I bet you didn’t know that Air Marshal Glenn Torpy is head of British military operations. Last week this obscure figure told the Daily Telegraph that he expected operations in Iraq to reach a “satisfactory conclusion” in the next 18 months.
This news isn’t entirely reassuring, since withdrawing British troops from Iraq would allow thousands of them to be redeployed to increase Britain’s contingent in Afghanistan. This is a bit of puzzle, given all those briefings that said the Taliban were finished and the Afghan people are now basking in the blessings in democracy.
Also Glenn doesn’t seem to have coordinated his story with his friends in the US Pentagon. Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder’s correspondent in Baghdad, reported last week, “A growing number of senior American military officers in Iraq have concluded that there is no long term military solution to an insurgency that has killed thousands of Iraqis and more than 1,300 US service members during the past two years. Instead, officers say, the only way to end the war is through Iraqi politics.”
This was illustrated by a report by Rory Carroll and Osama Mansour in the Guardian on Friday last week about the fighting in Ramadi. Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad and 40 miles east of Fallujah, became a guerrilla stronghold soon after the invasion of Iraq.
According to Carroll and Mansour, “US and Iraqi forces claimed to have quelled it in February during Operation River Blitz, a sweep through restive towns and cities in Anbar province...
“US forces tightly control movement to and from Fallujah. But in other towns and cities in Anbar the guerrillas returned after the Americans withdrew and swept aside weak or non-existent Iraqi forces.”
Labour of Sisyphus
Guerrillas in Ramadi shot a US sailor dead and blew up a convoy of Humvees, killing five US Marines on Wednesday last week. The US withdrew to the outskirts of the town, leaving the guerrillas in control.
“Residents said they were frightened of the insurgents but most dreaded a US-led offensive similar to that which flattened Fallujah [last November]. They said the rebels were Iraqi Sunnis, not foreign Islamist radicals.”
The US will probably retake Ramadi. When the US concentrates its highly trained and well equipped troops, backed by airpower, it will almost always overwhelm those who confront it.
But the Pentagon has nowhere near enough troops to control the whole of Iraq. It is forced into constant mobile firefighting, leaving the ineffective Iraqi puppet army and police to guard recaptured territory. The New York Times reported last week that “Americans working with the Iraqis in the field believe it could be several years, at least, before the new Iraqi forces will be ready to stand alone against the insurgent forces”.
The Pentagon is condemned to the labour of Sisyphus, who was damned for eternity to push a rock up a hill only to see it roll down again. The US can retake Ramadi—and other Iraqi towns—but it can’t hold them. The present offensive in Iraq near the Syrian border is unlikely to change this pattern.
Hence the search for a political solution, reflected in contacts between US officials and political forces associated with the insurgents, including some organisations that have been involved in armed struggle. But what can the US offer these forces that will bring the war to an end?
Maybe the really venal can be bought off with a ministerial portfolio in the puppet regime. But this is likely to earn them the enmity of the Iraqi people, whose lives are getting steadily worse. According to the United Nations Development Programme, child malnutrition has doubled since the invasion.
Ibrahim al-Jafaari, the puppet Iraqi prime minister, visits Washington this week. No doubt he and George Bush will ignore these grim realities when they pose on the White House lawn.
But the truth is beginning to seep through to the US people. Last week a Gallup poll revealed that 59 percent think the US should withdraw all or some of its troops from Iraq. Some 56 percent said the war was “not worth it”.