Supporters of the war note that much of the violence in Iraq is confined to four of 18 provinces. True. But you can't ignore the continuing instability in the capital. Baghdad is much more important to Iraq than Washington is to the United States. With at least 6 million residents, it has a quarter of the country's population, and it is not only the political capital but the center of media, business and culture.
He's right. While it's nice that we have relative peace in 14 of 18 provinces, it is more important that we have peace in Baghdad than probably any one of the 14. So how to go about it. Well, Boot looks at the success we had at Tal Afar as a model for how we should clean up Baghdad:
The pacification of Tall Afar, a town of at least 150,000, required 3,800 American and 5,000 Iraqi soldiers. That's a ratio of one American per 40 civilians. In Baghdad, there are currently three American combat brigades, or about 8,600 troops. That's a ratio of one American per 698 civilians. No wonder the capital is so unsafe.
And no, before it is raised, this isn't the "oil spot" strategy pushed by Andrew Krepinevich. This is a basic "cordon and search" operation on a large scale. Or as Boot calls it, a "clear and hold".
To gain control of the situation, an American officer who has served in Baghdad suggested to me the need to deploy at least 35,000 U.S. troops (six brigade combat teams, plus support personnel), two Iraqi army divisions (20,000 men), and 30,000 competent Iraqi police officers. That would give you a total of 85,000 security personnel, or one per 71 inhabitants — still lower than the ratio in Tall Afar but much higher than it is today.
What Boot is latching on to here is the ratio. The question is would a lower ratio of troops to populace have the same effect as it did in in Tall Afar?
To me that's not at all clear. It certainly might help the situation somewhat, but in Tall Afar, it seems, the situation was helped tremendously by the way the 3rd ACR did its job instead of how many there were in a citzen to soldier ratio. While it flat locked down Tall Afar, it also worked hard to ensure it did so in a way not to alienate the residents. Doing that in Baghdad, a diverse city of millions might not be as easy as Boot and the officer he quotes might think.
Secondly you have a smaller population which could be successfully isolated in Tall Afar. Baghdad? Not so easy.
Lastly, unity of command. Compared to the effort which would be required in Baghdad, Tall Afar was much less complicated (a single unit, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment with a relatively short chain of command in a single fairly isolated town).
But still, given the success in Tall Afar, it's worth a look. My perscription, however would involve a lot more Iraqis and a lot less Americans than Boot wants (which means there would probably be no requirement for more boots on the ground as Boot thinks necessary). And it seems a convenient way to monitor and grade the ability and readiness of Iraqi security forces to take on the job completely.
It might work. But it is something which has to be done eventually by someone, be it the Iraqi government alone or by the Iraqi government with our assistance. The latter, at least to me, seems the preferable.
this all sounds pretty sensible, in theory, anyway. None of it touches on what to do about the Iraqi murderers we can’t "clear and hold", though, because they’re in the government. As > This NYTimes goes into some depth on, the thugs and killers are hopelessly mixed in with the "off-limits" people, unless you’d have US troops destroying Iraqi Government forces in direct combat. Actually, that doesn’t even look like such a bad idea at this point, which is why I’d go for Max Boot’s plan over yours, McQ.