Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Sound And Fury Over Basra

The business in Basra has been regarded as evidence of a wide range of things already, some of them with somewhat less foundation than others. There's so much material on the subject, of so many different bents all claiming different victories or losses for whoever that it's tough to see what is actually happening. If there's one thing the internet has always been bad at, its staying calm.

Gareth Porter of the Asia Times has called the Iraqi offensive in Basra a loss for US forces as well as the Iraqi Government because the US supported the operation, and US officials are claiming that the operation was whipstitched together and surprised them, forcing them to put their support together off balance. So who's right here?

"Furthermore, the embedded role of the US Military Transition Teams makes it impossible that any Iraqi military operation could be planned without their full involvement."

Porter argues that since the US supplied support and logistics, they couldn't have really been all that surprised, and the administration officials saying that they were not duly notified is an attempt to distance themselves from what he calls a failure. But Porter confuses ground-level integration of forces like MITT teams with actual administrative involvement in the planning of the offensive. With the situation as it is, one can expect that the US will be providing logistics and intelligence to the ISF. That said, one cannot safely say that the intelligence provided will be guaranteed to match the operations that the ISF is planning. Of course we're providing surveillance and logistics, but that doesn't by any means say that we were providing surveillance and logistics in synchronization with an offensive that officials say was put together on the fly, and there's a very important difference in that.

Further, its important to note that the MNF-I wasn't the only group to be ill-prepared and inadequately informed; the BBC today released a story on the delay of UK troop reductions that included this quote from Liam Fox:

"It appears from what the Secretary of State has just told us that our commanders had only 48 hours notice (of the Iraqi offensive) and they yet had to deploy one battle group with tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery - is this an acceptable model for the future?"

At this point the British have no reason to deal in subterfuge about their responsibilities for what's happening in Basra. Nobody is claiming a loss for the UK forces there, or that they were somehow beaten (at least, not by the most recent violence). Yet their own dialog on the situation makes it clear that they too were caught off guard. Now this looks much less like subterfuge than it does like a short shift on part of the Iraqi administration; reacting too quickly without proper planning and without coordinated cooperation of key allies.

Another claim Porter makes is that General Petraeus had essentially become complacent about the Mahdi Army's capabilities, and had assumed that they could or would not put up resistance to an intensified crackdown. From his article:

"That assumption ignored the evidence that Muqtada had been avoiding major combat because he was reorganizing and rebuilding the Mahdi Army into a more effective force."

At some point, as intelligent humans we're going to need to get past the notion that one person is handling everything. There is very simply no way that Petraeus or his advisors or his fellow Generals hadn't considered that evidence - they've been among the most cautious people in dealing with the Sadrists. But this point ties into the point Porter already tried to make about the full capability of the US military being balked by the Sadrists - something that factually didn't happen. And if it's not what happened, then any personal aspersions based on what didn't happen don't apply.

In other places, the Knight's Charge offensive has been claimed as a victory for the Iraqi Government and a defeat for it by al-Sadr. Maliki has called it a success, and so has al-Sadr. To get a basic point out of the way, bear in mind that when agreements are made to halt violence, technically everyone wins on a human level. But who won out politically is, unfortunately, a more important question at the moment.

Al-Sadr is still standing, which can fairly be regarded as a victory for him. The brokerage of a peace agreement, while it's good news for everyone, in effect declares al-Sadr the winner because Maliki promised to sweep the militias in Basra off the map, and that's not what happened. But that's a rhetorical victory, not a strategic or military one. Had the operation continued, eventually the US support would gain its footing and in a conventional fight, the Sadrists would be the losing party - not that they weren't here, they lost the kinetic fight badly enough as it is. Nevertheless, al-Sadr is still there now, and he still controls a militia. His only victory is in not losing completely.

If the actual chain of events proceeded as crackdown-backlash-offensive-agreement, it can also be safely said that crackdowns in the future will need to be more delicate than they were. Cordon-and-search operations are notorious for stoking distrust and animosity toward the democratic nations that attempt them, from Northern Ireland to the United States. And if you're looking for proof that these operations were done in a ham-handed and careless way, the resulting violent backlash means you need to look no further.

If the Iraqi Government and the ISF don't play a little more softly with JAM, they can reasonably expect the same thing to happen again.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Walking The Walk

From FM 3-24, in the Required Reading section:

"1-149. Ultimate success in COIN is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force. If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents. Aggressive saturation patrolling, ambushes, and listening post operations must be conducted, risk shared with the populace, and contact maintained."

Bearing that in mind, the news from CBS is that US casualties are down from last month quite significantly, while ISF and Civilian casualties rose significantly as well. The most likely explanation for this is that the offensives in the north are being conducted, not surprisingly at this point, largely by Iraqis and as a result, they're bearing the brunt of the casualties. It's also worth noting that casualty counts are also easily influenced by one or two particularly horrific bombing attacks, which February most definitely saw. But those expecting violence to continue on an upward trend based on numbers from January are out of luck for now.

Also in the news is a name that might be familiar by now. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch is featured in an NBC story about creating jobs as a method to push counterinsurgency efforts:

"The fish farms are just part of what Lynch and his soldiers call "sustainable security." Once fighting in an area has been suppressed and Iraqi military and police take over, the U.S. troops look for ways to make it last."

Creating jobs and finding ways for Iraqis to contribute peacefully to the Iraqi economy is not just a parlor trick; it's critical to give people a reason to hope for prosperity and a way to work towards it. They need ways to earn money to provide for their families, and when we provide them we take support away from the insurgents on a political level. If they have what they need and can prosper under the current system of government, then they will not lend political support to those who would overthrow it and put their wellbeing in jeopardy as a result.

Efforts like this are more essential than killing is at this stage, although killing will always have its place. Some people are irreconcilable, but for the most part people just want to get by. Help them do that, and they won't turn against you. Make it hard for them, and they'll fight you every step of the way. But the way forward is still jobs and infrastructure. Those will do more to defuse the insurgency than anyone's death can. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch is well aware of it, too. The US military is learning, and adapting to the situation like they should. Given time, they can and - as could not be certainly said two years ago - may well pull out a victory for Iraq.

Monday, February 25, 2008

What About This?

First, Al-Sadr has extended JAM's cease-fire for another 6 months, approximately. The commanders were right, and these guys were wrong.

The Turks, for their part, have begun a very tightly controlled ground offensive in Iraqi Kurdistan against PKK insurgents, although it's actual duration is still somewhat in question. It doesn't appear that this offensive will threaten Iraq's overall stability at the moment, as it was not directly opposed by the US - the people who are liable if Iraq actually does lose stability.

"Turkey gave the United States and Iraqi authorities advance notice of its incursion, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said."

While the Iraqis are predictably unhappy about it, it's worth the cost of a carefully controlled, limited operation on Turkey's part in order to keep them on our side in this. We've been cooperating with them by sharing intelligence and through diplomacy channels for the same reason; the alternative is crippled US logistics and possible non-cooperation with us on Iran and Syria. So, not really an alternative at all.

The Sadrist reaction to this is interesting, however:

"We demand that the Turkish government withdraw its forces immediately from the Iraqi territory and rely on negotiations to solve this conflict," al-Sadr's influential political committee said in a statement. "We call upon the Muslim neighbor Turkey through its Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and its Muslim people to be an element of peace and security in the region."

They don't actually expect that Turkey will listen to them, but the statement does indicate how Al-Sadr's committee is trying to bill themselves as a nationalist party: obviously any foreign interference has to be opposed, Turkey and the US included. We don't often get the opportunity to hear Sadrist political rhetoric, and this indicates as well that they are earnestly trying to place themselves more and more solidly in the political realm, as opposed to the military one. And the US Military is responding politically as well, in keeping the dialog with the Sadrists open and diplomatic (ABC Article):

"This extension of his August 2007 pledge of honor to halt attacks is an important commitment that can broadly contribute to further improvements in security for all Iraqi citizens," the military said in a statement. "It will also foster a better opportunity for national reconciliation."

Something that seems to be forgotten in all of this is that Al-Sadr's shifting into the political realm - whatever his intentions - does constitute political progress. The figurehead of a previously very violent sectarian faction is moderating himself and his followers to become a political player. He called a cease-fire, then extended it, despite the fact that the US was consistently targeting fringe elements of his militia - because he really has been trying to reign them in. Fanatical followers can ruin a bid for political power just as easily as bad rhetoric can, which is why we've seen changes in both.

Now certainly, Al-Sadr may still be an islamist, and one with a violent history. But frankly the part where that violence is currently history is pivotal in considerations involving JAM and himself. He may be an opportunist, but one can tell an awful lot about what opportunities exist and where they exist by watching him. We've already seen violence become a non-starter for any serious political player in Iraq, and Al-Sadr is maintaining his base through social and political works now instead.

Why this continued movement in both rhetoric and action is not considered political progress is somewhat beyond my understanding.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Rejects Not Rebels

A counterinsurgency is inherently socio-political in nature, and its resolution requires socio-political solutions. But there's something important to bear in mind when we consider AQI's involvement in the Iraqi insurgency, which is that AQI is not part of the insurgency - not a valid one, anyway.

AQI, while some news outlets make the claim that they are regaining their footing, is not actually a valid socio-political group in Iraq. 90% of suicide bombers are recruited and imported from foreign countries. AQI does not have the support of the public at large or even a section of the public large enough to make their political and social position tenable. They are also regarded as the enemy by such true insurgent groups like Ansar al-Sunnah and Jaish al-Mahdi. Moreover, their socio-political aims are preposterous and nearly everyone involved knows it.

AQI, then, is not part of the insurgency; they're merely part of the criminal element. A particularly nasty strain of criminal to be sure (a terrorist strain), but that's really all they are. Terrorists and insurgents are - importantly at this point in the prosecution of the war in Iraq - not the same thing. I realize that I've said otherwise before, but the situation has changed drastically in the last year and it's now important to draw the distinction as important elements of what I once referred to as "terrorists" have mutated into something else. To clarify the point further, there is this article about Al-Sadr and JAM at the Asia Times:

"As a political and military force, Iraq's Shi'ite Sadrist movement has undergone a number of radical transformations since 2003, when its leader Muqtada al-Sadr surprisingly emerged as a leading political figure. Muqtada's recent decision to continue with his seminary studies and graduate as an ayatollah at the conservative seminary school of Najaf underpins a major change in the movement's structure that could have serious repercussions for the future of Iraq."

The article, by Dr. Babak Rahimi, is undoubtedly the most useful thing I've read regarding the Sadrist movement in several months and perhaps ever; it's worth your time to read the whole thing.

An insurgency adapts to the environment around it and is willing to adopt different methods to achieve their social and political ends, and they usually do it with some degree of public support that is not by any means negligible. Al-Sadr and JAM are the perfect example of this, while AQI has only ever had the same handful of methods they use everywhere, and operate through public fear, not support. This tactic is just as extremely limited in winning an insurgency as an American conventional military strategy would be against an insurgency; it is heavy on firepower, and light on politics, and the social aspect barely exists as far as the strategy is concerned.

None of this is intended to suggest for even a second that AQI isn't a threat to US interests and the future of Iraq; they demonstrably are, but they cannot win the war. They don't actually stand a chance of coming to power in Iraq provided the ISF becomes capable of effective internal security. The fact that AQI and various Iraqi insurgent groups happen to be pushing the ball in the same direction with violent activity is little more than a coincidence, probably not a conspiracy. Every element of the Iraqi insurgency must know by now that should they actually come to power, AQI will immediately become their policing problem as opposed to a problem for the ISF and the current IG. Which is why the Sadrists, notably, have adopted an anti-AQI stance; they know they'll have to have it anyway if they win.

And, Unlike AQI, should prosecution of the counterinsurgency by the US and the Iraqi government fail, the Sadrists may actually have a serious shot at a win - but not until after a very nasty and likely protracted civil war with multiple parties in the military arena. They won't be able to do it without those prior failures, however, which makes the US effort that much more important now, because that's the real counterinsurgency.

Stripping Al-Sadr and JAM and other groups like them of social and political relevance is the single most important goal in this war, and that is done by providing whatever it is that they provide to their constituents more effectively than they can. AQI is dangerous to be sure, but the approach toward them is the same as it is towards all irreconcilables: kill them, detain them, or push them out. AQI is the easy part, relatively speaking. And that's because they're not insurgents, they're terrorists.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Scraps From The Blackout

Continuing campaign coverage in the US is creating a dearth of useful information about Iraq, but there are a few things worth taking note of right now.

The first, and arguably the most important, is that the US Army is working on a new combat manual:

"The new guide is seen as a major development that draws on lessons of the wars being fought by US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq."

As soon as it is published, I'll find a PDF copy and link to it in the Required Reading section, after reading it myself. The change in the command atmosphere and personnel that General Petraeus has created is inevitably going to influence it, so it will be interesting to see how it develops as well as being critical to understanding how soldiers are going to be expected to conduct themselves. Much of Petraeus' counterinsurgency strategy stands to be augmented by an intelligent manual, as it tends to be very human-oriented in many respects.

Second is a memo written by Manuel Miranda that is very critical of State Department conduct in Iraqi affairs. Read the whole memo, bearing in mind that it is only one opinion but it's a valuable one to have. What I found most interesting was that he restricted his criticism to the State Department, and lauded the Military on it's progress and it's commitment to the commanding general's efforts. If he's right, it would seem that State could learn a thing or two from the Military about execution. Not that this should be a revelation.

Lastly is a remark at the bottom of a non-story at Al-Jazeera. Al-Sadr has responded to internal pressure by reiterating that the current JAM stand-down will not be lifted early, but the interesting comment is this:

"US commanders have said they are confident that al-Sadr, the son of a revered Shia cleric killed under Saddam Hussein, would extend the freeze, although US and Iraqi forces continue to target "rogue" Mahdi Army units."

I wouldn't have expected anyone to be confident of that, but this once again makes me very happy that there are people in charge who know much more than I do. JAM still stands to threaten the peace in Iraq, and if they start rolling again it'll be the ISF that has to take them on, which now includes Basra province. The Iraqi street doesn't like JAM where they've been responsible for violence already, but whether that will stop someone who's fanatical enough to try to be rubber-stamped as an Ayatollah is doubtful.

It comes down to this one consideration: if the freeze is extended, we can keep moving the ball forward. If it gets called off, we may very well be starting again from scratch in the wake of whatever violence JAM is capable of generating. As long as command is confident that particular bull won't be released in the china shop, then our approach doesn't need to change.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Measures of Men

A post over at DailyKos has attempted to argue that the American effort in Iraq has gone nowhere and accomplished nothing. It's author is attempting to make this claim on the fact that since last month, US casualties have increased, although the first sentence makes what must have been a very difficult concession to make:

"For the first time in five months, month-to-month deaths in Iraq have increased."

So they begin this rant by admitting that they don't have a trend. They then continue by creating a trend of their own:

"That's two more than the number of deaths in May of 2005..."

"That's six more than the number in March of 2006..."

"And that's the same number as the number of American deaths in November of 2007..."

Certainly, if we're allowed to pick and choose what months we'd like to represent, we can create all sorts of illusory items. We could even go on to claim that we've made no progress, so long as we don't look at things like political changes, security changes, or confusing things like numbers and trends. And since its Kos, they do:

"This week, we learned that despite claims that the surge is a "success," it has done nothing but brings us back full circle. Back to a U.S. military presence of some 130,000 troops"

This kind of myopia is ignorant enough that I don't feel the need to lecture on it; it's preposterous on its face, there's no debunking necessary. This kind of willful ignorance will only fool those who are not paying any attention, and those people don't read this blog.

At the end of the Kos posting, is a list of those American soldiers who died doing their country's will in January. On this list of the names of heroes is one that you may be familiar with.

"Andrew J. Olmsted, 37, Army Major, Jan 03, 2008"

Major Olmsted has asked that his death not be politicized, and Kos has not obeyed those wishes as the inclusion of a list of fatalities in the post politicizes every one of them. But I won't do that here.

I can't tell you what Major Olmsted's values were, or why he died, or what he might have died for. But he can. His friends honored his wishes to have a final blog post put up. Read it here, and don't let anyone else tell you his story.

Moving on.

It is one thing to count American casualties, as the Kos post has done so gracelessly. It is entirely another to censor facts for effect. As a blogger, you always read more than you include in a post. If you don't, you've done a bad job. But that's not to say its not a problem when your editing process ends up being intentionally misleading. You leave more than you say on the cutting room floor every time you post, so you have to be careful not to trim off the truth, or leave out important considerations.

One such important consideration is the number of Iraqi fatalities in the same month, seeing as it is their country and whatnot. But the Kos post doesn't mention Iraqis, quite simply because the poster does not care about them. I've said that before, but it bears repeating. So how have the Iraqis fared this past month? According to icasualties.org, they suffered 542 fatalities in January, compared to 548 in December and 560 in November.

So while reinvigorated offensive operations in Mosul and other locations have increased American fatalities, the Iraqis' trend, while less impressive, has held. Good for them. But let's not fool ourselves and say that the deaths are all that matters.

We have not gone to war to prevent the deaths of our soldiers. We have gone to war to secure a more lasting peace, and security for a greater portion of the world. Here that means putting our soldiers in harm's way, knowing full well that their armor, weapons and training will not save all of them. This is what makes them heroes. This is what advances the cause of freedom. This is also why soldiers die. That shouldn't be forgotten, no matter what the casualty count looks like.

Each soldier fights for their own reasons, and is willing to die for different reasons. As a result, we cannot possibly understand fully the death of each soldier; we can only look to see what the actions that led to their deaths have gained. It is a crude an unjust method of measuring a man's worth in war, but at the strategic level it is all we have. To strip us of that is to leave us without any way of understanding the war or the men engaged in it.

For DailyKos to declare that the deaths of Americans and Iraqis have gained us nothing because they are higher this month than they were last month is every bit as unfair to their memories as it is false.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Dahr Jamail's Insurgent Mix Tape

Let me preface this by saying that Dahr Jamail, a journalist who writes for IPS, has actually been to Iraq and has done lots of unembedded work - this naturally makes him better qualified to speak on matters of how the Iraqis feel about things than I am. I'm not impugning his character for who he talks to or what he sees.

That said, I am taking serious issue with his total lack of neutrality. I don't expect pro-American sentiment and I don't actually want any pro-American sentiment in a piece of what is supposed to be objective journalism. If a piece is objective, then there ought not be any sentiment in it at all, which is what I would prefer. Michael Totten can manage that. Dahr Jamail has abandoned the idea altogether in favor of posting rants from his own email inbox. From his article in the Asia Times:

"Of late, I have been asking Iraqis I know by email what they make of the American version (or versions) of the unseemly reality that is their country, that they live and suffer with. What does it mean to become a 'secondary issue' for your occupier? "

He's naturally talking about election politics in the US, and doing a pretty serious butcher job on it as well. While for a candidate, Iraq may not be the most pressing issue by election time, what political analysts interested in the election are saying and what the majority of voters think are very much different things.

As to why Iraq may be taking a back seat, it's really very simple. We can read the emails from the angry Iraqis that he knows, and try to extrapolate from those anecdotal rants, or we can look at the objective data that we've been seeing coming out of Iraq. One of these things is useful and has predictive and instructive power; the other is a waste of our time.

"Tahir, on the other hand, has a warning: 'It seems that all US politicians and the majority of Americans think the way McCain does. But they should not think Iraq is Japan or South Korea.'"

The content of the statement itself is hamhanded, ignorant, and totally worthless. There's nobody in the US who thinks that the Americans have completely aligned themselves with McCain or his rhetoric about the duration of the war. To even suggest it is to deny the existence of the slew of Democratic presidential candidates, who all happen to disagree with McCain. But I don't need to tell you that, because you're not an idiot.

Put more diplomatically, you're in touch with American politics, and Tahir, whoever he is, has no idea what the American political atmosphere is like.

All that aside, the fact that Dahr Jamail didn't think the statement was worthless is indicative of a few other things, first of which is that quality information about American politics is severely lacking in whatever region Tahir is from. When people say that the US is losing the information war, this kind of thing is exactly why they say it. Tahir should not be able to say something so ludicrous without being laughed at, and Jamail should not be able to include it in a serious news article without being scoffed off the face of the earth.

We're still not winning the information war; there are clearly too many Iraqis we aren't getting through to. We can make what excuses we like for this clear lack of footing in the info war, but there it is - it still needs lots of work.

The second thing it can tell us is that one of the reasons we're not winning the information war is because of people like Dahr Jamail, who perpetuate and legitimize the insurgent narrative. If that seems unfair, let me corroborate it:

"Abu Taiseer, another resident of Baquba, summed up Iraqi bitterness this way:
At the very beginning of the occupation, the people of Iraq did not realize the US strategy in the area. Their strategy is based on destruction and massacres. They do anything to have their agenda fulfilled. Now, Iraqis know that behind the US smile is hatred and violence. They call others violent and terrorists while what they are doing in Iraq and in other countries is the origin and essence of terror."

Alright, I suppose that's nothing that the American left hasn't also claimed, no matter how preposterous it is - if it's not totally clear at this point that massacres and destruction do not move a counterinsurgency forward, there's no hope trying to convince them. But still, nothing a hardcore leftist wouldn't say. Maybe saying that Jamail is advancing the insurgent narrative is overstepping a bit. Then I would offer this:

"Abu Tariq, a merchant from Baquba, believes the US military intentionally destroyed Iraq's infrastructure. He told Ali,
The Americans destroyed the electricity, water-pumping stations, factories, bridges, highways, hospitals, schools, burnt the buildings, and opened the borders for the strangers and terrorists to get easily into the country. The one who does all these things is void of humanity. I hate America and Americans."

Short of publishing a myopic email that calls for outright violence, I'm not sure Jamail can do anything more to push insurgent propaganda. I'm not saying that the people who wrote to him are insurgents. I'm saying that they're parroting the insurgent narrative, wherein the US is responsible for quite literally every last one of the ills in their society. They're doing it because that's what they're told. They're told that because the US isn't doing a better job of telling them otherwise.

That needs to change. Iraq isn't out of the woods yet, and until we can win over insurgent propaganda, we still stand to lose what we've done so far.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Anti-War Lie

There's been quite a bit of positive news on Iraq lately. We have the BBC saying this:

"Iraq faces a period of economic growth and political progress, according to assessments by the International Monetary Fund and the UN.

"The IMF sees 7% growth in 2008 and a similar rise next year, and says oil revenues from buoyant exports should be up by 200,000 barrels a day."

That's very good. This is the sort of change we've needed to start seeing. Everyone knows the security is thus far still improving, but economic gains reflect confidence in arenas other than just security. And if the economy picks up, that means it'll generate jobs and get people off the streets in a constructive manner. Unequivocally good deal there.

Unfortunately, we still are not able to move from "cautious optimism" to just plain "optimism" when we're talking about the ISF. From CBS:

"Lt. Gen. James Dubik, head of the Multi-National Security Transition Command, said the Iraqi defense minister has stressed to him that the country could not assume responsibility for internal security until as late as 2012. Also, it would be unable to defend its borders until at least 2018.

"'There are positive signs, indeed, and steps forward, but the truth is that they simply cannot fix, supply, arm or fuel themselves completely enough at this point,' Dubik told the House Armed Services Committee. "

They still need a lot of big-ticket items, and unfortunately the purchasing system doesn't work very well so that will take some time, and so will the training, as the article states. But this isn't so discouraging as we'd like to think, as we don't intend to hand over control just yet. But, defying all intelligent thought and reason, there are people who want to:


What he really means is that retreat is the only option; I know, it confused me too. But here's the big lie that the Anti-war movement tells you without ever saying the words: when they say they want us gone, it's not because they care about what happens to Iraq or Iraqis. It's because they do not want to sacrifice to move the human condition forward. When we listen to the arguments they make, it becomes obvious.

"Despite the fact that more than two-thirds of Americans want Congress to stop the bleeding and get our troops out of Iraq, Congressional war spending is likely to eclipse the one TRILLION dollar mark in 2008."

When they say "stop the bleeding," they don't realize that the withdrawal of American forces at this point will only stop the bleeding of Americans. Iraqi civilians will die in greater numbers without the protection led by American forces. The ISF will not have American leadership, and will become less effective. They too will die in greater numbers without the guidance and mentoring the Americans have provided. But our soldiers won't die, and that's all that matters to them. They don't care about seeing Iraq's war end. They just want to see our part of the war end, because that's all that will stop if we leave now.

An argument one hears on a daily basis from the American Left is how many social services could be put in place or improved with the money that's being spent on the war in Iraq. They're certainly right, we could spend the money making sure every man, woman and child in America can get a flu shot or prescription medication. Or we could spend that money saving lives and trying to better the conditions in a third-world country. We could have medicine, or the Iraqis could have food and safer streets for their kids. The American Left would rather have their "free" medicine, thanks very much. If the problem can't be fixed by flooding the market with donations or hosting a march, they haven't got the steam for it.

This isn't what one should expect to hear from people who declare themselves to be "citizens of the world". We should be hearing about what we can do for the Iraqis to lift them up. We should be hearing them ask us all for patience and resolve, so that their fellow men can someday live in a nation worth living in. We should be hearing them ask us to do more; to donate, to volunteer for the cause of peace in Iraq for all Iraqis, not just ourselves.

We should not be hearing them howl like fools to abandon our fellow men in their time of need.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Iranian Roulette

The very two-faced nature of Iran's activities toward Iraq have always been regarded as an issue, but for some reason it's not always clear what their intent is. To me, it seems fairly clear that Iranian diplomacy is very clearly aimed at undermining the American effort while at the same time attempting to win over the anti-American elements in Iraq. That would explain their ridiculous, ham-handed subterfuge regarding the speedboats, and offer some insight into this particular maneuver:

"Gen. David Petraeus disclosed the reversal to reporters after a meeting with President Bush who was visiting troops in Kuwait.

'In this year, EFPs have gone up, actually, over the last 10 days by a factor of two or three, and frankly we're trying to determine why that might be,' Petraeus said."

I'll wait for a trend to form before I say anything rash (it took months for Surge progress to become a trend for the media, so fair is fair), but I'm going to go way out on a limb and suggest that the Iranians did it.

Iranian ambitions toward Iraq have been fairly obvious: they want to kick the US out and at the very least establish an alliance with the Shia who will be in power should the US effort fail and the Iranian effort succeed - JAM, among others. Not surprisingly, they've been gaming at this by trying to attend diplomatic meetings with Iraqi officials, while stoking anti-American sentiment by trying to subvert the security gains or make the US look like liars (see the speedboat article). The entire point is to make the Anti-American populace of Iraq feel that Iran is trying to help them remove the Americans while at the same time generating some sort of good will with that same demographic - which unfortunately isn't a small one, as al-Sadr's popularity could attest to.

The Iranians are very clearly throwing their hat in with the malcontents of Iraq, and are probably doing so more aggressively because security keeps improving. Odds are, they've pushed up EFP importation to try to boost the perception that security is failing, because it isn't. The Iranians don't need an unfriendly state right next door, and they are fairly well afraid of American influence on the region - we do have them surrounded, which is something to bear in mind.

All that said, beyond diplomatic efforts that should be increased towards Iran, there's not much for it other than to keep our heads down and keep working. Things will eventually get good enough that subterfuge won't play, but for now, the solution to everything is the same one: keep moving the ball forward. Security, jobs, services, and information - let the Iranians try to cope with that.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

The new offensives in Northern Iraq are directed much as we might expect them to be. I've mentioned before why Diyala province especially is a key territory, so this should come as no surprise:

"US military commanders have launched a joint US-Iraqi assault against al-Qaeda in Iraq focused on Diyala and three other provinces north of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital."

Other news reports detail how this offensive will be structured, with US and ISF forces spearheading and doing most of the actual combat, while police and CLCs will be responsible for security as US and ISF operations begin winding down. Kind of a "duh" moment there, but there's a fair amount of speculation as to whether or not the CLCs will work in Diyala province, given it's sectarian mix. From the original Al-Jazeera article:

"Compounding the military's woes is the checkerboard pattern of Shia and Sunni communities adjacent to one another amid orange groves."

So far, CLCs have been very successful in predominately Sunni areas, but there is potential in Diyala for a Sunni-Shia clash if this isn't handled carefully - some Sunni tribal leaders have been quite blunt about who they're taking the fight to after AQI is beaten, and the Shia aren't halting their consolidation of power for anyone, so local CLCs may be percieved by the Shia as a threat. That's very clearly what's been happening at a national level, and that's also at the heart of worries about a possible genocide in Iraq. So what we really have in Diyala is a microcosm of the frustrations that have been playing out across the country.

That, by the way, makes it much less daunting than it makes it useful. Diyala province will offer an opportunity to experiment with the Sunni-Shia tensions at a molecular level, as it were, and it may well offer some useful insight as to how to allay those tensions at a national level.

That is, if it's done correctly, and there's no guarantee of that right now. How Diyala's CLCs play out over the next few months will depend very much on their local leadership - just a few veiled tigers thrown into leadership positions could very well poison the whole mess. But thus far in Diyala, according to MNF-I, no such problems have cropped up with currently existing CLCs:

"Northern al Hashmiyat was recently controlled by al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) . Troop C kept a heavy presence in the area, but since 4th Stryker Brigade’s move into Diyala, the AQI presence in al Hashmiyat has been diminishing. Concerned Local Citizens (CLC) groups began taking over responsibility of the security in the area. CLC checkpoints arose around the villages.

"'We used to provide a heavy presence there,' Shekishiro said. 'But the CLCs have been successful at providing their own security for the past month.'”

It seems that those expecting the CLC idea to fall through based on ethnic tensions are going to have to wait a bit longer, at the very least. If the Sunni-Shia rift really hits the fan, things will get very ugly and we haven't yet averted that possibility, because we can't; only the Iraqis can do that for themselves. But expecting that to happen based on mixed ethnic populations hasn't been a winning horse yet.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The New Deal

First, if you're a regular reader, thanks very much for your patience these last few weeks. I'm now very comfortably situated in England, everything went as well as could be expected and in some cases a little better.

While I was gone, the numbers for December 2007 came in at 21 US fatalities, and icasualties.org places civilian and ISF casualties at 548 - just a shade lower than November 2007. This is supposed to give politicians room to make progress, but it also has the added bonus of giving the US room to make it's next move: jobs, jobs, jobs. ABC News has the story dated January 2nd:

"Modeled on a program under which the U.S. pays armed groups who turned against al-Qaida in Iraq, the military has begun recruiting villagers for public service jobs working to improve sanitation, do repairs and pick up trash."

As I've said before, lack of jobs can drive the insurgency and in many places, it does. What it's going to come down to are measures exactly like this one: give them something to do that eases the discontent both in their streets and in their homes. They need money to feed their families, and they need functional neighborhoods to keep them safe. And it wouldn't hurt to have something to be proud of.

We've seen this kind of effort happening on a much smaller scale elsewhere, but that it's becoming a serious program in some places is encouraging. Of course it won't stop the violence all by itself, but it is a move in the right direction. While having paid CLCs running security where they can is helpful, they can't all stay gunmen forever. Someday they will be safe enough that those fighters will need new jobs, and if they can simply be rolled into this new program and earn the same rate for a different task, so much the better.

It's a new year. Let's hope that the Iraqis make the best of it.