GWB's Song Of Iraq: Doin' The Boot Scootin' Boogie genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

GWB's boot scooting boogie

I'm not sure how one ought to measure the level of incompetence with regard to managing the war in Iraq and our efforts to bring stability and democracy to its citizenry, but I've been pondering my own formula for some time now...and I'm ready to share my findings. We know that there have been major disagreements over the number of U.S. soldiers that should have been used in the operation and given the recent "surge"; it is probably safe to conclude that we grossly underestimated the size of the force required.

I've been tinkering with some other numbers and statistics in an attempt to ferret out the hidden factors that might be contributing to the lack of progress. While it has been difficult to trust the reported numbers, my focus has been on determining the size of the Iraqi police force and whether that number is adequate to maintain security in the war torn nation. I took this approach because I believe the recent "surge" has really been a significant change in strategy. U.S. soldiers are being assigned to conduct duties that would typically be the responsibility of a police force....and the rising U.S. casualties support my contention.

As I understand military strategy, it isn't standard practice to use soldiers in independent roles or to apportion them into very small patrol groups that are stationed in neighborhoods to serve as 24/7 peacekeepers in order to halt citizen upon citizen violence. In other words, standard procedure would be that once a military mission is completed by a platoon or a strike force (say to take out a strategic enemy position or a bridge used to transport supplies to enemy forces), they would return to a fortified location to regroup and determine the next organized assault. Living in, and policing large neighborhood grids has never been a mainstay of tactical military training.

OK, that's the background required to follow the rest of my argument. The following information is from a new Washington Post article detailing the report of Lt. General Martin Dempsey to a House panel seeking to understand the administrations efforts in Iraq and to assess the readiness of Iraqi security forces to "stand up so we can stand down".

A senior U.S. military commander said yesterday that Iraq's army must expand its rolls by at least 20,000 more soldiers than Washington had anticipated, to help free U.S. troops from conducting daily patrols, checkpoints and other critical yet dangerous missions.

Appearing before a House panel, Dempsey outlined his assessment of Iraq's 348,000-strong security forces looking into 2008 and the prospects that they can take over from U.S. troops. He said the Iraqi forces are improving but are still riddled with sectarianism and corruption and are suffering from a lack of leaders and the attrition of tens of thousands of members -- including 32,000 police between mid-2005 and January.

His projection of the size of the police force required to help bring stability -- 195,000 -- is more than 40 percent higher than Washington estimated in 2003. The remarks follow other blunt comments by U.S. military commanders that civilian deaths and attacks on U.S. troops have recently risen and that particularly tough fighting is expected in the coming months.

Similar problems, including "ghost" personnel, afflict the police, Dempsey said. Of the 32,000 Iraqi police lost from the U.S.-and-foreign-trained force of 188,000 in the 18 months before January, more than 14,000 were killed or severely wounded, 5,000 deserted, and the rest are "unaccounted for," he said.

Asked whether the absent police could be fighting U.S. troops, Dempsey replied, "We just don't know," adding that he is trying to track how many of the U.S.-trained forces end up in U.S. custody "down the road."

Now the numbers. I wanted to know what criteria we used in the United States for establishing the police presence needed to maintain the streets of our major metropolitan areas...then draw some comparisons to the numbers being tossed around with regards to Iraq. Here's what I found:

The national rate of full-time law enforcement employees per 1,000 inhabitants remained at 3.5 in 2004, unchanged from the 2003 rate. (Based on Table 74.)

Among the Nation’s four regions, law enforcement agencies in the Northeast had the highest rate of law enforcement employees, 3.5 law enforcement employees for every 1,000 inhabitants. Agencies in the South had 3.4 law enforcement employees per 1,000 inhabitants, in the Midwest, 2.7, and in the West, 2.4. (See Table 70.)

An examination of the 2004 law enforcement employee data by population group showed that in the Nation’s cities collectively there were 3.0 law enforcement employees per 1,000 inhabitants. Of the population groups with the city label, cities with 10,000 or less in population had the highest rate of law enforcement employees, 4.2 per 1,000 inhabitants. Cities with 25,000 to 49,999 inhabitants and cities with 50,000 to 99,999 inhabitants had the lowest rate, 2.3 law enforcement employees per 1,000 in population. The Nation’s largest cities, those with 250,000 or more inhabitants, averaged 3.8 law enforcement employees for every 1,000 inhabitants. (See Table 70.) The law enforcement agencies in the Nation’s metropolitan counties averaged 4.4 employees per 1,000 inhabitants; agencies in the Nation’s nonmetropolitan counties collectively reported having 4.5 law enforcement personnel for each 1,000 inhabitants. (Based on Table 74.)

I think it’s safe to say that we employ approximately 3.5 law enforcement officers for every 1,000 citizens...and I've used that number to draw some comparisons to the Iraqi police force.

Our first projection (in 2003) regarding the size of the police force needed in Iraq was apparently 140,000 strong. Given the estimated population of 25 million in Iraq, that would equate with a ratio of 5.6 law enforcement officers per 1,000 inhabitants. With the new 2007 number of 195,000 provided by Dempsey, that ratio would increase to approximately 7.85 per 1,000. Factor in the annual attrition rate of 15 to 18 percent (this rate was the rate reported for the Iraqi military...which I'll assume is comparable for the police force) and you're back down to an effective ratio of approximately 6.63 per 1,000.

Clearly, any comparison has a degree of subjectivity...but when I think about the state of affairs in Iraq including a completely new government (I'm being generous), the dismissal of the entire security structure once we assumed control of the country, centuries of sectarian conflict, an economy in shambles, a piecemeal education system, the infiltration of insurgents intent on influencing the future of the country and the region, a devastated infrastructure, and all of the many other limitations that make Iraq exponentially more unsettled that the U.S., I cannot imagine that a police force that isn't even double that of the U.S. has a chance in hell of keeping the peace.

I know, I know...I'm no Dick Cheney...I missed the cheering crowds that greeted us as liberators...that threw rose petals at the feet of our soldiers...that were yearning for an occupation by soldiers with little appreciation for their religious and cultural norms...that would be thrilled to have less electricity and higher priced fuel...that understood the benefits of democracy though they had nary an inkling of what the word meant.

I'm content that readers can draw their own conclusions...but let me end with my own final estimation. This latest surge was necessary to prevent full fledged civil war and it is intended to allow those in charge to reconnoiter long enough to determine just what the hell they can do to put an end to this protracted nightmare. I don't suspect that an Iraqi police force of 195,000 is going to do the trick and I'm not sure what number might suffice.

In reality, the Iraqi disaster is not an issue that will be solved by is an issue that will be resolved when reasonable people decide to set aside their longstanding hatred. Until they realize that spilling the blood of their countrymen will do little more than satisfy their primal rage and fill their cemeteries, democracy will remain nothing more than "that thing those Americans say they do in that country we don't live in and don't understand".

It won't be long before George Bush will have a lot of spare if I may be so bold as to ask, "What would be wrong with him putting on his cowboy boots and traipsing around in the sand in order to put the finishing touches on his little experiment in the exportation of democracy to the rest of the world?" At least it would be his own boots navigating this mess we call Iraq. Hey, I suspect he still lacks a better plan.

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Daniel DiRito | June 13, 2007 | 8:53 AM
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