Monday, June 13, 2005

Larry, Moe, and Mustafah

From the New York Times:

MAHMUDIYA, Iraq – A small but telling test of Iraq’s fledgling army came recently in this troubled farm town south of Baghdad, when a group of Iraqi soldiers, ending a house raid and rushing to board pickups they use as troop carriers, abandoned the blindfolded, handcuffed man they had come to arrest.

“They left the detainee,” an astonished American soldier said, spotting the man squatting in the dust along a residential street. “They just left him there. Sweet.”

The Iraqi troops were on their seventh house raid of the morning, part of a cordon-and-search operation in an area of towns and farmland so dangerous that American soldiers call it the Triangle of Death. Prompted by the soldier, the Iraqis ran back for the detainee, and managed much of the rest of their mission effectively, rounding up 13 insurgent suspects in three hours without having to call for direct involvement of the watching American troops.

Such limited successes stand against a backdrop of American disappointment with many of the Iraqi units, whose effectiveness is crucial to a future American troop withdrawal.

Despite the Bush administration’s insistent optimism, Americans working with the Iraqis in the field believe that it could be several years, at least, before the new Iraqi forces will be ready to stand alone against the insurgents.

To those of us of a certain age, this whole scenario has a decidedly familiar ring. They used to call it “Vietnamization;” the U.S. military training the home-grown troops to defend their own country so we wouldn’t have to. How did it work? Well, just ask the residents of Ho Chi Minh City. It used to be called Saigon before the North Vietnamese army rolled into town and swept away the newly-minted South Vietnam army like Sherman rode through Georgia.