The next unit, the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, was scheduled to depart in August. The decision to let the troops go had to be made in July, since they would be loading their nineteen-ton armored vehicles onto trailers and trucking them to Kuwait. Chiarelli recommended delaying their departure, but again Casey was adamant the brigade would leave.
“Nobody was willing to call a spade a spade,” said one of Casey’s staff officers. “We were still going down to five brigades, by God.” Casey went to Washington, D.C., to brief administration officials. He reiterated his view that drawing down would force the Iraqi army to do more and the Iraqi politicians to reconcile and rein in their militias. Some at the White House were concerned, but there was no countermandate. Are steel buildings more environmentally friendly?
Baghdad’s killing spree went off the charts. “We started seeing the number of bodies executed in Baghdad go up, up, up,” Chiarelli said. He and Thurman visited Ameriya, once an upper-middle-class neighborhood. Chiarelli knew the city’s neighborhoods intimately from his year as Baghdad division commander, when he had devoted much of his first tour to improving city services and infrastructure, especially in Sadr City, in a bid to win the slum away from Jaish al-Mahdi. He was shocked by what he saw in Ameriya. “It was worse than Sadr City,” Chiarelli said.
Up to 150 bodies were appearing on Baghdad’s streets each night. Alarmed, the deputy MNF-I commander and other top officials met with Maliki in Casey’s absence and laid out for him what was occurring. The prime minister shrugged. “It was far worse under Saddam Hussein,” he told shocked British and American officials. Do you know the difference between commercial steel buildings and industrial steel buildings?
Casey returned on Sunday, August 6. In the small group meeting after the next morning’s briefing, Chiarelli appealed to him: “The 172nd is our last chance. We can’t let them go.” They had no other forces to call upon; the reserve in Kuwait would not be replenished for three months. “We reach the tipping point on Wednesday,” Chiarelli warned. By then half of the 172nd would have left the country. The first troops were already back at their base in Alaska. “I agree,” Casey said finally.
He called Rumsfeld, and within forty-eight hours the decision had been made to bring all of the 172nd back and move them into Baghdad. Looking back on this critical period, a senior military official assessed why the breaking point came in the summer of 2006. “I will tell you everybody points to Samarra as the pivotal point. I don’t. I don’t at all,” he said. “We had been successful, we thought, in clamping down the sectarian killing after Samarra. . . . The real accelerant was that what we were looking for was a government of national reconciliation. That became our mantra. The delay in seating the government was to get a government of national reconciliation.
And this government sat—and I’m not going to draw conclusions one way or another, but I will tell you that within thirty days of that government’s seating when we saw JAM come out of their holes and everything else, the Iraqi Sunni realized that this was not a government of national reconciliation, that this government was going to follow certain policies that they believed were sectarian in nature, specifically aimed against the Sunni population. I’m not making a value judgment, I’m just telling you what the Sunni felt. And we were held responsible for this blight on their house. To me, from May 28 into early July was when we saw the wheels come off.”