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Last Updated: Monday, 27 June, 2005, 23:20 GMT 00:20 UK
US dwindling options in Iraq
By Jon Leyne
BBC News, Baghdad

Scene of a suicide bomb attack in Baghdad
Bomb attacks have become a part of daily life in Iraq

The prediction by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that it could take up to 12 years to defeat the Iraqi insurgency will come as no surprise to his own troops.

That is the sort of time-scale written into US military doctrine. So it is part of every officer's basic training.

It will not come as much of a surprise to the Iraqis either. Even the optimists here in Iraq - and there are surprisingly many - do not expect life to improve for many years.

The problem is with the American public. They have simply not been prepared for this sort of long-term commitment.

Even in the course of just the last few days, the Bush administration and the professional military have been delivering mixed, often flatly contradictory, messages.

There were the comments of Vice-President Dick Cheney that the insurgency was in its "last throes".

Then in a Congressional hearing last week, Gen John Abizaid, the US Middle East commander, bravely pointed out that the violence was stable, or increasing.

Here in Baghdad, Brig Gen Karl Horst told the BBC recently that on many days the violence was no worse than in Los Angeles or London.

So it is no surprise that a confused American public is asking where it all went wrong, and, increasingly, calling for the withdrawal of American forces.

Political route

With no sign of an end to the violence, the Bush administration strategy is based on two principles.

Insurgent fighter in Ramadi, Iraq
The US believes most insurgents are not "hard-core" fighters

There is support for the political process - which has already seen successful elections - and a new democratic government.

The Americans are pressing for the Iraqis to meet the mid-August deadline for negotiating a draft constitution.

If all were to go well, that process would lead to an October referendum, then December elections.

At the same time Washington is encouraging the Iraqi government to engage moderate members of the Sunni Muslim community - in an attempt to undermine support for the insurgency.

There have even been talks with factions linked to the insurgency, though the Americans stress there have been no direct negotiations with insurgent leaders.

Stay or go?

The problem with this strategy is that so far the political progress has had no noticeable impact on the insurgency.

In fact, if anything the violence has only increased. At the same time, Washington and London are stressing the importance of training the Iraqi security forces to take over control of their own destiny.

Despite the enormous dangers, the Iraqis are volunteering in impressive number. More than 168,000 Iraqi soldiers and police have already been trained.

But the effort has been dogged by low quality training and poor equipment. For a long time the Pentagon seemed to be more concerned with meeting numerical targets, rather than focusing on quality.

On the ground, American soldiers often have little-disguised contempt for their Iraqi counterparts.

So it is clear the Iraqi forces are not going to have the capability to fight on their own any time in the foreseeable future.

That leaves Washington with only two options.

The White House can either prepare Americans for a very long haul - or it could start work on an exit strategy, with all the humiliation that would entail, and the very real danger of an Iraqi civil war.

For all President Bush's recent expressions of resolve, it is still not entirely clear which option he is going to choose.

See damage caused by insurgents in Iraq

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