The U.S. strategy of putting Iraqis in charge of their own security suffered a stunning reversal last week when President Bush announced that more U.S. troops would be sent back to Baghdad.
"Obviously, the violence in Baghdad is still terrible," Bush said during a visit to Washington by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki.
For months, U.S. military spokesmen had released evermore upbeat assessments of the "Iraqification" of the security forces, which was meant to both reduce U.S. casualties and emphasize that Iraqi forces were being trained to take over securing their own country.
In Baghdad today, apart from the heavily U.S.-patrolled airport road, it is rare to see American units on the city's streets. But in their absence has come increasing violence and mayhem.
It took the commander in chief to finally admit what was becoming increasingly clear on the ground: The strategy of Iraqification has backfired in Baghdad because the largely Shiite security forces are widely seen to have been infiltrated by death squads and militia members who have been targeting Sunnis, making the sectarian conflict worse, not better.
The military has conceded that violence in Baghdad has not dropped as it was expected to but said that in other parts of the country Iraqi police and troops have done a good job of maintaining security.
Some 3,700 U.S. troops will be sent back into Baghdad in the coming weeks in a concerted attempt to reassert control over a city that has rapidly slided toward all-out sectarian civil war. The troops will mount joint patrols with Iraqi police and military units, sending out rapid-reaction strike forces to potential flash points around the city and gathering intelligence to target ringleaders who've provoked much of the violence.
U.S. military officials are reluctant to give specific operational plans in advance, but it is becoming clear that there will be at least three main tasks for the incoming troops.
First, some of the Americans will "embed" with Iraqi units
not submitting to Iraqi command but accompanying the units on patrols to make sure they do not unfairly victimize any religious sect. At the moment, some Sunni neighborhoods actively block police units from entering because they fear they could be death squads masquerading in official uniforms.
Second, the United States is transferring the 172nd Stryker brigade from the northern city of Mosul to Baghdad. Strykers are armored vehicles with eight wheels that are larger than Humvees but faster and more maneuverable than tanks or other tracked vehicles. They can be used on regular - and very visible - patrols and also as part of a rapidly deployable strike team that can be rushed to a neighborhood to stop or defuse sectarian confrontations before they get out of hand.
Third, there will be an intensification of intelligence operations to target the individuals who are the leaders of insurgent groups and death squads for arrest. It is hoped this will be more effective in stopping the violence than large, indiscriminate sweeps through problem neighborhoods in search of weapons and other incriminating evidence that may not yield many high-value operatives.
Bush had hoped to begin drawing down the number of troops in Iraq this year, in the run-up to the midterm elections in November. The fact that his commanders are telling him they need more soldiers in Baghdad is an indication of how desperate the situation has become in the capital city.