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U.S.-Iraq Strategy: Washington Increases Troop Presence in Baghdad


Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s recent official visit to Washington coincided with an upsurge in sectarian violence in Baghdad prompting the Pentagon to re-deploy an additional 5,000 troops to the Iraqi capital. And, at a time when most Americans had hoped for a drawdown of US forces in Iraq, the Pentagon is extending the tours of 3,500 soldiers for up to four months in an effort to curb the bloodshed.

Colonel Thomas X. Hammes, retired U.S. Marine Corps officer and author of The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century, says the revised Pentagon plan is more tactics than strategy. He says the United States still lacks a “coherent, long-term strategy in Iraq.” Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Encounter program, Colonel Hammes calls it a “huge leap of faith” to assume that those same people who “have been running the war for the past three years and who have refused to admit any failure” are capable of making the necessary changes at this stage.

Professor Henri J. Barkey, chairman of the International Relations Department at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, says it remains to be seen whether the Pentagon’s tactical decision to redeploy more troops to Baghdad and to embed U.S. troops with Iraqi units will be able to stop the “civilian carnage.” Professor Barkey notes that one major change for the better is that the Sunni parties in Parliament now recognize that an early American departure from Iraq would be “terrible for them.” Professor Barkey suggests that “everybody knows” that the moment the United States pulls its troops out, Iraq will descend into a “really deep civil war.” From a political perspective, he argues, the Bush presidency will be judged by the war in Iraq, and its outcome is in jeopardy partly because the administration from the beginning did not send enough troops.

Colonel Hammes concurs in that evaluation. Both agree that, because the war is now so unpopular in the United States, it will be difficult for the Bush Administration to change course, especially before the November elections. Colonel Hammes says the Bush administration was slow to grasp the fact that the insurgency is less a product of “foreign jihadists” and more a result of indigenous forces, be they former supporters of Saddam Hussein or those affiliated with Shi’a militias. On the other hand, he suggests, the insurgents – both Sunni and Shi’a – have been quite astute in understanding that U.S. staying power is dependent on the “will of the American people.” From the perspective of the Iraqi people, Colonel Hammas says, U.S. success will ultimately be judged by providing security and governance.

Professor Barkey agrees that most of the violence in Iraq is sectarian and “home grown.” However, he observes that – if Iran “should choose to do so” – it could “create havoc” for the United States in Iraq. Furthermore, Professor Barkey suggests that, if Iran perceives that Hezbollah is being defeated in Lebanon, Tehran might decide to retaliate in Iraq. Professor Barkey suggests that a worst-case scenario would be if Iraq were to disintegrate into three separate states.

For full audio of the program Encounter click here.