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Daily Column
Getting Back in the Game at Walter Reed, "The Surge" Book
By DANIEL W. SMITH 07/07/2009 03:00 AM ET
Another very light day for Iraq news. Though the death of Robert S. McNamara led to a few indirect Iraq references, and the Washington Post picked up an AP briefing of violence in Baghdad and Mosul, there really wasn’t much today, and nothing filed from Iraq. There was a piece on disabled veterans, a book review, and an opinion.

IN the Wall Street Journal, John Nagl (president of the Center for a New American Security) and Daniel Rice (partner and co-founder of The Marshall Fund), both graduates of West Point who have served in Iraq, write that America must more effectively shift its focus from combat to post-conflict operations. Though millions are being spent on reconstruction, short-term needs are what is being paid-attention to, not sustainable development.
Instead of spending billions of taxpayer dollars for short-term programs, the enterprise funds could create long-term growth and employment in Iraq while giving U.S. taxpayers a return on their investment in the form of a share of profits going back to the USAID -- while appreciably diminishing support for the insurgency.

As we withdraw from Iraq's cities we must seek to replace our bases with businesses. An enterprise fund for Iraq is a good way to start the process of achieving victory through economic development.
The Washington Post’s Alan Goldenbach reports on The positive effects of Wheelchair Basketball, played by amputee veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. "When the war started I heard about these guys coming home and I wanted to do something to give back," said (Coach Jim) Glatch, who is not disabled and has coached at Edinboro since 1995. "These guys think athletics are shut off from them, but they're not."
That was the first lesson (Spec. Alex) Knapp had to learn. He lost both of his legs to a makeshift bomb in Iraq in March 2008. As someone who had grown up playing hockey in Shelby Township, Mich., Knapp, 23, was crushed by the thought of living without sports. "At first, I did think it was over," he said. "Then I learned how much there is for us to do. It surprised me, for sure. None of us believe we've left anything behind."

Before they hit the court, though, each patient needs to leave a critical item at the door: his memory. All of them viewed getting a prosthesis as monumental progress in their rehabilitation. It meant increased mobility and a clear path toward eventual independence. But when they got onto the basketball court, took off their prostheses and sat back in their wheelchairs, many returned to a place they hoped never to encounter again. Glatch acknowledged, "There's this thought that amputees should not get involved in wheelchair sports," because it could be a psychological setback.
“The Surge: A Military History”, the newly-minted book by Kimberly Kagan, president of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, is out. Brendan Simms gives it a positive review in the Wall Street Journal. Though the review says the book reads in such a way as to suggest it was rushed to publication, it is still called “essential reading for anyone who wants to know how Iraq was saved from the brink of disaster.” Simms seems to writes from the point of view that all that happens in Iraq has to do only with Americans, but he put some real thought into the review.

Throughout 2007 and 2008, Kimberly Kagan followed events on the ground closely, traveled frequently to the theater of operations, and conducted interviews with senior and mid-ranking officers. In "The Surge: A Military History," she avoids the pitfalls of the war-reporting genre -- oversold incidents of dramatic action, fulsome adoration of warrior-leaders -- and instead gives a sober, blow-by-blow account of events as they unfolded. Along the way, she describes the strategy that proved to be so successful.
Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, USA Today, no original Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
Diplomats Are Casting About to Find a New Formula to Influence Politics in Iraq
By DANIEL W. SMITH 07/06/2009 02:00 AM ET
Well, US papers relied largely on wire stories today for their Iraq material. For original work, we have only the New York Times, with a “where we are now” piece worth reading.

From Baghdad
Alissa J. Rubin gives us some analysis of an emerging Iraq with everyday decisions increasingly being made by Iraqis, instead of the guests who invited themselves over six years ago.

Now more than ever, American military and civilian officials do not have the daily contact with national, local, military and tribal leaders, decreasing their influence greatly. Iraqis are operating without their English-speaking buffers, now somewhat out of the loop – something neither side is very used to.
As they deal with Iraqi politics, the Americans must find a new tone. They have a reputation for being heavy-handed, for telling Iraqis what to do rather than asking what they want — a legacy of the period when Americans were in charge as an occupying force. Now that Iraq is in most respects a sovereign country, that approach only generates hostility.
Rubin discusses an Obama administration Iraq policy that has seemed distant to many Iraqis, and Vice President Biden’s trip this week, intended to counter that impression. The big fear, as always, are sectarian divides.
National parliamentary elections set for January already look likely to be run along sectarian lines. Shiite parties are leaning toward forming a united coalition with only nominal Sunni support. That could push Sunnis to run together in order to maximize the number of seats they get — perpetuating a Lebanese style of politics, with ministries and other posts divided along sectarian and ethnic lines.
Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, no original Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Lack of Details Given By Officials Facilitates Public Misunderstanding
By DANIEL W. SMITH 07/01/2009 12:39 PM ET
As GIs Become Scarcer in Iraq's Cities, the Nation's Own Security is Out in Full Force
Photo: Daniel W. Smith
As GIs Become Scarcer in Iraq's Cities, the Nation's Own Security is Out in Full Force

BAGHDAD - As celebrations are thrown and omnipresent Iraqi security vehicles are decorated with chains of colorful plastic flowers, much the Iraqi public is being given a false impression. The government, individual politicians, and much of the media is telling them that the days of seeing American military convoys in the streets of their cities is over. It is being said, again and again, that all US forces are completely vacating Iraq’s cities.

More than 130,000 troops still remain in Iraq, and thousands remain in Baghdad alone. The numbers within the cities has certainly decreased in past months, but it is the nature of their activities which is the real change afoot, as well as a geographical shift to “belts” around the cities, and to large bases in rural districts across the country. They are now referred to as a stabilizing force, acting in a supportive roll, or called “advisers”, rather than “combat troops”.

Television stations, newspapers, and web sites in Iraq are often perpetuating the idea that US patrols will no longer be occurring at all, or only if requested by the government of Iraq. On Tuesday night, lawmaker Abbas al-Bayati was shown on Al-Sumaria channel, saying definitively that US military vehicles, “Will only be allowed between midnight and 5:00 AM,” in the cities, and that they “must always" be accompanied by Iraqi security forces.

The feeling among many Iraqi officers seems to be that GIs will be waiting on the borders for any and all requests for help and support, to jump in and do whatever is asked of them. American officers tell a very different story. Person after person on the street, when asked whether they expected to see US convoys at all in Baghdad, said “No.” Several members of the Army and the National Police said the same.

At Baghdad’s Camp Victory on Tuesday, while celebrations were going on elsewhere in the city, Gen. Ray Odierno spoke at a press conference to Western media organizations. He said, “We will not conduct unilateral raids. We will not conduct unilateral operations. They will all be joint in nature, both inside and outside of the cities. We’ve been doing that now for months. Will there be re-supply convoys? Yes. In most cases, we’d like them to be escorted by Iraqis - and in most cases, I think they will – but they don’t have to be.”

He was clear about the fact that US soldiers were permitted to “defend themselves”, though exactly what that means is not clear. For example, if attacked, will they be able to pursue attackers into neighborhoods and houses, or just fire back and withdraw? Aside from re-supply convoys, there is also the issue of US convoys providing security for US personnel, such as reconstruction teams.

In the past few weeks, US military spokesmen have flatly refused to give any numbers of how many GIs will remain in the cities, or even how many bases will remain in Iraq.

In a press briefing last Wednesday, Brig. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza said that, “Over 150 US bases have been closed down in Iraq,” but when asked how many were to remain, he refused to answer, saying “Numbers aren’t important,” (after which, he mentioned the 150 which had been closed two more times). Requests by Iraqslogger for the number of remaining functional US bases in Iraq were declined by military press officers via e-mail.

Just nine days prior, on June 15, Gen. Odierno said, “We had approximately 460 bases (in September of last year); we are now down to about 320.”

Sometime during those nine days, a decision was apparently made to stop giving all numbers out, in preparation for the media coverage of the transition. Since then, the media have had to fight harder than usual to get enough of a grasp at what is happening to report on it clearly. The lack of clear information has made inaccurate characterization of the rules governing US forces very easy.

A common experience when interviewing an Iraqi politician is that the mantra of “They will withdraw from all the cities,” is repeated. Whenever specifics are asked, such as “How many troops will remain?” or “What about the Green Zone?”, the initial statement is often just repeated word-for-word. The MNF-I press desk responded to e-mailed questions about US soldiers remaining in the Green Zone only with, “Troops in the IZ are advisers.”

Notably, state-run channel Al-Iraqiya has been less specific about the actual rules and regulations than other stations who report that the cities will be empty of GIs (presumably because they know it isn't true), but has given the same general impression in as bombastic a style as possible. Footage of American humvees sandwiched in between proud Iraqi escort vehicles can be seen, and there is a feeling that GIs are being chased out with their tails between their legs.

Much of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s popularity and political clout hinges strongly upon his reputation for improving security. As national elections approach, he is now cultivating a persona of a strong nationalist who is throwing the Americans out of Iraq’s cities.

After the celebrations have wound down and the plastic flowers have added to the roadside garbage, one wonders how Iraqis will react to seeing “full spectrum” operations (including unilateral combat missions) continue outside city borders, and to seeing American Humvees and MRAPs drive through their neighborhoods.

Comments on are welcome at

A US Patrol Drives Past a Small Baghdad Shop
Photo: Daniel W. Smith
A US Patrol Drives Past a Small Baghdad Shop

Daily Column
Iraqis Celebrate US Troops' Pullback, Oil Companies Reject Iraq's Contract Terms
By DANIEL W. SMITH 07/01/2009 02:01 AM ET
As Iraqis celebrated, a bomb in Kirkuk killed 34 and oil bidding didn’t go as well as Iraq’s Oil Minister had hoped. Iran makes an appearance as well, in regard to claims of its support extremist groups Iraq.

The Big Day
With much material somewhat similar to yesterday’s papers about the US drawdown in Iraq cities and Iraqi public’s celebration/worry, the articles a little less in depth, but good reading all around. The main new additions were the bombing in Kirkuk and some official statements. Iraqi government and security forces are still patting themselves on the back.

Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times points out that Prime Minister al-Maliki didn’t mention America in a nationally televised speech.
Mr. Maliki’s effort to capitalize on Iraq’s latent anti-Americanism and to extol the abilities of his troops is a risky strategy. If it turns out that Iraqi troops cannot control the violence, Mr. Maliki will be vulnerable to criticism from rivals — not only if he has to ask the Americans to return but also if he fails to enforce security without them.

Some American commanders have said they were taken aback by Mr. Maliki’s insistence on taking credit for all the security successes in Iraq. However, they also see the importance of having him and Iraqi troops appear strong, especially in the face of insurgent factions intent on destabilizing the government.
In Diyala, where 11 out of 18 bases have been closed, the formal transfer is reported to have been postponed, due to Iraqi complaints that at a camp near Baquba, the US military did not leave behind generators and air conditioners, as had been agreed upon.

Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post focuses on attacks which killed Iraqis and Americans in the past few days of celebration, and hits the main points. He contrasts al-Maliki’s bombastic speeches with President Obama’s decidedly muted tone in comments about Iraq. Comments made on Tuesday by Gen. Odierno were summed up.
Odierno said he would carry out a 45-day assessment of the impact of the troop pullout and recommend adjustments as needed in August. In September and October and again after elections in January, he said, he will make further decisions on the pace of U.S. troop withdrawals. He said he expected an initial reduction to bring the force to about 120,000 in December before it drops to about 50,000 by September 2010.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf writes that of the same big issues, but starts from the bravado of a parade of Iraqi’s many brands of security forces with crisp uniforms as they marched past al-Maliki, near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Baghdad.
American and Romanian tanks, armored vehicles, humvees, and firetrucks rolled past an audience of dignitaries that included US Gen. Ray Odierno, whose combat forces have now pulled out of Iraqi cities under a landmark security agreement. In the background, the crossed swords of Saddam Hussein's monument to the Iran-Iraq war – modeled after his own fists – rose over the parade ground.

It was a far cry from the massive parades highlighting dozens of tanks and missiles that the late Iraqi leader presided over before he was toppled in 2003 – but much more heartfelt. Behind the monument, as units of Iraqi forces grouped near immaculate vehicles waited their turn to enter the grounds, there was a backstage atmosphere.
"If I were to compare where we were today to where we were four, five years ago, the progress is undeniable and is very impressive. But we still have some very serious problems," says Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salah. "We really need to attend to the politics quickly, that's No. 1. No. 2 is, we really cannot be complacent, because this enemy that we are fighting is still tenacious, ruthless, and will stop at nothing to disrupt what we have gained."

In USA Today, Aamer Madhani and Nadeem Majeed write of some of al-Maliki’s, Obama’s and Odierno’s remarks, and wrote up a more succinct version.
The Iraqi government marked what it called National Sovereignty Day with a military parade inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone and placed flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier monument to honor Iraqi troops killed since the start of the 6-year-old war.

About 131,000 U.S. servicemembers are in Iraq, and a small number will remain inside the cities for advisory and training roles. U.S. troops are now prohibited from conducting combat missions, such as raids, inside cities without permission of the Iraqi government.
"Nobody wants to see foreign armies move on their streets and patrol in their cities," said Mohammed al-Askari, spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. "We will do the mission ourselves"

Iraq going it alone happened in another less-expected way yesterday, as the much-hyped and nationally televised oil auction ended up with only one successful oil contract awarded to a foreign bidder. That contract, for the largest field offered, went to BP and the China National Petroleum Corporation. Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani had been expected to at least make great progress on awarding all eight contracts offered on Tuesday. Timothy Williams of the New York Times writes...
Throughout the day, clusters of men in dark suits spoke to each other in their common language: broken English, with Dutch, Chinese, Russian and Thai accents. A member of a Korean delegation wore a flak vest inside the hotel ballroom.

While the companies finally agreed to the government’s price, it was the only time all day that the usually wide gaps between what the government was willing to pay and what the companies said they needed to be paid were bridged.
Gina Chon at the Wall Street Journal reports that “The outcome raised questions about how quickly Iraq could rehabilitate its oil sector, which has suffered from years of war and neglect. The country relies on oil sales for more than 90% of government revenue.” She explains some of what happened.
The Iraqi oil ministry set aggressive pricing for the 20-year technical-service contracts in which companies will be paid a fee for boosting output. The oil ministry typically offered a maximum bonus for any output beyond current levels at $2 a barrel for several fields -- a figure that proved a dealbreaker, according to a number of oil executives. Company bids ranged from about twice that figure, in most cases, to more than 10 times the oil ministry amount.
"It's a losing proposition," one official at an Asian oil company said. "It's not worth it for us to pursue this."

Chon continues, reporting that ”some of the Iraqi Shiite extremist groups that the U.S. claims are backed by Iran say they are ratcheting up attacks in Iraq in tandem with Tehran's post-election crackdown on protesters.” She has quotes from a member of an extremist group who said that as the Iranian government became more aggressive with its own protesters, orders to Iranian-backed Iraqi groups have done so, as well. "We are coming back, and we have new missions now," said one. It is interesting reading.
Analysts and officials have suggested that grim images of the crackdown in Tehran may stall the ascendancy of Iranian influence across the Middle East, and that the unrest may push Tehran to act more aggressively to show it remains undaunted by domestic strife.

...Since the crackdown on protesters after Iran's June 12 elections, "our supporters are more determined now to have an influence in Iraq," said a cell leader for an Iraqi Shiite extremist group. This person said he receives orders from two Iraqi leaders who have been in Iran since seeking refuge there last year.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
On Eve of U.S. Pullback, US Forces' New Role is Still Evolving
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/30/2009 02:00 AM ET
The future role of US forces in Iraq is beginning to emerge to fuller extent than in previous weeks, as is a vocabulary to explain it in the writings of American newspapers. It takes more than a soundbite (or even several paragraphs) at this point, but it continues to be boiled down, as official statements are being compared with each other and with what is happening on the ground. Today, most of the stories are based on Iraqi reaction and the prospects for security under the country’s own forces, but from within can be gotten a pretty full grasp of the situation as a whole.

From Iraq
We'll start off with Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post, who gives the best general picture of what’s happening. The celebrations in Iraq are the focus, but there are telling undercurrents, as people dance and sing at a government-sponsored event at Baghdad’s Zahwra Park.
But city streets were also largely empty of Humvees and U.S. troops. Those Iraqis who ventured out were in the mood to party, celebrating a moment that the Iraqi government has said represents its return to full sovereignty. "Out, America, out!" a group of sweat-drenched young men chanted. ...Iraqi policemen, many wearing body-armor vests without plates, bobbed their heads, taken by the moment.

As Americans adapt to the vaguely defined terms of the security agreement that set June 30 as the deadline for soldiers to leave the cities, there is little talk among U.S. commanders and diplomats of engineering a victory in the 2 1/2 years they expect to remain here. Some officials have begun saying privately that the best-case scenario would be to depart with a "modicum of dignity." Doing so will mean contending with a resilient insurgency, volatile politics and a growing assertiveness among Iraqis whose patience with the U.S. presence long ago wore thin.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf continues her coverage of Mosul, where a joint US/Iraqi ceremony included Ninewa Governor al-Najafi announcing "June 30 is the first day in the history of the true and complete independence of Iraq," and the top US general in the region displayed a sign reading "Iraqi approved US assistance teams" that will be placed on American military vehicles. Arraf has been pushing the understanding of the future US presence in Iraq through here Mosul reporting for weeks, and keeps it coming.
Six years into the war, it has become politically untenable for both Iraq and the US to have American combat troops in the streets. But although the intent of the security agreement is clear, the mechanics of how it will be carried out and how well it will work are much less certain.

The effectiveness of the agreement will come down to coordination – so far not the hallmark of the Iraqi military. Although there is an Iraqi officer embedded at the battalion tactical operations center, the Iraqis have not provided someone to fill the same function at the higher brigade level in Mosul.

...As if to underscore the concerns, last week at a major checkpoint in the city an IED packed with ball bearings exploded just after a US military training team drove past. The blast missed its apparent target and shattered the windows of a passing Iraqi car. The IED had been placed just a few hundred yards from the Iraqi Army checkpoint.
Marc Santora of the New York Times writes about US forces pulling out of Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighborhood, where the prospect of less security (even with more than 500 army soldiers, 700 National Police officers and 400 members of the Sunni Awakening - plus several hundred others) brings with it the specter of past sectarian violence. Though it marks improvement from the worst of times, it is a picture much more grim than that seen through the rose-colored lens of Iraqi state-run television.
Schools are open, including one where a teacher had been strung up by her feet and had her face cut off by extremists. For the first time since the outbreak of the war, major thoroughfares are lit up at night. Streets where raw sewage once streamed are now merely battered and strewn with trash.

But beneath the calm, the original sectarian tensions that exploded into civil war remain. Few displaced families have moved back into their houses, with Shiites living in the northern half and Sunnis in the south. Responsibility for security is also equally divided — the National Police for the Shiite area and the Iraqi Army for the Sunnis.

“Right now we are balanced on a knife’s edge,” said one Sunni man. “We do not like the Americans, but we also thank God when we see them with the Iraqi Army, because we know we can trust them more than the government forces.”
Aamer Madhani and Nadeem Majeed write, in USA Today, about the Zahwra Park celebration as well, and about other things less celebratory, such as the death on Mmonday of four US soldiers.
U.S. troops weren't in sight in the capital Monday. Instead, Iraqi police and soldiers flooded the streets — their vehicles covered in plastic flowers and streamers. Troops blared martial music and patriotic songs from speakers mounted at checkpoints throughout the city.

...While Iraq celebrated the switch-over, violence continued. The U.S. military announced Monday that a soldier was killed in combat on Sunday, but his name was not released. More than 4,300 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the war began in 2003.
"We are grateful for what the U.S. military did in toppling Saddam Hussein's regime and fighting the militias and al-Qaeda," said government spokesman Tahseen al-Sheikhly said. "What we need now is their help rebuilding our country."

"I pray our police and army will be able to provide us security," said Kareem Abdul Hassan, 56. "But I still feel uneasy about the situation."

From Elsewhere
Bidding on huge Iraqi oil contracts Tuesday are foreign companies far and wide – and one of the wider players is looking to be China. Keith Bradsher files from Hong Kong, and details some of China’s current and likely future involvement in Iraqi oil.
As the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing consumer of oil, China is showing increasing interest in oil fields in a country that has until very recently seemed to be firmly in the American sphere of influence for natural resources: Iraq.

...Chinese oil companies have been particularly interested in buying oil fields ever since crude oil prices plunged late last summer, because that dragged down the cost of oil fields as well, Mr. Andrews-Speed wrote. And with their experience in some of the most turbulent countries in Africa, Chinese oil companies may have the ability to cope with the unpredictability of Iraq.

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