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Responding to the president’s January 10th announcement that he will send more troops to Iraq, Colonel “Tex” DeAtkine believes he sees in the decision several things that most commentators have missed concerning those principally responsible for most American casualties and initiating sectarian violence.–Contributing Editor

Colonel Norvell B. “Tex” DeAtkine, U.S. Army (Retired)

Proceedings, February 2007

President Bush’s new strategy for Iraq was fully sliced and diced by analysts and talking heads within 24 hours of his announcing it on 10 January. Apparently few minds were changed. But there were some important nuances buried in his presentation. Most notably, I believe it presages a subtle but fairly evident change in direction. What the plan reveals is:

First, an emphasis on security as coming before all else. The plan recognizes what many have been saying for years—that there cannot be any political or economic program until Baghdadis feel secure when leaving their homes. This in turn means that the Arab Sunni insurgency must be vanquished before there can be political or economic progress.

Second, that the primary and immediate enemy is the insurgency, not the militias, which is another way of saying the Sunni insurgency must be defeated before any military approach to the Shi’a militias can be entertained.

Third, it was a rejection of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendation to negotiate with Syria and Iran and, in fact, took a more forceful stance toward both countries.

Fourth, that Baghdad is the center of gravity and the path to success lies not through fighting tribes in al Anbar province but in the major Iraqi cities.

Our policy now seems to be gradually edging in another direction. It is a tough sale because the bête noire of the media continues to be radical Shi’a cleric Moqtada al Sadr.

If words could kill, he would be our primary antagonist, but an educated guess is that 80 to 90 percent of American casualties are a result of Sunni Saddamists and Islamic militants. It is strange that with all the charts and graphs around there seems to be one that’s unavailable. An overlay of where our casualties occurred, superimposed on sectarian maps, would tell the story. The Mahdi army does not operate in Fallujah or Tikrit or most of western Baghdad.

We have to understand, and hopefully our change in direction is the first step in the process, that for all his bluster and sinister appearance, al Sadr is not our major enemy. He is part of the political process and will play a large role in the Iraqi political structure in the years to come.

In essence our inability to restrain the Sunnis for three years, in which time the Shi’a community suffered daily car bombs and random killings, forced them to turn to al Sadr. Even secular, educated Shi’a now view him as their protector.

Moving forward, the emphasis must be transformation of the Shi’a militia into a purely political organization. To talk about a forced demobilization is totally unrealistic. When the Sunni insurgency and its war against the Shi’a community have ceased, this will be a possibility.

To a similar degree the continuing Sunni violence against the Shi’a has given the Iranians an open door to use for as long as the Shi’a feel Iran is their only regional friend. Once the Sunni threat is gone, the age-old antagonism between Arab and Persian will arise again. Being Arab will always trump being Shi’a.

As for the reconstruction effort, Mr. Bush’s presentation was very short on details, but the appointment of an economic guru to oversee the program is a step forward. Hopefully the emphasis will be on short-term, quick-return projects. Moreover, the vast amount of corruption among American and Iraqi contractors must be minimized.

As an example of quick-return projects, only security is more important than electrical power. Why not assist communities in buying neighborhood generators and conducting classes on how to maintain them? We can also assist in obtaining fuel supplies and scarce gas cylinders used for cooking. We need to assist in launching a sustained clean-up campaign to restore a semblance of normalcy to the city. The use of community projects would help to instill a civic consciousness that has traditionally been lacking in Arab society.

When I asked a Baghdadi friend with wide contacts in the Iraqi media whether the Bush plan will work, she replied it will under two conditions; that the Iraqi politicians take seriously what the President said about living up to their promises and benchmarks, and that the Americans do not interfere in the security campaign the Iraqi government is about to undertake and insists it can accomplish on its own. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has long complained that he could not move a platoon without American approval.End.

Reprinted from PROCEEDINGS with permission; Copyright © 2007 U.S. Naval Institute/

Norvell B. Deatkine
Norvell B. Deatkine

Norvell “Tex” DeAtkine served eight years in Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt (in addition to extensive combat service in Vietnam). A West Pointer, he holds a graduate degree in Arab studies from the American University of Beirut. Until recently he taught at the JFK Special Warfare School at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.


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