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Iraq: At The Tipping Point Or Over The Edge?

Current news headlines are replete with stories on the apparently deteriorating security situation in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad. After nearly three and a half years of war, time in which the United States has had the opportunity to carry out its strategy for success, it's more than a little difficult to understand what is occurring there. Or is it?

If we look to history for insight, we are reminded of the post-war analysis of Vietnam, On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War, by the late Colonel (Ret.) Harry G. Summers, Jr. In the opening pages of his analysis Summers asks the question, "How could we have succeeded so well [tactically], yet failed so miserably [strategically]?" Indeed, on balance it appears difficult to grasp how a Western industrialized superpower could be defeated by an underdeveloped agrarian nation with a fraction of its population and no gross national product to speak of, without accepting that the stronger nation's overall objectives and strategy in the war were flawed. The lesson of Vietnam is that, on the battlefield the United States accomplished every military objective it set, but in the end North Vietnam, and not the United States, emerged victorious.

The question we have to ask ourselves today is whether Summers' question is relevant to Iraq.

The situation pits the United States, a Western information age superpower, against an insurgency that owns no territory, has no gross domestic product, has no population, and uses primarily bombs and information as its methods for waging war. The current outcome, after nearly three-and-a-half years of war is:

- The Iraqi death rate from ongoing sectarian violence primarily between Sunni and Shiite Muslims averaged more than 100 a day in June. This is the highest recorded since the United States invasion in April, 2003. It follows on the heels of a highly-publicized security crackdown by United State and Iraqi forces in Baghdad. It also follows on the killing by United States forces of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, early in the month of June.

- Prior to the crackdown, according to the Los Angeles Times, the number of daily attacks in Baghdad averaged 23.8; in the first 35 days of the crackdown the number of daily attacks increased to 25.2. (1)

- United States officials had been suggesting the possibility of reducing American military forces in Iraq by the end of 2006 as the Iraqi security forces assumed responsibility for larger areas of the country. In the meantime, the number of American forces may actually increase from around 135,000 to around 140,000.

- Iraqis are more and more turning to the Sunni and Shiite militias for security as they lose faith in Iraqi and United States security forces. Any vestiges of an Iraqi middle class are disappearing as those families of financial means are forced to flee their neighborhoods and, whenever possible, are fleeing the country.

- In the three-and-a-half year build up to the current situation, the United States has made the following policy and strategy declarations concerning Iraq, as reported by the Miami Herald: (2)

- Saddam Hussein is stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

- Saddam's regime has secret connections to al Qaeda.

- U.S. troops will be "welcomed as liberators."

- Major combat is over.

- We've got more than enough forces on the ground to assert control in Iraq.

- The insurgents in Iraq are ''dead-enders'' who will be vanquished in short order.

- The training of Iraqi military and police forces is progressing smoothly.

- The rebuilding of Iraq will be financed by revenues from its vast oil holdings, not by American taxpayers.

- This isn't anything like Vietnam.

In the face of these inaccurate American pronouncements, the situation in Iraq is at the point where the United States must accept that it is either at the tipping point, or has gone over the edge, into full-blown civil war, and adjust its strategy accordingly. It's time to find out how an insurgency with few resources, other than bombs and information, is able to battle an information-age superpower to a standstill. The imperative is both strategic and moral in nature since the current situation in Iraq is a direct outcome of American policy and the brunt of the suffering and dying is being born by the Iraqi public. Failure to do so risks the necessity of confronting Summers' question again, only this time in Iraq instead of Vietnam, on how we can succeed tactically yet fail strategically. Unfortunately, the latest American plan for victory in Iraq, as was so eloquently stated in the New York Times, is to reposition United States forces by putting more of them in the crossfire of Baghdad's civil war, which is tantamount to treating the troops as if they were deck chairs on the Titanic.(3)

We must do better.

(1) Los Angeles Times, ?Crackdown Yields Little Security In Baghdad,? July 21, 2006.

(2) Miami Herald, ?Disillusioned With The War? Here's Why ,? July 30, 2006.

(3) New York Times, ?The Peculiar Disappearance Of The War In Iraq,? July 30, 2006.

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