2006 August 06 Sunday
Civil War Seen In Iraq As Villages Empty

The Bush Administration's claimed strategy for Iraq was that Iraqi police and soldiers would gradually take over the insurgency suppression task from US soldiers and then US forces could get drawn down. This supposed "strategy" always struck me as a fantasy. Compounding the unrealistic expectations of Iraqi security forces has been the ratcheting up of cycles of retaliations between Sunnis and Shias. Elements of the Sunni insurgency killed enough Shias, blew up a Shia mosque, and managed to send Shia militias on a killing spree against Sunnis. This led to more Sunni reprisals and so on. At the same time, the Shia-dominated government has tilted so heavily in favor of the Shias that the Sunnis are correct to see the government as their enemy.

I've been wondering whether the US forces cut back on patrols as the Iraqi government forces were deployed as substitutes. I suspected this was the case but until now haven't come across any quantitative measure of the change in US forces activities. Now Dexter Filkins of the New York Times has the details. US forces in Baghdad cut back their patrol rate as Iraqi military forces were deployed.

In mid-June 2005, Americans conducted an average of 360 patrols a day, according to statistics released by the military. By the middle of February this year, the patrols ran about 92 a day — a drop of more than 70 percent. The first Iraqi brigade took over a small piece of Baghdad early last year. Now, Iraqi soldiers or police officers take the leading role in securing more than 70 percent of the city, including its most violent neighborhoods. They control all of Baghdad’s 6,000 checkpoints.

At some checkpoints Sunnis get taken from their cars and killed. Given the chaos of Baghdad it is hard to tell whether checkpoints where this happens are manned by government soldiers or Shia militias. However, I've posted about an incident where a Shia militia checkpoint was killing Sunnis and government forces were uninterested in doing anything about it.

The rate of violent attacks in Baghad has gone up.

Thirteen months ago, Baghdad had about 19 daily violent events, like killings. Today, the daily average is 25 — an increase of more than 30 percent. Many of these attacks cause more than one death; some cause many more, like the rampage by Shiite gunmen in western Baghdad last month that left as many as 40 people dead.

The shift of US forces into Baghdad and an increase in the tempo of patrols might lower the attack rate. But suppose the attack rate goes back down to the level of a year ago. That will only be progress as compared to the current attack rate. Unless a combination of more US forces and more Iraqi forces can lower the attack rate down well below the level of a year ago the outlook will be very grim.

The ethnic cleansing ought to cause a lowering of the attack rate because as the ethnic groups become better separated from each other they'll be at less risk of attack from members of the opposing group.

Ann Scott Tyson of the Washington Post reports that some villages in Diyala province are being emptied due to fighting between Shias and Sunnis.

In mixed areas like Diyala, the primary job for U.S. troops is no longer to battle insurgents, but to try to stave off civil war.

"When we got here, our chief focus was Sunni insurgent groups," said Turner, who arrived in Diyala in December as part of the 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. But today, he said, "there's a definite trend toward sectarian violence. That's our big focus now, trying to stem it."

...

"It was 5 in the afternoon and the Sunnis started the fight," said Yasim Muhammed Hussein, 35, a Shiite resident. "While we were praying at the mosque they shouted 'God is great' and starting firing on the mosque," he said. "They burned my home and killed my relative." In all, Hussein said, 10 people were killed "from the two sides" -- meaning Sunni and Shiite. He said three-quarters of the 200 families in the village had abandoned their homes.

That region had 3 times as many American troops a year ago. But the troops have been shifted elsewhere to meet even more urgent needs.

Tom Lasseter of the McClatchy newspaper chain (he writes great stuff btw) reports that off the record US officials know they do not have enough troops in Iraq even as the official lie is that there are enough troops there.

Casey "can get any forces anytime he wants to ask for them. Gen. Casey has never been limited by the secretary of defense," said Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq. "To accomplish the missions that we are attempting to achieve, we do have the force structure that we need."

But the American defense official in Iraq said officers were discouraged from making such requests, and officers in Washington and at the military's Central Command confirmed that.

"They're not allowed to ask for more troops," the U.S. defense official in Iraq said. "If you say something you're gone, you're relieved, you're not in the Army anymore."

A number of senior military officials in the United States agreed.

"There's an overall feeling that if you ask for more you're going to get hammered," one said.

The official lie was bolstered by the claim that Iraqi forces were taking over and therefore additional US forces were not needed. Officers are expected to defend that lie by pretending the lie is not in effect.

Tom Lasseter points out the Iraqi security forces have grown and yet so has the violence.

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Despite the addition of almost 100,000 U.S.-trained Iraqi troops in the past year, American efforts to pacify central Iraq and the capital appear to be failing, challenging a central assumption behind the U.S. strategy: that training more Iraqi security forces will allow American troops to start going home.

The number of trained Iraqi soldiers and police grew from an estimated 168,670 in June 2005 to some 264,600 this June. Yet Baghdad's morgue is receiving nearly twice as many dead Iraqis each day as it did last year. The number of bombings that cause multiple fatalities has risen steadily. Attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops last month grew 44 percent from June 2005.

The increase in Iraqi security forces also increases the number of people who use their government positions to brutalize and kill people in opposing groups.

I can understand why some American officials have a lot emotionally invested and do not want to admit to the scale of the fiasco.

"I keep hope up -- it's misguided, perhaps -- that cooler heads will prevail," said an American defense official in Iraq, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "I have to believe that; otherwise, all of this has been a tremendous, tremendous fiasco."

But, yes, it really has been a tremendous, tremendous fiasco. Cooler heads? Iraq has tribal heads, not cooler heads.The Shias and Sunnis both believe Islam and Islam is highly problematic when it comes to toleration of anyone who is seen as heretical or non-Muslim. Well, Shias and Sunnis see each other as following false versions of Islam. On top of that, they have little loyalty to anything beyond the tribe.

Tom Lasseter reports on all the officers in Iraq who think they are in a civil war but know they are not supposed to call it that.

"I hate to use the word `purify,' because it sounds very bad, but they are trying to force Shiites into Shiite areas and Sunnis into Sunni areas," said Lt. Col. Craig Osborne, who commands a 4th Infantry Division battalion on the western edge of Baghdad, a hotspot of sectarian violence.

Osborne, 39, of Decatur, Ill., compared Iraq to Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands of people were killed in an orgy of inter-tribal violence in 1994. "That was without doubt a civil war - the same thing is happening here.

"But it's not called a civil war - there's such a negative connotation to that word and it suggests failure," he said.

We ought to send trucks and convoy escorts to help the Sunnis and Shias move away from each other. The sooner they get separated the less they will get killed for being in each others' villages and neighborhoods.

Read that article for examples of towns that have been emptied out. Ghost towns are popping up in Iraq.

What to do about the poor behavior of Iraqi government security forces? Maybe all the US forces in Baghdad should deploy with Iraqi forces so that more Iraqi forces are under adult moral supervision.

Expect an uptick of US casualties as US troops conduct many more patrols in Baghdad.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 August 06 10:57 PM  MidEast Iraq New Regime Failures


Comments
Ned said at August 7, 2006 6:26 AM:

Interesting article by Michael Hirsh (from almost two years ago) on Bernard Lewis and the deepening quagmire in Iraq. http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2004/0411.hirsh.html

FightHardOrGetOut said at August 7, 2006 2:39 PM:

"We ought to send trucks and convoy escorts to help the Sunnis and Shias move away from each other. The sooner they get separated the less they will get killed for being in each others' villages and neighborhoods."

Why? Why we want to prevent them fighting each other?
Because we want to efficiently execute a moronic strategy based on false assumptions about human nature in general and Arab/Moslem in particular?

Jorge The Moron and neo-con assumption that all peoples are the same and all dream of freedom and democracy have as much validity as Marxian believe that Proletarians of the world dream of uniting against capitalist sharks.

Reality is the West, at least USA, Australian and Israel parts of it, are engaged in the world war with Islam. The more Moslems of brand X fight Moslems of brand Y, the less time and energy they have fighting West.

In ideal world we would have enough expertise to conduct Divide and Conquer campaign, since we are very clearly don't, the best we could do is to recognize reality of the Moslem Ummah.

Build a huge base in Kurdistan from which to keep an eye on Arab mischief.
Leave the Sunny and Shia areas. Let them kill each to their heart desire.

Make clear to Kurds and Turks that as long as USA is in Kurdistan, Turks will have to live with a virtual independence of Iraqi Kurds (but not Iran and Syrian Kurds), but if USA will have to leave Kurdistan, Turks will have cart blanche and our support for control and domination of Iragi Kurds. This way we will have long term loyalty of Kurds.

Jorge is too mentally challenged to even comprehend such abrupt strategy shift, it is not clear if there is a single presidential candidate in either party who is capable of pulling this of.


John S Bolton said at August 8, 2006 12:19 PM:

If we steal the Albright recipe, US forces can maximize Moslem casualties by intervening against the locally stronger party.
This way you get to call your cause wondrously noble and chivalric: we're the knights in shining armor, fighting against the worst outrages of ethnic cleansing!
Meanwhile, the deaths moslems inflict on each other reach a maximum, since the local winner is kept from pursuing his advantage to the point of completion, where casualties would again fall back towards zero.
Before long, the kill ratios will be 100:1, Moslem: American; than which there can be hardly more discouragement for the Moslem military cause.
When kill ratios were that high in our favor, in the 19th century, uprisings were unusual and short-lived, while the pax Brittanica was imagined to be a law of nature, even.

John S Bolton said at August 8, 2006 12:49 PM:

Tacitus said they "have no taste for peace; renown is more easily won among perils and a large body of retainers cannot be kept together except by means of violence and war". This is from p.429 of Barry Cunliffe's Prehistoric Europe, who adds that such a "system of prestige relied on the maintenance of conflict and this inevitably created perpetual instability".
Whether this is relevant to Iraq or its tribes today, or to US elites for that matter, I will leave open.

Big Bill said at August 8, 2006 6:12 PM:

Be careful! As a part of our soon-to-be withdrawal from Iraq Bush is going to insist that we 500,000 or more Iraqis escape the chaos by moving to the USA. That way he proves to America and the world that they really were worth saving and affirms the life-giving power of Democracy (tm).


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