Time is Tight


The New York Times has a disturbing piece today that looks suspiciously like it should be catalogued in the "What, Me Worry?" category. The gist of it is that American forces have lost much control over central Iraq, particularly the cities of Falluja (we knew that), Ramadi, Baquba and Samarra.

More bothersome are two other things: First, the fact that American forces do not want to attack those towns now, preferring to allow time for negotiations by the Iraqis; and second, that any delay may threaten the holding of Iraqi elections in or around January 2004. The piece is alive with spin on the first issue, with the implicit notion that U.S. forces are delaying military action until after the November U.S. presidential election, though "senior officials insist there is no domestic political calculus in the decision to wait ? only a conviction that time is needed for negotiation and for Iraqi forces to gain strength."

I wonder. The U.S. commander, Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, says: "I do have about four months where I want to get to local control. And then I've got the rest of January to help the Iraqis to put the mechanisms in place." But if no military action takes place before November, that may mean that Metz has only two months to use a stick, since it's unlikely that negotiations alone will turn the Iraqi cities over to the government, particularly when the earliest an Iraqi military force will be formed is the end of this year, according to Gen. Richard Meyers.

Given that Najaf alone took several weeks, Metz's implicit optimism about the other cities being brought around to government control in a short time may be misplaced. Time is very tight.