In the Arena

Today in Iraq

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This is a really important piece in the Washington Post today about the success of the U.S. military–and Sunni tribal–effort against Al Qaeda in Iraq. One key metric, found in a memo sent by Riyadh al-Ogaidi, said to be an AQI leader:

Ogaidi said the total number of al-Qaeda in Iraq members across the country has plummeted from about 12,000 in June 2007 to about 3,500 today.

Which raises the musical question: Why do we need 150,000 plus U.S. troops hunting down 3500 terrorists, especially since the Sunni Awakening Councils in Anbar and elsewhere are perfectly willing and able to do the mop up work themselves? Answer: We don’t. We do, however, need that many troops if we want to (a) police the growing dispute between the Awakening Councils and the Shi’ite central government (and I use the term government loosely) and (b) act as a buffer between the independence- and Kirkuk-seeking Kurds and the Iraqi Arabs and (c) try to referee the Shi’ite internecine fighting in the south.

Which raises another question: Isn’t our presence enabling the Iraqis to postpone the hard bargaining that will resolve all three of those civil disputes? This is the argument Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama will have to make against John McCain in the general election: Yes, we should keep a few (special ops) troops around to help go after the terrorists, but the Iraqi civil war won’t be resolved–if, indeed, it is able to be resolved at all–until the U.S.military buffer is removed. And furthermore: Shouldn’t we be placing more emphasis–and more troops–on the battle against the real Al Qaeda on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border?