"General [David] Petraeus has warned that too fast a drawdown [of US troops] could result in the disintegration of the Iraqi security forces", US President George Bush declared in his January 28 "state of the union" speech to the US Congress.
In doing so, Bush gave the lie to claims repeatedly made by his top commander in Iraq that Washington's puppet Iraqi Army (IA) has made "significant progress" in becoming a reliable force in fighting the resistance to the US-led occupation.
In their last quarterly written report to Congress, presented on December 4, Petraeus and his senior field commanders asserted that 77% of the IA's 117 battalions — each with about 700 troops — were capable of "planning, executing and sustaining" counter-insurgency operations without the "support" of US or allied foreign occupation forces.
Bush's admission the US-created IA "could disintegrate" if it had to single-handedly fight the continuing Iraqi nationalist insurgency was consistent with comments made two weeks earlier by Washington's puppet Iraqi defence minister. In an interview published in the January 14 New York Times, Abdul Qadir said that the IA would not be able to take full responsibility for Iraq's internal security until 2012.
The "Iraqisation" of Washington's war to secure control over Iraqi's huge oil resources for US oil corporations has been official US strategy for more than three years.
General Petraeus was tasked with implementing this "Iraqisation" strategy in June 2004, when he was put in charge of training the IA and other US-created Iraqi security forces.
Three months later, Petraeus told the September 26, 2004, Washington Post that "I see tangible progress. Iraqi security elements are being rebuilt from the ground up ... Today approximately 164,000 Iraqi police and soldiers (of which about 100,000 are trained and equipped) ... are performing a wide variety of security missions."
A year later, Petraeus told the November 5, 2005 Air Force Times that there was "very substantial momentum" in "standing up" the Iraqi security forces. In February 2006, however, General Peter Pace, then head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the US Senate armed services committee that there was only one IA battalion capable of fighting without the US military's "support".
What Petraeus had succeeded in doing was creating, funding and arming the Iraqi interior ministry's predominantly Shiite paramilitary special police commandos — since renamed the "National Police".
Numerous investigative reports in 2005 revealed that the police commandos had been trained to function as death squads — abducting, torturing and murdering suspected Iraqi insurgents and their mostly Sunni supporters. This death squad activity was a major factor in sparking the upsurge of intra-Iraqi sectarian violence in 2006.
In late 2005, Petraeus returned to the US to take charge of overseeing the training programs for the entire US Army. While there, he co-wrote the US military's first manual on counterinsurgency warfare in 20 years. His recommendations included setting up "specialized paramilitary strike forces" and local "paramilitary units" — local militias.
In his speech, Bush said: "One year ago, our enemies were succeeding in their efforts to plunge Iraq into chaos. So we reviewed our strategy and changed course. We launched a surge of American forces into Iraq. And we gave our troops a new mission: Work with Iraqi forces to protect the Iraqi people, pursue the enemy in its strongholds, and deny the terrorists sanctuary anywhere in the country."
When he announced the "surge" strategy on January 10, 2007, Bush claimed that it was to back-up a drive by the IA and the Iraqi National Police to defeat and disarm "sectarian militias", which he said were "splitting Baghdad into sectarian enclaves".
The US troop "surge" — which, by extending US troops' war-zone tours from 12 to 15 months, added 30,000 US soldiers to the 130,000-strong US occupation force — was a tacit admission that the puppet Iraqi security forces were incapable of securing control of the Iraqi capital.
Instead of disarming "sectarian militias", US troops began segregating Baghdad into a series of sectarian enclaves surrounded by 4-metre-high concrete walls, and funding local crime bosses to recruit sectarian neighbourhood militias, dubbed "concerned local citizens" (CLCs) by US commanders.
The December 10 Christian Science Monitor reported that, "Creating civilian havens is a cornerstone of the US counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq. While many here are grateful for the newfound calm, they say the price is an increasingly segregated city that is starting to feel like a collective cage. In many cases, the US military is keeping tabs on male residents by collecting fingerprints and retinal scans."
"One road in and one road out, that's it", Muhammad Rajab, a resident of the Ghazaliya neighbourhood, complained to the CSM. "Iraq is a prison, and now I live in my own little prison", he added. "Rafah crossing", the CSM reported, "is scrawled on a concrete wall near an Iraqi Army-manned entry point — a sarcastic reference to the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip."
As a result of the division of Baghdad into numerous "little prisons", separated by innumerable fortified checkpoints, a cross-city trip that in the past would have taken 30 minutes now takes three hours.
The January 27 Time magazine described one such checkpoint, at the entrance to Saha, "drab south Baghdad neighborhood of poured concrete apartment buildings that once housed Baghdad hospital workers". Time noted that there "may see as many as five separate security forces operating at a single intersection at a time ... First, there are the American soldiers, a platoon, which in this case is about 30 men in four Stryker vehicles.
"Second, the [CLCs], a neighborhood watch consisting of armed men — all in plainclothes, many overweight — appointed by Sheikh Ali, a Tony Soprano-type character the Americans have come to rely on to keep the peace. The CLCs have been key to America's new 'surge' strategy in Iraq.
"Third, the Iraqi police, as disheveled and ill-equipped a group as exists in the new Iraq, saunter up the street, many carrying their helmets in their hands. Fourth, the Iraqi police's Quick Reaction Force, well dressed and well equipped, sporting black uniforms, harnesses for extra ammunition, black helmets, black ski goggles and reflective sunglasses. They are the police's SWAT unit with many of their members in their early 20s and only on the job three months.
"Fifth, the National Police, a group feared and vilified in Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad."
Lieutenant-Colonel Mohammed, Saha's local police chief, told Time that CLC members beat, arrested and killed a group of men last month. "We know that some of the CLC guys were criminals". Time noted that, "As much as he complains about the CLC, Mohammad reserves his biggest criticisms for the National Police (not to be confused with Saha's own Iraqi police), with their paramilitary ethos and long history of pulling Sunni families from their cars or homes and shooting them execution style."
Time reported that each of the five groups at the Saha checkpoint "nervously eyes the other, fingers on the trigger. It is a scene replicated all over the city" and "for students of history and armchair generals, the parallels with Beirut, circa 1975, may be striking: More sectarian-aligned groups are organized and armed and funded now than at any point in the war."
In his speech, Bush stated that in the "coming months ... more than 20,000 of our troops are coming home". While he tried to claim this as a "surge dividend", in reality the US occupation force in Iraq will inevitably decline back to its pre-surge level of 130,000 troops as the "surged" soldiers' 15-month war-zone tours are completed.
Bush warned that "our enemies in Iraq ... are not yet defeated", and US forces in Iraq "can still expect tough fighting ahead". While the Pentagon reports that number of attacks by Iraqi resistance fighters has dropped by 60% since early 2007, this has only brought the level of attacks back to what they were in late 2005 — just under 600 a week.
Bush went on to announce that Washington's "objective in the coming year is to sustain and build on the gains we made in 2007, while transitioning to the next phase of our strategy. American troops are shifting from leading operations, to partnering with Iraqi forces, and, eventually, to a protective overwatch mission."
Thus, after the "gains" of last year's troop "surge" strategy, which cost the lives of 901 US soldiers in 2007 (the highest number of any year in the almost five-year-long war), all Bush can announce for 2008 is a return to his failed 2005 "Iraqisation" strategy.