CENTCOM Commander Gen. David Petraeus and Multinational
Force Iraq (MNF-I) Commander Gen. Ray Odierno have submitted assessments of
Iraq combat-troop withdrawal plans to President Barack Obama based on the premise
that his 16-month withdrawal plan would pose significantly greater risk to
"security gains" than the 23-month plan they favor.
But a senior commander in Iraq appeared to contradict that premise last week
by declaring that security gains in the Shi'ite provinces of Iraq are "permanent,"
and a field commander in Iraq says there is no objective basis for any Petraeus-Odierno
finding that Obama's plan carries greater risk than their 23-month plan.
Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, U.S. commander for the eight southern provinces of
Iraq, denied in remarks to reporters Feb. 12 that the security gains in that
region were fragile, contrary to the premise that Odierno has publicly asserted.
Oates cited the dramatic reduction in activities by Shi'ite militia fighters
and the holding of the Jan. 31 elections without any major attacks.
In a previous press briefing Jan. 14, Oates had told reporters that, even
if violence were to break out after provincial elections, Iraqi security forces
"are well prepared to handle that."
He also cast doubt on Iranian involvement with Shi'ite militias in the south,
saying he had "no evidence or reports of people training in Iran,"
despite periodic "anecdotal intelligence reports" of such training
Oates said he had already reassigned combat forces in the region to non-combat
missions, either training or economic development, despite grumbling by soldiers.
Although Oates did not explicitly address the issue of drawdown plans, he
has been known to favor a more rapid withdrawal from Iraq than Petraeus and
Odierno for some time, according to a military officer who served under Odierno
and is familiar with Oates' views. "His belief is that we need to get
out of the country and let the Iraqis take responsibility for their areas,"
the officer, who asked not to be identified, told IPS.
A field commander in Iraq, who spoke with IPS on the understanding that he
would not be identified, asserted flatly that there is no greater risk associated
with President Obama's 16-month withdrawal plan than with the 23-month plan,
contrary to Petraeus and Odierno.
The officer said that the U.S. military presence has already "passed
the tipping point of diminishing returns" in relation to stability and
security in Iraq. "The longer we stay now, the less we achieve,"
Neither Petraeus nor Odierno has offered any public explanation for their
argument that a 16-month drawdown plan would pose greater risk to stability
and security than one lasting seven months longer. However, Stephen Biddle
of the Council on Foreign Relations, an adviser to Petraeus, argued in Foreign
Affairs last fall that the U.S. military presence is "essential to
stabilize a system of local ceasefires" between Sunnis and Shi'ites and
between the militias loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr and the Shi'ite-dominated government.
But the field commander now serving in Iraq told IPS that the U.S. military
mission in Iraq has "little correlation" with the present cease-fire
between Sunnis and Shi'ites. The Sunni-Shi'ite conflict, said the officer,
"is now one for political supremacy, not a counterinsurgency as defined
in the Army's counterinsurgency manual."
He said he had been briefed recently on the U.S. mission in Iraq and had been
told it is still a counterinsurgency mission, as it has been for several years.
There was "no mention of any peacekeeping function aimed at maintaining
cease-fires," the officer said.
The idea of enforcing ceasefires is advocated by some in the U.S. command,
he said, but that would be "a very different mission from counterinsurgency."
Biddle confirmed in an interview with IPS that the U.S. military peacekeeping
role he advocates has not been adopted by the MNF-I command. A number of officers
in the command, he said, still believe the U.S. objective in Iraq is "the
gradual elimination" of all forces competing with the Iraqi government's
Ironically, it was Biddle who revealed in congressional testimony last April
that the reduction in sectarian violence in and around Baghdad beginning in
2007 for which Odierno had credited the U.S. troop surge was actually the result
of the heavy defeat of Sunni insurgent forces in a year-long battle with Shi'ite
militias for control of Baghdad in 2006. Biddle observed that the U.S. military
tried to stop the sectarian violence but played "no decisive role"
in the ultimate cease-fire between Sunni and Shi'ite.
In an online discussion on the Washington Post Web site Feb. 9, Biddle
conceded that U.S. troop strength had been insufficient in 2006 to prevent
the sectarian violence in Baghdad.
That revelation undercuts the Petraeus-Odierno argument that keeping combat
troops in Iraq longer than 16 months would help maintain the present cease-fire
between Sunni and Shi'ite forces. In 16 months, U.S. combat troop strength
will be only a fraction of its 2006 level, even under the Petraeus-Odierno
The U.S. field commander said that, even if U.S. troops were given the mission
of enforcing cease-fires, it would not give the U.S. military any additional
influence over either side to remain several more months beyond the 16-month
"At some point [U.S. troops] are going to have to leave," said the
commander. "The Iraqis are going to resolve political differences without
American military muscle to enforce it. It doesn't matter if that process begins
in 16 months, 23 months, or 23 years. We gain nothing with the additional time."
"The 1st Cavalry Division cannot make the Shi'ites and Sunnis kiss and
make up," he observed. "They can't make the problems of oil revenue
sharing get resolved. Those are issues only Arabs and Kurds can resolve."
A second U.S. officer now serving in Iraq, who also asked not to be identified,
expressed doubt that a 16-month withdrawal is logistically feasible, based
on his experience in a specific area south of Baghdad. But he agreed that it
is time to complete the turnover of responsibility to the Iraqi army and rapidly
withdraw U.S. combat troops.
"It's time for us to get out," he said in an interview. "If
the U.S. military continues to do the job, the Iraqis are going to be lazy,
and they won't do it themselves."
The officer conceded that the Iraq army "is nowhere near as competent
as the U.S. Army," and that "there may be some breakout of bad things"
after the troop withdrawal. Nevertheless, the officer warned, "If you
don't give the Iraqis the mantle of responsibility, we will be there for another
(Inter Press Service)