Six sergeants and a specialist in the US Army's 82nd Airborne have a highly recommended op/ed in the New York Times arguing that the conditions in Iraq are deteriorating and the US can do little about it.
VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)
This is a highly insightful article by people who demonstrate an amazing nuance in their understanding of what they've witnessed first hand while in danger for an extended period of time.
The Iraqi Army and police are not our allies.
A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.
As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.
The recent chorus in Washington DC about how well things are going in Iraq is working is "misleading rhetoric". Gotta agree on that score. No, the surge is not working. No, Iraq isn't going to turn the corner under our occupation.
The Shia goal of consolidation of their power puts them in conflict with the American goal of reconciliation with no group coming out as losers.
The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.
Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. Washington’s insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made — de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government — places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.
There's no way to reconcile this conflict of interests. What can we do? Stop trying to protect Sunnis from Shia depredations? We aren't going to exercise the level of brutality needed to put down insurgencies of this sort. In my view US interests are not at stake in Iraq. Al Qaeda isn't going to take over. The neighbors won't all invade if we withdraw. Iraq's oil reserves are depleted just like Saudi Arabia's. For energy security we need to look at developing non-oil energy sources. We really can leave. If we need to improve our security then the money we'll save by leaving can be spent on measures that will make us safer. Keeping over one hundred thousand troops in Iraq battling all the factions there does not make us safer.
They say there have to be losers in Iraq. But who gets shafted? My answer: The Sunnis have to get shafted. Maybe the Kurds get shafted too. Probably some Shia factions get shafted by other Shia factions. The Christians and Turkomen and other groups are big losers. Either that or every group gets its own country from a big partitioning. But too many factions in Iraq oppose partition and some of those factions will get shafted instead.
Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution wrote a very different op/ed in the New York Times entitled "A War We Just Might Win" arguing a very Panglossian view based on their recent trip to Iraq.
Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.
Anthony H. Cordesman, who is a strong supporter of continued US military operations in Iraq went on the same Iraq trip as O'Hanlon and Pollack but came back with a much less optimistic analysis of the situation.
The attached trip report does, however, show there is still a tenuous case for strategic patience in Iraq, and for timing reductions in US forces and aid to Iraqi progress rather than arbitrary dates and uncertain benchmarks. It recognizes that strategic patience is a high risk strategy, but it also describes positive trends in the fighting, and hints of future political progress.
These trends are uncertain, and must be considered in the context of a long list of serious political, military, and economic risks that are described in detail. The report also discusses major delays and problems in the original surge strategy. The new US approach to counterinsurgency warfare is making a difference, but it still seems likely from a visit to the scene that the original strategy President Bush announced in January would have failed if it had not been for the Sunni tribal awakening.
He's doubtful that we'll be successful there. Yet we thinks the cost of giving up is too high. I think if he didn't see such high costs for giving up he'd be even more pessimistic in his appraisal of conditions in Iraq.
Anthony Cordesman presented his views at a briefing which you can watch as a video (I happened to catch it on C-SPAN). Here are excerpts of his briefing on his report.
I should stress I did not see any dramatic change in our position in Iraq during this trip. Many of the points, the problems that exist there, are problems which have existed really since late 2004, if not earlier. I didn’t see a dramatic shift in the ability of Iraqis to reach the kind of compromise that is almost the foundation of moving forward, although there were some elements of progress. And I use the word “tenuous” in talking about my trip and strategic patience simply because the risks are so high and they are higher than even – or lower than even, I should say. We really have problems even in defining success.
One of the most critical problems is the prime minister’s office. And since I did not speak to the prime minister, I want to be careful about using the term “office.” But throughout the visit, time and again people said that the prime minister’s office had been involved in the support of Shi’ite ethnic cleansing, that in had intervened in detainment or military operations against Shi’ite militias, that it had refused to act in moving forward in areas where the prime minister had direct authority in bringing Sunnis and Sunni tribal elements into the government and into the security structure.
It is clear that in some ways our intervention in Iraq has allowed the Sadr militia and shi’ite extremist groups to operate in terms of sectarian cleansing with more freedom than they had in the past. This is an ongoing problem, and it is a very serious one. It is also clear that we face a growing threat from the more hostile elements of those Shi’ite militias, and that they have had stronger Iranian backing and new forms of Iranian arms.
Cordesman does not see partition as a solution.
It is also clear that while there are still some American politicians talking about partition as if this was soft and manageable. It is brutal, it is repressive, it kills people, it injures them, it drives them out of their homes, and it drives them out of the country. To talk about this as if it was something that is gentle or non-violent is simply dishonest, it has not happened, and it cannot happen in the future.
Clue train to Anthony Cordesman: But the partition is happening anyway. I repeat: The partition is happening anyway. You even say so. We can't stop it. We might as well help the Shias and Sunnis move away from each other under our protection so that they don't get killed or injured. We might as well help Sunnis and Shias basically swap homes and to help them build homes where they flee to.
The battles in the south are between Shia factions.
The south is effectively under the control of struggling Shi’ite factions. It is quite clear that the British have been defeated, that they are essentially marginalized in an enclave. We are watching struggles between Shi’ite factions, many of which are a little more than criminal gangs. We are not even able to have our PRTs operate in some of the problems involved, and we simply will never have the military forces to intervene both in Baghdad, the northern and central areas like Diyala and the south. Whatever happens, there has been a kind of partition already.
The struggle for Baghdad is still going on street by street, area by area. There is still sectarian cleansing in the south, there are still battles in Diyala, in Ninawa, in the north-central areas.
He admits that we do not have enough soldiers to fight in the south. The battles between Shia factions and the ethnic cleansing in many areas are beyond our ability to stop.
I am amazed that we are over 4 years into the Iraq debacle and yet George W. Bush and other war supporters can still orchestrate rah rah episodes in the press about how things in Iraq are starting to turn around in our favor. Some of our top military officers tell lies about how long it would take to pull out of Iraq. Lunatics write op/eds arguing that we are making progress in Iraq. Our leadership and public intellectuals are pretty lame.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2007 August 22 10:24 PM Mideast Iraq Exit Debate|