The Bush administration will delay major assaults on rebel-held cities in Iraq until after U.S. elections in November, say administration officials, mindful that large-scale military offensives could affect the U.S. presidential race.
...."When this election's over, you'll see us move very vigorously," said one senior administration official involved in strategic planning, speaking on condition of anonymity.
....Any delay in pacifying Iraq's most troublesome cities, however, could alter the dynamics of a different election -- the one in January, when Iraqis are to elect members of a national assembly.
With only four months remaining, U.S. commanders are scrambling to enable voting in as many Iraqi cities as possible to shore up the poll's legitimacy.
U.S. officials point out that there have been no direct orders to commanders in the field to pause operations in the weeks before the Nov. 2 election. Top administration officials in Washington are simply reluctant to sign off on a major offensive in Iraq at the height of the political season.
And it goes beyond delaying assualts. President Bush has asserted time and again that he "listens to the generals on the ground." This has been his primary defense against Sen. Kerry's charge that we went into Iraq with insufficient troops to win the peace (a charge Paul Bremer has--inadvertantly--backed up). Unfortunately, he's going to have a tough time explaining why General Oscar B. Hilman of the 81st Brigade Combat Team has had his request for more troops denied twice. Hilman runs an important base Northwest of Baghdad that has come under frequent insurgent fire. The cited reason is that troops are all tied up in the Sunni Triangle region. Spencer Ackerman explains the possible meanings:
When a ground commander requests troops to carry out his mission, and is told that those troops are needed elsewhere, there are only two interpretations. One is that the commander's superiors determine that the request is unnecessary, and the commander in fact has what he needs. This is highly unlikely in this case, given Anaconda's tactical importance as the largest logistical base in Iraq. The attacks have gotten so bad that the cargo planes that fly in to resupply the base keep their engines running to avoid losing the aircraft to insurgent mortar fire. The idea that Hilman is blowing smoke when he says he needs additional forces just to protect his base is simply not likely to be true.
The other interpretation is that there aren't enough troops to enable the commander to fulfill his requirements. It's getting hard to deny that this is the case in Iraq. And it surely reflects frustration that Hilman is detailing his two rejections to a reporter. Which leads to further series of questions: Why is Hilman really being denied? How far up the chain are Hilman's requests flowing? Are commanders at Multinational Force-Iraq stymieing requests from ground commanders to preserve the Bush administration's fiction that there are enough troops in Iraq?
If it weren't for the fact that President Bush's stubborness is killing American soldiers, I'd be tempted to brag about finding yet another lie/distortion in Bush's debate performance. But at this point, I just pray for the welfare and safety of the men and women whose lives are merely an election year pawn for Karl Rove and his allies.