Ausgabe 3/2007

Bush and Iraq Checking the Kalashnikov Index

Want to know whether US President George W. Bush's new Iraq strategy will work? Just check the Kalashnikov Index in Baghdad. Or world opinion.

By Georg Mascolo and Siegesmund von Ilsemann

A lot of things are scarce in Iraq these days, and the resource that is among the most difficult to find is Amal, Arabic for “hope.” Indeed, as the country sinks ever deeper into chaos, there is only one business that continues to boom: the weapons trade. The daily fluctuating price for arms, know here as the "Kalashnikov Index," is considered by many Iraqis as the most reliable indicator of what the future may bring.

US troops have their hands full in Iraq. But there is doubt whether an additional 21,000 will make much of a difference.
Getty Images

US troops have their hands full in Iraq. But there is doubt whether an additional 21,000 will make much of a difference.

On Thursday morning, only hours after US President George Bush once again promised America would help bring peace and stability to the war-torn nation, Baghdad's weapons prices weren't dropping. Glock-19 pistols were stable at $500 and the popular compact version of the AK-47 was still fetching $2,000.

Elsewhere though, at least one commodity dropped through the floor. The Bush Administration's political stock in the world had never been lower.

According to snap polls, some 70 percent of Americans reject Bush’s plan to send an extra 21,500 troops to help quell the violence in Iraq. Governments around the world, including even Washington’s closest coalition partners in the 2003 US-led invasion, showed barely concealed contempt for this latest attempt to solve the country’s problems militarily. Most now believe that political initiatives are now the only chance for peace in Iraq.

Crumbling support

In the US Congress, which normally rallies around the president during times of war, an outright rebellion is in the making. The ruling Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives want to formally condemn the Bush’s plans as early as this week. And the new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid are expecting plenty of support from Republicans across the aisle. Reid is counting on the support of at least 10 of the 49 Republican senators, ensuring the passage of an official rebuke of the president’s policy in Iraq and confirming crumbling support from even prominent members of Bush’s own party.

At Congressional hearings last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates faced heavy grilling over Iraq from Republicans and Democrats alike. Sen. Chuck Hagel, a possible conservative presidential contender in 2008, criticized Bush’s speech as the “most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.”

Hagel’s Democratic colleagues share his harsh assessment of Bush’s Iraq policy. Sen. Joe Biden, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the decision to increase US troop levels a “tragic mistake” and rising Democratic star Sen. Barack Obama dismissed the White House’s new strategy on NBC’s Today Show by saying: “We're not going to baby-sit a civil war.”

President Bush appeared pale and nervous -- as if aware of the uproar his speech would unleash -- while reading his latest strategy for stabilizing Iraq from a White House teleprompter last Wednesday. Instead of backing a broad diplomatic push to bring the situation under control, as recommended by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group led by former secretary of state James Baker, Bush called for more US troops and more money from US taxpayers, while offering threats for Iraq’s neighbors Syria and Iran. The only thing new from the president normally so brimming with confidence was Bush’s admission that "where mistakes have been made in Iraq, the responsibility rests with me."

Closer to reality

Some 4,000 soldiers are to move into Anbar province, a Sunni stronghold, in the coming months. And an additional 17,500 US troops will aim to turn all of the capital Baghdad into a secure “Green Zone.”

Bush’s original concept for the war in Iraq was deceptively simple: topple Saddam Hussein and hand the country over to the Iraqis. His latest plan has at least moved closer to reality. The strategy paper put together by US Deputy National Security Advisor Jack Crouch lists the most pressing tasks: disarming militias, fighting al-Qaida, battling widespread unemployment, improving electricity supplies, finding a lasting reconciliation between Iraq’s major ethnic and sectarian divisions, and rolling back Iran’s growing influence.

It appears Bush has been sold on deploying more troops -- which is even viewed skeptically by the Pentagon -- by a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. The neoconservative think tank already played a key role in the run-up to the Iraq war. Fred Kagan, a 36-year-old military historian, has been drumming up support for the so-called “surge” deployment of more troops for months. “It is time for America to go to war and win,” he wrote in his recent AEI position paper titled “Choosing Victory.”

US Presdent George W. Bush is under fire. Here, tears run down his cheeks at a ceremony for Medal of Honor winner Corporal Jason Dunham on Thursday.

US Presdent George W. Bush is under fire. Here, tears run down his cheeks at a ceremony for Medal of Honor winner Corporal Jason Dunham on Thursday.

But even the 35,000 extra soldiers Kagan has called for would be far fewer than many military strategists believe are necessary to put down an insurgency. According to a US military handbook for battling insurgents recently commissioned by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the incoming commander of US forces in Iraq, 20 soldiers per 1,000 residents are required to keep a region under control. But instead of the 120,000 troops that rule deems necessary for the 6 million residents of Baghdad, Petraeus has only a mere 40,000 at his disposal.

A larger deployment would be difficult for the overstretched American military. With US forces already operating at their physical and material limits, the reinforcements for Iraq will be culled from existing resources. Tours of duty in combat zones will have to be extended, leave at home cut, and reservists mobilized.

Years of war in the desert sands

Marines already rarely see the 14 to 18 months of recommended down time before being shipped back into combat. And the National Guard, once designated only to protect the homeland, will hardly be able to ensure reservists are only mobilized a maximum 24 months within five years as regulations currently stipulate.

Recruitment officers from both the National Guard and professional military forces are already complaining about a dramatic drop in applicants. How US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates plans to increase troop levels for the Army and Marines by 92,000 men is unclear.

And while poorly outfitted National Guard units need new equipment, the years of war in the Iraqi desert sands have taken their toll on the even the world’s best-equipped armed forces. Two-thirds of US combat troop should be declared unfit for duty.

“We have reached the point where we need to ask the question whether it is more important to preserve the country of Iraq with its façade of democratic government, or protect our own national security interests,” says a recent report by Bush administration critic and retired Major Gen. John Batiste, who led the Army’s 1st Infantry Division from 2002 to 2005, according to Time magazine.

The new commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Conway, has also warned against simply focusing on overall troop levels -- which Pentagon commanders believe can only be increased for a few months at most. "We do not believe that just adding numbers for the sake of adding numbers -- just thickening the mix -- is necessarily the way to go,” Conway said last month on CNN.

Calm during the day, militias at night

The military’s problems will only be exacerbated by the decision to move into Sadr City, where the death squads of the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr hold sway. Even Republican Sen. John McCain, a supporter of increasing troop levels, has warned against pursuing a strategy akin to hunting moles -- that is, as soon as one molehill is stomped down, another appears.

Marines heading out on a mission in Iraq's Anbar Province.
Getty Images

Marines heading out on a mission in Iraq's Anbar Province.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has pledged to help out, promising Bush the aid of his most dependable troops from nine brigades. However, despite the Iraqi government’s verbal commitments, it has only been able to raise a few battalions -- a fraction of the total hoped for. And most US experts agree the deployment of the military in Iraq is only worthwhile if backed up by a plausible political strategy.

But that’s where Bush has remained vague. Instead of engaging Iraq’s neighbors diplomatically -- as recommended by the Iraq Study Group -- Bush has chosen to threaten Syria and Iran with military intervention should they continue to support the insurgency. And as if to underscore Washington’s warning, only hours after Bush’s televised speech, US troops stormed the Iranian consulate in the Kurdish city Arbil in northern Iraq to search for evidence of Tehran’s meddling.

One result of Bush’s new strategy is clear for former NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark: there will be further American casualties. And a British general worries house-to-house fighting will only increase civilian deaths that will in turn fuel the insurgency. Where it seems calm during the day, he says, the militias will return at night to murder.


© DER SPIEGEL 3/2007
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