As if we needed any more proof, an October 23rd AP article (U.S. makes inroads vs. Iraq insurgents) and the latest news of the deadly massacre of 50 Iraqi recruits (Inquiry Into Ambush Opens; Iraqi Forces Feared Infiltrated) prove the utter folly and hubris of current American policy in Iraq.
The first story appears to be one of those “feel good” pieces aimed to show that the U.S. is making slow, but steady progress in its war against the Iraqi insurgents. Denis Gray’s article features a handsome Harvard-educated African-American colonel who served as military aide to Bill Clinton, Col. Dana Pittard.
Col. Dana Pittard (credit: Stefan Zalkin/AP)
Gray touts Pittard as a man who represents the “new” Army. A soldier who thinks outside the normal boxes and who isn’t afraid to rock the boat if it can help him achieve his military objectives.
Gray allows Pittard to toot his own horn:
While Pittard and others acknowledge the insurgency remains active and could again worsen, he points to evidence of a sharp decrease in attacks in the largely agricultural region of some 1.7 million people.
Roadside and car bombings, while still a serious threat to his 6,000 soldiers, fell 60 percent from their June peak while direct attacks plummeted by 85 percent, according to the military. As mortar and rocket strikes on Camp Warhorse, headquarters of Pittard’s 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, have subsided, body armor no longer has to be worn at all times and outdoor volleyball and basketball courts have come into use…
To prevent any such backsliding [as happened in Falluja] in his territory, Pittard has troops continuously stationed inside Baqouba, the provincial capital some 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.
“We don’t allow even the slightest sign of open resistance,” he said.
Pittard says his staff studies counterinsurgencies going back to the 1899-1902 Philippine Insurrection and holds regular “free-thinking” sessions during which anyone, regardless of rank, can come up with ideas.
Crucial, he says, were the nine months the brigade spent as peacekeepers in Kosovo not long before coming to Iraq in March.
“I think we got to know how important it was to relate to people, and how to separate the bad guys from the population,” he says. “We have not scooped up people in a big net to find the rotten fish.”
“We deconstruct who is who,” he said. “If a guy feels he’s a nationalist fighting the occupier of his homeland we can deal with that. It’s the hard core that has to be killed or captured…”
[Assistant provincial governor] Jassim claims the province has become the safest in central Iraq. “In the future maybe there will be zero terrorists in Diyala…”
What is, of course, supremely ironic about this story of a U.S. “success” in Iraq turns out to be that Col. Pittard serves in Diyala Province, precisely the place where the latest horrific executions took place. This startling revelation turns all the positive spin in the AP article into a laughingstock. It proves that no matter how quiescent the Iraqi population may be in any particular place, the fuel for a conflagration is scattered everywhere. I bet Col. Pittard’s men have returned to wearing their body armor and aren’t enjoying too many of those carefree moments on the basketball courts.
In fact, the New York Times quotes Iyad Alawi today:
Allawi partly blamed the American-led military forces on Tuesday for the massacre by insurgents of 49 freshly trained Iraqi soldiers on Saturday, saying the military had shown “major negligence.”
I guess the good colonel and his fellow officers are going to have some explaining to do about how they were caught napping by Zarqawi’s gang of bloodthirsty thugs.
In his article, Gray quotes an unnamed diplomat who has the only smart thing to say in the entire article:
A Western civilian official, interviewed on condition of anonymity, spoke positively about Pittard’s overall approach, but cautioned that the successes in Diyala may prove only momentary.
The second, New York Times article linked above reveals how thoroughly infiltrated the Iraqi army and national guard are by insurgents (up to 5% of recruits are really insurgents), who likely provided the inside intelligence to those who perpetrated the ambush. Even when Iraqi recruits are not spies, they are largely incompetent or ineffectual. How long will it take for America to realize that this is simply an untenable situation and an unwinnable war?
The only outcome that will defuse this tinderbox is a complete U.S. withdrawal now. To think, as Pittard does, that he can ‘rule’ Diyala Province in even a benign manner is absolutely foolhardy. The only ones who can rule Iraq (if indeed anyone can presently) are Iraqis chosen by Iraqis themselves without outside intervention.
UPDATE: Please note a correction e mailed to me by two U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq (see their comments below). Apparently, the massacre happened in Wasit, the province immediately south of Diyala. The Iraqi soldiers had been training at a U.S. facility in eastern Diyala. This area is ‘controlled’ by Polish coalition forces. Col. Pittard and his troops are stationed in western Diyala and as such should face no censure for what happened.
That being noted, I don’t think any of this information subverts the primary point of this post, which is that no matter how good a solider you are (and I have no doubt that Col. Pittard is an excellent one), when you’re placed in an untenable situation in the midst of an unwinnable war, there’s simply no way you can succeed.