When it comes to surging in Iraq, it’s “encouraging” out there. So the President tells us (“Yet even at this early hour, there are some encouraging signs…”); so Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the surge commander in Baghdad, tells us (“[It’s] too early to discern significant trends, [but] there have been a few encouraging signs…”). No, they’re not talking about what Juan Cole calls the “new spate of massive and deadly bombings [that] has spread insecurity and further compromised the Iraqi government… right in downtown Baghdad, within spitting distance of the Green Zone, where the U.S. and the Iraqi government planned out the new security arrangements”; they’re referring to some weapons caches found, some under-strength Iraqi units deployed to the capital, a possible small drop in deaths from sectarian violence.
Still, if surge success isn’t exactly looming on the horizon, it’s clear enough what is: Call it “surge creep.” In a way, surge creep has been the story of the Iraq War since the beginning.
Numbers creep: As Tom Ricks has reported in his book Fiasco,when the Bush administration first invaded Iraq in March 2003, its top officials believed that, by August, most American troops would be withdrawn. Only 30,000 or so would remain to garrison a grateful country. That, of course, was four years ago. Today, American troop totals in Iraq are heading back towards 160,000-plus.
The forces for the surge plan alone, announced at 21,500 by the President in January, are already creeping toward 30,000. Recently, the administration “clarified” all this in a piecemeal sort of way. Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England explained to Congress that the surge combat units might well need up to 7,000 more support troops. He suggested this in rejecting “a recent estimate by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that the surge would require an additional 15,000-28,000 support personnel.” (Keep that figure in the back of your mind, as surge creep continues.) Then Lt. Gen. Petraeus requested 2,200 extra military police for all the detainees he plans to pick up in sweeps of Baghdad neighborhoods. The President signed off on them this week. Whether they are part of those up to 7,000 support troops or not remains foggy; meanwhile Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, the commander of American forces outside the surge zone in Northern Iraq, just called for reinforcements for Diyala Province where attacks have risen 30%.