When Col. Ralph Baker commanded an Army brigade combat team
responsible for a volatile area of Baghdad, he found that one of his
most effective weapons was the handbill.
That's right, handbills. Fliers. Paper. In the United States,
they're generally toss-aways, ads for hair salons or Chinese food.
In Iraq, they can be an important way to disseminate information.
In Baker's unit - the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Armored
Division - every mounted patrol carried standard handbills at all
times. They passed out polite ones that apologized for any
inconvenience during routine house-to-house searches. They
distributed condemnatory ones in affected neighborhoods after bomb
explosions or other insurgent attacks.
The fliers helped drive a wedge between the insurgents and local
residents, and they often resulted in intelligence that US units
could act upon, wrote Colonel Baker in a recent review of
counterinsurgency techniques issued by the Army's Combined Arms
During his tour in Iraq, Baker ended up spending 70 percent of
his time on information and intelligence operations. He spent much
less time commanding actual fighting than he had anticipated.
"The reality I confronted was far different than I had actually
prepared for over a lifetime of conventional training and
experience," wrote Baker.
Counterinsurgency is the graduate level of war, according to an
officer quoted in the Army's new manual on the subject. It requires
flexibility as much as force. Its objective is the population's
support, not territory.
And as the US military prepares to implement President Bush's new
strategy for Iraq, commanders may face the equivalent of trying to
obtain a doctorate in six months. As they work with Iraqi partners
of uncertain reliability, their task is to calm the near anarchy in
much of Baghdad - before popular support in the US erodes further
and Congress begins to press for troop withdrawal harder than it
Even some experts who support the general outline of the
president's plan worry that the hour is too late for it to work. Mr.
Bush's plan is "extremely demanding," said Kenneth Pollack, a senior
fellow for Middle East policy at the Brookings Institution, at a
"The civilian dimension, the political, the economic, the social
engineering aspects of it are huge," said Mr. Pollack.
The best-known aspect of the administration's new plan is
probably its call for an increase of 21,500 US troops in Iraq, with
most of those dedicated to Baghdad. Yet US officials have cautioned
that "surge" is the wrong word to describe this increase, as it
implies a sudden arrival. The increase will be phased in, with two
brigades arriving relatively quickly, and three more waiting in the
pipeline, in essence to see what happens.
"There will be no D-Day," said Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
at a press conference after Bush's Jan. 10 speech to the nation. "It
won't look like the Gulf War."
Under the new plan, a US battalion of 400 to 600 personnel will
be embedded with Iraqi government forces in each of nine military
districts in Baghdad. Administration officials have insisted again
and again that Iraqi forces will take the lead in actual fighting,
with US troops providing support.
Given the past performance of Iraqi units, this is an assertion
many US experts view with extreme skepticism.
"It is still US forces that will do almost all the hard
fighting," wrote Anthony Cordesman, senior fellow at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in his military analysis
of the Bush plan. "This is likely to sharply increase US casualties,
at least initially."
To hold areas newly cleared of Sunni insurgents or Shiite
militias, US and Iraqi troops are likely to be spread among 30 or 40
miniforts, or joint security sites, within the nine Baghdad