Thursday, December 20, 2007

Twisting The Myth

Relatively recently, two big propaganda guns on the terrorist side of things have been making some noise: Al-Qaida's Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Harith al-Dhari of the Association of Muslim Scholars (see Iraq The Model for more on the latter). What's interesting is not that they're lying about the current circumstances - that's to be expected from insurgencies the world over. But they're really beginning to throw caution to the wind when it comes to the level of deception they're using.

First, from an al-Jazeera interview with al-Dhari (worth reading):

"Yes, we can say the security situation has slightly improved. The reason for that lies in the fact that George Bush needs to present some sort of success to his people, and it is the same with the current Iraqi government. Both have realised that the tense situation in Iraq would do them no good. Hence, the Iraqi government ordered its death squads to halt their attacks on people. That's all."

Al-Dhari actually finds a way to blame the Americans and the IG for the actions of rogue insurgents who have penetrated the Iraqi Police. The American effort doesn't have any interest in high levels of violence, and it defies logic to suggest that it was intentionally keeping Iraq violent. Al-Dhari also blames the Americans for the marginalization of Sunnis by intentionally minimizing their representation within the IG, but he knows that to make that argument, the predominately Sunni Awakening movement has to be derided. So he jumps right on that one, too:

"The al-Sahwa phenomenon has been presented to the people as "tribal forces fighting al-Qaeda". But as they are US-funded, the tribesmen have been instructed to fight the Iraqi resistance as well. That is why resistance attacks against US forces have eased a bit."

You may be starting to see a pattern here: according to the insurgent narrative, Americans are incapable of doing anything right. We're marginalizing Sunnis, yet we've embraced their most powerful political movement in Iraqi history by co-opting the Awakening. We're the cause of the violence because we're running death squads, yet at the same time we're forcing the Awakening to crack down on "resistance" fighters, who are famed for their death-squad activities. Take that, M. Night Shyamalan.

It's hard to imagine a more heavily twisted story. That is, until Ayman al-Zawahiri decided to join the chorus:

"The American forces are defeated and looking for a way out. Their government is faced with an incredible popular demand to withdraw," he said, adding that the U.S. forces would abandon Iraqi troops "to their fate."

He may be talking about the British withdrawal from Basra, yet I would think that he knows the difference between the two. In all likelihood, he's priming the pump for when the American post-surge troop reductions begin. We knew this was going to happen. We also know that he's lying, but backing it with a scrap of truth.

If I remember correctly, the phrase "the Americans are defeated" has basically never been accurate any time it was uttered in Iraq. Saddam's Defense Minister comes directly to mind. But all that is beside the point: this is, for whatever reason, a set of stories that these two moguls think they can get away with, and in all probability, some poor folks in Iraq will be fooled by this nonsense because information doesn't travel as quickly or as frequently in Iraq. That's fine.

It's fine, because it doesn't change our approach to the situation. This house of cards that the insurgents' supporters and superiors have constructed will collapse in the presence of continued progress, and the Generals in charge know it. We can expect that as the insurgents continue to lose the kinetic battles and lose popular support, their claims will get more outrageous and devious until they cause about as much trouble as 9/11 Truthers in the States. Since they aren't regarded as authority, they aren't going to be asked to substantiate those claims. Yet at the same time, continued progress means being able to constantly refute those claims to keep the Iraqi people well-informed.

But all that is still a little ways out. For now, let them have their campfire stories; the sunrise isn't far off.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Author's Note

My apologies for not having a new entry lately. It's finals week and I've been a touch busy, and just haven't had time for a well-written post. I should have something worthwhile before the week is over, though, so please stay tuned.

Some news about the blog: in January, I will be going overseas to study in England (Canterbury specifically) for about three months, so I will in all likelihood put blogging on hold for a week or two while I get situated then.

Also, my header is broken and maybe I'll fix that too.

Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Al-Sadr, Basra, And The Ugly Part

The word going around lately is that Al-Sadr is using his down-time to restructure JAM (duh), and that he's going to try to build it in the image of the Lebanese Hezbollah organization:

"Many analysts say what may re-emerge is an Iraqi version of Lebanon's Hezbollah — a state within a state that embraces politics while maintaining a separate military and social structure that holds powerful sway at home and in the region."

I'd say that the Sadrist bloc is already there, whether we'd like to admit it or not. Should they actually start being called an Iraqi Hezbollah, there will be no substantive change; Sadrists are already a powerful political bloc both inside Iraqi parliament and in the population, to say nothing of the militia force. The transformation will be only a symbolic one, from "Iraqi Warlord" to "Terrorist Organization."

We know that al-Sadr is an opportunist; he can be expected to operate according to his own interest, which is harvesting power by any means necessary. Al-Sadr is not an Iraqi nationalist any more than Adam Gadahn is an American patriot, and the restructuring of JAM for loyalty purposes is not for the benefit of the Iraqi people. From Sami Moubayed:

"That is what Muqtada wants the world to believe, and it is very true - but for different reasons. Muqtada is conducting a facelift to make himself look nicer in Iraq. He is doing it to restructure, organize and empower himself to take over Basra."

With the British withdrawal and further retreat expected, the ISF will be expected to handle Basra on an independent basis, and if al-Sadr is planning to own the province, there's going to be a fight. This is not the worst thing that can happen - unless you happen to live there.

An ISF versus JAM showdown in Basra could give al-Maliki a chance to stand up as an agent of the Iraqi Government instead of a sectarian agent, it could give the ISF a chance to prove their worthiness in combat to the Iraqi people, and it could give JAM a much-needed thrashing. But all of that assumes good motives on al-Maliki's part, and it also assumes an ISF win in Basra - both are possible, but neither is a given.

A portion of al-Sadr's politic is laid bare if it's true that he's going to try to take Basra - that is, we know he's not even interested in Shi'a unity. Al-Sadr is after his own state, both ideologically and geographically, and unity is not especially important to him unless it is unity under his own banner. His courtship with al-Maliki is likely only because it's one more attempt at wresting juice from every lemon available, and is possibly a gambit to increase the odds that the IG does nothing if and when al-Sadr does try to take Basra - one that doesn't seem likely to work.

From Aswat Aliraq, there's word that the IG is ready for the handover and that security forces have the support of tribal groups and some political factions within Basra. That's not going to contain al-Sadr if he decides to move, but it does increase the motivation of the IG to not tacitly accept a Sadrist takeover.

Only time will tell if al-Sadr decides to become an active warlord again. But in the downtime, given the possible threat, it becomes that much more critical that the IG work towards gaining credibility and legitimacy as quickly as possible. The Christian Science Monitor (though a tick late) is right about 2008:

"The troop surge is the story of 2007. What the US needs in 2008 is a surge of political, military, diplomatic, and humanitarian activity across the board, in order to achieve a reduced but still attainable objective in Iraq – stability. Without stability, more ambitious goals cannot be achieved. With it, US forces can begin to withdraw."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Anbar Still Awakening

Before getting started, I just want to take a moment to say "I told you so" (kinda):

"But that critique has gone about as far as it can go. A significant majority of voters today agree with Democrats that the decision to invade Iraq was wrong, and that the conduct of the occupation and attempts to rebuild the country have been failures. A large percentage of Americans believe the Bush administration misled the country on Iraq in the first place. Those opinions are solidly held and highly unlikely to change."

"This presents a unique opportunity for Democrats. Having used the Iraq War to win over millions of Americans who were previously disposed to support the other side, they can now build on that momentum by turning to other issues to seal the deal with voters who remain on the fence."

To be clear, I'm not agreeing with Joe Biden's ex-counselor on his first cluster of points about voters - I don't know what the majority of the nation thinks about all that. But what I did call in the air last week was the fact that harping on the war wasn't going to make any more friends, and that the Democrats would have to find something else. Still, to be totally honest, I'll be surprised if they end up following Johnathan Meyer's lead in a significant way in changing the subject, so I'll cut this little victory dance off at "ha!"

There's some very good news from Iraq today, if Maj. Gen. Gaskin is correct:

"Positive trends in Iraq’s Anbar province are permanent, the commander of coalition forces in western Iraq said today."

I suppose one way to drop "cautious" is to replace it with "permanent," and so much the better if it turns out to be true. There's really no doubt that Iraqis have turned on terrorists like AQI, and unless the jihadis start fixing water mains, taking out the trash and getting to work generating jobs, that's not going to reverse itself - if Gaskin is correct, then the Iraqis have won al-Anbar province, and that would be cause for celebration. But let's be clear as to what the situation is.

AQI may be a serious enemy, but they're not the insurgency's whole story. Michael Totten's latest dispatch highlights another driver of insurgent activity:

“Who were these guys in 2004, exactly?” I said. Most of the Sunni Triangle has been largely pacified lately, but it was a genuine rogues gallery not long ago, bristling with terrorists and guerrilla armies that flew many flags. “Were they Al Qaeda, the 1920s Revolution Brigade, Baathists?” I said.

“I think a lot of them, honestly, were looking for work,” he said.

This particular insurgency driver may defy Western sense, but there it is: Iraqis need jobs, or they might kill people to get paid (actually, that does sound like some parts of America). The focus in Anbar province needs to shift towards gainfully and usefully employing Iraqis to keep their families fed and their hands off the detonators, and right now the fastest way to do that is with American effort - have Iraqis work to better their communities in jobs commissioned and paid for by the American military. Yes, the Iraqi government should be commissioning these projects and hiring people to get them done. yes, the IG should pay them, instead of us. Yes, they should do things tolerably rather than having us do them well - but here's where T.E. Lawrence's genius lies: the key word is "tolerably".

As it stands, the IG is intolerably slow and intolerably corrupt, and until they get their act together, they will continue to lose out on legitimacy-building opportunities like local reconstruction projects and job generation - which is really a shame, because it's probably the best way there is to ease the Sunni-Shi'a tensions that exist between the IG and the Awakening movement. That doesn't mean the IG won't improve, and it doesn't mean Anbar can't advance, but it does mean that American forces have to stay for a while and get/keep those projects rolling in the absence of any guidance from IG, lest Anbar end up backsliding due to the spread of Devil's Workshop Syndrome.

I'm siding with Secretary Gates over Maj. Gen. Gaskin on this one; the Marines have to stay, because the progress is still reversible if it's left to idle hands and bad leadership.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Geography And Strategy

With increases in pressure being placed on the insurgency that's been migrating out of Baghdad, we're going to start seeing a slow migration of ISF out of Baghdad and into northern provinces like Diyala, Salah ad Din, and Nineveh. And while that is planned for the future, US diplomats are engaging Iran in more talks on Iraqi stability and security. While it may be somewhat difficult to see the strategic ramifications of this, fortunately someone knows enough to draw a map of the place.

Traveling through al-Anbar with any degree of speed means traveling on a highway that runs through both Ramadi and Fallujah, neither of which are good bets for an insurgent at this point (ask Michael Totten). The other major highway that would work runs from Mosul in Nineveh province to Baghdad through Salah ad-Din, which explains in part why the province has had a fairly steady casualty count over the past 6 months; insurgents are coming in fresh from Mosul, and falling back from Baghdad at the same time. This explains the strategic importance of heavier ISF presence in Mosul - control the city and earn the support of the population, and you control a major point of ingress for foreign fighters.

Diyala province is a different story, but no less important. The influx of Iranian weapons is fairly widely accepted at this point, and the fastest way to Baghdad from Iran is through Diyala. Now, add this to what we know about Diyala (ABC article):

"Al-Qaida began moving into Diyala in 2006 after losing its sanctuaries in Anbar Province and declared Baqouba as the capital of the Islamic State of Iraq."

AQI ran to many places when they lost Anbar, but Baqoubah was a big one, which explains why they're gathering there now: easier access to Iranian weapons, a former Islamic State capitol to defend (read: "lose yet again"), the increasingly hopeless odds for a successful insurgency in Baghdad, and the fastest possible way out of the country should they be pushed back further to Muqdadiyah, a town that quite recently saw this theory made real in the form of a pair of suicide bombers.

So where is the strategy going to go?

The Iraqis are planning a crackdown in Diyala province to stomp out the fleeing insurgency, and US officials are going to be engaging Iran in talks about Iraq's stability and security, a measure obviously directed towards Diyala province and other border provinces. Planned for Mosul is the possible influx of 1,400 Iraqi troops to enhance security presence and make it harder for insurgents to move.

Pushing insurgents into smaller and smaller cities both limits their movement and decreases their popular support. One of the reasons why the Anbar Awakening was so successful is that in small towns where the Awakening took hold, most people knew each other, and knew who the outsiders were. As insurgents are pushed into smaller towns by increased operational tempo on part of the Americans and the ISF, they'll find less and less shelter amongst the population until they're forced to live outside of it, or leave the country completely.

When Robert Gates, General Petraeus, and Lieutenant General Odierno say that there's more security work to be done, this is exactly the work that they're talking about.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mosul's Insurgency In Perspective

Fighting a counterinsurgency - whether successful or not - appears to be a lot like punching a blob of pudding. Some of it splatters off the map, other pockets pool up in between your knuckles, and still others just ooze off to the side, where you have to chase them around with a napkin.

The NYT can probably explain the situation in Mosul more elegantly:

"Sunni insurgents pushed out of Baghdad and Anbar Provinces have migrated to this northern Iraqi city and have been trying to turn it into a major hub for their operations, according to American commanders."

The article goes on to explain that the levels of violence in Mosul have been static over the past few months, despite this migration and despite the predominately downward trend elsewhere. Needing more men for the same job sounds like struggling to me. I think a key consideration here is how the article says that insurgents behave toward the population:

"The relatively small concentration of American forces in Nineveh has attracted insurgents, who have long sought to exploit ethnic tensions in the region by portraying themselves as the defenders of Sunni interests against Kurdish expansionism."

Iraqis are increasingly seeing right through attempts like these; they got AQI ejected from al-Anbar in a big way, and JAM is also facing repercussions for their actions now in Karbala. If the influx of insurgents ends up meaning that insurgents start creating more civilian casualties (and it will), the public is going to turn against them, no matter who they say they are - actions will always trump words, where the passive majority is concerned. Hopefully, things in Mosul won't have to get to that point, and the influx of more Iraqi soldiers will help crack the insurgency egg there.

Mosul can also be instructive if Gen. Petraeus' recent opinion is considered. According to this Fox News report:

"Citing a 60 percent decline in violence in Iraq over the last six months, Gen. David Petraeus said Thursday that maintaining security is easier than establishing it and gives him more flexibility in deploying forces."

Fallujah is perhaps the most blatant example of this, but Mosul will have a different population that reacts differently to both American and Iraqi soldiers, and it would be hard to imagine that Mosul (or anyone) could be more sympathetic to the insurgency than Fallujah was. What's hopeful about the situation in Mosul is that American forces haven't been requested, but Iraqi forces have:

"That has prompted American and Iraqi commanders to propose the return of two Iraqi battalions that were sent from western Mosul earlier this year to bolster Iraqi forces in Baghdad. Such a move would increase the Iraqi troop strength here by 1,400 troops or more, according to estimates by American officers, and enable the Iraqis to establish more outposts in some of the more violent areas of the city."

Once again, it's better to have them do it tolerably than have us do it well, and the request indicates that the Americans in charge of security have some confidence that the Iraqi forces can handle the situation as well as is necessary. Mosul is a big city, and big cities are hard fights, but an Iraqi win there may be instrumental in building legitimacy.

This war is referred to as a "patchwork war" for a reason. The situation looks different from province to province, as illustrated by Nineveh and Anbar; from city to city, as shown by Mosul and Baghdad; and from neighborhood to neighborhood as well, as any news report from Baghdad can explain. Similarly, the same solution cannot be applied everywhere to get the same result. Fortunately, the commanders involved are all very intelligent men; where a formula cannot be applied, a little brainpower can go a long way.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Will Stalemate

This may be somewhat belated, but the Pew Research Center has published a public opinion poll with some interesting numbers for Iraq that can be turned into something useful. The gist of it:

"However, a rosier view of the military situation in Iraq has not translated into increased support for maintaining U.S. forces in Iraq, greater optimism that the United States will achieve its goals there, or an improvement in President Bush's approval ratings. "

Despite the fluctuations in the perception of the conduct, the desire for withdrawal has been largely static, shifting only about two or three points at the most, and even then, not in a consistent or statistically significant manner. While the majority favors withdrawal, this isn't as important as the fact that the numbers haven't really moved all year.

This is what we're interested in because this is indicative of political will. As it stands, the political will to see this war out (or not) has remained stable all year. It has remained stable despite every variable that might reasonably be expected to influence it (and there are dozens), including the actual conduct of the war. This says something very important about American political will.

First and foremost, the political dust cleared long ago, and few people find themselves in a state of conflict over the war; they know where they stand, wherever that happens to be. We won't see many ship-jumpers on either side unless there is a very significant turn one way or another in the conduct of the war. To put that in perspective, nothing in the past year has changed the numbers on political will in a statistically relevant way (more than the+/- 3% margin of error), and a lot has happened this past year. So any shift, negative or positive, would have to be fairly massive to yield any relevant result; everyone is set in their ways, at this point. It wouldn't have to be instantaneous, but it would have to obvious.

That in turn means that from the ground, we're going to need more than the cautious optimism that's been getting so much airtime if we want to win political support. Cautious optimism might be the right way to go for right now, and I'm certain that it is, but to gain will, we need to be able to start dropping "cautious" from that statement. Fortunately there's no rush.

For all of the anti-war crowd's hooting, their efforts are also meeting with exactly zero significant change. The public at large is immune to "cautious" events, but they're also immune to the bilious narrative of the anti-war arguments, which again indicates that most people have made up their minds on the matter, and brings us to the second point we can extract from this data: the public at large doesn't care about political chatter. If that doesn't put the impotent nature of bloviating in the halls of Congress into perspective, there's little that can. Harry Reid can use the word "intractable" as much as he wants, and it will not affect the political will of the nation.

If one can draw two fundamental attributions from this, it is that A) Americans have little use for finesse - a carefully qualified statement saying "we might be winning" is no statement at all; and B) they do not buy as much of the hype as either side would like to imagine - Bush isn't brainwashing anyone new, and the anti-war groups are still teeming with the same groups of college freshmen. And the only thing likely to change that is something that everyone can plainly see.

For the left, it means it's time to drop the stagnant arguments about the nature of the war, the nature of the president, and the efficacy of the surge and come up with something new. For the right, it means doing exactly as they are: pushing for political progress and even more security gains, because that can create the obvious evidence that Americans will respond to.

The Nation's Broken Record

For the American Left - the side of the debate claiming to be progressive - their points about Iraq are beginning to stagnate pretty severely. But fair enough; for those of us engaged in winning a future for Iraqis, the burden of proof is on us to show that we are, in fact, making a difference and bringing about change.

We must be doing a fairly decent job, because at The Nation today, an editorial regurgitates the same points the left has been attempting to make for... Well, forever, really. Perhaps the most cretinous claim made is this:

"A poll released in September showed 70 percent of Iraqis saying the surge has 'hampered conditions for political dialogue, reconstruction and economic development,' and no political advances have followed the ebb in violence since then."

No political advances? That's odd, because I've documented at least two of them here, neither of them any small matter: the handover of Karbala province, and yesterday the end of the year-long Sunni boycott of the At-Tamim provincial council. And that of course is if you completely and utterly fail to include the fact of al-Sadr's JAM stand-down as political progress - it was one thing for him to call it, but very much another for him to enforce it, which we know he has been doing.

Let's also remember here that it is at best unwise and at worse intentionally misleading to assume that political progress ought to be more widespread by now; Iraq is a nation at war. If you think Democrats and Republicans can't get anything done and are partisan, try putting militias behind them. Expecting the Iraqi political system to move faster than our own is egregiously unrealistic.

The editorial continues:

"The number of attacks has declined only to early 2006 levels, one of the deadliest years of the war."

The phrase "one of the deadliest" has been bandied about so much that it has lost all meaning, as is the case here. If we look at the figures from by year, we can figure out precisely where 2006 falls in terms of every other "one of the deadliest" years. In terms of US personnel, 2007 has seen 883 killed so far, 2004 saw 849 killed, and 2005 saw 846 killed.

Where exactly does 2006 fall on the "deadliest" ranking? It comes in fourth of the five years, at 822. The only year that 2006 beat out in terms of casualties was 2003, at 486 killed. "One of the deadliest" indeed.

Next comes the fairly common claim that ethnic cleansing via relocation of sects is responsible for the reduction in violence - an old idea that comes with a caveat that reflects the writer's lack of confidence in their own talking point:

"In this sense the worst of the civil war may be over--and it took place on America's watch. Another possible explanation [emphasis mine] of the lull is that the Iraqi population has been decimated, with hundreds of thousands of war deaths and massive refugee flight, 26,000 detained by US forces and thousands more languishing in Iraqi prisons."
If the worst of the Iraqi civil war is forced relocation, then they have a unique and quite palatable method of waging war, relatively speaking.

Long story short, this entire editorial by The Nation does everything possible to identify every other variable in play, and then proceeds to assign all of the improvements to them, denying the new strategy any part whatsoever in the security turnaround.

The truth of the situation on the ground is, as I've said before, that the improvements in security are due to a fairly large combination of many factors, of which the new strategy is one. Leftist obfuscation will not change that fact, and it is something we have to work with and learn from.

Let's be clear. I am in no way dedicated to impartiality - I want a win for the Iraqi people, I want them to have a future, and I will not accept the notion that we should turn our backs on a people who we must help, not "should" help. However, I am dedicated to objectivity in pursuit of that victory. A win depends on calling a spade a spade, accepting the truths as they are, working with them, and learning from them.

The Nation, at this point, can make no such claim.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Kirkuk Turns A Corner

With all the talk about the NIE pertaining to Iran yesterday and today, this story from the AP has been short-changed in a big way:

"Sunni Arabs ended a yearlong political boycott Tuesday in Kirkuk - the hub of Iraq's northern oil fields - under a cooperation pact that marked a bold attempt at unity before a planned referendum on control of the strategic region."

Read the whole story first. As it stands, it's pretty rare to read a news report as thoroughly informative as this one; Lauren Frayer did an unusually good job with it.

One of the goals put forward in the GAO report that's in the required reading section is the passage of a profit-sharing law for oil sales. Another AP story on the oil legislation itself expounds on the importance of it:

"U.S. officials view the oil law as a catalyst for investment and a means of tamping down sectarian violence. Most of Iraq's oil reserves are in the Kurdish north and the largely Shiite south. The provinces where most Sunnis live have few proven reserves, leading to suspicions they'll be left out of oil profits."

Kirkuk is something of a lynchpin when it comes to the predominately three-way power struggle that is iconic of much of Iraq. The Kurds are vying largely for independence, the Sunnis are afraid they'll be left out and aren't shy about taking extreme measures to make their point, and the Shi'a are trying to consolidate power that they have in the national government.

Larger political gains are still a ways off, but for immediate effect, consider the fact that for the entire last year, Sunnis in Kirkuk have thought themselves marginalized by the Kurds in the region. The end of the Sunni boycott of provincial council signals an end to the narrative of victimization - that can potentially mean a reduction in violent activities by groups who have for the last year believed that they were being shut out of government, which we know has in the past been a significant driver of anti-government activity.

Kirkuk is still going to be volatile and in terms of politics, one hell of a porcupine to swallow. But I'd be willing to wager that in the next few months, At-Tamim province quiets down just a little more.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Gaining Ground

"It is curious to note the old sea-margins of human thought. Each subsiding century reveals some new mystery; we build where monsters used to hide themselves."
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

From the NYT today is a story about the corruption that will be part of the phase we're now entering in the war, as casualties keep falling at a statistically significant level among Iraqi civilians. As the article makes clear, the level of corruption is daunting:

"The collective filching undermines Iraq’s ability to provide essential services, a key to sustaining recent security gains, according to American military commanders. It also sows a corrosive distrust of democracy and hinders reconciliation as entrenched groups in the Shiite-led government resist reforms that would cut into reliable cash flows."

This is not news, we've known about the corruption for a while. But this is an informative glimpse of the enemy we're about to engage: opportunity and need outstripping cultural boundaries of acceptable behavior. The mantra to remember here is that we're going to work towards culturally acceptable levels of corruption, not an absolute end to it. If even the US congress could manage that, we'd be in phenomenal shape.

What we're seeing in these cases is, very simply, the same sort of crime that every nation deals with at some level or another, and it is generally driven by one single cause. That cause happens to be poverty, whether any nation would like to admit it or not. The solution will also be just as obvious - ensure that the crime doesn't pay, ensure that the law applies to as many people as possible, and give people an honest and acceptable way out. That means jobs, laws, and police accountability, all of which are works in progress. That's where the strategy is headed next.

On a separate note, General Petraeus' grasp of the situation is impressive, and very encouraging. At Gateway Pundit, there's this quote that is fairly revealing:

"I would not have recommended what I did in September, if I would not have projected what we are now seeing in Iraq... "

And what is it that we're seeing? We're seeing corruption take the main stage, replacing violence as the big story. Not that the latter isn't still a problem, or that we're going to stop working on it, but the shift in the information war is made obvious by this article: media knows perfectly well that good news doesn't pay well, and that's why they're not talking about casualties. Which - and you had to see this coming - angers at least one person.

Over at HuffPo, Jeffrey Feldman apparently sees a conspiracy theory when it comes to news from Iraq:

"Ye olde holiday good times cannot and should not be uses[sic] as an an excuse to knock Iraq off the front pages--should not be rolled out by America's big media outlets to dampen America's awareness of the biggest issue facing us."

News flash for Jeffrey: The blackout you're talking about is really a body-count blackout, and that's occurring because violence is down. The real blackout didn't start today, it started in September after Petraeus' report to Congress - when news was first broken that things have been improving. The Right saw it plain as day, while the Left was busy engaging themselves with crap like this.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Political Counterinsurgency

Update: According to FOX News today, al-Dulaimi has been moved to a hotel in the green zone, and the IAF has halted their boycott in parliament as a result. Turns out the whole "house arrest" thing really was a misunderstanding.

Under normal circumstances I'd take the weekend off, but according to Al Jazeera, the IAF has walked out of Parliament to protest the detention of it's leader, Adnan al-Dulaimi.

A FOX news report explains the situation with al-Dulaimi:

"Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, the chief Iraqi military spokesman in Baghdad, said Maki Adnan al-Dulaimi, the senior lawmaker's son, was arrested after a gunman fleeing U.S. and Iraqi troops sought refuge in his father's office Thursday night.

Al-Moussawi said two car bombs were discovered at the al-Dulaimi's office compound.

The U.S. military statement said one vehicle rigged as a suicide car bomb was found on the street outside the compound, and one of al-Dulaimi's security guards had the keys."

This wouldn't be the first time that al-Dulaimi and his ilk have been alleged to be supporting militant activity, if that's what the ongoing investigations come down to. Back in April, al-Dulaimi and his sons were charged with ordering executions and forced ethnic deportations - Iraqi Mojo has the story on that one.

Of course al-Dulaimi won't be held beyond the investigation unless some serious evidence arises. The concern here is that it seems fairly likely that some evidence of al-Dulaimi's continued support of militants will surface, and if it does, then we have a counterinsurgency dilemma.

On the one hand, the Iraqis could prosecute al-Dulaimi, further anger the IAF, and in all likelihood provoke whichever militant group he's been sponsoring. But the rule of law will have been upheld. Alternatively, we could let this slide, deal with the intensity of his insurgents at whatever level they're at now, and keep the IAF happy and at work. But then the rule of law goes out the window.

What weight the rule of law really has, though, seems to be a matter of interpretation to many Iraqis. The Sadrists have walked out of parliament citing constitutional breaches before, but one would think that a man with a private army wouldn't particularly mind breaking the law.

Iraq is a rough country. There is no political party that isn't backed in some capacity by a militia - the Sadrists come readily to mind. The trick to controlling those militias is controlling the political cadre that heads them, not hunting every last one of the gun-toting loonies down and killing them (tempting as it may be). That means keeping them at the table cutting deals even when they're corrupt until we have solutions that we can employ to remove the militias from the equations.

For that to occur, contrary to popular belief, the political cadres don't need to get behind the idea of one free Iraq. They don't have to abandon sectarianism. They don't even have to intend to cooperate. They just have to see no other option. To get to that point, we know exactly what we need to do: build legitimacy, decrease violence. So this, as with all things in Iraq, is a work in progress.