Defenders of US military involvement in Iraq point to a substantial decline in US military casualties as a sign that the country is stabilizing. But since the British forces pulled out from around Basra the city demonstrates what becomes of a part of Iraq in the absence of a foreign occupying force. The picture in Basra is not pretty.
What makes the situation in Basra — Iraq’s second largest city and commercial hub — so alarming, they say, is that it is a test of Iraqi rule under relatively optimal conditions: Basra has the nation’s best economic base, little ethnic tension within a homogeneous Shiite population and no Western occupation force to inflame nationalist tensions.
Yet the city remains deeply troubled. Disappearances of doctors, teachers and other professionals are common, as are some clashes among competing militias, most of which are linked to political parties. Murder victims include judicial investigators, politicians and tribal sheiks. One especially disturbing trend is the slaying of at least 100 women in the last year, according to the police. The Iraqi authorities have blamed Shiite militiamen for many of those killing, saying the militants had probably deemed the women to be impious.
Did "the surge" bring a decline in violence in Iraq? Or was that surge just coincidentally done at the same time a more powerful tactic was developed? The large scale purchase of Sunni loyalty with US money strikes me as the biggest cause of decreased violence in Iraq. (I strongly urge you to click thru and read Nir Rosen's piece in full)
Now, in the midst of the surge, the Bush administration has done an about-face. Having lost the civil war, many Sunnis were suddenly desperate to switch sides — and Gen. David Petraeus was eager to oblige. The U.S. has not only added 30,000 more troops in Iraq — it has essentially bribed the opposition, arming the very Sunni militants who only months ago were waging deadly assaults on American forces. To engineer a fragile peace, the U.S. military has created and backed dozens of new Sunni militias, which now operate beyond the control of Iraq's central government. The Americans call the units by a variety of euphemisms: Iraqi Security Volunteers (ISVs), neighborhood watch groups, Concerned Local Citizens, Critical Infrastructure Security. The militias prefer a simpler and more dramatic name: They call themselves Sahwa, or "the Awakening."
Could we just pay the Sahwa larger sums of money and cut way back on US troop levels?
I have an idea of what it would take to stabilize Iraq. So far we still funding fewer security forces than Saddam had. This cries out for an obvious experiment: Scale up US loyalty rental payments to twice their current level and see if that brings calm.
The American forces responsible for overseeing "volunteer" militias like Osama's have no illusions about their loyalty. "The only reason anything works or anybody deals with us is because we give them money," says a young Army intelligence officer. The 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, which patrols Osama's territory, is handing out $32 million to Iraqis in the district, including $6 million to build the towering walls that, in the words of one U.S. officer, serve only to "make Iraqis more divided than they already are." In districts like Dora, the strategy of the surge seems simple: to buy off every Iraqi in sight. All told, the U.S. is now backing more than 600,000 Iraqi men in the security sector — more than half the number Saddam had at the height of his power. With the ISVs in place, the Americans are now arming both sides in the civil war. "Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems," as U.S. strategists like to say. David Kilcullen, the counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. Petraeus, calls it "balancing competing armed interest groups."
Update: Nir Rosen's full piece "The Myth of the Surge" (the second link above) is excellent. It explains why we are not building any sort of permanent peace in Iraq. We are basically arming and training the two sides of the conflict. What happens when the money stops flowing in to rent their loyalties?
Update II: Americans are confusing a decline in US casualties with real progress. We are not bringing the warring sides together. The Shias see our arming of Sunni militias under US tutelage as the arming of their enemies (and the Shias are correct).
To the Americans, the Awakening represents a grand process of reconciliation, a way to draw more Sunnis into the fold. But whatever reconciliation the ISVs offer lies between the Americans and the Iraqis, not among Iraqis themselves. Most Shiites I speak with believe that the same Sunnis who have been slaughtering Shiites throughout Iraq are now being empowered and legitimized by the Americans as members of the ISVs. On one raid with U.S. troops, I see children chasing after the soldiers, asking them for candy. But when they learn I speak Arabic, they tell me how much they like the Mahdi Army and Muqtada al-Sadr. "The Americans are donkeys," one boy says. "When they are here we say, 'I love you,' but when they leave we say, 'Fuck you.'"
Rosen can speak Arabic. So he can get a clue. He watches the Arabs play and manipulate the American soldiers who delude themselves into thinking they are in control. Some US officers know that without Arabic language skills they are at a major disadvantage.
U.S. troops who work with the Iraqi National Police realize that beyond their gaze, the country's security forces do not act anything like police. "The INPs here are almost all Shiites," says Maj. Jeffrey Gottlieb, a lanky tank officer who oversees a unit charged with training Iraqi police. "Orders from their chain of command are usually to arrest Sunnis, not Shiites." The police have also been conducting what Gottlieb calls "United Van Lines missions" — resettling displaced Shiite families in homes abandoned by Sunnis. "The National Police ask, 'Can you help us move a family's furniture?' We don't know if the people coming back were even from here originally." Gottlieb shrugs. "We don't know as much as we could, because we don't know Arabic," he says.
The US military is making a huge mistake by not doing a large amount of Arabic training for every soldier going to Iraq with continuing intensive Arabic training while the soldiers are in-country.
You might think we can put Humpty Dumpty back together again. After all, the civil war in Lebanon eventually stopped. But I see the numeric majority of the Shias and the lack of oil in the Sunni Triangle as huge obstacles to a power sharing agreement. The sides are not evenly matched and they do not have equal amounts to win and lose. The Shias have the most oil and the most people. They are not inclined to give to the Sunnis. At the same time, the Sunnis know that without non-democratically achieved positions they are out of power and out of the money that oil brings. Our substitute money only works if we are willing to pay them for many years to come.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2008 February 27 05:10 PM MidEast Iraq New Regime Failures|