Thursday, March 08, 2007
how long must we sing this song:
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- In general, the 57th Military Police Company, which is attached to the 89th Military Police Brigade -- and, for the next several days, an annoying reporter -- is upbeat about its mission here. A rare active-duty MP company, its roughly 170 members were all stationed in Korea until last summer; all volunteered to come to Baghdad and train Iraqi police. But if one thing has them worried, it's Bob Gates's announcement today that an additional 2200 MPs are on their way. The 57th has only three more months left on its tour. Now, with departure in sight, there's a serious prospect of an extension. Making the prospect all the more unpalatable is the fact that the company won't leave Iraq for Korea: its new home will be in Hawaii, about as far from Baghdad as humanly possible, in every sense of the term.

The 57th's officers give the surge high marks, which is the unanimous perspective of everyone at all levels of command I've spoken with since arriving. That's understandable: in a cynical sense, no one is going to want to dump on the new plan, but on a more basic level, it has resulted in much fewer attacks on U.S. troops in Baghdad, which is an unambigously good thing. Yet there's something else at work -- an emotionally fundamental desire to attribute cause and effect to the American side for a change. Whenever I ask about the Sadrists and other death squads lying low in hopes of waiting out the surge, as good guerillas will, everyone quickly ticks off that caveat. And then they go on discussing the momentum that the surge has generated, the deterrent effect of having more U.S. forces out on patrol in the city, the germination of a return to normality among Iraqi citizens -- all, again, unalloyed good things if they can last.

The idea of a Sadrist pause is very clearly an awful thing to contemplate -- and when I realized that, I think I got a bit of insight on why the surge is so important to troops here. More valuable than the fact of not being shot at -- as obviously valuable as that is -- is a sense of initiative, something the U.S. hasn't had since, arguably, the deadly spring of 2004. The surge is as emotionally important for the troops here as it is tactically or strategically valuable, as it offers them the chance to take hold of the war once again. And if they can take hold of it in Baghdad, then perhaps in Anbar, and then perhaps in Salahuddin, and on and on until victory, whatever definition of victory you want to use. One officer related with a heavy heart how, before the surge, he saw apathy and resignation on the part of his superiors when the Baghdad morgue would bring in the day's reports of another 80 corpses: there was simply nothing they could do. For a soldier, that's the bitterest taste a man can have in his mouth.

At a Pentagon presser yesterday, General Pace basically dismissed the large-scale bombings that have continued throughout the surge. It's a sentiment that I've heard here as well, and it makes little sense without understanding the surge's impact on the initiative question. Car bombs, officers here believe, are forever -- that's terrorism for you -- but sectarian murders don't need to be. From the perspective of stabilizing Iraq, that's simultaneously sensible and absurd. But from the perspective of gaining a sense of initiative, it might be the hardest-won ground in Baghdad, and no one will let it go without a very brutal fight.
--Spencer Ackerman
Very interesting stuff, keep it coming!

The Marines in my unit who came from Fallujah 3 months ago related that sense of lack of initiative. They were in Mobile Assault Platoons and characterized their time as basically rolling around in hummvees waiting to get hit.
Blogger Tequila | 5:09 PM