General David Petraeus

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Gen. David Petraeus, touted by the Bush administration as the potential savior of the Iraq debacle, is like a lot of officers these days, a four-star general with relatively little combat experience.

He led the 101st Airborne Division during the initial invasion of Iraq and later was posted with it in the Kurdish area — by far the most peaceful area in Iraq. Other than that, his experience has all been peacetime duty, with a lot of that as an aide to various officers.

No doubt about it, Petraeus is a bright man. Courtesy of the taxpayers, he holds a master’s degree and also a doctorate from prestigious universities. He graduated from West Point. Lately, the press has credited him as the author of the Army’s Field Manual on counterinsurgency. Actually, he co-authored it with Marine Lt. Gen. James Mattis.

Furthermore, Petraeus is unlucky. During a live-fire exercise, one of his soldiers tripped and accidentally shot Petraeus in the chest. Later, while sky diving, his parachute tangled, and he broke his pelvis. His other Iraq assignment was to reorganize and train the Iraqi army. Obviously, he didn’t do such a hot job, because three years later, it is still unable to defend the country.

Now as the top field commander, he’s in charge of what the Bush administration calls a "new strategy." This consists of posting Americans with Iraqis in various little outposts around Baghdad. The idea is to provide security for what the Army calls the "good guys." Problem is, to qualify as a good guy, you have to rat out your neighbors. Other Iraqis see these good guys as just traitors and collaborators.

Insurgents, as has been the case historically, will simply go to ground while American forces are around and will cause mischief in other places. So when you hear Petraeus or the Bush administration brag about the surge strategy working, just remember the one question they’ve never answered is, "What happens when the U.S. forces leave?" The other unanswered question is, "How long do you intend to keep combat soldiers in Baghdad?"

In short, Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy is the same one we used in Vietnam, where it failed miserably. The only counterinsurgency campaign that I can recall being successful was one carried out by the British in Malaysia. That took about 10 years, and the British were aided by the fact that most of the insurgents were Chinese, who were not especially liked by the other citizens.

The insurgents in Iraq are mainly Iraqis. We are viewed as a foreign occupational army. The Iraqis want us out. Every time our guys kick in a door, shoot somebody or arrest a "suspect," we simply create more enemies. Polls taken by the University of Maryland consistently show that regardless of what sectarian or ethnic group is polled, a majority wants us out.

Interestingly enough, 144 members of the Iraqi parliament signed a petition demanding that the U.S. set a timetable for withdrawal. For some reason, American news organizations paid little attention to it. The man who made the announcement said that it will be presented to the speaker and then will be put up for a vote.

It also appears that conflict, at least within the parliament, is not between Shi’ites and Sunnis but between separatists, backed by the U.S., and nationalists, who want a strong central government in charge of Iraq’s plentiful oil supply. The separatists want us to stay, of course, while the nationalists want us out.

We should back the nationalists and get out.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

© 2007 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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