Secure Baghdad

The NYT account today of lawless militias, and a government whose various ministries are gradually gathering private armies makes for sobering reading. You have this vicious cycle of insecurity leading to self-defense, leading to more insecurity. That’s why it really did matter to establish order immediately after the invasion; and why, thanks to Rumsfeld and Bush, we have come to the current crisis. But it’s not insuperable. Some of the Shiite-dominated forces have actually been doing their job:

Car bombings and suicide attacks have markedly dropped in Baghdad over the past several months, and the Shiite leaders say a large-scale purge of the Interior Ministry, or a rehiring of officers fired after the fall of Saddam Hussein, would probably revive the insurgency.

We should go easy on the Shiites, who have exercized enormous forbearance thus far. The extent of the infiltration, according to one official, is not that pervasive:

While acknowledging the well-publicized cases of murder and torture within the Interior Ministry, American officers say that most of the atrocities are being carried out by a small number of rogues inside the government, or by groups, like the militias, that are not under Iraqi government control. "The size of the problem is basically within a couple of brigades," said a senior American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, citing the delicacy of the subject.

Maliki has his work cut out. But we could help. I’m not convinced that military withdrawal or the promise of such withdrawal is what is needed. Max Boot has a good idea: why not add three divisions to Baghdad and focus on securing the capital first? Money quote:

To gain control of the situation, an American officer who has served in Baghdad suggested to me the need to deploy at least 35,000 U.S. troops (six brigade combat teams, plus support personnel), two Iraqi army divisions (20,000 men), and 30,000 competent Iraqi police officers. That would give you a total of 85,000 security personnel, or one per 71 inhabitants — still lower than the ratio in Tall Afar but much higher than it is today.
Although the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are badly overstretched (they should have been enlarged years ago), they could still provide at least three more brigades for Baghdad.

Who’s in the way? Rumsfeld, of course. Politically – and I fear this is the only way to persuade this administration – re-engagement may not be perilous. Americans have turned on this war because they see that we are losing, and retreating. A security turn-around in Baghdad would be far more likely to rally Republicans to the polls than headlines about troop withdrawals. If Rumsfeld cannot see that, maybe Rove can.