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War Plan Heading for Tough Fight

Military.com | By Christian Lowe | July 10, 2007

A top architect of the Iraq surge plan said Monday the increase in U.S. forces flowing to Baghdad and its outskirts has crippled al Qaeda, forced the Sunni insurgency into compromise and hobbled Shiite extremists seeking reprisal.

Retired Gen. Jack Keane, Army vice chief of staff during the 2003 invasion, said withdrawing from Iraq before gains are made in securing remaining al Qaeda strongholds and disabling Shiite militias would show a lack of military understanding and could plunge Baghdad once more into sectarian bloodshed.

"That level of violence and instability [created] by a precipitous withdrawal ... will push this government to being fractured and beginning an all-out civil war," Keane said during a July 9 briefing at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

"And believe me; you'll know it when you see it. You won't have to debate whether it's a civil war or not."

Keane joined fellow surge plan author, AEI resident scholar and former West Point military history professor Fred Kagan, in a fervent defense of the increased forces and what could be a last-ditch bid to stymie building political momentum on Capitol Hill to pull American combat forces out of Iraq.

A spate of recent high-profile Republican defections from support of the war have further isolated the Bush administration, adding to what will likely be a politically contentious week at the hands of war opponents who want to enshrine a near-term withdrawal into law.

"Americans are not welcome in Iraq at this stage, according to Iraqis," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said Monday. American troops are "protecting Sunnis, they're protecting the Shiia, they're protecting Kurds and all these folks are after our troops. It seems like it is not a good situation for us."

The Bush administration is set to deliver an interim report on the progress of the so-called "Baghdad Security Plan" this weekend, just one month after all of the 30,000 combat forces earmarked for the surge arrived in Iraq.

Lawmakers will likely pounce on the interim report as evidence of failure and plan to issue legislation over the next two weeks to begin withdrawal of troops within four months.

War proponents admit that despite evidence the number of sectarian killings is moving downward, bloodshed from car bombs and high-profile terrorist attacks will continue - feeding the "strategic exhaustion" among lawmakers and the American public.

"If we are going to let suicide bombers drive us out of Iraq, we've got real problems as a country in this world of ours out there," Keane said.

One option on the table is to cut the nearly 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by more than half, concentrate on training and advising the Iraqi army so they are better capable of defeating their own insurgency and boosting counter terrorism efforts - staying out of the sectarian conflict the surge is designed to quell.

"There's still a preoccupation among some in the administration to think of this as a military operation - to think of this as something that's going to have a military solution," said James Miller, senior vice president and director of studies with the Center for a New American Security.

Miller agreed with many Democrats who contend a more robust diplomatic effort between Iraq's neighbors and rival sectarian groups could help end the spiraling violence.

Legislation in the works as the Senate debates the 2008 Pentagon authorization bill this week could include measures that implement many of the Iraq Study Group recommendations, revoke the 2003 pre-war authorization for the use of force resolution and implement a shift in military policy away from combating the insurgency in Iraq.

As Democratic lawmakers gear up for their final assault on Bush administration policies before the summer recess in August, the view of the Capitol from the White House is blurred by both the steamy heat of Washington, D.C. and the political landscape.

"Over the past couple of weeks there's been an incredible erosion of political support for the surge," Miller said. "This erosion of support for the surge is quickly deepening, and that is likely to continue."