The withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from within Iraqi cities is not going too well. Whether it's a language translation of the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement or grandstanding by the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, is unclear. U.S. commanders are complaining their hands are tied defending themselves from attacks by Shiite militias or Sunni insurgents.
Skeptics of both those who opposed the war and those who warned the phased pullout would backfire are both right, it appears. Either way, the safety of American troops is at stake because of a political agreement brokered late in the Bush administration. Included in that agreement is for our commanders to wait until the Iraqis issue warrants to pursue terrorists, a delay guaranteed for successful escapes.
This latest analysis comes from The Washington Post in which it quotes an email from Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, commander of the Baghdad division.
"Maybe something was 'lost in translation,' " Bolger wrote. "We are not going to hide our support role in the city. I'm sorry the Iraqi politicians lied/dissembled/spun, but we are not invisible nor should we be." He said U.S. troops intend to engage in combat operations in urban areas to avert or respond to threats, with or without help from the Iraqis.
"This is a broad right and it demands that we patrol, raid and secure routes as necessary to keep our forces safe," he wrote. "We'll do that, preferably partnered."
Later in the Post article:
"Our [Iraqi] partners burn our fuel, drive roads cleared by our Engineers, live in bases built with our money, operate vehicles fixed with our parts, eat food paid for by our contracts, watch our [surveillance] video feeds, serve citizens with our [funds], and benefit from our air cover," Bolger noted in the e-mail.
Bolger's exasperation stems from a July 2 missive by the Baghdad Operations Command, the day after Iraqi's celebrated the troop withdrawal to outside the cities. Iraq's top commanders told their U.S. counterparts to "stop all joint patrols" in Baghdad. It said U.S. resupply convoys could travel only at night and ordered the Americans to "notify us immediately of any violations of the agreement." The June 30 deadline for moving U.S. troops out of Iraqi towns and cities was the first of three milestones under the agreement. The U.S. military is to decrease its troop levels from 130,000 to 50,000 by August of next year.
U.S. military officials believe many of the direct attacks on our troops come from militias closely aligned with the Maliki government. The Post identified the extremist groups:
The three primary groups -- Asaib al-Haq, Khataib Hezbollah and the Promised Day Brigades -- emerged from the "special groups" of the Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) militia of radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which terrorized Baghdad and southern Iraq beginning in 2006. All receive training, funding and direction from Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force.
The latest attack killed three U.S. soldiers Thursday in a compound near Basra.
But the security agreement remains a stumbling block. Reports The Post:
One U.S. military official said both Iraqi and American leaders on the ground remain confused about the guidelines. The official said he worries that the lack of clarity could trigger stalemates and confrontations between Iraqis and Americans.
"We still lack a common understanding and way forward at all levels regarding those types of situations," he said, referring to self-defense protocols and the type of missions that Americans cannot conduct unilaterally.
In recent days, he said, senior U.S. commanders have lowered their expectations.
"I think our commanders are starting to back off the notion that we will continue to execute combined operations whether the Iraqi army welcomes us with open arms or not," the U.S. commander said. "However, we are still very interested in and concerned about our ability to quickly and effectively act in response to terrorist threats" against U.S. forces.