Is there light at the end of the Iraq tunnel?
This week, U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, told reporters "fairly substantial" U.S. troop withdrawals could begin next spring.
Right on cue, Iraq's U.S.-installed interim prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said Iraqis have "a great desire" to see U.S. forces depart as soon as possible.
Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld popped up in Baghdad to urge squabbling Iraqi politicians to agree on a constitution that the U.S. hopes will produce a viable national government.
This might allow the U.S. to withdraw some troops from Iraq, pleasing voters at home and lessening strains on U.S. forces.
The Bush administration has read America's political tea leaves: It sees mounting domestic opposition to what is increasingly seen as a failed war. Republicans worry the debacle in Iraq and rising U.S. casualties may hurt them severely in the 2008 elections.
The Pentagon's strategic plan for Iraq calls for four major air bases from which U.S. mobile, rapid-reaction units and air power will permanently control Iraq and the entire oil-rich Mideast. Imperial Britain once followed the same strategy in Iraq.
Some 200,000 U.S.-led Iraqi "sepoys" (native troops) and police will keep order in urban areas, backed by a powerful secret police force.
Everything depends on the Pentagon's ability to field reliable Iraqi security forces to defend the U.S.-guided regime. Otherwise, even a partial U.S. withdrawal will be impossible.
Vice-President Dick Cheney's recent claims that Iraqi resistance forces were on their last legs are absurd, yet another alarming example of how dangerously detached from reality the administration's Rasputin has become. In fact, Iraqi resistance forces are growing in numbers and combat effectiveness.
We are watching the continuation of Saddam's much-derided Mother of All Battles. When Saddam saw the U.S. invasion was inevitable, his Baath Party distributed huge quantities of arms and munitions and created thousands of weapons caches around the country. Entire Republican Guard divisions and commando units were ordered to melt away before the U.S. advance and begin guerrilla war.
Today, the resistance may involve up to 200,000 active members, not the 20,000 claimed by the White House. U.S. forces in Iraq number around 135,000. Experience from the twentieth century's colonial wars suggests occupying power needs a 10:1 troop superiority to defeat insurgents. The U.S. can barely control the 15,000 Iraqi prisoners it now holds.
Iraq's former intelligence services have gone underground. They have infiltrated the U.S.-led Iraqi regime and its security forces. As in Vietnam, every U.S. military operation is telegraphed well in advance to the resistance by double agents.
As anti-war sentiment grows in America, Iraqis serving the U.S. occupation are hedging their bets by collaborating with the resistance -- a pattern common in all recent colonial wars.
Iraqis don't enlist in the inept, U.S.-run army or police from patriotism. Iraq suffers 70% unemployment. Many recruits are thus unreliable, combat-adverse mercenaries who serve to feed their families, not fight. A recent leaked Pentagon report suggested as much. The regime's only effective Iraqi units are death squads, composed of former Baath regime toughs, outcasts, and released criminals.
Under present circumstances, U.S. efforts to get Iraqis to fight and die to defend the U.S.-run Baghdad regime will be even less successful than was "Vietnamization" in the 1970s. In fact, Iraqi regime forces appear to be falling apart faster than they can be mobilized. Iraqization shows no sign of working. This means U.S. forces will have to remain indefinitely in Iraq to prop up the isolated, embattled pro-American regime -- just what's happening in that other failed war in Afghanistan.
George Bush's two wars cost $6.5 billion US monthly -- about the same cost as during Vietnam. Growing numbers of Republican moderates want out of Iraq. But neoconservatives are determined to hold onto Iraq and the Mideast at all costs.
Few in Washington are yet ready to face the alternative to occupation: Declare victory, retreat, and leave Iraq to its own devices.