General Petraeus has assured the American Congress and people the situation in Iraq is improving and there is an excellent chance troops dispatched for the surge would be able to return home. However, there is growing uncertainty how the current fighting in Basra will impact plans for reducing the size of the American armed force. During the 2004 election, President Bush emphasized the Iraq army had a well trained fighting force of over 140,000, but, of course, we know that was campaign rhetoric. The latest fantasy about the Iraq army has been replaced by the stark reality it is far from an effective fighting force and it is unable to dislodge Mahdi forces from Basra. Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his troops to halt fighting provided the Iraq government stands down from its latest offense.
A constant ccomplaint by critics of Bush policies is failure to confront the entire range of military needs of Iraq. Retired General Bary McCaffrey notes: “Even now there is no Iraq air force, there’s no national military medical system, there’s no maintenance system.” During recent fighting in Basra the Iraq government had to call for assistance from British and American artillery since it lacks its own artillery force. Last November the GAO questioned Pentagon claims on the number of Iraq battalions able to operate “independently” since such units usually depend on U.S. fuel, ammunition, and other supples.
Eventually, there will be a lull in Basra fighting and al-Sadr will continue to exert his power. As always, Bush fails to grasp the political necessity in Iraq.