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September 15, 2004

IRAQ UPDATE: Yeah, I haven't paid enough attention, partly because I've been waiting for Austin Bay -- who's just back from there -- to fill in the gaps. He does today with this cautionary column:

Money is ammo in Iraq, and right now our troops on the ground are short-changed.

Pay attention, Bush administration and Congress: The specific program with the most effective bang-for-bucks is CERP, Commander's Emergency Response Program funds. The military needs a plus-up in CERP funds in Iraq and needs it now. . . .

Secretary of State Colin Powell and Ambassador John Negroponte asked for more CERP funds earlier this summer, but now it's September. On Monday, the administration "re-programmed" $3.46 billion dollars out of $18 billion budgeted for Iraqi reconstruction. Some of that must increase CERP funds. Here's a guess: $200 million channeled through CERP will have positive effects by December. The big infrastructure projects bankrolled by the $18 billion are necessary, but their payoff is three to five years away.

CERP fills that gap, and even small amounts can buy goodwill. In mid-July, I went on a foot patrol in Baghdad with another 1st Cavalry Division unit. One of the officers told me the Cav had experimented with a "designated spender" on foot patrols. A soldier would spend 10 bucks while on patrol, buying food in a souk or a toy from a store. The food would then be donated to a food bank and the toys given to kids. Unfortunately, the troops spent their own money. To use appropriated funds, another officer later told me, was practically impossible, "unless the funds are CERP. With CERP, a soldier signs a receipt (for the money), then the patrol generates a little local economic activity."

Government funding mechanisms intended to ensure accountability are necessary -- peacetime gripes about $600 aircraft toilet seats are legitimate. In this intricate war, however, our brigade and battalion commanders must have the economic ammo to reinforce security operations.

Here's something on CERP money at work in Afghanistan, from InstaPundit's Afghan photo-correspondent. And you can find earlier InstaPundit coverage of CERP issues in Iraq here.

Military planners in Washington would be very well advised to listen to what Austin Bay is saying.

Meanwhile, Arnold Kling sides with those who think we're not confrontational enough: "Until we break the radicals, outspoken moderates will be a small, ineffectual minority."

UPDATE: Elsewhere on Strategypage, we get this:

September 15, 2004: The U.S. is going to shift several billion dollars in reconstruction money to building up security forces in the Sunni Arab areas of central Iraq. While reconstruction efforts move ahead in the Kurdish north and the Shia Arab south, the continued violence by Baath Party supporters and al Qaeda supporters in central Iraq has delayed many reconstruction projects in Sunni Arab communities. The Sunni Arabs, who were favored during the long reign of Saddam Hussein (a Sunni Arab himself), are angry at losing power, and even more dismayed as they note the growing prosperity, and peace, among the Kurds and Shia they long ruled. Although a minority in the country (about 20 percent of the population), the Sunni Arab tribes control most of central and western Iraq. The way the media covers the Sunni Arab violence, you get the impression that the entire country is in flames. But in most of Iraq, American civil affairs teams, and civilian aid workers report no violence or unrest at all. That, however is not news. Sunni Arab terrorists are news, and it's mostly Sunni Arabs who are being called on to fight the violence. Despite the attacks on local police (who are recruited locally) and civilians who support the government, resistance to "the resistance" is everywhere. Most Iraqis don't want the 20th century tyranny of Saddam, or the 14th century lifestyle of al Qaeda.

It seems to me that the Kaus theory of "rolling elections" is looking better. We should quarantine the violent parts and cut them off.

UPDATE: Tony Blankley agrees with Arnold Kling, suggesting that aggressive action is being put off until the election, though he admits he doesn't have any actual evidence. "As a supporter of the president, and his Iraq policy, I nonetheless find it hard not to suspect that an aggressive military policy to put down particularly the Sunni insurgency is on hold until after the American election on Nov. 2. Of course, I can't prove that, and no one in the administration has said such a thing to my knowledge."

I don't know if he's right or not -- and neither does he, which he admits with a very un-Rather-like candor. I will offer this possible alternative explanation in the same spirit.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here are some Iraqi thoughts, from Omar, who offers comments on Talla’far and Fallujah. I think it's safe to put him in the "get tougher" camp, too.