So Much For Obama’s 16-Month Iraq Withdrawal Timetable

As usual, the media first attempted to define American public opinion with editorialized pseudo-news ideology, then let the real truth trickle out after the indoctrination campaign has been given time to be established as the established narrative.

We last heard the liberal media apologists claim that even the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki agreeing with Barack Obama’s 16 month timetable for withdraw, proving his wisdom.

Now we hear the real story. This appeared in my local paper under the title, “Iraqi soldiers wary of standing on own.”

Iraqi Army Is Willing, but Not Ready, to Fight

August 6, 2008
Iraqi Army Is Willing, but Not Ready, to Fight

KHAN BANI SAAD, Iraq — Ahmed Mahmoud, a lieutenant in the Iraqi Army, lost one leg fighting the insurgency and says he would not quit his job even if he lost the other. He believes in his army.

But asked whether that army is ready as a national defense force, capable of protecting Iraq’s borders without American support, Lieutenant Mahmoud gestures toward his battalion’s parking lot. A fifth of the vehicles are rotting trucks and bomb-demolished Humvees that, for some complicated bureaucratic reason, are still considered operational.

“In your opinion,” Lieutenant Mahmoud says, “do you think I could fight an army with those trucks?”

While Americans and Iraqi civilians alike are increasingly eager to see combat operations turned over to the Iraqi Army, interviews with more than a dozen Iraqi soldiers and officers in Diyala Province, at the outset of a large-scale operation against insurgents led by Iraqis but backed by Americans, reveal a military confident of its progress but unsure of its readiness.

The army has made huge leaps forward, most of the soldiers agreed, and can hold its own in battles with the insurgency with little or no American support. But almost all said the time when the Iraqi Army can stand alone as a national defense force is still years away.

“You can’t go from a lieutenant all the way to a general at once,” said one Iraqi officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “The army needs more time.”

While the infantry is strong enough, Iraq needs viable artillery units, armored divisions, air force support and more reliable battlefield equipment, the officers said, plus the training all that requires. The soldiers and officers are for the most part zealously patriotic, but their zeal is tempered by the knowledge that they are the ones who may face the armies of neighboring countries, like Iran, after American combat forces withdraw.

“It is 2008,” said Lt. Col. Muhammad Najim Khairi, a young officer in the Third Battalion of the Iraqi Army’s 19th Brigade. “We are too many years behind other countries. We need the coalition forces until 2015.”

They know, too, however, that a decision about troop withdrawal could probably be made not by the military but by politicians in Baghdad or Washington, representing the wishes of voters impatient with the allies’ presence. Already there has been talk from Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Senator Barack Obama, of a withdrawal of American combat troops by 2010.

There are a number of ways a post-withdrawal Iraq could look, including with staffed American bases or promises of American military support in a crisis. But the current political trend from the Iraqi side is to make the imprint of foreign troops as small as possible as soon as possible, or at least to make it appear as small as possible while keeping options open for any emergency.

With this in mind, some American military officers in Diyala have been trying a tough-love approach. Transition teams working with Iraqi units offer advice and training but have sharply cut back logistical support.

“It came up within the first 30 minutes of conversation” with an Iraqi officer said Capt. Bob West, an officer in a military transition team that calls itself Team McLovin. “I’m not giving you a thing, I said. The time for the U.S. forces to hold your hand is over.”

For the most part, other team members said, the warning is barely acknowledged.

“I don’t even know if that part gets translated,” Captain West said.

But it sinks in, quietly.

The headquarters of the Fourth Battalion, to which Lieutenant Mahmoud belongs, is a complex of low white buildings that used to be a veterinary hospital. Inside one of the buildings, a group of officers gathered on a recent day to discuss issues with Maj. Jon Lauer, chief of a transition team working with the 19th Brigade, another advocate of the tough-love approach.

These discussions boil down to one complaint: that the Americans have stopped providing them with batteries, fuel, tires and other basic equipment they need, and that the Iraqi military authorities have not picked up the slack.

That led Lieutenant Mahmoud to say that because of corruption and logistical problems this army was years away from being able to protect the country on its own. The Iraqi Army, he said, is up to the task but lacking the tools.

Americans who work closely with Iraqi units have a slightly different diagnosis. The need for state-of-the-art military equipment is overstated, they say. Costly and complicated maintenance often make it more trouble than it is worth. And, they say, rumors of rampant corruption along the supply lines usually turn out to be worse than reality.

They point out that good equipment often ends up sitting unused in plain sight, like the brand new, air-conditioned, reinforced bunkers huddled in a corner of a parking lot at the 19th Brigade headquarters.

Rather, they say, a major problem is lack of direction and coordination from higher levels.

That is to be expected in a young army being built from the ground up, particularly because the higher ranks are filled with veterans of Saddam Hussein’s rigid command structure.

“When you grow up in a very regimented system the lower you go, the easier it is to train,” said Lt. Col. Tony Aguto, an officer with the Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment, the main American force in the Diyala operation. “As you go up, it gets more difficult.”

The Third and Fourth battalions, which cover the southwestern corner of Diyala as part of the 19th Brigade, are two of the best in the province, American officers in the region say. But they often have to act without guidance. Areas of Diyala heavy with insurgent traffic sit unpatrolled because the battalions are not told who is in charge of what.

“I’ve asked them what their mission is, and they don’t know,” Major Lauer said.

If there is anyone who understands these problems, it is Col. Ali Mahmoud, commander of the 19th Brigade’s Third Battalion.

The Americans in the region consider the wry, soft-spoken Colonel Mahmoud, 41, one of the most valuable officers in Diyala. Conferring all night on his cellphone with tribal sheiks, Colonel Mahmoud believes that a battle is won as much by force as by a good relationship with the local people. A Sunni who has surrounded himself with Shiite and Kurdish officers, he believes that an effective Iraqi Army is one with a thorough sectarian mix.

Because of his successful approach, he runs one of the few battalions in Diyala that does not have its own dedicated American military transition team.

But Colonel Mahmoud is more pessimistic than most about an Iraqi future without American combat troops.

“Believe me,” he said. “There will be a big disaster.”

Sitting at his headquarters, Colonel Mahmoud sees signs of the future: continuing supply problems and the involvement of Iran in Iraqi affairs. When his troops come across insurgents’ weapons caches, they sometimes find what he says are Iranian weapons that are more up to date than anything in his arsenal.

“The Iranian side will play their game,” he said with a tone of resignation, “once the coalition forces pull out.”

But just a few hours later Colonel Mahmoud was on the road in the early light of day, leading a five-hour patrol south of Baquba, once swarming with insurgents. Asked why he keeps working against the militias every day, given how futile he thinks it might all be, he said he had no choice.

“I don’t want those guys to continue working to give Iraq away,” he said.

This is why General David Petraeus – the man who really understands what’s going on – has such a decidedly different view than Barack Obama on Iraq.

A vote for Barack Obama is a vote for forfeiting Iraq, and then having to come back in a few years to do it all over again – this time against a determined Iranian insurgency.

Don’t let that happen. At great cost, our incredible military has managed to snatch victory from what the Democratic leadership proclaimed was certain defeat.

Please… PLEASE don’t let these incompetent fools set the agenda and run our hard-fought victory into the ground. Our soldiers deserve better.

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