Michael Hirsh of Newsweek follows the First Battalion of the Eighth Infantry of the 4th Infantry Division on night operations to track down insurgents in Samarra Iraq.
But now, in the aftermath of Saddam's capture on Dec. 13, a new kind of threat is emerging that comes from deep within Arab culture and has little to do with the bedraggled Iraqi tyrant.
These are the "bloodline" attacks, as Tomlinson's superior, Capt. Todd Brown, calls them. Samarra is only about 15 miles from where Saddam was captured at Ad Dawr, but "what we're seeing now is much more tribal," he says. "It's the Arabic rule of five. If you do something to someone, then five of his bloodlines will try to attack you." The insurgency is self-replicating, like a virus, through the vengeance of brothers, sons, cousins and nephews.
They're professional soldiers, smooth and sure at urban fighting tactics. But once inside the houses, pressed into a counterinsurgency role they've never been trained for, they improvise, often amateurishly. Until a month ago, they didn't even have an Arab translator. They relied on Captain Brown's pidgin Arabic (his own description) and a lot of "pointy talk"—hand gestures—to question detainees.
...The Army has yet to implement other ideas, like training commanders in local culture (which the Green Berets do).
US forces, untrained in the local culture and language, are fighting a self-replicating tribal insurgency. This is the result of incompetence at the highest level in the Bush Administration. Former members of Saddam's regime are just one part of the insurgency. Other parts include Islamists and tribe members looking to get even for things the US military has done to members of their extended families. Every US Army raid that goes in with bad intelligence and kicks down doors of innocent people builds up resentment. Killings of innocents have an even bigger effect.
The US needs a game plan. First off, it needs a military that has much greater training in Arab tribal culture and the Arabic language. But it also needs a grand strategy for what to do about Iraq in the long run. The most obvious question that needs to be asked is should Iraq even be kept together as a single state when the three major groups in Iraq (Sunnis, Shias, and culturally and linguistically separate Kurds) do not see themselves as members of a common polity?
Even a splitting of Iraq into 3 pieces will not make the resulting states easy to govern. The Kurdish state would probably function fairly well. The Kurds have showed they could govern themselves during the 1990s when the US and British air forces enforced an effective partition of Iraq that made the Kurdish zone de facto independent of Saddam's regime. But both the Sunnis and the Shias are still too tribal and hence will have little loyalty toward any government.
While foreign fighters are estimated by the US Army to be only 5% to 10% of the insurgents the foreigners may be having a far bigger impact by being suicide bombers.
But commanders also say the foreign fighters' impact has been significant and has probably yielded the bulk of what has become perhaps the insurgents' most potent weapon — suicide bombers. However, the Army adds that no successful suicide bomber has been positively identified.
There's also a disturbing sense that the U.S.-appointed civilian administrators of Iraq have left the military holding the bag, lending credence to a growing sentiment that the Coalition Provisional Authority has seriously dropped the ball. Gen. Ray Odierno, the 4th Infantry Division commander who orchestrated the capture of Saddam Hussein, explains how his unit ran out of money last fall and couldn't pay the fledgling Iraqi police.
"We were just beginning to see people reacting to the successes. . . . We had the momentum," Odierno says. "And so we've somewhat lost that a bit. . . . I can't tell you why it happened. . . . It's water under the bridge."
More than his words, it's Odierno's face that paints the clearest picture of betrayal.
It is the Bush Administration that has dropped the ball. The US military is incredibly great at fighting wars. But it has not been funded or trained to govern hostile tribal Arabic populations. At the same time, the US civilian administrators have shown themselves totally inadequate for the task. Does George W. Bush even know this? Does the guy have a plan for what to do about it?
Their destination is the Wyoming-size desert province of Al Anbar west of Baghdad that includes the flashpoint towns of Al Fallujah and Ar Ramadi, where at least 11 U.S. soldiers have been killed in the past two weeks.
While the Army has reported some progress and improved relations with the people of the region, there has been increased violence after a brief lull following the capture of Saddam Hussein in December.
Marine officials say they plan to make it clear that they are different from the Army, which made some costly blunders in the beginning of their tenure in Al Anbar that some say soured relations with locals.
The Army needs to train many more soldiers in Arabic language and tribal culture. The Bush Administration's leading intellectual figures of the neoconservative persuasion need to abandon their ideological beliefs and accept that they are attempting to do something that is incredibly difficult.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2004 February 12 03:04 PM Mideast Iraq|