect their turf from the Mahdi Army, the militia based in Sadr city that is loyal to Moktada al-Sadr.
The stakes in Iraq are high. I'm convinced that the troop surge and the renewed focus on securing Baghdad are the best of the many bad options we have at the moment. Other people - including many liberals and more than a handful of conservatives - have found fault with the administration's new strategy. These are all legitimate contributions to the broader debate over what America's goals in Iraq and the Middle East should be and about how best to achieve them.

Deliberation among pundits, policy wonks, and armchair generals is fine and dandy, but when real bullets start to fly, not just rhetorical ones, those who serve in the two war-making branches of our government are called upon to play the role of statesmen. Our leaders in the executive branch and Congress have a moral obligation, if not a constitutional one, to reach as broad a consensus as possible on how the war is to be conducted. That's not to say that all their disagreements should be swept under the rug. Not at all. But, neither should they be trumpeted in such a manner that demoralizes our troops and gives hope to our adversaries. The resolution that Reps. Cramer and Davis voted for today does exactly that, while doing nothing to bring our troops home any sooner or to advance America's national security interests. Voting to undermine the President and the military at such a critical juncture in this war was unnecessary and grossly irresponsible.