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The Shield

Associated Press writer Patrick Quinn has filed this report today: 40,000 Iraqis to Form Shield in Baghdad

Among the usual daily litany of bombings, murders and every imaginable kind of violence under the sun, there is this astonishing passage:

In Baghdad, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari told a small group of Western reporters that next week's planned crackdown, dubbed Operation Lightning, was designed "to restore the initiative to the government." Insurgents have killed more than 620 people since his government was announced on April 28.

"We will establish, with God's help, an impenetrable blockade surrounding Baghdad like a bracelet surrounds a wrist," Defense Minister Saadoun al-Duleimi said.

Iraqi authorities did not say how long the crackdown would last, and it was uncertain if the Iraq security services are capable of mounting a sustained operation. Except for a few elite units, most police officers are believed to have joined up for the higher pay the job provides at $300 per month their salaries are triple the average wage.

Iraq currently has 89,400 security personnel attached to the Ministry of Interior, according to the U.S. military. This includes police, highway patrol and some commando units, although the figure may include some who have deserted. Another 75,800 forces are in the country's military, most of them in the army.

Now I may not be a strategic mastermind, but I've been a soldier once and I've played many a game of Civilization over the years...

So... Doesn't this mean that Baghdad is going to be surrounded?

The only reason why anybody would take a substantial part of their forces and group them in a ring around the capital is because the rest of the country has become hopelessly ungovernable.

Even if we take the most optimistic numbers for the government forces, 40,000 men would be more than half of their active combat troops.

These forces have to be top-notch to be able to withstand in a thin ring and will have to come from somewhere else, further weakening the grip on the rest of Iraq.

If the US-backed government intends to keep such a ring operative over a longer period of time - and why would you do something like this temporarily - they will lose control over large parts of the rest of the country. Out in the countryside the insurgents will have the freedom to prepare large assaults against these troops who are essentially pinned down in their positions, unable to move since a retreat would puncture the ring and allow the insurgents directly back into the city.

This is the Iraqi government declaring strategic bankruptcy.

I'm wondering if this has been coordinated with the US generals or if this announcement came as a surprise for them, too.

And while we are talking about announcements... since when are strategic plans like this announced five days in advance? The insurgency is going to be eternally grateful for this early warning, giving them a chance to shift their forces, mine all the possible troop positions and take a few days worth of R&R before they will attack the defensive ring next week.

I can't imagine any outcome for this scenario that will not end in a desaster of some kind for the US and Iraqi government forces.

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