The greatest failure of our Iraq strategy is our failure to realize that this is a regional war and to continue our policy of "regime change" against Iran's fellow members of the Axis of Evil: Iran and Syria. That big strategic failure allowed those regimes to inflame and support the Iraqi insurgency as a way of fighting a proxy war against the United States.
The second-greatest failure, however, was our refusal to recognize that we had to fight a counter-insurgency war. In retrospect, it is now clear that from the very beginning, our strategy for the war in Iraq was to invade, topple the regime, and then get out as soon as possible—on the assumption that the Iraqis would quickly make peace among themselves and establish a free society on their own initiative.
Thus, even when we began to implement an effective counter-insurgency strategy against the Sunni insurgency in Western Iraq beginning in late 2004 and continuing through 2005, we pursued it on too small a scale. The Bush administration and the top commanders in Iraq seemed to believe that the election of a new Iraqi government would lead to "national reconciliation" in 2006 and eliminate the need to fight an extended counter-insurgency campaign.
Our new commander, General Petraeus, has finally faced up to the need for such an effort, which he launched in the last week. Any previous comments about the "surge" were grossly premature: this operation is the real surge. I link below to a good overview of the operation by military blogger Bill Roggio (who provides further updates here).
Ronbo summed up the meaning of these reports:
This is a big operation. It may not encounter as much opposition or be as bloody or intense in any town in which it occurs as the Fallujah-Ramadi-Tal Afar battles and sweeps up the northern Euphrates river to the Syrian Border in 2004–2005, but it is bigger. More places are being swept for insurgents simultaneously than has been attempted before.
It looks like this is Gen. Petraeus's opening bid for the "surge" strategy; the initial, purely military phase. It is also his bid to put operations in Iraq onto a clock that—for the duration of the summer months, anyway—may move as fast as political developments have been moving on "Washington time" this Spring.
But don't forget, things will not change that fast in the security and stabilization efforts in Iraq. If the strategy is to work, it will ultimately take many years, with the first couple of years being more of a military operation and the last several years being more of a police/intelligence/political coalition-building/rule-of-law-developing operation.
On the political-coalition-building front, Iraq's legislative factions—undoubtedly with one eye on that "Washington clock"—seem to have arrived at a deal on the sharing of oil revenue, a key political "benchmark" demanded by our Congress.
Finally, while most of our attention is focused on Iraq, it is worth keeping on eye on other military developments. Go to Bill Roggio's blog for a good update on America's ongoing, low-level, and widely un-reported air war against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in the Waziristan province of Pakistan.
"The Battle of Iraq—2007," Bill Roggio and DJ Elliott, The Fourth Rail, June 20 Four days after the announcement of major offensive combat operations against al Qaeda in Iraq and its allies, the picture becomes clearer on the size and scope of the operation. In today's press briefing, Rear Admiral Mark noted that the ongoing operation is a corps directed and coordinated offensive operation. This is the largest offensive operation since the first phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom ended in the spring of 2003.
The corps level operation is being conducted in three zones in the Baghdad Belts—Diyala/southern Salahadin, northern Babil province, and eastern Anbar province—as well as inside Baghdad proper, where clearing operations continue in Sadr City and the Rashid district. Iraqi and Coalition forces are now moving into areas which were ignored in the past and served as safe havens for al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent groups. As the corps level operation is ongoing, Coalition and Iraqi forces are striking at the rogue Iranian-backed elements of Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army and continuing the daily intelligence driven raids against al Qaeda's network nationwide….
Operation Arrowhead Ripper, the assault on Baqubah, kicked off with an air assault. Iraqi Army scouts accompanied elements of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division. The operation in Baqubah is modeled after the successful operation to clear Tal Afar in September of 2005, which was designed and executed by Col. H.R. McMaster. The plan is to essentially "seal, kill, hold, and rebuild." The city is cordoned, neighborhoods are identified as friendly or enemy territory, the neighborhoods are then segmented and forces move in with the intent to kill or capture the enemy. As both Michael Gordon and Michael Yon reported from Baqubah, the goal isn't just to clear the city of insurgents, but to trap and kill them in place. The combat operations are then immediately followed by humanitarian and reconstruction projects….
The operation in Baqubah is a microcosm of the larger operation in Diyala, while Diyala is one but one of three of the corps level operations. The same goal is shared across the three theaters: cordon the regions, trap and kill al Qaeda and clear the areas, and then move in security forces in for stability and reconstruction operations….
While the major offensive operation is occurring in the Baghdad Belts against al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent holdouts, major raids continue against Sadr's forces and the Iranian cells in Baghdad and the south…. The Iraqi government and Multinational Forces Iraq are sending a clear message to Sadr: when the fighting against al Qaeda is finished, the Iranian backed elements of the Mahdi Army are next on the list if they are not disbanded.