Developments In Iraq . . . Or: The Shifting Media Narrative In Reporting On Iraq

This is interesting:

The Bush administration is considering the withdrawal of additional combat forces from Iraq beginning in September, according to administration and military officials, raising the prospect of a far more ambitious plan than expected only months ago.

Such a withdrawal would be a striking reversal from the nadir of the war in 2006 and 2007.

One factor in the consideration is the pressing need for additional American troops in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and other fighters have intensified their insurgency and inflicted a growing number of casualties on Afghans and American-led forces there.

More American and allied troops died in Afghanistan than in Iraq in May and June, a trend that has continued this month.

Although no decision has been made, by the time President George W. Bush leaves office on Jan. 20, at least one and as many as 3 of the 15 combat brigades now in Iraq could be withdrawn or at least scheduled for withdrawal, the officials said.

The desire to move more quickly reflects the view of many in the Pentagon who want to ease the strain on the military but also to free more troops for Afghanistan and potentially other missions.

The most optimistic course of events would still leave 120,000 to 130,000 American troops in Iraq, down from the peak of 170,000 late last year after Bush ordered what became known as the “surge” of additional forces. Any troop reductions announced in the heat of the presidential election could blur the sharp differences between the candidates, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, over how long to stay in Iraq. But the political benefit might go more to McCain than Obama. McCain is an avid supporter of the current strategy in Iraq. Any reduction would indicate that that strategy has worked and could defuse antiwar sentiment among voters.

There is, of course, already a great deal of evidence to show that the surge is working but if the United States is able to safely (I emphasize that word for a reason) remove troops from Iraq, then such a development will only serve to dramatize matters. The above story becomes especially notable, by the way, if one reads it in conjunction with this:

Wajih Hameed is an Iraqi general with an attitude.

With a satisfied look, he listened as a subordinate officer explained to the deputy commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad how he plans to reposition his troops in the coming weeks.

“Before, they would have asked us to propose a plan” in such a circumstance and then would have accepted it with little argument, said Brig. Gen. Will Grimsley, who led a group of American officers to Hameed’s office on Thursday. “Now they are telling us how they will do it,” he said in an interview afterward.

Hameed’s swagger sometimes grates on American officers. But Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond sees it as a hopeful sign the Iraqi army — generals and soldiers alike — has reached a new level of self-confidence, pointing the way toward truly independent Iraqi forces and, eventually, an exit for U.S. combat troops.

The flip side is that the Americans feel their control slipping away. This feeds a worry that Iraqi security forces either will set themselves up for a catastrophic failure or might even decide — at some point when the Americans largely have departed — that the country would be better off under military rule.

There are, in fact, very few specifics to back up the claim that “the Americans feel their control slipping away.” A couple of officers are quoted stating a mild worry that the Iraqi-American partnership is fraying but that worry is counterbalanced by the correct observation that we want the Iraqis to take greater responsibility for their country. I imagine that there remain some raw edges that need to be worked out in Iraqi military operations but perhaps the indication that American troops are potentially preparing to withdraw at a quicker pace indicates better than anything else not just the success of the surge and the attendant counterinsurgency operation, but also the fact that the U.S. is plenty comfortable with the newfound assertiveness of the Iraqis.

And isn’t it interesting, by the way, that while, in the past, the Iraqi military was attacked for its fecklessness, it is now being criticized for being so assertive that it may foment a military coup? I guess that there is no pleasing some people.