Appointment in Samarra: Death waits for whom?

I have been spending the Thanksgiving holiday with family. My mother is an addict of the cable news majordomos, so I have had Larry King, Geraldo Rivera and others inflicted on me. I watched Geraldo’s response to the firefight in Samarra, Iraq. He’s scary.

Recently I called for a shakeup in the military administration in Iraq. Readers might have thought I was being unfair, even precipitous. I don’t think so. After the Samarra shootout I am more convinced than ever that we are on a slippery slops to chaos.

Months ago, we were told "Saddam leftovers" were the opposition. Then it was "regime remnants." But these were always small, secretive groups that used stealth weapons. I won’t get into the implications of "Mission Accomplished" or President Bush’s visit to Baghdad Airport.

In the Samarra shootout we now see company-sized enemy units confronting U.S. troops. (Note: an infantry company is approximately 125 soldiers) There are two reasons for my concern.

First, the rhetoric out of Baghdad does not reflect reality. After almost every day we go without an explosion, some general announces the enemy has been vanquished, stating "attacks are falling." Then the enemy responds with a new attack and the delusion begins all over again. Either U.S. forces are under pressure to present "happy talk" as military analysis, or the military representatives are knowingly peddling nonsense.

In Viet-Nam we called daily military briefings the "Five O’clock Follies."

The Iraqi opposition has grown from stealth operations into company-sized attacks. The coordinated Samarra attacks may have failed, but they reflect even more sophisticated planning than anything confronted before. I hate to invoke a Viet-Nam analogy, but it took the Viet Cong a long time to go from small unit VC operations to company-sized attacks. And, like the Viet Cong, the issue is not whether everyone supports the opposition. Sufficient locals support the Iraqi rebels such that they are able to organize and attack. That is distressing.

U.S. forces were lucky on Sunday. By accident, the attack on a U.S. convoy came on a heavily armored one. Troops could shoot back. But the fact that opponents could organize a company-sized attack is scary. It means that after months of attacks and operations, we are further, not closer, to eradicating the influence of Saddam. In some way, we are energizing the opposition. Policy is going wrong if it is being implemented in a counterproductive manner.

I have been a critic of U.S. tactics, and I have called for command changes, but even I am surprised at the ability of the opposition to mount company-sized attacks. Ironically, based on my comments that follow, I advocate a shakeup of the military leadership.

Second, we are in the early stages of a massive shift of experienced military personnel out of Iraq, and replacement by inexperienced soldiers. There has never been anything like this in warfare. Experienced soldiers who have developed a massive knowledge/experience base are being rotated out, in large units, and new, inexperienced soldiers are taking their place.

I have already seen the disastrous effect of rotating troops out of Baghdad. When the First Armored Division came in, security began to falter. A mechanical unit replaced a foot soldier operation. Concrete barriers replaced "street smarts."

I know commanders are saying there will be a "smooth transition" when troops are rotated next year. But when has there ever been a smooth transition when "human" knowledge is transferred, and when thousands of veterans are replaced by thousands of inexperienced troops? Never. The redeployment of U.S. forces in the first quarter of 2004 is a potential disaster-in-waiting.

The cheerleader mentality of reporters such as Geraldo Rivera is leading Americans to the dangerous delusion we are winning in Iraq. We are slipping; slowly perhaps, but perceptibly, security conditions are deteriorating, not improving.

No one is listening.

In the first quarter of 2004, someone has an appointment in Samarra.