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Time May Not Be on Side of New Iraq Strategy

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Time May Not Be on Side of New Iraq Strategy


Time May Not Be on Side of New Iraq Strategy

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

All the U.S. troops sent to Iraq as part of the surge are now in place. And the Pentagon says there is statistical evidence that shows violence is down in Baghdad. Still, five U.S. troops were killed yesterday in Baghdad and seven others wounded by a massive deeply buried roadside bomb. The last three months in Iraq have been the deadliest for U.S. troops since the invasion of 2003.

As NPR's Guy Raz reports from the Pentagon.

GUY RAZ: Army Major General Joseph Fil is in charge of all U.S. troops in Baghdad, and earlier today, from Baghdad, he briefed reporters at the Pentagon.

Major General JOSEPH FIL (Commander, U.S. Forces in Baghdad): Some wonder, are we progressing fast enough, are we ahead, are we on track?

RAZ: The word progress is a tricky one. And it's why some military commanders often criticize the press for sighting an absence of progress, because from the vantage point of a single commander, which could be a particular town or a village, things are looking pretty good. Here's General Fil again.

Gen. FIL: I see progress, a steady progress in every neighborhood that we've cleared and then established a fulltime presence.

RAZ: General Fil is talking about the clear, hold and retain strategy, which is now a sort of mantra for commanders in Iraq. You clear an area - that usually involves some kind of fight, and then you hold it for a few days or weeks, and then if all goes well, you hand it over to Iraqi troops so they can retain it. Clear, hold, retain.

Now, military strategists divide Baghdad into roughly 400 neighborhoods. And back in April, about 20 percent of those neighborhoods were in the hold phase of clear, hold and retain. Today, about half of Baghdad's neighborhoods are either in the hold or retain phase. The way it works is described by a man named David Kilcullen. He's a well-known counterinsurgency scholar and Australian military man, and he advises General Petraeus in Iraq.

Now, Kilcullen doesn't do too many interviews, but he does blog at a place called In his latest post, he writes that the strategy isn't even to kill al-Qaida operatives but to physically separate them from the population permanently. The problem with the strategy - and by the way, it's not new, the U.S. did something similar in Vietnam - well, the problem with it is that it takes lots of time. And time is not a commodity military commanders in Iraq have.

Violence overall in the country is in a three-year high. And while this is certainly one way to measure progress or rather the absence of progress, the Pentagon wants progress to be measured in another way. Here's General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today at the Pentagon.

General PETER PACE (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): If you tell the enemy that what's important to you is the number of bombs that go off, guess what the enemy is going to go to do? He's going to set up more bombs. So it's a self-defeating approach to tracking results of what you're doing.

RAZ: So for General Pace, the best way to measure progress in Iraq is by asking...

Gen. PACE: Do the Iraqi people feel better about today than they did about yesterday. And do they think tomorrow is going to be better than today. If they answer to those two questions is yes, then we're on the right path.

RAZ: Except that the latest poll taken in Iraq shows that 57 percent of Iraqis say life has remained the same or gotten worse since the invasion. And nearly 60 percent say life will remain the same or get worse in five years from now.

Guy Raz, NPR News, the Pentagon.

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