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Are our troops over-extended in Iraq? Do we to recruit more, maybe even restore the draft?

By 4.20.04

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Newly installed Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Neville Rodriguez Zapatero Chamberlain announced that he will pull all 1,300 Spanish troops out of Iraq as soon as possible, keeping his election promise to the Spanish people and al-Qaeda. Portugal may soon follow. That amounts to a bigger win for al-Qaeda than even 9-11. While the Spanish action will boost al-Q recruitment, it's not likely to have much effect on the fight to secure Iraq. With or without the Spanish, the insurgency accelerates, the new Iraqi security forces are refusing to fight other Iraqis, and the death toll of American and coalition troops mounts at an alarming rate.

On Sunday, there was heavy fighting near the city of Al Qaim, where some of the heaviest fighting took place last year. Al Qaim sits on the Syrian border, along the Baghdad to Damascus highway. It's been a transit point for everything from Saddam's WMD (which probably were shipped into Syria and Lebanon) to key members of the Saddam regime. Baathist Syria's major involvement in the insurgency in Iraq continues, as does Iran's. Iran now says it will stop helping restore order in Iraq. Iran's help, of course, is in the form of funding and operational direction for terrorists such as Moqtada al-Sadr and his "mahdi militia." Sadr's influence has spread to southern Iraq, where his troops are engaged against British forces.

Last week, American commanders said they needed more troops in Iraq to help quell the insurgency. The main response to that is to stop the drawdown of American troops, extending the stay of many beyond the planned one-year tours. About 130,000 Americans and other coalition forces -- the only other major force being about 8,700 Brits -- are being stretched thin by the constant fight to corner insurgents and pacify the Sunni Triangle and Shia areas where Sadr's forces are attacking. It's fair to ask: are our troops over-extended? Do we to recruit more, maybe even restore the draft? The answer is yes and no. We need more troops in Iraq, but we don't need a draft to get them there.

PART OF THE TREMENDOUS strain on our troops comes from the fact that we've been acting with too much restraint in quelling the violence. Fallujah is surrounded and relatively quiet, but Marines there are still under fire. We are awaiting the conclusion of negotiations between city "leaders" and representatives of the Iraqi Governing council, seeking the turnover of the barbarians who killed and mutilated American security workers there weeks ago. In the holy city of Najaf, Sadr's militia is given sanctuary because of a series of religious holidays and because the most prominent Shia cleric, Ali al-Sistani, warns against Coalition forces entering the city.

Sistani's silence on Sadr's actions -- and his warning against American forces entering the city of Najaf -- is a most dangerous omen. If he, like Sadr, is listening to Iran, all of Iraq could soon be aflame. One commentator said last week that Sistani is in favor of a new government which separates "mosque and state." That is so horribly wrong, we have to hope that Mr. Bremer isn't of that same mind. Sistani -- whether of not in league with Iran -- wants Iraq to be a religious state with Shari'a law governing all. We cannot allow this to happen.

American Ambassador Paul Bremer admitted the obvious last weekend when he said that Iraq will not be stable by the time of the handover of sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30. Before we can turn Iraq over, the government needs to be functioning. It is not. The military and security services must be operating. They are, but only symbolically. We don't even know who we'll be turning Iraq over to on June 30, as the President indicated last week when he said we'll turn it over to whomever the U.N. representatives say we should. Instead, we should delay the turnover until Iraq is ready, whether it's June 30, 2004 or June 30, 2006.

We should be taking a much more aggressive approach against the Iraqi insurgents. If the so-called city leaders in Fallujah don't surrender the murderers of our people -- and help eradicate the others who form the insurgency there -- we should give the people of Fallujah a day to get their elderly, women, children and possessions out, and then use our full range of forces to destroy the insurgency there. The same approach -- cordon off, evacuate non-combatants and attack -- should be used in any other area where large numbers of insurgents lurk. Bremer and some of the generals in Iraq have been holding back. We are now paying for that restraint.

RELIEF AND REINFORCEMENT can't ever come -- as Sen. Kerry kinda sorta admitted on Meet the Press on Sunday -- from either NATO or the U.N. When Tim Russert asked Kerry how he can say that NATO and the U.N. will come riding to our rescue when they have neither the ability nor the desire to do so, all he could say was, "Tim, that's the dilemma." His position is totally bogus, and he knows it.

Reinforcement can come from redeployment of other forces we have in too many places around the world. We have tens of thousands of troops in Germany, waiting to repel a Soviet invasion that ain't coming. We should pull out all but the few necessary to maintain our military hospitals and air bases there, and get the rest into the fight. We have other forces in other countries that also should be withdrawn and brought into the war in Iraq. South Korea, which seems more accommodationist than its circumstances should allow, should also see the backs of thousands of Americans.

But reinforcements and a more aggressive strategy in Iraq won't stop the violence there. We have to admit to ourselves, and say to the world, what this column has been saying for more than a year. Unless and until we finish the fight in Iraq, the insurgency will never allow a stable government to exist. And to do that, we have to end the regimes of Syria and Iran. When Saddam's regime fell, the war was only begun.

Iraq is not Vietnam, because President Bush means to stay and finish the job. But the job can't be done without ending the problems of Iran and Syria. The war against terrorism isn't against "terrorism." That's a strategy, not an enemy. Terrorist-supporting states such as Iran and Syria are the enemy. It is only by defeating them that Iraq can be made free, and the war can be won.

TAS Contributing Editor Jed Babbin is the author of the forthcoming book, Inside the Asylum: How the U.N. and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think.

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.