Leading article: The limitations of the military

Share
Related Topics

Some alarm bells should ring at the appointment of General Ray Odierno as head of the coalition forces in Baghdad. The nickname of the man who ran the counter-insurgency in Tikrit from 2003, and oversaw the capture of Saddam Hussein, is "Tony Soprano". This derives as much from his tough attitude to the enemy as it does to his bulky frame. Critics have said his heavy-handed tactics against Sunni Arabs repeated the mistakes America made in Vietnam by alienating the local population, thus fuelling the insurgency.

More recently all that has been forgotten. General Odierno, as deputy to the outgoing supreme commander General David Petraeus, was the first senior officer to insist publicly that more troops were needed. The resulting surge, together with the Petraeus/Odierno strategy of moving US soldiers off large bases and into smaller outposts in Iraqi villages and neighbourhoods, has been widely credited with sharply reducing the violence in Iraq and averting a civil war.

In war, of course, things are not always as they seem, or are spun. There are other causes for the reduction in violence, including the effective ceasefire of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia and the de facto partition of Baghdad into Sunni and Shia areas. When such subterranean factors are taken into account, more of the same from General Odierno may not be what is required, as the news from Basra this week suggests.

What has happened in Iraq's second city has been painted a triumph. Iraqi government troops, backed by a thunderous bombardment by US warplanes and British artillery, have regained control of the streets from the militiamen. Music stores have reopened and alcohol is once more discreetly available. But this has been done at the cost of postponing the plan to withdraw about 1,500 British troops from Iraq. Even then, General Odierno's supporters in Washington suggest that it was only done when the US poured in an additional 1,000 troops and grabbed the steering wheel from the British command. As a precedent that is not encouraging. Nor does it augur well for a strategic British withdrawal, despite the insistence of the Defence Secretary Des Browne that he still plans to cut the 4,000-strong remaining British force during the next six-monthly rotation.

This is a political imperative which must not be blown off course by the exigencies of military manoeuvrings; especially when such victories as occur will always be short-term in a world where Mr al-Sadr's militia is the authentic voice of millions of the very poorest Shia Muslims. Tactics must not be allowed to drive strategy in Iraq.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station  

General Election 2015: Despite all the seeming cynicism, our political system works

Ian Birrell
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living