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More troops for Baghdad?

The latest National Review editorial calls on President Bush to send more troops to Baghdad. The editors hope that by defeating “the Sunni insurgency” there we can increase our prestige and the prestige of president Maliki, at the expense of the increasingly popular anti-American thug Moqtada al-Sadr.
In my view, sending more troops into Baghdad now would be a major mistake. First, Anbar province, not Baghdad, should be our highest priority. In Anbar, al Qaeda threatens to become the dominant player (some of the more pessimistic reports suggest that it already is). Al Qaeda is our main enemy in Iraq and worldwide.
Second, Baghdad is something of a deathtrap for our troops. When we increased our level of force and activity there earlier in the year, American casualties spiked. If casualties were to increase substantially again, as they would if we go into Baghdad even harder, President Bush’s position here at home would become even weaker, and he’d be less able to fend off the Baker group’s recommendations.
Third, I’m not sure the NR editors are entirely correct in their characterization of the situation in Baghdad. What they call the “Sunni insurgency” in Baghdad can be viewed as Sunni efforts at self-protection from militant Shiite militias. The Sunnis are hardly innocent, but it’s far from clear that they are the main culprits. Thus, the wisdom of sacrificing more American lives to take the Shiite side in Baghdad is subject to serious doubt, particularly when we have a more urgent mission in Anbar province.
The editors seem to basing their view less on the equities in Baghdad then on (dare I say) realism. If we crush the Sunnis, the argument goes, we score points, help Maliki, and undermine Sadr’s popularity. But that assumes, first, that helping Maliki helps us. I’m not convinced that this is so. Second, I question whether our struggle with Sadr is best engaged through a costly “hearts and minds” strategy. If he’s a threat to our interests, then we probably should take on his militia — after we’ve inflicted major damage on al Qaeda in Ramadi and elsewhere in Anbar — rather than killing his enemies for him.

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