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2006 June 13 Tuesday
Factions Fight Over Oil In Basra

Sabrina Tavernise and Qais Mizher of the New York Times report on the brutal battle for power and oil in Basra Iraq.

BASRA, Iraq — Politics, once seen as a solution to the problems of a society broken by years of brutal single-party rule, has paralyzed the heart of Iraq's south.

This once-quiet city of riverside promenades was among the most receptive to the American invasion. Now, three years later, it is being pulled apart by Shiite political parties that want to control the region and its biggest prize, oil. But in today's Iraq, politics and power flow from the guns of militias, and negotiating has been a bloody process.

"We're into political porridge, that's what's changed," said Brig. James Everard, commander of the British forces in Basra. "It's mafia-type politics down here."

Basra is deep in the Shia heartland. The Sunnis and Zarqawi can not be blamed for its descent into Hobbesian barbarity.

While some locals think the British contributed to the violence others think the British weren't stern enough.

Some local people say British actions have helped to fuel the violence. But others say the British have not been tough enough, allowing criminal and factional elements to thrive.

"They should have moved against these people earlier," said Hassan, a teacher. "Now it's too late."

British commanders disagree. They say those behind the recent attacks on their troops are on the back-foot now, after a series of raids netted major finds of weapons and bomb-making materials. The main threat, these officers say, comes from "rogue elements" in local Shia militia groups - particularly from the Mehdi Army, loyal to the radical cleric Moqtada Sadr.

Saddam Hussein would have taken family members of trouble makers captive and killed some of them. Then the troublemakers would have had to ask themselves whether they wanted to see their whole families wiped out.

Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund For Peace have published a an international failed states ranking. They place Iraq at number 4 behind Sudan, the so-called Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ivory Coast. Iraq comes out worse than number 5 Zimbabwe on a 10 point scale (higher is worse) by the indicators "Group Grievance" (9.8 versus 8.5), "Human Flight" (9.1 versus 9.0), "Human Rights" (9.7 versus 9.5), Security Apparatus (9.8 versus 9.4), "Factionalized Elites" (9.7 to 8.5), and "External Intervention (10.0 versus 8.0). Though Zimbabwe scores worse on several indicators including "Demographic Pressures", "Uneven Development" (guess they are referring to Chinese investments), "Economy", "Delegitimization of State", and "Public Services".

The full list of failed states shows nuclear and Muslim Pakistan at a worrisome number 10. Can you say "thermonuclear war"? Sure.

Try to stop the factions from fighting or let them have at it?

The situation in Basra raises a question: Does it make more sense to stay to try to quell increasing sectarian and terrorist violence, or leave and let Iraqis fight it out? British officials have talked of drawing down troops soon - while insisting that their mission has been more success than failure.

Their decision is likely to foreshadow the U.S. endgame in Iraq. Perhaps some uneasy calm can first be achieved. But right now, Basra seems more to reinforce Lawrence of Arabia's cautionary words in 1920 about British involvement in Iraq. Mesopotamia (as Iraq used to be known) was, Lawrence said, "a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor."

Yes, too late to escape with dignity. Not too late to escape though.

The Iraqi government is worried about the violence because they fear disruptions in oil deliveries and hence big revenue losses.

University professors, army officers, Muslim clerics, and community leaders have been targeted in assassinations in recent months. While some of the attacks are on Sunni Arabs and former Baath party members, others appear to involved internecine strife between militias aligned with rival factions and political groups.

As a result of the violence, security has been left in tatters, and even the presence of 8,000 British troops has not stopped the violence.

The violence increased rather than decreased after the new Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki declared a month-long state of emergency on 31 May. Within days of his announcement, at least 35 people were killed and dozens more injured in a bloody attack in the city public market and a shooting at a Sunni mosque.

Brigadier James Everard, the commander of British forces in Iraq's four southeastern provinces, says the Iraqis are not interested in freedom of speech.

To a large degree, the violence has resulted from a power grab by Shiite factions that had been left practically on their own to run the region while American and Iraqi officials in Baghdad have fought insurgents elsewhere.

"Freedom of speech, freedom of expression: it just hasn't quite worked out the way it was planned," Everard said. "They're not prepared to debate. They tend to do things at the end of a gun."

Liberalism doesn't hold much appeal in Iraq and the people aren't willing to fight for freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of religion. In fact, they are far more inclined to fight against than for those very Western ideals.

Conservative columnist John Derbyshire says he was mistaken for supporting the war.

We are not controlling events in Iraq. Events in Iraq are controlling us. We are the puppet; the street gangs of Baghdad and Basra are the puppet-masters, aided and abetted by an unsavory assortment of confidence men, bazaar traders, scheming clerics, ethnic front men, and Iranian agents. With all our wealth and power and idealism, we have submitted to become the plaything of a rabble, and a Middle Eastern rabble at that. Instead of rubbling, we have ourselves been rabbled. The lazy-minded evangelico-romanticism of George W. Bush, the bureaucratic will to power of Donald Rumsfeld, the avuncular condescension of Dick Cheney, and the reflexive military deference of Colin Powell combined to get us into a situation we never wanted to be in, a situation no self-respecting nation ought to be in, a situation we don’t know how to get out of. It’s not inconceivable that, with a run of sheer good luck, we might yet escape without too much egg on our faces, but it’s not likely. The place we are at is surely not a place anyone in 2003 wanted us to be at—not even Vic Davis Hanson.

Since the Iraq war was obviously a gross blunder, is it time for those of us who cheered on the war to offer some kind of apology? Here we are—we, the United States—in our fourth year of occupying that sinkhole, and it looks pretty much like the third year, or the second. Will the eighth year of our occupation, or our twelfth, look any better? I know people who will say yes, but I no longer know any who will say it with real conviction. It’s a tough thing, to admit you were wrong. It’s way tough if you’re a big-name pundit with a reputation to preserve. For those of us down at the bottom of the pundit pecking order, the stakes aren’t so high. I, at any rate, am willing to eat some crow and say: I wish I had never given any support to this fool war.

Read his full essay.

The biggest tragedy of Iraq that gets the least press attention is the extreme loss of rights by women. Basra women claim they've lost the most.

BASRA - The women of Basra have disappeared. Three years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, women's secular freedoms - once the envy of women across the Middle East - have been snatched away because militant Islam is rising across the country.

Our supposed allies the Shiites are terrible in their treatment of women.

In the British-occupied south, where Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army retains a stranglehold, women insist the situation is at its worst.

Here they are forced to live behind closed doors only to emerge, concealed behind scarves, hidden behind husbands and fathers. Even wearing a pair of trousers is considered an act of defiance, punishable by death.

One Basra woman, known only as Dr Kefaya, was working in the women and children's hospital unit at the city university when she started receiving threats from extremists. She defied them. Then, one day a man walked into the building and murdered her.

We opened Pandora's Box. The lives of Iraqi women are worse for it.

By Randall Parker    2006 June 13 10:58 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2006 June 01 Thursday
Basra And Ramadi Big Iraq Troublespots

Organized cime groups and tribes (which are kinda the same thing) compete for control of heavily Shia Basra with death squads that kill members of competing groups or anyone who complains.

Now, Basra is the only city in Iraq under emergency rule, evidence of how far the city has careened off course. Locals say death squads openly patrol the streets and a police official reached by phone reports that at least 400 assassinations in the past two months.

Residents describe a political climate that is a cross between Al Capone's Chicago and Medici Florence. Politicians, corrupt policemen, and gangs are all vying with one another to determine who will come out on top. Some Shiite politicians there - as well as US and British officers - also allege that some of the groups are being provided money and arms by Iran, whose border is just 10 miles away.

While death squads have been trolling the city for over a year, the pace of the killing has picked up, and the target lists appear to have expanded, residents say.

"It made more sense when it started out. They were killing Baathists and officers from Saddam's army,'' says Ghazi, a long-haul trucker who makes regular trips to Basra, and asked that his full named not be used. "Now they kill Shiites, Sunnis, tribal leaders, doctors, engineers - just about anyone who opposes them politically."

The whole article is full of more insights.

Democracy in Iraq leads to the winners handing out contracts to their allies while the defeated factions take up arms to fight against a corrupt spoils system that doesn't give them a cut of the action.

This official also alleges that a lot of the city's government contracts are being steered to tribes that backed Waili for the governorship, and that other tribes that haven't been getting the business have been taking up arms.

American soldiers died to make this possible.

Basra is getting ethnically purified into a pure (but still heavily divided) Shia city..

The proportion of Sunni Muslims in Basra has declined from 40% to 15%, after three years of forced immigration, said the chairman of a religious authority in Iraq.

The chairman of the official Sunni Endowment in Southern Iraq said militias had targeted Sunnis in the country's second-largest city.

Once all the Sunnis have left the Shias will focus more of their ambitions trying to force each other to submit.

With some factions in Basra threatening to cut off oil shipments to the nearby port the central government sees real money at stake in the fight for Basra and therefore the Iraqi central government has decided to try to take control of Basra.

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Police set up roadblocks Thursday around the oil-rich southern city of Basra as a monthlong state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki went into effect.

Basra Gov. Mohammed al-Waeli said army troops and police fanned out around Iraq's second-largest city as part of a crackdown on rampant violence that has increased in recent weeks as rival Shiite militias fight each other for power.

Think those army troops represent a neutral fair force that stands against all militias and death squads? That seems unlikely. Probably officers in the Iraqi army have allies among one or more of the competing militias. So the Iraqi army's intervention is going to help some factions and hurt others.

Remember when the Bush Administration was talking about how the US military would start to pull down troop levels in Iraq in 2006? All that talk has fallen by the wayside as the violence has escalated. The rest of the US Army's 3500 reserves in Kuwait have gotten shifted to Anbar Province in order to try to take back Ramadi from Zarqawi's followers who control the city.

Recently about 1,500 soldiers of the Army's 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, deployed from Kuwait into western Iraq to conduct operations. This is precisely why this force has been stationed in Kuwait -- to provide General Casey and General Chiarelli with a flexible force that could be employed when the tactical situations so dictate.

The US military in Iraq is too small to control the place.

RAMADI, Iraq - Whole neighborhoods are lawless, too dangerous for police. Some roads are so bomb-laden that U.S. troops won't use them. Guerrillas attack U.S. troops nearly every time they venture out - and hit their bases with gunfire, rockets or mortars when they don't.

Though not powerful enough to overrun U.S. positions, insurgents here in the heart of the Sunni Muslim triangle have fought undermanned U.S. and Iraqi forces to a virtual stalemate.

"It's out of control," says Army Sgt. 1st Class Britt Ruble, behind the sandbags of an observation post in the capital of Anbar province. "We don't have control of this ... we just don't have enough boots on the ground."

Bush doesn't want to admit that the US military isn't big enough to control Iraq. To fix that problem would reduce domestic spending cuts, tax hikes, and a huge admission of error. Not going to happen. He doesn't want to admit to mistakes on such an enormous scale.

Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe reports that the US military has not weakened the Iraqi insurgency.

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon reported Tuesday that the frequency of insurgent attacks against troops and civilians is at its highest level since American commanders began tracking such figures two years ago, an ominous sign that, despite three years of combat, the US-led coalition forces haven't significantly weakened the Iraq insurgency.

In its quarterly update to Congress, the Pentagon reported that from Feb. 11 to May 12, as the new Iraqi unity government was being established, insurgents staged an average of more than 600 attacks per week nationwide. From August 2005 to early February, when Iraqis elected a Parliament, insurgent attacks averaged about 550 per week; at its lowest point, before the United States handed over sovereignty in the spring of 2004, the attacks averaged about 400 per week.

If you get depressed by reality and not like to read sad and tragic news presented in unvarnished form then my advice is to seek out the "Happy Talk" blogs. You probably can still find bloggers who see reasons for optimism in spite of the US military's belief that the insurgency is undiminished. Never mind that the Shias are forcing all the Sunnis to leave Basra. Never mind that Basra is under control of rival religious parties and organized crime groups. You can find happy talkers who will assure you that things are looking pretty rosy.

The Sunni sheiks in Ramadi say they are not in control and they are afraid of Zarqawi..

Last week, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad conceded, in answer to a question about Ramadi in an interview with CNN, that parts of Anbar were under insurgent control. Ramadi is the capital of the overwhelmingly Sunni province. The difficulties facing stretched-thin U.S. Marines in Ramadi suggest the continuing obstacles to a reduction of American forces in Iraq.

"We hope to get rid of al-Qaeda, which is a huge burden on the city. Unfortunately, Zarqawi's fist is stronger than the Americans'," said one Sunni sheik, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of insurgent retaliation. He was referring to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, an umbrella group for many of the foreign and local resistance fighters in Iraq. Local Sunni leaders often insist that the most violent insurgent attacks are by foreign fighters, not Iraqi Sunnis.

In Ramadi, "Zarqawi is the one who is in control," the sheik said, speaking to a Washington Post special correspondent in Ramadi. "He kills anyone who goes in and out of the U.S. base. We have stopped meetings with the Americans, because, frankly speaking, we have lost confidence in the U.S. side, as they can't protect us."

Some of the sheiks who tried cooperating with US forces are now dead.

I say we leave and let the Iraqis fight it out among themselves. The neocons need to reconceptualize. What we are seeing is street democracy. Hurray! We've established a teeming and vibrant democracy in the Middle East.

Update: Want to understand why the US intervention in Iraq is doomed to failure? See my post John Tierney On Cousin Marriage As Reform Obstacle In Iraq and click back and read the posts and articles linked to there. In a later post I listed a number of reasons why attempts to establish democracy won't work in the Middle East and in Iraq in particular. All those posts and linked articles are far more useful for understanding Iraq than the latest media reports. On top of all those reasons Iraq has an average IQ of 87. They are too dumb to make representative democracy work well. Liberal myths about human nature are costing us terribly in Iraq. We need to abandon the myths. The myths have gotten too costly abroad and at home.

Update II: The Rand Corporation analysts James Quinliven and James Dobbins and a variety of retired generals agree that to properly occupy Iraq would require forces at least 3 or probably 4 times larger than the current US forces there. Bush clearly doesn't want to try to pay the price to make our will prevail in Iraq. The US people wouldn't want to either if he tried. So what is the point in staying? Also see my post "History Of American Interventions Bodes Poorly For Democracy".

By Randall Parker    2006 June 01 09:26 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2006 May 23 Tuesday
ParaPundit Modest Proposal To Solve Iraq Problem

The US military feels it should crack down on some slavery-like conditions among its subcontractors in Iraq. If you aren't allowed to leave your job is it slavery or serfdom or what exactly?

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military said Tuesday that it had issued new orders to private contractors in Iraq to crack down on violations of human trafficking laws involving laborers brought from around the world to work at American bases and other sites.

An inspection completed in late March uncovered evidence that it was widespread practice among firms providing services to the military to take away their workers' passports to keep them in place, military spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said.

The US military is bringing a small ray of Enlightenment era thinking to Iraq. As much as I admire and identify with the spirit that motivates their crackdown it seems so much like yesterday's Old Republic spirit for America rather than the proper Roman New Republic spirit sweeping our capitol. I think the US military is behind the curve on where the US Senate and White House are leading our country and the world. Keep reading for the big picture.

I bet US Senate supporters of Open Borders are thrilled to hear how much Third World labor could lower wage costs in the US.

"Increasing expenditures in theater ... jeopardize our ability to maintain public support as the costs associated with our operations continue to rise," wrote Gen. George Casey, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, in a memo issued last summer and exclusively reported by UPI.

One of the few areas with flexibility in cost is the labor. Companies competing for KBR subcontracts routinely shop the world for the lowest-paid workers to fill positions at U.S. facilities -- cooking, cleaning and maintaining the physical infrastructure of the bases for 140,000 U.S. service members.

In some cases, workers are paid a pittance by Western standards. UPI reported in December that some food service employees from Sierra Leone were paid less than 50 cents an hour for their year-long contract. The workers were contractually prohibited from discussing the terms of their contract and their pay with outsiders but UPI obtained a copy of the employment contract.

Aren't you thrilled? This creates possiblities. I see a solution to our problems with Iraq. See if you can think of it before I tell you.

Here's a crucial hint: the problem with Iraq is the people.

Who are we fighting in Iraq? Ahmed S. Hashim attempts to answer that question in his excellent Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq (Cornell Univ., $29.95). The result is probably the be st book to appear so far on the U.S. occupation -- a genuine insider's account arguing that the U.S. mission is failing and is likely doomed. In exploring the Iraqi insurgency, Hashim, a professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College who has done two tours advising the military in Iraq, goes a long way toward explaining why Iraq is drifting toward civil war.

"U.S. intelligence . . . is remarkable for the consistency with which it has been wrong" about the insurgency, writes Hashim, who speaks Arabic and is steeped in U.S. intelligence reports. Contrary to the official U.S. view that the insurgency is built largely around foreign jihadists and Baathist "dead-enders" keen to restore the old dictatorship, Hashim argues that the rebellion is broadly based in Iraq's Sunni Arab community and draws considerable strength from the tribal structure of Iraqi society.

Hint: Are the people a constant? Or are they a variable?

The US military needs to think more out of the box. The Marines and Army are split over what strategy to follow in Iraq.

HADITHA, Iraq — In the region around Qaim, a northwestern Iraqi town near the Syrian border, Marines are fanning out from their main base and moving into villages as part of a new strategy to root out insurgents who enter the country here.

The troops have set up 19 small base camps throughout the area and begun routinely patrolling insurgent hot spots north of the Euphrates River. The deployment follows a strategy favored by a new generation of counterinsurgency experts: disperse, mingle with the population and stay put.

But the shift comes as the Pentagon appears to be moving the overall U.S. military effort in the opposite direction across much of the country. Army units are being concentrated in "super bases" that line the spine of central Iraq, away from the urban centers where counterinsurgency operations take place.

These are two pretty well known approaches that one would expect to emerge from military minds approaching Iraq as a military problem. But I see a totally different way to approach Iraq. As my inspiration I take my hat off to Senators Martinez and Hagel for their terrible Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (CIRA, S.2611) which could bring in 66 or 73 or more million immigrants to the United States in the next 20 years. The original unamended version of their bill could have brought in 100 to 200 million.

Well, thinking about those big numbers of immigrants points the way toward how for solve the Iraq problem: Use massive immigration of US government contractors to make the Sunnis a very small minority in the Sunni Triangle. Marginalize them. Make them the former dominant population on their own lands. This is an affordable proposition. For 50 cents an hour the cost per worker per year would be only $1000 per imported worker. Here's the beauty of that fact. Iraq is about 20% Sunni Arab (rough number and estimates vary). Well, with 26 million total that is only 5 million Sunnis (and if I'm off my a couple million it does not invalidate my conclusion). At 50 cents an hour and $1000 per worker per year we could bring in an equal number of foreigners for only $5 billion per year! That's less than we spend in a month! This solution ought to appeal to the Open Borders crowd in the US Senate.

For a few months of our operational costs in Iraq we could bring in 15 or 20 million people from really poor countries and pay them to build a replacement society in the Sunni Triangle. We could drive down local salaries so far the Sunnis would flee into Jordan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and other places in the region. This idea ought to appeal to Bush. To keep the momentum building American companies could set up factories there and employ imported labor with no minimum wage laws or need to provide government-subsidized health care. The US military would defend their investment

Some of the foreign workers could get paid to to build barriers around Sunni towns. Seeing the barriers going up lots of Sunnis would flee. The ones who stay behind would be told they could leave only get to leave if they agreed to leave Iraq.

I know what you are saying: I wish I had thought of that.

How can any supporter of the CIRA legislation in the Senate or in the White House object to this plan? We'd only be doing to Iraq what our leaders want to do to America.

By Randall Parker    2006 May 23 06:22 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2006 May 06 Saturday
Basra Shias Clash With British Forces

After a British helicopter crash in Basra the Shias in the area got violent.

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A British military helicopter crashed in Basra on Saturday, and Iraqis hurled stones at British troops and set fire to three armored vehicles that rushed to the scene. Clashes broke out between British troops and Shiite militias, police and witnesses said.

Police Capt. Mushtaq Khazim said the helicopter was apparently shot down in a residential district. He said the four-member crew was killed, but British officials would say only that there were "casualties."


The crowd chanted "we are all soldiers of al-Sayed," a reference to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, an ardent foe of the presence of foreign troops in Iraq.

I interpret this as a sign of growing power for Sadr and decreasing power for older and more restrained Shia cleric Sistani. That does not bode well for the continued presence of US and British troops in Iraq.

The Shia youths threw Molotov cocktails at the Brits sent to try to rescue any crash survivors.

BASRA, Iraq -- A fiery melee erupted after a British helicopter apparently was shot down over a wealthy residential neighborhood of this southern city Saturday, in the latest sign of souring relations between Iraq's majority Shiites and the U.S.-led multinational forces in the country's south.


By the time the smoke cleared and an all-night curfew was imposed in parts of the city, at least four Iraqis lay dead and 20 others had been injured either in the crash or the ensuing skirmishes between Molotov-cocktail-wielding youth and British soldiers.

The chopper crash and riot marked a nadir in relations between Britain's 8,500 soldiers in Iraq's south and Basra's Shiite population, which was oppressed under Saddam Hussein's regime and initially welcomed the U.S.-led invasion.

The Brits travel a lot in helicopters because ground travel around Basra is too dangerous.

We rely very heavily on helicopters in the south of Iraq to minimise travel by road and successful militant missile strike would be a very serious problem for us,' said one recently retired British senior army officer. 'It could push up casualties significantly.'

Okay, Basra is very far from the Sunni Triangle and Fallujah. It is deep in the Shia heartand. Yet the Brits avoid travelling on the ground, a British helicopter was probably shot down by a rocket, and when the Brits showed up at the crash a hostile crowd quickly grew and turned violent. Will the Shias rise up against the coalition forces? The US military is not big enough to handle such a turn of events.

By Randall Parker    2006 May 06 05:04 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2006 April 30 Sunday
Bush Uses Church Story To Lie About Iraq

Does George W. Bush believe his own lie?

Bush briefly noted that he sat in a California church yesterday near a "mother and stepfather" who were "grieving" for their son who had been killed in Iraq.

He went on to say: "I also want to let you know that before you commit troops that you must do everything that you can to solve the problem diplomatically. And I can look you in the eye and tell you I feel I tried to solve the problem diplomatically to the max and would have committed troops both in Afghanistan and Iraq, knowing what I know today."


Later, Bush said: "I base a lot of my foreign policy decisions on some things that I think are true. One, I believe there's an Almighty. And, secondly, I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody's soul, regardless of what you look like or where you live, to be free."

Bush is such a brazen liar. He even used a scene in a church and the grieving parents of a soldier who died in Iraq as a setting to make his lie sound more credible. How shameless. He never meant for a diplomatic solution to work with Saddam's Iraq. He wanted a war. For evidence see my post "Bush Never Wanted A Diplomatic Solution With Iraq". Bush started to plan for the war 3 months after the 9/11 attack. Bush put himself in a position where Hans Blix and the UN weapons inspectors couldn't be given much time because Bush had troops nearby he couldn't keep in position for a long period - at least in his thinking. So Bush set in motion events that made war the best option in his mind. George Tenet's "slam dunk" claim about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction makes Tenet one of the worst CIA chiefs since his statement helped make this debacle possible.

What's scary is that he may really believe that everyone has a desire for freedom put there by God Almighty. Never mind the copious quantities of evidence to the contrary. Even never mind the fundamental Christian belief that we are very flawed and sinful creatures. The beliefs he's chosen to make part of his own faith make him immune to mere empirical evidence offered up by the "reality-based community".

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

My guess is Bush believes quite a few of his lies.

By Randall Parker    2006 April 30 07:42 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2006 April 16 Sunday
Iraq Construction Projects Fall Short Of Goals

A good article by John Ward Anderson and Bassam Sebti of the Washington Post Foreign Service outlines the problems and failures trying to rebuild Iraq.

BAGHDAD -- On the southern outskirts of Baghdad, a sewage treatment plant that was repaired with $13.5 million in U.S. funds sits idle while all of the raw waste from the western half of Baghdad is dumped into the Tigris River, where many of the capital's 7 million residents get their drinking water.

Adjacent to the Karkh sewage plant is Iraq's most advanced sanitary landfill, a new, 20-acre, $32 million dump -- also paid for by the United States -- with a liner to prevent groundwater contamination. It has not had a load of garbage dropped off since the manager of the sewer plant was killed four months ago. Iraqis consider the access roads too dangerous, and Iraqi police rarely venture into the area, a haven for insurgents who regularly lob mortar shells across the city into the Green Zone less than six miles away.

Lawlessness causes destruction and enormous amounts of waste.

A quarter of the completed water and sanitation projects are not operating.

For example, the report said, "as of June 2005, approximately $52 million of the $200 million in completed large-scale water and sanitation projects either were not operating or were operating at lower capacity due to looting of key equipment and shortages of reliable power, trained Iraqi staff, and required chemicals and supplies."

What waste.

A reservist in the US Army Corps of Engineers, Lt. Col. Otto Albert Busher III, says that Baghdad easily needs $3 billion in water and sewer repair.

Busher estimated that between 40 percent and 60 percent of the purified water that leaves Baghdad's treatment plants never makes it to city taps because of leaks in the system.

"You're looking at a couple of million dollars of lost water per day," he said. And because the water network was built 25 years ago with brittle cement pipes that have a 20-year life, every time a bomb explodes in Baghdad, the water system is damaged.

Even tanks rumbling on the streets crack the pipes -- and not just water pipes, but sewer pipes that run alongside. Contamination of fresh water by sewage "happens on a daily basis," Busher said.

Just in Baghdad alone that's over $700 million in water lost per year plus sickness caused by the mixing of fresh water with sewage.

Read the whole thing. The Bush Administration underestimated by orders of magnitude the job the United States was taking on by invading Iraq. The US military was and still is too small to handle security properly. Therefore the oil fields are producing less, lots of stuff gets built and then destroyed or stolen or workers get scared away. Projects take longer. The disorder and dysfunction encourages the insurgents and provides them more support.

Meanwhile the neoconservatives want to invade Iran. Imagine the scale of the mess that will result from that. Where will the troops come from? Or will they decide to do a massive air campaign?

By Randall Parker    2006 April 16 06:53 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2006 March 28 Tuesday
Bush Never Wanted A Diplomatic Solution With Iraq

A leaked 5 page British government memo shows insight into what Bush and Blair were thinking a couple of months before the Iraq invasion began.

But behind closed doors, the president was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times.

"Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning," David Manning, Mr. Blair's chief foreign policy adviser at the time, wrote in the memo that summarized the discussion between Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair and six of their top aides.

Bush and Blair did not expect the Iraqis to start fighting each other.

The memo indicates the two leaders envisioned a quick victory and a transition to a new Iraqi government that would be complicated, but manageable. Mr. Bush predicted that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups." Mr. Blair agreed with that assessment.

The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Mr. Hussein.

What are they telling each other now? That the Shias are soon going to stop using their power in the Iraqi government to do killing and ethnic cleansing of Sunnis? That things will get better?

Why did Bush invade Iraq? Just to score what he thought would be an easy political victory to bolster his domestic popularity? He wasn't mainly concerned about the supposed WMD threat.

The January 2003 memo is the latest in a series of secret memos produced by top aides to Mr. Blair that summarize private discussions between the president and the prime minister. Another group of British memos, including the so-called Downing Street memo written in July 2002, showed that some senior British officials had been concerned that the United States was determined to invade Iraq, and that the "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" by the Bush administration to fit its desire to go to war.

The thing that bothers me most about Iraq is that we have to wait and watch the tragedy play out. Too many people do not want to admit how bad things have gotten and therefore we have to watch as things get even worse. The Shias are behaving increasingly worse. Shia religious parties have control of the government and they are in no mood to try to restrain the Shia militias and Shias in the intelligence services who are busy exacting revenge on the Sunnis.

The liberals do not want to say just how bad things are in Iraq because to explain why things are so bad would involve giving up on liberal myths about the universal appeal of liberal democracy and the capacity of every population to have a liberal democracy. On the right too many defend Bush out of partisan loyalty. How sad.

By Randall Parker    2006 March 28 07:06 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2006 March 24 Friday
Brave Iraqi Reporters In Iraq

In 3 years more reporters have died in Iraq than died in the entire period of the Vietnam War.

On Monday, the multinational group Reporters Without Borders said 86 journalists and news assistants have been killed in Iraq since U.S. forces crossed the border from Kuwait three years ago. By contrast, the group said, 63 journalists were killed in Vietnam during the 22-year period of the war there. (Related: Read the report)

The reporters in Vietnam took many fewer precautions. Baghdad is far more dangerous than Saigon was in the 60s. That's a real problem. The reporters can't go to places to talk to people to find out the real story in many cases.

Most of the killed reporters have been Iraqis and Western reporters rarely get killed. (PDF format)

The overwhelming majority were men (92 per cent). Seven women journalists have been killed since the start of the war. The average age of those killed was 35.5. The youngest (Ali Abrahim Aissa) was 21 and the oldest (Shinsuke Hashida) was 61.

Iraqis have been the worst hit. 77 per cent of the journalists and media assistants killed in Iraq in the past three years have been of Iraqi nationality. The proportion of Iraqis has risen. They represented 66 per cent of all the journalists killed until May 2005. The visiting foreign reporters to have died in Iraq were nearly all killed in the first days of the war, in March and April 2003. The most recent case was in August 2005, when American freelance writer Steven Vincent was killed in Basra. Since then, all the media professionals killed in Iraq have been of Iraqi nationality.

While 77% of the killed were Iraqs 11% were from other Arab countries, 8% from Europe, and only 5% from the United States.

The higher Iraqi reporter death rate is probably due to less money spent on keeping them alive.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, US and British journalists have not been the worst hit by this war. This has clearly been due to the radical security measures adopted by most of the US and British news media operating in Iraq. As the war progressed, these media have reinforced their security provisions even more.

Armoured vehicles, bodyguards and very few excursions. Journalists have had to adapt their work to these constraints. In the great majority of cases, the only contact with the local population is conducted by Iraqi employees. Large swathes of Iraqi territory are no longer covered by the foreign press.

The international news media would be unable to maintain a presence in Iraq if they did not make these concessions. There were very few privately-owned security companies in Baghdad in 2003 but now they are flourishing. At least 20 are currently operating in Iraq.

Western media rely heavily on Iraqi freelancers for reporting. Some complain that this slants the coverage. But given the splits within Iraqi society it is hard to say how the coverage gets slanted. Are most of the stringers Sunnis or Shias? Related to the old regime or the new regime or to militias?

By Randall Parker    2006 March 24 02:45 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2006 January 05 Thursday
Bush Losing Popularity In US Military

The Military Times polled active duty readers of their newspapers (not the military as a whole) and found Bush is down to a 54 percent approval rating among the military personnel polled.

Support for President Bush and for the war in Iraq has slipped significantly in the last year among members of the military’s professional core, according to the 2005 Military Times Poll.

Approval of the president’s Iraq policy fell 9 percentage points from 2004; a bare majority, 54 percent, now say they view his performance on Iraq as favorable. Support for his overall performance fell 11 points, to 60 percent, among active-duty readers of the Military Times newspapers. Though support both for President Bush and for the war in Iraq remains significantly higher than in the public as a whole, the drop is likely to add further fuel to the heated debate over Iraq policy. In 2003 and 2004, supporters of the war in Iraq pointed to high approval ratings in the Military Times Poll as a signal that military members were behind President Bush’s the president’s policy.

73% expect the US to succeed in Iraq. I wonder what they define as success. I'm expecting corruption and a democratic Shia theocracy which has warmer relations with Iran than with the United States and which will be just as hostile toward Israel as Saddam Hussein was.

The military trusts its own officers more than the President and the President more than Congress.

• 58 percent agreed that President Bush had their best interests at heart, down 11 percentage points from a year ago.

• 64 percent agreed that senior uniformed leaders had their best interests at heart, down six points.

• Congress saw the most dramatic drop: Just 31 percent agreed Congress looked out for their best interests, less than half the number a year ago.

The military holds the press in even lower regard.

I wonder what the longer term trend will be in terms of the military's trust in civilian institutions.

By Randall Parker    2006 January 05 10:33 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (26)
2006 January 04 Wednesday
US Influence Waning In Iraq As Iranian Influence Grows

A Christian Science Monitor article argues that US influence in Iraq is declining for multiple reasons.

As the weight of the Shiite Islamist victory in Iraq's election is still being calculated, US influence in the country - in reconstruction, security, and politics - is steadily receding.

While a diminished US role in Iraqi affairs was inevitable, the speed of the retreat raises some risks to the establishing of a stable, US-friendly Iraq. The Shiite parties that dominated the vote in December have closer affinity to Iran than to the US. At the same time, the Bush administration is planning sharp cuts in reconstruction aid, a major point of leverage in Iraqi affairs.

The Shias in Iraq know all the Sunni Arab governments do not like seeing Shias running Iraq. So that'll drive the Shias even more toward the Iranians.

But what alliances will the de facto Kurdish state form? They are landlocked. Will they build alliances with Syria? Iran? Are friendly relations with Turkey out of the question?

The Washington Post reports that the Bush Administration is going to greatly cut rebuilding in Iraq. Much of the reconstruction budget got shifted toward security and other needs.

BAGHDAD -- The Bush administration does not intend to seek any new funds for Iraq reconstruction in the budget request going before Congress in February, officials say. The decision signals the winding down of an $18.4 billion U.S. rebuilding effort in which roughly half of the money was eaten away by the insurgency, a buildup of Iraq's criminal justice system and the investigation and trial of Saddam Hussein.

A decline in the aid budget means a decline in money available to temporarily buy loyalties. This might cause an increase in the size of the insurgency.

The US government shifted much of the allocated $18.4 billion toward building up the Iraqi military, providing security on reconstruction projects (about 25% of their costs), to build prisons, and for other expenses. So the US probably didn't even spend half

The Iraqi economy was doing better before the war by some important measures.

Oil production stands at roughly 2 million barrels a day, compared with 2.6 million before U.S. troops entered Iraq in March 2003, according to U.S. government statistics.

The national electrical grid has an average daily output of 4,000 megawatts, about 400 megawatts less than its prewar level.

The article reports that more than $1 billion earmarked for electricity was shifted to fund police and security. The US government originally expected to achieve 6,000 megawatts of capacity. Read the full article for more details.

By Randall Parker    2006 January 04 10:35 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2005 December 29 Thursday
Popular Delusions On Iraq Diminish Somewhat

American democracy operates on ignorance.

More than four years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, many U.S. adults still believe some of the justifications for the invasion of Iraq, which have now been discredited, according to a new Harris Poll. For example:

  • Forty-one percent (41%) of U.S. adults believe that Saddam Hussein had "strong links to Al Qaeda."
  • Twenty-two percent (22%) of adults believe that Saddam Hussein "helped plan and support the hijackers who attacked the United States on September 11."
  • Twenty-six percent (26%) of adults believe that Iraq "had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded."
  • Twenty-four percent (24%) of all adults believe that "several of the hijackers who attacked the United States on September 11 were Iraqis."

However, all of these beliefs and others have declined sharply since the questions were asked in February 2005. For example:

  • Those who think Saddam Hussein had strong links to Al Qaeda have fallen from 64 to 41 percent.
  • Those who believe that Iraq was a serious threat to U.S. security are down from 61 to 48 percent.
  • Those who think Saddam Hussein helped plan 9/11 are down from 47 to 22 percent.
  • Those who think Iraq had weapons of mass destruction are down from 36 to 26 percent.
  • Those who think Iraqi hijackers attacked the United States on 9/11 have fallen from 44 to 24 percent.

As recently as February 2005 47% of the American public believed Saddam had something to do with the 9/11 attacks. The ignorance of the masses is appalling. Never mind all the news reports about Saudi hijackers and an Egyptian leader. In February 2005 44% of the public believed Iraqis were on those airplanes. This illustrates the big problem posed by having a reckless president. Much of the American public is so dumb and ignorant that it can be easily fooled.

I have a hard time seeing democracy as a panacea for the world's ills because most countries in the world have lower average IQs than America and America's average is already low enough to make the poll results above possible. Granted, low IQ isn't the only cause of such ridiculous beliefs. But the believers in that particular set of myths listed above are probably on average dumber than those who do not believe the myths.

Even if the biggest cause of the results above isn't low IQ the alternative explanations are no more comforting about the electorate.

Thanks to Greg Cochran for the tip.

By Randall Parker    2005 December 29 11:15 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (24)
2005 December 04 Sunday
Orwellians In Bush Cabinet Out Of Step On Iraq

The Bushies need to get more skilled like the communists of old when changing between versions of official reality.

-Rice told interviewers late last month that the U.S. would not need to maintain current troop levels in Iraq "very much longer." Rumsfeld told radio talk show host Sean Hannity that the war would wind down over the next few years. But Bush, in his Naval Academy speech, gave no sense of a departure date. That, he said, would be decided by commanders on the ground and not "politicians in Washington."

-Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference last Tuesday that he would no longer use the word "insurgents," instead substituting "enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government." But Bush used insurgents the next day at the Naval Academy and it appeared 14 times in a 35-page accompanying document issued by the White House.

I'm surprised Bush is not just calling the insurgents "terrorists". After all, his official message on Iraq is that the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror, right? Or did he change that while I was busy focusing on other matters? Is Iraq once more primarily about spreading democracy or maybe did WMDs make a come-back?

Dick Cheney's becoming like Spiro T. Agnew attacking all those nattering nabobs of negativism.

Cheney is popular with the party's conservative base. "Cheney has become the junkyard dog" on Iraq, said Stephen Hess, a political analyst who was a speechwriter in the Eisenhower and Nixon White Houses. "He's speaking out to hold the president's base, and he's not giving any quarter."

Well, on Iraq I'm negative. The US troop draw-down next year is going to happen because the US military is overextended and is running out of soldiers to rotate in. The partial withdrawal will be spun as a sign of progress whereas it is really a sign of overreach by an Administration that does not want to pay the political costs of proposing a draft.

Update Richard Clarke told Stephen Colbert that the new acronym for the enemy is "Elgis" or El-Gees" for Enemies of the Legitimate Government of Iraq. Fighting the Elgis is part of the Global War on Terror or Gwot. According to the Bushies we can't win the Gwot until we defeat the Elgis.

By Randall Parker    2005 December 04 07:46 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2005 November 30 Wednesday
US Military Pays Iraqi Newspapers To Run Stories

The US military plants stories in the Iraqi press.

WASHINGTON — As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.

The articles, written by U.S. military "information operations" troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.

Though the articles are basically factual, they present only one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the U.S. or Iraqi governments, officials said. Records and interviews indicate that the U.S. has paid Iraqi newspapers to run dozens of such articles, with headlines such as "Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism," since the effort began this year.

On the one hand the obvious argument is that all is fair in love and war. On the other hand the United States isn't exactly setting a good example about press freedom.

Not content to simply write stories for publications owned by others, the US military is investing in the growing Iraqi media market.

One of the military officials said that, as part of a psychological operations campaign that has intensified over the last year, the task force also had purchased an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station, and was using them to channel pro-American messages to the Iraqi public. Neither is identified as a military mouthpiece.

Ahmad Chalabi's newspaper ran the stories as real news articles while other newspapers labelled the stories as advertisements or as sponsored stories. What do the Iraqi people think of such stories? Also, what's the quality of the stories?

The company doing much of this work is known as The Lincoln Group and was formerly known as Iraqex. Curiously, a site called Source Watch has an article about the Lincoln Group that puts their address on K Street in Washington DC which is the famous area for DC lobbyists.

By Randall Parker    2005 November 30 10:31 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2005 November 20 Sunday
Public Support For Iraq War Declining Faster Than Vietnam

The remaining support for the Iraq war is partly based on the lie about the connection to terrorism.

In June 2004, for the first time, more than half the public (54 percent) thought the US had made a mistake, a figure that holds today.

With Vietnam, that 50-percent threshold was not crossed until August 1968, several years in; with Korea, it was March 1952, about a year and a half into US involvement.

Why did Americans go sour on the Iraq war so quickly, and what can Bush do about it?

John Mueller, an expert on war and public opinion at Ohio State University, links today's lower tolerance of casualties to a weaker public commitment to the cause than was felt during the two previous, cold war-era conflicts. The discounting of the main justifications for the Iraq war - alleged weapons of mass destruction and support for international terrorism - has left many Americans skeptical of the entire enterprise.

In fact, "I'm impressed by how high support still is," Professor Mueller says. He notes that some Americans' continuing connection of the Iraq war to the war on terror is fueling that support.

Some of Bush's remaining support comes from Republicans who are for whatever the Democrats are against. But some of the war's opposition comes from Democrats who against whatever the Republicans are for.

One reason the American public loses support for wars more quickly is that family sizes have dropped. During WWII my mother's mother had 3 sons in the war and 1 son at home. Plus she had 4 daughters. She could have lost a son and still had plenty of kids. She got lucky and none died. Even my B-17 squandron commander uncle was lucky to complete all his missions. But today far more common single child families who lose a son in Iraq have no kids left.

Also, as death from accidents and diseases has become more rare death seems more of an anomaly. People rarely lose children or young adult kids for any reason. Each death becomes more shocking due to its rarety.

Plus, it is hard to see how the Iraq war improves US security. It doesn't pass a basic plausbility test. If the threat of foreign terrorists to the US mainland was so great as to justify a war that costs the loss of thousands of US lives, the maiming and permanent damage of tens of thousands of more US soldiers, the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, and the negative reaction that this war has elicited abroad then wouldn't a threat that large also justify, say, large efforts to keep out and hunt down and deport illegal aliens from the Middle East? Wouldn't a threat that large also justify a huge curtailment of granting of visas to people from the countries where Al Qaeda recruits terrorists? The very asymmetry of the response between what the US will do to a country in the Middle East and what the US government won't do to protect us at home makes me think the Bush Administration is just plain lying about their shifting justifications for the Iraq war.

We also do not trust public institutions as much as previous generations did. The Bush Administration's numerous mistakes in the conduct of the Iraq war combine with the optional nature of the war to make people a lot more critical. 9/11 did not have to lead to the Iraq invasion the way the Pearl Harbor attack led to the total mobilization of the US economy in World War II. The very limited effects of 9/11 on US security and the small scale of the required response are demonstrated by the fact that the US did not fully mobilize the economy or institute a draft in response to 9/11. Support for the Iraq war required a dishonest conflation of the battle against Al Qaeda with Saddam's Iraq and a dishonest conflation of all types of "weapons of mass destruction" as somehow equivalent threats even though anthrax and chemical artillery shells pose little threat to the United States as compared to what a single nuclear warhead could do.

Parenthetically speaking, every time Bush tries to link the war in Iraq to Al Qaeda any impulse I have to forgive Dubya for his massive Iraq mistake gets thoroughly smashed. I despise anyone who insults my intelligence by telling me that sort of lie in an attempt to deceive me for his own benefit.

Update Bryanna Bevens points out that a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll puts Bush's disapproval rating on federal spending and immigration as even lower than on Iraq.

According to poll results, this is how 1066 people rated the President on policy matters:

(Disapproval ratings )

Terrorism 49%
Overall job approval 60%
The economy 61%
The situation in Iraq 63%
Controlling federal spending 71%
Immigration 65%

The two issues with the highest disapproval rates were federal spending and immigration.

Hmm…Bush II has the lowest approval ratings of his career…65% of the people say they disapprove of his performance on immigration issues. It would seem to me that Americans are fed up with politicians who ignore the problems of illegal immigration and if Bush II was facing re-election, he would surely lose.

The public disapproves of Bush for a wide range of reasons. It is gratifying to see that immigration is one of them. Immigration has ceased to be a fringe issue.

By Randall Parker    2005 November 20 03:00 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (18)
2005 November 03 Thursday
October 2005 Iraq Coalition Death Rate 5th Highest Since Start Of War

Check out the Iraq Coalition Casualties web page. The October 2005 daily death rate of 3.19 is the 5th highest since the war began. The 4 higher months were January 2005 (4.7 daily death rate), April 2004 (4.67), November 2003(3.67), and March 2003 (7.67).

Factors that did not prevent such a high death rate include:

  • The continuing program to up-armor Humvees, trucks, and other vehicles.
  • The build up of the Iraqi government's military, police, and intelligence forces.
  • Improvements in US efforts to gather intelligence.
  • Death toll of insurgents.
  • Efforts to destroy and block insurgent logistics facilities and paths.
  • Improvements in US forces tactics and training.

The enemy forces have improved faster than coalition forces have improved.

Civilian contractor casualties are also way up.

As the violence of the protracted war continues and some 75,000 civilian employees struggle to rebuild the war-torn nation and support the military, contractor casualties mount. Their deaths have more than tripled in the past 13 months.

As of Monday, 428 civilian contractors had been killed in Iraq and another 3,963 were injured, according to Department of Labor insurance-claims statistics obtained by Knight Ridder.

Increasing use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and improvements in IED design are behind the increased US death rate.

It took about 18 months from the start of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq to reach 1,000 U.S. deaths; it took less than 13 months to reach 1,000 more. A major reason for the surge, statistics show, is the insurgency's embrace of IEDs, together with the military's inability to detect them.

Think about that. The US casualty rate is higher. This is a very inconvenient fact for that minority of the US population who still support the war.

Nearly two thirds of combat deaths are from IEDs.

In the first six months of battle in Iraq, only 11 soldiers -- about 4 percent of the 289 who died -- were killed by homemade roadside bombs. In the last six months, at least 214 service members have been killed by IEDs, or 63 percent of the 339 combat-related deaths and 53 percent of the 400 U.S. fatalities, according to data complied by the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index.

The IED taskforce might soon get a higher ranking general and more coordination of resources across government agencies.

A small task force launched in July 2004 and led by a one-star officer, Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel, has been credited with developing various technologies to combat the IED threat -- such as equipping soldiers with electronic devices to detonate the makeshift bombs before they can damage U.S. military convoys. The task force has an annual budget of about $1.2 billion.

Yet the insurgents have been able to build bigger, more powerful bombs capable of shredding the armor of military vehicles and decimating five-ton trucks.

Some military officials complain that the Pentagon has made little progress getting the White House to pressure agencies such as the CIA, FBI and Department of Energy to devote more resources and full-time personnel to the anti-IED effort. One difficulty they cite is that a one-star general tends to wield little influence in the government hierarchy.

The US military has also been slow to acquire better armoured vehicles to replace Humvees. Even up-armored Humvees can't cut it against the better IEDs. But as IEDs improve even further with shaped charges and more potent explosives can any vehicle protect its occupants against them?

Maybe the IED problem is unsolvable. Or maybe it can't be solved with the current procurement practices and relationships between US government agencies. My solution: Declare victory and leave. Saves money. Saves lives. Leaves the Iraqis to decide among themselves whether the Shias or Sunnis will rule the Arab areas. We could guarantee a friendly government in the Kurdish area by simply supplying them with arms.

By Randall Parker    2005 November 03 09:22 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (43)
2005 October 30 Sunday
Sistani Wants US Troop Withdrawal From Iraq

Here's the best news I've heard since the United States invaded Iraq. Hamza Hendawi of the Associated Press has the scoop:

NAJAF, Iraq -- Iraq's top Shiite cleric is considering demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. and foreign troops after a democratically elected government takes office next year, according to associates of the Iranian-born cleric.

If U.S. officials and their coalition partners do not comply, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani would use peaceful means such as mass street protests to step up pressure for a pullout schedule, according to two associates of the cleric.

I see this as a positive development. The US could withdraw with assurances from the Shiites that the Shiites can handle the Sunni rebellion on their own. The war camp in the US could declare a victory for their strategy. They could support a US pull-out without having to admit huge mistakes in strategy. Their continued delusion could be a price worth paying to end the $6 billion dollars per month cost, the deaths of US soldiers, and the maimings and permanent injuries of US soldiers. It would also reduce the ability of Sunni extremists to mobilize recruits for jihad.

A call from Sistani would be hard for the United States to ignore.

Vali Nasr, an expert on Shiites who lectures on national security affairs at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, Calif., said al-Sistani's intention to call for a withdrawal timetable has been an "open secret" for some time.

"He will not do it in an anti-American way, but in a pro-Iraqi way," Nasr said.

Ahmed S. Hashim, a professor of strategic studies at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I., said a public declaration by al-Sistani "will leave us without any legs to stand on in Iraq."

"But if we are made to withdraw prematurely, the country will plunge into civil war," said Hashim, who has visited Iraq several times since 2003.

George W. Bush ought to take this as an opportunity for "peace with dignity". He could claim that the US was not retreating and that the Iraqis have decided they can carry on without further US help. Declare success and withdraw.

Thanks to Greg Cochran for the tip.

Update: Modest proposal for British Prime Minister Tony Blair: Send a secret emissary to meet with Sistani's associates to relay a British request to be asked to leave Iraq. Blair needs a way out of Iraq. It has become a huge political liability for him. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani could save his political skin by providing him with the leverage he needs with the Americans to exit Iraq.

By Randall Parker    2005 October 30 01:37 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (21)
2005 October 04 Tuesday
Hurricane Katrina Underscores US Iraq Overstretch

Check out this article from the Washington Post. Some National Guardsmen in Lousiana lost their homes in the hurricane yet were called up for catastrophe duty and now are getting shipped off to Iraq even though their families have no homes and their wives lost their jobs.

"It's hard," Sepulvado said amid the bustle of pre-deployment medical checks at his battalion headquarters in Gulfport. Nearly 70 percent of the members of his battalion had their homes damaged, with the homes of 115 destroyed or unlivable.

Soon after Katrina plowed through, Sepulvado was sent to work at Gulfport's Hope Haven, a home for abandoned children. As he and comrades ripped out walls and carpeting, repaired shingles and moved appliances, they worried about their own catastrophes. "I was kind of thinking, 'What am I doing here?' " he said. "Why are we doing this when we lost our own homes?"

Like others in his unit, Sepulvado waits for an insurance check, hoping to get his family--now living with parents -- settled before he deploys. His wife, like several other spouses, lost her job when her workplace was destroyed.

The US military is not big enough to fight in Iraq, handle a disaster at home, and let National Guard soldiers have time to take care of families when they lose their own homes.

The Iraq War will go down in history as an act of foolish and counterproductive overstretch. Hurricane Katrina's aftermath in New Orleans similarly sends a reminder that the middle and upper class populations of the United States have only tenuous control of the third world populations in American cities. We can not afford to send soldiers to control third world cities abroad when we do not have enough soldiers to control third world cities at home.

By Randall Parker    2005 October 04 08:11 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2005 August 29 Monday
Iraq: Constitution Or Peace Treaty Negotiation?

University of Maryland associate professor of politics Karol Soltan just returned from a trip to Iraq and found that the negotiations for the "constitution" really are negotiatons for a peace treaty between rival factions jostling for power.

"It's not like Philadelphia. They're not 13 relatively homogeneous states at little risk of fighting a civil war. They're trying to prevent an early-stage civil war from exploding. They've spent a lot of time trying to settle borders and generally diminish the potential for violent conflict. In effect, they're working out key provisions of a peace treaty. Constitution-making is much more difficult."

"I entered Iraq from the north and the first thing that struck me was the flag. It was the flag of Kurdistan at the border. There wasn't an Iraqi flag in sight. It felt like Kurdistan not Iraq. The Kurds have had de facto independence for a decade, and that's a real constraint on negotiators."

"In its current form, the proposed constitution looks decentralized enough to diminish the chance of a large-scale civil war in the short run, though in general things don't look good. Some legislative and enforcement provisions that might have helped long-term stability were dropped. Any effort to create a more centralized government will only make things worse."

The Kurds effectively have their own country at this point. My guess is that in the short term the Kurds will settle for de facto independence while refraining from an official declaration of secession. If they can get a cut of the oil money and autonomy they can avoid a confrontation with the United States over an officially declared secession. But the Kurds are biding their time and may yet secede once US forces withdraw.

Even the Shiite region has deep splits. Rival Shiite militias battled for a few days last week.

Trouble in the south began when supporters of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr tried to reopen his office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, which was closed after the end of fighting there last year.

When Shiites opposed to al-Sadr tried to block the move, fights broke out. Four people were killed, 20 were injured and al-Sadr's office was set afire, police said.

That enraged al-Sadr's followers, who blamed the country's biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq or SCIRI, for the Najaf trouble.

Sadr's supporters recently demonstrated against draft constitution/peace treaty. If Sadr's Mahdi Army reconstitutes and the Sunnis reject the offered oil money sharing peace deal then the civil war will just continue on.

Sadr's enemies want him banished.

NAJAF, Iraq -- More than 1,000 Shiite Muslim demonstrators clashed last night with supporters of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf, leaving at least seven people dead and dozens wounded, according to officials at a local hospital.

Waving banners demanding the "expulsion of the outsiders," the crowd gathered near the Shrine of Ali -- a holy site for Shiites -- to call on the provincial governor to banish Sadr's Mahdi Army. Many residents of Najaf blame Sadr for heavy damage the city sustained during a Mahdi Army uprising against U.S. forces a year ago.

On the bright side some Sunnis in Ramadi defended their Shiite minority against Zarqawi's warriors.

BAGHDAD, Aug. 14 -- Rising up against insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, Iraqi Sunni Muslims in Ramadi fought with grenade launchers and automatic weapons Saturday to defend their Shiite neighbors against a bid to drive them from the western city, Sunni leaders and Shiite residents said. The fighting came as the U.S. military announced the deaths of six American soldiers.

Dozens of Sunni members of the Dulaimi tribe established cordons around Shiite homes, and Sunni men battled followers of Zarqawi, a Jordanian, for an hour Saturday morning. The clashes killed five of Zarqawi's guerrillas and two tribal fighters, residents and hospital workers said. Zarqawi loyalists pulled out of two contested neighborhoods in pickup trucks stripped of license plates, witnesses said.

Iraq is now effectively broken up into a set of mini-states controlled by rival militia warlords. But if the central government can maintain control of the oil money it can use the power to hand out oil money to buy some allegiances. The crucial role of oil money in buying allegiance of factions to the center means that Ahmad Chalabi's control of the oil fields means Chalabi might be in the position to decide whether Iraq remains a single country.

Update: I have a basic question with regard to the constitution/peace treaty: Do the people who are negotiating the peace treaty represent enough of the warring factions to make a peace treaty that will end most of the fighting? At minimum, will the deal at least bring enough of the right warring factions onto the side of the government so that government money could go toward funding these factions to go suppress the other factions that continue to fight?

In other words: Is a negotiated peace even possible at this stage?

I see one problem with the "oil cash for peace" formula: Iraq's oil production is still lower than it was under Saddam. Does current production supply enough money to hand out to buy loyalty to a peace deal?

Iraqi oil production bounces around as facilities get blown up and repaired. But assume 2 million barrels per day of production (I'm being optimistic though not as optimistic as the Panglossian war camp). Also assume $60 per barrel (and I remember war hawks who claimed the war would lower the price of oil and thereby pay for itself). At that price we are talking $120 million per day or $43 billion per year. Divided over a population of 26 million people that works out to about $1653 per person per year.

Could that amount of money buy peace? Some of the money goes toward subsidizing food prices, electric prices, gasoline prices, and assorted government services including the military. Some goes to assorted corrupt officials whose Swiss bank accounts are no doubt swelling. Does that leave enough money to buy peace? Do the people in power possess the skill and motives to use the money to buy peace? I'm skeptical.

By Randall Parker    2005 August 29 12:33 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2005 August 27 Saturday
Tom Lasseter Reports On The Dismal Situation In Iraq

Working for the Knight-Ritter newspapers Tom Lasseter continues to write a series of insightful and depressing reports from Iraq. Regular ParaPundit readers will not be shocked to learn that when Lasseter went out on patrols with US advisors and the Iraqi Army he found the Iraqi Army is not ready to fight the insurgency.

Three weeks of patrols and interviews in restive Anbar province suggested that Iraqi security forces will need years of preparation before they're ready to take charge of the complex and violent tribal areas of western Iraq. President Bush has said repeatedly that U.S. troops will withdraw only when Iraqi troops are ready to take over.

Many of the Iraqi troops were in poor condition, unable or unwilling to complete long foot patrols without frequent breaks. They often didn't know what to do in complicated situations, standing back and letting American Marines and soldiers take the lead.

Some of the Panglossian war hawks like to cite figures like how many schools we built. Well, imagine you have the choice of either living in a city with lots of new schools or in a city with a police force. Which would you choose?

Hit, a city of 130,000, has no police force. North of Hit, in Haditha - near the site of attacks that killed 20 Marines this month - the police chief handed over all the patrol cars to the Marines in January.

"He said, "We can't protect these anymore,'" said Maj. Plauche St. Romain, the head intelligence officer for the Marine battalion that oversees Haditha, Haqlaniya and Hit. "He turned in the uniforms and (armor) vests, too."

That police chief was assassinated in April.

Want to know what passes for seasoned troops in the Iraqi Army?

During a recent operation in Haqlaniya, a squad from the Iraqi Intervention Force, one of the more seasoned units in Iraq's army, swept through neighborhoods looking for insurgents. One of the soldiers was so overweight that he had trouble putting on his flak vest.

During a raid on a suspected insurgent hideout, the Iraqis discovered they'd forgotten their bolt cutters. Instead of sending someone back to get them, they tried breaking a lock off an outside gate with the butts of their AK-47s. By the time they were through, they'd made so much noise that everyone in the neighborhood was aware of their presence on what was supposed to be a stealth operation.

When they arrived at their second objective, still without bolt cutters, the men wanted to use grenades to breach the door.

Their supervisor, U.S. Army Capt. Terrence Sommers, stepped in and said they'd risk hurting themselves and would give away their position to insurgents.

The Bush Administration "exit strategy" relies on having a bunch of clowns take over the fighting. The Bush Administration is intellectually and morally bankrupt.

The article also reports on US military advisors who have no interpreters and hence no way to communicate with Iraqi units they supposedly advise. Read the whole article. The mind boggles.

If you want to know how bad things are going in Iraq read all these articles in full.

The US military does commuity outreach based on the false premise that there is a non-enemy community to reach out to.

After a recent meeting with local tribal sheiks in Fallujah, Marine Lt. Col. Jim Haldeman walked to the back of the room and pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.

The gathering was supposed to be an exercise in civic empowerment but quickly degenerated into the Iraqis demanding that they get identification cards designating them as sheiks, which would bar local security forces from arresting them on the streets.

"All of these guys are f------ muj," Haldeman said, using the Arabic term for "holy warriors," mujahedeen, which American troops frequently use to describe the insurgents.

Haldeman figures they all want to slit his throat.

The battle in the Sunni heartland's Anbar province has become a war of attrition and US officers do not expect to win. (same article here)

After repeated major combat offensives in the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, and after losing hundreds of soldiers and Marines in Anbar during the past two years -- including 75 since June 1 -- many U.S. officers and enlisted men assigned to Anbar have stopped talking about winning a military victory in Iraq's Sunni Muslim heartland. Instead, they're trying to hold a handful of population centers and hit smaller towns in a series of quick strikes designed to temporarily disrupt insurgent activities.

"I don't think of this in terms of winning," said Col. Stephen Davis, who commands a task force of about 5,000 Marines in an area of some 24,000 square miles in western Anbar. Instead, he said, his Marines are fighting a war of attrition. "The frustrating part for the [ American] audience, if you will, is they want finality. They want a fight for the town and in the end the guy with the white hat wins."

Neoconservatives will be angered to learn that the US Marines call their enemies "Mujahedeen" rather than the more derisive "terrorists". You can see an example of that above where Lt. Col. Jim Haldeman calls them "muj". The neocons can't very well blame leftist BBC editors for this choice. So how can they explain it? A leftist US officer corps and leftist enlisted grunts?

Instead of referring to the enemy derisively as "terrorists," as they used to, Marines and soldiers now give the insurgents a measure of respect by calling them mujahedeen, an Arabic term meaning "holy warrior" that became popular during the Afghan guerrilla campaign against the Soviet Union.

Lasseter has spent enough time in Iraq the last couple of years to see the decline in the security situation as his editor notes.

Knight Ridder reporter Tom Lasseter made regular trips to Fallujah in the summer and winter of 2003, interviewing tribal sheiks and residents before the town fell to insurgents. He wrote extensively about the brewing unrest in the region and the misunderstandings and conflicts between residents and the U.S. military units stationed there. During that period he was able to walk freely throughout the town with a translator. He was last in Fallujah without military escort in early 2004 when insurgents overran the downtown police station. After men repeatedly pointed AK-47s at his chest and face, and threatened to shoot him, he decided not to return except with U.S. troops. Insurgents took over the town that April. He reported on troops in Ramadi last summer and wrote about the scaling back of patrols there and low morale among troops. He returned to Anbar province in November, when U.S. troops retook Fallujah in the worst urban combat since Vietnam. Lasseter spent three weeks in the province this month embedded with Marine and Army units in Haqlaniya, Haditha, Hit, Ramadi and Fallujah.

With Fallujah back under partial insurgent control and Ramadi in a similar condition the US military is not big enough to assert control in the Sunni Triangle.

"It doesn't do much good to push them out of these areas only to let them go back to areas we've already cleared," said Lt. Col. Tim Mundy, who commands the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Marine Regiment. Mundy, 40, of Waynesville, N.C., whose battalion is based in Qaim, added: "We're successful at taking some of his equipment and killing some insurgents, but the effectiveness is limited because we can't stay ... we go back to camp and then we get reports that they've come back in."

- In Fallujah, a city that Marines and soldiers retook from insurgents last November in the heaviest urban combat since Vietnam, fighters have begun to return and renew their intimidation campaign.

"As we all know, we have mujahedeen operating in small squads throughout the city," Marine Sgt. Manuel Franquez said before leading a patrol in Fallujah last week, using an Arabic term that means "holy warrior."

One interesting point: The Rand Corporation analysts James Quinliven and James Dobbins argued before the Iraq war that peacekeeping operations need 1 soldier per 50 troops. Therefore the US should have built up a force of a half million soldiers to handle Iraq. It could be argued that the US really only needs to deploy that big of a force in the Sunni Triangle and indeed a disproportionate portion of US troops are deployed there. But the war in the Triangle suggests that even the 50 to 1 ratio understates the size of a force needed. The US is not engaged in "peacekeeping" so much as a counter-insurgency war. The ratio of troops to populace needed might be much higher than the Rand result suggests.

The US military is not going to put down the insurgency. At the same time, Iraqi Shia soldiers have very little motivation to do what the US military lacks the forces to do. The war in Iraq will continue while an increasing portion of the American public gradually learns of the futility of our presence there.

If the Panglossians were correct and the insurgency was on the wane then US casualty would fall. US casualty rates are up near levels seen in some of the worst months since the war began. If the insurgents had shifted their attention way from the Americans and toward the Iraqi government forces then US casualty levels would drop. The levels have not dropped. If the US improvements in tactics and equipment were happening faster than the insurgents improved their methods then the US would again experience a drop in the casualty rate. Again, this has not happened. Iraqi government forces deaths have tripled this year without any decrease in US deaths.

By Randall Parker    2005 August 27 10:20 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2005 August 21 Sunday
Watching Casualty Rates In Iraq

If you want a reality check on Panglossian claims about how the Iraq war is going the place to go is the page Iraqi Coalition Casualties. The rosy view of strengthening Iraqi military forces and a dwindling insurgency runs up against US casualty rate figures by month. As the time of this writing the coalition death rate per day so far in August 2005 is 3.05. That surpasses every month in the chart except March 2003 (7.67), November 2003 (3.67), and April 2004 (4.67). Well, how to square that with the rosy scenario?

One argument is that the insurgency is shrinking in size while simultaneously becoming more sophisticated. This might be true. But if the Panglossian war hawks are correct then a few other factors ought to be causing a decline in US casualties: A) the increase in the size and capabilities of the Iraqi military, B) the hardening of US bases and vehicles, and C) improvements in intelligence about the insurgents. Why aren't these factors lowering US casualties?

If (as some war hawks claim) the insurgency really has shifted its attention toward softer targets such as Iraqi civilians and Iraqi government soldiers then why haven't US casualty rates plummeted? Could it be that the insurgency has grown more capable and has simultaneously kept US casualty rates up while also raising casualty rates of Iraqi government soldiers and civilians?

Now, perhaps good news awaits right around the corner. In a few months attrition of the insurgents combined with factors that work in our favor ought to cause a gradual decline in US casualties. But then again, the use of shaped charges to up the lethality of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) could spread much more widely in the insurgency and the gains made by use of quite expensive better armored of vehicles could get cancelled out by relatively cheap improvements in IED design. Also, the continued rise of militias who are partitioning Iraq could lead to larger scale civil war and more attacks on US troops. Also, the Iraqi military could continue to fight the way most Arab armies fight: poorly due to reasons familiar to long time ParaPundit readers such as the practice of cousin marriage.

The long standing question in my mind: "Unilaterally Withdraw From Iraq Or First Partition?" But that question has been morphing of late: Will the partitioning of Iraq by the Iraqi militias survive the US withdrawal or will a new ruthless strongman arise to put Iraq back together again?

By Randall Parker    2005 August 21 11:56 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2005 August 18 Thursday
Bush Administration No Longer Expects Model Democracy In Iraq

A Washington Post article reports that reality is sinking in for the Bush Administration on Iraq. Another dream bites the dust.

The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.

Some of the Bushies realize they need to shed their false beliefs.

"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."

American soldiers have been fighting for Islam and for an Islamic republic. Does this make US soldiers into Jihadists?

"We set out to establish a democracy, but we're slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic," said another U.S. official familiar with policymaking from the beginning, who like some others interviewed would speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity. "That process is being repeated all over."

The Bush Administration is slow to learn from empirical evidence. They have their dreams. They are very fond of their dreams. Reality sinks in only very slowly. Lots of people are dying to provide them with lessons in the real world. Read the whole article.

This reminds me of Ron Suskind's experience talking with a Bush White House aide.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

Solipsism didn't work out for the Bush Administration. They should join the reality-based community.

Here's what I want to know: when will the Panglossian war hawk parts of the blogosphere realize that they are cheerleading for an Administration that no longer believes the fantasies that the Panglossian posters defend?

While the Bush Administration has been slow to figure out real score in Iraq the appointment of old Central America Cold Warrior John Negroponte as Ambassador to Iraq sent realists into policy making positions in the US government in Iraq. John Burns of the New York Times reports on how when John Negroponte's team took over from Paul Bremer's team they saw Bremer's team as delusional.

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The first signs that America's top officials in Iraq were revising their thinking about what they might accomplish in Iraq came a year ago. As Iraq resumed its sovereignty after the period of U.S. occupation, the new American team that arrived then, headed by Ambassador John D. Negroponte, had a withering term for the optimistic approach of their predecessors, led by L. Paul Bremer.

The new team called the departing Americans "the illusionists," for their conviction that America could create a Jeffersonian democracy on the ruins of Saddam Hussein's medieval brutalism. One U.S. military commander began his first encounter with American reporters by asking, "Well, gentlemen, tell me: Do you think that events here afford us the luxury of hope?"

Reasons why Iraq would not prove fertile ground for establishment of democracy were obvious to some observers before the war. See my October 2002 post "Pessimists on Muslim Democracy" for arguments that preshadowed much of what has since followed. Also see a later post of mine where I listed a number of reasons why attempts to establish democracy won't work in the Middle East and in Iraq in particular.

Burns says American officers trot out all sorts of new measures for how the Iraqi military is becoming more capable.

One example of the new "metrics" has been a rush of figures on the buildup of Iraq's army and police force -- a program known to many reporters who have been embedded on joint operations as one beset by inadequate training, poor leadership, inadequate weaponry and poor morale.

Officers involved in running the program offer impressive-sounding figures -- including the fact that, by mid-June, the Iraqi forces had been given 306 million rounds of ammunition, roughly 12 bullets for each of Iraq's 25 million people. But when one senior U.S. officer involved was asked whether the Americans might end up arming the Iraqis for a civil war, he paused for a moment, then nodded. "Maybe," he said.

The figures put out by the US military and Bush Administration on Iraqi troop readiness are nonsense. Read the Mark Ames essay "Freaky Iraqis" for an overview of just how much the Iraqi military troop readiness figures have bounced all around over the last few years.

Senator Joseph Biden claims only 3,000 Iraqi troops are fully trained.

SEN. BIDEN: Look, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the number of troops that we have trained out of 100 battalions that are in uniform--and battalions make 300 to 800 people in each battalion. These are Iraqi battalions. We have fully trained fewer than 3,000. Fully trained meaning they can take the place of an American troop. We have another probably 20 to 30 battalions out there that, with embedded U.S. military, are able to do a serious, positive job. After that, it falls off the cliff.

If we have 178,000 troops that are already trained, Andrea, why do we need 130,000 American troops which would get you over 300,000 people in Iraq, with the body counts going up, with the insurgency gaining strength? And the president continues to say he is pleased with the training schedule. I don't know any military man or woman in Iraq who's pleased with that schedule.

But numbers trained to various levels are really besides the point. Loyalty and motivation are the biggest problems with Iraqi soldiers. Since some Iraqi soldiers leave the Iraqi Army to join the insurgency perhaps the slow rate of training has an upside: fewer highly trained insurgents.

Biden's pessimism on Iraqi democracy mirrors that of the Bush Administration (and of ParaPundit's own pessimism of much longer standing).

SEN. BIDEN: Well, my definition of success from the very beginning has been not a democracy. It will not happen in my lifetime there will be a liberal democracy. What I am hoping for, along with Republicans members of the Senate, as well Hagel and Lugar and others, has been that there be a secure nation within its borders that's basically a representative government where everybody thinks they've got a piece of the action that is federated in part where there is more autonomy given to the regions than ordinarily would be assumed in a united democracy, and the institutions in place where there is enough ability for that government, whatever is elected, to secure the physical safety of its people and not be a threat to its neighbors. That is as good as it is going to get and pray God that that's what happens. But the idea of a liberal democracy with institutions that function like Western democracies is beyond my comprehension in the near term.

Henry Kissinger worries over a Taliban-style regime coming to power in Iraq.

The war in Iraq is less about geopolitics than about the clash of ideologies, cultures and religious beliefs. Because of the long reach of the Islamist challenge, the outcome in Iraq will have an even deeper significance than that in Vietnam. If a Taliban-type government or a fundamentalist radical state were to emerge in Baghdad or any part of Iraq, shock waves would ripple through the Islamic world. Radical forces in Islamic countries or Islamic minorities in non-Islamic states would be emboldened in their attacks on existing governments. The safety and internal stability of all societies within reach of militant Islam would be imperiled.

If we had never overthrown Saddam in the first place the odds of Iraq getting taken over by radical Islamists would be orders of magnitude lower than the odds are today. Clearly the US invasion of Iraq harmed US national interests. But once US soldiers leave what will happen? Will foreign Sunni Jihadists ally with the Sunni Arabs and fight against the Shias? Or will the native Sunnis lose the desire for fighting?

If the Sunni Arab Iraqis continue to fight after a US departure will they fight to secede? Or will they fight to establish supremacy over the Shias? If the Sunnis fight for supremacy will they win?

Most Americans think the war in Iraq does nothing to increase domestic security.

President Bush is losing his domestic battle for hearts and minds; new polls report that, for the first time, a majority of Americans reject his contention that the war over there is making us safer over here. Indeed, barring major immediate progress in Iraq, 2005 might well be remembered as the year when public opinion went south and never came back -- a mood shift roughly analogous to 1968, when domestic confidence in the Vietnam War began its irreversible slide.

Americans do learn. Though it takes a while. Most Americans think the Iraq invasion was a mistake.

The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, taken Aug. 5-7, found that 54 percent of those surveyed thought the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a mistake.

Lawrence Auster examines the arguments and beliefs that led the Bush circle to make such monumental mistakes in Iraq (and my major quibbles with his argument is his use of "very smart" to refer to the Bush people and "conservative" to refer to the neoconservatives).

Yet there were deeper reasons for the failure to ask fundamental questions. For one thing, if Muslims are so different from us that they can never be expected to construct societies based on liberal individual freedom, then there is no hope for a peaceful world unified around a shared belief in democracy. Irreconcilable differences of values between Muslims and Westerners, expressed in terms of political conflict and ultimately military conflict, must be perpetual, not only internationally, but, even more frighteningly, within the West itself, where millions of Middle Eastern Muslims have settled as immigrants. In the interests of maintaining both international and domestic peace, any thought of irreconcilable cultural and religious differences must be suppressed.

Beneath the fear of irresolvable conflict, there was, and is, a deeper, ideological reason for the suppression of discussion. If liberal individualism is rejected as a matter of principle by one-fifth of the world’s population who follow one of the world’s major religions, then the claim of liberal individualism to be the universal truth would lose its credibility. It would mean that there was something particular about Western culture, perhaps even about the peoples that had founded and created Western culture, that makes liberal individualism possible, which in turn would mean that religious, cultural, and ethnic differences matter politically.

If any good comes from the Iraq Debacle it will be the much wider acceptance of the argument that, yes, cultural and other differences between ethnic and religious groups do matter, that values differ between cultures, that the beliefs necessary to support a liberal democracy are not universally held, and that irreconcilable differences between religions exist. The Clash of Civilizations is real and needs careful handling. American liberals and neoconservatives alike need to abandon their mistaken belief in the universal appeal of liberal democracy.

By Randall Parker    2005 August 18 09:49 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (21)
2005 August 15 Monday
US Troops In Iraq Have Lots Of Consumer Electronics

In the bigger bases they have broadband internet and satellite TV.

Gadgetry, in particular, proliferates among the 138,000 troops stationed in Iraq: laptop computers, MP3 and DVD players, digital cameras, televisions and video game consoles. On bases in greater Baghdad, many soldiers have cellphones and some have satellite dishes that pull in scores of stations. Personal DVD collections numbering several hundred are not uncommon; the legendary ones top 1,000.

Never in the field of human conflict has so much stuff been acquired by so many soldiers in so little time.

One Louisiana National Guardsman stationed on Camp Liberty converted his trailer into a recording studio, and a New York National Guardsman living nearby has spent some of his free time during the last year producing a record by a singer in New York using an electric keyboard, sequencer, laptop computer, sampler, drum machine and mixer in his room; he and the singer use sound files sent via the Internet to exchange musical ideas and recorded tracks.

The US Postal Service ships from the states to US soldiers in Iraq at US domestic rates. So the soldiers can order stuff off of US web stores and get it shipped cheaply. They have 42 inch plasma TVs and plenty of other gadgets.

Camp Liberty in Baghdad has a bazaar on base for selling a large array of goods to soldiers.

The bazaar is a collection of shops owned by local Iraqis that cater to the eclectic tastes of soldiers, civilian contractors and journalists looking to unload a few greenbacks. In some cases, lots of greenbacks.

Saddam Hussein collectibles include ashtrays, gold-flecked china and paper money with the former dictator’s mustachioed mug on the front. Prices range from 50 cents for old Iraqi dinars — now the Middle East equivalent of Confederate dollars— to $700 for a set of gold-plated Saddam dishes.

Check out pictures of the Camp Liberty bazaar.

Yes, Iraqis work in Camp Liberty and some of those who work there like Saddam Hussein.

Some Iraqis working for Americans at Camp Liberty proudly display pictures of Saddam Hussein in their mobile phones. While they think he was a good leader they also like working with the U.S. as it is sometimes the only source of income for an entire family and many would like the forces to stay for security.

Harvard Law School graduate Nick Brown serves as a US Army Judge Advocate General defense lawyer for US soldiers and operates from Camp Liberty.

Many of the soldiers I defend are based throughout the greater Baghdad region. I often have to schedule rides on Blackhawk helicopters to outlying bases in order to meet with my clients. More frequently, either the soldier or I must convoy through the city in order to simply meet and discuss a case. Being on the city streets, you simply cannot know if the next Humvee hit by a rocket, roadside bomb or hand grenade dropped from a bridge will be yours. Every time I step outside the gates of relatively safe Camp Liberty, I bring along six or seven magazines fully loaded with ammunition. Sometimes it's difficult for me to comprehend that a whole team of soldiers must convoy across the city simply so one soldier can seek my legal advice. Quite often, the soldier driving us is barely 19 and the one protecting us from behind the .50-caliber machine gun isn't any older. All of this is to make sure that criminal justice functions.

Most of Brown's cases are for drug or alcohol violations. Does Brown make dangerous trips across Baghdad with convoys of soldiers so he can meet with a soldier about the soldier getting caught with a whiskey bottle? I mean, is the US military that dumb? Probably.

By Randall Parker    2005 August 15 12:14 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2005 July 18 Monday
Iraq Invasion Radicalized Foreign Jihadists In Iraq

The war in Iraq radicalized many Arabs. Most of the bombers in Iraq would not have become terrorists had the United States not invaded Iraq.

However, interrogations of nearly 300 Saudis captured while trying to sneak into Iraq and case studies of more than three dozen others who blew themselves up in suicide attacks show that most were heeding the calls from clerics and activists to drive infidels out of Arab land, according to a study by Saudi investigator Nawaf Obaid, a US-trained analyst who was commissioned by the Saudi government and given access to Saudi officials and intelligence.

A separate Israeli analysis of 154 foreign fighters compiled by a leading terrorism researcher found that despite the presence of some senior Al Qaeda operatives who are organizing the volunteers, ''the vast majority of [non-Iraqi] Arabs killed in Iraq have never taken part in any terrorist activity prior to their arrival in Iraq."

President Bush sure knows how to push the buttons of the Arabs.

''The president is right that Iraq is a main front in the war on terrorism, but this is a front we created," said Peter Bergen, a terrorism specialist at the nonpartisan New America Foundation, a Washington think tank

The bull is going to remain in the china shop until January 2009.

What I see is the silver lining in this gray cloud: The Arabs are helping to sell the European public on the idea that immigration is not a solution to their aging populations.

By Randall Parker    2005 July 18 01:24 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2005 July 12 Tuesday
Iraq And Colombia Conflicts Seen Fitting Mathematical Pattern

Mike Spagat, an economist at the University of London, and Neil Johnson, a physicist at the University of Oxford say the conflicts in Iraq and Colombia fllow a mathematical power law which matches that found for long term conflicts in non-Western nations.

In Iraq, the battle began as a conventional confrontation between large armies, says Spagat. But the presence of coalition forces "has fragmented the insurgency into a structure in which smaller attack units now predominate", he says. Since 2003, the 'casualties per attack event' for Iraq, measured over 30-day windows, have followed a gradually changing power law. The slope was initially equal to that found by Richardson for traditional warfare, but it is now approaching the value found for non-Western terrorism.

Spagat's team finds that the Colombia conflict, which has been fought between the government and various left- and right-wing guerrilla groups for many decades, is also approaching this value.

The researchers conclude that armies in Iraq and Colombia should be using different tactics. "If you believe that you need to fight like with like, a conventional army is the complete opposite of what you need. You have to do away with centralization," says Johnson. In many ways, he says, it is like fighting an illness that continually evolves, adapts and changes.

The researchers fear that such a pattern indicates the war can on on indefinitely. Johnson fears it might be part of a larger pattern of low grade world wide war.

The United States has been providing a lot of aid and not a few special forces and CIA guys to Colombia for years and so far the war just keeps on going on. Will the battle in Iraq continue indefinitely even if the US withdraws? If so it will continue to provide plenty of useful terrorist attack experience to British and European Muslim jihadists.

By Randall Parker    2005 July 12 03:04 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2005 June 30 Thursday
Most Iraq Suicide Bombers From Saudi Arabia

George W. Bush repeatedly and dishonestly tries to link the invason of Iraq to the 9/11 attack and the terrorist threat to the United States. With this in mind it is worth taking a look at the suicide bombers in Iraq. Those suicide bombers serve as a useful reminder of where the real terrorist threat emanates from. A few nights ago C-SPAN broadcast hearings from Washington DC by an organization that is supposed to be the successor to the 9/11 Commission. Former Senators Sam Nunn and Bob Kerrey are among the notables in this organization (whose title escapes me). Well, on one of the discussion panels Juliette Kayyam of the Harvard JFK School of Government noted in passing that 40% of the suicide bombers in Iraq are from Saudi Arabia. This is in the ballpark with other sources that place Saudi suicide bomber participation at 50% and 60%.

In a paper published in March, Reuven Paz, an Israeli expert on terrorism, analyzed the lists of jihadi dead. He found 154 Arabs killed over the previous six months in Iraq, 61 percent of them from Saudi Arabia, with Syrians, Iraqis and Kuwaitis together accounting for another 25 percent. He also found that 70 percent of the suicide bombers named by the Web sites were Saudi. In three cases, Paz found two brothers who carried out suicide attacks. Many of the bombers were married, well educated and in their late twenties, according to postings.

"While incomplete," Paz wrote, the data suggest "the intensive involvement of Saudi volunteers for jihad in Iraq."

In a telephone interview, Paz said his list -- assembled from monitoring a dozen Islamic extremist Web forums -- now had more than 200 names. "Many are students or from wealthy families -- the same sociological characteristics as the Sept. 11 hijackers," he said.

These people who are blowing up American soldiers and Iraqis never would have managed to get to the United States to blow up Americans.

"This is not al Qaeda's first team," said Hammes of the National Defense University. "These are the scrubs who could never get us in the States."

Another researcher estimates Saudis make up over 50% of suicide bombers.

Evan F. Kohlmann, a researcher who monitors Islamic extremist Web sites, has compiled a list of more than 235 names of Iraqi dead gleaned from the Internet since last summer, with more than 50 percent on his tally from Saudi Arabia as well.

Another list puts Saudis at 44% and puts Iraqis at less than 15% of suicide bombers in Iraq.

Saudis were also the leading group on this list, representing 44 percent, followed by Syrians and Iraqis at less than 15 percent each.

Think about that. The Iraqis are all already in Iraq and yet make up less than 15% of the suicide bombers while the Saudis make up about half. Iraq has a population of 26 million. Saudi Arabia also has a population of 26 million. Obviously Iraqis are far less interested in a world religious jihad against Americans than the Saudis are. Now, one could explalin this disparity by pointing out that only about 20% of Iraqis are Sunni Arabs. So only about 5 million are going to fight for Sunni Arab supremacy or join in Sunni Arab jihads. But that still means that fewer Iraqis are interested in joining Al Qaeda or similar organizations that have global aspirations to jihad.

A Saudi who wants to do a suicide bombing against American forces has to travel to Syria, get hooked up with a jihad organization, and then sneak across the border. He probably has to get a passport first. He has to get the money to pay for an airplane ticket and make the trip. Iraqis, by contrast, are right there. Why are Iraqi Sunni Arabs more likely to operate as conventional guerrillas rather than as suicide bombers? Could it be that they simply want the Americans out and don't harbor global Islamic aspirations or martrydom aspirations?

Then there are the Saudis versus all the other Arab countries. Where are the Egyptians? Or Libyans? Suicide bombers in Iraq come from many countries. But the Saudis make up about half even though Egypt at 77 million has almost 3 times the population of Saudi Arabia. Libya has 5.7 miliion. Jordan also has 5.7 million. Morocco has 32 million. Why aren't Egypt, Libya, Jordan, and Morocco together accounting for far more of the suicide bombers than Saudi Arabia? Saudi Arabia is by far the biggest source of global Islamic Jihadists.

The conditions created by the American invasion of Iraq demonstrate once again (as if we didn't already know) that Saudi Arabia poses the biggest threat of terrorism against Americans. While the necons talk about Iraq, Syria, and Iran the elephant is standing in the room. The elephant isn't seen as much of a threat to Israel. That's a shame. If it was then the neocons would shift their attention more in the direction that matters to Americans.

The Iraqi Sunni Arabs are fighting Americans for two reasons:

  1. American troops are in Iraq and they do not want to be ruled by us.
  2. The Iraqi Shia Arabs are not going to fight the Sunnis to establish Shia supremacy because war is dangerous and Americans will do their fighting for them (and maybe the Shias are just not up to it).

If we leave then the Shias might get up the cojones to put down the Sunni Arab rebellion and to hunt down and kill all the foreign Sunni jihadists. Or the Shias might be a bunch of pussies and let the Sunnis once again lord over them. But as long as we stay all we are going to see is a constant reminder that A) a lot of Saudis want to blow us up, B) the Iraqi Sunni Arabs want us out, and C) the Shias do not care enough about having their own government to put their own lives at risk. I've already learned this lesson. Have you? If not, how many more Americans have to die or become injured for life before you learn?

Update: Another estimate puts the Iraqi contribution to suicide bombing at only 10%

Since 2003, less than 10 percent of more than 500 suicide attacks have been carried out by Iraqis, according to one defense official.

As much as 20% of the suicide bombers might be from Algeria.

Up to 20 percent of the bombers might be from Algeria, according to forensic investigations after attacks, senior U.S. military officials have said on condition they not be named for security reasons. Another 5 percent each might be from Morocco and Tunisia, the officials said.

The Sunnis are streaming in to Iraq to fight for their fellow Sunnis against the Shias according to former CIA officer Robert Baer.

Baer said Sunni Arabs who take carry out suicide attacks feel Shiites are attacking Sunnis in Iraq. ``They look at the war in Iraq as an attack on Sunni Islam, not Iraq, not Saddam,'' he said.

In interviews while visiting prisons, terror groups and government officials, he was told that there are so many suicide bombers coming out of the Persian Gulf states that the loose networks that deploy jihadist martyrs - many run through mosques - are turning away potential attackers.

He said the mentality is: ``They have taken what is ours and they will take more if we don't stop them.''

Think about the underlying feeling Sunni entitlement. The Sunnis are killing many more Shias than the other way around. Yet the Sunnis feel they are the ones being attacked.

When the US pulls out of Iraq will the Shias be able to make peace with the Sunnis? Will even more Sunnis flow in from other countries to fight for their Sunni brethren in Iraq?

Also, will the Sunni smuggling network scale up to take in all the Sunnis who want to go to Iraq to fight? Just how many more will volunteer if the smuggling routes expand to handle them?

By Randall Parker    2005 June 30 09:33 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2005 June 26 Sunday
Donald Rumsfeld Admits To Meetings With Sunni Insurgency In Iraq

The rumours which have been flying around for weeks or months have finally been acknowledged.

Asked to respond to a report that U.S. military representatives met with several Sunni Iraqi insurgents twice in June, Rumsfeld told Fox News "there have probably been many more than that" and described the contacts as an effort to "split people off and get some people to be supportive" of the political process in Iraq.

Other parts of the U.S. government, including the State Department and CIA, have also been holding secret meetings with Iraqi insurgent factions in an effort to stop the violence and coax them into the political process, according to U.S. government officials and others who have participated in the efforts.

The military plan, approved in August 2004, seeks to make a distinction between Iraqi insurgents who are attacking U.S. troops because they are hostile to their presence, and foreign insurgents responsible for most of the suicide bombings -- which have killed more than 1,200 people in the last couple of months -- and whose larger political aims are unclear.

Hey, maybe they could shift the site of the negotiations to Paris and bring Henry Kissinger back from retirement to conduct them. Just a thought.

Rumsfeld also acknowledged that the United States is not going to beat the insurgency and that the insurgency could even last another 10 years.

Rumsfeld acknowledged there was no military solution to ending the insurgency and that the talks with Iraqi insurgents were part of a search for a political solution to the war. "I mean, foreign troops are not going to beat the insurgency," he said. "It's going to be the Iraqi people that are going to beat the insurgency and Iraqi security forces. That's just the nature of an insurgency."

He also pointed out, on Fox News, that "insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years."

The US will not stick around that long. Will the Sunnis manage to overthrow the government once US forces leave?

Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe (who writes many great reports on Iraq btw) says the inspector general of the US Marine Corps wrote a report claiming that Marines in Iraq are short of a number of types of equipment.

The report, obtained by the Globe, says the estimated 30,000 Marines in Iraq need twice as many heavy machine guns, more fully protected armored vehicles, and more communications equipment to operate in a region the size of Utah.

The Marine Corps leadership has ''understated" the amount and types of ground equipment it needs, according to the investigation, concluding that all of its fighting units in Iraq ''require ground equipment that exceeds" their current supplies, ''particularly in mobility, engineering, communications, and heavy weapons."

Their equipment is worn out.

The report also found that Abrams tanks and other combat vehicles are being so overused that replacements are needed quickly. It found that all of the Marines' battle tanks in Iraq have passed the normal criteria for replacing them.

The Marine Corps says their shortages extend well beyond Iraq.

Marine Corps spokesman Major Douglas Powell said the problems are affecting the entire Marine Corps, not just the 30,000 deployed to Iraq.

''We just don't have enough equipment to provide troops with what we need," he said. But Powell stressed that the Marines in Iraq have been provided more equipment from other units so they can meet their mission.

General Vines in Iraq expect a US troop withdrawal to begin early next year.

Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, the 18th Airborne Corps commander who oversees day-to-day military operations in Iraq...


"I think General Casey's assumption probably is still valid," he said. "I suspect we will probably draw down capability after the elections, because Iraqi security forces are more capable."

Asked whether the reductions could involve as many as four or five brigades, from the 17 currently in Iraq, Vines said: "It would probably be somewhere in that range. That would be my guess."

The elections he is referring to are in December. Some news stories put the withdrawal in March 2006. But I can't find an exact quote from Vines to that effect. Vines also doesn't entirely discount a surge in violence that would require more troops. Actually, we already need more troops in Iraq but the official party line of the Bush Administration is that we have troops there to do the job. What exactly is the job? Hang out waiting for the Iraqi military and police to staff up while we lose about 70 or 80 soldiers dead and hundreds injured per month while burning several billion dollars per month (which is not enough since the equipment is in short supply and wearing out).

Meanwhile the war is no longer popular.

A June 8 Gallup poll indicated dwindling support among Americans for the war. Sixty percent of those polled supported either a partial or total withdrawal of troops, and 52 percent said they don't feel any safer after Iraq's invasion. The poll interviewed 1,003 adults and had a margin of error of 3 percent.

Some have drawn comparisons to Vietnam, where President Nixon decided -- after the deaths of 58,000 Americans and some 3 million Vietnamese -- to slowly withdraw U.S. forces. Just as the Gallup poll suggests there is a growing critical mass of Americans who want to see the U.S. withdraw from Iraq, there was also, at the time of the Vietnam war, popular civilian support for a withdrawal.

General John Abizaid told the US Senate that soldiers in Iraq fear the US public no longer supports them.

''I can tell you that when my soldiers ask me the question whether or not they've got support from the American people . . . that worries me," Abizaid told senators. ''And they're starting to do that. And when the people that we're training, Iraqis and Afghans, start asking me whether or not we have the staying power to stick with them, that worries me, too."

He warned lawmakers that ''American soldiers can't win the war without your support, and without the support of our people."

Well, the American people don't support the war in Iraq. But I'm guessing most Americans wish the troops had better and more equipment so that fewer Americans would get wounded and killed.

Bush is trying to convince more Americans to support the war.

Recognizing the flagging support for his Iraq policy, the president will travel to Ft. Bragg, N.C., on Tuesday to deliver a prime-time speech outlining his strategy on the conflict.

This month, in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, a majority for the first time disapproved of Bush's job performance. On his handing of Iraq, 41% approved and 58% disapproved.

How many readers are old enough to remember when LBJ started giving speeches in front of troops because too many people in public audiences were hostile?

Update Steve Sailer opines that the lack of a centralized leadership in the insurgency Iraq makes negotiations with them hard to do.

The Shining Path rebellion in Peru and the Kurdish rebellion in Turkey both ended abruptly with the capture of their respective numero unos. The Afrikaaners could negotiate a deal with Mandela and know that his rebels would abide by it.

We don't know for sure that nobody will eventually emerge from the insurgency as a charismatic leader -- Bonaparte didn't emerge until about six years into the French Revolution -- but we're probably worse off without a centralized command. Lack of centralization means the insurgency could go on irrationally long, with the worst hot-heads keeping it going with more atrocities setting off more reprisals, etc etc.

One of Steve's readers responds more generally that when it comes to Iraq that much like Los Angeles about which maybe Woody Allen once remarked "there's no there there" the same can be said of Middle Eastern governments in general. This reader further claims that the US military presence in Iraq is just stirring up a hornet's nest of clan members angry that our smart bombs killed someone's cousin Ahmed.

In fact Arab states seem more and more like Potemkin polities, just a bunch of soldiers controlling some oil wells who have set up shop to impress international visitors but are not really in control of their people.

Arab societies are much more swarm-like – organized from the bottom-up by clans, rather than top-down by states. That’s why they seem ineffective in mobilizing their populi for war or economic development but good for stuff like weddings, mafias and guerilla war.

So regime change does not really change much, apart from the name on the shingle hanging on the street-front of the Potemkin state.

This brings to mind Charles Glass, a reporter who who famously escaped from his captors in Beirut, who once wrote a book on the Middle East entitled Tribes With Flags.

By Randall Parker    2005 June 26 06:39 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2005 June 19 Sunday
Trial Of Accused Assassins Leads To Speedy Decision In Iraq

A trial in Iraq for 3 accused assassins includes no meeting between a defense lawyer and his accused clients and also includes no cross examination of witnesses. The trial lasts less than 2 hours.

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The blacksmith, the builder and the laborer were sentenced to death just before noon.

The victim's son cried out, "God is great, God is great." Bowed and unshaven, the murderers were cuffed and silently led away. Someone said they must be guilty: An innocent man would yell in protest until his voice disappeared.

The trial had lasted 1 hour and 58 minutes. It was the third time since the end of Saddam Hussein's regime that the death penalty had been handed down.

They were accused of assassination of Iraqi Interior Ministry intelligence official Gen. Abdulmihsin Ali Abdulsada in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad.

The judge took a small amount of time to question them about their confessions and they indicated under questioning that they were tortured and confessed under duress.

Presiding Judge Luqman Thabit Samiraii prepared papers in his office upstairs. He lives in a tight whirlwind of bodyguards. More than 25 judges have been assassinated in Baghdad since the war ended in 2003.

The case before him represented a complicated intersection of interests. Iraqis live in fear and want murderers executed; the Interior Ministry lost a prized officer; a son wants vengeance; the defendants had confessed but said they did so under torture that included rape with a metal rod.

These guys might be guilty. Who knows how competent the investigators were who fingered them. Who knows what inter tribal vendettas might be involved in either the assassination or the accusation that they did it.

Note that the Abu Ghraib pictures caused outrage because American servicemen carried out the abuse of prisoners. But when Iraqis do it to Iraqis both Arabs and Westerners scarcely lift an eyebrow. That difference in reactions is not going to change and holds a lesson for anyone who supports a wider a neocolonial campaign of conquest and rule in the Middle East.

By Randall Parker    2005 June 19 02:16 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2005 June 12 Sunday
More British Memos Show No Bush Iraq Post War Planning

More British government documents on the pre-Iraq invasion period are leaking out.

The eight-page memo, written in advance of a July 23, 2002, Downing Street meeting on Iraq, provides new insights into how senior British officials saw a Bush administration decision to go to war as inevitable, and realized more clearly than their American counterparts the potential for the post-invasion instability that continues to plague Iraq.


In a section titled "Benefits/Risks," the July 21 memo states, "Even with a legal base and a viable military plan, we would still need to ensure that the benefits of action outweigh the risks."

Saying that "we need to be sure that the outcome of the military action would match our objective," the memo's authors point out, "A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise." The authors add, "As already made clear, the U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden."

US military plans assumed only a very small occupation force would be necessary and the Iraqi people, so happy to be "liberated", would be dancing with joy every time they saw American soldiers.

Some British Foreign Office officials saw Iraq as more likely to develop WMD if Saddam was overthrown.

Foreign office officials reportedly told the UK Prime Minister that there was a risk of the Iraqi system "reverting to type" after a war, with a future government acquiring the very weapons of mass destruction that an attack would be designed to remove.


A Cabinet Office document reveals:

"Even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years. Military operations need clear and compelling military objectives. For Iraq, 'regime change' does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge match between Bush and Saddam."

One thing that strikes me from these documents is the higher quality of the British national security bureaucracy and top civil service. They saw Iraq very clearly. The massive budgets of the CIA, NSA, and other US intelligence agencies ultimately did not buy us good policy.

This latest report follows on the heels of the May 1, 2005 release of the July, 23, 2002 so-called "Downing Street Memo" which shows the top level in the British government saw no WMD justification for an Iraq invasion and no US planning for the post-war aftermath.

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

Let us travel back to pre-war February 2003 when then deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz asserted the war wouldn't cost more than $100 billion and would not require an occupation force of more than 100,000.

Mr. Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, opened a two-front war of words on Capitol Hill, calling the recent estimate by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki of the Army that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in postwar Iraq, "wildly off the mark." Pentagon officials have put the figure closer to 100,000 troops. Mr. Wolfowitz then dismissed articles in several newspapers this week asserting that Pentagon budget specialists put the cost of war and reconstruction at $60 billion to $95 billion in this fiscal year. He said it was impossible to predict accurately a war's duration, its destruction and the extent of rebuilding afterward.

"We have no idea what we will need until we get there on the ground," Mr. Wolfowitz said at a hearing of the House Budget Committee. "Every time we get a briefing on the war plan, it immediately goes down six different branches to see what the scenarios look like. If we costed each and every one, the costs would range from $10 billion to $100 billion." Mr. Wolfowitz's refusal to be pinned down on the costs of war and peace in Iraq infuriated some committee Democrats, who noted that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., the budget director, had briefed President Bush on just such estimates on Tuesday.

US forces in Iraq are well north of 100,000. The US Army is not big enough to supply the number of troops needed. So Shinseki's estimated need has not been met. A combination of opposition to a draft and opposition to withdrawal (particularly on the part of people who do not want to admit the war is a mistake) leaves us stuck in a pointless war that will last for years to come.

Here is a transcript from April 1, 2003 where Wolfowitz claimed the United States wouldn't have to pay for the reconstruction of Iraq.

But when it comes to rebuilding Iraq the important thing to remember is this is not a bill that needs to be paid by the United States. There are a lot of sources of help, and most importantly -- unlike Afghanistan, unlike Somalia, unlike Bosnia and Kosovo and most of the other cases that you can mention -- Iraq has enormous resources of its own. It has natural resources wealth and it has incredible human resources wealth. And ultimately it's a country that will, I think, fund its own reconstruction.

On December 30, 2002 Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., then director of the US government's Office of Management and Budget claimed that the Iraq war would only cost $50 to $60 billion. (same article here)

The administration's top budget official estimated today that the cost of a war with Iraq could be in the range of $50 billion to $60 billion, a figure that is well below earlier estimates from White House officials.


Mr. Daniels would not provide specific costs for either a long or a short military campaign against Saddam Hussein. But he said that the administration was budgeting for both, and that earlier estimates of $100 billion to $200 billion in Iraq war costs by Lawrence B. Lindsey, Mr. Bush's former chief economic adviser, were too high.

When the Bush Administration makes claims about future costs and future progress in the war in Iraq keep in mind their ridiculous claims of the past.

Genera Tommy Franks expected no insurgency and a rapid draw down of troops.

Gen. Tommy R. Franks climbed out of a C-130 plane at the Baghdad airport on April 16, 2003, and pumped his fist into the air. American troops had pushed into the capital of liberated Iraq little more than a week before, and it was the war commander's first visit to the city.

Much of the Sunni Triangle was only sparsely patrolled, and Baghdad was still reeling from a spasm of looting. Apache attack helicopters prowled the skies as General Franks headed to the Abu Ghraib North Palace, a retreat for Saddam Hussein that now served as the military's headquarters.

Huddling in a drawing room with his top commanders, General Franks told them it was time to make plans to leave. Combat forces should be prepared to start pulling out within 60 days if all went as expected, he said. By September, the more than 140,000 troops in Iraq could be down to little more than a division, about 30,000 troops.

Donald Rumsfeld also expected no insurgency and a rapid withdrawal of US forces.

Thomas E. White, then the secretary of the Army, said he had received similar guidance from Mr. Rumsfeld's office. "Our working budgetary assumption was that 90 days after completion of the operation, we would withdraw the first 50,000 and then every 30 days we'd take out another 50,000 until everybody was back," he recalled. "The view was that whatever was left in Iraq would be de minimis."

The delusions here are staggering. They were going to destroy the Iraqi government and military. How did they expect even basic police protection to be delivered? Would a new police force of the Iraqi people magically form in a massive volunteer effort? What were they thinking?

While General Eric Shinseki saw Kosovo and Bosnia as models for how many troops were needed for an occupation Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld saw a large occupation force as a sort of welfare state that fosters dependency.

Neither the Defense Department nor the White House, however, saw the Balkans as a model to be emulated. In a Feb. 14, 2003, speech titled "Beyond Nation Building," which Mr. Rumsfeld delivered in New York, he said the large number of foreign peacekeepers in Kosovo had led to a "culture of dependence" that discouraged local inhabitants from taking responsibility for themselves.

Of course, this sort of ideological nonsense could be taken on its own terms: If we "liberate" some people aren't we encouraging "a culture of dependence"? If people are being ruled by a dictator then shouldn't they find it within themselves to rise up and overthrow him as a way to learn that they really do value freedom? If we allow them to escape from tyranny without doing the work themselves we foster a culture of dependency on foreign liberators. So best we not liberate anyone. Following this logic the fact that we invaded in the first place then becomes the reason why the Iraqis won't defeat the insurgents in Iraq. Or we can twist it around and say that the insurgents learned they had to become liberators when they came to be ruled by foreign conquerors. So our invasion spurred the freedom loving people of Iraq to a realization that they loved freedom and therefore they had to take up arms against US forces.

Of course such arguments are as nonsensical as Rumsfeld's argument. Lots of people don't love freedom. They love ruling and they love power and they have greater loyalty to their religion and their tribe than they do the concept of freedom.

Also see "Iraq Aluminum Tubes Intelligence Analysts Rewarded". For more on why the Bush Administration's expectations for the size of the occupation force were unrealistic see "7 Retired US Generals And Admirals Speak On Iraq".

Thanks to Greg Cochran for the tip on the first link.

By Randall Parker    2005 June 12 11:41 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2005 June 01 Wednesday
Going Down In Basra Southern Iraq

You might think at least in the Shia deep south of Iraq things are looking up. Well, wrong. Basra is ruled by competing militias and police engage in assassinations of opponents.

The chief of police in Basra admitted yesterday that he had effectively lost control of three-quarters of his officers and that sectarian militias had infiltrated the force and were using their posts to assassinate opponents.

Speaking to the Guardian, General Hassan al-Sade said half of his 13,750-strong force was secretly working for political parties in Iraq's second city and that some officers were involved in ambushes.

Other officers were politically neutral but had no interest in policing and did not follow his orders, he told the Guardian.

"I trust 25% of my force, no more."

Appearances are deceiving.

In marked contrast to Baghdad, razor wire and blast walls are uncommon in Basra and instead of cowering indoors after dark families take strolls along the corniche.

But Gen Sade said the tranquillity had been bought by ceding authority to conservative Islamic parties and turning a blind eye to their militias' corruption scams and hit squads.

The militias are knocking off each others' leaders. Maybe that will work out with a single militia coming out on top like with organized crime groups in America. Or maybe the city will Balkanize. Or, hey, to make it more regionally fitting, maybe Basra will Lebanonize into civil war.

Civil war has come to Tal Afar.

With sectarian violence increasing between the nation's Shiite and Sunni Muslims, the figures raise the question of whether Iraq is turning into two battlefields: one of insurgents versus the U.S. military and another of Iraqi sects fighting each other.

In the northern city of Tal Afar, there were reports that militants were in control and that Shiites and Sunnis were fighting in the streets, a day after two car bombs killed at least 20 people.

Police Capt. Ahmed Hashem Taki said Tal Afar was experiencing "civil war." Journalists were blocked from entering the city of 200,000.

President Nixon is keen to show that Vietnamization is working. Oh wait, wrong war. President Bush is keen to show that Iraqization is working.

Turning this trend around, and restoring the atmosphere of optimism, may well have become a top priority for both Washington and Iraq's new leaders. US officials in particular are keen to highlight progress in the development of Iraq's military, as the degree to which Iraq is taking part in its own defense appears to be a crucial determinant of American public attitudes towards the war.

"The US public is looking for success, and success to them means cooperating with the Iraqis," says Christopher Gelpi, a Duke University expert on public opinion about Iraq.

In spite of all this I've found a new reason to be optimistic. I think Iran's mullahs are going to find ways to help their Shiite co-religionists in their civli war against the Sunnis.

One danger of the new crackdown might be increased sectarian violence. The new Iraqi government is dominated by Shiite Muslims with ties to Iran, and its target is an insurgency that despite the presence of Islamist fighters remains overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.

Obviously the Iranians are in a bind. If they help their fellow Shiites they also might end up helping the United States. Of course, then we are in a bind too. Before the Iraq invasion there was no "Axis of Evil" since there was no alliance between Saddam and the mullahs (someone tell David Frum that he's historically illiterate). But now Bush and the neocons might well have set in motion events that will create a real axis between Iraq and Iran. Darn those unintended consequences.

Immanuel Wallerstein points out that when Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi came to Iraq in May Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari chatted with him in Farsi.

Two days later, the Foreign Minister of Iran, Kamal Khazzeri, arrived for a far more successful four-day visit. He was greeted at the airport by Iraq's Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, himself a Sunni and a Kurd, who broke into fluent Farsi. After three days, Iraq and Iran signed an agreement to end hostilities between them, in which the new Iraqi government agreed with Iran that the Iraq-Iran war was initiated by Saddam Hussein. The two countries renewed criticisms of Israel. If Bush thinks the new Iraqi government is going to join the U.S. in a crusade against Iran, that other member of the "axis of evil," he clearly has another think coming.

The foreign ministers of Iraq and Iran are personal friends.

As a sign of warming relations, Zebari lapsed into fluent Farsi during the news event, drawing appreciative laughter from Kharrazi, a personal friend. The Iraqi foreign minister is a former Kurdish peshmerga who spent several years in Iran in his youth.

The Iraqi Prime Minister does not want to have unfriendly relations with Iran just because the United States does.

Al-Jaafari and other top Shiite leaders gave Kharrazi a welcome suffused with references to the ties they formed during years of exile in Iran after fleeing the repression of Saddam Hussein.

In his joint appearance with Kharrazi on the steps of the prime minister's office, al-Jaafari focused his remarks on the new government's determination not to allow its relations with Iran or the United States to be prejudiced by the hostility between Tehran and Washington.

Here's my question at this point: Can the US successfully use paramilitary militias against the Sunni insurgents? The Bush Administration is hoping that the success of El Salvador and other Latin American precedents for US support of paramilitary forces can be copied successfully in Iraq. But with so many competing militias organized around tribal ties built on consanguineous marriages Iraq is a very different place.

Update: Thinking about the Vietnam analogy one point comes to mind: The US military tore apart the Viet Cong. Vietnam finally fell to North Vietnamese forces. Well, so far the United States military has not destroyed the Sunni insurgency. The number of Sunnis willing to fight in the insurgency is still far more than the number the US military has killed. In Vietnam the problem was tha the South Vietnamese ARVN weren't as motivated to fight for their government as the communists were. The same holds for the Iraqi Army. Will the Shias become motivated to fight? They have begun to engage in retaliatory killings against the Sunnis. They might not fight for their government. But they might fight for their families against the Sunnis. Of course, if Iraq decays into a large scale civil war blood bath of families killing families across religious and tribal divides then the folly of the neocon project to remake the Middle East will become even more obvious.

Update: An Iraqi lady "river" who writes the "Baghdad Burning" "River Bend" blog provides insight into the Iraqi National Guard's moral code.

The event of the week occurred last Wednesday and I was surprised it wasn’t covered by Western press. It’s not that big a deal, but it enraged people in Baghdad and it can also give a better picture of what has been going on with our *heroic* National Guard. There was an explosion on Wednesday in Baghdad and the wounded were all taken to Yarmuk Hospital, one of the larger hospitals in Baghdad. The number of wounded were around 30- most of them National Guard. In the hospital, it was chaos- patients wounded in this latest explosion, patients from other explosions and various patients from gunshot wounds, etc. The doctors were running around everywhere, trying to be in four different places at once.

Apparently, there weren’t enough beds. Many of the wounded were in the hallways and outside of the rooms. The stories vary. One doctor told me that some of the National Guard began screaming at the doctors, telling them to ignore the civilians and tend to the wounds of the Guard. A nurse said that the National Guard who weren’t wounded began pulling civilians out of the beds and replacing them with wounded National Guard. The gist of it is generally the same; the doctors refused the idea of not treating civilians and preferring the National Guard over them and suddenly a fight broke out. The doctors threatened a strike if the National Guard began pulling the civilians out of beds.

The National Guard decided the solution to the crisis would be the following- they’d gather up some of the doctors and nurses and beat them in front of the patients. So several doctors were rounded up and attacked by several National Guard (someone said there was liberal use of electric batons and the butts of some Klashnikovs).

The doctors decided to go on strike.

It’s difficult to consider National Guardsmen as heroes with the image of them beating doctors in white gowns in ones head. It’s difficult to see them as anything other than expendable Iraqis with their main mission being securing areas and cities for Americans.

It seems that Da’awa Party’s Jaffari is going to be the Prime Minister and Talbani is going to get the decorative position of president. It has been looking like this since the elections. There is talk of giving our token Sunni Ghazi Al Yawir some high-profile position like National Assembly spokesperson. The gesture is meant to appease the Sunni masses but it isn’t going to do that because it’s not about Sunnis and Shia. It’s about occupation and Vichy governments. They all look the same to us.

What it seems policy makers in America don’t get, and what I suspect many Americans themselves *do* get, is that millions of Iraqis feel completely detached from the current people in power. If you don’t have an alliance with one of the political parties (ie under their protection or on their payroll) then it’s difficult to feel any affinity with people like Jaffari, Allawi, Talbani, etc. We watch them on television, tight-lipped and shifty-eyed after a meeting where they quarreled about Kirkuk or Sharia in the constitution and it feels like what I imagine an out-of-body experience should feel like.

In spite of elections, they still feel like puppets. But now, they are high-tech puppets. They were upgraded from your ordinary string puppets to those life-like, battery-powered, talking puppets. It’s almost like we’re doing that whole rotating president thing Bremer did in 2003 all over again. The same faces are getting tedious. The old Iraqi saying sums it up nicely, “Tireed erneb- ukhuth erneb. Tireed ghazal- ukhuth erneb.” The translation for this is, “You want a rabbit? Take a rabbit. You want a deer? Take a rabbit.”

Except we didn’t get any rabbits- we just got an assortment of snakes, weasels and hyenas.

Think about what she says above. Can you imagine US National Guard beating up US doctors and forcing civilians out of hospital beds? Think about the three quarters of the police in Basra who the chief of police does not trust and the militias that rule the place. The neocons were hopelessly naive if they thought they could turn Iraq into a liberal democracy.

By Randall Parker    2005 June 01 07:59 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2005 May 29 Sunday
Paramilitary Forces Against Iraq Insurgency

Syed Saleem Shahzad, bureau chief for Asia Times in Pakistan, says the United States will use militias to fight against the insurgent militia groups in Iraq.

According to Asia Times Online contacts, these US-backed militias will comprise three main segments - former Kurdish peshmerga (paramilitaries), former members of the Badr Brigade and those former members of the Ba'ath Party and the Iraqi army who were part of the Saddam regime but who have now thrown in their lot with the new Iraqi government.

All three segments have already been equipped with low- and medium-level weapons purchased from various countries, including Pakistan. Military analysts believe the US military in Iraq will use the Kurd and Shi'ite militias to quell the resistance in central and northern Iraq, while in the south the former Ba'athists and old-guard Iraqi soldiers will be used against anti-US Shi'ite groups.

Note the divide and conquer aspect of this. But Kurd and Shia militias operating in the Sunni Triangle lack the ability to collect effective intelligence. Sunnis view Kurds and Shias as outsiders. Kurds and Shias lack ties in local tribal networks.

Paramilitary militias play by more brutal rules. The United States has trained and funded them in El Salvador and other Latin American countries to fight against communists and drug lords. The US government has usually denied funding groups that carry out assassinations and terrorising of civilian populations. Sometimes the US has provided a government with a lot of money and some of that money and probably leaked through to paramilitaries, providing the US with deniability. For example, in Colombia during the early 1990s a paramilitary group called Los Pepes (People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar) conducted assassinations against friends and business associates of Pablo Escobar. Did US special forces and the CIA have direct contact with Los Pepes members? We may never know.

I wonder whether the Asia Times story accurately portrays the division of labor for the paramilitary forces in Iraq. Peter Maass, writing for the New York Times reports that the chief of a 5,000 soldier counter-insurgency force of Special Police Commandos is headed by Adnan Thabit, a Sunni and former Baathist general under Saddam. (same article here)

The template for Iraq today is not Vietnam, to which it has often been compared, but El Salvador, where a rightist government backed by the United States fought a leftist insurgency in a 12-year war beginning in 1980.

The cost there was high - more than 70,000 people were killed, most of them civilians, in a country with a population of just six million. Most of the killing and torturing was done by the army and the rightist death squads affiliated with it.

There are far more Americans in Iraq today - about 140,000 troops in all - than there were in El Salvador, but U.S. soldiers and officers are increasingly moving to a Salvador-style advisory role.

In the process, they are backing up local forces that, like the military in El Salvador, do not shy away from violence. It is no coincidence that this new strategy is most visible in a paramilitary unit that has as its main adviser James Steele, one of the U.S. military's top experts on counterinsurgency. Steele, having been a key participant in the Salvador conflict, knows how to organize a counterinsurgency campaign that is led by local forces.

Maass' article does not provide a religious and ethnic breakdown for the troops under General Adnan's command. Too many Sunnis in such a command and it will be riddled with spies reporting to the opposition. Too few Sunnis and the soldiers will lack the knowledge, contacts, and skills for operating in the Sunni Triangle.

If anyone comes across more detailed information about ethnic and religious identities of the Iraqi paramilitaries supported by the United States please post in the comments or send me an email. If the paramilitaries can not hunt down the bulk of the insurgents then either a partition or a brutal large scale Shia-Sunni civil war or perhaps even reestablishment of a Sunni regime become probable outcomes.

At this point the US military probably has two choices: Try to harness and form Shiite paramilitaries to fight under US supervision or stand by while the Shiites, furious over killings of Shia by Sunnis, exact revenge without US involvement. The Shiites are hitting back against the Sunnis. (same article here)

No one is sure how long Sistani can hold back the Shiite masses from exacting wholesale retribution — in fact many Sunni Arabs fear it has already begun.

Newly emboldened police commando squads have raided Sunni mosques and arrested Sunni religious leaders, who call them Shiite avengers.

A car bomb exploded April 30 outside the Baghdad headquarters of a Sunni political organization, the National Dialogue Council. Members blame the Shiite-dominated security forces or allied paramilitaries, but the bombers may have been Sunni insurgents outraged at the council's perceived collaboration with the new government.

"The definition of civil war is when the Shiites on the ground start to hit back," said Hussein Shahristani, a top Sistani aide and first deputy speaker of the National Assembly.

Whether the Shias, either on their own or under US supervision, can effectively put down the Sunni insurgency remains to be seen. The Shias outnumber the Sunnies over 3 to 1. But the Sunnis could respond to killings of Sunnis by Shias with their own escalating retaliatory killings.

Sunni and Shia organizations are accusing each other of carrying out targetted killings.

In an effort to mitigate escalating sectarian tensions, officials from the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, considered close to some insurgent groups, met with representatives from the Badr Brigades the military wing of Iraq's largest Shiite party, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Organized by the anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the gathering aimed to smother accusations that began earlier this month when the association's leader, Harith al-Dhari, accused the Badr Brigades of killing Sunnis and executing their clerics. A number of Shiite clerics were also killed.

The brigades not only denied the charges, they accused the Sunni association of failing to condemn the insurgency and of trying to ''push Iraq into a sectarian conflict.''

Some Iraqis figure the Americans are omnipotent and hence any violence results from American plots.

"I only want to put this question to you," said Sana Abdul-Kareem, a dentist with four children. "Why can't the U.S., with all its might and capabilities, impose security here? How come with all our oil they cannot provide us with electricity? My son was so happy when the American soldiers first came. But after two years of failure to make good on their promises, he abhors them."

Baghdad resident Ali Jalal said: "The Americans are behind these problems. They don't want the country to be stabilized…. The Iraqi government is like a doll in the hands of the Americans."

Maybe larger scale Shiite retaliations will shock the Sunni leaders out of their support for attacks against Shias. Will the Shiites identify the Sunni insurgents fairly accurately? Will most of the Sunnis killed by Shias really be insurgents? Or will the Sunni insurgents so effectively target Shia leaders and police that increasing portions of Iraq will become effectively ungoverned?

By Randall Parker    2005 May 29 10:26 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2005 April 25 Monday
Insurgency Violence Upswing In Iraq

Someone forgot to tell the Iraqi insurgents they are a beaten force that is on the wane.

BAGHDAD, April 23 -- Violence is escalating sharply in Iraq after a period of relative calm that followed the January elections. Bombings, ambushes and kidnappings targeting Iraqis and foreigners, both troops and civilians, have surged this month while the new Iraqi government is caught up in power struggles over cabinet positions.

Many attacks have gone unchallenged by Iraqi forces in large areas of the country dominated by insurgents, according to the U.S. military, Iraqi officials and civilians and visits by Washington Post correspondents. More than 100 Iraqis and foreigners have died in the last week.

Is this the end of the neocon Middle Eastern version of Prague Spring?

The U.S. official said this week that overall attacks had increased since the end of March. Roadside bombings and attacks on military targets are up by as much as 40 percent in parts of the country over the same period, according to estimates from private security outfits.

So glad I'm not there.

Civil war anyone?

Tensions over the killings in the area focused on the town of Madain, where rumors that Sunnis are kidnapping and killing Shiite townspeople were rife. Some Shiite national leaders have warned of sectarian war. In Shiite strongholds, there were threats of retaliatory violence against innocent Sunnis.

Will Shia bands start kidnapping and killing Sunnis? If they did would that be a positive or negative development from the standpoint of US national interests?

Thanks to Greg Cochran for the tip on that previous article.

Some think political paralysis at the top of the Iraqi government is contributing to the uptick in violence. A new Cabinet has not yet been formed after the January elections.

Iraq has experienced a surge in militant attacks that have caused heavy casualties in recent weeks, ending a relative lull after the country's historic Jan. 30 elections. Iraqi leaders are struggling to form a Cabinet that will include members of the Sunni minority, believed to be the driving force in the insurgency.

An optimistic interpretation is that the attacks are designed to strengthen the bargaining position of the Sunni politicians trying to win positions the government. Why optimistic? Because it would suggest some sort of political deal could be made with the Sunnis to placate them and get them to stop bombing. But I'm not optimistic about Iraq. Still, if you want to feel optimistic that is one way you could think about it.

Quite obviously the elected politicians feel no sense of urgency to form an effective government to put down the insurgency.

The attacks came after a short lull in violence in Baghdad and underscored the security challenges facing newly-elected leaders. They are still deliberating over a government more than two months after the election.

Hey, why rush? American soldiers will keep dying and getting maimed to keep their government in power at least until they strike a political deal and likely for years to come.

We are now well into the real world test for the "the elected Iraqi government and rebuilt Iraqi military will take over the suppression of the insurgency phase" theory on how we will put down the insurgency and leave. If a definite trend of declining violence does not become evident in the next few months the Bush Administration is going to have to come up with yet another new theory on when things will start looking up in Iraq. The "when we capture Saddam" theory and the "when we capture Saddam's sons" theory are both long discredited. So is the "when we capture a bunch of Saddam's top people" theory. Ditto for the "when we appoint an Iraqi provisional government" theory and about a half dozen other such theories that have faded too far in my memory to easily recall.

Update: Okay, the "Iraqi military forces taking over the fighting" subtheory of the bigger "let the Iraqi government and military put down the insurgency" theory is taking a big hit. Derek Copold alerts me to a report that Iraqi Army desertions are surging.

On the Syrian border, US troops in the Sunni city of Husaybah report mass desertions. An Iraqi unit that had once grown to 400 troops now numbers a few dozen who are "holed up" inside a local phosphate plant.

Major John Reed, of the 2nd Marine Regiment, said: "They will claim that they are ready to come back and fight but there are no more than 30 of them on duty on any given day and they are completely ineffective."

In Mosul, which has been a hotspot since insurgents fleeing Fallujah effectively overran it last year, residents have complained to newspapers that police now rarely patrol and only appear in response to attacks.

The US military isn't big enough to hold Mosul and Fallujah at the same time.

This is bad news for US soldiers and their families and US taxpayers.

Update II: Greg points me to more articles: Retired US Army General John Keane believes the insurgency can replace their losses.

'One of the insurgency's strengths is its capacity to regenerate," said retired Army General John Keane, who returned recently from a fact-finding mission in Iraq. ''We have killed thousands of them and detained even more, but they are still able to regenerate. They are still coming at us."

Keane took issue with those military officials who have suggested that the insurgency was waning because the number of attacks across the country had declined to about 50 a day, compared with more than 200 per day last year, according to Pentagon figures.

''It's always dangerous to look at [the numbers of] enemy attacks," said Keane, a Vietnam veteran and member of the Defense Policy Board, which advises Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. ''They can be very misleading, as much as the body counts in Vietnam. . . . It can lead to wrong conclusions."

The insurgents are claimed to be launching more sophisticated attacks.

Despite claims that the insurgency in Iraq has declined, an internal Army analysis finds that attacks haven't necessarily lessened in recent months, but rather appear to have shifted away from U.S. troops to more vulnerable Iraqis.

The report also concludes that Iraqi insurgents seem to be staging increasingly sophisticated attacks on both Iraqi and U.S. forces.

The Christian Science Monitor links to more articles on the insurgency.

By Randall Parker    2005 April 25 09:46 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (16)
2005 March 06 Sunday
American Checkpoints Are Poorly Marked In Iraq

Writing for the Christian Science Monitor reporter Annia Ciezadlo had already filed a story about the dangers of checkpoints in Iraq before American soldiers opened fire on a car carrying a Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena after insurgents released her. The short summation is that US checkpoints are poorly marked and Iraqi drivers have been conditioned by Saddam's rule to speed by government buildings and soldiers.

As an American journalist here, I have been through many checkpoints and have come close to being shot at several times myself. I look vaguely Middle Eastern, which perhaps makes my checkpoint experience a little closer to that of the typical Iraqi. Here's what it's like.

You're driving along and you see a couple of soldiers standing by the side of the road - but that's a pretty ubiquitous sight in Baghdad, so you don't think anything of it. Next thing you know, soldiers are screaming at you, pointing their rifles and swiveling tank guns in your direction, and you didn't even know it was a checkpoint.

If it's confusing for me - and I'm an American - what is it like for Iraqis who don't speak English?

In situations like this, I've often had Iraqi drivers who step on the gas. It's a natural reaction: Angry soldiers are screaming at you in a language you don't understand, and you think they're saying "get out of here," and you're terrified to boot, so you try to drive your way out.

Do I have to even explain that this is stupid on the part of the American occupation forces?

Making this problem far worse is the fact that under Saddam Iraqis were conditioned to go fast past government building and to never look at the buildings or the soldiers guarding them.

I remember parking outside a ministry with an Iraqi driver, waiting to pick up a friend. After sitting and staring at the building for about half an hour, waiting for our friend to emerge, the driver shook his head.

"If you even looked at this building before, you'd get arrested," he said, his voice full of disbelief. Before, he would speed past this building, gripping the wheel, staring straight ahead, careful not to even turn his head. After 35 years of this, Iraqis still speed up when they're driving past government buildings - which, since the Americans took over a lot of them, tend be to exactly where the checkpoints are.

Do generals running the occupation forces even know what this reporter learned from her Iraqi drivers? I doubt it. Else I'd expect them to change the structure of checkpoints and put up better signs and signals to clearly instruct drivers what to expect and when to expect it.

The Iraqis misunderstand what the Americans want at checkpoints and do not always figure out what are checkpoints to avoid being shot at. The flip side is that the Americans at the checkpoints sometimes misunderstand the intentions of the Iraqis driving up to them. Worse still, the Iraqis can not always recognize American checkpoints as truly being American checkpoints. The Iraqi soldiers who are often around American checkpoints might just as easily be insurgents who are dressed in Iraqi military uniforms (and some insurgents are in the Iraqi military) looking to do kidnappings or killings.

If the neocons want the US military to become an army of occupation then the neocons are going to have to make sure the those soldiers are taught how to do occupations.

Update: Greg Cochran points me to a report about the killing of the Italian agent by US soliders. The Italians have been paying the insurgents a lot of money in order to get Italian hostages released.

President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi announced that he was posthumously awarding Italy's highest military honour, the Medaglia d'Oro, to the ex-immigration officer who became a hostage negotiator, overseeing the release of six Italians abducted in Iraq in the past year.


After weeks of haggling, the ransom for Ms Sgrena had finally been agreed: at least $6m (£3.1m), according to the Italian press, and perhaps as much as $8m, had been handed over.

Not surprisingly the American and British military are none to happy about these ransom payments. Suppose the amount paid per Italian released is $6 million each time. Then the Italians may have paid the insurgents $36 million dollars in the last year. That has got to be going toward funding attacks that kill American soldiers. So how many American deaths has the Italian government funded?

Update II: Greg Cochran points me to yet another report, this on the rules of engagement for American soldiers. Writing for the New York Times John Burns (an absolutely first class journalist in my estimation) reports on Iraqis confused by the American rules of engagement and the many Westerners who have been shot at by US soldiers.

Ms. Sgrena and her companions were not the only Western civilians to have come under American fire, according to a series of unclassified government reports that receive extremely restricted circulation, copies of which have been made available to The Times. The reports outline at least six incidents since December in which American troops have fired on vehicles carrying Westerners in the area around the airport.

The reports chronicled one incident in January at a checkpoint near the airport road when an American soldier fired at a car even though it was moving slowly and the driver was holding his identification card in plain sight out of the window. The soldier finally waved the car away and forced it to drive down the wrong side of a road.

In early February, a private security company carrying Western clients was fired upon by American troops on the airport road itself. "This is the second time in three days," the report on the incident noted. Later that month, a Western contractor approaching a checkpoint at roughly five miles an hour after dropping off a passenger at the airport heard gunfire, assumed he was coming under attack by insurgents and tried to speed away.

But the fire turned out to have been from American troops, who fired warning shots, then hit the passenger side windshield, forcing the driver to stop, climb from the car and put his hands in the air.

Many of the people delivering passengers to the airport are ex-military guys hired to do security tasks. If even they can't figure out when US soldiers are trying to direct them to do something what chance does the average Iraqi have of understanding? Also, what does it say about the signs (or lack thereof) that the American soldiers are using to control vehicles? I can see why a new temporary roadblock might not have all the right equipment. But the approach roads right at Baghdad's airport have been under American control since the invasion. Why doesn't the US military have a better system for bringing vehicles into the airport?

This sentence especially stands out describing how soldiers are supposed to keep Iraqi vehicles away from US military convoys:

Generally, the machine-gunner in the last Humvee is instructed to raise a clenched fist - a military gesture meaning "stay back" that few Iraqis understand - then to wave both arms, and throw water bottles or anything else available.

Frequent misunderstandings on both sides are getting lots of innocent civilians killed. Putting lots of soldiers from a different culture and with a language barrier and insufficient training for handling an occupation and counterinsurgency into urban areas to fight an insurgency is a sure fire recipe for getting lots of dead innocent civilians and for stoking resentments among the occupied population.

The latest incident with the dead Italian government agent is obviously part of a larger pattern of poor management decisions on roadblocks and methods of communicating with civilians.

By Randall Parker    2005 March 06 12:30 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2005 January 28 Friday
Will Massive Arrests By Police State Stop Iraq Insurgency?

General George Casey, top commander in Iraq, says the Iraqis may never be able to defeat the insurgency on their own.

"Can I sit here and look you in the eye and say that the Iraqi security forces guaranteed 100 percent are going to be able to defeat this insurgency by themselves? Of course not," Casey said.

"From what I've seen in the seven months that I've been here, I believe that we can achieve capable Iraqi security forces over a period of time that can deal with the Iraqi insurgency that's here."

He's hedging but at the same time trying to sound optimistic.

General Casey also says that US forces definitely can't defeat the insurgency on their own either.

"We can't stay in front of this over the long haul and be successful," Gen. George Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq, said this week.

"We're an outside force and we're viewed by the people ... as an occupation force," Casey added. "We've got to get the Iraqis in front to ultimately prevail here."

Think about that for a second. Effectively Casey is more optimistic about Iraqi government military forces prevailing than about US forces prevailing. But he has no other choice given the constraints he is under. There has to be a solution (so sayeth Dubya). US forces can't be scaled up high enough to be the solution and they are seen as outsiders and can't speak the local language well enough anyway. So Casey has to see Iraqi forces as the eventual solution. This has been the official Pentagon message ever since capturing Saddam and establishing a semi-sovereign appointed government did not help. Expect this solution to continue to be pushed when the elections aftermath produces little change in insurgency activity. What, democracy isn't the solution?

We are supposed to believe that the unenthusiastic locals and the resented outside forces together can march to victory. Well, maybe. But count me pessimistic. Still, I see one way the Iraqi government may yet prevail. Read on.

Anne Barnard of the Boston Globe has an excellent article about Iraqi security forces that are claimed to have over 120,000 on paper but which disintegrate very easily.

On election day, Osama's unit must back up newer, untested Iraqi forces, including a brand-new Public Order Battalion that had more than 200 men until half failed to show up after a recent home leave.

"They'll stand and fight -- as long as we're with them," Captain Adam Wojack, the US adviser to the 150-man commando team, said of Samarra's fledgling forces as he rested after the auto-shop mission at Patrol Base Razor, on the edge of this Sunni Muslim city 60 miles north of Baghdad. Extra cement barriers have ringed the US outpost since July 6, when a suicide car bomber, wearing an Iraqi police uniform, killed five US troops and three Iraqi National Guardsmen there, scaring all but 50 of the town's 500 guardsmen off the job.


The problems began, Schacht said, on April 11, when the 202d Battalion of the Iraqi National Guard, mainly from Samarra, disintegrated as uprisings broke out in Fallujah, Samarra, and other Sunni Muslim areas. The battalion had 750 soldiers, but under insurgent pressure, Schacht said, "in eight hours it went to 40."

A few batallions in Samarra brought in from other areas are holding together. But even though those batallions of course speak very fluent Arabic and supposedly belong to the same country (calling Iraq a country at this point is a bit of a stretch) they are not getting any help from the locals in identifying insurgents. Why? Barnard says that family ties trump other considerations. But of course. Among many Iraqis feelings of loyalty are felt much more strongly toward tribal networks anchored by consanguineous marriages than they are toward the new Iraqi government.

Numbers on the size of Iraqi security forces have to be taken with a very large grain of salt. (same article here)

Building a security force from scratch under current conditions is a mind-boggling venture. Before Petraeus arrived, the Pentagon claimed the Iraqi security force numbered 200,000, a bogus figure it has since dropped.

The bulk of the current 50,000 soldiers are poorly trained national guard battalions that have been subsumed into the army this month. Even regular army soldiers get only an eight-week course. Their fighting abilities are only beginning to be tested.

Also, note that police are often included in numbers for "Iraqi security forces". But police are not equipped to fight insurgencies and police have lots of normal policing work to do for which they are understaffed. So they shouldn't be counted in official totals of Iraqi forces available to fight against the insurgency.

That previous article starts out describing how fairly peaceful conditions were established in Mosul until a withdrawal of two thirds of the US forces there gave insurgents room to build up. Among the results was the collapse of the police force, assassinations of dozens of politicians, and an angry populace. Bush and the neocons have given the United States a bad case of imperial overreach.

So can the Iraqi government assert effective control of the country? I see one way it may be possible. A DOD video conference from Iraq of Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Barham Salih shows that massive arrests may be the preferred tactic of the Iraqi government.

Q Sir, Joe Tabet, from Al Hurra TV. My first question is, Iraq's military chief of staff, General Zebari, said that 2,000 insurgents had been detained in the past three weeks, including some from Syria. Are those detainees -- do you think they are working alone, acting alone, or linked to any network outside Iraq? And who do you think is still financing those people?

MIN. SALIH: The intelligence assessment and estimate that we have of the security environment in Iraq and based on many debriefings that we have reviewed points to the fact that we're talking about the former regime loyalists. Having reorganized certainly the former intelligence, special forces, Saddam loyalists have reorganized and are working hard to destabilize the security environment. And they have entered into a lethal alliance with the Zarqawi and al Qaeda affiliates that are operating in Iraq. We certainly know of the existence of many senior leaders from the former regime, beyond the borders of Iraq, financing terrorist operations inside Iraq and directing terrorist operations inside Iraq.

But as I said, the arrests that we have made, whether they are with the Zarqawi group or the former regime loyalists, have been significant, and we hope that we have been able to erode their capability to inflict damage upon the Iraqi people. We are talking to neighbors as well to restrict the movements of these former regime loyalists and to bring them to justice before long.

They may not all be insurgents. But if these people are even related to insurgents then massive numbers of arrests might be an effective tool in getting the insurgents to stop fighting. Picture how this is going to work: Either provide information and stop fighting or your cousin or uncle or mother is going to get tortured in jail. This sort of tactic worked for Saddam Hussein. Surely the Iraqi government in power now will not shrink from copying Saddam's techniques. Oh, I know what you are thinking: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss". No, it is not going to be just a brutal police state. Iraq is going to get a democratically elected brutal police state. I predict we will end up spending about $600-700 billion and a few thousand Americans dead plus tens of thousands permanently mained to achieve this outcome.

Check out this interview between Tim Russert and US Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte. Iraq is going to be a corrupt democratically elected police state too.

MR. RUSSERT: The Iraqi national security adviser said, "corruption is worse now than under Saddam Hussein."

AMB. NEGROPONTE: Well, I just--I simply can't accept that or can't agree to that allegation. I would also point out that while he may still carry the official title of national security adviser, he is, in fact, a candidate for political office and not carrying out the national security adviser function at this time. But when you think of the corruption in the Saddam regime, the oil-for-food scandals, the billions of dollars that were smuggled out of the country, I think those levels of corruption simply pale in comparison to anything that might possibly have been happening in recent months.

With so much stuff getting wrecked and so much economic activity being disrupted (e.g. oil production still at less than half the pre-war production level) by the insurgency there is not as much to steal as there could be. If the insurgency is eventually put down then more wealth can be accumulated to steal and corruption will be able to be much greater.

By Randall Parker    2005 January 28 12:54 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2005 January 11 Tuesday
Iraq: El Salvador On The Euphrates With Death Squads?

Newsweek is reporting that the creation of paramilitary forces in Iraq patterned after the paramilitaries the US supported in the 1980s in Central America is being seriously debated in the Pentagon.

What to do about the deepening quagmire of Iraq? The Pentagon's latest approach is being called "the Salvador option" - and the fact that it is being discussed at all is a measure of just how worried Donald Rumsfeld really is. "What everyone agrees is that we can't just go on as we are," one senior military officer told NEWSWEEK. "We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing." Last November's operation in Fallujah, most analysts agree, succeeded less in breaking "the back" of the insurgency - as Marine Gen. John Sattler optimistically declared at the time - than in spreading it out.

Some people (notably on the American and European political Left) thought right wing paramilitary death squads used against communists in Central America were ethically unacceptable or even much worse. Justin Raimondo certainly sees the battle against communism in the 1980s as a bad thing not to be copied in Iraq. The whole approach of using what effectively would be paramilitaries supervised by US Special Forces is going to be something a lot of Bush's critics will jump all over in ways reminiscent with US politics in the 1980s.

Being somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan I see the tactics used by Reagan against communism as necessitated by too-left Congress that was intent on sabotaging the containment policy against communism. Central America is right next door to Mexico and Mexico is next door to the US of A. We could not afford to allow communist guerillas to take over border states with Mexico and to possibly destabilize Mexico. The regime of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua thoroughly deserved to be overthrown. The Marxist guerrillas deserved to die. Yes, lots of innocents died too. But the death tolls under communist rule would have been high and for a much longer period of time.

I state all this to establish to anyone who happens to be new to the ParaPundit blog that I'm not exactly a left-liberal pacifist. If absolutely brutal tactics can stop the spread of a malignant ideology then I'll support the tactics. However, even if the Bush Administration manages to form and support paramilitary groups or otherwise engage in highly unconstrained efforts to use Iraqis to battle Iraqis I'm skeptical that this strategy can succeed. But first let us briefly examine why such a gambit is under consideration.

First off, if the Bushies seriously thought that the regular Iraqi police and national guard were about to become tough effective forces willing and able to take on the insurgents then "the Salvador option" wouldn't be up for serious consideration. So we know what the Bushies think of the Iraqi National Guard and whatever passes for Iraqi government intelligence agencies: Either not terribly well motivated or thoroughly infiltrated by insurgents or both. Well, at they are being realistic.

Another thing consideration for "the Salvador option" tells us is that the Bush Administration isn't about to go to Congress and ask for another $100+ billion per year to build up new US Army divisions in sufficient quantity to send to Iraq and get effective control of the terrain. Where do I get the $100 billion per year figure? $3 billion per year for 30,000 additional soldiers works out to about $100,000 per soldier per year.

The question is being raised: How does the military retain an all-volunteer force at the current level of U.S. commitment overseas?

One way, a senior Army official suggested, would be to spend an additional $3 billion a year to expand the Army by 30,000 soldiers.

An additional million soldiers would cost easily that amount and probably more. Why an additional million soldiers? So that one third can be deployed to Iraq at any given time in order to maintain a half million troops there. Why a half million? Because that is probably about what it would take to properly occupy the country and get control of it from an insurgency. Even that would require years to put down the insurgency once the US force is big enough.

The cost would probably be more than $100 billion per year because in order to recruit that many volunteers the level of salaries in the US Army would need to be raised substantially. So all the existing soldiers would cost more as well.

Building up a volunteer Army big enough to effectively handle Iraq would be a politically and economically expensive option with all sorts of nasty consequences (can you say "tax increases"? sure Mr. Rogers, I can!) that Bush most definitely wants to avoid. He wants to do a huge push for Social Security reform and probably a push for more open borders with Mexico. So there is a limit to the political price that Bush will pay for bending Iraq to his will and that limit is pretty low at this point. Still, Iraq is a problem and he needs to do something about it. He's definitely looking for a bargain basement political and military solution to his problems in Iraq. Note that I say his problems because Bush brought this on himself by deciding that he had to invade Iraq in the first place.

The US military is predictably denying that it intends to create Iraqi forces that would operate under a much looser set of rules against the insurgency.

"The U.S. military does not take part in or train other forces to undertake illegal actions, assassinations or torture. All training and advising our Special Operations forces conduct with Iraqi security forces is done in full compliance with the laws of war," said a Pentagon spokesman.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is also denying the Newsweek report of a plan for death squads.

"But everyone's talking about it, and it's nonsense," he told reporters, after raising it himself at a press conference with visiting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

"The reality is that the responsibility of the commanders there and the coalition and the Iraqi government is to see that the Iraqis are trained up to provide security for that country," he said.

Once the Shias are elected into power I expect the new leadership to support the creation of special Iraqi forces for hunting insurgents. But one huge challenge they are going to have is in recruiting loyal fighters. Can they manage to do that to an extent that insurgent infiltrations will be rare enough not to blow the secrecy of most operations? That strikes me as a questionable proposition.

The other big problem is with intelligence. Insurgents can not be hunted down and killed unless their identities can be discovered. But how can that intelligence be gained against very tribal networks of fighters? Is we manage to recruit Arab Shias to become paramilitary secret warriors against the Sunni insurgents they will at least share a common language with the Sunnis. But southern Iraqi Shias are not going to have the right blood connections to infiltrate Sunni Triangle kin networks. Besides, even if the bomb planters and ambushers could all be identified what could usefully be done with that information? Kill them all? That would just pull in more Sunni relatives to fight to avenge their killed brothers and cousins and uncles.

Of course there is no master org chart of the insurgency with a list of all its members hidden somewhere waiting to be discovered. Breaking into those networks is going to be very difficult. The communist insurgencies in Central America were less based around blood relations and had more concentrated formal lines of command and control. They were easier to identify and single out.

Another way to state the difference in divisions between Central America and Iraq was that in Central America the divisions were more along class and ethnic lines. Upper class white Spaniards were fighting against a lower class and more native and mestizo insurgency. The rulers were smarter and accustomed to rule. The group accustomed to ruling in Iraq are Sunnis. The Shias do not appear to have any advantages in attitudes toward rule or in native cognitive ability. Also, while the Shias are more numerous they also as yet do not appear to be angry enough at the Sunni insurgency to fight them to any appreciable extent.

While I think "the Salvador option" is unlikely to work in Iraq I hope the Bush Administration manages to implement it. The faster the Bushies go down the list of semi-plausible solutions to the problem of Iraq the quicker the top people in the Bush Administration will figure out that easy ways to prevail aren't going to work. Then they can move on to the choices of unilateral withdrawal, partition and withdrawal, or a massive and expensive scaling up of the US military. I do not expect that last option to be chosen. But once the options aimed at achieving their preferred outcomes are seen to have failed these other options will finally get the debate that they deserve.

Thanks to Greg Cochran for pointing out the Newsweek article.

By Randall Parker    2005 January 11 10:42 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2005 January 07 Friday
Will Iraq Election Aftermath Be Like Tet Offensive?

The Viet Cong Tet Offensive in Vietnam was a strategic success for the communists because it greatly undermined the credibility of US officers and the Johnson Administration. At the time the US government had been painting an excessively optimstic picture about how much damage had been done to the enemy before the Tet Offensive kicked off. The Tet attack showed the US government to be either mendacious or incompetent in its evaluation of the enemy (my take after reading a lot of history books on Vietnam is that it was a mixture of both). LBJ should have been painting a less rosy picture of progress and emphasizing the potential of the enemy to conduct attacks. Then the sudden large scale offensive by the VC would not have been such a shock and disappointment to the American people. In fact, Johnson should have been saying all along was that the VC might decide to coordinate their attacks in a massive push which the US hoped for since it would be a great opportunity for the US to damage an more exposed VC. Such a pitch in advance of the offensive would have allowed Johnson to spin a more favorable twist to the US response. In fact, the VC did suffer huge losses from the Tet Offensive and only the response of the US public to the unexpected nature of the offensive turned the Tet Offensive into a victory for North Vietnam.

Watching Bush trying to continuously spin conditions in Iraq as being more promising than they really are I'm constantly reminded of LBJ's big strategic mistake. In both cases an emphasis on presenting a positive face in order to achieve short-term political goals has worked against being able to sell the policy in the longer run. An excessively optimistic official position also makes it more politically costly to back away and settle for a less successful outcome that minmizes losses. Well, Bush is at it again in responding to comments made by Bush Sr's former National Security Council chief Brent Scowcroft. Here are two profoundly different predictions on the effects of the upcoming Iraq elections.

"The Iraqi elections, rather than turning out to be a promising turning point, have the great potential for deepening the conflict," Scowcroft said at the New America Foundation luncheon, expressing a view increasing shared by both Democratic and Republican foreign policy specialists.

Asked if he shares Scowcroft's concerns, Bush told reporters today, "Quite the opposite. I think elections will be such a incredibly hopeful experience for the Iraqi people."

Bush is setting himself up for being discredited in the minds of a larger number of people who are now looking at US involvement in Iraq more skeptically. The war camp is hurting their cause by continuing to offer Panglossian interpretations on Iraq.

Scowcroft is obviously putting his loyalty to America ahead of his loyalty to the Bush clan. One has to wonder what Bush Sr. thinks of this. Maybe he thinks his son is causing such damage that Scowcroft's public statements are necessary. Surely Bush Sr. has to appreciate the extent of the damage being done to US interests by the Iraq fiasco.

Zbiggy thinks the US would need a half million troops to properly occupy Iraq.

With the Iraqi election less than a month away, top former officials and other foreign policy analysts are increasingly skeptical in public about Iraq. Scowcroft shared the podium with Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser. "I do not think we can stay in Iraq in the fashion we're in now," Brzezinski said. "If it cannot be changed drastically, it should be terminated." He said it would take 500,000 troops, $500 billion and resumption of the military draft to ensure adequate security in Iraq.

Of course a half million troops are not in the cards. George W. Bush's fans can proclaim all they want that the man is determined to prevail in Iraq. But Bush is not determined enough to go to Congress and ask the million man increase in the US Army that would be needed to maintain a half million soldiers in Iraq.

Zbiggy's number of needed troops for Iraq matches with Rand Corp analyst James James Dobbins' half million estimate and similar numbers based on Rand researcher James Quinliven's calculations. Note the formulas for how many soldiers needed for a population were around before the Iraq war and the larger estimates for how many soldiers were needed to occupy Iraq were not just pulled out of the air.

You can listen to the remarks by Scowcroft and Brzezinski on Iraq in a few different media formats

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says only the Iraqis can defeat the insurgents.

He warned against allowing the Iraqis to become too dependent on the U.S. military. More independence is what’s needed, he said.

“That’s the only way,” Rumsfeld said during a meeting with top U.S. commanders in Tikrit, at the northern tip of the so-called Sunni Triangle that had been deposed President Saddam Hussein’s bedrock of support. He called it the key to eventually getting the 151,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq.

Let me translate that: The US is not going to institute a draft to build a force large enough to defeat the insurgents. The political and economic costs in the US for Bush would be too great. So he won't try to do that. Therefore only a civil war between the Shias and Sunnis can lead to the defeat of the Sunni insurgents. But the Shias so far have shown themselves unwilling to put down the Sunnis. Interesting spin by Rumsfeld though. From there it is a short step toward saying that if democracy in Iraq fails then the Iraqis just weren't willing to try hard enough to make it work. But Bush, firm in his faith in both God and the universal appeal of democracy, is not willing to entertain such a notion.

The commander of the US Army Reserve says his force is degenerating.

The US Army Reserve is 'degenerating into a 'broken' force' due to current deployment policies relating to the Iraq war, said Lt. General James Helmly, 'I do not wish to sound alarmist. I do wish to send a clear, distinctive signal of deepening concern.'

Helmly thinks his bosses are not adjusting to reality.

In the memo, dated Dec. 20, Lt. Gen. James R. "Ron" Helmly lashed out at what he said were outdated and "dysfunctional" policies on mobilizing and managing the force. He complained that his repeated requests to adjust the policies to current realities have been rebuffed by Pentagon authorities.

It is obvious that the regular Army is not big enough for the tasks currently assigned to it. Reserves will make up about half of the troops now being sent to Iraq.

About 40 percent of the 150,000 troops now in Iraq have come from reserve ranks. That number will grow to 50 percent in the fresh group of forces deploying at the moment -- the third rotation of troops since the invasion in the spring of 2003. But with this rotation, the official said, the Army will have used all of the National Guard's main combat brigades.

But in the fourth cycle of deployment there are not enough reserves to maintain that high level of deployment for reserve units. So how will 150,000 troops be maintained in Iraq come the summer of 2005 and beyond?

The election will be held. The violence will not abate. The Pentagon will pull out more stops to try to keep 150,000 troops in Iraq for months and years to come. Hundreds and perhaps even thousands of more American soldiers will die. But illusions will die and some part of reality will sink through eventually.

By Randall Parker    2005 January 07 04:45 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2004 December 29 Wednesday
Solid Majority Of Americans See Iraq War As Mistake

Most Americans think the invasion of Iraq was not worthwhile.

President Bush heads into his second term amid deep and growing public skepticism about the Iraq war, with a solid majority saying for the first time that the war was a mistake and most people believing that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld should lose his job, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

While a slight majority believe the Iraq war contributed to the long-term security of the United States, 70 percent of Americans think these gains have come at an "unacceptable" cost in military casualties. This led 56 percent to conclude that, given the cost, the conflict there was "not worth fighting" -- an eight-point increase from when the same question was asked this summer, and the first time a decisive majority of people have reached this conclusion.

George W. Bush's approval rating is sinking.

As for Bush, 49 percent of respondents said they approved of the job the president is doing. That number is down from his November approval rating of 55 percent. Bush is the first incumbent president to have an approval rating below 50 percent one month after winning re-election. The question had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Hey, Bush is quite the precedent setter, isn't he? Boldly going places no other President has been foolish enough to go.

Americans think conditions in Iraq have been getting worse and they do not see substantial benefits from a democratic government in Iraq.

Forty-one percent polled said the elections would not lead to a stable government, and 40 percent said even if a stable government were voted in, U.S. troops would have to stay. Only 15 percent believed U.S. troops could be withdrawn within a year of the election. This question had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

When asked how the United States has handled Iraq during the past year, 47 percent said things have gotten worse. Twenty percent said the situation has improved and 32 percent said it is about the same. The differences fell outside the question's margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

My guess is that the war in Iraq and George W. Bush will continue to become more unpopular. There aren't enough troops to kill insurgents faster than Iraqis join the insurgency. The Powell Doctrine of using overwhelming force was not followed for the occupation in part because the neocons didn't take the occupation seriously. What, the whole world isn't a bunch of liberal democrats eager to vote? Some people are motivated by tribalism and religious beliefs? Can't be. That would get in the way of promoting internationalism.

Few Iraqis are motivated to fight for the government we put in power there. The neocons need to find a way tell those Iraqis that deep down they really do want a secular liberal democracy. I have an idea: Let us send all the neocons to Iraq to go door to door explaining the benefits of their ideology to the Iraqi people. Any neocons who survive the experience might become more reality oriented. The rest of you can spare yourselves the suicide mission and just read my list of some of the reasons why democracy isn't going to work well in Iraq.

By Randall Parker    2004 December 29 02:58 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (43)
2004 December 25 Saturday
Fallujah Population To Be Under Tight American Rule

Fallujah is effectively becoming a small police state under US rule. My guess is that a lot of Fallujans will opt to stay outside of Fallujah and some of the Fallujan refugees will join the insurgency.

  • Entry to and exit from the city will be restricted. According to Sattler, only five roads into the city will remain open. The rest will be blocked by "sand berms" - read mountains of earth that will make them impassible. Checkpoints will be established at each of the five entry points, manned by US troops, and everyone entering will be "photographed, fingerprinted and have iris scans taken before being issued ID cards". Though Sattler reassured American reporters that the process would only take 10 minutes, the implication is that entry to and exit from the city will depend solely on valid identification cards properly proffered, a system akin to the pass-card system used during the apartheid era in South Africa.
  • Fallujans are to wear their universal identity cards in plain sight at all times. The ID cards will, according to Dahr Jamail's information, be made into badges that contain the individual's home address. This sort of system has no purpose except to allow for the monitoring of everyone in the city, so that ongoing US patrols can quickly determine whether someone is not a registered citizen or is suspiciously far from their home neighborhood.
  • No private automobiles will be allowed inside the city....

No private cars. Imagine. Radical mass transit planners may see this as an opportunity. Though I doubt many will rush to volunteer to supervise the construction of a mass transit system for Fallujah. Perhaps bicycles will become popular.

Rebuilding of the city will be done by vetted constructions workers working in military-supervised construction brigades.

If the invasion of Fallujah had really broken the back of the insurgency then all these measures would not be necessary. The attack may very well have made the insurgency bigger. Suppose you are one of about 200,000 Fallujans now living in refugee camps or with relatives outside of Fallujah. Are you more or less well disposed toward the US occupation of your town and country now that the place has been heavily damaged, some civilians you know are probably dead and/or maimed, and you have perhaps lost your home to the bombing?

Given that the Bush Administration and Congress are not going to fund a huge expansion in the size of the US Army the only way the US can prevail against the Iraqi Sunnis is to find a way to get the Shias to be motivated to suppress the Sunni insurgency. So far the Shias have taken the attitude that they do not want to be ruled by the Sunnis or the US and expect the US to deal with the Sunnis.

By Randall Parker    2004 December 25 01:23 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (18)
2004 December 24 Friday
Insider Attack In Mosul And A Long Term Insurgency

Iraqi loyalties are at the root of the problem.

The deadly suicide attack on a US military base in Mosul this week was an "inside job" carried out by insurgents who are part of the Iraqi armed forces, Asia Times Online has been told.

Sources said a strong nexus between Iraqi forces and the resistance is what allowed them to carry out the most devastating attack on US troops since the beginning of the invasion. US forces have imposed a curfew in Mosul and have launched a military operation in the city, but, the sources say, this will have little effect on the problem, for the simple reason that the US-trained Iraqi military is heavily infected with people loyal to the resistance groups.

Does it even need to be stated that there is no obvious way to shift their loyalties away from the insurgency and toward the Iraqi government that US forces keep in power? Anyone want to bet there will be a huge decrease in insurgent attacks once the Iraqi government is democratically elected? My expectation is for a strong insurgency in 2005 as the insurgents continue to learn how to better fight US forces.

Brigadier General Carter Ham confirms that the US military thinks the attack was carried out by a sucidie bomber.

What we think is likely but certainly not certain is that an individual in an Iraqi military uniform, possibly with a vest-worn explosive device, was inside the facility and detonated the facility, causing this tragedy. That's preliminary. We'll find out what the truth is and then take necessary actions as we gain more information.

Just how heavily infiltrated are the Iraqi security forces? Did this bomber get into this base with the help of confederates who passed him through security checkpoints?

National Defense University professor and former Marine Colonel Hammes says that insurgencies of the sort found in Iraq typically last for decades.

But Hammes says the most important change to be made now is in the way that American leaders talk to the people about what's going on in Iraq. He says history shows that most insurgencies, whether the Vietnamese against the French and later the US, or the Afghans against the Soviets, last from 10 to 30 years.

He says he sees no reason why Iraq is any different, but worries the American public was ill-prepared for this by the rosy Administration pronouncements for most of the war.

But does the American public want to fight a decades-long insurgency? That seems very unlikely. So how long will this war continue to play out before more open political opposition develops? The US either has to up the ante by building up a much larger military (perhaps another million in uniform) to mount a bigger counter-insurgency effort or it needs to start looking for a way to withdraw. The biggest obstacle to withdrawal is that as the continuing increase in the counts of Americans killed and maimed fighting in Iraq may cause at least some Americans to want to see some tangible benefit from having invading Iraq in the first place. That will make withdrawal difficult unless the government(s) left behind will look like they have the strength to stay in power after US forces leave.

Before the election in October 2004 Brent Scowcroft gave his rather dim assessment of Bush policy toward Iraq, Israel, and the rest of Bush foreign policy.

Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush, was highly critical of the current president's handling of foreign policy in an interview published this week, saying that the current President Bush is "mesmerized" by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, that Iraq is a "failing venture" and that the administration's unilateralist approach has harmed relations between Europe and the United States.

My thoroughly cynical thought for the day: One way the Iraqi government could be sure to stay in power after US forces leave would be to let the insurgency to penetrate so much of the government that they effectively control it. Then the insurgents would feel no need to overthrow it.

By Randall Parker    2004 December 24 04:24 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2004 December 22 Wednesday
22 Killed In Attack On US Base Near Mosul

A rocket and/or mortar attack hit a mess hall when it was full of soldiers and contract workers.

The dead included 20 Americans - 15 of them servicemembers and five civilian contractors. Two Iraqi soldiers also were killed. Sixty-six people were wounded, including 42 U.S. troops, Capt. Brian Lucas, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said early Wednesday.

Writing for the Washington Post Thomas E. Ricks reports on fears of soldiers who think the insurgency is becoming more sophisticated.

The adequacy of current troop numbers is one of the questions provoked by yesterday's action, said Charles McComas, a veteran Special Forces soldier who served in Afghanistan before retiring. "Do we have the right forces and enough of them to do the offensive patrolling to reduce the chances of this happening again?" he asked.

We all know the answer to that question: No! What is to be done about it? We could withdraw. Or we could build up and use overwhelming force. But use of overwhelming force (a.k.a. the Powell Doctrine - not that Colin Powell has been following it in his support of Bush's Iraq and Afghanistan policy) is inconvenient because following it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars more money than we are currently on a path to spend. Of course if someone proposed spending hundreds of billions more money Bush couldn't agree to it without admitting to a monumental miscalculation.

But a proposal for a massive military spending increase to build a larger Army for occupation is even more problematic because an obvious question would immediately arise: What amount of national security benefit (if any) would we get for, say, an extra half trillion in spending for a massive Iraq occupation force? Given that amount of money (or even a small fraction of that amount) wouldn't we gain more national security benefit by spending that money on, for example, a larger CIA, a border barrier to prevent illegals from the Middle East from crossing over from Mexico (cost of US-Mexico border barrier would be well less than $10 billion), and energy research to obsolesce the oil in the Middle East? Why spend the current $5.8 billion per month in Iraq let alone triple that amount (which is a lower bounds on what a sufficient occupation force would cost) when so many other enhancements to national security could be purchased by spending much smaller amounts of that money in other ways?

The insurgency around Mosul grew in size after US forces in the area were reduced in order to move soldiers elsewhere to plug other holes in the dike.

A private-sector security expert who recently left Baghdad after more than a year there agreed, noting that the United States originally put an entire division in the Mosul area, the 101st Airborne, but replaced it earlier this year with a force about half that size, only to see insurgent attacks increase. "We have replaced a division with a brigade and think we can offer the same amount of security," he said, insisting on anonymity because his opinions are so at odds with the official U.S. government view.

Note when you read an article like the Washington Post article I'm excerpting the military people who are saying there aren't enough troops in Iraq are almost invariably retired. Free from the need to follow the official Bush Administration line they will speak their minds and tell the truth. But even some of them hesitate to hurt their prospects for consulting contracts and so remain anonymous.

Update: A single suicide bomber carried out the attack.

Investigators believe a suicide bomber penetrated security at a U.S. military base in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and detonated an explosive Tuesday that killed 22 people, including 14 U.S. service members, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday.

Curious fact: the Ansar Al-Sunna group that carried out this attack is primarily made up of Kurds.

By Randall Parker    2004 December 22 01:05 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2004 December 17 Friday
William Kristol Calls For Donald Rumsfeld Replacement

William Kristol, editor for neoconservative mouthpiece The Weekly Standard, has come out for the ousting of Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense.

In any case, decisions on troop levels in the American system of government are not made by any general or set of generals but by the civilian leadership of the war effort. Rumsfeld acknowledged this last week, after a fashion: "I mean, everyone likes to assign responsibility to the top person and I guess that's fine." Except he fails to take responsibility.

All defense secretaries in wartime have, needless to say, made misjudgments. Some have stubbornly persisted in their misjudgments. But have any so breezily dodged responsibility and so glibly passed the buck?

Leave aside the fact that many of the neocons do not want to be called neocons now that their biggest foreign policy initiative has turned into a debacle. They are still a distinct faction and The Weekly Standard is still a major publication for their faction. Kristol's opposition to Rumsfeld represents not just a shift in their position toward Rumsfeld but also a shift in their position toward the war.

What I find especially interesting is what Kristol says about troop levels, essentially taking Eric Shinseki's pre-war position about needed size of an occupation force.

But then, what about his statement earlier last week, when asked about troop levels? "The big debate about the number of troops is one of those things that's really out of my control." Really? Well, "the number of troops we had for the invasion was the number of troops that General Franks and General Abizaid wanted."

Leave aside the fact that the issue is not "the number of troops we had for the invasion" but rather the number of troops we have had for postwar stabilization. Leave aside the fact that Gen. Tommy Franks had projected that he would need a quarter-million troops on the ground for that task -- and that his civilian superiors had mistakenly promised him that tens of thousands of international troops would be available.

Before the war Rumsfeld's neoconservative deputy Paul Wolfowitz was projecting an extremely easy occupation and was arguing that the occupation force could be much smaller than the invasion force. So what is Kristol's position on Wolfowitz or on the other major neocon in DOD, the debacle promoter Douglas Feith? Does Kristol think Wolfowitz should be fired as well because Wolfowitz so drastically underestimated the size of occupation force needed for Iraq?

Also, where was Kristol before the war when General Shinseki and Rand Corporation researchers James Quinliven and James Dobbins were claiming that a much larger occupation force was needed for Iraq? I missed hearing the detailed arguments of these Rand Corporation guys until after the Iraq invasion (and am critical of myself for not looking harder for such arguments) and I am unclear why the major media people in Washington DC didn't write more on the size requirements for an effective occupation force. The Rand guys were briefing Washington DC think tanks before the war according to Laura Rozen. So why weren't their arguments given more prominent display in the media? Were there Weekly Standard articles before the war about the need for hundreds of thousands of more troops for occupation? I am guessing the answer to that question is a big fat "NO".

Kristol wants a bigger military and is trying to claim it is Rumsfeld's fault rather than Congress's or the President's fault that America does not have one.

“For me, it's the combination of the arrogance and the buck-passing manifested in that statement, with the fundamental error he's made for a year and a half now,” Kristol said. “That error, from my point of view, is that his theory about the military is at odds with the president's geopolitical strategy. He wants this light, transformed military, but we've got to win a real war, which involves using a lot of troops and building a nation, and that's at the core of the president's strategy for rebuilding the Middle East.

“At some point, his stubborn attachment to his particular military theory had really hurt the nation's ability to carry out its foreign policy.”

Does Kristol really believe what he is saying? Or is he telling a knowing lie to try to give Bush a way to embrace the neocon program for the creation of a much larger army for occupation and additional invasions? Also, is Kristol leading a neocon attempt to do buck-passing by blaming Rumsfeld for a project which was so obviously a product of neocon promotion?

As for the prospects for a military big enough to occupy Iraq: We'd probably need nearly a million more men in uniform to accomplish that goal. We'd need about 300,000 additional troops in Iraq. But they would need to be backed up by 2 times that number in training, logistics, and back home resting between deployments. Plus, we'd need to equip all those soldiers. It would take a time measured in years to build up such a force and a draft would probably need to be instituted to recruit enough people. The cost could easily run upwards of half a trillion dollars or more to do this. So Kristol is deluded if he thinks Rumsfeld is the main obstacle in the way of his foreign policy dreams.

By Randall Parker    2004 December 17 07:44 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
2004 December 07 Tuesday
CIA Station Chief: Iraq Deteriorating

A CIA agent ending a 12 month tour as Station Chief in Baghdad says Iraq is getting worse.

But over all, the officials described the station chief's cable in particular as an unvarnished assessment of the difficulties ahead in Iraq. They said it warned that the security situation was likely to get worse, including more violence and sectarian clashes, unless there were marked improvements soon on the part of the Iraqi government, in terms of its ability to assert authority and to build the economy.

Of course the government is not going to markedly improve. Also, would economic improvement really help? Some of the insurgents hold day jobs in addition to their bomb making and planting work. So while I do not expect a large improvement in the Iraq economy it is not clear that an improving economy would really help anyway.

Oh, and yet another parallel with Vietnam:

The station chief oversees an intelligence operation that includes about 300 people, making Baghdad the largest C.I.A. station since Saigon during the Vietnam War era.

That is actually a pretty small intelligence operation if we measure it against the job of finding all the insurgents. Obviously that intelligence operation is not sufficient to identify the insurgents or, hey, all the insurgents would be identified already and the US military would be out rounding them up.

Bush doesn't want to admit to the size of the problem because that would require an admission that he made an absolutely gigantic miscalcuation. Well, a willingness to admit to mistakes is not exactly one of Bush's strong points.

Unless a huge set of technological advances are in the pipeline for fighting urban warfare the current troop level in Iraq is at best the equivalent of paddling to stay in place against rushing waters. So lots of Americans are dying and lots of money is being spent (at least $5.8 billion per month plus equipment wearing out and lifetime medical bills for the injured) to no productive end. Given a choice between upping the ante, withdrawing, or a strategy doomed to failure the United States government has opted for the strategy doomed to failure while pretending this is not the case. Lyndon Baines Bush is writing quite a bad chapter for himself in the history books.

Update: The best US hope for Iraqi help against the Sunni insurgency is from the Shias. The Shias are the majority. Will they start to feel any fire in the belly to fight against Sunni insurgents? After all, the Shias are going to be on top in the coming elected government. So why aren't Shias fighting in greater numbers and with more enthusiasm against the Sunni insurgents? Just what the heck are the Iraqi Shias thinking? That government is something Sunnis do and not something that Shias do? Or that they don't want to kill their fellow Muslims? Or that the government is a tool of America? If anyone has some insight into the Shia mindset in Iraq I'd like to hear about it.

By Randall Parker    2004 December 07 12:39 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (28)
2004 December 05 Sunday
Joe Guzzardi Sees Three Choices On Iraq

Joe Guzzardi sees three choices on Iraq that are identical to the choices the US faced in Vietnam.

The Bush administration is at a crucial juncture. Bush faces the same choices as Johnson did nearly four decades ago:

  1. Escalate the war to salvage his mission
  2. Wind it down, declaring victory and going home
  3. Maintain the status quo

To escalate presents serious problems.

Bush would have to realistically assess the troop needs in Iraq, something he seems unable to do. The consensus is that to stabilize Iraq about 400,000 additional troops are required.

Where will they come from? The Bush administration insists there will be no draft. But the Reserve and National Guard are close to fully mobilized. About 40% of the soldiers in Iraq are made up of Reservists or the National Guard.

Escalation would cost a huge amount of money, take years to implement, and would require Bush to admit to mistakes that would be totally out of character for him to admit to. So I do not see escalation as in the cards. Still, only escalation would give the US the chance of killing and capturing insurgents faster than new people enter the ranks of insurgents. Imagine 1 million US soldiers in Iraq operating at 7 or 8 times the rate of killing insurgents than is currently the case. The insurgency couldn't keep up. But that isn't going to happen. The Bushies are never going to admit that the problem is that big.

How long will events in Iraq play out until the optimists admit that things are not going to improve by much? Killing or capturing Hussein, his sons, and his top lieutenants was supposedly going to end the insurgency. Well, it didn't and the insurgency has since greatly escalated. The turn-over of semi-sovereignty was supposed to help and it didn't. The staffing up of Iraqi National Guard and police was supposed to be the key. Not so far. Iraqis continue to be more enthused about fighting against Americans than fighting alongside them. Then the elections are coming up in January. This is the next supposed solution. The elections won't induce the Sunni insurgents to hang up their guns and give up planting bombs.

As I see it events in Iraq have to run their course perhaps for another year until yet more supposed solutions fail to make things better. The pessimists have to wait for the events to sink through to more of the optimists. Eventually support for the war will decline because George W. Bush will continue down the same path as Lyndon Baines Johnson travelled in the 1960s. The difference between Iraq and Vietnam is that the size of the US effort in Vietnam came closer to what was necessary to succeed than is the case with the US effort in Iraq. We had a draft then and better national finances. We could afford to send a half million soldiers when perhaps a million were what were required (as predicted by Bernard Fall if memory serves). Whereas in Iraq we are understaffed at about a quarter of what is required to put down the insurgency. Even with sufficient staffing we'd only be able to put down the insurgency until we leave.

Lots of Americans are dying pointlessly. Though if the US military was large enough to put down the Sunni rebellion I'm still not clear how we'd benefit from the result. My guess is that the main benefit would be that we'd convince the Arabs of our will and our prowess. Making the Jihadists and would-be Jihadists think they can defeat us is a bad idea and putting ourselves in a situation where we will eventually leave them with that impression may be the biggest harm (though not the only one) that will result from Bush sending US forces into Iraq in the first place. Or perhaps the bigger harm was handing the Jihadists a US intervention that they can point to as evidence that the US is engaged in a war to destroy Islam.

One final note: We might have a fourth choice as a way out: partition Iraq. One argument for that way out is that in Iraq there are multiple insurgencies fighting for conflicting goals. Divide Iraq up and let one of the insurgencies have the Sunni triangle. Then let the Shias have the south and the Kurds their zone. Then the US can leave claiming some form of victory. It might work.

By Randall Parker    2004 December 05 05:53 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2004 November 30 Tuesday
Death Rates Of US Soldiers Understate Intensity Of Iraq Fighting

Brian Gifford argues that the reports of death rates of US soldiers in Iraq are a misleading indicator of the intensity of the fighting.

On the other hand, improved body armor, field medical procedures and medevac capabilities are allowing wounded soldiers to survive injuries that would have killed them in earlier wars. In World War II there were 1.7 wounded for every fatality, and 2.6 in Vietnam; in Iraq the ratio of wounded to killed is 7.6. This means that if our wounded today had the same chances of survival as their fathers did in Vietnam, we would probably now have more than 3,500 deaths in the Iraq war.

Moreover, we fought those wars with much larger militaries than we currently field. The United States had 12 million active-duty personnel at the end of World War II and 3.5 million at the height of the Vietnam War, compared with just 1.4 million today. Adjusted for the size of the armed forces, the average daily number of killed and wounded was 4.8 times as many in World War II than in Iraq, but it was only 0.25 times greater in Vietnam -- or one-fourth more.

Even the total casualty rate understates the intensity of the fighting. The US soldiers in Iraq have much better body armor and so they are taking more hits that do not wound than was the case in Vietnam, Korea, WWII, and previous conflicts. So the intensity of combat is obviously much higher for US soldiers in Iraq than was the case in previous conflicts.

That higher intensity of combat is also likely to translate into more cases of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Those stress syndrome cases do not show up in the official figures for this or any other war.

A Vietnam Vet points out what those non-fatal wounds frequently mean: disability and even in some cases a life of pain.

It used to be that you were dead if you got gut shot, though it nearly always took a while for you to die. What was so bad about getting gut shot wasn't just the excruciating pain — the pain wasn't so intense once shock set in, but knowing that you were indisputably dead — that death was dragging you by the feet through the mud and you were helpless.

But getting gut shot doesn't always mean getting killed anymore. In 1968 I spent three and a half months in military hospitals and I saw lots of guys who'd survived getting gut shot. In Letterman Hospital in San Francisco there was an entire ward filled with young Americans boys who'd been partially disemboweled by bullets or shrapnel and then "surgically repaired." In the worst cases they would be incontinent, impotent and in nearly constant pain, forever unable to work or to live actively, but at least they had lives ahead of them.

The great hope of the Bush Administration to provide an exit strategy from Iraq is the build-up of Iraqi forces to take over more of the fight and to provide police protection to the population. But New York Times reporters Richard A. Oppel Jr. and James Glanz provide a bleak assessment of the Iraqi National Guard (I.N.G.) and police.

In the northern city of Mosul, almost the entire police force and large parts of several Iraqi National Guard battalions deserted during an insurgent uprising this month. Iraqi leaders had to use Guard battalions of Kurdish soldiers to secure the city, kindling ethnic tensions with Arabs.


Even where there have been apparent successes, there are complications. American officials in Mosul, for example, single out the 106th Iraqi National Guard Battalion as performing with professionalism. But in an interview, the battalion commander said half of his troops were Kurdish, not Arab.


He said the Iraqi National Guard, known as the I.N.G., has only a "little bit more training." They also have serious problems of loyalty and competence. Just a few months ago, he believes, the local National Guard force was complicit in the abduction and killing of its own battalion commander west of Falluja.

"That's what you get out of the I.N.G.," Colonel Gubler said. "They gave up their battalion commander, laid their weapons down, and 23 cars and trucks and massive amounts of ammunition went to Falluja. It's just pitiful."

Note that the Kurds are the only ethnic group in Iraq that can be depended upon to fight hard alongside US forces.

Read the full article. They report on police and I.N.G. soldiers who do not tell their own families what their real job is out of fear that the information will leak out and insurgents will kill them or their families or both.

Continued attacks on police stations and personnel have left the Iraqi police scared and understaffed.

In attacks that have ranged from execution-style slayings to armed raids on police stations, insurgents have made Iraq's fledgling security forces leading targets. Scores have died in the bloodshed, sapping morale in some cities in the restive regions north and west of Baghdad. In Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, almost the entire 5,000-man police force deserted when insurgents staged an uprising this month.

In the attack in Samarra on Sunday night, gunmen stormed the police station, looted the armory, seized police cars and then fled after facing no resistance, the Associated Press reported. U.S. troops went to the police station Monday morning and arrested two dozen people, the news agency said, quoting police there.

Note though, that the insurgents do not have a problem recruiting enough people to go into fights at high risk of getting injured or killed.

Thanks to Greg Cochran for the tip on the New York Times story.

Update: Retired Lt. General Hal Moore (who Mel Gibson played in the movie adaptation of the biographical Vietnam Ia Drang battle book Moore co-authored: We Were Soldiers Once And Young) says we have no exit strategy for Iraq.

"We had no exit strategy from Vietnam," said Lt. Gen. Harold G. "Hal" Moore, 82, a retired Army commander who lives in Auburn. "And sadly, we had no exit strategy when we went into Iraq."

Moore's 450-member 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, outnumbered five-to-one, suffered heavy casualties but won the first major battle between U.S. and North Vietnamese regulars at Ia Drang in November 1965.

The Panglossian hawks can't dismiss Moore as being a leftist pussy. From the article above Moore comes across as still very much a warrior and a Christian religious conservative who opposes pornography and other signs of moral decline. Yet Moore clearly sees the problem with the US position in Iraq.

Self-styled "War Nerd" Gary Brecher (which is very likely a pseudonym) says unless we do something clever in Iraq like create an independent Kurdistan our involvement is going to become too expensive.

We need to come up with some kind of counterweight that will keep the Shiites off balance. One simple way is creating an independent Kurdistan. That would keep the Iranians busy for the next hundred years or so, because Kurdistan would cover a lot of Western Iran as well as Northern Iraq. No way Iran would let the Kurds get away with taking that territory, and it would be our turn to sit back and enjoy the game while the Kurds and the Iranians bashed each other. The trouble is, Kurdistan also covers most of Eastern Turkey, and the Turks will go totally insane if we destabilize their borders. If there's anybody I really do feel sorry for in this mess, it's the Turks. They deserve better. They've been our only real ally, and we reward them by turning their neighborhood into Compton.

The Brits would do it, and not think twice about betraying their allies. They always were smarter and colder than us. But Bush? No way he'll do something as smart and realistic as back the Kurds. The best bet is that it's going to be more of the same for the next four years, a weird soundtrack of car bombs and press conferences. "Kaboom!" "Democracy!" "WhooOOOOM!" "Freedom!" MTV-style videos of some poor sucker getting his throat sawn in half while that skinny PR general in Baghdad talks about elections.

Kurdistan is doable in my view. Also, I agree with Brecher about the problem of not being able to afford the Iraq misadventure in the long run. The retirement of the baby boomers is going to cause a fiscal crisis that will have Congress and future Presidents looking for any discretionary spending item that can be cut. So the Jihadists will ultimately win in Iraq unless we can find a solution before the US fiscal problem escalates into the huge crisis that it will become in the next decade.

Brecher also makes the excellent point that it is a mistake to create a situation where the events unfold in a way that makes Muslims think they are defeating the West. This only emboldens them to cause trouble. Bin Laden said he saw the US withdrawals from Beirut and Mogadishu as signs of American weakness and decadence and this emboldened him to launch terrorist attacks against the US. This is one really big reason why it was a mistake to invade Iraq. Either we should have gone in with Powell Doctrine overwhelming force (and Powell abandoned his own doctrine!) or we should not have gone in at all. The insurgency controls towns and cities in Iraq today because the US does not have enough forces to conquer and control Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul, Yusufiyah, Latifiyah and other locations all at once. The need to do so was foreseeable in advance and some analysts and military officers did say the US forces available to occupy Iraq were too small to do the job. The serving officers who said so were silenced by the Bush Administration and the rest were ignored.

Colin Powell did not live up to his own vow.

“Many of my generation, the career captains, majors and lieutenant colonels seasoned in that war, vowed that when our turn came to call the shots, we would not quietly acquiesce in halfhearted warfare for half-baked reasons that the American people could not understand or support. If we could make good on that promise to ourselves, to the civilian leadership, and to the country, then the sacrifices of Vietnam would not have been in vain.”

By Randall Parker    2004 November 30 02:18 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2004 November 21 Sunday
Scenes Of Urban Warfare In Fallujah

Dexter Filkins of the New York Times was embedded with a US Marines company that did a lot of street fighting in the battle for Fallujah and reports on the high casualty rates from a single week's fighting and scenes from the fighting.

The 150 marines with whom I traveled, Bravo Company of the First Battalion, Eighth Marines, had it as tough as any unit in the fight. They moved through the city almost entirely on foot, into the heart of the resistance, rarely protected by tanks or troop carriers, working their way through Falluja's narrow streets with 75-pound packs on their backs.

In eight days of fighting, Bravo Company took 36 casualties, including 6 dead, meaning that the unit's men had about a one-in-four chance of being wounded or killed in little more than a week.

The Marines did the bulk of their fighting without any armored vehicle support. Was this due to terrain or a shortage of such vehicles?

The screams of the marines when one of their comrades, Cpl. Jake Knospler, lost part of his jaw to a hand grenade.

"No, no, no!" the marines shouted as they dragged Corporal Knospler from the darkened house where the bomb went off. It was 2 a.m., the sky dark without a moon. "No, no, no!"

Nothing in the combat I saw even remotely resembled the scenes regularly flashed across movie screens; even so, they often seemed no more real.

Think about that casualty rate. A month of fighting at that intensity would completely wipe out a military unit. The air support and their training and equipment allowed them to give a lot better than they got. But the ratio of killings between US and enemy forces in urban combat is far less advantageous to the US side than is the case on more open ground. Our capital equipment advantage just doesn't help as much in cities.

By Randall Parker    2004 November 21 02:40 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2004 November 01 Monday
Latest Iraq Civilian Death Toll Estimate Too High?

Some folks at Johns Hopkins just rushed a report on Iraq death tolls into print in the British medical journal The Lancet so it would reach the public before the US election. Coverage by The New Scientist is typical in citing a very high and shocking estimate of Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the invasion.

The invasion of Iraq in March 2003 by coalition forces has lead to the death of at least 100,000 civilians, reveals the first scientific study to examine the issue. The majority of these deaths, which are in addition those normally expected from natural causes, illness and accidents, have been among women and children, finds the study, released early by The Lancet on Thursday.

Reuters offers similar coverage.

The rise in the death rate was mainly due to violence and much of it was caused by U.S. air strikes on towns and cities. "Making conservative assumptions, we think that about 100,000 excess deaths, or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq," said Les Roberts of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in a report published online by The Lancet medical journal.

But the Reuters report brings up the location of most of these estimated deaths: Fallujah.

Two-thirds of violent deaths in the study were reported in Falluja, the insurgent held city 50 km (32 miles) west of Baghdad which had been repeatedly hit by U.S. air strikes.

However, the researchers claim to have left out Fallujah's deaths when calculating their estimate for the total number of deaths.

"We were shocked at the magnitude but we're quite sure that the estimate of 100,000 is a conservative estimate," said Dr. Gilbert Burnham of the Johns Hopkins team. Dr. Burnham said the team excluded data about deaths in Falluja in making their estimate, because that city was the site of unusually intense violence.

So what to make of this report? Well, over on Slate Fred Kaplan bothered to look at the report and found the key sentence has a 95% confidence interval that ranges over more than an order of magnitude.

We estimate there were 98,000 extra deaths (95% CI 8000-194 000) during the post-war period.

That "CI" stands for Confidence Interval. There is a 95% chance that the real increase in casualties is between 8,000 and 194,000. That range is huge. There is nothing "conservative" about the 100,00 estimate. Kaplan goes on to say a great deal more about many problems with the study. Importantly, he argues that the 5 per 100,000 mortality rate that the researchers assume for Iraq before the war is much too low and the real mortality rate before the war might have been very close to the current mortality rate in Iraq. So this whole report's results may be built on one very unrealistic assumption.

At least the medical journal does acknowledge there are some serious limitations with this study.

Lancet Editor Richard Horton adds in an accompanying commentary: "The research we publish today was completed under the most testing of circumstances - an ongoing war. And therefore certain limitations were inevitable and need to be acknowledged right away. The number of population clusters chosen for sampling is small; the confidence intervals around the point estimates of mortality are wide; the Falluja cluster has an especially high mortality and so is atypical of the rest of the sample; and there is clearly the potential for recall bias among those interviewed. This remarkable piece of work represents the efforts of a courageous team of scientists. To have included more clusters would have improved the precision of their findings, but at an enormous and unacceptable risk to the team of interviewers who gathered the primary data. Despite these unusual challenges, the central observation - namely, that civilian mortality since the war has risen due to the effects of aerial weaponry - is convincing. This result requires an urgent political and military response if the confidence of ordinary Iraqis in the mostly American-British occupation is to be restored."

Will some of the Sunni Iraqis in particular tend to exaggerate the death tolls they experienced Also, how many of the civilian casualties happened during the initial invasion and how many have occurred during the occupation?

Read Fred Kaplan's full article and post your reactions in the comments here.

By Randall Parker    2004 November 01 01:09 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2004 October 26 Tuesday
The Disbanding Of The Old Iraqi Army Was A Turning Point

Michael Gordon has another long article in the New York Times about US policy on Iraq. The latest is on whether it was a mistake to abolish the old Iraqi Army.

"It was absolutely the wrong decision," said Col. Paul Hughes of the Army, who served as an aide to Jay Garner, a retired three-star general and the first civilian administrator of Iraq. "We changed from being a liberator to an occupier with that single decision,'' he said. "By abolishing the army, we destroyed in the Iraqi mind the last symbol of sovereignty they could recognize and as a result created a significant part of the resistance."

I think the disbanding of the old Iraqi Army was clearly a huge mistake.

Here is a surprising instance where a leading neocon figure in the Bush Administration, Douglas Feith who is #3 in the DOD, was actually arguing for the same postion as uniformed officers and against higher level civilians.

At the White House meeting, Mr. Feith made another argument for using the existing army. Iraq was racked by unemployment and taking 350,000 armed men, cutting off their income and, in effect, throwing them out on the street could be disastrous.

American commanders also backed that approach. In a March 2003 meeting with a team of visiting Pentagon officials, General John P. Abizaid, then Gen. Tommy Franks's deputy, expressed concerns that the Americans would arouse resentment if they enforced security in Iraq largely by themselves. He favored a quick turnover of power to an interim Iraqi authority and the use of Iraqi forces to complement and eventually replace the Americans.

"We must in all things be modest," General Abizaid said, according to notes taken by a Pentagon official. "We are an antibody in their culture."

There was a military imperative as well. The American commanders knew they might have sufficient forces to oust Mr. Hussein, but it would be difficult to control a large nation with 25 million people and porous borders with Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait. The V Corps, which oversaw United States Army forces in Iraq, wanted Iraqi Army units to patrol the borders to block terrorists, jihadists and Iranian- sponsored groups from sneaking into the country and to prevent loyalists and possible caches of unconventional weapons from getting out, a former V Corps officer said.

The US could have given a lot of young men supervised paying jobs. Some could have worked in security. Some could have worked doing reconstruction. There would have been less insurgency, bombings, and crime. What a huge opportunity lost.

Update: Note when you read deeper into the article that Feith now defends the disbanding of the Iraqi Army. When he shifted his position is less clear. However, Paul Bremer and his advisor and former Clinton Administration undersecretary of Defense Walter B. Slocombe were big pushers for the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and therefore clearly share a large chunk of the blame for the resulting debacle.

By Randall Parker    2004 October 26 04:40 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2004 October 20 Wednesday
Iraq, Pre-War Intelligence Estimates, Bush, His Advisors

Michael Gordon of the New York Times is working on a book about the Iraq war and is writing a series of articles that are based on material he collected for the book. One article discusses the Bush Administration's naive expectations for invasion and post-invasion Iraq.

Huddling in a drawing room with his top commanders, General Franks told them it was time to make plans to leave. Combat forces should be prepared to start pulling out within 60 days if all went as expected, he said. By September, the more than 140,000 troops in Iraq could be down to little more than a division, about 30,000 troops.

To help bring stability and allow the Americans to exit, President Bush had reviewed a plan the day before seeking four foreign divisions - including Arab and NATO troops - to take on peacekeeping duties.


In the debate over the war and its aftermath, the Bush administration has portrayed the insurgency that is still roiling Iraq today as an unfortunate, and unavoidable, accident of history, an enemy that emerged only after melting away during the rapid American advance toward Baghdad. The sole mistake Mr. Bush has acknowledged in the war is in not foreseeing what he termed that "catastrophic success."

But many military officers and civilian officials who served in Iraq in the spring and summer of 2003 say the administration's miscalculations cost the United States valuable momentum - and enabled an insurgency that was in its early phases to intensify and spread.

My take: The insurgency was inevitable. It could have been anticipated and handled better. Post-war reconstruction could have been handled more quickly and better as well. But to handle the insurgency better would have required building up the size of the US military before invasion of Iraq. That would have taken a lot of time (a year or longer) and money (easily in the tens of billions and probably in the hundreds of billions of dollars). Also, even if it had been handled better the insurgency still would have happened.

While the CIA has come under a lot of criticism for not having better Al Qaeda intelligence prior to 9/11 and also for believing that Saddam Hussein had a substantial WMD development program what has been less recognized is the CIA's failure to foresee the post-invasion Iraq insurgency.

In a major misreading of Iraq's strategy, the C.I.A. failed to predict the role played by Saddam Hussein's paramilitary forces, which mounted the main attacks on American troops in southern Iraq and surprised them in bloody battles.

The agency was aware that Iraq was awash in arms but failed to identify the huge caches of weapons that were hidden in mosques and schools to supply enemy fighters.

On postwar Iraq, American intelligence agencies underestimated the decrepit state of Iraq's infrastructure, which became a major challenge in reconstructing the nation, and concluded erroneously that Iraq's police had had extensive professional training.


The National Intelligence Council, senior experts from the intelligence community, prepared an analysis in January 2003 on postwar Iraq that discussed the risk of an insurgency in the last paragraph of its 38-page assessment. "There was never a buildup of intelligence that says: 'It's coming. It's coming. It's coming. This is the end you should prepare for,' " said Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the former head of the United States Central Command and now retired, referring to the insurgency. "It did not happen. Never saw it. It was never offered."

Rumsfeld deserves a large fraction of the blame in spite of the CIA's failures. So do his neocon advisors. But I think a focus on which indiividuals in government to blame or what agency is to blame misses a far larger problem: America's intellectual elites are far more ignorant of other cultures, of history, and of human nature than they realize. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "Noble Savage", communist Russia's "New Soviet Man", and other myths live on in somewhat dilute form when intellectuals examine the Middle East and ask themselves why the place is the way it is. A more realistic assessment of human nature would lead to more realistic foreign policies.

Also in the New York Times Ron Suskind has an article entitled "Without A Doubt on Bush's religious beliefs and how religious faith influences how Bush makes decisions.

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

This White House aide needs to realize that there are other historical actors out there creating historical facts. America is nowhere nearly as powerful as this aide imagines it to be. If we were so powerful we would have accomplished far more (in a positive sense) in the Middle East than we have today. So far the US intervention in Iraq does not appear to have created a net benefit to the United States. So how powerful is our "empire"?

I think Suskind goes too far in his argument. Bush's character is not the product of his religious beliefs. It is more like Bush finds justification for his gut instincts by imagining that God is sending him his fundamental beliefs and judgements. Though Bush's religious beliefs probably make it easier for Bush to feel more certain without learning much about an issue before making a decision.

Pat Robertson says Bush told him before the Iraq invasion that the United States would have no casualties invading Iraq.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The founder of the U.S. Christian Coalition said Tuesday he told President George W. Bush before the invasion of Iraq that he should prepare Americans for the likelihood of casualties, but the president told him, "We're not going to have any casualties."

Pat Robertson, an ardent Bush supporter, said he had that conversation with the president in Nashville, Tennessee, before the March 2003 invasion. He described Bush in the meeting as "the most self-assured man I've ever met in my life."

I see the Iraq debacle as being the product of a sort of "Perfect Storm" effect. Our left-wing intellectuals in academia and the press have an unrealistic view of human nature and few have had a proper education in history. So they were primed to see Iraq as full of people just yearning to be free to create a liberal democracy. The neoconservatives are ideologues who use many of the same left-liberal assumptions about human nature and so were equally prone to delusions on Iraq's people. The neocons also wanted to use US foreign policy to benefit Israel. Then in the Presidency there is George W. Bush. Bush's own ignorance is more a product of his character. But his religious beliefs provide him a rationalization for why his ignorance is not a problem. Bush appointed neocons and some less than stellar non-neocon advisors.

All these players were positioned and then 9/11 happened. 9/11 made the American public far more hawkish and desiring to strike out at some target to get even. At that point the Iraq debacle was inevitable. The only potential upside I can see to the Iraq invasion is that it may contribute to the undermining of widely held false assumptions about human nature. Kinship networks matter. Ethnic loyalties matter. Not everyone holds freedom or democracy as very high values. Not every population group has the intellectual resources and conditions needed to build a Western-style liberal democracy and modern high tech economy.

Thanks to Greg Cochran and Derek Copold for some of the links.

By Randall Parker    2004 October 20 12:10 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2004 October 12 Tuesday
Saddam Hussein Bluffed About Weapons To Deter Iran

The Los Angeles Times has an important article about how the US government so monumentally miscalculated Saddam Hussein's intentions and capabilities and why Saddam was bluffing about Iraq's nuclear and other weapons capabilities. (same article is here and here)

The former official said the CIA never understood that Hussein was bluffing about his long-abandoned weapons chiefly to deter Iran, Iraq's longtime enemy. To Hussein, Tehran's alleged push to gain the nuclear arms that he was denied posed an unacceptable danger to his country and a challenge to his rightful place in history.

Saddam Hussein had a more rational view of American national interest than the neoconservatives have.

In Hussein's view, the U.S. priority in the region was to ensure that Iran's Islamic Revolution did not spread to other nations and give radical Shiite clerics a chokehold on global oil supplies. He was convinced that Washington's national interest lay in containing Iran's suspected nuclear arms program, not in toppling his regime.

Indeed, he depended on it.

David Kay, who preceded Duelfer as the chief U.S. weapons sleuth, said he asked Tarik Aziz, Iraq's former deputy prime minister, in an interrogation last year why Hussein didn't keep his illicit weapons if he was so nervous about Iran's effort to build a nuclear bomb. "He said every time they raised it with Saddam, he said, 'Don't worry about Iran because if it turns out to be what we think, the Israelis or the Americans will take care of them,' " Kay said. "In other words, he was relying on us to deal with his enemy."

The article relays the fact that Saddam was willing to become a loyal ally of the United States and repeatedly sent out diplomatic feelers attempting to become the chief US ally. Saddam was willing to assist the US in stopping Iran from from spreading radical Islam and developing nukes. Imagine that. The irony here is that Israel would have benefitted from such an alliance since Iran's nuclear program is a far greater threat to Israel than Saddam's Iraq was.

Oh, and get this: Saddam thought the CIA was so omnipotent that the CIA must have so many spies in the Iraqi government that the CIA just had to know that Saddam was bluffing about WMDs. So Saddam figured the US couldn't really be challenging him over WMDs.

On related notes see the full text of Charles Duelfer's Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD which was produced for the CIA.

On those dangerous neoconservative fools see Steve Sailer's article on the 10th anniversary of The Bell Curve and especially points 6,7, and 8 on how the neocons came to abandon empiricism as well as Steve's post of a friend's commentary on the neocon love of theory over empiricism, Trotskyites, and fascism.

Update: Steve Sailer points out that back in October 2002 physicist and former weapons designer Gregory Cochran predicted no nuclear program would be found in Iraq and Greg explained why. Greg was right in detail. What does it say that one guy can clearly see through to the truth when government agencies and powerful leaders with billions of dollars to spend to investigate the same set of questions can't get it right?

If you want to understand the world a large part of the trick is in figuring out how to choose people to listen to. People who make wrong predictions ought to be listened to less. People who make right predictions ought to be listened to more. We need automated systems for keeping track of past predictions to hold commentators to greater account for their errors and also we need to try harder to point to those who get it right so we know to pay attention to them next time.

By Randall Parker    2004 October 12 12:47 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (24)
2004 October 02 Saturday
The Iraq Aluminum Tubes Saga In Detail

The New York Times has an excellent, important, and lengthy report on the controversy over whether Iraq's aluminum tubes purchase was part of an effort to restart their nuclear weapons development program.

The agency's ability to assess nuclear intelligence had markedly declined after the cold war, and Joe's appointment was part of an effort to regain lost expertise. He was assigned to a division eventually known as Winpac, for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control. Winpac had hundreds of employees, but only a dozen or so with a technical background in nuclear arms and fuel production. None had Joe's hands-on experience operating centrifuges.

My reaction here is that if the CIA had only a dozen people who had any technical understanding of the nuclear fuels then that says something pretty damning about the CIA. One former Oak Ridge engineer recruited into the CIA was the only guy they had who could evaluate the significance of an Iraqi aluminum tubes purchase? Isn't there something wrong with this picture?

Suddenly, Joe's work was ending up in classified intelligence reports being read in the White House. Indeed, his analysis was the primary basis for one of the agency's first reports on the tubes, which went to senior members of the Bush administration on April 10, 2001. The tubes, the report asserted, "have little use other than for a uranium enrichment program."

This alarming assessment was immediately challenged by the Energy Department, which builds centrifuges and runs the government's nuclear weapons complex.

The next day, Energy Department officials ticked off a long list of reasons why the tubes did not appear well suited for centrifuges. Simply put, the analysis concluded that the tubes were the wrong size - too narrow, too heavy, too long - to be of much practical use in a centrifuge.

What was more, the analysis reasoned, if the tubes were part of a secret, high-risk venture to build a nuclear bomb, why were the Iraqis haggling over prices with suppliers all around the world? And why weren't they shopping for all the other sensitive equipment needed for centrifuges?

All fine questions. But if the tubes were not for a centrifuge, what were they for?

Within weeks, the Energy Department experts had an answer.

It turned out, they reported, that Iraq had for years used high-strength aluminum tubes to make combustion chambers for slim rockets fired from launcher pods. Back in 1996, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency had even examined some of those tubes, also made of 7075-T6 aluminum, at a military complex, the Nasser metal fabrication plant in Baghdad, where the Iraqis acknowledged making rockets. According to the international agency, the rocket tubes, some 66,000 of them, were 900 millimeters in length, with a diameter of 81 millimeters and walls 3.3 millimeters thick.

The tubes now sought by Iraq had precisely the same dimensions - a perfect match.

That finding was published May 9, 2001, in the Daily Intelligence Highlight, a secret Energy Department newsletter published on Intelink, a Web site for the intelligence community and the White House.

"Joe" and his CIA colleagues argued against the Energy Department interpretation. You can read the full article to find out why.

It is important to note that the tubes were probably the strongest argument that the Bush Administration had as evidence for a serious attempt by the Iraqis to restart their nuclear weapons development program. There were many other things that the Iraqis would have been doing that would have been part of such a restart effort that would have been detectable by Western intelligence agencies that the Iraqis were obviously not doing. But the Bush Administration misrepresented the strength of the argument for the tubes. In fact, I would characterize the Bush Administration's position on the tubes as a bright shining lie. Did Cheney deep down believe the lie? Did Bush?

Dick Cheney looked at the intelligence community and saw previous major failures in its attempts to detect activities such as nuclear weapons development efforts. But where Cheney failed is that he didn't understand whether the causes of those previous failures were relevant to analysis of evidence from Iraq in the late 1990s and onward. He obviously and importantly didn't know which supposed experts to trust. His misjudgement has been very harmful to US national interests.

Here is an example of where a lack of scientific education on the part of major politicians and the bulk of the commentariat can lead to absolutely huge mistakes. But ignorance in physics and engineering were not the only contributing factors for the Iraq debacle. Ignorance on matters of culture, religion, history, and human nature contributed as well. The idea that the Iraqis would treat us as liberators for more than a short period of time (and not even that in many cases) was a huge and foreseeable mistake. pessimists on Muslim democracy pointed out why analogies with Japan and Germany are erroneous. Lots of other factors working against secular liberal democracy in Iraq have been explained by a number of commentators. Also see Steve Sailer's Cousin Marriage Conundrum.

Two major stated reasons for invading Iraq were to stop nuclear proliferation and spread democracy to undermine the reasons for grievances among Muslims against the West. Well, invading Iraq didn't stop nuclear proliferation and we have increased Muslim hostility toward the United States and helped Al Qaeda recruiting.

So why did US policy toward Iraq go so badly wrong? (and I'm ignoring people who claim otherwise for about the same reason I ignore people who reject the theory of evolution by natural selection: overwhelming evidence) Over on Gideon's Blog Noah Millman takes up the question by first discussing George Will's savaging of the neocons.

I'm not sure there's another pundit out there with the chops to say what George Will is saying about the neocons. (Steve Sailer directed me to the piece.) I say that because Will is clearly a member in good standing of the new Conservative establishment (he's neither a Buchananite exile nor a Scowcroftian managerial Republican type) and has a strong record of support for Israel. He's not a crank; he's not someone who thinks he lost his job to a neocon; and he's not an Arab-sympathizer. And he's not harping on supposed dual-loyalty (which is mostly a canard and a distraction; there is an *enormous* difference morally between *betraying your country* and being infatuated with a friendly foreign country - as Jefferson was with France, Hamilton with Britain, and various Americans over the decades and centuries have been with Free Cuba, Republican Spain, Nationalist China, Wilhelmine Germany . . . there are probably more instances that I'm not thinking of). He's just saying: these guys are wrong. Badly wrong, dangerously wrong, blindly wrong. He's not hitting below the belt, but he's not pulling his punches. That's a good standard to aspire to, whether one agrees with him or not.

As for whether I agree with him . . . yeah, basically. Do I look forward to a newly dictatorial Russia? No. Do I think America can do much to promote democracy in Russia at this point? No. If there was a window of hope in Russia, that window has closed. Our *best* hope at this point is a cautious, rational dictatorship that bides its time and tries to rebuild the country, and knows that antagonizing America is just a stupid thing to do at this point. *That* Russia I would happily form an alliance with, dictatorship or no. I don't consider that the most-likely outcome. Between the extraordinary power of organized crime, the decrepit condition of the Russian military, the demographic implosion . . . Russia is going to be very, very lucky to avoid chaos and civil war on the one hand, or an ultranationalist, expansionist dictatorship on the other. Putin is very bad. And we could do much, much worse.

Noah sees a failure to examine contrary evidence and arguments as the base cause of the debacle.

And so what's hard to understand is: why did the Administration ignore this stuff? Not why did Rumsfeld listen to Wolfowitz or Bush listen to Rumsfeld - why did Wolfowitz believe this stuff? Why didn't everyone see the sheer unlikelihood of success in our endeavor? Sitting on the outside, I assumed that the Administration had evaluated all this stuff and come to the conclusion that war was necessary, and that we were doing everything we could to assure success. But that's clearly not the case: we did almost *nothing* to assure success. Why?

That's the mystery to me: not how the neocons got Iraq at the top of the foreign policy agenda (that's just inertia from pre 9-11 days speeded up by 9-11-induced urgency) nor why they thought toppling Saddam would be a good thing for America and its allies, most notably Israel, but why and how the decisionmaking process got so broken that contrary argument and evidence couldn't break through? *That's* what's bizarre. And *that's* what Bush hasn't done anything demonstrable to correct. And *that's* the biggest argument against his reelection. Which is why I think Kerry should be making just that argument.

But I do not find that explanation satisfying because he provides no answers to the questions he poses. Are the Bushies dumb? Do they really have conflicting loyalties as many critics of the neocons (I'm nodding YES) claim? Are the neocons really not conservatives and really ideological leftists (I'm nodding YES again) who care less about evidence and more about fighting wars for their ideas? These people need to be explained and analyzed.

Here's a really pedestrian simple explanation for much of what goes wrong in politics: Smarter people tend to study the hard sciences and engineering in college and stay out of politics in their careers. People who have the mental chops to critically sort through claims about nuclear arms proliferation tend not to be the people examining the evidence or trying to judge the level of talent of supposed experts giving conflicting advice. Also, more generally, even outside the hard sciences and engineering in areas like history and religous studies are not the sorts of people who often find their way to positions of advisors to the high and mighty. Plus, making all ths worse, a guy like George W. Bush even wins votes by not appearing to be too intellectual or learned. So I do not see that Washington DC has the talents we need there to make the big calls.

Here's another explanation: It helps to have a lot of money if you run for high office. But most rich people do not want to run for high office. So we are left with the rich people who are not so talented to serve as a pool of contenders for the US Presidency. Look at Bush. He made his money by convincing a bunch of voters to vote for a bond issue to fund the construction of a stadium that made a baseball team worth much more to its owners (of which he was one). Kerry married his money. Neither of these guys are smart on the level of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. Well, Bill and Warren aren't going to take off time from their busy lives to lower themselves down into the political arena. So we get Dubya and to choose among instead.

On a related note about why the neocons in the Bush Administration are such a bunch of dangerous loons Johann Hari has a profile in The Independent (so it is written from a Leftist perspective) of former leftist and now anti-Islamofascist ally of the neocons Christopher Hitchens which shows how much Hitch sees Wolfowitz as an ideological kindred spirit. (same article here)

He believes neoconservatism is a distinctively new strain of thought, preached by ex-leftists, who believed in using US power to spread democracy.


With the fine eye for ideological division that comes from a life on the Trotskyite left, Hitch diagnoses the intellectual divisions within the Bush administration. He does not ally himself with the likes of Cheney; he backs the small sliver of pure neocon thought he associates with Wolfowitz. "The thing that would most surprise people about Wolfowitz if they met him is that he's a real bleeding heart. He's from a Polish-Jewish immigrant family. You know the drill - Kennedy Democrats, some of the family got out of Poland in time and some didn't make it, civil rights marchers? He impressed me when he was speaking at a pro-Israel rally in Washington a few years ago and he made a point of talking about Palestinian suffering. He didn't have to do it - at all - and he was booed. He knew he would be booed, and he got it. I've taken time to find out what he thinks about these issues, and it's always interesting."

Hitchens and Wolfowitz still think using Leftist intellectual categories. Neoconservatives are really not consevative. They represent a schism in the Left. In a follow-up in his own blog Hari makes it clear that he sees Islamic terrorism's cause as the standard Leftist explanation for everything: economic oppression by The Man.

I differ with Hitch on two points. Firstly, I do not believe that the Bush method is sufficient for – or very effective at – battling Islamic fundamentalism. There are many occasions when Islamic fundamentalists can only be defeated by force – in Afghanistan, for example – and we need to support those fights when the Bush administration enters into them. But force alone is not sufficient; there needs to be a Marshall Plan for the Arab world (precisely the opposite of the economic misery spread at the moment by the USA’s proxies, the IMF and World Bank) and a determined effort to tackle legitimate Muslim grievances. So far the force has been forthcoming – but nothing else. If you want a real fight against Islamofascism, you have to want much better than Bush

This really gets old. Economic oppression is not the root cause of Islamic anger at the West. Try considering cultural clash between religions combined with ethnic conflict fed by consanguineous cousin marriage and their own deficiencies and feelings of inferiority and you will be a lot closer to the truth of the matter. But such ideas have no place in Leftist ideological theorizing.

A number of left-leaning bloggers have responded to Hari's profile of Hitchens. One leftie blogger demonstrates that even some people who call themselves leftists correctly recognize the neocons as a particular strain of radical internationalists.

Hitchens is right in a way. These are early days yet, but the Neocons are proof that there is today a radical-democratic, internationalist and universalist Right promoting Enlightenment values. People like Wolfowitz and Perle are actually preaching the spreading of these values worldwide. A fairly idealist and radical approach.

Being conservative in a more conventional sense I do not believe the whole world can be transformed into a liberal democratic utopia and I think efforts to bring about that change are more likely to cause problems than produce a happy outcome.

More comments on the HItchens profile can be found here and here and here.

Noah Millman is left wondering what we ought to do.

It is not enough to say that most Iraqis hate the insurgents. *Do they hate them enough to die fighting to keep them out of power?* We don't know the answer to that question, yet. Most South Vietnamese didn't want the Communists to win; 1 million boat people proved that pretty decisively. They lost anyhow. And even if we knew the answer to that question was "yes" that only answers the most pressing question about Iraq. All the other simmering difficulties remain. And remember: I'm not even talking about what it would take for Iraq to be a democracy. I'm talking about what it would take to get out and not leave chaos and civil war behind.

Look: this is not a partisan issue for me. I actually want to figure out what to do. It's readily apparent to me that Bush is winging it, and that the last thing he's going to do is talk straight to the country about how the war is going. It's also readily apparent to me that Kerry has no better clue about what to do. Kerry has taken every position it's possible to take on almost every aspect of the Iraq issue. In 1997 he said was pounding the tub loudly for war to stop Saddam from acquiring WMD and threatening America. In the primaries he said anyone who didn't think deposing Saddam made America safer was unfit to be President. He voted against the Gulf War and for the Iraq war, and then voted not to fund the latter war effort. He defended that vote by saying he really objected that the war effort was funded with debt rather than taxes . . . but then he also said we're (a) not spending nearly enough on the war and reconstruction effort; (b) spending way too much when there are such pressing needs at home. When asked what he'd do differently from Bush he says, "everything" and then lists things the Bush Administration is trying to do right now. He's hopeless. So: what follows?

My choices are summed up here: Unilaterally Withdraw From Iraq Or First Partition? But I realize most people are not ready to admit just how modest our ambitions have to be for Iraq at this point. Well, if you are not willing to admit defeat your only choice that I can see at this point is to cheer on the creation of a new Iraqi Army. But if the desertions and collaboration with the insurgency by Iraqi soldiers do not lessen I do not see how the US can arrange for a graceful face-saving exit.

Update: US National Security Advisor Condoleezza is still claiming there is some chance that the aluminum tubes were purchased for uranium enrichment centrifuges.

"As I understand it, people are still debating this," Rice said on ABC's "This Week" program. "And I'm sure they will continue to debate it."

David Albright says Rice "was grasping at straws". No kidding. The Bush Administration can not be trusted on the subject of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. They do the country a disservice by crying wolf when there is no wolf.

By Randall Parker    2004 October 02 09:18 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2004 September 30 Thursday
WSJ Reporter Farnaz Fassihi Email From Baghdad

An email about the deteriorating conditions in Iraq is being circulated (see below) which is reported to be from Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi in Baghdad. So is it real? Yes, Fassihi really did write this rather grim email.

A lengthy letter from Baghdad she recently sent to friends "has rapidly become a global chain mail," Fassihi told Jim Romenesko on Wednesday after it was finally posted at the Poynter Institute's Web site. She confirmed writing the letter.

Her editor is defending her right to have such a bleak private view of the war.

September 30, 2004 -- Wall Street Journal Editor Paul Steiger has come to the defense of his beleaguered Baghdad correspondent, who blasted the war in Iraq as a "disaster" that has deteriorated "into a raging barbaric guerilla war" that will haunt the United States for decades.

Here is the Farnaz Fassihi email as I received it from Greg Cochran. If anyone else has received it can you verify that this is the full correct version?

From: [Wall Street Journal reporter] Farnaz Fassihi Subject: From Baghdad

Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their ways and tell stories that could make a difference.

Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those reasons. I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the streets. I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in any thing but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news stories, can't be stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can't and can't. There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all the windows. So now my most pressing concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but to stay alive and make sure our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am a security personnel first, a reporter second.

It's hard to pinpoint when the 'turning point' exactly began. Was it April when the Fallujah fell out of the grasp of the Americans? Was it when Moqtada and Jish Mahdi declared war on the U.S. military? Was it when Sadr City, home to ten percent of Iraq's population, became a nightly battlefield for the Americans? Or was it when the insurgency began spreading from isolated pockets in the Sunni triangle to include most of Iraq? Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come.

Iraqis like to call this mess 'the situation.' When asked 'how are thing?' they reply: 'the situation is very bad."

What they mean by situation is this: the Iraqi government doesn't control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the country's roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of landmines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The situation, basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war. In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are so shocking that the ministry of health -- which was attempting an exercise of public transparency by releasing the numbers -- has now stopped disclosing them.

Insurgents now attack Americans 87 times a day.

A friend drove thru the Shiite slum of Sadr City yesterday. He said young men were openly placing improvised explosive devices into the ground. They melt a shallow hole into the asphalt, dig the explosive, cover it with dirt and put an old tire or plastic can over it to signal to the locals this is booby-trapped. He said on the main roads of Sadr City, there were a dozen landmines per every ten yards. His car snaked and swirled to avoid driving over them. Behind the walls sits an angry Iraqi ready to detonate them as soon as an American convoy gets near. This is in Shiite land, the population that was supposed to love America for liberating Iraq.

For journalists the significant turning point came with the wave of abduction and kidnappings. Only two weeks ago we felt safe around Baghdad because foreigners were being abducted on the roads and highways between towns. Then came a frantic phone call from a journalist female friend at 11 p.m. telling me two Italian women had been abducted from their homes in broad daylight. Then the two Americans, who got beheaded this week and the Brit, were abducted from their homes in a residential neighborhood. They were supplying the entire block with round the clock electricity from their generator to win friends. The abductors grabbed one of them at 6 a.m. when he came out to switch on the generator; his beheaded body was thrown back near the neighborhoods.

WSJ reporter Fassahi's e-mail to friends /2
9/29/2004 2:47:12 PM

The insurgency, we are told, is rampant with no signs of calming down. If any thing, it is growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated every day. The various elements within it-baathists, criminals, nationalists and Al Qaeda-are cooperating and coordinating.

I went to an emergency meeting for foreign correspondents with the military and embassy to discuss the kidnappings. We were somberly told our fate would largely depend on where we were in the kidnapping chain once it was determined we were missing. Here is how it goes: criminal gangs grab you and sell you up to Baathists in Fallujah, who will in turn sell you to Al Qaeda. In turn, cash and weapons flow the other way from Al Qaeda to the Baathisst to the criminals. My friend Georges, the French journalist snatched on the road to Najaf, has been missing for a month with no word on release or whether he is still alive.

America's last hope for a quick exit? The Iraqi police and National Guard units we are spending billions of dollars to train. The cops are being murdered by the dozens every day-over 700 to date -- and the insurgents are infiltrating their ranks. The problem is so serious that the U.S. military has allocated $6 million dollars to buy out 30,000 cops they just trained to get rid of them quietly.

As for reconstruction: firstly it's so unsafe for foreigners to operate that almost all projects have come to a halt. After two years, of the $18 billion Congress appropriated for Iraq reconstruction only about $1 billion or so has been spent and a chuck has now been reallocated for improving security, a sign of just how bad things are going here.

Oil dreams? Insurgents disrupt oil flow routinely as a result of sabotage and oil prices have hit record high of $49 a barrel. Who did this war exactly benefit? Was it worth it? Are we safer because Saddam is holed up and Al Qaeda is running around in Iraq?

Iraqis say that thanks to America they got freedom in exchange for insecurity. Guess what? They say they'd take security over freedom any day, even if it means having a dictator ruler.

I heard an educated Iraqi say today that if Saddam Hussein were allowed to run for elections he would get the majority of the vote. This is truly sad.

Then I went to see an Iraqi scholar this week to talk to him about elections here. He has been trying to educate the public on the importance of voting. He said, "President Bush wanted to turn Iraq into a democracy that would be an example for the Middle East. Forget about democracy, forget about being a model for the region, we have to salvage Iraq before all is lost."

One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation. For those of us on the ground it's hard to imagine what if any thing could salvage it from its violent downward spiral. The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and it can't be put back into a bottle.

The Iraqi government is talking about having elections in three months while half of the country remains a 'no go zone'-out of the hands of the government and the Americans and out of reach of journalists. In the other half, the disenchanted population is too terrified to show up at polling stations. The Sunnis have already said they'd boycott elections, leaving the stage open for polarized government of Kurds and Shiites that will not be deemed as legitimate and will most certainly lead to civil war.

I asked a 28-year-old engineer if he and his family would participate in the Iraqi elections since it was the first time Iraqis could to some degree elect a leadership. His response summed it all: "Go and vote and risk being blown into pieces or followed by the insurgents and murdered for cooperating with the Americans? For what? To practice democracy? Are you joking?"


My advice to this lady is to leave Iraq. I do not want to see her get her head cut off. The escape of her email into the public domain has made her whole trip there worthwhile. She doesn't have anything else to prove or to do that will accomplish as much as this one frank email.

The Bush Administration wants to restrict the release of bad news.

The Bush administration, battling negative perceptions of the Iraq war, is sending Iraqi Americans to deliver what the Pentagon calls "good news" about Iraq to U.S. military bases, and has curtailed distribution of reports showing increasing violence in that country.

On other Iraq news a US Army Reserve staff sergeant serving in Iraq, Al Lorentz, may be prosecuted for disloyalty and sentenced to as much as 20 years for an article critical of the war entitled "Why We Cannot Win" he wrote for Meanwhile, the Bush Administration is taking steps to restrict the circulation of Kroll Security International reports on Iraq that quantify the deteriorating situation there. Another report by Special Operations Consulting-Security Management Group claims the attack rate by the insurgency has risen to 80 per day.

Will the Iraqi government continue to release casualty figures? Ayad al-Dahwy of the Iraqi Health Ministry says the Iraqi Health Ministry will no longer release civilian casualty figures. Supposedly the figures will still be available but from a higher level. Will that higher level massage the figures? When you do see figures keep in mind that civilian deaths are far more likely to be reported than insurgent fighter deaths.

The ministry is convinced that nearly all of those reported dead are civilians, not insurgents. Most often, a family member wouldn't report it if his or her relative died fighting for rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia or another insurgent force, and the relative would be buried immediately, said Dr. Shihab Ahmed Jassim, another member of the ministry's operations section.

"People who participate in the conflict don't come to the hospital. Their families are afraid they will be punished," said Dr. Yasin Mustaf, the assistant manager of al Kimdi Hospital near Baghdad's poor Sadr City neighborhood. "Usually, the innocent people come to the hospital. That is what the numbers show."

The numbers also exclude those whose bodies were too mutilated to be recovered at car bombings or other attacks, the ministry said.

Over a quarter of reported deaths are in Baghdad.

The Iraqi Health Ministry began tabulating civilian deaths in April. The ministry's statistics show 2,956 civilians, including 125 children, died across the country "as the result of a military act" between April 5 and Aug. 31. Of those, 829 were in Baghdad, the ministry figures indicate.

Sadr City alone contains a tenth of Iraq's population. So the status of Sadr City as a "no-go" zone consigns a tenth of Iraq's population to rebel control.

As for what we should do about the mess in Iraq, it comes down to what I see as the basic question: Unilaterally Withdraw From Iraq Or First Partition? If you click through on that link you will also find links to a set of arguments on why democracy isn't going to succeed in Iraq or other Middle Eastern countries.

By Randall Parker    2004 September 30 11:42 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (60)
2004 September 29 Wednesday
Islamic Educational Institutions Growing In Iraq

Previously secular schools and universities in Iraq are going Islamic.

Under Saddam, Beytool's school was only allowed to teach the strict, state-approved curriculum. But now, it's a private school and they are free to teach whatever they like. And in a sign of the changing times here, the focus is now overwhelmingly on Islamic education. Instead of teaching the alphabet, the goal in Beytool's class is to memorize 28 basic verses from the Koran, and learn how to wash before prayers.

Hundreds of religious seminaries have popped up.

And the government has no control over hundreds of Shiite religious seminaries — known as the Howza — teaching Islamic theory and law once banned under Saddam.

George W. Bush is in favor of "faith-based initiatives" and has spoken of Islam as "a religion of peace". So does he look on approvingly at the Islamization of Iraq which the US invasion has made possible? Will all the Iraqi students coming out of Islamic schools be more or less inclined to plant bombs along roadsides or to shoot rockets and mortars at US military bases? Will Iraqi children be more or less inclined to join Al Qaeda once they have been educated in the transformed Iraqi schools?

This trend toward a more Islamic and radical education is happening in some other Muslim countries as well such as Indonesia (which is the fourth most populous country in the world after China, India, and the United States) and Dagestan. Even though the secular Baathists in Syria haven't been overthrown by the United States and the secularists still control school curricula Syria is experiencing an Islamic religious revival.

While General Abizaid and other official military spokesmen are now touting the official Bush Administration line that Iraqi government military forces are approaching the point where they can take over the job of putting down the insurgency some US Army officers speaking anonymously say they think the new government forces are collaborating with the insurgents.

Reports from Iraq have made one Army staff officer question whether adequate progress is being made there.

"They keep telling us that Iraqi security forces are the exit strategy, but what I hear from the ground is that they aren't working," he said. "There's a feeling that Iraqi security forces are in cahoots with the insurgents and the general public to get the occupiers out."

The invasion of Iraq has clearly backfired. We are worse off for having invaded. We have set off the radicalization of a population that was previously under the tight control of a fairly secular (my Middle Eastern standards) dictator. We now know this mess was predicted in advance by the National Intelligence Council in a report they provided to the Bush Administration in January 2003.

The estimate came in two classified reports prepared for President Bush in January 2003 by the National Intelligence Council, an independent group that advises the director of central intelligence. The assessments predicted that an American-led invasion of Iraq would increase support for political Islam and would result in a deeply divided Iraqi society prone to violent internal conflict.

It is highly questionable whether continued US presence in Iraq serves any useful purpose. But Bush doesn't want to admit to making a huge and incredibly costly mistake. At the same time, the Democrats are reluctant to advocate withdrawal since they don't want to appear weak. So the debacle will continue.

What is the bottom line of these bad trends? The United States can not defend itself from terrorists by secularizing and democratizing the Middle East. The neocon dream of American transformation of the Middle East is an unrealistic fantasy. We need better policies to protect us closer to home such as much more effective border control, vigorous immigration law enforcement, and tougher visa application screening. Keep the people with deadly intent away from us. Stop letting Muslims immigrate. Also, do a big push to develop alternatives to obsolesce oil and thereby at least partially defund the jihadists and defund the Muslim Wahhabi missionaries of Saudi Arabia.

By Randall Parker    2004 September 29 01:31 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2004 September 28 Tuesday
Civilian Death Toll High In Iraq

Writing in the UK Spectator Richard Beeston, stationed in Iraq for the Times of London reports on the growing popularity of beheading DVDs in Iraq, the widespread hostility toward foreigners, and the death toll.

So why is it that the snuff movies, which are being deliberately distributed by the killers, are being snapped up in their thousands on DVDs across Iraq? A year ago Iraqis liked nothing better than buying illicit pornography or video footage of Saddam Hussein’s henchmen torturing and killing their victims. It was assumed that this lurid fascination would wear off now that, after 40 years of state television, Iraqis have access to 24-hour satellite television. But no, something more disturbing is at work here.

What is amazing is the death toll from car bombs.

The car bombs, which explode almost daily and have killed more than 100 Iraqis in the past week, are barely worth a mention unless the death toll climbs into double figures.

Think about the death rate from bombs exploding along roads. If this killing rate continues then times 52 weeks in a year then that is a death rate of over 5,000 per year. Iraq has a population of about 25 million people. This compares with 293 million people in the United States of America. If America was losing that many people per year to car bombs we'd be experiencing 58,600 deaths per year from what are basically acts of terrorism.

Death rates in Iraq spike even higher.

In Baqouba, north of Baghdad, another roadside bomb reportedly wounded four police officers and a civilian.

The attacks brought the death toll in and around Baghdad to 150 in the past four days, in a campaign by insurgents to destabilize the interim government

The rate of hostile attacks has increased dramatically.

Attacks over the past two weeks have killed more than 250 Iraqis and 29 U.S. military personnel, according to figures released by Iraq's Health Ministry and the Pentagon. A sampling of daily reports produced during that period by Kroll Security International for the U.S. Agency for International Development shows that such attacks typically number about 70 each day. In contrast, 40 to 50 hostile incidents occurred daily during the weeks preceding the handover of political authority to an interim Iraqi government on June 28, according to military officials.

If that rate of deaths for Americans continues then we will lose another 1,500 soldiers in Iraq in the next 12 months. The article also quotes a US Marines officer near Fallujah claiming that attacks on US Marines are lower because the Marines do not patrol as much and hence are not as vulnerable to attacks. I see this as part of Bush's attempt to keep casualty rates down until after the US elections. Once the elections are over with expect to see US forces go on a broad offensive into the current "no-go" zones in order to create more areas where elections can be held in January.

By Randall Parker    2004 September 28 01:42 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2004 September 09 Thursday
US Forces Go On Offensive In Iraq Sunni Triangle

The US military is trying to retake the many no-go zones in the Sunni triangle.

After months of creeping withdrawal from a growing number of towns in the north and west, the American military confirmed that major operations were under way to regain lost territory.


The American military's biggest success of the day was the recapture of Samarra, one of the three most important Sunni cities that have been under effective insurgent control since April, apparently without a shot being fired.

Rebel held Tal Afar near the Syrian border is under attack by US and allied Iraqi forces.

Joint US and Iraqi forces began a seven-hour bombardment of Talafar at 0200 local time (2200 GMT Wednesday).

Lots of Sunni rebels are getting killed.

Fierce fighting around the town of Tal Afar, a suspected haven for foreign fighters about 100km east of the Syrian border in northern Iraq, left 45 dead and more than 80 wounded, a local government health official said.

Some Iraqi government forces are involved in the Sunni Triangle offensive and at least part of the Iraqi government supports the offensive.

"Fallujah and Ramadi have not been dealt with," said Sabah Kadahim, a Ministry of Interior spokesman. "It's time to start."

The estimated size of the insurgency has grown.

The Americans cannot reduce the size of their forces for fear that the rebels would make greater advances against the Iraqi forces; the number of American troops is up from 115,000 in February to some 140,000 today, while only 95,000 members of Iraq's security forces, the Americans now say, are ready to take up the slack—a sharp downward revision of the previously cited figure of 200,000. By contrast, the Americans' estimate of 5,000 rebels last year has jumped to 20,000. Plainly there is no light yet at the end of Mr Allawi's tunnel to normality.

In my view the big unknown at this point is whether the central government can develop and field a large army that will stay loyal to it. If the government's military can't develop a substantial fighting capability then the United States has to either stay and fight for years or withdraw and let a civil war between the existing factions settle the question of which strongman will be Iraq's new ruler or even whether Iraq will stay as a single country.

Saigon was never as dangerous to US soldiers as Baghdad is today.

Among those who died were 24 women--as many women as were killed in service during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, Vietnam and Korea combined.

The nature of this war is different, said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, president of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation.

"I was in Vietnam after the Tet offensive," she said. "Never was Saigon as dangerous a place as Baghdad is today. In Iraq, you can be at risk anywhere."

Consider the comparison to Vietnam. Granted, the death rate of US troops is lower than it was in Vietnam. But that is partly a function of terrain. The Iraqi insurgents do not have jungles to hide in - except for the concrete jungles in cities. The insurgents have Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that can be exploded remotely. But overall the technological advantage enjoyed by US soldiers today is greater than the technological advantage of US soldiers in Vietnam against the VC. Among the technological advantages of US forces today are highly accurate air support with JDAM bombs, GPS navigation, signal processing gadgets that process gunshot sounds to quickly locate the direction of sniper fire, fancier flak jackets and armor protection of vehicles, and remotely controlled robotic devices. Also, in the post-Vietnam War era the volunteer US Army and Marines have gone through a huge internal cultural change caused in large part by the embrace of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity by officers and enlisted men alike.

The greater capability of the US military to protect itself in Iraq is, in my view, causing many observers to underestimate the size of the insurgency in Iraq. Had the US military of the Vietnam era gone into Iraq the US casualty rates would be greater by some multiple of today's casualty rate. Note that I'm not arguing that the main reason the casualty rate of the US military is lower because the US military is doing such a bang up job of killing the insurgents. The insurgency has grown in size. The insurgency's growth has happened in spite of the fact that the US military is much more able to learn lessons from battlefield events than the Vietnam era military. The US military is bringing all sorts of new technology to Iraq as the war progresses and yet still their casualty rates are rising.

Will Bush now let the US military fight its way into every single Sunni Triangle city and town? Will the Iraqi government's military grow in size while staying loyal to the civilian leaders who are officially supposed to control it? Can large enough portions of Iraq be made secure enough to make elections feasible in January?

Update: Note that the initial retaking of Samarra was done supposedly without firing a shot. At first that might seem like a great success. But if no shots were fired then all the insurgents in Samarra are still alive to plant bombs and snipe from hidden locations. On the other hand, if US forces killed insurgents then that would just motivate their relatives to seek revenge. The US probably can't stop the insurgency without acting far more brutally than the American public would find acceptable.

Update II: 150 American soldiers were able to enter Samarra while 500 insurgents blended in with the populace.

But commanders acknowledge that as many as 500 insurgents remain in the city. The guerrillas' preference is to strike at smaller U.S. or Iraqi units. In classic guerrilla style, they tend to hide their weapons and blend in among residents when faced with larger forces.

U.S. troops pulled out at the end of the day for lack of a secure base at which to spend the night.

The US forces selected new civilian leaders for Samarra during their day trip. But did those civilian leaders survive the night?

By Randall Parker    2004 September 09 07:29 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2004 September 06 Monday
Samarra Joins Growing List Of US Military No-Go Cities In Iraq

Want a handy way to watch the progress of the war in Iraq? Search Google News using the terms no-go iraq. This turns up all sorts of stories about where US forces can't go in Iraq (except in large numbers while under fire) and where foreigners can't go. See, for example, this article on how Samarra has joined the list of "no-go" areas in Iraq. (same article here)

"It's true that we can't go into Samarra very often," said U.S. Army Capt. Scott Synowiez, an intelligence officer at a 1st Infantry Division base on the outskirts of the city. "Whenever we go into Samarra we do get attacked, without a doubt."

500 insurgents in 3 Sunni Muslim groups control a city of 250,000.

The insurgents have destroyed police stations and government buildings. The police chief and mayor still live in Samarra, but have lost all authority. The city council president resigned last week after insurgents blew up the council building.

Note that the so-called central government has no control of some (probably all) no-go zones and there are competing militias in the no-go zones. Iraq has become balkanized. Or Lebanonized if you prefer.

How many no-go zones are there for US and allied forces in Iraq? It depends on how you count. So far only Najaf and Fallujah are officially US military no-go zones as a result of agreements made with insurgent forces.

In a further embarrassment, Thursday's peace agreement calls for Najaf to become Iraq's second no-go zone for U.S. troops, after Marines withdrew from the western city of Fallujah in May.

But there are lots of other effective no-go zones. Latifiya is referred to in news reports as a no-go zone for the US military.

Iraqi police and national guardsmen, assisted by US forces, raided the town of Latifiya, 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of Baghdad, marking the first time the interim government had taken decisive action against Sunni insurgents since it took full powers in late June.


The town is part of a virtual no-go zone for US troops, Iraqi police and foreigners and has earned the name "Fallujah's second head" after the Sunni rebel strongold west of Baghdad.

Reporting for the New York Times Dexter Filkins says US forces may pull out of even more cities in Iraq.

In Iraq, the list of places from which American soldiers have either withdrawn or decided to visit only rarely is growing: Falluja, where a Taliban-like regime has imposed a rigid theocracy; Ramadi, where the Sunni insurgents appear to have the run of the city; and the holy Shiite cities of Karbala and Najaf to the south, where the Americans agreed last month to keep their distance from the sacred shrines of Ali and Hussein.

The calls are rising for the Americans to pull out of even more areas, notably Sadr City, the sprawling neighborhood in eastern Baghdad that is the main base for the rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Note the creeping withdrawal of American forces.

Some of the competing factions are local tribal militia. But one of the competing factions is the resurgent Baath Party.

Even with Saddam under lock and key, the Baath Party is back in business.

The pan-Arab socialist movement is going strong with sophisticated computer technology, high-level infiltration of the new government and plenty of recruits in thousands of disenchanted, impoverished Sunni Muslim Iraqis, according to interviews with current and former members, Iraqi government officials and groups trying to root out former Baathists.

Will the Sunni Baathists eventually regain complete control? Or can Sistani orchestrate an effective Shia Arab opposition to the Sunni Arab forces? Also, will the Shias or Sunnis each try to cut deals with the Kurds for autonomy in exchange for help against the other major Arab faction? Or will the civil war become 3-way or maybe 4 or 5 or 6-way?

The creation of a semi-sovereign government has not slowed the attack rate.

Nationwide, U.S. forces are being attacked 60 times per day on average, up 20% from the three-month period before the hand-over.

The August attack rate has gone even higher.

BAGHDAD, Iraq – A U.S. assault on one or more of Iraq’s three main “no-go” areas – including Fallujah – is likely in the next four months as the Iraqi government prepares to extend control before elections set for January, the U.S. land forces commander said Sunday.

Army Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz’s announcement came after a month that saw attacks on U.S. forces reach an average of almost 100 per day – the highest level since the end of major combat last year.

There are still plenty of blogs painting a rosy picture of how things are going in Iraq. I can't figure out how they manage to do this.

The US has a number of problems here. How can it insist on the holding of elections in January in cities which neither US forces nor the nominal central government control? Will any local militias allow elections to take place?

Also, how can US forces hope to defeat all these insurgencies? Where is the US military going to get enough soldiers to use to fight so many urban battles? Could US forces fight their way into a succession of towns and cities occupy each one for a week, hold elections in that town, and then withdraw to transfer troops to fight into the next town to hold the next election? What exactly would be the point of doing so? To elect a "national" parliament for a federal government that controlled some federal government administration buildings?

Some people advocate unilateral withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. Well, in a sense US withdrawal is happening piecemeal as US forces withdraw from cities that are under insurgent control. Others, myself included, argue for partition of Iraq. Again, partition is happening piecemeal as different local militias and factions take over different towns and portions of cities. However, this piecemeal approach is likely to yield a far worse outcome than we could have gotten had the Bush Administration been willing to admit the scale of their error months ago. But the need for Bush to win reelection precludes such an admission of error as does the unwillingness of he and his advisors to abandon a very flawed set of assumptions about human nature.

Update: David Rieff argues that whoever wins election in November faces a dilemma in Iraq.

Whatever happens in Najaf or Falluja, United States officials continue to face a considerable difficulty: how to reconcile what an effective counterinsurgency strategy requires with what is politically acceptable to an interim regime whose continued political legitimacy and viability is also a strategic necessity for the United States. Use too much force and you alienate the very people you want to win over to the side of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's government. Use too little force and you allow Shiite and Sunni insurgents alike to become more powerful, and more of a threat to the Allawi regime.

My guess is that there is not some optimal level of force that will stop the insurgents while allowing the Iraqi government to appear legitimate in the eyes of most Iraqis.

Rieff also argues that a large scale construction effort in Iraq would pull enough unemployed youth into jobs that the incentive for joining the Mahdi Army would decline considerably. But can enough young males be employed in construction projects to make a very large dent in the size of the insurgency? I am skeptical.

Update II: A car bomb outside Fallujah just killed 7 US Marines. Can US forces afford to wait until after the US election before doing something about the insurgents in Fallujah? What say you hawks? Let US soldiers continue to die from bombs every day and put off a major offensive until after Bush gets reelected? Is that a price you are willing to pay?

Update III: After examining the attack rate, casualty rate, and death rate Steve Sailer shows that John Kerry and George W. Bush are both not offering any sensible strategy for Iraq.

What do the candidates say about this? Sen. Kerry announced on Labor Day that he'd like to get America's troops home within four years. (Let's see, 38 casualties per day times 365 days per year times 4 years equals ... 55,000 additional casualties under President Kerry, on top of the nearly 8,000 already. Time to build some more VA hospitals.) In response, Pres. Bush denounced Kerry for "flip-flopping" and refused to set any kind of deadline. (Let's see, 38 casualties per day times 365 days per year times infinity years equals ... )

We're all agreed now that in Vietnam the only two sensible choices were Win or Get Out. Right now in Iraq, we're headed toward the Defeat of a Thousand Cuts. Don't believe me? Then tell me what those nearly 1200 casualties during August accomplished strategically. Every month, we lose control of a larger portion of Iraqi territory because whenever push comes to shove in Iraq, Bush backs down.

If US troops are going to stay in Iraq then my suggestion is to start doing urban invasions that do not stop short. Do complete conquest. It would be most sensible to invade Sunni stronghold cities such as Fallujah first. The Sunni cities do not have as much in the way of shrines since the most important Sunni holy sites are in Saudi Arabia. Also, there are fewer Sunnis in Iraq. Plus, the Sunnis have more foreign Arabs fighting for them and probably including fellow Sunni Al Qaeda.

Another alternative would be to continue to withdraw. This could be done in conjunction with arming factions that seem like better bets to back according to some Machiavellian calculation. My advice is to arm the Kurds since we could stay on good terms with them. Does it make sense to side with the Sunnis or the Shias? That's a harder call. Also, which Sunnis to side with? The Baathists? If the more religious Sunnis come out on top they are more likely to provide a welcoming environment for Al Qaeda operatives and then finally Iraq really would become a serious supporter for Al Qaeda terrorism.

By Randall Parker    2004 September 06 03:30 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (36)
2004 August 29 Sunday
More Shiites Seen As Radicalized By Second Round Of Najaf Fighting

Scott Baldauf has another interesting report from Iraq for the Christian Science Monitor about how Shia Iraqis are reacting to the latest round of fighting. Baldauf claims that more Shiites are being radicalized by each round of fighting.

All sides are claiming victory in Najaf - the Americans say they expelled Sadr's forces, the Sadrists say they forced the Americans to withdraw from Najaf - but the momentum may be with Sadr. Interviews with Iraqis since the siege in Najaf ended indicate some of the moderates becoming radical, the radicals becoming suicidally committed, and the average Iraqi Shiite - while discontented with Sadr's methods - showing no sign of uniting in a backlash against him.

There might really be a silent majority still opposed to Sadr. But they aren't willing to pick up rifles to kill Mahdi warriors even as they wish the Mahdists would calm down and not fight American soldiers. There is no extremism for democracy or for liberalism in Iraq. But there is plenty of religious, nationalist, and tribal extremism.

While young impatient and violent extremists join the Mahdi Army to fight to expel American troops Sistani tries to convince the Shias to be patient and to take power through elections.

Ayatollah Sistani believes that the Shiites made a mistake in rebelling against the British in 1920, causing the colonial power to rely on the minority Sunnis, marginalizing Shiites for the rest of the century, says Cole. "Sistani is convinced that if the Shiites will just be patient, they can come to power via the ballot box. And then it will be relatively easy to just insist the Americans leave, without the need for violence."

Will an elected government dominated by Shiites Arabs be seen as sufficiently legitimate to calm all or even most of the young Mahdi fighters? Will an elected government be able to attract enough Shiites to join a government army and to fight hard to put down Sunni rebellions in Fallujah and other Sunni Triangle cities?

Anyone want to hazard a prediction of how Iraq will be 6 months from now? Will an elected government tell the US military to pack it up and leave? Or will Shiite extremists prevent a January 2005 election from being held? Will the Mahdis start round 3 of Najaf fighting in a couple of months? Or will the center of fighting shift to Sadr City?

Update: Also see my previous post Attack Pace Has Not Slackened In Iraq.

By Randall Parker    2004 August 29 08:43 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
US Losing Control Of Iraqi Sunni Triangle Cities

John F. Burns and Erik Eckholm have written an excellent article on the failure of US strategy for controlling the Sunni triangle cities. (same article here)

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 28 - While American troops have been battling Islamic militants to an uncertain outcome in Najaf, the Shiite holy city, events in two Sunni Muslim cities that stand astride the crucial western approaches to Baghdad have moved significantly against American plans to build a secular democracy in Iraq.

Both of the cities, Falluja and Ramadi, and much of Anbar Province, are now controlled by fundamentalist militias, with American troops confined mainly to heavily protected forts on the desert's edge. What little influence the Americans have is asserted through wary forays in armored vehicles, and by laser-guided bombs that obliterate enemy safe houses identified by scouts who penetrate militant ranks. Even bombing raids appear to strengthen the fundamentalists, who blame the Americans for scores of civilian deaths.

When US troops pulled out of Fallujah Baathist generals were supposed to take over control of the city. But the Islamic fundamentalists have killed many of the Iraqi government officials and top officers The Baathists and scared the rest into cooperating with them. This is an important turn of events. If the ex-Baathists can not control a Sunni city then Iraq begins to look more and more like Afghanistan. Shiite fundamentalists battle for control in southern Shia cities while Sunni fundamentalists increase their control in the Sunni triangle.

It is hard to see how a central government can rule Iraq. Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is looking more and more like Afghan President Hamid Karzai whose own effective area of control doesn't extend much further than the outskirts of Kabul Afghanistan.

I've argued for partition of Iraq into Sunni Arab, Shia Arab, and Kurdish areas. Well, at this point de facto partition by regional militias appears to be well under way. The leaders who can motivate Iraqi soldiers to fight for them are regional, ethnic, and religious sect leaders. The central government is unable to motivate many people to really go to the mat for it.

Note that the Mahdi Army forms up, fights for a while, and then strikes a deal to end fighting for a while. By contrast, the Sunni fundamentalist fighters have been harder core. They have managed to maintain fairly continuous control over Fallujah and also are bolstered by a continuing influx of Sunni Jihadists (some of whom are notably reported to be Al Qaeda fighters) from the other Arab countries that are majority Sunni. The Arab Shiites, a distinct minority among all Arabs outside of Iraq, have not been able to draw on a larger body of co-religionists for support. Though no doubt Iranian agents are providing money, weapons, and other assistance.

If the Bush Administration had immediately put the old Iraqi Army in control of maintaining order after the invasion then the Iraqi Army might have been able to maintain its legitimacy in the eyes of many Iraqis. But the attempt to create a new Army makes it seem too much like a puppet of the United States rather than an independent entity with nationalistic legitimacy in its own right. The legitimacy now rests with the opponents of US occupation and with opponents of secular democracy.

At this point I am watching to see whether Sistani tries to build up his own Shia militia to oppose Sadr's Mahdi Army or whether Sistani might try to convert the Mahdis to obey him. As long as Sistani does not have his own military forces I think he's going to be in the position the Pope was in when Stalin famously remarked "How many divisions does the Pope have?" (and hundreds of years ago during some periods the Pope did command substantial military forces). Also, I'm watching to see if the Shia and Sunni militias start fighting each other. My guess is that if the US military was to pull back then the Shias and Sunnis might go at it. Perhaps if Kerry gets elected he will draw down US forces and let the Iraqis focus their fighting on each other.

By Randall Parker    2004 August 29 03:58 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2004 August 25 Wednesday
Attack Pace Has Not Slackened In Iraq

The Mahdi Army is building a parallel government.

In most cities where the Mahdi Army is present, there are Mahdi Army religious courts for resolving disputes and punishing criminals; Mahdi Army police patrols; and even Mahdi Army town councils for planning social programs.

All of these services pay political dividends, earning the admiration of many Shiites who don't necessarily support Sadr or his militia. And while Sadr's militia has suffered major losses in Najaf, by standing up to the US and Iraqi forces for weeks, Sadr has also raised his stature in the eyes of many Iraqis.

If Sadr can manage to stay alive his influence may eventually eclipse that of Sistani. Besides, Sistani is old. If Sistani dies from old age will some of Sistani's current supporters shift their support to Sadr?

The emergence of a religious government in the Shia area of Iraq is an argument for partition. At least the Sunni and Kurdish areas could be kept free of control by a Shia religious government.

Sovereignty transfer has not provided any security benefit so far.

A USA TODAY database and analysis of unclassified U.S. government security reports, show attacks against U.S. and allied forces have averaged 49 a day since the hand-over of sovereignty June 28, compared with 52 a day in the four weeks leading up to the transfer.

American officials keep making wrong predictons about events in Iraq.

U.S. officials had said they expected the attacks to drop as Iraqis re-established control over their country. Their thinking: Iraqi security forces would be better at gathering intelligence, and support for militants would erode because insurgents would be attacking Iraqis rather than U.S. occupation forces.

One retired Marine Corps officer sees the battle against insurgents as lasting for 10 years if the United States is willing to stay and fight that long. That would put the United States in Iraq until 2014.

“If we have the political will and stamina to stay, I could see this going on for 10 years,” says Randolph Gangle, a retired officer who heads the Marine Corps' Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities in Quantico, Va.

Any of my optimistic hawk readers want to go on record and tell us when the level of attacks will drop to below half the current level? How about when will attacks drop to a quarter and then a tenth of the current level?

By Randall Parker    2004 August 25 03:33 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2004 August 17 Tuesday
Reporter Visits With Civilians Caught On Najaf Frontline Fighting

Writing for the Christian Science Monitor Scott Baldauf was in Najaf covering the fighting between US forces and Sadr's Mahdi Army and had to take refuge in a house with local civilian non-combatants. Baldauf found that the local Shias disliked the Mahdi Army but disliked the US forces even more.

At 10 a.m., the Najafis are in their front guest room. Seated on the floor, a cushion at his elbow, neighbor Ahmed al-Ramahe rues the day he ever heard of the Mahdi Army or its 30-year-old radical Shiite leader, Moqtada al-Sadr. "They say they're fighting for freedom, but they're killing more people than Saddam Hussein," he says, and the other men nod. "They know it's impossible for them to win this war. And we're stuck in the middle. We get most of the casualties. The Mahdi Army are just shooting foolishly, destroying our houses."

Two of the same men who nodded in agreement about their dislike for the Mahdi Army also caught a 15 year old kid spying on the Mahdi fighters and turned the kid over to the Mahdis to almost certainly be killed.

Back inside the courtyard, Ahmed and Sameer tell of their disappointment with the Americans. Originally, they greeted the Americans as liberators from Saddam Hussein, who repressed Iraq's Shiite majority. Now they see the Americans as occupiers. As moderate Shiites who follow the moderate Shiite Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani, they originally condemned the Mahdi Army's hopeless fight against the powerful Americans - and the inevitable death and destruction it will bring - but now they sympathize with the Mahdi Army fighters.

Ahmed tells how he and Sameer discovered a 15-year old boy who had been acting as a spy for the Americans. He had been carrying a GPS (global positioning system) device in his sleeve, marking the positions of all the Mahdi Army units in the neighborhood. Ahmed and Sameer chased the boy down, and handed him over to the Mahdi Army, knowing they would probably torture and kill him.

"We wish the Mahdi Army would defeat the Americans, even though we are not for the Mahdi Army," says Sameer.

Baldauf did a good job of capturing the sensibilities of these people. Their loyalties run to extended family, religious sect, and other places unconducive to the sort of political and social transformation that the proponents of Middle Eastern democratization dream about.

By Randall Parker    2004 August 17 04:07 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (64)
2004 July 26 Monday
Will US Military Operations In Iraq Rise After Election?

Jim Hoagland argues that the Bush Administration has dialed back US military operations in Iraq until after the election is over.

If recent events are a guide, Iraq's civilians will bear the brunt of the low-intensity war that rages in their country while U.S. troops avoid seeking pitched battles over the next three months.

Three developments that came in quick order in April raise that possibility and may have changed the course of the war in Iraq, at least until Election Day: U.S. troops were ordered to storm Sunni and Shiite rebel strongholds to halt the spreading insurgency. U.S. military deaths climbed significantly, reaching 134 that month. And U.S. public support for the war as expressed in opinion polls began to drop sharply as battles in Fallujah, Karbala and Najaf dominated news coverage.

Hoagland points out that part of the reduction in US offensive operations is due to the Allawi government's veto power over US operations. But the Bush Administration had already decided to pull back from wiping out the insurgents in Fallujah well before Allawi's government gained sovereignty.

Anyone want to bet whether the US casualty rate will be higher in December, January, and February than in August, September, and October? The answer depends in part on whether the Iraqi government can develop better means for fighting the insurgency on its own. Currently the Iraqis are suffering a much higher casualty rate than the American forces. Will a new Bush or Kerry Administration face demands from the Iraqi government for higher rates of US offensive operations against insurgent strongholds? Will the lower rate current rate of US military operations allow the insurgents to build up strength in the mean time? Or will the Iraqi government, with its greater knowledge of the players and a greater willingness to be cutthroat, bribe and assassinate the insurgent leaders into giving up the fight?

In a separate article Hoagland also argues that alliances are shifting as a result of different nations fighting together in Iraq.

Durable alliances are held together not by ink on treaties but by the blood that soldiers from different nations shed for a common cause. The sacrifices and hardships that soldiers (and today many civilians) endure together provide anchors for relationships that are inevitably buffeted by the passing diplomatic and political tempests of the day.

World War II did that for the United States and Britain, which have again solidified their "special relationship" in Iraq. The Cold War did the same in different ways for NATO. New anchors will be formed in Iraq as well, even if many governments joined the coalition out of calculation as much as conviction -- that is, even though they may have sent forces to strengthen their political and economic ties with Washington rather than out of a great zeal to be in Iraq.

But how long-lasting will these alliances turn out to be? The Cold War alliance was long-lasting out of necessity. The alliance of forces in Iraq will likely not last very long. We have to look at the various state actors and ask how these alliances will play out.

South Korea's troop contribution to Iraq is probably going to help South Korea keep the US committed to defending South Korea even as South Korea follows a policy of appeasement toward North Korea. Japan also gains renewed US committment toward helping Japan stay out of China's orbit of influence. Though if China continues on its path of long term economic rise then at best Japan will have helped to buy a delaying action.

With the European participants in Iraq the long term effects are even more doubtful. European allies in Iraq such as Italy and Poland could easily decide to pull troops out as a result of an election just as Spain has done. Berlusconi in Italy is already on weak political ground and Tony Blair's positioned is weakened in part due to British involvement in the Iraq invasion. Also, unless the new European Union constitution fails to be ratified the expansion of the EU is gradually going to take away member-state freedom to pursue separate security. In the future the majority of EU states will probably oppose involvements such as in Iraq.

By Randall Parker    2004 July 26 11:14 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2004 July 05 Monday
Jordan To Supply Soldiers To Iraq

Jordan's King Abdullah says Jordan will supply troops for security work in Iraq.

He told a television interviewer: "Now there's an interim government and, we hope, a fully independent process very soon in Iraq. If the Iraqis ask for help it will be very difficult for us to say no. My message is: Tell us what you want and we have 110 per cent support for this.

"My position has been beforehand not to send troops because of Jordanian history with Iraq. I felt [then] that all countries that surround Iraq have their own agendas, so maybe we are not the right people to go in for the job."

I would expect Jordanian troops to have a considerable advantage in intelligence efforts due to their native Arabic fluency and understanding of Iraqi culture. But Abdullah may run the risk of some of his troops coming back radicalized by the experience.

One advantage for Jordan in waiting till now to send troops is that the Jordanians can treat the request to send troops as coming from the new Iraqi government rather than from the United States. Arab brothers answer the call of Arabs for help. Has a much more positive spin. Jordan doesn't play puppet. It is just out there doing a duty for its neighbors to help them out. But the United States will no doubt finance the Jordanian effort, perhaps as aid to Jordan labelled for other purposes.

Now that a UN resolution has been passed and partial sovereignty has been granted to an Iraqi government Pakistan too may send troops to Iraq.

"Pakistan is likely to send its troops to Iraq well before the next general elections in that country [scheduled for early next year]," says former director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence, retired Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul, in a telephone interview with Asia Times Online.


Gul is the architect of Pakistan's jihadi movement, which played an active role in Kashmir and Afghanistan.

When in power at Inter-Services Intelligence(ISI) Gul was a supporter of the Taliban and may also have been a supporter of Al Qaeda. Musharraf could not engineer such a large change in Pakistan's policy toward the Taliban and Al Qaeda without tossing out some ISI top brass. It is possible that Gul is correct but he might just be trying to apply pressure to Musharraf to prevent a decision to send troops to Iraq.

By Randall Parker    2004 July 05 09:06 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2004 July 03 Saturday
Coalition Provisional Authority Failures Highlighted

Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post has written an excellent three part series on the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), Iraq, and the failure of the US effort to politically remake Iraq on the scale that neoconservative proponents of the war claimed was their goal. First off, little of the aid money has been spent.

About 15,000 Iraqis have been hired to work on projects funded by $18.6 billion in U.S. aid, despite promises to use the money to employ at least 250,000 Iraqis by this month. At of the beginning of June, 80 percent of the aid package, approved by Congress last fall, remained unspent.

Jobs went to political partisans who didn't know what they were doing.

Despite the scale of their plans, and Bremer's conclusion by last July that Iraq would need "several tens of billions of dollars" for reconstruction, CPA specialists had virtually no resources to fund projects on their own to create much-needed local employment in the months after the war. Instead, they relied on two U.S. firms, Halliburton Co. and Bechtel Corp., which were awarded large contracts to patch Iraq's infrastructure.

The CPA also lacked experienced staff. A few development specialists were recruited from the State Department and nongovernmental organizations. But most CPA hiring was done by the White House and Pentagon personnel offices, with posts going to people with connections to the Bush administration or the Republican Party. The job of reorganizing Baghdad's stock exchange, which has not reopened, was given in September to a 24-year-old who had sought a job at the White House. "It was loyalty over experience," a senior CPA official said.

Chandrasekaran reports that Baghdad still has intermittent electric power and a major electric plant is not only not producing as much as the CPA predicted but it is actually producing far less power than it did last summer.

Although the $18.6 billion reconstruction aid package was approved by Congress in November, the Pentagon office charged with spending it has moved slowly. About $3.7 billion of this package had been spent by June 1, according to the CPA. Many projects that have received funding have slowed or stopped entirely because Western firms have withdrawn employees from Iraq in response to attacks on civilian contractors.

CPA officials contend the money should have been earmarked and spent far sooner. Had that happened, they argue, the CPA could have retained much of the goodwill that existed among Iraqis after the U.S. invasion and possibly weakened the insurgency.

If the US had come with more troops and had not disbanded the old Iraqi Army then the security situation would not have gotten anywhere near as bad. The need to keep Iraq's Army around was necessitated in part by the limited size of the US Army. But the US Army also didn't have enough enough local language and culture skills. Plus, US soldiers were always going to be seen as outsiders and not trusted. A local force would have been able to do things the US Army was not able to do.

The extent of the dislike of US forces was already quite pronounced in June 2003 but US soldiers couldn't talk to the locals to find out how much hostility was already present among the locals. So they deluded themslves into thinking they were more popular than was really the case. The lack of local language skills greatly hobbles the ability of a military force to conduct counter-insurgency operations. This has been apparent in Iraq and also in Afghanistan.

Also, if the Bushies hadn't insisted upon an ideological litmus test for all CPA workers then the average level of competence of CPA workers would have been much higher and the CPA could have staffed up much more quickly. But the comrades wanted only true believers to serve since they thought anyone else would have been determined to sabotage the revolution. Now we get to witness true believers like Andrew Sullivan arguing that Bush just wasn't fervent and competent enough in pursuit of the utopian idea. Yet these true believers did not foresee many of the problems that arose and obviously have a very flawed model of what makes liberal democracy possible and, more generally, a flawed model of human nature. The failure in Iraq was not simply due to poor implementation. The very concept of what they were trying to do was flawed.

Another mistake in implementation was the failure to appropriate aid money sooner. Plus, the US military could have been given a lot more money from the very start to spend on public works projects around the country. If the US military had been given the money to complete many visible projects at a very rapid rate from about the moment of Saddam's fall the mood of the populace would have gone in a direction that, while still unfavorable, would not have been as unfavorable.

John Agresto, CPA man in charge of education in Iraq, got all of $8 million to rebuild and reform higher education in Iraq.

Agresto and his staff of 10 sent funding requests to the CPA officials who were compiling the administration's aid package. But word came back that the administration would focus its request on rebuilding Iraq's security services and electrical infrastructure. The White House planned to ask Congress for only $35 million for higher education. The rest would have to come from foreign donors.

Iraq has no chance of developing even a semi-liberal democracy without an elite that has been given a deeply liberal education. Of course, Iraq has little chance of developing a semi-liberal democracy anyhow. But if the Bushies were serious and understood what was entailed in trying to develop Iraq into a sustainable democracy they would have asked for more than $35 million. As it was Congress only appropriated $8 million.

At the conference in October, donor nations pledged in excess of $400 million for Iraqi universities. But none of that money has arrived in Baghdad.

"There was a lot of talk," he said, "but little follow-through."

The same thing occurred on Capitol Hill. The $35 million request was whittled down to $8 million.

At Mustansiriya, where the labs are devoid of equipment and the student union is in a charred building, acting President Taki Moussawi said he has stopped waiting for help from the Americans. "We've had so many promises, so many hopes," he said as he walked through a gutted structure that used to be the president's office. "We don't believe the Americans anymore. We're just disappointed."

Why spend a couple hundred billion on a country and then spend so little on anything that might have caused lasting beneficial changes? Yet you will not find neoconservative commentators writing critical pieces about Bush Administration higher education funding in Iraq.

Agresto now realizes that Bush Administration ambitions were much too high.

"We should have been less ambitious," Agresto said. "Our goal should have been to build a free, safe and a prosperous Iraq -- with the emphasis on safe. Democratic institutions could be developed over time. Instead, we keep talking about democratic elections. If you asked an ordinary Iraqi what they want, the first thing they would say wouldn't be democracy or elections, it would be safety. They want to be able to walk outside their homes at night."

Agresto doesn't think Iraq will become a liberal democracy.

He said he still believes Iraq will become a democracy, but not the sort of democracy the Bush administration envisions. "Will it be a free democracy? A liberal democracy?" he said. "I don't think so."

In Iraq local government council meetings keep out citizens because the council members are afraid of assassination. Chandrasekaran reports on one city council meeting held with US and Iraqi snipers stationed on the building to protect it while the meeting was in session. How can democracy function in such an environment? I had been under the impression that the local councils had been formed by elections. But Chandrasekaran reports that security concerns prevented local governments from being chosen by popular election and this combined with their very limited power has made these councils seem like American tools.

Despite calls from Iraqi politicians for the participants to be chosen by popular vote, the CPA deemed municipal elections too risky last summer. They worried that religious extremists and Baathists would manipulate the process. Instead, the CPA asked the Research Triangle Institute, which had a U.S. government contract to promote democracy in Iraq, to organize neighborhood caucuses to select the councils.

Participants in the caucuses were screened by Americans who supervised the entire process. As a result, the councils were filled with people who owed their jobs more to the CPA than to the public. "The community saw us as tools of the Americans," said Ali Aziz, the secretary of the Rashid council. "It was the beginning of our problems." Nurturing New Leaders

Can the terrorists prevent elections or scare people into choosing radicals? How can a government be open if elected officials are afraid to meet with their public?

Sharif, the Rashid chairman, said one of the most important items before the council after June 30 will be scheduling local elections. "Right now, many people do not think we are legitimate," he said. "That would change if we were elected by the people."

But Sharif said he recognized that holding an election before the end of the year would be impossible because of the security situation. Campaigning for a January national election will be hard enough, he said. Right now, he said, only a fool would attempt to go door to door or hold a community meeting to meet with constituents. "It's far too dangerous," he said.

Asked who he thought his chief rival would be, he did not pause.

"Terrorism," he said.

It was difficult to choose pieces to excerpt from Chandrasekaran's three part series. If you want to get a better appreciation of just how many mistakes the Bush Administration made in Iraq I strongly recommend reading it in full. There are many facets of problems that are not mentioned above. Also, for more general treatments start here for a list of obstacles to democracy in the Middle East and start here for links to past posts on consanguineous marriage and the reason its high incidence in the Middle East makes corruption and the lack of a civil society inevitable. Also see my recent post on past failed efforts by the United States to reform societies into liberal democracies.

By Randall Parker    2004 July 03 03:51 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2004 May 28 Friday
Looting For Export Continues In Iraq

Thought the looting in Iraq must have stopped by now? Writing for the New York Times James Glanz reports on continued looting of valuable equipment from Iraq. (same article here)

Recent examinations of Jordanian scrapyards, including by a reporter for The New York Times, have turned up an astounding quantity of scrap metal and new components from Iraq's civil infrastructure, including piles of valuable copper and aluminum ingots and bars, large stacks of steel rods and water pipe and giant flanges for oil equipment — all in nearly mint condition — as well as chopped-up railroad boxcars, huge numbers of shattered Iraqi tanks and even beer kegs marked with the words "Iraqi Brewery."

"There is a gigantic salvage operation, stripping anything of perceived value out of the country," said John Hamre, president and chief executive of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan Washington research institute, which sent a team to Iraq and issued a report on reconstruction efforts at the request of the Pentagon last July.

A Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman is quoted as saying that the 100+ trucks hauling scrap metal into Jordan each day are not carrying anything of high value. But one Jordanian engineer sees obvious evidence that this is not the case.

But Muhammad al-Dajah, an engineer who is technical director Jordanian free-trade zones like the Sahab scrapyard, pointed with chagrin to piles of other items that hardly looked as if they belonged in a shipment of scrap metal. There were new 15-foot-long bars of carbon steel, water pipes a foot in diameter stacked in triangular piles 10 feet high, and the large flanges he identified as oil-well equipment.

"It's still new," Mr. Dajah said, "and worth a lot."

"Why are they here?" he asked rhetorically, and then said, referring to the devastation in Iraq. "They need it there."

What Iraq obviously needs is a better internal black market so that the stolen goods can stay in the country to be used for local purposes. But the fact that the equipment is being exported suggests there is not enough enough internal demand for construction materials.

Well, look at it on the bright side: The US has been very slow in spending money in Iraq to rebuild. This has prevented lots of US taxpayer dollars from buying equipment that would have been stolen and exported.

How to create an efficient internal market for security? If government-owned industries were more rapidly privatized would that create more incentives to protect valuable assets?

There is a continuing need in Iraq for replacement oil equipment as existing equipment gets stolen or blown up. The Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS) provides a useful resource for tracking attacks on oil facilities in Iraq with its Iraq Pipeline Watch.

51. May 8 - attack on oil pipeline taking crude northwards from the country’s southern oilfields at point 25 miles (40 km) south of Baghdad, oil ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said on Saturday, noting it would take several days to start pumping oil again.
52. May 9 - blast near a strategic oil pipeline network linking north and south Iraq, by the town of Musayyib, about 56 miles (90 km) south of Baghdad. Unclear what caused the explosion or whether the pipeline itself was damaged.
53. May 13 - rocket landed in a gas plant at the Daura oil refinery in Baghdad, injured a worker and caused a fire.
54. May 24 - explosion badly damaged the Northern pipeline at around 7pm local time on a section between the Kirkuk oilfields and the Dibis pumping installations. A security official of Iraq's Northern Oil Company, Juma Ahmad, said pumping had to be stopped to fight the fire. Another security official for Northern Oil, Issam Muhammad, said while the fire had been put out it would take 12 days to repair the damage.

Imagine what the effect would be on the world's economy if Saudi Arabia decayed to this level of instability.

By Randall Parker    2004 May 28 02:47 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2004 May 23 Sunday
More Accusations About Chalabi Deceptions

Foreign confirmations of US intelligence estimates of Iraqi WMD development may have been produced by false information that the Iraqi National Congress fed to intelligence agencies in other countries. (LA Times, free registration required)

It is not clear whether Iran had any role in the alleged use of the INC to provide disinformation to the West. U.S. officials say the INC may have been acting on its own when it sent out a steady stream of defectors from 1998 to 2003 with apparently coordinated claims about Baghdad's purported weapons of mass destruction.

Because even friendly spy services rarely share the identities of their informants or let outsiders meet or debrief their sources, it has only in recent months become clear that Chalabi's group sent defectors with inaccurate or misleading information to Denmark, England, Italy, France, Germany, Spain and Sweden, as well as to the United States, the officials said.

Expect the Bush Administration to spln this by arguing that if so many countries could be fooled then there is not special negligence on the part of the Bushies. That argument will sound plausible to some people. But if this report about INC deception of intelligence agencies of many countries is true it points to a serious deficiency in the hiring practices of intelligence agencies in Western countries. They need the level of talent (particularly in science and technology but also in cultural knowledge and economics training) that would allow them to see through deceptions which they currently are easily fooled by.

It might be that the Iraqi National Congress (INC) deceptions on Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) development in Iraq were really initiated run by Chalabi. But even if Iran's government wasn't in charge of the deception project it seems very possible that Chalabi used the Iranians for technical assistance to produce materials that would fool Western governments into thinking that documents and drawings really came from within Saddam's regime.

So many governments may have been conned by Chalabi. I have to admire his skill at deceit. The guy has a bachelor's from MIT and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in math and by all reports I've read he has a very fast mind. Well, he's apparently smart enough to fool many different governments. If the accusations now being made about him are confirmed he may turn out to be one of the most clever spies in history.

Andrew Cockburn reports that Chalabi is trying to become a major Shia factional leader and aims to overthrow the appointed government that will shortly be granted partial sovereignty.

Lashing out against his exclusion from power, he has in effect been laying the groundwork for a coup, assembling a Shia political coalition with the express aim of destabilising the "Brahimi" government even before it takes office. "He has been mobilising forces to make sure the UN initiative fails," one well connected Iraqi political observer, who knows Chalabi well, told me today. "Hehas been tellling these people that Brahimi is part of a Sunni conspiracy against the Shia."

This scheme is by no means wholly outlandish. Chalabi has recruited significant Shia support, including Ayatollah Mohammed Bahr al Uloom, a leading member of the Governing Council and two other lesser known Council members. Significantly, his support also includes a faction of the Dawa Party that has been excluded from the political process by the occupation authority and which also supports rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Other recently recruited allies include Iraqi Hezbollah. All are joined in a Chalabi dominated Supreme Shia Council, similar to a sectarian Lebanese model. "Sooner rather than later," the Iraqi observer, a close student of Shia politics, points out, "Moqtada al Sadr is going to be killed. That willl leave tens, hundreds of thousands of his supporters looking for a new leader. If Ahmed plays the role of victim, he can take on that role. His dream has always been to be a sectarian Shia leader."

Chalabi's ability to get control of so many files of the old Saddam Hussein regime does not reflect well on the Bush Administration.

His prescient seizure of Saddam's intelligence files a year ago has equipped him with a useful tool to intimidate opponents

I first became aware of this while reading about the investigation of the UN oil for food program from the Saddam days. The reports relayed claims that Chalabi is holding back the files that are the basis of his claim of large scale corruption in the UN administration of the program. The immediate question comes up: Why didn't the US military and the CIA grab all these files when they first entered Baghdad? Why wouldn't the US want all the regime files for intelligence purposes? Did Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith all sign off on Chalabi's INC getting control of these files? I'd ask whether they are that foolish but there is already ample evidence to answer that question in the affirmative. Chalabi appears to be more clever and worldly wise than his neocon supporters.

The raids on the INC and Chalabi's residence may have been motivated in part to get the UN oil-for-food documents that he was believed to possess.

Many of the documents alleging bribes in the program were believed to be under Ahmed Chalabi's control.

Even as Chalabi has been trumpeting the perfidy of UN officials involved in the oil-for-food-program Chalabi may have been holding back information about them from the public domain in order to blackmail those UN officials.

A U.S. defense official in Washington told The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity that the raid resulted from suspicions that Mr. Chalabi was blackmailing people involved in the disbanded U.N. oil-for-food program, the subject of several graft investigations.

"The investigation centers on suspicions that Chalabi was extorting money from Iraqis who have been implicated" in the scandal, the official said.

But the New York Post argues that the US State Department wants to block the oil-for-food investigation.

Of course, it's no secret that powerful elements in the State Department have actively opposed efforts to investigate the U.N. Oil for Food scandal.

And it may be that the Bush administration itself wants to go easy on the U.N., and Secretary General Kofi Annan, now that it is seeking to have the U.N. help shape a new Iraqi government.

Robin Gedye of the Daily Telegraph says the US raids to get the documents may have been motivated by a desire to save friendly foreign governments from embarrassment.

Ahmad Chalabi is in possession of "miles" of documents with the potential to expose politicians, corporations and the United Nations as having connived in a system of kickbacks and false pricing worth billions of pounds.

That may have been enough to provoke yesterday's American raid. So explosive are the contents of the files that their publication would cause serious problems for US allies and friendly states around the globe.

It may well be the case that Chalabi is using UN food-for-oil files to blackmail people and the US government is trying to save some governments from embarrassing disclosures. There are certainly non-democratic but friendly governments (hint: what is located East of the West Bank?) that the US would try very hard to protect from revelations that could be destabilising.

If Chalabi is smart he has taken some documents that are highly damanging to US allies and he's set it up so that the documents only get released if Chalabi is killed or held for some brutal interrogations. Chalabi needs that kind of insurance at this point because he has a really long and growing list of powerful enemies including one especially powerful one: George W. Bush.

Update: On this topic Laura Rozen has a lot of great information at her War And Peace blog. Read about "Curveball" the INC agent who fed false information to German intelligence about Iraqi WMD efforts. Also read about the fight to control the US-funded INC intelligence agency called the Information Collection Program. Props to Steve Sailer for pointing out Rozen's blog.

Everything about Chalabi's past activities, WMD misinformation, the Iran connection, and the battle between the neocons and other factions in the US is the biggest story happening right now. Read all about it. It is incredibly important.

Update II: Evan Thomas and Mark Hosenball report for Newsweek that the White House bypassed the Pentagon in allowing the raids against Chalabi.

May 31 issue - For the hard-liners at the Defense Department, the raid came as a surprise. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his senior deputies, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, got the news from the media. When Iraqi police, guarded by American GIs, burst into the home and offices of Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress, looking for evidence of kidnapping, embezzlement, torture and theft, the men who run the Pentagon were left asking some uncomfortable questions. "Who signed off on this raid?" wondered one very high-ranking official. "What were U.S. soldiers doing there?" asked another, according to a source who was present in the room.


Though Bremer was picked for his Baghdad job by Rumsfeld, he has fallen out with the Pentagon and now speaks more regularly to Rice and her staff at the White House. The uniformed military is in almost open revolt against its civilian masters in the offices of Wolfowitz and Feith. The troops resent the Bush administration hard-liners as dangerously ideological.

Are the neocons way far out of the loop? Could Dubya be feeling some serious anger at them for leading him down the Chalabi Iraq path? There has to be a point where Dubya figures out he's been very poorly served by some of his advisers. Though he's also been very poorly served by himself he still wants to get reelected and he certainly does have good reason to be mad at the neoconservatives in his Administration.

Update III: Time reports signs that the break with Chalabi represents a much larger shift in American policy.

It may still take months for the U.S. to sort out just how much damage its flirtation with Chalabi has wrought. Bush Administration officials argue that their willingness to cut Chalabi loose shows that the U.S. is learning from the faulty assumptions that have plagued the occupation for more than a year. That's a point that Bush plans to stress in a series of speeches he will begin to deliver this week in an effort to prepare the country for June 30.

A willingness to accept that there are a lot of mistakes to learn from would represent a step in the right direction. Bush may feel a need to publically shift away from policies originally advocated by the neocons because the neocon policies are now so widely criticised and because the public at large has very serious doubts about the wisdom of the whole Iraq project. If an abandonment of neocon policies comes to be seen as a political necessity for Bush's reelection campaign then a lot of alternative policies and approaches which heretofore were beyond the pale may now be within the realm of the possible.

My guess is that Bush is going to try to engineer a rapprochement between the Shias and Sunnis so that Baathist intelligence and military figures can be used to run down the insurgents. Whether prominent Shia figures such as Sistani will sign off on such a deal remains to be seen. But the establishment Shia clerics have got to seriously fear the young Shia hotheads as well as some of the Sunni groups who try to kill them. Perhaps a deal can be made if it includes US guarantees that the US will keep the Sunnis from staging a coup and taking over entirely.

Update IV: On the whole subject of what is going on in George W. Bush's mind at this point Steve Sailer comments:

As you may have noticed, I'm not the biggest fan of Mr. Bush's leadership. But, he's finally waking up to how he got snookered. And I sure as hell trust my President in this dispute more than I trust the convicted Iraqi conman who is known throughout the bazaars of the Fertile Crescent as "Ahmed-the-Thief." I am astonished at the number of neocons who have, in the crisis, decided to turn against their President and side with Ahmed Chalabi.

Steve is responding in part to this quote of what Bush is reported to have told King Abdullah of Jordan:

"To King Abdullah of Jordan, Mr Bush remarked: 'You can piss on Chalabi.'"

Are the neocons going to continue to side with Bush? Some will. But some may not. See what Laurie Mylorie has to say about the raid on Chalabi. Or check out Michael Rubin on Chalabi. As the permanence and depth of the split between the Bush Administration and the INC sinks in some of the neocons who had placed huge hopes in Chalabi are going to find themselves unable to abandon their belief in the rightness of their judgement. So I expect many of those who decide to hold firmly to their faith in Chalabi will become more critical of Bush. The only thing that would shake that faith would be publically presented evidence of Chalabi's passing of vital secrets to Iran. But much of that investigation will probably be kept pretty secret unless and until prosecutions are filed against American citizens over what is found.

By Randall Parker    2004 May 23 03:17 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2004 May 22 Saturday
Did Iran Trick The Bush Administration About Iraq's WMD?

Knut Royce of Newsday reports that the Defense Intelligence Agency believes the Iraqi National Congress (INC) headed Ahmed Chalabi has been used as a tool to fool US intelligence about Iraq and to collect information about US activities. (same article here)

"Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi by furnishing through his Information Collection Program information to provoke the United States into getting rid of Saddam Hussein," said an intelligence source Friday who was briefed on the Defense Intelligence Agency's conclusions, which were based on a review of thousands of internal documents.


Patrick Lang, former director of the intelligence agency's Middle East branch, said he had been told by colleagues in the intelligence community that Chalabi's U.S.-funded program to provide information about weapons of mass destruction and insurgents was effectively an Iranian intelligence operation. "They [the Iranians] knew exactly what we were up to," he said.

He described it as "one of the most sophisticated and successful intelligence operations in history."

"I'm a spook. I appreciate good work. This was good work," he said.

Kurdish INC officlal Aras Karim (aka Aras Habib) is suspected of being a spy for Iran.

The inquiries are focusing on allegations of corruption, kidnapping and robbery, and on a U.S. suspicion that one of Chalabi's closest advisers is a paid agent of the Iranian intelligence service, according to U.S., INC and Iraqi police officials. The adviser, Aras Habib, has a long working relationship with the Defense Intelligence Agency and is now a fugitive.

Karim/Habib is (perhaps about to become "was") Chalabi's chief of security.

Two U.S. officials said that evidence suggests that Arras Habib, Chalabi's security chief, is a longtime agent of Iran's intelligence service, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, or MOIS.

A group of INC officials are alleged to have been going around Baghdad kidnapping people.

Andrew Cockburn reports that as early as 1995 the International Atomic Energy Agency found a document that appeared to be an Iranian forgery to make it look like the Iraqis were developing a nuclear bomb.

The document was almost faultless, but not quite. The scientists noticed that some of the technical descriptions used terms that would only be used by an Iranian. "Most notable," says one scientist, "was the use of the term 'dome'--'Qubba' in Iranian, instead of 'hemisphere'--'Nisuf Kura' in Arabic." In other words, the document had to have been originally written in Farsi by an Iranian scientist and then translated into Arabic.

Tom Killeen, of the Iraq Nuclear Verification Office at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, confirms this account of the incident. "After a thorough investigation the documents were determined not to be authentic and the matter was closed."

Asked how the IAEA obtained the document in the first place, Killeen replied "Khidir Hamza." Hamza was the former member of the Iraqi weapons team who briefly headed the bomb design group before being relegated to a sinecure posting (his effectiveness as a nuclear engineer was limited by his pathological fear of radioactivity and consequent refusal to enter any building where experiments were underway.) In 1994 he made his way to Ahmed Chalabi's headquarters in Iraqi Kurdistan, and eventually arrived in Washington. where he carved out a career based on an imaginative claim to have been "Saddam's Bombmaker."

As late as the summer of 2002 Hamza was being escorted by Chalabi's Washington representative Francis Brooke to the Pentagon to brief Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on details of Saddam's allegedly burgeoning nuclear weapons program.

The secrets that Iran learned were known by very few in Washington DC.

U.S. intelligence officials on Friday said Ahmed Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council with ties to senior Pentagon officials, gave intelligence secrets to Iran so closely held in the U.S. government that only "a handful" of senior officials know them.

Did the US official that gave Chalabi the information that he gave to the Iranians break national security laws by providing that information? Should, say, Wolfowitz or Feith be prosecuted for this?

The New York Post is reporting that King Abdullah of Jordan recently provided key information that Chalabi was extorting money Baathists to allow them to avoid arrest or to be eligible for jobs that were supposed to be off-limits to Baathists.

King Abdullah's dossier provided critical confirmation of U.S intelligence gathered elsewhere that the INC was playing a double game with Ba'athists and that Chalabi and his security chief were passing sensitive information to Iran.

It looks like the United States was played by Iran to go after Saddam Hussein's regime. The Bush Administration's professed main reason for invading Iraq was Iraq's programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. But the most dangerous WMDs at this point in time are nuclear weapons and it seemed obvious before the war that Iran had (and still has) a bigger effort to develop nuclear weapons. After all, Iran had very visible nuclear facilities under construction and more money and a larger population to support a nuclear program.

At this point the Bush Administration is rather like the boy who cried wolf. Who is going to believe the Bushies about Iran as a threat? The Bush Administration underestimated and didn't prepare for post-war occupation of Iraq, was incredibly naive about the obstacles in the way of building a democracy, and all the WMD news and the post-war events in Iraq have seriously undermined the US government's ability to stop Iran's or North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. The US has spent more than $100 billion on Iraq and the amount is still rising with estimates of total cost running between $300 billion and $450 billion.

If these reports about Iran fooling the United States come to be widely believed what is the political fall-out?

Even as the revelations about Chalabi and other INC officlals continue to pile up we can still find an assortment of neoconservatives defending Chalabi. See, for example, recent Chalabi defenses (and implicitly defenses of themselves for their long term support of Chalabi) by Kenneth Timmerman and Michael Rubin, Michael Ledeen, Frank Gaffney, and David Frum. For a excellent critical analysis of another recent Frum article defending Chalabi see Noah Millman's dissection of Frum on Chalabi. In retrospect I really didn't pay enough attention either to Chalabi or to the top neocons such as Feith and Perle. I naively thought the US government foreign policy couldn't be under control of a bunch of ideologues and expected that Bush would have appointed people to the Defense Department who were more empirical and practical.

At this point the neocons are arguing that their critics are making too much of the leaks and speculation about INC links to Iran. But the major neocons active in Washington policy circles now suffer from serious credibility problems. The neocon judgements about Chalabi and the INC deserve the skeptical treatment they are receiving because so many other decisions made by neocon policy makers on Iraq both before and after the war were big mistakes. Many of the mistakes that might have been corrected were responded to with a recurring pattern of too little too late. These guys don't just make mistakes. They resist learning from their mistakes when the lessons would require them to abandon their incorrect models of the world. These guys are hopeless. The Bush Administration needs a housecleaning of its foreign policy apparatus. Most of Bush's major foreign policy figures should be replaced.

After pointing that confirmation of this report will be extremely humiliating to the US in the eyes of the world Steve Sailer asks two questions about these revelations:

First question: If the spin doesn't work, legally speaking, how does the Republican Party dump Bush? The primaries are all over and he won almost all the delegates. Can the delegates legally rebel at the GOP Convention or are they bound by law to vote for the Chump-in-Chief?

Second question: Who should replace Bush on the GOP ticket? The Cabinet is discredited, even Powell. For instant name recognition, the obvious choice would be Ah-nold, but he ain't eligible.

There's an added twist here: We can tell the Europeans and Arabs that they should be more mad at Iran than at the United States for the invasion of Iraq. We can't help we are a bunch of country hick rubes.

On the subject of who is to blame for what has gone wrong in Iraq: If Iran tricked the United States then why didn't the French intelligence agency figure it out in advance? The French or Russians could have stopped the war by digging up the intelligence in Iran that would show that was really happening. This whole affair demonstrates the need for absolutely great intelligence. The CIA didn't catch this one either. It is finally time for George Tenet to resign too?

Update: There are more twists and turns to this story than we can hope to get our minds around. Knut Royce says a Guantanamo prisoner provided information implicating Aras Karim Habib as an Iranian agent.

A U.S. intelligence source said that information about Karim's activities came in part from a detainee at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where hundreds of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters are being held.

But of course those people at Guantanamo are Taliban and Ql Qaeda. So what does that say about the connections between those groups and Iran as well?

A November 24, 2003 profile of Chalabi by Sally Quinn in the Washington Post shows the depth of the divisions in Washington DC over Chalabi. It is worth reading in full.

"He's a patriot who has the best interests of his country at heart," says Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

"He's a fake, one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated on the American people," says Pat Lang, the man who headed counterterrorism in the Middle East and South Asia for eight years at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

"He's a class act," says former CIA director Jim Woolsey.

"He is exasperating, frustrating and not a team player," says Whitley Bruner, a former CIA agent who worked with Chalabi in London.

"Unlike so many Iraqi oppositionists, he actually does what he says he's going to do," says Ken Pollack, research director at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

"If we pulled out he wouldn't last two hours," says former CIA agent Bob Baer. "He's like Rockefeller. He couldn't be president. He's a rich boy."

A July 23 2000 piece by Andrew Cockburn (see my previous link to another Cockburn piece above) about James Woolsey shows Woolsey was defending Aras Karim's brother Ali Karim and found out in a court case then that Aras Karim was already suspected by the CIA in the 1990s of being an Iranian agent.

There was one more surprise in store. For two years, Woolsey had been eloquent in denouncing the "blithering incompetence" of the I.N.S., which behaved "as if it were plucked from Pinochet's Chile." Now, in cross-examination by Woolsey and his fellow counsel, it emerged that all along, in the background, the C.I.A. had been pulling the strings. F.B.I. agents testified that Ali had been targeted because his cousin, Aras, the resistance commander in northern Iraq, was deemed by the C.I.A. to be on the Iranian payroll. Former colleagues of Aras's, including his leader, Ahmad Chalabi, and Warren Marik, a former agency case officer who had worked closely with him, testified eloquently and convincingly that the charges were groundless. So what was really going on here?

Woolsey had his suspicions. Operating in northern Iraq, Aras was known to have seriously irritated a senior C.I.A. official who resented Aras's and Chalabi's disinclination to follow orders. It was indeed possible, Woolsey speculated, that Ali had simply been the victim of a private C.I.A. "jihad" against his cousin and ended up spending three years in jail. "Jim has always operated at the top level," says Bill Butler, a fellow Washington lawyer and Woolsey's close friend and next-door neighbor. "It's educational for someone like him to see what happens at the bottom."

The use of the term "Jihad" is spin that ignores the possibility of a more Machiavellian motive on the part of the CIA. Sounds like the CIA might have been trying to use the threat of extradition of Ali Karim as a tool for leverage against Aras Karim.

Josh Marshall reports that already in 1998 Aras Karim Habib was suspected by the FBI to be an Iranian spy.

We've been discussing for some time that Chalabi's connections to the Iranians and his flow of money from the Iranians has been known about among Chalabi's Washington supporters for years. But suspicions that Aras Karim was an Iranian agent are not new either.

Take this October 13th, 1998 New York Times article, which says that "An F.B.I. report said Mr. Karim's cousin Aras Habib Muhamad Al-Ufayli, who had been the intelligence chief for the Iraqi National Congress, had a 'well-documented connection to Iranian intelligence.'"

Chalabi may benefit by being seen as an enemy of the United States.

By the time of the raid, Chalabi was already engaged in open political warfare with the Bush administration.

On Thursday he took that war a step further, declaring that now that the United States had liberated Iraq, it was time to get out of the way.

"My message . . . is let my people go, let my people be free,'' he said, clearly angry that his bedroom had been invaded, his computers and papers confiscated. "We are grateful to President Bush for liberating Iraq, but it is time for the Iraqi people to run their affairs,'' he said.

In order to remain a player in Iraq Chalabi had to distance himself from the United States anyhow. So this turning on the United States was predictable. Expect similar attempts by other major Iraqi figures to put distance between themselves and the United States as they all try to pose as ardent nationalsts (or ardent defenders of their sects).

Chalabi advisor Francis Brooke says the INC knew about the raid in advance and says it has helped the INC in Iraq.

One of Chalabi's advisers said Friday that INC officials received advance notice of U.S. plans to search the INC intelligence building and removed their computers weeks ago. The adviser, Francis Brooke, said "nothing of any intelligence value" was recovered in the raids.


But Brooke said the fallout has had political benefits, particularly in galvanizing council support for Chalabi.

Of course Chalabi wants to distance himself from the United States. He wants to portray himself as an Iraqi nationalist. It still seems unlikely he will succeed, what with INC members apparently running a kidnapping ring for profit and corruption charges being levelled at INC leaders he's not exactly as popular among Iraqis as he is among neoconservatives.

Leaders of Jewish political groups have apparently been arguing with each other for years over whether Chalabi could deliver friendlier Iraqi relations with Israel.

Some also worry that Chalabi's good words won't translate into a pro- Israel foreign policy. Pressure to garner support from inside Iraq and the rest of the Arab world could force the INC to abandon its pro-Israel position.

In addition, the Bush administration's appointment of a military leader and encouragement of a dissident group with ties to Israel has played into conspiracy theories in the Arab world that the United States went to war in Iraq for Israel's benefit — perhaps constraining the next Iraqi government's latitude to approach Israel.

"It's far too early to even speculate where any of them will be and what their positions will be," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "It never works out the way people think it is going to work out."

Neoconsevative hopes that a regime change in Iraq would produce a government friendly to Israel were always naive and never had a chance of succeeding. Any new government in Iraq is going to need to prove itself to the populace as a nationalistic government which is not a puppet of the United States or Israel. Therefore such a government will not be able to afford to take a foreign policy position that is out of sync with general Arab sentiments against Israel. Chalabi conned the neocons. Iran, Chalabi, and the neocons conned the American people. That's a bitter pill to swallow. But we can begin to limit the extent of the damage if we accept what happened.

Update II: The neocons who believed Chalabi as leader of Iraq would want to make peace with Israel are naive not just because of the sentiments of the masses in Iraq but also because of the likely motives of Chalabi himself. Why would Chalabi personally want to make peace with Israel? What would have been in it for him to even attach much importance to that as a goal? The neocon expectations about him seem ridiculous on so many levels. Why would any ardent Iraqi nationalist who rises to power in Iraq see any reason to make peace with Israel? Also, why would an extremely ambitious Iraqi living in exile desperate for backing from powerful Americans be expected to be honest in his pursuit of that influence? The neocons are so parochial with their interest in Israel that they have a real problem understanding people who have radically different sets of priorities.

By Randall Parker    2004 May 22 03:20 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2004 May 19 Wednesday
Assassination Underscores Security As Top Problem In Iraq

The slaying of Basra Shiite Governing Council member Izzedin Salim is yet another setback.

BAGHDAD, May 17 -- The president of the Iraqi Governing Council was killed in a suicide car bombing Monday as his motorcade waited to enter the headquarters of the U.S. occupation authority.

And is part of a larger pattern...

From Mosul in the north to Basra, insurgents have been systematically killing Iraqi translators, municipal politicians, tribal sheiks and political leaders working with the occupation authority. The effect has been to isolate the authority from most Iraqis and the intelligence they could provide against the rising insurgency.

But some Iraqis in a town west of Baghdad are very happy that Salim was killed.

RAMADI, Iraq, May 18 (IPS) - Motorists honked in celebration in this western Iraqi town as news spread of the assassination of the president of the Iraqi Governing Council Ezzidin Salim Monday.

Many people clapped, and raised their fists. "The GC is nothing," one man shouted. "They are not the Governing Council. They are the Prostitution Council."

Sfook, a storeowner in the city said: "They are not Iraqi! They weren't here suffering during Saddam's time like we were. They are only puppets of the Americans!"

Members of Iraq's Governing Council are afraid they will be next to die.

"If something is not done about this security situation, there will be no transfer of power," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the council.

Othman, who is generally pro-American, described the assassination as only the most extreme example of the lawlessness that has grown in the year since President Saddam Hussein was driven from power. "Never in Iraq has it been like this -- never, even under Saddam," he said. "People are killed, kidnapped and assaulted; children are taken away; women are raped. Nobody is afraid of any punishment."

Rajaa Habib Khuzai, a Shiite Muslim physician on the council, said, "The assassins gave a warning signal to every member of the Governing Council: We could be next."

Othman says that the US soldiers do not have the skills to do policing and that they are grabbing innocent people at random and sticking them in Abu Ghraib prison. Given that the US soldiers lack the Arabic language skills to even communicate with the populace they are trying to police (a problem I've previously described in June 2003 and in January 2004 and in February 2004 - see any signs of improvement? I don't) Othman's statement is not surprising. It was incredibly naive of the Bush Administration to think that the US Army wasn't going to require even more training to handle occupation than it received for invasion. Imagine (assuming you are not Finnish) your local police came from another country and all spoke Finnish and that most on patrol didn't even have a translator along with them. Imagine that some of your neighbors shot at the police. How good a job do you think your police would do?

Can the Iraqis build up police and intelligence forces that are going to be effective at tracking down the bombers and the assassins? If, as seems likely, the US military isn't going to be able to break into and take down the many groups that are launching attacks, then we are many months away from reaching the point where security can be established in Iraq. A British general says it will take a year to build up the Iraqi police.

British Major General Freddie Viggers, who served in Iraq as a deputy commander to US General Ricardo Sanchez, spoke to members of the House Armed Services Committee along with Major General Simon Willis, the head of the Australian Defence Staff, and Lieutenant General Mieczyslaw Cieniuch of Poland about their countries' operations in Iraq.


"I think we're off to a good start" in organising an Iraqi police, he said. "How much longer have we got to go ... I think there's another year's - probably year's worth of work."

Paul Wolfowitz acknowledges the gap between plan and reality.

"We had a plan that anticipated, I think, that we could proceed with an occupation regime for much longer than it turned out the Iraqis would have patience for. We had a plan that assumed we'd have basically more stable security conditions than we've encountered," Wolfowitz told the senators.

Some military officers fear the Bush Administraton's response to reality has involved too much embrace of expediency.

Some military officers are also concerned that Washington is now cutting back on its original goal of eliminating major flash points in Iraq before June 30. They say the United States has basically retreated in Fallujah, handing over control of the Sunni city to a former Iraqi general who is now commanding some of the very insurgents U.S. forces were fighting -- again, in the name of expediency.

One of the great hopes of the neoconservatives in the Bush Administration for acceptable post-war Iraq rule was Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress. Amidst allegations that the INC provided no useful intelligence and that much of what it provided was fabricated and false combined with Chalabi's obvious unpopularity in Iraq the Bush Administration has given up on its dream of Chalabi as the future ruler of Iraq.

The Iraqi National Congress was informed Friday that the $335,000 payment it has received monthly from the Defense Intelligence Agency would stop in June, they said.

The funding cutoff represents a major setback to some in the administration, who had hoped to position INC leader Ahmed Chalabi as head of a democratic Iraqi government that would sign a peace treaty with Israel, allow the United States to build permanent military bases in Iraq, and serve as a model for the rest of the Middle East.

We are more than a year past the initial invasion and reality is biting. The extremists are going to keep trying to kill anyone who cooperates with American forces. Potential leaders suitable to the US are going to be reluctant to step forward and become targets. The US can't develop a new Iraqi Army and police force fast enough and US forces aren't trained with the Arabic language and intelligence skills needed to fight an Arab insurgency. The Bush Administration needs to get ahead of the curve and admit to the severity of the problems with its position. If the Bushies would lower their expectations of what is achievable then they'd be more willing to consider options which become more appealing only once the big goals are admitted to be unattainable.

By Randall Parker    2004 May 19 02:46 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2004 May 15 Saturday
Will Elected Iraqi Government Tell American Forces To Leave?

US Secretary of State Colin Powell says the US will withdraw if the Iraqi government asks US forces to leave.

"Were this interim government to say to us, we really think we can handle this on our own and it will be better if you were to leave, we will leave," said Mr Powell.


"So I'm losing absolutely no sleep thinking that they might ask us to leave during this interim period while we're building up their forces," he said.

Powell says he is trying to make clear that the new provisional government will have a great deal of authority.

Powell said he was "not ducking the hypothetical, which I usually do," to avoid confusion on the extent of the new government's authority.

But a US general Lieutenant General disagrees with Powell.

Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman had told the House International Relations Committee on Thursday that although it was unlikely, the Iraqi interim government could tell U.S. troops to leave. But Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp, who was also at the hearing, contradicted his statement, telling the panel that only an elected government could order a U.S. withdrawal.

Powell says nothing has gone wrong in spite of the fact that he acknowledges the deterioriation in the security situation.

Asked "what went wrong" in Iraq, sparking the decline for U.S. support among Iraqis, Powell insisted Thursday, "Nothing has gone wrong. A dictator is gone. Saddam Hussein is gone."

In an interview with Denmark's DR TV, Powell also said support for the occupation is down among Iraqis because "there is a sense of insecurity. And so they (Iraqis) are nervous."

He also said: "I can assure you that if security was restored and all the reconstruction money was flowing the way we want it to flow, that number would turn around in a minute."

We could also say that any number of terminal cancer patients could feel great and become really healthy if only the cancer could be cured. So can the security situation be greatly improved to the point that reconstruction could accelerate?

The US-run Coalition Provisional Authority finds deep Iraqi unhappiness with US forces in Iraq.

In the poll, 80 percent of the Iraqis questioned reported a lack of confidence in the Coalition Provisional Authority, and 82 percent said they disapprove of the U.S. and allied militaries in Iraq.

So what happens when elections are held in Iraq and a popularly elected government takes office? The government will be under heavy public pressure to tell US forces to leave. Powell does not strike a confident tone on what the Iraqi government will do once elected officials take office.

"It is really when the national assembly is formed in January of 2005, and it puts in place another government, a transitional government, replacing the interim government, at that point we would expect that that transitional government would want to discuss (such issues) with the multinational force leaders."

Think about it. US efforts to build a democracy in Iraq may come to a sudden halt when the elected government orders US forces to leave. All sorts of things become possible at that point. The Kurds, no longer protected by the presence of US forces, may rebel. Sunni Baathist officers could try to stage a military coup to restore their position as top dogs. Some charismatic religious warrior might recruit an Army (perhaps a certain Shia cleric funded by Iran) to overthrow the government and seize power.

Any newly elected government is going to lack legitimacy and Iraqi critics will be quick to label its members as American lackeys. The deficiency of legitimacy and trust will cause the government to look for ways to demonstrate its nationalistic credentials. Elected officials will be enormously tempted to find ways to stand up to the Americans. Also, popular Arab distrust of Kurds as not legitimately Iraqis and the growing view of Kurds as American pawns will serve as a powerful temptation for Iraqi Arab officials to take a hard line on Kurdish autonomy and to countenance mistreatment and killing of Kurds in Arab areas of Iraq.

Even if the Iraqis don't immediately tell the US forces to leave there are a number of ways in which we can expect the Iraqis to make life difficult on American forces. First of all, Iraqi officials will take at least some altercations between Iraqis and American forces as reason to accuse Americans of all manner of heinous crimes and to demand trials and punishment. Also, when terrorist attacks are launched against US and allied forces the Iraqi officials may drag their feet in investigations and deny US forces quick and full access to some part of some town which US forces have reason to suspect to be the base of the attackers. Look at the rhetoric by Sunnis and even some Shias about Fallujah and think about how that rhetoric translated into policy. US forces may feel pressured to leave solely because they become too hobbled in their ability to track down attackers. This could easily turn into a propaganda defeat for Americans in Arab countries as American forces are seen as ineffectual in their self defense.

What is less clear is the question of just how competent and motivated the new government will be at running down and breaking up rebel groups. If the groups aim at government targets then the government can be expected to be more aggressive. But if the groups confine their attacks to foreign military forces it is less clear how motivated the government will be to stop then since the attackers will portray themselves as fighters against foreign domination doing what a corrupt lackey government refuses to do.

The bigger question is whether the US would be better off if the newly elected government asks the US and its allies (or perhaps "ally" since only the British may still be with us by then) to stay or leave come February 2005. The advantage of departing at the request of a democratically elected government is that a request for departure delivered by a freshly elected democratic government provides the US with an exit strategy that is not a retreat under fire. Such a departure would allow the US to declare victory at least superficially having achieved its goals. The US came, liberated, allowed a democratically elected government to take offce, and then left. Arguments for the US as imperialist power would then ring hollow.

Among the risks of early 2005 US withdrawal from Iraq would be that a coup could happen or that Iraq might decline into a civil war. Many people in Iraq would blame the United States for the result. If the Kurds came out poorly in a civil war then the only ethnic in Iraq that positively likes the United States at this point would cease to do so. A dictatorship could come to power that is quite hostile to the US and all the major groups in Iraq would probably decide the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime was a waste.

If the US stays in Iraq then the US may end up having to officiate in a civil war anyhow and all sides may blame the US for what results. Also, if the US stays the insurgent groups will try to find ways to attack US forces and will use the continued presence of US troops as a call to jihad that will lead to terrorist attacks against US forces, government targets, and other targets. The resulting civilian death tolls will be blamed at least partly on the US presence and the deaths will undermine the legitimacy of the government and of democracy. Also, any corruption and misbehavior by the Iraqi government will be blamed on the United States as puppeteer.

Will the Iraqis ask US forces to leave? The US can probably use the lure of aid money as an incentive to keep US forces in Iraq. Also, fear of insurgent forces or of a Sunni coup may cause the Shia elected offiicials to favor a continued US presence. But some firefight or air strike that results in a large number of civilian deaths could bring a lot of pressure on the goverment to ask US forces to leave. This is a hard one to call.

David Hackworth, the most decorated living American soldier (Audie Murphy probably has him beat in total medals) and a man who trained South Vietnamese soldiers as part of the Vietnamization charade to enable a US withdrawal from Vietnam "with honor", says there is one thing we can be certain about: the Iraqi Army is not now ready to take over security for Iraq and will not be for a long time.

Although Uncle Deep Pockets has sunk almost $100 million into this effort, none of the units is considered combat-ready. On average, all have about 25 percent of their soldiers on leave and 20 percent AWOL at any one time.

A Vinnell trainer says: "No one wants to rate them combat-ready because this is too risky – it would mean somebody's career slides down the tubes if one of these units got whipped. However, no one wanted to rate them not combat-ready either, because that would imply that all the money, time and effort devoted to these units had been wasted."

Note that if we partition Iraq then the Kurdish soldiers will then be trained to obey Kurdish officers, the Sunnis to obey Sunni officers, and the Shias to obey Shia officers. The odds that they'd actually obey their commands would go up significantly.

Update: Writing for the Washington Post Colbert King observes that we are seeing little sign that the Iraqi leaders or soldiers are going to be willing to fight the insurgents and fight to defend a democracy.

What we see happening thus far in places such as Fallujah, Najaf and Karbala is a calculated decision by Iraqi clerics, provincial leaders, and ex-Iraqi army generals and security forces to avoid direct confrontation with insurgents who, as Bush contends, would threaten democracy in Iraq. To the extent Iraqi leaders intervene, it is only to discourage the use of American power and to protect Iraqi lives and property. Useful, perhaps, but it's a far cry from stepping into the fray to bleed and die for the advance of freedom.

What will the various factions in Iraq be willing to fight and die for once a democratically elected government comes to power?

By Randall Parker    2004 May 15 08:57 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2004 May 03 Monday
Fallujah Backdown Seen As Sign Of Weakness

Writing for the Christian Science Monitor Scott Peterson reports on fears that the US deal to back out of Fallujah may embolden the insurgents.

But even as the Marines gamble on the promises of an untested former Republican Guard general and his fledgling unit of some 1,200 soldiers, they are weighing the costs of their solution. Among them: Concerns that widespread perception of a US defeat may fuel more unrest in Iraq; and that the Marines have ceded control of an estimated 200 foreign fighters, holed up in the city they call the "nexus of evil" of Iraq's insurgency. "Is it going to be seen as an encouraging sign for the resistance?" asks a senior US Marine officer, who requested anonymity. The guerrillas, he adds, could say: "We fought the US military machine to a draw, come join us, get on the winning team."

Charles Heyman claims it is common sense to back down on fighting all the way through Fallujah to wipe out all the foreign and Iraqi fighters in it. Yet he also claims the US decision will embolden thie resistance!

"Not going in [militarily] shows an outbreak of common sense - it was the right decision," says Mr. Heyman. Still, he says, it's likely to embolden the resistance. Many Arabs now say that "Fallujah is an Arab Alamo. "We are only 24 hours into 'Free Fallujah,' and it is already moving into myth status ... that will do a lot for insurgency in Iraq and across the Arab world."

Let us suppose for the moment that Heyman is right on both counts. Well then, how is the US supposed to defeat the Iraqi insurgency?

Niall Ferguson thinks the US has to be more willing to be ruthless in handling the Iraqi insurgency. Spengler thinks the US has to be more willing to humiliate Muslims. Well, the Bush Administration shrinks from following such advice.

Even before the Najaf and Fallujah fighting opinions in Iraq were headed toward a dimmer view of US forces and of how things are going there.

Similarly, asked whether conditions for "peace and stability" had improved or worsened over the three months before the survey, 25 percent said they had improved, while 54 percent said they had become worse. Nineteen percent said there was no change.

My guess is that the fighting in Fallujah killed enough innocents to build animosity toward US forces while not going far enough to totally dispirit the insurgents. If the US is going to get into a fight that is going produce a lot of casualties among non-combatants then the US should push the fight to a conclusion that looks like a clear victory.

Also, this General Salah, formerly of the Special Republican Guard, may have helped encourage the fighters whose opposition to US forces created the circumstances that brought him back into local power. Are the Bushies being seriously played by the Iraqis? Kinda looks that way.

Update: It is very worth noting what Salam Pax said from Iraq a month ago about Sadr's Mahdi Army.

Remember the days when every time you hear an Iraqi talk on TV you had to remember that they are talking with a Mukhabarat minder looking at them noting every word? We are back to that place.

You have to be careful about what you say about al-Sadir. Their hands reach every where and you don't want to be on their shit list. Every body, even the GC is very careful how they formulate their sentences and how they describe Sadir's Militias. They are thugs, thugs thugs. There you have it.

I was listening to a representative of al-sadir on TV saying that the officers at police stations come to offer their help and swear allegiance. Habibi, if they don't they will get killed and their police station "liberated". Have we forgotten the threat al-Sadir issued that Iraqi security forces should not attack their revolutionary brothers, or they will have to suffer the consequences.

Dear US administration,
Welcome to the next level. Please don't act surprised and what sort of timing is that: planning to go on a huge attack on the west of Iraq and provoking a group you know very well (I pray to god you knew) that they are trouble makers.

Oh and before I forget.........Help please.

Democracy? It can't work in an atmosphere in which people are mortally afraid to speak their minds. Sadr is beyond the US military's reach in Najaf.

Update II: General Jasim Mohamed Saleh has been made subordinate to a former Saddam officer Mohammad Latif who fled into exile while Saddam ruled.

Now a year later, the lack of intelligence may be why, after questioning from Washington, the United States swept aside Saleh as its designated Fallujah Brigade commander in favor Mohammed Latif, who presumably has been better checked out by the Pentagon. A former exile who fled Iraq during Saddam's rule, Latif reportedly returned to Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion. Saleh will reportedly serve under him.

Latif is from Baghdad and hence is unknown and untrusted by Fallujans. It therefore makes sense to keep Saleh in the loop since he comes from around Fallujah and the Fallujans want the new boss to be the same as the old boss.

The vast bulk of the Fallujah insurgents are locals.

In Fallujah, U.S. military leaders say around 90 percent of the 1,000 or more fighters battling the Marines are Iraqis.

I predict a Bush Administration attempt to rebrand tribal rule as a form of early stage proto-democracy. Declare ideological victory and march on.

By Randall Parker    2004 May 03 03:02 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2004 April 16 Friday
Iraqis Cavalier About Unexploded Bombs

UPI reporter P. Mitchell Prothero reporting from Baghdad finds Iraqi soldiers take a very cavalier approach toward the disposal of improvised explosive device (IED) booby-trap bombs. (same article here)

As we stand a marginally safe distance away, one soldier explains that the Iraqis take a different approach to disposal of bombs than the Americans.

"When these guys find a bomb or a (rocket propelled grenade) they carry it to our base," one says. "We'll walk outside to talk to them and they'll be swinging a huge shell out of the back of truck all proud that they helped. We freak out every time."

Prothero went looking for a bomb that had been reported on a Baghdad street and found some Kurdish militia members (aside: there are Kurdish militia soldiers in Baghdad?) who directed him to the bomb. The whole story is insightful and entertaining. Check it out.

With regard to IEDs and the people who get the materials to put them together check out the Captain's Quarters blog post about an American ex-Special Forces soldier in Iraq: A Contractor Tells About His Mission. One of the lessons I took from that post is that the US military really is understaffed in Iraq. The "abandoned Ammunition Supply Point (ASP)" described in the article is one of many such in Iraq that looters (showing the same cavalier attitude toward explosives as described by Prothero above) go through to get bomb materials to sell to the groups that are blowing up American soldiers almost daily. Well, with enough US forces on the ground those ASP locations would have been cleaned out a long time ago and fewer American soldiers would be coming home in boxes.

By Randall Parker    2004 April 16 11:11 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
High Costs And Dismal Prospects In Iraq: How To Derive Benefit?

Paul Wolfowitz expected Iraq reconstruction to cost only tens of billions of dollars.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, speaking to the House Appropriations Committee on March 27, 2003, estimated the figure in the tens of billions of dollars if Iraq's oil fields were not destroyed.

"We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon," he said.

Total cost estimates for military operations and reconstruction now range as high as $300 to $450 billion.

Overall then, the occupation could cost more than double the cost of the war, adding between $150bn-300bn to the $150bn that has been appropriated so far by Congress.


In the long run, oil experts estimate that Iraq could increase its production from the current 2.5 million barrels per day to 6 million barrels if new oil fields are developed.

That would increase government revenue from oil of about $15bn to about $40bn - enough to allocate at least $20bn to rebuilding.

But the problem is that it would take 5-10 years, and perhaps $25bn, to develop these fields.

And any deals with international oil companies for investment would require a stable security situation and a legitimate government capable of signing long-term contracts.

It will take years before the Iraqi oil fields can produce enough oil for their revenues to make a more substantial contribution to reconstruction.

Oil production in Iraq has still not even been restored yet to pre-war levels.

At present, Iraq is producing approximately 2.5 million barrels per day, compared to the pre-war level of 2.8 million. If Saddam had remained in power, Iraqi oil production would have been suppressed for the indefinite future by sanctions and failure to maintain the oil fields.

But one point in favor of the war is that if the US hadn't invaded then the future expected increase in Iraqi production would probably have been prevented by continued sanctions. Though there was the chance that had Saddam been left in power then the continuation of the sanctions would have become politically impossible and hence that Saddam eventually would have been able to increase oil production.

Even though involvement in Iraq is costing US taxpayers a lot of money at this point very little of the reconstruction money from the US government has been spent.

Efforts to repair war damage and kick-start the economy, which have fallen behind. Only $2 billion of the $18 billion aid and reconstruction package Congress approved last fall has been committed to contracts.

A increasing portion of the construction money is going to pay rising security costs.

For some companies, security costs now amount to 20% of the total contract price, double the standard 10% estimate that industry groups and government contracting officials quoted six months ago. As much as $4 billion may wind up going to security, Bowen said.

The situation is made worse by the lack of an adequate number of soldiers.

Analysts point to widespread evidence of sophisticated psychological warfare aimed at isolating the United States and creating public pressure for a withdrawal, notably hostage-taking of civilians from countries allied with the United States and the mutilation and burning of bodies.

"We need more troops, we need a lot more troops than what Gen. (John) Abizaid is requesting, everybody knows it and everybody knew it a long time ago, even before the recent uprising," said an observer who asked not to be identified but who has recently traveled in Iraq.

The Bush Administration drastically overestimated the amount money that would be available from oil revenue while also drastically underestimated the amount of opposition it would face and the size of the military force it would need to conduct an occupation of Iraq. These miscalculations do not inspire confidence.

The now obvious Bush Administration miscalculations on costs and oil production and on the extent of the resistance to the occupation in Iraq are not the only reasons to lack confidence in US policy on Iraq. Since the WMD threat appears to have been less than the Bush Administration claimed the remaining main US interest in intervention is that the transformation of Iraq into a democracy will help transform the Middle East in ways that eliminate or at least greatly reduce the conditions that produce terrorists. But there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical on this point. See a couple of my pre-Gulf War II posts on pessimists on Islamic democracy and on why it took so long to transform India under British rule and also on what elements were present in post-WWII Germany and Japan that are missing in Iraq. In addition to those arguments there are still other reasons to be pessimistic about a transformation of Iraq into a democracy. One I only encountered more recently: Low Per Capita Income Countries Never Remain Democracies and Arab cultures appear to place the desire for dominance ahead of the desire for freedom.

Given that Iraq is unlikely to be transformed into a democracy in the length of time that the US populace is likely to be willing to support heavy US involvement in that country (and any length of time that is not measured in decades is not long enough) is there any way to salvage some sort of gain from our Iraq involvement? Yes, there is one possible way to still come out with some benefit: Partition Iraq. See my posts Why Not Partition Afghanistan Along Tribal Lines? and Steve Sailer On The Iraq Partition Argument.

Why partition? We'd be giving the Kurds their own country and the Kurds actually like us and would continue to feel gratitude toward us if we helped them split away from Iraq. The Sunnis are not going to like the United States. The Shias not likely to do so either to any great extent. We need to admit that we can't build solid lasting friendships with the Sunnis and Shias. Whereas we can come out of this with the Kurds as friends. We ought to make policies accordingly. Splitting Iraq might even increase the odds that democracy will succeed in the Sunni and Shia countries that will also be created when Iraq is split up.

Bush is not going to consider partition any time soon. So can we expect better policies of John Kerry if he is elected Presideint? So far he has provided no encouraging indications. In fact, John Kerry's one big dumb proposal on Iraq so far is that we can somehow save American lives by getting the United Nations more involved in Iraq.

Sen. John Kerry urged President Bush on Wednesday to share responsibility for Iraq with the United Nations, saying the administration's "stubborn" insistence on controlling the reconstruction there was costing Americans money and lives.

Why would the Sunnis become less willing to attack American soldiers if the UN is more involved? Am I missing something? This may be hard for Kerry to believe but the Sunnis are not Massachusetts Liberal Democrats. And while I'm stating the obvious, the radical Shia cleric Sadr and his holy warriors are also not Massachusetts Liberal Democrats. The vast majority of people in Iraq are probably indifferent to or hostile toward the United Nations. The UN is a distraction, an irrelevancy. No matter what deal the Bush Administration could try to cut with the UN it will not bring large numbers of troops from other lands to displace American troops.

Consider just how unlike Democrats the Shias really are. The Shias are coming up on an election that will allow them to dominate Iraq. You might think they would be content to wait for their ascension. But no. In spite of their now favorable position an extremist Shia cleric has been sending his warriors out to attack American troops and to take over police stations and government buildings. The great mass of Shia Iraqi people has not risen up to oppose his power play. There are no enthusiastic moderates in Iraq. All the enthusiasts are extremists. Theodore Dalrymple's explanation for why extremism tends to win out in Muslim lands is as good as any I've come across.

But his model left Islam with two intractable problems. One was political. Muhammad unfortunately bequeathed no institutional arrangements by which his successors in the role of omnicompetent ruler could be chosen (and, of course, a schism occurred immediately after the Prophet’s death, with some—today’s Sunnites—following his father-in-law, and some—today’s Shi’ites—his son-in-law). Compounding this difficulty, the legitimacy of temporal power could always be challenged by those who, citing Muhammad’s spiritual role, claimed greater religious purity or authority; the fanatic in Islam is always at a moral advantage vis-à-vis the moderate. Moreover, Islam—in which the mosque is a meetinghouse, not an institutional church—has no established, anointed ecclesiastical hierarchy to decide such claims authoritatively. With political power constantly liable to challenge from the pious, or the allegedly pious, tyranny becomes the only guarantor of stability, and assassination the only means of reform. Hence the Saudi time bomb: sooner or later, religious revolt will depose a dynasty founded upon its supposed piety but long since corrupted by the ways of the world.

The second problem is intellectual. In the West, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, acting upon the space that had always existed, at least potentially, in Christianity between church and state, liberated individual men to think for themselves, and thus set in motion an unprecedented and still unstoppable material advancement. Islam, with no separate, secular sphere where inquiry could flourish free from the claims of religion, if only for technical purposes, was hopelessly left behind: as, several centuries later, it still is.

The Bush Administration is not yet ready to admit that it can not transform Iraq into a stable liberal democracy. We will have to watch as the tragedy plays itself out. But as the conflict continues it is worth pondering what the back-up plan ought to be once reality sinks in.

Update: Ahmad Chalabi, founder of the Iraqi National Congress and long-time political ally of the neoconservative hawks who promoted and chose the policies that for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, says many in the new Iraqi security structure either ran away or joined Sadr's militia in the recent Sadr militia move to take over government buildings and attack American forces.

The most ominous harbinger for the future of Iraq to emerge from the bloodshed that has engulfed parts of the country is the collapse of the indigenous Iraqi security structures put in place by the Coalition Provisional Authority. Few of the police resisted Muqtada al-Sadr's activists, while some joined his militia and many simply ran away. Half of the army mutinied. The intelligence service did not produce accurate or useful intelligence, and elements of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, which is designed to be a national paramilitary force, also mutinied and may be implicated in the murder and mutilation of the four Americans, which touched off the siege of Fallujah.

There is no burning love of liberal democracy in Iraq. Tribal ties, Islamic beliefs, and other forces competing with democracy. Very few people in Iraq see themselves as Iraqis first and foremost. The most consistently reliable native forces are Kurds who are linguistically and culturally quite distinct from the Sunni and Shia Arabs. The Kurds could govern their own nation and feel sufficient loyalty to a national Kurdish government built in their own territory. Their nation would be viable and very likely would continue to be democratic and not theocratic.

Update II: William Tucker provides yet another reason why Iraq is not congenial to democracy: polygamy.

Islam is the only major world religion that sanctions polygamy. Mohammad allowed his followers to have four wives (the same number he had). About 12 percent of marriages in Moslem countries are polygamous. This is not as bad as East and West Africa, where successful men often take more than a hundred wives and where almost 30 percent of marriages can be polygamous. But the solid core of polygamy at the heart of Islamic culture is enough to produce its menacing social effects.

What are those effects? Do the math. Into every society is born approximately the same number of boys and girls. If they pair off in monogamous fashion, then each one will have a mate -- "a girl for every boy and a boy for every girl." In polygamous societies this does not occur. When successful men can accumulate more than one wife, that means some other man gets none. As a result, the unavoidable outcome is a hard-core residue of unattached men who have little or no prospect of achieving a family life.

The inevitable outcome is that competition among males becomes much more fierce and intense. Mating is an all-or-nothing proposition. Women become a scarce resource that must be hoarded and veiled and banned from public places so they cannot drift away through spontaneous romances. Men who are denied access to these hoarded women have only one option -- they can band together and try to fight their way into the seats of power.

The competition for women makes Arabs place a higher value on domination. So Tucker's explanation explains Steve Sailer's observation that the Arabs can't support the Western notion of political equality that is necessary in order to build a successful democracy.

If the US allows the Kurds to create their own country then after the US withdraws at least one part of Iraq stands a chance of maintaining at least a semi-liberal democracy. By keeping Iraq together the US is effectively subjecting the whole place to a single gamble that probably isn't going to work. Split it up and then we will be faced with the possibility that one or two of the pieces might manage to remain at least semi-democratic. Also, will we end up keeping and even strengthening our friendship with the Kurds.

By Randall Parker    2004 April 16 12:22 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2004 February 17 Tuesday
Max Boot Wants US To Stay In Iraq For Decades

Neoconservative hawk Max Boot, after reviewing the history of US military occupation of Haiti, claims that holding elections in Iraq will accomplish little and that nothing short of a sustained occupation of Iraq lasting decades will transform it into a democracy. (LA Times requires free registration)

Applying those lessons to Iraq today, it's obvious that holding an election — whether through direct balloting, as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani insists, or through caucuses, as U.S. proconsul L. Paul Bremer III prefers — has to be a secondary concern. The top priorities must be to create a constitution that upholds basic freedoms and an apolitical security force that upholds the constitution.

And it's vital that the U.S. not rush for the exits. Long-term imperial control, à la Haiti in the 1920s, is no longer acceptable. But American troops have to remain in Iraq for the long haul — probably decades, as in West Germany or in South Korea — to nurture that country's democratic development. If they leave prematurely, Iraq will turn into a Haiti with oil wells.

Would it take decades of occupation to transform Iraq into a semi-liberal democracy? Yes, of course. But here's the twist: A US occupation of Iraq for decades is not by itself enough to transform Iraq into a sustainable democracy. It seems unlikely that the Bush Administration has either the willingness or the understanding needed to start pursuing the kinds of transformations of Iraqi society it would take to make Iraq into a sustainable semi-liberal democracy. One of the practices in Iraqi society that must be changed in order to make Iraq into a nation-state with a limited amount of corruption and some loyalty on the part of the people toward their government is a great decline in the practice of cousin marriage. Don't expect the Bush Administration to tackle that one. Therefore do not expect US occupation of Iraq to cause much in the way of lasting changes.

Given that the US already has enough "nation-building" responsibility on its plate with troops on the ground dying daily there fortunately seems little chance that US troops will go into Haiti to deal with the increasing violence and breakdown of basic law and order there. Writing for the United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College Peter Bunce wrote a report in 1995 about the 20 year US occupation of Haiti.

Thesis: The first United States Occupation of Haiti, after a slow start, made a great variety of capital improvements for Haiti, made changes in the Haitian political system, and refinanced the Haitian economy, none of which had much lasting impact on the Haiti people once the occupation was terminated.

Background: The United States occupied Haiti originally to restore public order in 1915. It's self-imposed mandate quickly expanded to reestablishing Haitian credit in the international credit system, establishing good government and public order, and promoting investment in Haitian agriculture and industry. After a slow start, marred by a brutal revolt in 1918-20, the United States Occupation of Haiti was reorganized and began to address many of the perceived shortcomings of Haitian society. Its international and internal debt was refinanced, substantial public works projects completed, a comprehensive hospital system established, a national constabulary (the Gendarmerie [later Garde] d'Haiti) officered and trained by Marines, and several peaceful transitions of national authority were accomplished under American tutelage. After new civil unrest in 1929, the United States came to an agreement to end the Occupation before its Treaty-mandated termination in 1936. Once the Americans departed in 1934, Haiti reverted to its former state of various groups competing for national power to enrich themselves. Almost all changes the American Occupation attempted to accomplish failed in Haiti because they did not take into consideration the Haitian political and social culture. Recommendation: Before the United States intervenes in foreign countries, particularly in those where nation-building improvements are to be attempted, the political and social cultures of those countries must be taken into consideration.

Bill Clinton's later shorter occupation of Haiti was similarly naive and even more destined to fail due to its more limited scope. Now the French are discussing sending troops to Haiti. But unless the French want to stay for decades they will accomplish nothing lasting as well.

By Randall Parker    2004 February 17 10:48 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2004 February 12 Thursday
Insurgency In Iraq Like Self-Replicating Virus

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.

Another sign of incompetence:

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?

US Marines headed for a Sunni area in Iraq plan to make sure the locals know how different the Marines are from the Army.

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.

By Randall Parker    2004 February 12 03:04 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2003 December 26 Friday
Five Extended Families Behind Iraqi Resistance

The practice of consanguineous marriage finds its expression in the organization of the Iraqi resistance.

TIKRIT, Iraq -- As U.S. forces tracked Saddam Hussein to his subterranean hiding place, they unearthed a trove of intelligence about five families running the Iraqi insurgency, according to U.S. military commanders, who said the information is being used to uproot remaining resistance forces.

Senior U.S. officers said they were surprised to discover -- clue by clue over six months -- that the upper and middle ranks of the resistance were filled by members of five extended families from a few villages within a 12-mile radius of the volatile city of Tikrit along the Tigris River. Top operatives drawn from these families organized the resistance network, dispatching information to individual cells and supervising financial channels, the officers said. They also protected Hussein and passed information to and from the former president while he was on the run.

Surprised at the importance of family ties and the powerful influence of cousin marriage in a Middle Eastern Arab Muslim society? Not if you are a long time ParaPundit reader. If you are a more recent reader then start here: John Tierney On Cousin Marriage As Reform Obstacle In Iraq and also click back to previous posts which that post references.

The importance of family ties in the Iraqi resistance is illustrated by the "al-Douri" and "al-Tikriti" at the ends of the names of top resistance suspects that are still being sought.

Those on the top 55 list who are still at large include Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, his son Ahmed and Hani Abd al-Latif Tilfah al-Tikriti, all of whom are thought to be involved in the guerrilla war against the U.S.-led occupation, U.S. officials said.

Knowledge of family ties is now useful to let US forces to know where to focus their investigative efforts. But the five extended families which are the focus of this investigation are just a small fraction of all the extended families in Iraq. Members of all the other extended families in Iraq feel the same tugs of loyalty toward family. The role of family ties all over in Iraq will serve as a powerful corrupting influence on government workers and elected officials in the new democracy that the United States and its allies hope to establish in Iraq.

By Randall Parker    2003 December 26 04:51 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 December 18 Thursday
Where Iraq Purchased Weapons 1973-2002

The purpose of this post is to address one of the many mythical claims about the United States popularized by some Leftists who would have us believe that the United States is the cause of most of what is wrong with the world. The myth under examination here is the claim that the United States played an important role in arming Saddam Hussein. The data comes from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in the form of a table of the value of arms imported by Iraq from 1973 through 2002. (PDF format)

Figures are trend-indicator values expressed in US $m. at constant (1990) prices.

Note: The SIPRI data on arms transfers refer to actual deliveries of major conventional weapons. To permit comparison between the data on such deliveries of different weapons and identification of general trends, SIPRI uses a trend-indicator value. The SIPRI values are therefore only an indicator of the volume of international arms transfers and not of the actual financial values of such transfers. Thus they are not comparable to economic statistics such as gross domestic product or export/import figures.


Imported weapons to Iraq (IRQ) in 1973-2002

Country $MM USD 1990 % Total
USSR 25145 57.26
France 5595 12.74
China 5192 11.82
Czechoslovakia 2880 6.56
Poland 1681 3.83
Brazil 724 1.65
Egypt 568 1.29
Romania 524 1.19
Denmark 226 0.51
Libya 200 0.46
USA 200 0.46
South Africa 192 0.44
Austria 190 0.43
Switzerland 151 0.34
Yugoslavia 107 0.24
Germany (FRG) 84 0.19
Italy 84 0.19
UK 79 0.18
Hungary 30 0.07
Spain 29 0.07
East Germany (GDR) 25 0.06
Canada 7 0.02
Jordan 2 0.005
Total 43915 100.0

I made my own percentage calculations. Also, the original PDF document has the amounts by year but I extracted out only the final total column. Note that post-1990 sales listed under "USSR" probably refers to Russia or perhaps Russia plus former USSR states.

Given the US's position as largest arms merchant in the world the fact that it ties Libya for 9th place with only 0.46% of Iraq's total arms imports makes it obvious that the United States was not an important source of arms for Saddam's regime, that the US didn't even seriously try to be, and that US arms sales gave the US little or no leverage over Saddam.

In a report published in 1998 Anthony Cordesman places an even lower estimate on US arms exports to Iraq. See page 22 of this PDF which shows the US selling Iraq $5 million in arms in the late 1980s. Cordesman's report has many charts which also show just how far Iraq's economy fell during the war with Iran and afterward.

  • Iraq seemed to be on the edge of sustained economic development in 1979. It was a nation of 12.8 million people with a per capita income well in excess of $10,000 in constant $US 1994. However, its economy was dependent on oil wealth and construction and infrastructure oriented with massive distortions in the state and agricultural sector.
  • By 1986, the worst year of the Iran-Iraq War in economic terms, Iraq’s per capita income was down to $2,174, and its population was up to 16.2 million.
  • By 1991, the last year for which we have hard data on the Iraqi economy in market terms, Iraq’s per capita income was down to $705, and its population was up to 17.9 million. Iraq’s GNP in constant $1994 had dropped from $48.3 billion in 1984 to $16.3 billion.
  • Iraq’s current per capita income is probably under $1,000. The World Bank estimates that its population will climb from 21.0 million in 1995 to 24.5 million in 2000, 28.4 million in 2005, and 32.5 million in 2010.

US policy in the 1980s favored a stalemate in the Iran-Iraq war. But the US role in ensuring that outcome was very small as compared to the roles played by the USSR, France, China, and other countries in making sure Saddam's regime was not overrun. What intelligence and other assistance the US provided to prevent Iranian victory pales in comparison to the roles played by several other countries.

By Randall Parker    2003 December 18 11:33 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (23)
2003 December 12 Friday
Seymour Hersh: Special Forces To Do Major Baathist Manhunt

Seymour Hersh has an interesting article worth reading in full in The New Yorker about a big change in Bush Administration policy toward handling Iraq that revolves around a bigger role for US special forces and former Iraqi intelligence officers.

Americans in the field are trying to solve that problem by developing a new source of information: they plan to assemble teams drawn from the upper ranks of the old Iraqi intelligence services and train them to penetrate the insurgency. The idea is for the infiltrators to provide information about individual insurgents for the Americans to act on. A former C.I.A. station chief described the strategy in simple terms: “U.S. shooters and Iraqi intelligence.” He added, “There are Iraqis in the intelligence business who have a better idea, and we’re tapping into them. We have to resuscitate Iraqi intelligence, holding our nose, and have Delta and agency shooters break down doors and take them”—the insurgents—“out.”

A former intelligence official said that getting inside the Baathist leadership could be compared to “fighting your way into a coconut—you bang away and bang away until you find a soft spot, and then you can clean it out.” An American who has advised the civilian authority in Baghdad said, “The only way we can win is to go unconventional. We’re going to have to play their game. Guerrilla versus guerrilla. Terrorism versus terrorism. We’ve got to scare the Iraqis into submission.”

An analogy with Vietnam is made by some of the insiders that Hersh interviews. Some fear that the hunters will use faulty intelligence engineered by Iraqis who want to manipulate the US forces to use them to settle scores between factions in Iraq competing for power. Some argue that South Vietnamese did the same thing to the CIA and US military in Vietnam and managed to get thousands of non-communists killed by US military hit squads.

Yes, the special forces and intelligence officers could botch their increased authority to do covert operations based on intelligence from Iraqis. But the people Hersh talked with aren't providing the whole story on intelligence efforts in Vietnam. Quite a few years ago (the late 1980s?) I read former US Army captain Stuart A. Herrington's book Silence Was a Weapon: The Vietnam War in the Villages. The book is an account of his time in Vietnam as an intelligence officer in Hau Nghia (sp?) province near the Cambodian border. A few memories from the book stand out. One is that he and other American intelligence officers tried very hard to prevent the South Vietnamese from just killing the Viet Cong and NVA soldiers they captured. Herrington saw that the South Vietnamese, by being so eager to kill, lost the opportunity to gather a great deal of intelligence on Viet Cong and NVA personnel. The work of Herrington and others to get captured communist fighters to switch sides led to the role-up of a terrorist network that was carrying out attacks in Saigon.

The point here is that the quality of the decision-making by the special forces and CIA folks who are being granted so much leeway in Iraq is hard to predict unless one knows the guys sent to Iraq and just how talented and wise they are. The quality of the decision-making will also depend on whether the special forces come under too much pressure to rack up a big body count and show results quickly. Even if there is a single central structure of control by Baathists (doubtful in my view) it can not be broken into quickly.

The Israelis are advising the US forces and are worried that if too many top people are killed then the lower level Iraqi insurgent shooters will just continue to operate but on their own.

There is disagreement, inevitably, on the extent of Baathist control. The former Israeli military-intelligence officer said, “Most of the firepower comes from the Baathists, and they know where the weapons are kept. But many of the shooters are ethnic and tribal. Iraq is very factionalized now, and within the Sunni community factionalism goes deep.” He added, “Unless you settle this, any effort at reconstruction in the center is hopeless.”

Reconstruction in the center may be hopeless anyhow. The only way out might be to break Iraqi up into three pieces.

By Randall Parker    2003 December 12 02:42 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 November 07 Friday
Noah Millman To Pollyannas: Take Rebuilding Of Iraq Seriously

Noah Millman of Gideon's Blog refers back to a post he made on October 18, 2002 on the difficulties of governing post-war Iraq in a post he has just made on October 29, 2003 expressing his frustration with Pollyanna war enthusiasts who are not taking the scale of the problems in Iraq seriously.

Now, I don't begrudge the pollyannas their optimism. This country was built on optimism. What drives me nuts, though, is stuff like this piece by Bernard Lewis and James Woolsey saying that maybe we should bring back the Hashemites to establish a more legitimate order in Iraq.

I don't remember precisely where Lewis stood before the war, though I know he was supportive generally. But I'm quite sure that Woolsey was one of the pollyannas, a big booster of Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, the whole nine yards. Now he's boosting the idea of a Hashemite restoration. But if I recall correctly, one of the main *opponents* of bringing in a Hashemite was the Ahmad Chalabi. I believe he articulated the view that to restore the Hashemites would be a betrayal that would justly result in Iraqi resistance to the American occupation.

I'm not asking Woolsey to say, "sorry, I was wrong." I don't even know if his new angle is right; I can think of a few problems with the idea of bringing back the monarchy. I am, however, asking him - and Richard Perle, and the rest of the gung-ho crowd - to start taking this job seriously and stop acting like rebuilding Iraq is something we can make up as we go along. If we thought the way to go was to restore the Hashemite monarchy, we needed to lay the groundwork a long while ago. We needed to make that clear before we went in, before we made anyone any promises, before we threw our lot in with the INC and before we rebuffed Abdullah of Jordan's uncle (the likely candidate for the job of King of Iraq). We can't just pull a switcheroo like this. We're not founding an internet company here that can rebrand every six months with no one left the wiser. We are in no danger of losing Iraq due to excessive casualties. If we are in danger of losing Iraq, it's because sometimes we seem to be going about this like a bunch of amateurs.

Noah is right. To take this latest proposal as an example, there is something frivolous to the notion of restoring the Hashemite throne in Iraq. Lewis and Woolsey can find nothing more important to propose? How about teaching most of the US soldiers in Iraq or preparing to deploy to Iraq how to speak Arabic so that they can better collect information and develop better relations with the locals? And why wasn't that done before the invasion? How about scaling up the size of the intelligence effort investigating the resistance? How about developing a secular school system and finding ways to subtlely discourage cousin marriage? Other ideas could be proposed and you can find more in my pre-war post-war archives. But I despair of ever seeing them adopted.

For the record, Noah was not the only one who saw in advance that reconstruction of Iraq would be very difficult. See, for instance, my post of October 16, 2002: Hardest Part Of Iraq War Is Reconstruction and my October 18, 2002 post Pessimists on Muslim Democracy. Also see from January 15, 2003: Stanley Kurtz: After the War . I still do not see clear signs that the believers in the universal appeal of liberal democracy have yet figured out the size of the gap between their dreams and reality.

By Randall Parker    2003 November 07 12:52 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 November 05 Wednesday
United States Subsidizes Iraqi Gasoline Prices

While pipeline sabotage is limiting the amount of oil exported by Iraq and the amount refined and used locally the United States is paying to import gasoline into Iraq to sell it at subsidized prices.

Under Saddam Hussein, cheap energy thrummed through these pipes with metronymic regularity and became a birthright of all Iraqis. All petroleum products here cost a fraction of their market value. A gallon of gasoline is about 10 cents - cheaper than bottled water.

This expectation of cheap gas has forced the coalition to import gasoline and other products and sell them at big losses to avoid unrest. House Democrats complained earlier this week that Halliburton Inc., which has the major oil-reconstruction contract here, was charging the US $2.65 cents a gallon for gas being sold in Iraq for a fraction of its cost.

I think it was a mistake not to immediately allow gasoline prices float to a market level where demand and supply equalled. Would that anger people enough to stage protests or even to become terrorists? Maybe. But it is a necessary change.

By Randall Parker    2003 November 05 08:25 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 October 28 Tuesday
Resentment, Shame, Humiliation In Iraq

Steven Vincent reports on Iraqi shame and resentment toward the United States.

To offer one example: At a small social gathering in Baghdad recently, a woman expressed great excitement over the freedom in her life occasioned by the fall of Saddam. In the same breath, however, she added, "but I hate the occupation of my country so much I fantasize about shooting a U.S. soldier." When I suggested a link between U.S. soldiers and Saddam's demise, she replied, "I know that — and you can't imagine how it humiliates me."

There, in an Iraqi nutshell, you have it. Underneath the joy these people feel upon their liberation from Saddam runs a countercurrent of shame over the fact that they couldn't do the job themselves. "If you'd only given us more time, we would have risen up and overthrown Saddam," a waiter lectured me. This sense of impotence explains, in part, the ungracious gratitude expressed by many Iraqis toward the U.S. — otherwise known as the "thanks America, now go home" syndrome. It also underscores how naïve we were to think that our invading troops would be wholeheartedly welcomed as liberators.

This is a very difficult problem to deal with. How to encourage Iraqis to feel more responsible for the events that take place in their own country?

The willingness to embrace paranoid conspiracies flows from a belief in the omnipotence of the United States.

since America is all-powerful, they reason, mistakes and mishaps in our actions are really part of some Bush-administration strategy.

For a discussion of the larger problem that the Iraqi resentment illustrates see my post On Globalization And The Psychological Visibility Of America. Also see Robert Koehler's excellent response where he reports on South Korean resentment toward the United States.

By Randall Parker    2003 October 28 03:27 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 September 30 Tuesday
Details Of 1996 Assassination Attempt On Uday Hussein

Writing for The Christian Science Monitor Peter Ford has interviewed surviving members of the team that almost killed Uday Hussein on Dec. 12, 1996.

It was not long, Sharif says, before he heard of Uday's regular Thursday night trawls for pretty girls in Mansour, an upscale part of town where he was notorious for forcing young women to accompany him back to one of his palaces.

The news intrigued him. "It seemed like a golden opportunity," he says, so for the next two months Sharif strolled the crowded streets of Mansour each Thursday evening, the night before the Muslim weekend, to see what he could see.

Sure enough, every Thursday round about seven, Uday would curb crawl along Mansour's main drag, sometimes with bodyguards in a motorcade, sometimes not.

They put 17 bullets into Uday's body and left him with some serious permanent damage of a sort that probably saved quite a few Iraqi women from future rape by Uday. They were Shia marsh Arabs and hid in the southern Iraqi marshes after carrying out their attack. Saddam didn't figure out for months what group was behind it. This is an interesting story.

By Randall Parker    2003 September 30 11:04 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 September 14 Sunday
Reason For Optimism About Iraqi Pipeline Protection

Jim Hoagland reports that by replicating the economic incentives that Saddam Hussein employed to ensure security the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) may succeed in protecting the pipelines in Iraq.

For one thing, the tribes were given regular payments if the pipelines in their territories encountered no problems. Sabotage or other security problems in a tribe's area brought an immediate cutoff of those payments from Baghdad.

The protection funds ceased with the invasion -- and sabotage suddenly erupted. Now payments to the tribes are being restored by CPA officials, who are silently testing the theory that Sunni sheiks looking for a renewal of their customary meal ticket may have been negligent about, if not responsible for, damage to the national pipeline system.

The real challenge in Iraq is far more of an intelligence and social problem than it is a conventional military problem. The Iraqis have far more eyes to use to watch what is going on there and if they can be co-opted to look for and report on what the opposition is doing and who the opponents are that will accomplish far more than an increase in the number of fighting troops could accomplish.

By Randall Parker    2003 September 14 11:33 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 August 22 Friday
Robert Baer On Iraq Bombings And Lebanon Parallel

Robert Baer, author of Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude and See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism, examines the parallels between early 1980s Lebanon and Iraq today.

So why was the U.N. headquarters hit rather than an American target? After all, the group behind the U.N. bombing could have easily run the same truck into an American patrol, killing dozens of soldiers. Again, I go back to Lebanon, 1983. The objective of the terrorists then was to create a sense of complete hopelessness in Washington. The terrorists wanted to show the Americans that no amount of military might, money or international assistance would help -- that U.S. deaths would be in vain and that the only logical response was to pull out.

If the people behind the U.N. bombing are the same ones who are responsible for last week's sabotage of Baghdad's water main and the oil pipeline to Turkey, this may very well be their plan. By attacking the U.N. and other indirect targets, they are probably attempting to drive away any potential international investment. They want the Bush administration to feel isolated. As for the common Iraqi who has been taking the brunt of their campaign, the terrorists believe it is worth it. They think in the long term.

Baer believes things are going to get worse in Iraq. He also believes that with so much at stake the US can not afford to pull out.

A greater amount of American resolve aside, there other important differences between Lebanon of 1983 and Iraq in 2003. One of the most important differences is the sheer size of the American involvement. The US Marine presence in Beirut was literally more than two orders of magnitude smaller and Lebanon was a place the US could afford to let remain in chaos (it is worth recalling that Lebanon was in chaos before the US showed up). With a far larger number of personnel to devote to the task, and with access to all parts of the country, and with basic sovereign ruling authority over Iraq the US is in a much stronger position in Iraq to collect the intelligence and gradually Iraq does not have to be as totally lawless as Lebanon was. The US can - if it devotes enough resources to the task - greatly reduce the level of lawlessness in Baghdad and the Sunni areas.

Another important difference is that at the highest level Lebanon was split in more ways than Iraq is split today. Lebanon had significant Shia, Sunni, Christian, Palestinian, and other factions. While Iraq has tribal divisions it has only 3 major top level groupings and two of those (Kurds and Shias) make up about 80% of the population, have little anomisity toward each other (anyone know to the contrary?), and both view the Sunnis as their former oppressors. This creates much more favorable conditions for US attempts to form alliances and a governing consensus.

Still, if US military and civilian intelligence workers in Iraq can not penetrate the organization or organizations carrying out the bombing attacks and the oil pipeline attacks the situation in Iraq could deteriorate. The pipeline attacks are especially important because a successful restoration of Iraqi oil production could provide financing to greatly accelerate the more general rebuilding of Iraq and provide funds that could be spent in a variety of ways to improve security.

Therefore, my conclusion about Iraq is that the US needs to do two main things really well:

  • Very quickly get the oil pumping and flowing in large quantities reliably. Protect the oil. Make sure it can get to market. The resulting revenues are essential because they can be used to extend security and improve conditions throughout the rest of Iraq.
  • Train large numbers of high quality intelligence officers in Arabic and ship them to Iraq to track down and take apart the groups that are conducting the bombings and ambushes.

Update: The top US Army general overseeing the Iraq occupation rule says Iraq is a magnet for terrorists.

The remarks by Army Gen. John Abizaid, the head of the Central Command, added to a growing chorus by senior Bush administration officials who have begun to depict postwar Iraq as a magnet for terrorists bent on attacking the United States. "I think Iraq is at the center of the global war on terrorism," Abizaid said at a Pentagon news conference.

However, keep in mind that much of the Shia area in Southern Iraq is still very peaceful.

I know because I'm one of those Marines. My reserve unit was activated before the war, and in April my team arrived in this small city roughly 60 miles south of Baghdad. The negative media portrait of the situation in Iraq doesn't correspond with what I've seen. Indeed, we were treated as liberating heroes when we arrived four months ago, and we continue to enjoy amicable relations with the local populace.

Will terrorists attackers find a way to build bases of operations in southern Iraq? That's something to watch for.

Update: Wretchard of the Belmont Club has a few posts on the bombing of the UN building in Baghdad and on the movement of Islamists into Iraq to attack American forces that make for good additional reading. See here and here and here. As for whether the choice of the UN facility as a softer target for a terrorist attack indicates we are winning: the question that needs to be asked is whether the terrorist attacks can achieve their objectives if only softer targets are attacked. Well, what sort of place will Baghdad be like if there is a constant stream of attacks killing dozens or hundreds of people each time? What effect will that have on investment and on the willingness of Iraqis to work for the American occupation forces? Seems the effects will be pretty bad.

Also, another important indicator is whether terrorists can prevent a substantial production and export of oil from Iraqi fields. If they can wage a successful campaign of sabotage to the oil industry then they could put a big crimp in reconstruction efforts.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 22 02:54 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 July 30 Wednesday
Better Intelligence Info Supports Higher Tempo Of US Operations In Iraq

Thomas E. Ricks has an excellent article in the Washington Post about changing US military tactics in Iraq. The US has upped the rate of raids and operations and changed how the operations are conducted. The number of Iraqis volunteering intelligence information has doubled in some areas, the quality of information is reported to be very good, and the growing quantity and quality of information is leading to a growing number of raids that make use of the information to capture more Baathists, documents, and weapons. The increased rate of US casualties is mainly coming from the increased rate of operations. One consequence of this more aggressive approach is that the price the Baathists have to pay to get Iraqi youths to launch attacks against American forces has gone up by more than an order of magnitude.

At the beginning of June, before the U.S. offensives began, the reward for killing an American soldier was about $300, an Army officer said. Now, he said, street youths are being offered as much as $5,000 -- and are being told that if they refuse, their families will be killed, a development the officer described as a sign of reluctance among once-eager youths to take part in the strikes

Market prices are a powerful indicator of which way the wind is blowing.

The article is worth reading in full if you want to get a sense of how the US military is doing in Iraq.

Update: The US Army has changed its tactics in Fallujah.

But in Fallujah's mosques, markets and main streets, the unbridled anger and hostility that characterized the past three months have given way to a nervous peace, prompting both Iraqis and Americans here to suggest that the once-infamous city could serve as a national example of how to make the U.S. occupation more palatable to Iraqis.

In the turquoise-domed Abdelaziz Samarrai mosque, prayer leader Mekki Hussein Kubeisi used to rail against the presence of U.S. troops in this city. On Friday, he urged hundreds of men in ankle-length tunics to "be patient" and not to tolerate people who resort to violence.

Some US soldiers are being trained by the Brits in how to deal with the Iraqis.

A 14-man contingent from the British Army's Operational Training and Advisory Group (OPTAG) has spent the last five weeks in Iraq teaching more than 500 U.S. troops how to conduct patrols, search homes and deal with the locals in a way that does not raise their ire -- and hopefully minimizes U.S. casualties.

UPI reporter Pamela Hess has filed a very interesting story on Lt. Col. Christopher Conlin, US Marine commander of Najaf on how Conlin is working to improve relations with the people of Najaf.

Conlin has worked long and hard to win the trust of the people of Najaf through his soft-power approach: His Marines don't wear body armor when they are out in town. They pass out candy to kids. They take off their sunglasses when talking to people, so they can look into the Americans' eyes and know they are not threat. It works. Not a single Marine has died in Iraq from hostile fire since April 20. The Army has lost nearly 40 soldiers over the same period.

One thread that runs thru all these reports is that the US military is learning. It is not stuck on outmoded tactics. Its officers are not hidebound to follow an old rulebook. They are learning on many levels and getting better at how to handle the occupation of Iraq, religious rowdies, tribal customs, Baathist resistance, and any other problem that comes up.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 30 11:38 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 July 28 Monday
Few Foreign Muslims Rallying To Jihad In Iraq

The foreign volunteers being captured in Iraq came before the war started.

Meanwhile, there's little evidence of recruiting at campuses or on Web sites. Visits to mosques in several Arab capitals also yielded no sign that preachers are trying to mobilize the faithful for jihad.

In Iraq, the U.S.-led coalition has detained foreigners suspected of involvement in attacks on Americans, but officials say they are only remnants of the Arab volunteers who came to Iraq before the war.

Arab governments are reluctant to allow open recruitment as that would surely anger the US government. At the same time, the nature of the continued opposition in Iraq is becoming clearer.

That series of raids yielded information on what analysts said was a surprisingly large network of Hussein loyalists. "We call it the gang of 9,000," said a senior Army official, adding that that figure was just an estimate of the number of Baath Party operatives, former intelligence functionaries and their allies active in the Sunni region and in Baghdad.

It seems possible that the US military may succeed in gradually killing and capturing the network of Hussein loyalists.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 28 09:50 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 July 23 Wednesday
Deaths Of Qusay and Uday Will Speed Intelligence Work In Iraq

The response in Iraq to the deaths of Qusay and Uday Hussein bode well for future progress in reducing Baathist ability to resist the occupation.

As rumours of their deaths were reported on al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya satellite television channels, joyful firing of rifles came from all points of the horizon. The cacophony was such as has not been heard since the closing days of the war in early April, when similar tracer fire sped across the same skyline as US forces fought their way through Baghdad.

Better intelligence about the Baathists is key.

The attack that killed Qusay and Uday Hussein could set off an immediate wave of retribution attacks, officials said, but the deaths should also embolden more Iraqis to come forward with critical information to energize the American military's antiguerrilla operations.

Fortunately the US military is already working to get better knowledge of the Baathists who are coordinating the opposition to the US occupation.

"You get a tip, you pull a couple of guys in, they start to talk," a Central Command official said. Then, based on that information, he said, "you do a raid, you confiscate some documents, you start building the tree" of contacts and "you start doing signals intercepts. And then you're into the network."

"The people are now coming to us with information," Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, told Abizaid in a briefing this week at Odierno's headquarters in Tikrit, Saddam's home town. "Every time we do an operation, more people come in."

The US forces have shifted their emphasis away from interrogating top Baathists and toward going after the small fry. There are many lower level Baathists with useful information and US forces are now targetting them for interrogation and offers of money in exchange for information. The threat of being shipped to Guantanomo is proving to be an effective way to get lower level Baathists to talk.

Update: How well the US does in Iraq in stopping the on-going attacks and in creating a better government there depends very heavily on what the Iraqi people decide about the war and about the US occupation. A highly pertinent poll of people of Baghdad has just been released. The British polling organization YouGov polled people in Baghdad about the war and its aftermath.

What, though, do the people of Baghdad think of the Americans today, three months after they occupied their city? More people feel friendly (26 per cent) than hostile (18 per cent), but fully 50 per cent feel ‘neither friendly nor hostile’. GIs might feel relieved to learn that only 9 per cent of Baghdadians say they are ‘very hostile’ — but this small percentage amounts to about 250,000 adults. It would take only a tiny proportion of these to be armed, angry and willing to act to make life a continuing misery for the occupying forces.

This was not an easy poll to do.

The poll was conducted at 20 locations across Baghdad, with YouGov driving around to monitor progress. Some were by face-to-face interview, some by supervised self-completion. Watching the people of Baghdad set out their views was exhilarating; but the exhilaration jostled with fear. We heard gunfire or explosions nearly every hour. At one point a machine-gun was lifted in the air and several rounds fired off — which can mean a signal to fellow-terrorists that Westerners are in the area. We disappeared. Occasionally our interviewers were threatened, in one case with a gun.

The full text of the poll is available as a PDF.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 23 01:32 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 July 14 Monday
Reuel Marc Gerecht Sees Shiite-American Relations Key In Iraq

Former CIA agent and resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute Reuel Marc Gerecht says the Shiites in Iraq are most fearful that the US will not try hard enough to root out the old Sunni Baathist elite.

After spending several days talking and dining with numerous clerics aligned with Najaf's two most influential grand ayatollahs, Ali al-Hoseini as-Sistani and Muhammad Said at-Tabatabai al-Hakim, I couldn't see at all a desire on their part for a divorce. Yes, some complained of American heavy-handedness and ignorance in the national and, more acutely, local administrations. Some but by no means all were worried about "street morality" in Najaf and Karbala, fearing that the American presence might provoke a little too much independence and sartorial free expression among Iraqi women. And some were worried that the Americans might develop a "British mentality," publicly embracing the idea of Iraqi democracy but privately working to undermine the right of the Shiite majority to gain the upper hand politically. But I didn't meet a single cleric in this crowd who really wanted the Americans to leave right away. Many clerics clearly understood that the United States needed to remain in Iraq at least for two or three years. Scratch through the nationalist pride and sense of Islamic honor--and the two are tightly welded together among the Shiite ulama--and there was often a real foreboding within the clergy that the United States wasn't going to interfere enough in postwar Iraq. That is, that the United States wasn't going to annihilate the old Arab Sunni Baathist order.

Gerecht believes US commanders made a big mistake at the end of the war when they failed to send large numbers of forces into the northwestern Sunni areas of Iraq to chase down the Baathist forces there. He also thinks the CIA and State Department are hobbled by a lack of Arabic-speaking specialists in Arabic societies. He recommends that the State Department raid Arabic-speaking staff from other embassies and send them to Iraq where they will be able to make a much bigger difference. Makes sense.

Update: Also see the analysis by AEI resident fellow Thomas Donnelly on how the US military is developing a better understanding of the problems it faces in Iraq.

But at the tactical level, soldiers, agents, and special operations forces are working hand in glove to weed out local Ba'athist cells. And a broad assessment of enemy strength and commitment to fight is being built, piece by piece. There is an intelligence value in having military commanders who also must act as the civilian authority: All the local leaders are anxious to come plead their cases--they are in some sense the classic intelligence "walk-ins," and by sifting their stories, it is possible to assemble a three-dimensional picture of what's happening in the Iraqi streets. This makes it hard for outsiders to move in unnoticed. In sum, the current operations should yield a more accurate, bottom-up assessment of the situation nationwide, but until then, making any larger judgments will be difficult. And, of course, the success of the current military sweep operations will go far in shaping those judgments.

This points out a big downside to relying on NGOs: If the US military and civilian administrators are the main source of aid to the Iraqis then the Iraqi factions will all come to the US officers and officials and describe their troubles and enemies in detail. The US folks will then also be in a stronger position to dole out aid as carrots to get more information and cooperation.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 14 10:22 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 June 24 Tuesday
Some Iraqi Women Pining For US Soldiers

Betsy Pisik has an interesting article in The Washington Times about Iraqi women interested in US soldiers

Despite Islamic religious injunctions and a deeply conservative social culture, many Iraqi women find themselves swooning for the blue-eyed U.S. soldiers in clunky battle fatigues.

Privately, some Iraqi women ask how to catch the eye of an American man. But publicly, the tone is one of tsk'ing disapproval.

The US soldiers are under orders to not get involved in romantic relationships with the women in Iraq. They also have few opportunities to interact with them. But, faced with a severe shortage of men after wars and killings by Saddams regime, some women in Iraq eyeing the US soldiers as potential marriage material.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 24 02:35 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 March 20 Thursday
Gertrude Bell In Iraq During the British 1920s Mandate

Gertrude Bell was an obviously upper class British woman who was involved in the British Mandate rule over Iraq during the 1920s. Her letters to her father (and perhaps to others as well?) can be found here. I've included some excerpts from a few of them below in hopes they will pique your interest. The letters give a sense of what the British approach was toward ruling Iraq.

From her 26 February 1922 letter to her father.

[26 February 1922] Baghdad Feb 26 Darling Father. I shall begin my fortnightly letter. The airmail is a week overdue but I believe it is in tomorrow. The outgoing mail also was delayed - we have had a good deal of wind, bad for travel by air. On the whole however it's wonderful that the service has been well maintained all through the winter. We have a motor party crossing the desert also, partly to remark the aerodromes and partly to collect data for a possible railway. For the latter purpose AT [Wilson] went with them. I haven't any belief in that desert railway as a business proposition, but if the APOC choose to take it up the 'Iraq wouldn't say them nay. The Co. is not in very good odour because of the immense charges they are making for kerosine in Baghdad. AT had an interview with the King on the subject - the first time he has seen him. I went up to photograph the King next day but he didn't seem to have been favourably impressed by AT. "Oh my sister!" said he "A perfect thief!" This was because he had offered to buy kerosine in Muhammarah and transport it himself (AT having objected that the high price was because of the cost of carriage.) AT said that couldn't be managed - I expect they have a private contract with Mesperse[?] for the transport of oil. Meantime rage and anger are gathering round them for the price of agricultural produce has fallen to pre-war rates and the petroleum being 30 times the pre-war cost the cultivators can't afford to work their pumps. The APOC is making gigantic profits, I believe, but I don't think it will pay them, if they want further concessions in 'Iraq to maintain a stiff attitude with regard to prices. Already there's a good deal of murmuring that the mineral wealth of the country should be worked in the interests of the country.

The King mentioned above was King Faisal who was then the King of Iraq and who had been installed on the throne by the British. His grandson Faisal II was overthrown and murdered in 1958. A timeline of Iraqi history can be found here.

1 March 1922, presumably to her father.

It was such a glorious day today. I went out riding in the afternoon through the green desert. The King has taken over the Dairy Farm and is busy planting trees down all the roads.

Oh and I must tell you (in private) that the Naqib has dug in his toes about the treaty and won't be responsible for it unless the mandate is specifically dropped. And what's more (but this is deeply secret) Sir Percy has advised that it should be and at his request I added a sentence or two to his otherwise admirable telegram pointing out (for this made his case so much stronger) that if we persist in claiming a mandate we shall unite against us in uneasy harness the extremists who will follow and outvie Faisal and the moderates who would find it almost impossible to go against the expressed opinion of the Naqib. So that we should arrive at a deadlock with the people who are most anxious for our continued presence here unable to advocate it on our silly terms. Which Heaven forbid! but all honour to Sir Percy for having boldly faced the problem.

Writing to her father 12 March 1922

Rabbi Kornfelder who is the newly appointed USA Minister at Tehran [(Teheran)] is here on his way to his post. I dined and met him on Friday and heard a great deal about the East. Incidentally I may mention that he has never before been east of Boston. All the same he is rather an interesting man. I had him to lunch today and a little party to meet him, including Col. Slater and Sasun Eff. Sasun and Dr Kornfelder agree in being anti-Zionists. I also had a dinner party last week of officers of the 'Iraq General Staff with Major Eadie and Major Murray to meet them. Very nice they were. - Sir Percy has just been in to give his advice on the question of parties, namely that if the two parties can't come to an agreement the moderates are bound to go ahead on their own lines. I'm now expecting (a) Nuri Pasha, (b) Fakhri and Majid Beg to discuss the same subject, the last two to tell me the developments of the day and hear Sir Percy's views. It's deeply interesting, but rather agonizing to be taking so decisive a share in all this. One feels that a wrong step may do a great deal of harm. But both Sir Percy and I think that the country as a whole is with the moderates if they will come forward boldly and also that the Naqib's influence is a very strong factor at present and that what he is known to back will win.

Isn't that a revelation? There was an American Rabbi serving as something equivalent to an ambassador to Persia in the 1920s. Note the passing reference to Zionism.

Writing to her father 30 March 1922

[30 March 1922] March 30 Baghdad. Darling Father. I'm writing to you in a great perturbation of spirit because we are in the middle of a terrific cabinet crisis brought on, I'm sorry to say, by very hasty and ill judged action on the part of the King. He took offence at the inaction of the Cabinet with regard to the Akhwan raid and without telling anyone or consulting anyone called up 5 of the Ministers and said he had lost confidence in them and would ask them to resign. This they have finally done after two days of indecision during which Mr Cornwallis and Sir Percy have tried to find ways for him to get out, all of which he has refused to take. Two of the 5 are very important people, Naji Suwaidi and the big Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] man, 'Abdul Latif Mandil, and on the top Sasun Eff has resigned also - I can't blame him, but I feel sure the King won't accept his resignation if he can help it. The Akhwan raid was a very bad business; our tribes lost over 200 killed and all their tents and animals, but there was absolutely nothing the Cabinet could do until we knew how far Ibn Sa'ud himself was implicated in the matter - and if he was implicated it was up to us to take action. Yesterday Sir Percy had a perfectly admirable telegram from Ibn Sa'ud - telegrams take some time because they go to Bahrain by camel and are telegraphed from there - saying he knew nothing whatever about the hostilities, expressing his deep regret and adding that he had sent instant orders to his people to come back. I won't say he is blameless in the matter but I feel convinced that Sir Percy can bring everything to a satisfactory conclusion for Ibn Sa'ud worships him {almost} only second to Allah. Meantime it's difficult to see how Faisal is going to right himself. If he climbs down he'll look very foolish and if he persists he will be very foolish. This is all private of course. Sir Percy, that great master of wiles, may yet find a way out. He and the King are flying to Ramadi [Ramadi, Ar] tomorrow to lunch with 'Ali Sulaiman - perhaps flight will bring counsel.

The Ibn Sa'ud referenced above is the now famous patriarch to the large clan of princes who currently rule Saudi Arabia.

The intrigue, tribal conflicts, and competition for influence and power in Iraq come across in the letters. At the same time, while tribal raiders could come out of the desert and kill hundreds it certainly was a slower moving, more genteel, and in some ways less complex time.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 20 01:53 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2002 September 30 Monday
Post War Afghanistan and Iraq Questions

In a harsh (and I think deserved) critique of Al Gore's recent speech about Bush's foreign policy Charles Krauthammer brings up US policy toward post-Taliban Afghanistan:

There is a serious question about how deeply involved in Afghanistan we ought to be. Are we more likely to bring stability by continuing Afghanistan's long history of decentralization and allowing warlords to act in their traditional areas of influence, or by sending an imperial army to go around imposing order in places where outsiders -- the British and the Soviets most notably -- have not had much luck imposing their own order?

The effort required for the US to try to impose a more unified and centralized government on Afghanistan would be enormous in troops required, number of years, casualties, and financial costs. It would literally take generations to be entirely successful. I think the Bush Administration has made the right choice in opting for the more minimal solution that is designed to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a base for Al Qaeda. Yes, that means nasty regional warlords rule in various cities and districts. But this has been the case for all of the last 100 years and even longer. The alternative seems like a huge effort that provides very little benefit to the US or to the rest of the world.

The Post War Iraq Settlement Is More Important

Iraq also is a country with unnatural borders and strong internal divisions. The Shias and Kurds do not want to be ruled from Baghdad by Sunni Arabs. Even the Sunni population has many of the same characteristics that limit the political development of much of the Arab world. We should not think that after Saddam is gone we can be as successful in imposing a form of government as we were with post-WWII Japan and Germany.

So what to do? Should we try to create a new central government that firmly rules the entire country? Or spin off the Sunni Arab part into a federation with Jordan? Or make a federation with more devolution of power to the Kurdish and Shia regions?

Also, the oil fields are in the Kurdish region. So that makes a division especially difficult for the viability of the rest of the country. Plus, the Turks do not want an independent Kurdish state on their border that would encourage their own Kurds to try harder to secede. The US is relying on Turkish help against Saddam so its probable that Bush has promised the Turks that there will be no independent Kurdish state.

The decision of what to do with post-Saddam Iraq will have orders of magnitude greater consequences in the long run than the decision of what to do with post-Taliban Afghanistan. It is not at all clear to me what ought to be done. Unfortunately the public debate over this issue is mostly limited to discussions about whether to overthrow Saddam in the first place and the issue is usually raised by people who are arguing against the coming attack on Iraq. Well given that Bush is determined to take out Saddam's regime (a decision I fully agree with) we ought to move on to the next important question: what to do about Iraq afterwards?

By Randall Parker    2002 September 30 11:05 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
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