Losing Baghdad


Reading this excellent report in USA Today is truly sobering. The Maliki government obviously has little power to restrain Shiite militias, who are slowly taking over the entire capital city. The Maliki government may actually be complicit in some of this:

U.S.-led raids often must be approved in advance by Iraqi leaders. This month, a unit in Baghdad got a tip about a torture chamber for Shiite death squads, but a planned raid needed clearance from the Iraqi side, said Capt. Kevin Salge, a company commander whose unit received the tip.

Several days passed before approval came through. By the time U.S. troops conducted a nighttime raid on the two-story building, it was largely abandoned, he said.

They were tipped off by the people who are supposed to be helping us. The ethnic cleansing is accelerating:

The Mahdi Army is brutal in pursuit of its goals, [Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Nelson, an intelligence analyst with the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, based in Baghdad] said. Large red X's are painted on the sides of houses the militia wants vacated, he said. Residents know they have a few days to leave before their houses are firebombed.

The Mahdi Army has used the tactic to clear entire clans from neighborhoods and to empty the neighborhoods of rivals, he said... "They've infiltrated every branch of public service and every political office they could get their hands on," Nelson said. "As soon as the U.S. leaves, they'll be able to dominate the area with key citizens, key positions, key offices. They'll pretty much have the lay of the land."

More troops won't help. We already have 60,000 in the capital. Nelson explains: "To fight these extrajudicial killings effectively, we need to be embedded, almost one to one, with the Iraqi security forces." In other words, you have to saturate a city's entire police and military, one on one, and fight vicious urban guerrilla warfare for years and years.

Before the war, many of us feared that a battle for Baghdad would entail enormous losses in dangerous terrain before victory. We thought in the early days we had somehow avoided it by the lightning invasion plan. It turns out, because of our inability to restore order immediately and capture the window of opportunity at the start, that the battle for Baghdad is only now truly beginning. And it could last years, with fast-eroding civilian support, and the likelihood of eventual defeat. This is the grim reality we now have to face. And it would be good if we faced it now - before the election - than after.

(Photo: Yuri Kozyrev for Time.)