Monday, May 07, 2007

Road Ahead is Treacherous for U.S. Forces in Iraq

This morning's Los Angeles Times reports that a top U.S. general warned over the weekend that American casualties in Iraq could rise in the months ahead as the remaining forces expected under the Bush administration's security surge are deployed. Here's some background:

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, said casualties would climb as American troops went deeper into enemy territory as part of a stepped-up military operation ordered by President Bush in January.

Lynch, who oversees a swath of territory to the south and east of Baghdad, gave his bleak prediction on the heels of the deadliest month so far this year for American forces in Iraq.

In April, 104 U.S. troops were killed, only the fourth time since the beginning of 2005 that U.S. deaths have exceeded 100 in a single month. At least 25 troops have been killed so far in May, a grim start to a month in which Democrats are expected to keep up pressure on the White House to plan a withdrawal from Iraq.

At least 3,376 American troops have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, according to the website, which tallies casualties.

The latest American deaths came on a bloody day for Iraqi security forces and civilians as well. At least 58 Iraqis died in a string of attacks, including 42 killed when a car bomb tore through a market in the Baghdad neighborhood of Bayaa.
Check out the rest of the article, which reports other indicators of a "bleak assessment" for the ground deployment going forward.

Note, though, that I caught an interview with Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution over the weekend. O'Hanlon, a respected military analyst, is very evenhanded in his assessments of progress in Iraq. He releases a periodic "State of Iraq" update every few months, usually published in the New York Times (
the March 2007 update is available on his Brookings webpage).

Here's some of O'Hanlon's comments on yesterday's "This Week at War" segment on CNN:

There is no bad news at the moment in al Anbar province. I think what is going on is that what should have been obvious a long time ago to the tribal sheiks is now apparent, which is they are better off fighting al Qaeda and getting some local ability to stabilize their home land. This is where they live. Why wouldn't they want to have some level of utilities working, of the economy working and they finally maybe begun to put their hatred of the United States and of the Shia in a little bit of perspective at least locally and at least for now. So there is no bad news in this development in the narrow sense. We just don't know how far we can project it into the future, to assume these sheiks will want to keep working with us and to what extent this can extend to Baghdad. This is the homeland of the Sunni tribes that are working with us and it's going to make their lives better. It's they would want to do this.
Here's more:

This is good news, this and the drop in sectarian warfare inside Baghdad are the two very important elements of good news. There's a lot of bad news. Civilian fatalities have really not declined in Iraq. The economy is still a mess. Political reconciliation is still a long ways off and happening only very slowly. Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte had a recent "Wall Street Journal" op/ed in which he argued things are really looking pretty good in many ways. That's getting a little too ahead of ourselves. We have two encouraging things, drop in sectarian killings in Baghdad and these alliances in al Anbar. I hope that's the wave of the future but it's way too soon to know.
Check out the entire transcript of the show, from CNN's website.

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