General Odierno, meet your first test.

Iraqi security forces are unable to maintain order following operations targeting al-Qaida fighters in the northern city of Mosul, officials said Thursday.

U.S. and Iraqi authorities view Mosul, the provincial capital of Ninawa, as one of the last remaining al-Qaida strongholds in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered a military crackdown in the northern city in May.

The gains from these operations, however, have disintegrated as militant groups re-entered the city and gunmen reportedly are roaming the streets in force, the Iraqi daily Azzaman reported.

Mosul is a place I have an irrational attachment to. But when I was there last March, Col. Steph Twitty, commander of the U.S. brigade that patrolled the city, told me that he wouldn’t need any additional forces, since Ninewa hosted two of the best divisions in the entire Iraqi Army. Twitty said that before insurgent and Al Qaeda in Iraq forces moved northward to escape the pressures in Baghdad and then Diyala. Mosul became AQI’s redoubt, but Col. Twitty never received much more in the way of U.S. troops — in part because there weren’t any more to give him.

Twitty’s brigade — the 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division — came home a few months ago. A reporter friend of mine who followed suit last month told me about visiting the current brigade (I forget which one) in Mosul and hearing what I heard 16 months ago: Those IA divisions are shouldering the burden, and we’re here to help, but they can do it, and isn’t that what you want because we all want to come home, right

Welcome back to 2006. Mosul is the future. Perhaps (and one hopes) not in terms of outcomes: we can’t know that. But in terms of resourcing, tactics and strategy, that ruined city of nearly 2 million people is the clearest oracle we have. Even during the surge there were only so many forces to go around, and Baghdad was the priority for understandable-enough reasons. Now the surge is over and we have a commander who, when he says anything at all, says he’s going to stay a successful course. But he doesn’t have the resources to do the same things his predecessor did. So what’s left? What’s left is either to change the strategy or to pray/hope/lie about the capabilities of the Iraqi Army.

Lying is only the second option. The first option is a studious ignorance. That’s what you’ll get from John McCain. It’s what you’ll get from the Brookses and the Kagans and the Kristols who say the liberals aren’t the reality-based ones when they don’t know fuck-all about Iraq but do know they have reputations to protect on the backs of other people’s corpses. So look: we could maybe bolster U.S. forces in Mosul and keep the Surgery going elsewhere. It would require pulling out of Afghanistan and Korea, and even then, owing to the strain of combat deployments, still not prove to be sustainable beyond (back of the envelope here) two-three years. Would you like to make that case, gentlemen? I know, it’s much easier to presume infinite resource-elasticity, but Homie Don’t Play That.

That UPI story? It was via Juan Cole.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman