Vetting of desperation?
I was definitely surprised to wake up Thursday, to discover a deal for transfer of force in Fallujah had been proposed and accepted while I slept. At first I thought--great! That's probably the best of a bad lot of options on what to do in Fallujah. We couldn't go house to house, and we couldn't just pack up and leave.
But then some things started to bother me. Lest I be accused of seeking to find the worst in any good situation, I'll repeat: on principle, I think this is a good plan. But there's always a right way and a wrong way to do something, and both from reportage and on my own initial reactions, I'm worried we're (again) taking the quick deal under pressure.
The two main issues I have are these: who is this guy Saleh, what do we know about him and why can we trust him?; and does this action serve our stated goals in Fallujah? The answers to the second --if the goals are rooting out insurgents and finding the perpetrators of the mutilations last month--would be 'possibly' and 'likely not," respectively. The answer to the first comes from NYT, which has done a very good job keeping after this story as it develops. When after a full day no spokesman was able to pass along the general's first name or his resume', I got a little concerned. We have a full name now (see below), but apparently his background remains hazy:
Although some officials in the Pentagon told reporters on Friday that Maj. Gen. Jasim Muhammad Saleh had not been a member of the Republican Guard, intelligence and other Marine officers here reconfirmed their own Friday comments that General Saleh had been a ranking officer in the Republican Guard, one of the special units close to Saddam Hussein, before being named to command the Iraqi Army's 38th Infantry Division.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief military spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, said the authority and the new Iraqi Ministry of Defense would have to investigate General Saleh's background, including whether he had been in the Republican Guard.
"would have to?" Isn't that something we might have looked up BEFORE agreeing to put him in charge of the new brigade? Yesterday I read that this plan was brought to the Marines by a group of Saddam's ex-generals. Why did they pick him? Apparently he's not all that senior, and it's like he came out of Junior College or something--nobody's got the scout sheet.
And then there's the size of the troop force. 900 to 1,000 men will take over for 2,000+ Marines. First of all, cutting your force in half doesn't sound like a good thing, and cutting it in half and staffing it with people who have at best 1/10th of the training of the Marines, is even less good. But I wasn't prepared for this update:
As of Saturday, he said, the force numbered around 300 with hopes of moving up to around 1,000 soon.
The plan to deploy the Iraqi force came, he said, just as it appeared "there were no options that would preclude attacks on the city."
Three hundred hastily organized soldiers are going to replace 2,000 highly trained and motivated Marines? Eeesh. A plan out of nowhere, thought up by Saddam's generals, led by Saddam's generals, incorporating Saddam's men, plus maybe even some insurgents from the very battle we've been fighting...I'm not putting my retirement money on their success, let's just say.