The senior U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad acknowledged Thursday that the U.S. and Iraqi effort to reduce sectarian violence in Baghdad is not working very well. That statement comes as many analysts are reaching the same conclusion. The question U.S. officials are dealing with now is what to do about the situation.
Speaking in Baghdad, Major General William Caldwell called the high number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq this month 'disheartening,' and he made this frank admission.
"In Baghdad, Operation Together Forward has made a difference in the focus areas but has not met our overall expectations of sustaining a reduction in the levels of violence," said General Caldwell. "We are working very closely with the Government of Iraq to determine how best to refocus our efforts."
General Caldwell said security in most of Iraq is relatively good, but the effort to expand that into the capital has not gone well.
"We're obviously very concerned about what we're seeing in the city," he said. "We're taking a lot of time to go back and look at the whole Baghdad Security Plan. We're asking ourselves if the conditions under which it was first devised and planned still exist today. Or have the conditions changed and therefore a modification of that plan needs to be made?"
General Caldwell went on to answer his own question later in the briefing.
"It's clear that the conditions under which we started are probably not the same today," admitted General Caldwell. "And so that does require some modifications of the plan. And there is an intense amount of ongoing discussion and briefings that are being held at both the Government of Iraq level and at our level to specifically address these facets."
The general also noted that the trend toward sectarian violence targeting Iraqi civilians and away from insurgent attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops has been reversed in recent weeks.
"There has been a much more concerted effort to specifically target coalition and Iraqi security forces," he said. "We do normally track the number of attacks per day and there has been a steady increase in the number of attacks specifically against security forces, and away from civilian targets."
General Caldwell attributed the change to intensified anti-American feeling during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and to an insurgent effort to raise the U.S. casualty count in order to affect the upcoming U.S. congressional elections.
Speaking later Thursday at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that the Baghdad strategy may need some re-thinking, but he cast the process as routine activity in his chain of command.
"Generals on the ground, General Chiarelli and General Casey, are continually adjusting their tactics and techniques and procedures," said Donald Rumsfeld. "And I'm told that General Caldwell made a comment today about the situation in Baghdad, and indicated that the level of violence has been up. And obviously, when that's the case, General Casey and General Chiarelli will be reviewing their circumstance and then discussing it with General Pace and the chiefs and eventually with me."
Military and foreign policy expert Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution welcomes the acknowledgement that the Baghdad security plan is not going well, but he says the acknowledgement is overdue and that action must be taken to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control.
"Well I think anybody has to be evolving in their thinking," said Michael O'Hanlon. "The situation is changing and one has to be creative here because our ideas aren't working. I think at this point we have to accept that the current trajectory is a negative one, and the language about 'staying the course' or not obscures the main point, which is the diagnostic point, which is that we are not headed for victory right now. And putting this essentially on an intellectual auto-pilot will probably lead to disaster."
O'Hanlon says the United States is starting to lose in Iraq, but he believes there is time to salvage victory if some changes are made.
"I think that we're starting to see the beginning of an acknowledgement from key people in the administration, but it really is less important that they say such things," he said. "I think it's more important to see what kinds of policy proposals they would come up with."
The analyst from the Brookings Institution has some of his own ideas of what needs to be done, including an Iraqi government commitment to wealth sharing among the three main sectarian groups and a jobs program to drain fighters from the insurgency. Those proposals reflect comments by many U.S. officials, including Secretary Rumsfeld, who say the ultimate solution to Iraq's problems will not be military or American, but rather will be Iraqi moves to address sectarian disputes, control the impact of private militias, and deal with economic problems and a variety of other issues.
But Michael O'Hanlon says it is not surprising that the Bush administration is standing by its Iraq policy just two and a half weeks before the congressional elections.
O'Hanlon and other analysts believe some new directions in U.S. policy toward Iraq may come from a commission created by President Bush and chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker. Its recommendations are expected fairly soon after the election on November 7.