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Retaking Baghdad . . . part deux

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I saw the report that more troops are being moved to Baghdad yesterday, but I wanted to refrain from commenting until numbers were announced. Reports vary slightly, but the New York Times says that the total number of new troops to Baghdad is 8,000, half U.S. and half Iraqi, so let's go with that one.

I don't know how exactly many Iraqi forces are in Baghdad, but according to the Times there are about 7,200 U.S. troops there. So while this increase is a solid percentage change, the actual total number of U.S. troops per Baghdad resident is still extremely low. Baghdad has 6 million people, so we're going to go from 1 U.S. soldier for every 833 Iraqis in Baghdad to 1 per every 536. Further, as of last month, there were reportedly about 45,000 Iraqi forces operating in Baghdad, so this big new operation increases that number by a whopping . . . 11%. I find it very hard to believe that this difference will have a significant effect. As usual, this is a policy change that the administration (and the press) are making sound like a much bigger deal than it really is.

The Times article goes on to say that Baghdad will now be subject to an "oil spot" strategy, wherein areas will be secured and then expanded outwards. In theory, the oil spot idea is generally beneficial in counterinsurgency, as you build local support and control/expand rather than play whack-a-mole like we have been. But, unfortunately, I think it's probably too late for this to be effective. Doing it right will require ceding much of the city to other influences, especially the Shia militias, which will consolidate power and set up mini-governments throughout the various neighborhoods. And because of the relatively small number of total troops, the Coalition will eventually be faced with the choice of either moving troops -- thereby abandoning the oil spot strategy -- or waiting for Iraqi troops to get the numbers and capabilities to take the areas themselves. Don't hold your breath.

But here's the most ridiculous thing: just six weeks ago, there was a much-balleyhooed "Baghdad Offensive," which reportedly involved 75,000 Iraqi and Coalition troops. It was supposed to retake the city, and military leaders and pundits predicted that the insurgents would be routed and order restored. So obviously that didn't exactly go according to plan. And more to the point, if 75,000 couldn't do it, how are an extra 8,000 going to make a difference? Or maybe, just maybe, this announcement is, dare I say, politically motivated? Because six weeks ago, President Bush was making a Surprise Visit to Baghdad, at which he and Prime Minister Maliki announced the massive Baghdad operation. Now Prime Minister Maliki is visiting to the U.S. and there's a new plan to secure Baghdad. Well, I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

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