“The Surge” and Coming Operations in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
17 years ago

It has been reported that American and Iraqi forces posted north of Baghdad are preparing checkpoints to net any insurgents who flee Iraq’s capital city to avoid an expected anti-terrorist dragnet there.  But this action might be late, since much insurgent relocation activity has already been reported.  AQI was previously reported to have been leaving Baghdad on orders directly from Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who wanted the fighters to avoid a direct house-to-house battle with U.S. forces.

The Sadrists have been ordered to “lay low” and avoid direct confrontation with the U.S., and reportedly there have been a “large” number of militants who have fled to Syria to avoid being trapped and to await the outcome of the upcoming U.S. operations.  Relying on the people who are affected most deeply to know the situation on the ground, since Diyala politicians, tribal and religious figures have demanded that their province be included in Baghdad security plan, it appears conclusive that there has been a comprehensive enemy reaction to the security plan, this reaction primarily being relocation.

Just yesterday, the Islamic State of Iraq issued a press release, one purpose of which was to communicate the desire to “consolidate … the Mujahideen under one banner.”  This might be more than a little wishful thinking.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admitted that four wars are taking place in Iraq: [1] a Shi’a-Shi’a war in the south, [2] a sectarian war in Baghdad, [3] an insurgency against U.S. troops, and [4] a war with AQI.

This is a gratuitous estimation of the complexity of the situation.  There are no less that eight significant wars occurring within the borders of Iraq at the present.  First, there is the sectarian violence in and around Baghdad (locations where there is mixed religious tradition living together), and the Sunnis are losing that battle to the Shi’a.  Second, there is the war that AQI is waging against the U.S. and Iraqi security forces.  Third, there is the war that AAS is waging against the same, but there is the added complexity that AQI and AAS are warring with each other – especially in the Anbar province – with each group fighting for supremacy.  Fourth, there is the war of terrorism being waged by foreign fighters.  This war knows almost no boundaries, and most of the foreign fighters are purchased by the aforementioned groups to wage war on not only the U.S. and Iraqi security forces, but each other.  According to one well-placed source, most of these fighters are jihadists who will end their lives as suicide bombers (as opposed to snipers or IED-makers), and they are purchased from and through Syrian elements just across the border, elements that operate primarily as a money-making operation.  Fifth, there is the Sunni insurgency in Anbar, coupled with the tribal fight to deny them safe haven.

In Hope and Brutality in Anbar, I discussed the factious nature of the tribal elements and the fact that there is a criminal element to their policing of the region.  The Sunni insurgency is still dominated by Sunni diehards, Sadaam Fedayeen, and other Baathists who cannot accept that they are no longer in power in Iraq.  Some of these fighters are loyal to AQI or AAS, and some are not.  There is internecine warfare among the tribes, Sunni insurgents and other elements of the population in Anbar.  Sixth, there is the war between the Shi’a and Kurds for control of Kirkuk and its copious oil supply.  Seventh, there are ongoing operations between the Turkish forces and the Kurds, and finally, there is the larger, more macroscopic support system for all of the above in Syria and Iran.  In other words, Iran and Syria are at war with the U.S. through proxy fighters.

One of the detriments of living in an open society such as America is that because political support is necessary for war-making, even strategic decisions such as the Baghdad security plan become splattered across the front page of newspapers the world over.  This gives the enemy time to react and flee the coming crackdown.  On the other hand, it might be a better option to take the enemy on in Syria than in central Baghdad.  Accidentally (i.e., through no planning by the U.S.), there is a unparalleled opportunity that presents itself for incorporation into U.S. strategy for the coming security campaign.

I have gone on record suggesting that without border control with Syria and Iran, the counterinsurgency in Iraq cannot be won.  I have also gone on record saying that there aren’t enough U.S. troops to effect this border security (while I have also questioned the size of the so-called “surge”).  The answer (if there is one), I have suggested, is incursions across the border to destroy both the insurgents and their safe haven.  This is true now in the superlative degree with them congregating in collected locations.  Assuming that the U.S. has reliable human intelligence, the use of sensor fuzed weapons and other cluster munitions can be used to destroy entire encampments of terrorists.  This action would rely on air power, thus freeing ground forces to perform interdiction operations (and other border incursions that are necessary).  For these other, non-air asset border incursions, significant use can be made of the U.S. Marines, a significant portion of which is located in the Anbar Province, within hours of the Syrian border.

The terrorist and jihadist elements are also said to be coming across the border from Saudi Arabia and Jordan into Iraq.  However, these means of ingress are small compared to Syria.  Moreover, both of these regimes have a fundamentalist Islamic element within their borders that could easily be set off against their respective regimes.  Border incursions into Saudi Arabia and Jordan could undermine the current regimes which, while duplicitous at times towards the U.S., are friendlier than potential replacement regimes.

The situation we face with these two countries is not unlike the situation with Moqtada al Sadr.  My intelligence source indicates to me that the U.S. should have taken on al Sadr before the anti-Iranian forces inside Iraq had taken him on as their “poster child.”  Taking out al Sadr at the present would mean, paradoxically, removing one of the last Shi’a anti-Iranian influences in Iraq (and probably the most powerful).

This doesn’t mean that al Sadr, the supporter of Hezballah during the recent Isreal-Lebanon war, should not be taken on directly.  In fact, General Casey has indicated that U.S. forces will be stationed in Sadr City (although providing security is far different than taking out the leadership of the Sadrists, an action which I have advocated).  But to accomplish the above, i.e., border security with Saudi Arabia and Jordan, suppression of the Sadrists, will require more troops than are currently deployed to Iraq.  And hence the focus comes back to the force size.

Without the troops to effect the mission, the only option left to win OIF is extremely aggressive offensive operations against the insurgency, beginning with border incursions into Syria.  The next steps (e.g., the politically costly moves of border incursions into Jordan and Saudi Arabia, border incursions into Iran) will have to be decided based on exigencies on the ground.  Operations against the insurgents inside Syria might have such a strategical (in terms of numbers) and demoralizing affect that operations in Jordan become unnecessary.  With AQI and AAS denied access to jihadists and suicide bombers, continued operations by them becomes more dangerous.  They must then fight rather than hire someone to do it for them.

But without the first step of “closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and maneuver” in Anbar and inside the Syrian borders, we aren’t taking the required steps in winning OIF, and therefore all other exigencies and potentialities become moot.  Without aggressive offensive operations, the enemy will wait out “the surge,” rendering it inconsequential.

Ultimately, the problem of Iran must be dealt with, and the notions discussed above are considered to be only a temporary amelioration of the problem.


  1. On February 7, 2007 at 5:52 pm, Denis Murphy said:

    Greetings, Herschel.

    I just finished reading Fiasco. I also try to check out IraqSlogger every day. What I keep seeing over and over is that there are not, and never have been, nearly enough American troops in Anbar to pacify that region completely and permanently.

    Do any of your contacts have a realistic estimate of how many US troops it would take to get the job done there? 50,000? 100,000? Can it even be done at all without setting up US bases in Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia? What on earth will be accomplished by the surge of 4000?

    — Denis

  2. On February 8, 2007 at 1:13 am, Herschel Smith said:

    I haven’t read that book, so cannot comment intelligently on it. But ask yourself this: whether it takes this many or that many, what is the cost of failure?

  3. On February 8, 2007 at 11:47 am, Denis Murphy said:

    If failure (however that’s defined) in Iraq really would be an unparalelled catastrophe for the U.S., then I agree with you. John McCain says (on Lehrer newshour in January 2007) the ground commanders he talked to on his latest trip to Iraq assert that a *minimum* of 5 additional brigades are needed for Bagdad and an additional 1 or 2 for Anbar. I think you and I agree that that’s what we should send as a *minimum*, plus however many more are needed to pacify the rest of Iraq too. If that total comes out to 50K or 100K, so be it.

    I think 21,500 is a political number with no relationship to the realities on the ground.

    — Denis

  4. On February 11, 2007 at 12:33 pm, mike said:

    I’ve often wondered about this! Being a complete Neophyte and haven’t a clue about fighting a war, your assesment seem very well thought out!

    So WTF are we doing in Iraq? A holding Action? Status Quoe? And if so, What for? All this is doing is getting our Troops KILLED!

    I have also suspicioned that we are Fighting a “PC” war, again, another way of getting our brave Men and Women killed, It serves NO Purpose other than that!

    I am a staunch supporter of the WOT and our War in Iraq, but if this is how we are going to fight it?? What has happened to GB, has he lost his nerve?? Have the DIMS finally beaten him with their Vile pronouncements, etc?

  5. On February 11, 2007 at 5:09 pm, Denis Murphy said:

    Here’s something I posted recently to another forum. Comments? — Denis

    “… once we invade a country, we need to “win.” What that means to me is that we must conquer Iraq militarily before even talking about withdrawal. The starting point should be Anbar province. Anbar is where nearly all American casualties occur. Anbar is where Al Qaeda is. Anbar is where the Sunni insurgency gets its fighters, its suicide bombers, its funding, its training. Anbar is where all American combat units should be. Anbar is where “disproportionate” firepower should be employed. Anbar is where insurgent support has been flowing virtually unimpeded across borders — with Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Anbar is where all 21,500 of the surge should go, followed by how ever many it takes to pacify that place once and for all.

    In my opinion, if the U.S. really and truly took care of business in Anbar, the insurgency would wither and die, and Iraq would settle down for good. Yes, an Iraq pacified in this way would have good relations with Iran. Yes, the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia would be pissed. But so what?

    We either need to get serious about Iraq or get the hell out now.”

  6. On February 12, 2007 at 1:59 pm, mike said:

    U R preaching to the Choir, Dennis!

    My exact Sentiments!!

  7. On February 15, 2007 at 12:07 am, walrus said:

    When one strips the verbiage out of this opinion, it simply appears that your assumption is that the violence in Iraq is primarily generated from external soures and that if these are removed, the violence will stop, or be dramatically reduced.

    For a start there is no evidence I am aware of that demonstrates conclusively that there is any basis in fact for this assumption, and plenty of evidence that the violence is internally generated.

    Your “cure” for this assumed disease is then to violate the sovereignty of at least three countries and create some sort of scorched earth zone rather like the border between Israel and Lebanon.

    Your violation, by the suggested way of dropping cluster bombs (sensor fuzed weapons) on apparent concentrations of people, apart from breaking the Geneva convention, is guaranteed to drive America even further into Israel’s arms by destroying America’s working relationships (which do exist) with Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan and guarantee that whatever quantities of insurgents were coming from outside Iraq before these acts, that the amount will immediately get a whole lot larger.

    To put it another way, you are simply throwing another bucket of gas onto an already blazing fire.

  8. On February 15, 2007 at 12:25 am, Herschel Smith said:

    Sigh …

    I have made no assumptions. I source everything I cite. Go through the links. I can see how long my readers stay, and I understand that it is unusual for readers actually read my links, but a few actually make the effort. Suggestion: do try to be one of them prior to commenting. It would help you.

    Syria and Iran have already violated the sovereignty of Iraq. They are already at war with both Iraq and the U.S. I suggested differently for Jordan and Saudi Arabia. I would have to flesh this plan out in a differnt post.

    Regaring the effect of foreign fighters, go read my post on Sand Berms Around Haditha. Also, I have one particulary sophisticated reader, Dominique (actually, I have many, Dave Neumann and others such as Denis). He has followed my prose, tests it, comments intelligently on it, and finds other confirming links. He has found an interesting one on the berms around Haditha and what they have accomplished with the foreign fighters.

    In the future, you might want to use Dominique as an example of good readership and thoughtful, sophisticated commenting.

  9. On February 15, 2007 at 10:19 am, Dominique R. Poirier said:

    Since Herschel Smith named me as an example balancing the usual way you intervene on The Captain’s Journal I feel somewhat obliged to express an opinion.

    In the light of your comments I may deduct that you devote much of yourself to the subjects presented on this blog. This attitude does you credit at this regard.
    Also, I have nothing but praise for the consistently objective attitude of Herschel Smith who, I find, goes sometimes as far as to make some laudable and probably unnoticed sacrifices regarding his claim to disseminate conservative views. That’s why I think that this seldom encountered intellectual honesty and objective dedication to the search for the truth and for solutions calls for similar efforts. All this endows The Captain Journal with challenging credibility.
    This personal opinion explains, in turn, why I usually manage to abstain from criticizing somebody’s point of view each time I consider I don’t have consistent and well-argued alternative at hand to support my critics or disapproval; and why my comments are often that long and heavily supported by facts, extracts, and verifiable and credible testimonies. If not for the sake of contributing to the debate in a constructive manner, it is an attitude that the most elementary correctness commands in such a case, I believe.

    Initially, you introduced yourself thus way in a comment relating to a post titled The Petraeus Thinkers: Five Challenges :

    “Well, well, after reading the vapid hate filled postings at Blackfive, I come to a more intelligently written website.

  10. On February 18, 2007 at 6:10 pm, walrus said:

    Thank you for your comment Dominque. I stand by what I say.

    Firstly Blackfive.net is a “Hate Speech” website, not given to reasoned debate at all. here are but two examples.

    Its main article today (Democrats Assault on the Constitution)refers to the Majority of Congress as: “The Democrats in both houses of our Parliament of Whores”

    There are ample numbers of similar mindless diatribes.

    With respect to your citations Herschel, with respect, I suggest that you need better sources than pajamas media and blogs.

    For example your citation for the statement that large numbers of insurgents have fled to Syria is:

    Close inspection of this entry reveals that the evidence for this is hearsay: (from Al Sabah)

    “Eyewitnesses in some volatile areas said that large numbers of militants have fled to Syria to avoid being trapped in the incoming security operations.

    According to those witnesses, residents and shopkeepers are no longer concerned about militants whose existence in public used to bring on clashes that put the lives of civilians in danger.

    A shopkeeper in al-Karkh [western Baghdad] said that many of them [militants] packed their stuff and headed to Syria to wait and see what the operations are going to be like.”

    So your elegantly constructed rationale for pouring cluster bombs (CBU 97 – thank you for your citation)on Syria pivots on a translation of a fragment of hearsay evidence posted in another weblog.

    Personally I do not think your proposed strategy is a good idea, even if it could be shown that large numbers of insurgents had fled to Syria.

  11. On February 18, 2007 at 10:45 pm, Herschel Smith said:


    You are close to making a nuisance of yourself. There are different philosophies for blogs. Some allow comments but not trackbacks (e.g., Polipundit). Some allow trackbacks but not comments (Michelle Malkin). Some allow neither (Glenn Reynolds). I allow both. Commenting is a courtesy, not a right. Some bloggers have a lot of patience and forebearance, like Dan Riehl who regularly allows rude and disrespectful comments to trash up his blog. I do not have the patience of Dan, and I have told him so.

    With regards to your assertion that “your elegantly constructed rationale for pouring cluster bombs … on Syria pivots on a translation of a fragment of hearsay evidence posted in another weblog,” this is the offending comment. It is lazy and incorrect. I supply ample links so that you can get the flow and meaning of what I am saying. It is time-consuming and sometimes a bit annoying to provide so many links for the consumption of my readers. Some bloggers don’t do this. I try to be a cut above, and I have received complementary e-mail for being so diligent about giving links.

    But to claim that my whole approach hinges on a single link is patently absurd. Once again, you haven’t done your homework. I have been discussing Syria and Iran for months, providing links on many of the articles I write. Whether the specific link I cited is compelling to you or not is quite irrelevant and immaterial to me. My strategy is clear and has been so from the beginning. Bring security first, then WHAM, with robust ROE, and pursue OIF as a regional war, which it is. Anything else is a losing strategy.

    If you can plan a different strategy, then feel free to compose it completely … and I mean completely and compellingly and coherently … send it to me, and if it makes sense, I will discuss it. But until you have a plan, ridiculing the strategy of someone else is simply naysaying. I have no time for it.

    Next, to say that Syria and Iran are behind much of the violence in Iraq is so correct and well known that it is tired and old.  And surely you must jest! I would trust Pajamas media before any MSM outlet of which I am aware. Again, surely you jest! You have not thought clearly enough about this.

    Finally, I do not need a link to tell me that Syria constitutes the safe haven and flow of terrorist, jihadists and suicide bombers across into Iraq.  If you will study my article The Broader War: Redefining our Strategy for Iraq, I said One well-placed army intelligence source recently told me that “We knew when we were there that to win in Iraq we had to win in Anbar. And to win in Anbar we had to win in Ramadi. But to win in Ramadi we have to control the border with Syria and Jordan (as well as Saudi Arabia actually).

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You are currently reading "“The Surge” and Coming Operations in Iraq", entry #460 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iran,Iraq,Jihadists,Syria and was published February 5th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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