Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Pushing Back Against Petraeus

CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus and Multinational Force Iraq (MNF-I) Commander General Ray Odierno have submitted assessments of Iraq combat troop withdrawal plans to President Barack Obama based on the premise that his 16-month withdrawal plan would pose significantly greater risk to “security gains” than the 23-month plan they favour.

But a senior commander in Iraq appeared to contradict that premise last week by declaring that security gains in the Shi’a provinces of Iraq are “permanent”, and a field commander in Iraq says there is no objective basis for any Petraeus-Odierno finding that Obama’s plan carries greater risk than their 23-month plan.

Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, U.S. commander for the eight southern provinces of Iraq, denied in remarks to reporters Feb. 12 that the security gains in that region were fragile, contrary to the premise that Odierno has publicly asserted. Oates cited the dramatic reduction in activities by Shi’a militia fighters and the holding of the Jan. 31 elections without any major attacks.

In a previous press briefing Jan. 14, Oates had told reporters that, even if violence were to break out after provincial elections, Iraqi security forces “are well prepared to handle that”.

He also cast doubt on Iranian involvement with Shi’a militias in the south, saying he had “no evidence or reports of people training in Iran”, despite periodic “anecdotal intelligence reports” of such training camps.

Oates said he had already reassigned combat forces in the region to non-combat missions, either training or economic development, despite grumbling by soldiers.

Although Oates did not explicitly address the issue of drawdown plans, he has been known to favour a more rapid withdrawal from Iraq than Petraeus and Odierno for some time, according to a military officer who served under Odierno and is familiar with Oates’s views. “His belief is that we need to get out of the country and let the Iraqis take responsibility for their areas,” the officer, who asked not to be identified, told IPS.

A field commander in Iraq, who spoke with IPS on the understanding that he would not be identified, asserted flatly that there is no greater risk associated with President Obama’s 16-month withdrawal plan than with the 23-month plan, contrary to Petraeus and Odierno.

The officer said that the U.S. military presence has already “passed the tipping point of diminishing returns” in relation to stability and security in Iraq. “The longer we stay now, the less we achieve,” he said.

Neither Petraeus nor Odierno has offered any public explanation for their argument that a 16-month drawdown plan would pose greater risk to stability and security than one lasting seven months longer. However, Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations, an adviser to Petraeus, argued in Foreign Affairs last fall that the U.S. military presence is “essential to stabilize a system of local ceasefires” between Sunnis and Shi’as and between the militias loyal to Moqtada al Sadr and the Shi’a-dominated government.

But the field commander now serving in Iraq told IPS that the U.S. military mission in Iraq has “little correlation” with the present ceasefire between Sunnis and Shi’as. The Sunni-Shi’a conflict, said the officer, “is now one for political supremacy, not a counterinsurgency as defined in the Army’s Counterinsurgency manual”.

He said he had been briefed recently on the U.S. mission in Iraq and had been told it is still a counterinsurgency mission, as it has been for several years. There was “no mention of any peacekeeping function aimed at maintaining ceasefires,” the officer said.

The idea of enforcing ceasefires is advocated by some in the U.S. command, he said, but that would be “a very different mission from counterinsurgency”.

Biddle confirmed in an interview with IPS that the U.S. military peacekeeping role he advocates has not been adopted by the MNF-I command. A number of officers in the command, he said, still believe the U.S. objective in Iraq is “the gradual elimination” of all forces competing with the Iraqi government’s security forces.

Ironically, it was Biddle who revealed in Congressional testimony last April that the reduction in sectarian violence in and around Baghdad beginning in 2007 for which Odierno had credited the U.S. troop surge was actually the result of the heavy defeat of Sunni insurgent forces in a year-long battle with Shi’a militias for control of Baghdad in 2006. Biddle observed that the U.S. military tried to stop the sectarian violence but played “no decisive role” in the ultimate ceasefire between Sunni and Shi’a.

In an online discussion on the Washington Post website Feb. 9, Biddle conceded that U.S. troop strength had been insufficient in 2006 to prevent the sectarian violence in Baghdad.

That revelation undercuts the Petraeus-Odierno argument that keeping combat troops in Iraq longer than 16 months would help maintain the present ceasefire between Sunni and Shi’a forces. In 16 months, U.S. combat troop strength will be only a fraction of its 2006 level, even under the Petraeus-Odierno plan.

The U.S. field commander said that, even if U.S. troops were given the mission of enforcing ceasefires, it would not give the U.S. military any additional influence over either side to remain several more months beyond the 16-month withdrawal period.

“At some point [U.S. troops] are going to have to leave,” said the commander. “The Iraqis are going to resolve political differences without American military muscle to enforce it. It doesn’t matter if that process begins in 16 months, 23 months, or 23 years. We gain nothing with the additional time.”

“The 1st Cavalry Division cannot make the Shiites and Sunnis kiss and make up,” he observed. “They can’t make the problems of oil revenue sharing get resolved. Those are issues only Arabs and Kurds can resolve.”

A second U.S. officer now serving in Iraq, who also asked not to be identified, expressed doubt that a 16-month withdrawal is logistically feasible, based on his experience in a specific area south of Baghdad. But he agreed that it is time to complete the turnover of responsibility to the Iraqi Army and rapidly withdraw U.S. combat troops.

“It’s time for us to get out,” he said in an interview. “If the U.S. military continues to do the job, the Iraqis are going to be lazy, and they won’t do it themselves.”

The officer conceded that the Iraq army “is nowhere near as competent as the U.S. Army,” and that “there may be some breakout of bad things” after the troop withdrawal. Nevertheless, the officer warned, “If you don’t give the Iraqis the mantle of responsibility, we will be there for another 25-30 years.”

GARETH PORTER is an investigative historian and journalist with Inter-Press Service specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam“, was published in 2006.

More articles by:

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

October 22, 2018
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
Victor Grossman
A Big Rally and a Bavarian Vote
James Bovard
Groped at the Airport: Congress Must End TSA’s Sexual Assaults on Women
Jeff Roby
Florida After Hurricane Michael: the Sad State of the Unheeded Planner
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Bradley Kaye
The Policy of Policing
Wim Laven
The Catholic Church Fails Sexual Abuse Victims
Kevin Cashman
One Year After Hurricane Maria: Employment in Puerto Rico is Down by 26,000
Dr. Hakim Young
Nonviolent Afghans Bring a Breath of Fresh Air
Karl Grossman
Irving Like vs. Big Nuke
Dan Corjescu
The New Politics of Climate Change
John Carter
The Plight of the Pyrenees: the Abandoned Guard Dogs of the West
Ted Rall
Brett Kavanaugh and the Politics of Emotion-Shaming
Graham Peebles
Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order
Ed Rampell
The Advocates
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail