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Whose boots on which ground?

One of the key passages in William Stuntz’s excellent piece about fighting to win in Iraq (see the post immediately below) is this one:

[T]here is a sure-fire test of whether or not victory truly is impossible: See whether a rising number of American soldiers in a given city or neighborhood tends to produce more violence or less. If the answer is more, then it is pointless to send more soldiers; the ones who are already there are doing net harm. But that is not what the evidence shows.

Recently, as part of the Army’s effort to reduce the killing in Baghdad, soldiers were pulled out of Mosul–and violence in Mosul escalated. Iraq the Model, a blogger who knows far more about conditions in Baghdad than most Western reporters, fears not that American soldiers will cause more killing, but that we have too few soldiers on the ground to pacify territory and then hold it.

Stuntz might have added that the introduction of these U.S. forces into the most dangerous neighborhoods in Baghdad has brought about a significant decrease in violence there. The most recent estimate I’ve seen is that violent incidents in Baghdad have decreased by 40 percent in the past three weeks.

The question raised by the evidence from Mosul and Baghdad is whether, with current troop levels or even a fairly significant increase, we will ever be able to get beyond the finger-in-the-dike phenomenon whereby we bring relative stability to one area at the cost of instability in another.

The answer to question depends, I believe, on how successful we are in training Iraqi security forces. If, when we re-deploy our forces to major trouble spots, Iraqi forces can maintain order in the relatively stable areas American forces leave, then we reasonably can expect to see meaningful progress overall. Otherwise, it’s unlikely that we can improve substantially on the status quo (which, however, is worth preserving compared to the alternative) without sending more troops to Iraq than one can expect us to deploy under any plausible scenario.

So will we be able to count on Iraqi security forces to maintain security in enough places for which we now are responsible to free up our forces for the hot-spots? I hope to have something to say about this question soon.

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