Thursday, February 23, 2006

Laying out an Iraq Scenario

I really, do try to be optimistic about Iraq, but as I read reality, it is delusional to maintain an optimistic state for all that long. The past two days of rioting, sectarian shootings, political and military escalations and isolations fall under the category of "really not good things"


Juan Cole wrote the following this morning:

Astonishingly, Sistani seems to be threatening to deploy his own militia, Ansar Sistani, if the Iraqi government doesn't do a better job of protecting Shiites and their holy sites. One lesson Sistani will have taken from the bombing of the Askariyah shrine in Samarra is that he is not very secure in Najaf, either. But all we need in Iraq is yet another powerful private sectarian militia................
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim said during a press conference in Baghdad that the statements of the US ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, had "contributed to greater pressure [on the Shiites] and gave a green light to terrorist groups, and he therefore bears a part of the responsibility." Al-Hakim has long wanted to unleash the Badr Corps, his Shiite paramilitary, the Badr Corps, but has been checked by the Americans so far.

One of the major strategic crisis that the US military in Iraq has to worry about is it supply lines. The western route from the Red Sea to Jordan and then through the Anbar desert is not a good and stable logistical route because that is where the Sunni Arab insurgency is the strongest. Also there are few good routes and the infrastructure as a whole is not that good. The Syrian route is a no go for the US military because the Syrian government won't allow US logistics convoys to land on the Mediterranean Coast and then pass through. This makes good Syrian strategic sense. The same applies for the eastern routes into Baghdad from Iran. The northern route from Turkey is a decent route but there are a couple of problems with it. The first is that there are few good roads, secondly Baghdad and the major FOBs are a long, long, long way from the Turkish ports that could supply the US military, and finally, the last 100 + miles of that journey go straight through Sunni Arab territory. The final, and by far the largest supply route is the Southern route, where supplies land in Kuwait City, US convoys form up at the Kuwait/Iraq border, and then drive their way up to the major FOBs that surround Baghdad. From these central distribution nodes, supplies then get pushed forward to combat units in the central part of the country.

The southern supply line carries the overwhelming majority of US supplies into the country and its capacity can not be easily or quickly replaced if those highways are cut. This is a strategic nightmare for the US, for the US military is an extremely intensive user of consumable supplies. If those supply lines are cut, then within days forward US units will be running short on fuel, ammunition, and spare parts. US airlift is sufficient to make sure that US units are not overrun or besieged, but any active presence and patrolling that forward deployed units are doing would have to be sharply curtailed if US supplies lines were severely crimped if not cut entirely.

If US units can not or will not patrol, and Iraqi government forces get their civil war on, desert, or find a damn good reason to spend the next week painting the rocks outside of the barracks as they keep their heads down, then any semblance of credibility that the US may have attempted to gain through the ink blot strategy will be destroyed. The removal of active patrols would allow an easy assaination, intimidation, and rolling up of informers, cooperators, and marginal deciders by the insurgents. Once the umbrella of public safety is pierced, the public trust in the promises of protection made by the counter-insurgent force to protect its allies loses credibility.

This is one of the things that occurred in April of 2004. The combination of the Fallujah assault and the first Sadrist rebellion forced US units to scramble. The Sadrists were the greater threat because they had the ability to sit on the US southern supply route at Najaf. It was for this reason that the 1st Armored Division was turned south and told to clear the cities that the Mahdi Army had seized. US supply lines were imperiled between the combination of ambushes, and bridges being dropped. At one point the US was within forty eight hours of having to evacuate the Green Zone due to supply problems.

The US supply lines are even more tenuous today because there are fewer international units in the south that could perform basic security functions. The Poles are pulling out, the Spanish are gone, the Ukranians have reduced their contingent. There is less “slack” today than two years ago. That slack was supposed to be taking up by the Badr Corps --- I’m sorry, the super duper new Iraqi Army, but if those forces decide today is time to engage in a civil war, those supply lines become extraordinarily exposed. This may be one of the reasons why most of a US brigade was left in Kuwait as a surge force --- it can pinch up the highways to clear the southern choke points while US forces can move south from Baghdad.

This is a low probability event, although the probability has increased in the past three days, but due to its high costs, it will draw a large US response.

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