They came, they saw, they… deserted.
That, in short form, is the story of the recent Iraqi government "offensive" in Basra (and Baghdad). It took a few days, but the headlines on stories out of Iraq ("Can Iraq’s Soldiers Fight?") now tell a grim tale and the information in them is worse yet. Stephen Farrell and James Glanz of the New York Times estimate that at least 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen, or more than 4% of the force sent into Basra, "abandoned their posts" during the fighting, including "dozens of officers" and "at least two senior field commanders."
Other pieces offer even more devastating numbers. For instance, Sudarsan Raghavan and Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post suggest that 30% of government troops had "abandoned the fight before a cease-fire was reached." Tina Susman of the Los Angeles Times offers 50% as an estimate for police desertions in the midst of battle in Baghdad’s vast Sadr City slum, a stronghold of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia.
In other words, after years of intensive training by American advisors and an investment of $22 billion dollars, US military spokesmen are once again left trying to put the best face on a strategic disaster (from which they were rescued thanks to negotiations between Muqtada al-Sadr and advisors to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, brokered in Iran by General Qassem Suleimani, a man on the U.S. Treasury Department’s terrorist watch list). Think irony. "From what we understand," goes the lame American explanation, "the bulk of these [deserters] were from fairly fresh troops who had only just gotten out of basic training and were probably pushed into the fight too soon."
This week, with surge commander General David Petraeus back from Baghdad’s ever redder, ever more dangerous "Green Zone," here are a few realities to keep in mind as he testifies before Congress: