Friday, July 31, 2009

Declare victory, go home

Iraqi police officers in a parade in Baquba on June 29, the day before the deadline for the pullout of American forces from cities.

A senior American military adviser in Baghdad has concluded in an unusually blunt memo that Iraqi forces suffer from entrenched deficiencies but are now able to protect the Iraqi government, and that it is time “for the U.S. to declare victory and go home.”

The memo offers a look at tensions that emerged between Iraqi and American military officers at a sensitive moment when American combat troops met a June 30 deadline to withdraw from Iraq’s cities, the first step toward an advisory role. The Iraqi government’s forceful moves to assert authority have concerned some American officers, though senior American officials insisted that cooperation had improved.

Prepared by Col. Timothy R. Reese, an adviser to the Iraqi military’s Baghdad command, the memorandum details Iraqi military weaknesses in scathing language, including corruption, poor management and the inability to resist Shiite political pressure. Extending the American military presence beyond August 2010, he argues, will do little to improve the Iraqis’ military performance while fueling growing resentment of Americans.

“As the old saying goes, ‘Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days,’ ” Colonel Reese wrote. “Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose.”

Those conclusions are not shared by the senior American commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, and his recommendation for an accelerated troop withdrawal is at odds with the timetable approved by President Obama.

Still, the memo opens a rare window into a debate among American military officers about how active the American role should be in Iraq and for how long. While some in the military endorse Colonel Reese’s assessment, other officers say that American forces need to stay in Iraq for the next couple of years as the Iraqis struggle with heightened tensions between the Kurds and Arabs, insurgent attacks in and around Mosul and checking authoritarian tendencies of the Iraqi government.

Before deploying to Iraq, Colonel Reese served as the director of the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the Army’s premier intellectual center. He was an author of an official Army history of the Iraq war — “On Point II” — that was sharply critical of the lapses in postwar planning.

It's 720 pages, the document (28.12 Mb).

But while General Odierno has drawn up detailed plans for a substantial advisory role, Colonel Reese argued in favor of a more limited — and shorter — effort, and recommended that all American forces be withdrawn by August 2010.

“If there ever was a window where the seeds of a professional military culture could have been implanted, it is now long past,” he wrote. “U.S. combat forces will not be here long enough or with sufficient influence to change it. The military culture of the Baathist-Soviet model under Saddam Hussein remains entrenched and will not change. The senior leadership of the I.S.F. is incapable of change in the current environment.”

At least somebody is being honest.

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