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2008 November 23 Sunday
Iraqi Kurds Arming For Conflict

The Kurds do not want to remain part of Iraq. Democracy hasn't reconciled them to being ruled by Arabs. They see no reason to trust the majority Shia Iraqis. The Kurds would be better off on their own. But the US government does not want Iraq to split up. The Kurds are buying arms from Bulgaria. They are probably using oil revenues to fund these purchases.

BAGHDAD -- Kurdish officials this fall took delivery of three planeloads of small arms and ammunition imported from Bulgaria, three U.S. military officials said, an acquisition that occurred outside the weapons procurement procedures of Iraq's central government.

The Kurdish region has been functioning de facto separate from the rest of Iraq for many years and since the US invasion the area ruled by the Kurdish government has expanded to include more Kurds. Also, large numbers of Kurds fled Baghdad in response to many attacks against them by Arabs.

The Kurds see the US withdrawal coming and they are preparing for confrontation.

The large quantity of weapons and the timing of the shipment alarmed U.S. officials, who have grown concerned about the prospect of an armed confrontation between Iraqi Kurds and the government at a time when the Kurds are attempting to expand their control over parts of northern Iraq.

Will the Arab government in Baghdad try to use force to keep the Kurds in Iraq? Will the Turks support the Arabs against the Kurds? How is this going to play out? The Kurds have borders with Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Arab Iraq. Which side will each of the other neighbors take in a war between the Kurds and Iraqi Arabs? I'm expecting the Iraqi Arabs to be pretty ineffectual fighters. Will the Sunni Arabs side with their fellow Arabs? Or will the Sunnis try to break off from the Shias?

Conceivably the Kurds might arm so well that the Arab government will allow them to remain de facto independent as long as the Kurds do not announce total independence from the government in Baghdad.

By Randall Parker    2008 November 23 04:41 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2008 April 06 Sunday
Anthony Cordesman: 3 Big Iraq Problems

We are just keeping a lid on Iraq - a leaky lid.

EVEN if American and Iraqi forces are able to eliminate Al Qaeda in Iraq, there are still three worrisome possibilities of new forms of fighting that could divide Iraq and deny the United States any form of “victory.”

One is that the Sunni tribes and militias that have been cooperating with the Americans could turn against the central government. The second is that the struggle among Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and other ethnic groups to control territory in the north could lead to fighting in Kirkuk, Mosul or other areas.

The third risk — and one that is now all too real — is that the political struggle between the dominant Shiite parties could become an armed conflict.

How long will we have to pay before we can all admit that we've tried long enough? At what point can our elites admit that a large fraction of the Iraqi people - and not just some relatively small group of terrorists - are the cause of the fighting between factions in Iraq?

What are we seeking to prove at this point other than that we have enough willpower to stand up to whoever might threaten us? Really, what is the point of a US presence in Iraq?

By Randall Parker    2008 April 06 10:35 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2007 November 25 Sunday
Will Violence In Iraq Go Up After Surge?

A New York Times piece reports that the Bush Administration has had to lower its expectations about political progress in Iraq aimed at reconciling the major factions.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 — With American military successes outpacing political gains in Iraq, the Bush administration has lowered its expectation of quickly achieving major steps toward unifying the country, including passage of a long-stymied plan to share oil revenues and holding regional elections.

These factions don't want to be reconciled. The Shias don't want to give anything to the Sunnis. The Sunnis don't want to submit to majority rule because majority rule is Shiite rule. The Kurds just want to run their semi-seceded zone as an unofficial Kurdish republic.

Keep in mind: The democratization faith is irrational. Democracy is not a universal balm. Sometimes groups have irreconcilable differences. They can either divorce or one faction can brutalize the other faction into submission. Sometimes dialog is not the road to a happy ending.

The Shiites feel less need to bow to American pressure because of security improvements. I bet the Shiite leaders feel they can simply rule as elected rulers of the majority since the Sunnis are looking defanged.

There have been signs that American influence over Iraqi politics is dwindling after the recent improvements in security — which remain incomplete, as shown by a deadly bombing Friday in Baghdad. While Bush officials once said they aimed to secure “reconciliation” among Iraq’s deeply divided religious, ethnic and sectarian groups, some officials now refer to their goal as “accommodation.”

"Accommodation". I think that's a code word for partial but unofficial partition.

Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post, who has spent a lot of time in Iraq and even wrote a book about it, says the Sunnis and Shias might just be holding back until US troop levels go down.

Kingston, Ontario: Mr. Ricks: Here's a two-part question. Do you think that the success in reducing violence in Iraq is because of a decisive breakthrough against the insurgency, or are the insurgents just biding their time? And do you have the sense that the Americans have any control at all over the political process in Iraq, or are the Iraqi factions just pursuing their own strategies? Thanks.

Thomas E. Ricks: Well, that's the big question. Are the warring sides standing down until Uncle Sam gets out of the way?

The Sunnis have largely stopped fighting while they seek to cut a deal to get a place at the table in post-Saddam Iraq. And the Shiites have stopped fighting the Americans for at least six months, they say -- and why not? With the Sunnis standing down, Uncle Sam would be focusing all his firepower on the Shiites.

But what if the Sunnis get sick of waiting? And what happens when U.S. forces start declining in number next year?

Ricks observes that the current level of violence only looks good because it is compared to what came immediately before the surge. We are currently at a level of violence similar to the 2005 period and that was considered pretty bad at the time. It is like oil prices. If oil goes back down to $70 per barrel some will point to that price and argue that worries about oil demand outstripping supply are unfounded. I guess we should have let Iraq get far worse before surging so that the amount of improvement possible could have been much larger.

Ricks also reports that US commanders in Iraq see the Shiite leaders as the biggest threat to the goals that the US wants to achieve in Iraq.

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq -- Senior military commanders here now portray the intransigence of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than al-Qaeda terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias.

In more than a dozen interviews, U.S. military officials expressed growing concern over the Iraqi government's failure to capitalize on sharp declines in attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. A window of opportunity has opened for the government to reach out to its former foes, said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq, but "it's unclear how long that window is going to be open."

Suppose the US unsurges in mid 2008 and the level of violence goes back up again. Then what is the point of staying? I think we should have left a few years ago. I can think of far more useful ways to spend a few billion dollars a week that don't even cost hundreds or thousands of American lives and which don't leave tens of thousans of others with permanent damage to mind or body.

By Randall Parker    2007 November 25 10:11 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2007 November 15 Thursday
Shias In Iraqi Government Not Reaching Out To Sunnis

The decrease in bombs isn't leading to political reconciliation. The Shias fear the Sunnis will regain power in a more peaceful Iraq.

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq -- Senior military commanders here now portray the intransigence of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than al-Qaeda terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias.

In more than a dozen interviews, U.S. military officials expressed growing concern over the Iraqi government's failure to capitalize on sharp declines in attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. A window of opportunity has opened for the government to reach out to its former foes, said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq, but "it's unclear how long that window is going to be open."

Missing an opportunity? That's so not how the Shia leaders see it. Writing in Asia Times Syrian political analyst Sami Moubayed reports that the Shias fear that Sunnis are going to join the military in large numbers to get control of it.

One reason could be a last-minute decision by Shi'ite leaders to get Shi'ite young men into the armed forces - regardless of their political affiliations - to prevent these posts from being filled by Sunnis under pressure from US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Gates, operating under the principle of former US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, has insisted on bringing Sunnis back into senior government and military posts.

One the one hand, militias are being absorbed into the army. On the other hand, 1,500 Iraqis are returning to Iraq per day (according to the London-based al-Hayat) from Syria. That too is troubling the prime minister and Muqtada since most of those returning in large numbers are Sunnis. This comes after Syria decided to implement restrictions on visas to control the 1.5 million-plus Iraqi community in Syria. If al-Hayat is correct and this pace continues, in nearly four years all Iraqis will be out of Syria and back in the civil war arena in Baghdad.

Moktada al Sadr's Mahdi Army are joining the Iraqi military in large numbers as a way to make the Iraqi military even more Shia than it already is.

Maliki and Muqtada fear a rebirth of Iraqi Sunnis at the expense of Shi'ites. This explains 18,000 Shi'ites being formally authorized to hold arms by joining the Iraqi army. This explains why Maliki is becoming bolder in turning his back on the Accordance Front. Recently, he received a list of 16 names earmarked to replace those of the Accordance Front in government, put forward by the Iraqi Awakening Council in Ramadi. Most prominent on the list was Sheikh Hamid al-Hayes, ex-Anbar Awakening president and current head of Iraq Awakening.

Sadr on the inside is going to work against granting the Sunnis much political power. Sadr wants the Sunnis to submit to Shia rule.

The US might have temporarily reduced the return from fighting in the streets. But the Sunnis still haven't reconciled themselves to Shia rule. Plus, the Shias (accurately I think) see the Sunnis as more dangerous to Shia rule when the Sunnis are inside the government. So why should the Shias try to reach out to the Sunnis as top US officers would like to see them do? That reaching out would put Sunnis closer to the levers of governmental control.

By the way, the second article above reports a huge surge of Sunni Iraqis returning to Iraq from Syria. At the same time this is happening liberal writers such as Fred Kaplan and Daniel Byman at Slate are arguing we need to let in a huge flood of Iraqi Muslim refugees. I say we also all sign up for "Getting hit on the head lessons" in advance so that we get into the spirit of it.

By Randall Parker    2007 November 15 11:16 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2007 October 02 Tuesday
Iraqi Shiites Claim United States Supports Sunni Terrorists

I'm so glad I do not work as the press secretary for President Bush. I couldn't stand to justify the twists and turns and contradictions of George W's policies in the Middle East. Um, since the United States has taken on a missionary war to spread democracy around the world out the barrel of a gun shouldn't the US accede to the wishes of democratically elected Shias to not ally the US with not-democratically-elected Sunnis?

BAGHDAD, Oct. 2 -- The largest Shiite political coalition in Iraq demanded Tuesday that the U.S. military abandon its recruitment of Sunni tribesmen into the Iraqi police, saying some are members of "armed terrorist groups" and are engaged in killing, kidnapping and extortion under the guise of fighting the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The statement by the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite bloc of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, is the most direct rebuke to a policy that U.S. military officers hold up as one of their most important achievements over the past year.

The United States is ignoring the wishes of the Shia majority. Does the Bush Administration now believe that thwarting the desires of the majority is sometimes morally acceptable policy? My guess is they've lost some of their faith in democracy but aren't keen to go on record about this. They claim moral legitimacy for their crusade based on the moral superiority of democracy in all cases. Their public profession of faith in democracy as the universal balm for stopping terrorism makes their current Iraqi policies a bit difficult to reconcile with their faith.

By Randall Parker    2007 October 02 10:50 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2007 August 27 Monday
Mahdi Army Takes Over As British Withdraw From Basra

Make friends to live a safer life. The Brits made a deal with Shia cleric Moktada's rocking Mahdi Army to ensure a fairly safe British withdrawal.

Basra, Iraq - The last contingent of British soldiers based in the center of this southern city will leave by Friday, says a senior Iraqi security official, adding that a deal has been struck with leaders of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army to ensure their safe departure.

As they pull back to a base outside Basra, the British will leave a vital provincial capital in the throes of a turf battle between Shiite factions – one that Mr. Sadr's militia appears to be winning.

Is Sadr on a roll, headed for rule over the Shia zone in Iraq? Or will his militia fragment as soon as they near total dominance?

The Iraqi "central" government (i.e. the Green Zone government that the US continues to back) is going to try to take over once the Brits leave. But the Mahdi guys seem like they have the numerical advantage.

The Iraqi official says the palaces will be handed over to an Iraqi force dispatched from Baghdad and will not be given to the controversial provincial authority, which is embroiled in a power struggle between rival Shiite political parties. This 3,000-strong Iraqi force will consist of two Army battalions and elements from the Ministry of Interior's commando unit.

The Mahdi Army, which according to one estimate, numbers about 17,000 in Basra and is divided into about 40 sariyas (company-size military unit), is the strongest among its rivals in the militia-infiltrated police force and it has influence over vital sectors such as health, education, power distribution, and ports.

Damien Cave of the New York Times describes the incredibly fragmented and divided nature of Iraqi society.

In part, of course, Iraq remains a place pocked by violence and fear, which makes compromise difficult. But more important, say Iraqi political commentators and officials, Iraq has become a cellular nation, dividing and redividing into competing constituencies that have a greater stake in continued chaos than in compromise.

In most areas, for most Iraqis, the central government today is either irrelevant or invisible. Provinces and even neighborhoods have become the stages where power struggles play out. As a result, Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds — or elements of each faction — have come to feel that they can do a better job on their own.

When I refer to the central government as the "Green Zone government" I'm only partly exaggerating. It has little influence over large swathes of Iraq. Even the central government is broken up into factions with different ministries under the control of different parties and militias.

The overstretched US military can lower Iraqi deaths in limited areas. But the US military can't maintain its current level of deployment in Iraq. Some time in 2008 US forces are going to go way down. Then what happens?

What could change by the time US forces start go withdraw? More thorough ethnic purging. The fewer Shias and Sunnis living near each other will mean fewer opportunities to kill each other. Also, the local competition between militias might resolve with clear winners. Less competition for control should also lower the level of violence.

Of course, an ethnically purged nation dominated by regional militias isn't the vision that the Bush White House wants us to imagine Iraq is headed for. But if Iraq continues to head in that direction and the violence drops we can expect the Bush White House to mendaciously claim credit for the drop in violence. Will our leaders then lie their way out of Iraq declaring success the whole way? Tricky Dick "Peace With Honor" Nixon would approve.

By Randall Parker    2007 August 27 08:07 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2007 May 03 Thursday
Flawed View Of Human Nature Behind Iraq Debacle

Steve Sailer suggests why Condi Rice, George W, Bush, and the neocons failed to anticipate the post-invasion violence in Iraq.

As usual, I see an aversion to politically incorrect generalizing about ethnicities as a source of ignorance among decision-makers. One of the basic generalizations that anybody who looks around at the real world with open eyes quickly comes up with is the reverse correlation between organized violence and disorganized violence. Groups that are competent at organized violence in wartime, such as the Germans and Japanese, tend to be orderly during peacetime. And groups that tend to be anarchic during peacetime also tend to be incompetent at organized violence during wartime, with the Iraqis being perhaps the most notorious example of this.

There are many exceptions to this, but it's still one of the most obvious patterns in 20th Century history. However, if you are morally opposed to noticing patterns, as so many people are today, you'll be a sucker for idiocy.

The pretty lies about human nature (e.g. everyone loves freedom) which our intellectual elites have enshrined as virtues come at big costs. The Iraq Debacle is one of those costs. Our immigration policy is another of those costs. The lies have gotten too costly. We should abandon the lies and the damaging policies they are used to justify.

My own curiosity about the world and my desire to understand it overwhelms any impulse I have to go along with the mythologies promoted by our intellectuals. I refuse to believe the nonsense that passes as conventional wisdom among the talking heads. Plus, I do not have sufficient intellectual resources to make sense of the world if I also have to reconcile what I see with what I'm supposed to believe. Some smart people find the time, motivation, and mental energy to rationalize some sort of consistency between their beliefs and the conflicting evidence of their senses. But I prefer to ditch the false beliefs in order to free up mental resources and apply those resources to better puzzle out what really is true.

Back in the year 2000 if you would have asked me where the neocons fit on the political spectrum I would not have placed the neoconservatives on the Left. After all, they placed themselves on the Right and they drew parallels between themselves and right-wingers who are big on a strong military. In the run-up to the Iraq invasion I figured that surely the neocon rhetoric about democracy in Iraq was just marketing gibber to sell the war. I figured the neocons were sufficiently realistic to have some secret plan about how to keep some Baathists in the Iraqi military and wouldn't base real policy on the idea that Jeffersonian Democracy has a place in Iraq. But I greatly overestimated both the intellectual abilities of the neocons and their grasp on reality.

Today my take on the neocons has changed. I see them as leftists because they share left-wing assumptions about human nature even as they make conservative arguments when those arguments help them advance their goals. Yet as Lawrence Auster points out, the neocons continue to flatter themselves that they are fighting against unrealistic views of human nature and defending society against the Left.

Neoconservatives, as I have observed a thousand times, refuse to respond to arguments from their right. Their self-concept is that they are in a heroic war against the left. Since the left sees them as extreme right-wingers and excludes them, as PBS excluded Gaffney's movie, the neocons see themselves as being as far-right as any reasonable person can possibly be, and thus they cannot conceive that their own position is actually a liberal position open to legitimate criticism from conservatives. Therefore they automatically and rudely dismiss any criticism from their right as crackpottery, as Gaffney dismissed mine.

And that, as I said, is the landscape of mainstream American politics when it comes to Islam: on one side, the anti-American, pro-jihadist left, and on the other side, the deluded, neocon "right," which imagines that it is defending America from its jihadist enemies, but in reality is legitimizing and empowering jihad by telling people that the vast majority of Muslims are moderates whom we should welcome into our country.

I think Muslim immigration is a great litmus test for whether someone really is willing to put defense of our society ahead of promotion of a foolish Panglossian view of human nature. On immigration in general and on Muslim immigration in particular the neocons show their true stripes. They are liberal universalists who really believe that all the peoples of the world can get converted into liberal democrats.

Neocons defend the war in Iraq as a necessary battlefield in their Global War On Terror (GWOT). Never mind that a war against a tactic makes no sense. Never mind that the Muslims are not militarily formidable. The neocons present only 3 choices as tactics against the Muslims: 1) Kill the Muslims, 2) Capitulate to the Muslims; and 3) Reform the Muslims. They pose as humane by choosing option 3 over option 2 and they pose as tough guys by choosing option 3 over option 2. But in doing so they willfully ignore another option altogether: 4) Demographic Containment. In a nutshell, keep the bulk of Muslims out of non-Muslim countries.

Larry Auster labels containment as separationism. By whatever name, the idea is simple enough: The Muslims can only come to Western nations if we let them. But the neocons want us to believe that only a small extremist element in Islam is a problem for the rest of us. To believe otherwise would require an admission that liberalism does not hold universal strong appeal to all the peoples of the world. The unconservative neocons do not want us to entertain that idea and therefore won't even mention policy proposals based on that idea. Their failure to do so tells us they really want us to believe a ridiculous faith in human nature.

By Randall Parker    2007 May 03 09:38 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2007 January 28 Sunday
Sabrina Tavernise On Her Years In Iraq

New York Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise, whose reports from Iraq I have very much liked, is leaving after spending about half her time there since the invasion. Tavernise says she's lost touch with many people who have left Iraq or died.

A PAINFUL measure of just how much Iraq has changed in the four years since I started coming here is contained in my cellphone. Many numbers in the address book are for Iraqis who have either fled the country or been killed. One of the first Sunni politicians: gunned down. A Shiite baker: missing. A Sunni family: moved to Syria.

I first came to Iraq in April 2003, at the end of the looting several weeks after the American invasion. In all, I have spent 22 months here, time enough for the place, its people and their ever-evolving tragedy to fix itself firmly in my heart.

The middle class moderates have left and the extremists remain.

The moderates are mostly gone. My phone includes at least a dozen entries for middle-class families who have given up and moved away. They were supposed to build democracy here. Instead they work odd jobs in Syria and Jordan. Even the moderate political leaders have left. I have three numbers for Adnan Pachachi, the distinguished Iraqi statesman; none have Iraqi country codes.

She says a year ago Iraqis would get angry if you asked them which sect they belong to. But now they often introduce themselves with their sect identification. She relates anecdotes of Shias who are consumed with hatred of Sunnis.

She still finds potential for optimism.

For those eager to write off Iraq as lost, one fact bears remembering. A great many Shiites and Kurds, who together make up 80 percent of the population, will tell you that in spite of all the mistakes the Americans have made here, the single act of removing Saddam Hussein was worth it. And the new American plan, despite all the obstacles, may have a chance to work. With an Iraqi colleague, I have been studying a neighborhood in northern Baghdad that has become a dumping ground for bodies. There, after American troops conducted sweeps, the number of corpses dropped by a third in September. The new plan is built around that kind of tactic.

I think this is too little too late. Too many have been killed and the killings have left bitterness, mistrust, and hatred in their wake. The ethnic cleansing has emptied whole neighborhoods. I also think this US troop surge attempt goes up against a backdrop of even pre-war conditions that overwhelm attempts to maintain order. But the Shia Iraqi government officials are not on-board with the US strategy anyway.

But the odds are stacked against the corps of bright young officers charged with making the plan work, particularly because their Iraqi partner — the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki — seems to be on an entirely different page. When American officials were debating whether to send more troops in December, I went to see an Iraqi government official. The prospect of more troops infuriated him. More Americans would simply prolong the war, he said.

“If you don’t allow the minority to lose, you will carry on forever,” he said.

I happen to agree with the Iraqi Shiites who think this way. As long as the Sunnis have any doubt whether the Shia government will last the Sunnis will keep on fighting. Tavernise sees this attitude as a product of their abuse by Saddam. But I think that's a misunderstanding.

The remarks struck me as a powerful insight into the Shiites’ thinking. Abused under Mr. Hussein, they still act like an oppressed class. That means Iraqis are looking into a future of war, at least in the near term. As one young Shiite in Sadr City said to me: “This just has to burn itself out.”

I was just watching a C-SPAN rebroadcast of a speech by historian Niall Ferguson about his recent book War of the World which attempts to explain why the really big killings of humans occurred in the 20th century. He's come up with what he calls his "E" rules: Ethnic disintegration, Economic volatility, and Empire collapse. Think about central and eastern Europe where the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires collapsed. The collapses left ethnic groups living under the rule of other ethnic groups in many new countries. The Great Depression added to the economic volatility. Massive killings and population shifts ensued and not just by the Nazis.

Well, Ferguson says that the Middle East has 5 times the economic volatility of the United States. Within the Middle East Iraq has been hit far harder by economic problems due to the Iran-Iraq war, the invasion of Kuwait, followed by a crushing military defeat that included massive damage to economic infrastructure. Then the sanctions and declining oil production added to the woes and the Iraqis suffered a big decline in living standards. Now the civil war keeps the economy in bad shape and cycles of revenge between groups that do not trust each other have brought Iraq to a point that makes it extremely difficult to fix. I think the best solution is to help the Shias and Sunnis move away from each other.

The Times also has an excellent 6 minute MP3 of Sabrina Tavernise relating observations about her experiences in Iraq. Worth a listen.

By Randall Parker    2007 January 28 11:05 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2006 December 28 Thursday
The Iraqi Civil War Where America Is Fighting

Mark Santora of the New York Times spent a couple of days embedded with an American training on patrols with Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad. Santora found the Sunnis see the Iraqi military as agents of Shia ethnic cleansers and high level Iraqi government officials as obstructors of military operations that might hurt the standing of their factions.

BAGHDAD, Dec. 27 — The car parked outside was almost certainly a tool of the Sunni insurgency. It was pocked with bullet holes and bore fake license plates. The trunk had cases of unused sniper bullets and a notice to a Shiite family telling them to abandon their home.

“Otherwise, your rotten heads will be cut off,” the note read.

The soldiers who came upon the car in a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad were part of a joint American and Iraqi patrol, and the Americans were ready to take action. The Iraqi commander, however, taking orders by cellphone from the office of a top Sunni politician, said to back off: the car’s owner was known and protected at a high level.

For Maj. William Voorhies, the American commander of the military training unit at the scene, the moment encapsulated his increasingly frustrating task — trying to build up Iraqi security forces who themselves are being used as proxies in a spreading sectarian war. This time, it was a Sunni politician — Vice Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie — but the more powerful Shiites interfered even more often.

George W. Bush's coming big surge of US troops into Iraq will just train more Shias to fight Sunnis. The Shias will receive their training as soldiers in the Iraqi government. They will then proceed to use their skills and equipment to cleanse Baghdad of Sunnis. Some will do this while acting as Iraqi soldiers. Others will leave the Iraqi army and attack Sunnis in cooperation with the Shias who dominate the Iraqi security services. We call this "nation building".

“I have come to the conclusion that this is no longer America’s war in Iraq, but the Iraqi civil war where America is fighting,” Major Voorhies said.

Major Voorhies sees the obvious. Our soldiers are tasked with pretending there is a non-sectarian middle in Iraq that has control of the Iraqi central government. The idea is that if we just provide enough support and training to those officially part of the central government then the central government will become the more powerful middle against the sects and factions all around it. But there's no non-partisan center in Iraq. There's no objective and impartial civil service staffing the ministries. We are dealing with tribes motivated by clan loyalty which is sustained by the practice of cousin marriage.

American soldiers working with (predominately Shiite) Iraqi soldiers do searches for weapons in the Sunni Ghazaliya neighborhood of Baghdad. The Mahdi Army are battling to push out and kill the Sunnis in Ghazaliya. The net effect of US involvement is to help the Shias disarm the Sunnis so that the Shias can kill and push out the Sunnis when the Americans are not around.

“Anyone leaving Ghazaliya will get killed because they know you are Sunni,” said Fadhel A. Zaidan, who had lived in nearby Huriya for 50 years. “Now the Americans are taking our weapons, and when they leave, the Mahdi militia will attack.”

Mr. Zaidan has it right. Of course, some of those weapons are used to kill Americans. Though Shias are probably more often targets, both in defense and offense. The article reports that dozens of dead bodies are found on the streets of Baghdad every day. My guess that most of those dead are Sunnis. I'd be curious to know what the trend is in the ratio of Sunni to Shia dead. Probably rising.

American commanders say they are aware of this danger. In part, that is why residents are allowed one AK-47 and two cartridges.

The United States is effectively fighting on the side of the Shia majority against the Sunni minority. Never mind that Shias kill US soldiers just like Sunnis do.

If we were honest about the net effect of our actions we could at least help the Sunnis move away from the Shias so that fewer Sunnis would die in the process. But America's ruling elite and talking heads aren't up for that level of brutal honesty.

By Randall Parker    2006 December 28 11:42 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
Failure To Understand Cousin Marriage Blinds Policy Makers On Iraq

Writing for the Christian Science Monitor Anne Bobroff-Hajal joins the too short list of writers who appreciate the problem that consanguineous (cousin) marriage poses for the US intervention in Iraq.

All too often, the US carries out foreign policy with little comprehension of the societies it confronts. This can lead to unintended - often destructive - results.

One central element of the Iraqi social fabric that most Americans know little about is its astonishing rate of cousin marriage. Indeed, half of all marriages in Iraq are between first or second cousins. Among countries with recorded figures, only Pakistan and Nigeria rate as high. For an eye-opening perspective about rates of consanguinity (roughly equivalent to cousin marriage) around the world, click on the "Global Prevalence" map at www.consang.net.

But who cares who marries whom in a country we invade? Why talk to anthropologists who study that arcane subject? Only those who live in modern, individualistic societies could be so oblivious. Cousin marriage, especially the unique form practiced in the Middle East, creates clans of fierce internal cohesiveness and loyalty. So in addition to sectarian violence in Iraq, the US may also be facing a greater intensity of inter-clan violence than it saw in Vietnam or the ferocious Lebanese civil war.

She gets it right about Westerners being oblivious. Middle Eastern societies are fundamentally different. Bonds created by marriage practices make them different. Western small family units and atomized individuals can feel loyalty toward a whole nation. Leftists who imagine themselves as more enlightened even want us to shift our loyalties toward the whole world (which is a few steps beyond the biological limits of how the human mind works). But the Iraqis have very strong loyalties which are far more local, loyalties that make Western style societies and governments unachievable by Iraqis or other Arab societies.

Here's a sentence that covers a lot of ground:

The US can't deal with a problem it doesn't recognize, let alone understand.

That does not just apply to Iraq. How about education and immigration? Left wing intellectuals have decided to deny and ignore human nature when facts about human nature suggest limits on what can be achieved through social engineering. Even though the Soviet Union has collapsed and New Soviet Man was a tragic failure the desire to radically rearrange social orders and habits has lived on. The Iraq debacle is a result of both liberal and neoconservative beliefs that a New Liberal Man could be created in Mesopotamia.

Anthropologist Stanley Kurtz has described Middle East clans as "governments in miniature" that provide the services and social aid that Americans routinely receive from their national, state, and local governments. No one in a region without stable, fair government can survive outside a strong, unified, respected clan.

Kurtz knew well before the war that Middle Eastern family structures posed a huge obstacle to efforts to create proper nation-states in the Middle East. See my post Consanguinity prevents Middle Eastern political development. Journalist Charles Glass who was held hostage (and escaped) in Beirut during the Lebanon civil war wrote a book whose title captures the essence of what Middle Eastern governments are like: Tribes With Flags. We can not change Middle Eastern political behaviors unless we stop the practice of cousin marriage. Well, that's a very tall order for social engineers and would take generations to accomplish. But our policy makers are either ignorant of this or find the facts too inconvenient to acknowledge.

Bobroff-Hajal has even read Steve Sailer's Cousin Marriage Conundrum essay for which I've included a link here:

The flip side of favoring relatives is that, as Steven Sailer observed in The American Conservative in 2003, it leaves fewer resources "with which to be fair toward non-kin. So nepotistic corruption is rampant in countries such as Iraq."

Be sure to click through and read if if you haven't already.

How many of the deaths in Iraq are caused by clans attacking other clans?

I have been struck since early on in the Iraq war by how little Americans know about the groups the US so vaguely labels "insurgents." US ignorance is now further camouflaged by the label "chaos." I wonder whether, if US citizens took the time to "know thy enemy," they would learn that there are many forms of logic in the layers of Iraq's so-called chaos. I wonder if the almost daily discovery of 40, 50, or even 60 Iraqi bodies, kidnapped and tortured before being murdered, are clans battling one another.

Yes, some of the violence is inter-clan violence. Here are some examples:

Remember in October 2006 when Sadr's militia rushed into Amarah? At first glance the press reports gave the impression that the fight was a Mahdi Army challenge to the government. But the Amarah fighting was a tribal clash.

BAGHDAD, Oct. 20 -- Members of the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shiite militia headed by firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, briefly took over the southern Iraqi city of Amarah and battled with the local Shiite police before withdrawing on Friday, in a bloody feud that illustrated deepening rifts within Iraq's largest sect and the growing turmoil in the south.

As many as 25 people, including 10 policemen, were killed in street fighting and mortar attacks that raged in Amarah, a predominantly Shiite city about 190 miles southeast of Baghdad, from midday Thursday until about 2 p.m. Friday. The militia attacked the headquarters and two stations of the city police department, which is reportedly aligned with the Badr Brigades, an arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a powerful Shiite religious party.

Each side blamed the other in a cycle of retaliatory clashes with tribal overtones.

...

In Baghdad, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Brig. Abdul Karim Khalaf Kinany, said the clashes were not driven by intra-Shiite conflict, but by tribal differences.

"The clashes in Amarah were not between the police and the Mahdi Army," he said. "Police had in fact interfered to settle a tribal dispute between the tribe of the police officer, the head of the intelligence division . . . and the tribesmen of the suspects who were arrested by the police on suspicion of carrying out the assassination."

What percentage of the deaths in Iraq are due to inter-tribal violence?

No need for a criminal justice system with prisons when killers can be forced by tribes to pay for the lives they take,

A little later, Sheik Fawzi Kaabi entered. Everyone in the room stood. "Take your rest," Aidani said afterward.

Kaabi, a stout man in a head scarf checkered white and black, is 46, but said he should be 460: "Every year has become 10 years because of the problems." Kaabi, called "the judge" by a friend, had come to mediate another dispute.

Men from Aidani's tribe had killed three people from the Abadi, a neighboring tribe, although the circumstances were in dispute. A death these days costs between 20 million and 25 million Iraqi dinars, or $13,300 to $16,600. Each person in the tribe is expected to contribute, effectively an insurance policy. But Aidani was resisting, pleading his case that the neighboring tribe had refused to pay blood money earlier.

"We're on standby," the sheik warned, with the mildest bluster.

He said no more. Everyone understood it meant sending his armed men to settle it another way.

"It's like a serial," the sheik said after Kaabi left. "It never has an ending."

This is not remotely like America. But the neocons fantasized Iraq would rapidly Westernize as soon as Saddam fell. What fools.

By Randall Parker    2006 December 28 01:06 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
International Crisis Group Advice On Iraq

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has written a response to the Iraq Study Group in which the ICG calls for greater changes in US policy toward Iraq and the Middle East.

Slowly, incrementally, the realisation that a new strategy is needed for Iraq finally is dawning on U.S. policy-makers. It was about time. By underscoring the U.S. intervention’s disastrous political, security, and economic balance sheet, and by highlighting the need for both a new regional and Iraqi strategy, the Baker-Hamilton report represents an important and refreshing moment in the country’s domestic debate. Many of its key – and controversial – recommendations should be wholly supported, including engaging Iran and Syria, revitalising the Arab-Israeli peace process, reintegrating Baathists, instituting a far-reaching amnesty, delaying the Kirkuk referendum, negotiating the withdrawal of U.S. forces with Iraqis and engaging all parties in Iraq.

Engaging all parties in Iraq? Does that count every neighborhood militia? How about every criminal gang? The country is so fragmented that engaging all the factions isn't practical.

The ICG thinks a multinational group could get all the Iraqi factions to make an agreement that will bring peace to Iraq.

But the change the report advocates is not nearly radical enough, and its prescriptions are no match for its diagnosis. What is needed today is a clean break both in the way the U.S. and other international actors deal with the Iraqi government, and in the way the U.S. deals with the region: in essence, a new multinational effort to achieve a new political compact between all relevant Iraqi constituents.

The Shiites want an outcome where they are in charge. The Sunnis want an outcome where the Sunnis are not under the Shias and preferably one where the Shias are under the Sunnis. Given that the US is for democracy (amounts to majoritarian rule by Shias) the US is against the Sunnis getting satisfaction. How can such huge differences be reconciled? The stakes are too high in their minds.

The International Crisis Group says political leaders in Iraq are becoming warlords. That's true. Each ministry has its own guards who are involved in ethnic cleansing.

A new course of action must begin with an honest assessment of where things stand. Hollowed out and fatally weakened, the Iraqi state today is prey to armed militias, sectarian forces and a political class that, by putting short term personal benefit ahead of long term national interests, is complicit in Iraq’s tragic destruction. Not unlike the groups they combat, the forces that dominate the current government thrive on identity politics, communal polarisation, and a cycle of intensifying violence and counter-violence. Increasingly indifferent to the country’s interests, political leaders gradually are becoming warlords. What Iraq desperately needs are national leaders.

In spite of what Mick Jagger has sung, you can't always get what you need. National leaders? Iraq has one of the highest cousin marriage rates in the world. As a result loyalties heavily focus on the extended family (tribe) and one's sect of Islam. There's no room left over for feelings of loyalty toward a national government. The ICG and ISG do not explain how we can get the Iraqis to stop feeling the pull of tribal loyalties or how we are going to get them to adopt political beliefs that are incompatible with the political beliefs taught by Islam.

The International Crisis Group exaggerates the extent to which neighboring countries are driving Iraq into chaos. I think the Iraqis do not need any help to make that happen.

As it approaches its fifth year, the conflict also has become both a magnet for deeper regional interference and a source of greater regional instability. Instead of working together toward an outcome they all could live with – a weak but united Iraq that does not present a threat to its neighbours – regional actors are taking measures in anticipation of the outcome they most fear: Iraq’s descent into all-out chaos and fragmentation. By increasing support for some Iraqi actors against others, their actions have all the wisdom of a self-fulfilling prophecy: steps that will accelerate the very process they claim to wish to avoid.

The countries that are supporting the Sunnis do not want a united Iraq if that means democratically united under Shia rule. Are the Sunni countries more worried about Iraq's fragmentation or Iraq's unification under Shia rule?

The ICG correctly points out one problem with the Bush Administration's approach: Support for the Iraqi government really amounts to support for a few factions that have control of pieces of the national government. Many other factions (militias, gangs, political parties) aren't on the inside and so support for the current members of government amounts to support for some factions against other factions.

Two consequences follow. The first is that, contrary to the Baker-Hamilton report’s suggestion, the Iraqi government and security forces cannot be treated as privileged allies to be bolstered; they are simply one among many parties to the conflict. The report characterises the government as a “government of national unity” that is “broadly representative of the Iraqi people”: it is nothing of the sort. It also calls for expanding forces that are complicit in the current dirty war and for speeding up the transfer of responsibility to a government that has done nothing to stop it. The only logical conclusion from the report’s own lucid analysis is that the government is not a partner in an effort to stem the violence, nor will strengthening it contribute to Iraq’s stability. This is not a military challenge in which one side needs to be strengthened and another defeated. It is a political challenge in which new consensual understandings need to be reached. The solution is not to change the prime minister or cabinet composition, as some in Washington appear to be contemplating, but to address the entire power structure that was established since the 2003 invasion, and to alter the political environment that determines the cabinet’s actions.

Sadr's militia has splintered. His party did well in the last election and he has control of a few government ministries. Yet he doesn't control as many militia fighters as he used to since the militias have splintered. Though if a new election was held his party would probably gain Shia voters due to his image of protector of Shias from Sunnis.

Do these ICG people understand the implications of Iraq's tribal structure and sectarian splits? Might the US government officals ignore consanguineous (cousin) marriage in their public pronouncements about Iraq while carrying out policies which are based on an understanding of tribal society? Based on experience watching the Iraq debacle so far I find that unlikely.

By Randall Parker    2006 December 28 12:11 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2006 December 04 Monday
Shiite Leader Asks Bush To Take Shia Side Against Sunnis

One of the options left for the Bush Administration to try in Iraq is to tilt in favor of the Shias. Shia leader and Iran ally Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim wants the US to kill more Sunni insurgents.

"The strikes they are getting from the multinational forces are not hard enough to put an end to their acts, but leave them (to) stand up again to resume their criminal acts," said Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) after White House talks with President Bush. He spoke at the U.S. Institute for Peace, a U.S. government-funded foreign policy institute.

Using the terms Shiites use to describe al-Qaida and the Sunni insurgents, Hakim called for tougher U.S. military action. "Eliminating the danger of the civil war in Iraq could only be achieved through directing decisive strikes against the Taqfiri terrorists and Baathist terrorists in Iraq," he said.

SCIRI runs the Badr Brigade militia. By contrast, Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who runs the Mahdi Army, didn't want Prime Minister Maliki to meet with Bush in Jordan recently.

Hakim is fading. If a new election was held analysts think Sadr would gain and perhaps become able to form a government without either Dawa or SCIRI. It would appear that al-Sadr's willingness to send his militias out to kill Sunnis (many of those killed just being Sunnis and not insurgents) while his party holds 6 cabinet positions has made him very popular among the Iraqi Shiites. So obviously the Iraqi Shiites put the willingness to kill Sunnis ahead of closer ties with Iran.

But Hakim's support in Iraq is ebbing, and there's talk in Baghdad of a new coalition to replace Maliki that would include neither Maliki's Dawa party nor Hakim's SCIRI.

If the neocons are correct in arguing that Iranian influence in Iraq is too great and a big threat then the US government should support new elections. SCIRI would go down to defeat and Iran's influence would decline. But my guess is that the neocons have greatly exaggerated Iran's influence in Iraq. The Iraqis do not need outside agents spurring them on to kill each other. They can get all worked up to do that on their own.

If the Badr Brigade had a larger roll in the death squad killings the neoconservatives would be touting this as proof that Iran is the real culprit. But the relative restraint (at least by Iraqi standards) of the Badr Brigades doesn't support that interpretation.

What I want to know: Will either the Badr Brigades or the Mahdi Army soldiers become willing to go into the Sunni Triangle and put down the Sunni rebellion against Shia rule? If they are just as unwilling to do that as the regular army Shia then I do not see how Iraq can be kept in one piece. If Iraqi soldiers will only fight for their own neighborhoods and towns then partition seems a more likely outcome as US forces are withdrawn.

By Randall Parker    2006 December 04 11:06 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2006 October 02 Monday
US Officers Expect Iraq Death Squads To Grow

US military people in Baghdad have become more outspoken about the need for a crackdown on the Shiite militias. Shiites in the Iraqi government continue to veto moves against the Shia militias. The US military officers also believe a move against the Shia militias in Sadr City would be pretty horrible in terms of the death tolls of soldiers and civilians.

According to US officers interviewed by the Guardian, the decision not to confront the major source of the death squads was supported initially by the US because of fears of a full-scale battle with the militia in Sadr City.

"We are talking Berlin in '45 or Stalingrad," said one officer. "That is the conundrum. There is an unwillingness to tackle the problem head-on, but also a recognition that if we don't tackle the militias, death squad activities can only grow."

Instead, a decision was reached to try to bring political pressure to bear on the Sadr organisation, whose parliamentary bloc is crucial in supporting Mr Maliki's government, to bring its militia - illegal under the Iraqi constitution - into line. But with growing doubts over how much the Sadr organisation's leader, the firebrand preacher Moqtada al-Sadr, actually controls the factions within Jaish al-Mahdi, concerns are now growing about the wisdom of that policy.

"There are fractures politically inside Sadr's movement, many of whom don't find him to be sufficiently radical now that he has taken a political course of action," said a senior coalition intelligence official who spoke to reporters in Baghdad.

I've previously reported on the splintering of Sar's Mahdi Army as factions refuse to go along with his relatively more moderate stance. The idea of coopting Shia factions and getting them into the government runs up against the desire of most of the actual gunmen to keep shooting.

The Iraqi government has made lists of people who are unarrestable no matter what they do.

U.S. military leaders described various hindrances as they attempt to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad, including "no-touch lists" that prohibit them from arresting politicians and other high status individuals, and off-limits areas inside Baghdad that the U.S. military must avoid without permission from the Iraqi government.

U.S. military officials said they are also constrained by their desire to see the Iraqi government use the current sectarian conflict to prove its ability to rule fairly, without regard to narrow sectarian interests and without significant U.S. interference.

"There's a political piece to this to see if they deal with these guys," said a high-ranked U.S. military official in Baghdad who requested anonymity in order to maintain relationships with the Iraqi government. "I won't deny the fact that there is corruption and problems in some of the ministries, but it's got to be dealt with and it ought to be dealt with by the prime minister and the folks inside his government."

The corruption isn't going to be dealt with. We are talking about Iraq here, not Finland. But why should we care? Most Iraqis support attacks on US troops. Think about that. Why not leave and let the Shias and Sunnis battle it out?

Here's another deal coming out of the Iraqi government that won't help.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki emerged with the four-point plan after talks with the top Sunni and Shiite leaders in his government, trying to prevent a crisis over rising tensions between the two Islamic sects.

Under the plan, local commissions will be formed in each district of Baghdad, made up of representatives of each party, to oversee security forces’ efforts against violence, al-Maliki said. A central committee comprising all the parties will coordinate with the armed forces, he said.

Representatives of each party will meet while militias of each party go out and kill people on the opposing party.

Now that so many other strategies for Iraq have failed I'm curious what the Bush Administration will tout as its next strategy du jour. Will they just keep recycling old strategies like training? I have advice for them if only they'd listen: Use bribery and cash incentives. For a small fraction of the $2 billion per week currently spent in Iraq we could bribe a lot of factions. We could offer big cash prizes for doing things we want them to do and not doing things we do not want them to do.

Soldiers going AWOL? No problem. Offer big chunks of cash to each soldier who shows up on time for some sweep of a neighorhood or operation to round up some insurgents. Offer cash awards for reductions in killings in an area. Offer cash awards for capture of militia leaders. Pay for performance.

But I have an even better idea: Leave.

By Randall Parker    2006 October 02 09:04 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2006 September 04 Monday
Shia Insurgents Killing Sunnis In Iraqi Hospitals

I do not want to write about Iraq. It is a tragedy. It is a debacle. It is a horror. But we should not ignore it or simply listen to whatever politicians are saying about it. We need to watch the events in Iraq. The hospitals are no longer safe for Sunnis to use.

In Baghdad these days, not even the hospitals are safe. In growing numbers, sick and wounded Sunnis have been abducted from public hospitals operated by Iraq's Shiite-run Health Ministry and later killed, according to patients, families of victims, doctors and government officials.

As a result, more and more Iraqis are avoiding hospitals, making it even harder to preserve life in a city where death is seemingly everywhere. Gunshot victims are now being treated by nurses in makeshift emergency rooms set up in homes. Women giving birth are smuggled out of Baghdad and into clinics in safer provinces.

These women who are giving birth outside of hospitals aren't doing that because they are insurgents. The Shia death squads are obviously not discriminating enough to only target real Sunni insurgents.

People in the democratically elected Iraqi government (which is of course an ally of the US government against the insurgencies) are probably involved in killing the hospital patients.

According to patients and families of victims, the primary group kidnapping Sunnis from hospitals is the Mahdi Army, a militia controlled by anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that has infiltrated the Iraqi security forces and several government ministries. The minister of health, Ali al-Shimari, is a member of Sadr's political movement. In Baghdad today, it is often impossible to tell whether someone is a government official, a militia member or, as is often the case, both.

If you are American or British your tax dollars support that regime. People world over support it when they buy gasoline.

The Mahdists claim they are killing people who are themselves killers. But I suspect they are not so discriminating.

Before Feb. 22, when the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra unleashed a wave of sectarian killing and retribution, U.S. authorities and others believed the primary force behind Shiite death squads was the Badr Brigade, the militia of another large Shiite organization, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. But since the bombing, the Mahdi Army appears to have taken the lead in extrajudicial trials and executions, according to Joost Hiltermann, a project director in Jordan for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

For suspected enemies taken by the Mahdi Army, the outcome is swift, with guilt and punishment already determined, the commanders said.

"If we catch any of them, the takfiris, Saddamists, bombers, we don't hand them over to police. He could be freed the next day," the Sheik said.

Bush pretended (or was he deluded) that Iraq has something to do with the war on terrorists who want to attack Westerners. But Osama Bin Laden was supported by wealthy Wahhabi Sunni Arabs from Saudi Arabia, not from Iraq. Bin Laden got his recruits from many countries but mainly Saudi Arabia. Bush still wants us to believe we are fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq. But mostly we are fighting Sunni and Shia groups that hate each other even more than they hate us.

Iraqis who do not die in sectarian violence have to figure out how to afford food.

Fuel and electricity prices are up more than 270 percent from last year’s, according to Iraqi government figures. Tea in some markets has quadrupled, egg prices have doubled, and all over the country the daily routine now includes a new question: What can be done without?

Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll, who was held captive by Sunni insurgents before finally being freed, reports that the Sunni insurgents see Shiites as greater enemies than the Americans and they didn't even see the Shias as Muslims.

could also see that Shiites were high on their list of enemies. Once, when attempting to explain the historical split between Sunnis and Shiites, Abu Nour, the leader of my captors, stopped himself after he referred to "Shiite Muslims."

"No, they are not Muslims," Ink Eyes said. "Anyone who asks for things from people that are dead, and not [from] Allah, he is not a Muslim."

He was referring to Shiites appealing to long-dead Islamic leaders to intercede with God, asking for miracles such as curing the sick. It's a practice similar to that of Catholics praying to saints.

But after the Feb. 22 bombing of the Askariya Shrine, and rampant Sunni-Shiite killing, nearly every captor I came into contact with would tell me about their hate for Shiites first. Abu Nour now simply referred to them as "dogs."

The Shias and Sunnis need a divorce. They distrust and hate each other too much at this point. Separate them. It is the most humane thing we could do. Then leave. Or leave now.

By Randall Parker    2006 September 04 10:56 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2006 August 17 Thursday
Iraq Hits New Records For Bombs And Deaths

The New York Times reports that roadside bombings surged to a record high in July 2006 in Iraq.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 — The number of roadside bombs planted in Iraq rose in July to the highest monthly total of the war, offering more evidence that the anti-American insurgency has continued to strengthen despite the killing of the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Along with a sharp increase in sectarian attacks, the number of daily strikes against American and Iraqi security forces has doubled since January. The deadliest means of attack, roadside bombs, made up much of that increase. In July, of 2,625 explosive devices, 1,666 exploded and 959 were discovered before they went off. In January, 1,454 bombs exploded or were found.

The Times reporters opine that what is going on in Iraq is a dichotomy.

The report’s contents are being widely discussed among Pentagon officials, military commanders and, in particular, on Capitol Hill, where concern among senior lawmakers of both parties is growing over a troubling dichotomy: even as Iraq takes important steps toward democracy — including the election of a permanent government this spring — the violence has gotten worse.

In response to the "dichotomy" remark Lawrence Auster says he fails to see a contradiction between democracy and sectarian violence in Iraq and suggests that the contradiction exists in the minds of those who expected democracy to bring peace to Iraq.

Since it is the essence of a liberal always to be surprised and “troubled” at a real world that does not fit liberal expectations, only liberals could regard the co-existence of “democracy” and violence in Iraq as a “troubling dichotomy.” It’s only a troubling dichotomy if you assume, like the whacked-out Bushites, that having elections and forming some kind of government (a government that depends for its existence on the U.S. military) means that you have “democracy,” and that this “democracy” means that the enemy has been defeated and that all men will now live in peace, each under his own vine and fig tree.

Gotta agree with Larry here. Why would democracy bring peace people among people who are not liberal and who see any election that they lose as an election that will bring to power people who will totally shaft the losers.

Larry points to an essay he wrote in April 2004 where he argued that creation of a monopoly on the use of force is the basic requirement for the establishment of a democracy.

What has gone wrong? As I've been saying since last summer, the erection of a new government in Iraq presupposes the first law of all governments, that it have a monopoly on the use of force. Yet instead of focusing on the need for such a government and on the practical requirements for creating such a government, we've been pouring most of our energy and hopes into creating the mechanisms of democratic elections—imagining, in excited reverie, that the cart of universal rights and democratic proceduralism could pull the horse of sovereign national existence.... Thus we not only lack a policy aimed at victory in Iraq, we have not even had a national debate aimed at formulating such a policy. We have had a parody of a debate, in which the Left mindlessly screams, "Bush lied," and the Right stolidly replies, "Stay the course."

My guess is victory was never an option for the US in Iraq. A strategy that could produce victory would require a level of brutality that the US elites and populace could not stomach. An occupation of Iraq that utlized the level of brutality needed to rule in Iraq is just beyond the pale in the minds of people who live in Western coutries today.

Back to the New York Times article: It ends with a real doozy:

“Senior administration officials have acknowledged to me that they are considering alternatives other than democracy,” said one military affairs expert who received an Iraq briefing at the White House last month and agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity.

“Everybody in the administration is being quite circumspect,” the expert said, “but you can sense their own concern that this is drifting away from democracy.”

Wow! Some of the Bushies realize that Iraq may be a lost cause. Hey, there's this guy held in custody in some Iraqi jail who knows how to run a dictatorship in Iraq and who knows how to maintain order. He could stop the sectarian violence very quickly, albeit with a brief period where the killings would surge much higher as he reestablished his previous monopoly on the use of force.

More Iraqis died in July 2006 from the violence than in any other month since the war began over 3 years ago.

July was the deadliest month for civilians since the war started in March 2003, figures show.

During the month, 3,438 Iraqis were killed -- 1,855 because of sectarian or political violence and another 1,583 from bombings and shootings. Nearly 3,600 Iraqis were wounded, the official said.

Turkey and Iran are attacking Kurdish rebels along their borders with Kurdistan (which this article naively refers to as part of Iraq).

Turkey and Iran have dispatched tanks, artillery and thousands of troops to their frontiers with Iraq during the past few weeks in what appears to be a coordinated effort to disrupt the activities of Kurdish rebel bases.

Scores of Kurds have fled their homes in the northern frontier region after four days of shelling by the Iranian army. Local officials said Turkey had also fired a number of shells into Iraqi territory.

Iraq provides a shocking glimpse into that condition which Thomas Hobbes argued was the state of man before government: war of all against all. Iraq has not decayed to that level. Tribal and religious royalties create larger bonds that prevent a complete breakdown of all order in Iraqi society. Yet Iraq's state is a sobering reminder of what man can become absent a higher authority.

Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man. For war consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of time is to be considered in the nature of war, as it is in the nature of weather. For as the nature of foul weather lieth not in a shower or two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together: so the nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is peace.

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Iraq also brings to mind another line from Thomas Hobbes: Hell is truth seen too late.

By Randall Parker    2006 August 17 10:11 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2006 August 13 Sunday
Baghdad Death Toll Hits New High

Another record breaking month in Baghdad.

BAGHDAD, Aug. 9 -- Figures compiled by the city morgue indicated Wednesday that the number of killings in the Iraqi capital reached a new high last month, and the U.S. military said a new effort to bring security to Baghdad will succeed only if Iraqis "want it to work."

The Baghdad morgue took in 1,815 bodies during July, news services quoted the facility's assistant manager, Abdul Razzaq al-Obeidi, as saying. The previous month's tally was 1,595. Obeidi estimated that as many as 90 percent of the total died violent deaths.

Will the big shift of US forces into Baghdad and the increased tempo of patrols for the forces already there decrease the August death toll? Or will the Shias and Sunnis figure out how to sneak and around and kill each in spite of more US troops on the streets?

By Randall Parker    2006 August 13 07:04 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2006 August 03 Thursday
Generals And Ambassador On Iraq Civil War Possibility

In public testimony before Congress the top two US generals in the Middle East consider civil war in Iraq a strong possibility.

WASHINGTON - Two senior U.S. generals told Congress on Thursday that growing sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims threatens to plunge Iraq into civil war.

"I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war," said Gen. John Abizaid, the chief of U.S. Central Command. The top American military officer in the Middle East was testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff and thus the top general at the Pentagon, agreed with the assessment.

"I believe that we do have the possibility of that devolving to a civil war, but that does not have to be a fact," Pace said.

You have to figure their private assessments could be even more bleak.

"We can provide support, we can help provide security, but they must now decide about their sectarian violence," Pace said. "Shia and Sunni are going to have to love their children more than they hate each other."

I'm counting on them to hate each other more.

I get the sense that the Bush Administration is trying to lower expectations far enough that if civil war breaks out people won't be shocked.

Asked about the generals invoking the specter of "civil war," White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said aboard Air Force One: "I don't think the president is going to quibble with his generals on their characterizations."

A leak of the final diplomatic cable of the outgoing UK Ambassador to Iraq, William Patey, shows that Patey thinks civil war in Iraq more likely than not.

Mr Patey wrote: "The prospect of a low intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy.

"Even the lowered expectation of President Bush for Iraq - a government that can sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself and is an ally in the war on terror - must remain in doubt."

Talking about the Shia militias blamed for many killings, Mr Patey added: "If we are to avoid a descent into civil war and anarchy then preventing the Jaish al-Mahdi (the Mahdi Army) from developing into a state within a state, as Hezbollah has done in Lebanon, will be a priority."

Lawrence Auster has pointed to the significance of the huge shift in position of war hawk Ralph Peters toward the view that Iraq is going to slide into full civil war. The hawks are starting to worry about what happens to their reputations should the decay in Iraq continue. Things aren't going to plan and defense of what Hillary Rodham Clinton just referred to as "happy talk and rosy scenarios" has gotten embarrassing.

Update: Nancy A. Youssef of the McClatchy Newspapers says the Iraqi workers at the Baghdad bureau agree Iraq is already in a civil war.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The top U.S. military commander for the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid, told Congress on Thursday that the violence in Baghdad "is probably as bad as I have ever seen it," and went on to say that the country could be headed toward civil war.

Nearly all of the dozen Iraqis who work for McClatchy Newspapers' Baghdad bureau - evenly split between Shiite and Sunni Muslims - reached that conclusion long ago.

Their observations have trickled out day by day in the scores of conversations colleagues have with one another about their lives and difficulties.

Read the full article for stories of killings and ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods.

By Randall Parker    2006 August 03 07:46 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2006 July 18 Tuesday
Civilian Death Rate Up In Iraq

Can we build a handbasket big enough to fit Iraq into? If not, how is it going to hell? The latest killing spree was carried out by Sunnis trying to play catch-up with the Shia killing squads.

BAGHDAD, July 17 -- Masked attackers with heavy machine guns mounted on pickup trucks slaughtered at least 40 people in a crowded market area south of Baghdad on Monday, hurling grenades to blow up merchants at their counters and shooting down mothers as they fled with their children, witnesses and authorities said.

The military-style assault on unarmed civilians in the mostly Shiite city of Mahmudiyah lasted 30 minutes and was vicious even for a country besieged daily by bombs and coldblooded attacks. At one point, the assailants entered a cafe and shot dead seven men -- most of them elderly -- while they were having tea, said Maythan Abdul Zahad, a police officer. He said the gunmen stepped on their victims' heads to keep them still.

Which Shia militia can do the best job exacting revenge? The Mahdis or the Badrs?

Iraqi security forces didn't treat this latest attack as an opportunity to shine.

Survivors said Iraqi soldiers let the heavily armed, highly visible attackers pass through a checkpoint near the marketplace. Witnesses described Iraqi security forces largely leaving the civilians to their fate, although survivors gave conflicting accounts as to whether Iraqi police, soldiers or Shiite militiamen had tried to fight off the attackers.

US forces deny survivor accusations that they saw what was going on and did nothing.

The Sunnis have so many reasons to kill Shias that they can't make up their minds what caused them to go on a killing spree.

In statements, Sunni insurgents gave different explanations for why Mahmudiyah was targeted -- some saying that it was because Sadr's Mahdi Army militia had allegedly driven Sunni vendors from the market a week ago, others saying it was because of the recent killing of a Sunni cleric. A written statement in the name of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq said the attack targeted local leaders of the Mahdi Army.

A report from the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) claims the civilian death rate in Iraq has been steadily rising.

According to the report, 2,669 civilians were killed in May and 3,149 were killed in June. Those numbers combined two counts: from the Ministry of Health, which records deaths reported by hospitals; and the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad, which tallies the unidentified bodies it receives.

The report charts a month-by-month increase in the number of civilians killed, from 710 in January to 1,129 in April. In the first six months of the year, it said 14,338 people had been killed.

I'm betting the July death toll will surpass June. How about you?

Are all these deaths a necessary prelude to serious negotiations between the factions? Or will the desire for revenge continue the ratcheting up of the civil war?

Gulf War I is starting to look like the mother of all battles. The Turks are ready to cross over into Iraq to hunt down Turkish Kurdish guerillas.

Turkish officials signaled Tuesday they are prepared to send the army into northern Iraq if U.S. and Iraqi forces do not take steps to combat Turkish Kurdish guerrillas there - a move that could put Turkey on a collision course with the United States.

Turkey is facing increasing domestic pressure to act after 15 soldiers, police and guards were killed fighting the guerrillas in southeastern Turkey in the past week.

That's not good.

The small Turkmen faction in Iraq would welcome Turkey's intervention.

Iraqi Turkmens, targets of a series of attacks recently, complain their safety in Iraq is not guaranteed, lamenting that Turkey is not sufficiently interested in their grievances.

The International Crisis Group fears a big battle over the Kurdish attempt to turn Kirkuk back into a Kurdish city.

Amman/Brussels, 18 July 2006: Unless the international community acts soon to resolve mounting tensions in Kirkuk, the result could well be yet another violent communal conflict in Iraq, risking full scale civil war and possibly outside military intervention.

Iraq and the Kurds: The Brewing Battle over Kirkuk,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the dangerously neglected looming conflict in and around the northern Iraqi city. The struggle is equal parts street brawl over oil riches; ethnic competition over identity between Kurdish, Turkoman, Arab and Assyrian-Chaldean communities; and titanic clash between two nations, Arab and Kurd.

“Notwithstanding all the other crises on decision-makers’ plates right now, the stakes here are too high for the international community to stand by, allowing yet another element in the Iraq equation to slip into chaos by default”, says Gareth Evans, Crisis Group President.

Do you suppose oil production could rise while the civil war escalates?

The U.S. Secretary of Energy says it may take about six months to restore Iraq's oil output to pre-war levels of 2.5 million barrels a day.

We need to develop technologies that will replace and obsolesce oil.

By Randall Parker    2006 July 18 11:05 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2006 July 16 Sunday
Baghdad Decaying Into Civil War

Shia dominate the Iraqi government's military.

RAMADI, Iraq - Their televised graduation was supposed to be a moment of national celebration: A class of 1,000 Sunni Arab soldiers emerging from basic training would show Iraqis that the country's worsening religious divide was not afflicting the national army. Two months later, only about 300 of them have reported for duty, U.S. officials say.

...

The 1,000 graduates were part of a program to recruit 6,500 Sunnis from restive Anbar province. But with two classes of enlistees trained, only 530 soldiers have been added to the ranks, said Lt. Col. Mike Negard, a spokesman for the U.S. training command.

So the Iraqi Army is heavily weighted toward the Shia. Many of those Shia maintain their loyalty toward Shiite militia groups which they were members of before joining government forces. Even Shia soldiers who haven't been members of militia see the Sunnis as their enemies. The Shia militias in Baghdad are bigger than the Sunni insurgency. Plus, the Shia-dominated army strongly sympathizes with the Shia militias.

Writing for the Daily Telegraph Aqeel Hussein describes how Shia militiamen at a roadblock who were trying to decide whether to kill him killed a Sunni driver. The Iraqi soldiers a half mile away were indifferent to the existence of Shia militia killing Sunnis so close by.

"As they were talking to me I saw a young man dragged out of a BMW car and pushed into the side street," he said.

"He was Sunni, you could tell from his accent. He was forced to kneel on the ground and a Kalashnikov was placed against his head.

"The man was pleading for his life but the fighter, who had his face covered, was shouting 'You are a Sunni, you are a terrorist and you should die. Sit down now'. The next moment I heard the gun go off and there was blood everywhere. It was a few metres away."

After being released he drove to the Iraqi army checkpoint to warn them but his pleas were greeted with indifference by the soldiers on duty.

"I told them the Mahdi army are killing Sunnis in Jihad City. One of the soldiers said 'Oh really' and he was laughing. They didn't move, I couldn't believe it. You could here gunshots as we were talking."

Many of the recruits to Iraq's fledging armed forces are drawn from al-Sadr's militias.

The creation of a national Iraqi army, the Bush Administration's ballyhooed solution to the Iraq war, is feeding the process of ethnic cleansing. The article describes Baghdad's Highway 60 as the first clear conventional front in the civil war. Sunnis and Shias bombard each others' neighborhoods across Highway 60 using mortars. The neighborhoods are now sufficiently ethnically purified to allow them to fire with confidence knowing only members of the opposing group will get killed.

James Hider of the Times of London reports on the rapid decay of Baghdad.

The previous night I had had a similar conversation with my driver, a Shia who lives in another part of west Baghdad. He phoned at 11pm to say that there was a battle raging outside his house and that his family were sheltering in the windowless bathroom.

Marauding Mahdi gunmen, seeking to drive all Sunnis from the area, were fighting Sunni Mujahidin for control of a nearby strategic position. I could hear the gunfire blazing over the phone.

We phoned the US military trainer attached to Iraqi security forces in the area. He said there was nothing to be done: “There’s always shooting at night here. It’s like chasing ghosts.”

In fact the US military generally responds only to request for support from Iraqi security forces. But as many of those forces are at best turning a blind eye to the Shia death squads, and at worst colluding with them, calling the Americans is literally the last thing they do.

West Baghdad is no stranger to bombings and killings, but in the past few days all restraint has vanished in an orgy of ethnic cleansing.

Shia gunmen are seeking to drive out the once-dominant Sunni minority and the Sunnis are forming neighbourhood posses to retaliate. Mosques are being attacked. Scores of innocent civilians have been killed, their bodies left lying in the streets.

How far can the Shia militias go with their drive against the Sunnis? How rapidly will it play out? US forces are too small to do much to slow this process. Could the US military ally itself with the Sunnis to defend the Sunnis? At this point I bet the Sunnis in Baghdad would welcome a powerful ally even if it was the United States. Or would that unleash such a hostile Shia response that the Shia government would teeter?

Some Sunnis think the Shias are trying to drive all Sunnis out of Baghdad. Certainly not a few Shia militiamen would be happy to achieve that outcome.

Most Iraqis believe that it is already here. “There is a campaign to eradicate all Sunnis from Baghdad,” said Sheikh Omar al-Jebouri, of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni parliamentary group. He said that it was organised by the Shia-dominated Interior Ministry and its police special commandos, with Shia militias, and aimed to destroy Mr al-Maliki’s plans to rebuild Iraq’s security forces along national, rather than sectarian, lines.

The article recounts an episode where Iraqi police drive up to a mosque and start blasting away at it with machine guns. The Shias might well succeed in driving the Sunnis out of Baghdad. The Shias have more militia fighters and control of the government's military and more supplies.

The current death rate makes the times of Saddam Hussein look relatively peaceful.

A local journalist told me bitterly this week that Iraqis find it ironic that Saddam Hussein is on trial for killing 148 people 24 years ago, while militias loyal to political parties now in government kill that many people every few days. But it is not an irony that anyone here has time to laugh about. They are too busy packing their bags and wondering how they can get out alive.

Flights from Baghdad to Damascus have gone from 3 to 8 per week while the bus trips to Jordan through dangerous Anbar province have gone from 2 a day to as much as 40 and 50 a day. Keep these facts in mind when the Iraqi government quotes ridiculously low estimates for the number of refugees.

As the ethnic cleansing proceeds and neighborhoods become more purely one ethnic group or another the civil war will take on more of the characteristics of a fight for territory with clearer front lines. The Sunni Al-Karakh neighborhood might get overrun by Shia militia.

Shi'ite groups are trying to "conquer" the Sunni Al-Karakh neighborhood in western Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki said according to the daily online newspaper Al-'Arab.

Figure that the Christians and Kurds are going to continue to flee to northern Iraq. That'll leave the numerically more superior and better equipped Shias to duke it out with the Sunnis for control of Baghdad. If the Shias can capture Sunni neighborhoods then they will be able to purge the Sunnis and gradually make Baghdad into a Shia city.

The compassionate thing for the United States to do is to build housing in the Sunni Triangle for Sunnis who are getting forced out of Baghdad. If we can only admit to how bad the situation is in Iraq and how much worse it is going to get we could respond in ways that alleviate some of the pain and that reduce the death toll.

Peter W. Galbraith, a former US ambassador, has written a book arguing for the break-up of Iraq entitled The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End. The Times of London has an excerpt of Galbraith's book.

How could a divorce be carried through? Arab Iraqi leaders have told me privately that they accept Kurdistan’s right to self-determination. Some seem to prefer that Kurdistan should leave, having grown weary of its refusal to make any concessions to a shared state. With settled borders, the split between Kurdistan and Arab Iraq could be more like Czechoslovakia’s velvet divorce than Yugoslavia’s wars.

Turkey — with many Kurds living within its borders — has long been considered the chief obstacle to Kurdish dreams for an independent state. Turkish attitudes have evolved significantly, however. Some Turkish strategic thinkers, including those within the so-called “deep state” comprising the military and intelligence establishments, see a secular, pro-western and non-Arab Kurdistan as a buffer to an Islamic Arab state to the south.

If the Shi’ite south forms a region, it can set up a theocratic government and establish a regional guard. Iran will be the dominant power and the Bush administration has no ability, and no intention, of countering Iran’s position there.

How much worse will Iraq have to get before the happy talker supporters of the Bush Administration snap out of their dreams? Reality on the ground in Iraq keeps getting uglier.

Update: An Iraqi doctor told the BBC 10,000 people are leaving Baghdad each week.

Over the past two days the conflict between Sunnis and Shias has really come out into the open. It was there before, but more hidden. Many people are leaving Baghdad for neighbouring countries or for the north, Kurdistan. A friend of mine who has a travel agency says at least 10,000 people are leaving the capital every day.

I'd like to know whether a larger proportion of Sunnis or Shias are fleeing Baghdad. 10,000 per week would work out to over a half million a year. In 2003 Baghdad was estimated to have a population of about 5.77 million. So it could lose a tenth of its population by next summer if the 10,000 a week estimate is correct and current trends continue. One estimate puts Shias as a majority in Baghdad. If they are a majority then that majority and their much larger military forces give them the advantage in the battle for Baghdad.

The Shias are fighting to protect the Shia minority in the al-Jihad neighborhood which is in the Western and therefore Sunni majority part of Baghdad.

Sunday's massacre in Jihad - three miles from the airport and the US military's sprawling Camp Victory - shows how Baghdad's seemingly random violence is spreading hatred and institutionalizing atrocity.

Tensions in the area - which is mostly Sunni but, unusually for suburbs west of the Tigris, still has many Shiites - have been running high all year. Until recently, the violence had been confined to assassinations of Shiite residents in ones and twos, notes slipped under doors warning Shiite residents to move or else, and roadside bombs.

But, recently, Shiite residents have been getting organized into their own militias, with the help of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, according to two residents of the area - one a Shiite, the other Sunni. Since the Askariya shrine bombing on Feb. 22, locals deemed to be salafiyah - a rigid Sunni ideology that has much in common with the Wahabbism of Saudi Arabia - have been taken away at night and murdered, though not as often as Shiite residents, they say.

After a recent string of explosions at Shiite mosques and Hosseiniya (Shiite prayer halls) to the west of the river, local Shiites have reportedly mounted their own intimidation campaign, with notes slipped under doors and murmured promises of revenge for future attacks.

A trend to watch for: Will the more powerful Shia militias manage to stop the ethnic purging of Shias from any neighborhoods in Western Baghdad? Will the Shias turn the tables on the Sunnis of Western Baghdad and even manage to purge Sunnis from any of those neighborhoods? The al-Jihad neighborhood in the west side of the Tigris River might be the place to watch to look for trends in the fight between Sunni and Shia groups battling for control of Baghdad.

Update II: When Sunnis call the Interior Ministry for help they are treated like terrorists.

Saleh Muhammed, an Amiriyah resident, told a Post special correspondent that he dialed 130 into his cellphone, Baghdad's emergency number. "The Mahdi Army has attacked Amiriyah," he told the Interior Ministry dispatcher.

"The Mahdi Army are not terrorists like you," said the dispatcher at the ministry, which is controlled by a Shiite party and operates closely with militias. "They are people doing their duty. And how could you know that they are the Mahdi Army? Is it written on their foreheads?" He hung up the phone.

The whole article is worth reading. Both a Sunni and a Shia legislator say the civil war has begun. Says a Sunni legislator ""The parliament cannot reach practical solutions because their minds are concerned only with their sect and not the interests of the nation." Tribalism and consanguineous marriage make Iraq ungovernable by Western style democracy. Unfamiliar with consanguineous marriage's ramifications for politics? See my post John Tierney On Cousin Marriage As Reform Obstacle In Iraq and read the other posts and articles I link to from there.

Update III: I saw this one coming. Edward Wong and Dexter Filkins of the New York Times report that Many Sunnis want the US military to protect them from the Shia militias.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 16 — As sectarian violence soars, many Sunni Arab political and religious leaders once staunchly opposed to the American presence here are now saying they need American troops to protect them from the rampages of Shiite militias and Shiite-run government forces.

By accident the US military and the Shia militias have become a more brutal equivalents of the "Good Cop, Bad Cop" routine. Imagine Sunni clerics calling out to not shoot because the Americans are coming.

In Adhamiya, a neighborhood in north Baghdad, Sunni insurgents once fought street to street with American troops. Now, mortars fired by Shiite militias rain down several times a week, and armed watch groups have set up barricades to stop drive-by attacks by black-clad Shiite fighters. So when an American convoy rolled in recently, a remarkable message rang out from the loudspeakers of the Abu Hanifa Mosque, where Saddam Hussein made his last public appearance before the fall of Baghdad in 2003.

“The American Army is coming with the Iraqi Army — do not shoot,” the voice said, echoing through streets still filled with supporters of Mr. Hussein. “They are here to help you.”

Sheik Abdul Wahab al-Adhami, an imam at the mosque, said later in an interview: “Look at what the militias are doing even while we have the American forces here. Imagine what would happen if they left.”

Unfortunately the US military isn't big enough to protect all the Sunnis from the Shia militias. But if the Sunnis were moved to areas further away from the Shias then providing protection wouldn't be as difficult.

The Sunnis are trying to reach an agreement with the central government that all Iraqi government raids on mosques and private homes will be accompanied by American forces. Too many of the raids are conducted by Shia militias on killing sprees.

Sunni Arab leaders in the strife-ridden neighborhood of Dawra recently secured an explicit agreement with Shiite-led commandos based there that says the Iraqi forces will not raid a Sunni mosque or private home without being accompanied by American forces. A new brigade of Iraqi forces has just moved in, and the Sunnis are likely to try to reach the same agreement with them.

The United States is enmeshed in a very complicated web in Iraq. This turn of the Sunnis toward the US for protection might seem like good news. But the Shia militias could respond to US efforts on behalf of Sunnis by launching more attacks on US forces than Sunni insurgents currently carry out.

By Randall Parker    2006 July 16 08:58 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2006 July 10 Monday
Iraq: Peace Or Civil War Right Around Corner

Iraq is quite the country of extremes. Amir Taheri thinks the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has gotten Shia factions (with the exception of Moqtada al-Sadr) to go along with his efforts to bring the major Sunni insurgency groups into negotiations to stop the fighting.

Far more difficult was to persuade the Arab Sunni minority, some 15 per cent of the population, to come on board. This is because, contrary to common perceptions, the Arab Sunni community is divided into dozens of groups, often based on tribal loyalties, with no overall leadership. One result of that division is that each group, anxious to appear more hard-line than others, contributes to what amounts to an auction on radicalism. Weeks of negotiation, often conducted through tribal intermediaries inside Iraq and in neighboring Jordan were needed before a breakthrough was achieved.

BY LAST week, 22 Arab Sunni armed groups had agreed to join the process initiated by al-Maliki. According to Akram al-Hakim, the minister in charge of national dialogue, the groups that have come on board account for a majority of those who have been fighting in the four Sunni provinces since the autumn of 2003. At the same time a group of 18 senior officers of the former regime's army have met with President Jalal Talabani to seek ways of bringing hundreds of Arab Sunni cashiered officers and NCOs into the new Iraqi army and police.

Well, a thousand points of light as George H.W. Bush would say. Or 22 points anyway. Feel more optimistic about Iraq?

The sweet Sunni neighborhood that lines the exciting drive to the Baghdad airport was the scene of a big Shia militia kill-fest.

BAGHDAD, July 9 -- Shiite Muslim militiamen rampaged through a Sunni Arab neighborhood in Baghdad early Sunday morning, killing more than 50 people and discarding bodies in the streets, according to Iraqi officials and witnesses. Hours later, attackers struck back, detonating two car bombs near a Shiite mosque.

Sunni politicians described the violence against the Sunni residents of the al-Jihad neighborhood in western Baghdad as one of the deadliest waves of murder since the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Get the name: al-Jihad. Well, be careful what you wish for. The Shias are bringing Jihad to al-Jihad.

Iraq is on the edge of civil war?

"We've said it several times that there are people who want to create civil war," Wafiq al-Samarrae, an adviser to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, said on al-Jazeera television. "Today, this country is on the edge of civil war, not sectarian strife."

I'm guessing most Shias and Sunnis are disinclined to sign up for a big civil war. So far the Iraqis have not shown themselves willing to fight on the scale of, for example, the US Civil War. Arabs do not do really large organizations well. They have too many commitments to extended family to join up for larger causes.

The Shia militia guys on the rampage were probably Mahdi Army.

Iraqi officials and residents of the neighborhood identified the gunmen as members of the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia controlled by the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. In the past three days, Iraqi troops, with the support of U.S.-led forces, have raided the homes of militiamen and detained some of their leaders.

Would someone so well connected to top Shias in the Iraqi government send people to kill dozens of Sunnis? Could the elected government of Iraq, product of a democratic process, have such people as cabinet officers? Where's the mythical magic of democracy?

Sadr also holds considerable sway over the political system, with ties to more than 30 members of parliament and several cabinet ministers.

Sadr's people deny they were involved and claim the Sunnis are doing wrong to accuse their meritorious selves. You might be thinking "oh those meanie dominant Shias. They are persecuting those poor suffering Sunnis". Well, the Shias were retaliating.

Residents said the violence stemmed from a car bomb attack on the Shiite al-Zahra mosque Saturday night, expanding into door-to-door pursuit of Sunnis by Shiites.

Can the Sunni insurgency be bribed into stopping their bombings and shootings? Just what would it take to buy them off? Cash alone? Local rule of Sunni areas? Or a large slice of power in the national government that far exceeds what the Shiites would give up?

Even if the major Sunni groups were willing to deal could Prime Minister al-Maliki manage to rein in the Shia militias? Also, will smaller groups and families looking for revenge break down any deal by doing attacks that incite retribution from major groups on either side?

By Randall Parker    2006 July 10 09:35 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2006 July 02 Sunday
Sunni Female Legislator Kidnapped In Iraq

I have nothing new to report about Iraq. Just the standard kidnappings, bombings, and assassination attempts motivated by power struggles between ethnic and religious factions. Somebody tell Paul Wolfowitz that the Iraqis are not bleeding hearted liberal Jeffersonian democrats. A Sunni Arab woman and member of the Iraqi legislator was kidnapped along with her bodyguards.

Gunmen kidnapped a Sunni Arab lawmaker and seven of her bodyguards in a mostly Shi'ite Baghdad neighborhood on Saturday, a Sunni leader and police said.

Taiseer Najah al-Mashhadani, a member of the Accordance Front, the largest parliamentary bloc of the Sunni minority, was abducted in northeastern Shaab district after gunmen in two cars cut off her convoy, police said.

An eighth bodyguard managed to escape, they added.

Some reports say that she was kidnapped at a Shia militia checkpoint.

In response to the kidnapping a bunch of Sunni legislators are boycotting Parliament..

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The largest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament said Sunday it was suspending its participation in the legislature until a kidnapped colleague was released, dealing a blow to efforts to involve the disaffected minority in the political process.

Was she kidnapped (and perhaps killed) more because she is female or more because she is Sunni? The reaction of other female legislators suggests the former possibility:

At least 11 female parliament members from different blocs also held a news conference to denounce the kidnapping and demand the government take action.

I have no new insights to offer on the latest events. My old insights are holding up pretty well though. If you haven't already read some of the reasons why secular democracy with low corruption and rising freedom isn't in the cards for Iraq see my post John Tierney On Cousin Marriage As Reform Obstacle In Iraq and click back from there to additional readings.

The biggest Sunni Arab legislative bloc is boycotting Parliament until al-Mashhadani is released.

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The largest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament said Sunday it was suspending its participation in the legislature until a kidnapped colleague was released, dealing a blow to efforts to involve the disaffected minority in the political process.

Well, suppose her body turns up dead. What will they use as their demand for what will bring them back to Parliament?

The Sunnis are a minority in the Parliament. So the withdrawal of this Sunni party, the Iraqi Accordance Front, probably does not reduce their ability to influence legislation.

The Front holds 44 seats in the 275-member assembly and is part of the national unity government.

After the Saturday July 1 kidnapping of a female Sunni legislator on Sunday July 2 an attempt was made to kidnap a female Sunni legislator and reports conflict on whether the attack succeeded. This is suggestive that female legislators are being singled out for attacks.

One lawmaker told parliament that Leqa Al Yaseen’s cars had been attacked in the violent southern outskirts of Baghdad, between the city’s Dora suburb and the town of Mahmudiya. She said eight of Yaseen’s bodyguards had been abducted and did not make clear whether Yaseen herself was missing or a casualty.

Sources in the Baghdad police and at the Interior Ministry identified Leqa as a doctor and member of the Shia Islamist Alliance bloc who is a senior official in the Health Ministry, controlled by the movement of Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr.

There are also conflicting reports of possible kidnappings of 3 deputy ministers from Iraq's Industry Ministry.

A "secular" Shia male legislator missed getting killed by a bomb which went off near his convoy in Baghdad.

BAGHDAD - Iyad Jamalideen, a secular Shi'ite lawmaker, survived an assassination attempt when a roadside bomb went off near his convoy in southern Baghdad, police said. He was unhurt, but two of his guards and four civilians were wounded.

A few things of interest here: Does each legislator move around in convoys? Who funds the convoys? Can a legislator live in a regular home? Or do they have to cluster in specially defended neighborhoods? Also, a "secular" Shia is rare. The religious parties swept the elections. Are secular legislators also targeted more than religious party legislators?

The kidnappings and attempted assassinations of legislators happens against a backdrop of high civilian casualties.A bomb in a Shiite market in Sadr City killed at least 66 people while 100 died in total on Saturday July 1, 2006.

BAGHDAD, Iraq — A suicide car bombing at a crowded open-air market killed 66 people and wounded 114 others Saturday in the deadliest single attack since the Iraqi government was formed six weeks ago. Other violence brought the day's death toll to more than 100 people.

A Sunni block leaves Parliament in reaction to a Shia militia kidnapping of a female Sunni legislator. A Shia legislator almost bites the dust from a bomb. Lots of Shias get killed and Shia militiamen want to kill Sunnis even more. The tragedy continues to play out along the course it has been on for a few years running.

I do not see how this ends well.

Anyone want to hazard any predictions for how the events in Iraq will play out in the next few years? Will the political stalemate on Iraq in the United States keep lots of US troops there? Will the inter-ethnic violence escalate or taper off? Will the internal migrations (ethnic cleansing") accelerate until the Shias and Sunnis are very separated from each other?

By Randall Parker    2006 July 02 11:36 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2006 March 27 Monday
US-Iraqi Raid Provokes Threats From Shiite Militias

Conditions in Iraq continue to worsen as the Shiites increasingly act in just as unrestrained a manner as the Sunni insurgents do. But the big difference is that the Shiites are more effective as a result of greater numbers, better equipment, and support by their government. The US government now thinks the Shiite militias are a bigger threat than the Sunni insurgents.

American officials are now saying that Shiite militias are the No. 1 problem in Iraq, more dangerous than the Sunni-led insurgents who for nearly the past three years have been branded the gravest security threat.

...

Earlier on Sunday, a mortar shell nearly hit Mr. Sadr's home in the southern holy city of Najaf. Immediately he accused the Americans of trying to kill him.

American officials have been more overt in the past week than ever in blaming Mr. Sadr's militia for a wave of sectarian bloodshed that seems to have no end.

Why are the Shiite militias a greater threat?

Both Shiites and Sunnis have militias. But the Shiite militias are much bigger, much better organized and, most critically, much better connected to the Iraqi security forces.

Connected to the Iraqi security forces? Connected? The Shiite militias are in the Iraqi govenment security forces.

I'd like to know whether the Shiites are killing more Sunnis or the Sunnis killing more Shiites at this point.

A recent US-Iraqi raid on what some Shiite leaders call a mosque has led many Shiite leaders to condemn US forces.

Senior ministers from the three main Shia factions united yesterday to denounce an American raid on a Baghdad mosque complex in which at least 20 people died, opening the biggest rift between the US and Iraq's majority Shia community since the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

"At evening prayers, American soldiers accompanied by Iraqi troops raided the Mustafa mosque and killed 37 people," said Abd al-Karim al-Enzi, the security minister, who belongs to the Dawa party of the prime minister, Ibrahim al Jaafari. "They [the victims] were unarmed. They went in, tied up the people and shot them all. They did not leave any wounded."

Did the Iraqi or American soldiers do most of the killing? How many of those killed were militiamen shooting at the soldiers?

The Shiite leaders already were angry at the US for political reasons having to do with US attempts to balance power between Sunnis and Shiites.

Exactly what happened on Sunday night is in dispute, but in a political sense it no longer matters. Tension between the Americans and Shia leaders had been rising for weeks, since Washington started pushing for Mr Jabr's replacement as police minister and went on to oppose Mr Jaafari remaining as prime minister.

The Shiites are the majority. They do not want to share power with the Sunnis.

The Iraqi government's ruling parties (which are Shias) want the US to give up some control of military operations.

IRAQ'S ruling parties have demanded US forces cede control of security as the government investigated a raid on a Shiite mosque complex that ministers said involved "cold blooded" killings by US-led troops.

US commanders rejected the charges and said their accusers faked evidence by moving bodies of gunmen killed fighting Iraqi troops in an office compound. It was not a mosque, they said.

The problem is that if the US military was to start telling the Iraqi government what operations the US military was planning then the information would leak back to which ever militias the operation was aimed at.

Iraqi security forces were part of the operation where a mosque was supposedly attacked.

U.S. military officials—who said they thought they were targeting the gathering area for a kidnapping cell and not a mosque—said the U.S. and Iraqi forces were fired upon first and discovered a trove of weapons and roadside bombmaking materials in the complex of buildings.

The incident and subsequent fallout raises questions of who has control of Iraqi security forces—the U.S. military or the fledgling Iraqi government—and has led several prominent Iraqi politicians to call for an investigation into the incident.

Were these security forces Sunni or Shia Arabs?

I wouldn't be surprised if the Shiites are lying about what building was a mosque. Or they put a mosque right next to buildings that were supplying arms to the Mahdi Army. The Shiites are insisting that US troops better not dare to take on the Shiite militias.

Members of the major Shiite slate, the United Iraqi Alliance, warned U.S. officials against fighting Shiite forces.

"I warn them (the U.S.) that a battle with the calm giant Shiite means they are falling into a dangerous swamp," said Kuthair al-Khuzaie, a spokesman of the Shiite Dawa party, at a press conference. "The U.S. is making things more complicated and losing their credibility among the Iraqis."

The raid targeted Shiites, some of whom were affiliated with al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, U.S. officials said. Al-Sadr has called for his followers to remain calm.

Moqtada al-Sadr probably sees the incident as great material for propaganda.

The US military wants to restrain the Shiite militias that are killing lots of Sunnis. When the US tries to do that the Shia leaders will look for ways to paint US actions in the worst light in order to make the US military more reluctant to act against Shia militias.

The US is between a rock and a hard place. The Shiite militias do not want to be restrained from killing Sunnis. The Shiite militias doing the ethnic cleansing are in cahoots with Shiite Iraqi government forces.

What frightens Iraqis most about these gangland-style killings is the impunity. According to reports filed by family members and more than a dozen interviews, many men were taken in daylight, in public, with witnesses all around. Few cases, if any, have been investigated.

Part of the reason may be that most victims are Sunnis, and there is growing suspicion that they were killed by Shiite death squads backed by government forces in a cycle of sectarian revenge. This allegation has been circulating in Baghdad for months, and as more Sunnis turn up dead, more people are inclined to believe it.

"This is sectarian cleansing," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of Parliament, who has maintained a degree of neutrality between Shiites and Sunnis.

Mr. Othman said there were atrocities on each side. "But what is different is when Shiites get killed by suicide bombs, everyone comes together to fight the Sunni terrorists," he said. "When Shiites kill Sunnis, there is no response, because much of this killing is done by militias connected to the government."

The civil war is intensifying. The Shiites do not want to be restrained. The Sunnis are increasingly looking toward the United States asking for protection. I think the US ought to help Sunnis and Shias to move out of areas where they are minorities. Doing that would amount to the US playing the role of ethical ethnic cleansers. But the result would be fewer people killed.

By Randall Parker    2006 March 27 08:47 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2006 February 18 Saturday
Bush Administration Supports Ethnic Power Sharing In Iraq

Think the US is in Iraq to support the principle of one person, one vote? Not exactly. The US is backing a Kurdish proposal for a system of ethnic group power sharing in Iraq.

To enforce consensus, the Salahuddin document calls for a National Security Council that would include leaders of all the main political factions and, according to the document, "outline policies that reflect national unity and reach decisions based on the principle of accord." The document also echoes the Bush administration's insistence that the leaders of the two key security ministries -- defense and interior -- "must be neutral or accepted by all the parties participating in the government."

"There can be no political stability until all the Iraqi constituencies are included," Kurdish leader Barham Salih explained in a telephone interview from Baghdad on Wednesday. "That's why we as the Kurdish alliance are working on a government that includes these four political blocs."

What matters is that the United States is embracing these principles -- at the risk of alienating its Shiite allies. Zalmay Khalilzad, America's ambassador in Baghdad, explained in a telephone interview this week: "We support the basic ideas behind the Salahuddin principles. The security ministries have to be in the hands of people who have broad support, who are nonsectarian, without ties to militias. We cannot invest huge amounts of money in forces that do not get broad support from Iraqis. They will make their choices. We will make our choices, based on their choices."

Without the power sharing the more grasping members of minority groups can't be guaranteed to receive anything from the oil money spoils system. To put it more crudely: Iraq might have a better chance of internal peace if Kurds and Sunnis have lot of corruption opportunities.

Lofty notions of democracy are hard to square with what is happening in Iraq. The country is split along ethnic, religious, and linguistic lines. The country is in civil war. The war shows little or no signs of slackening. Plus, one of the factions is at war with the United States while another faction threatens to follow.

Iraq costs $5.9 billion per month. What a waste.

The war request submitted Thursday would lift military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan to $115 billion this year and nearly $400 billion since the fighting began in March 2003.

...

The war in Iraq now costs about $5.9 billion a month, while Afghanistan operations cost about $900 million per month, said the Pentagon comptroller, Tina Jonas.

That cost understates the cost of the war in several ways including wear and tear on equipment, higher overall personnel costs in order to recruit reluctant would-be soldiers, and future losses from long term medical care and less work out of the chronically injured.

The Bush Administration's budget request indicates it sees no slackening in the pace of the war.

"I'm still stunned that there's no downward motion at all in the monthly costs. And clearly in 2006, the administration plans on no end in sight to that," said Michael E. O'Hanlon, senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution.

Why is Iraq a mess? Well, for a start if you are a newer ParaPundit reader and are not familiar with the term "Consanguineous Marriage" then Iraq would make a lot more sense if you read my post "John Tierney On Cousin Marriage As Reform Obstacle In Iraq" and from there clicked back to and read other related posts on that page. Also, the general poor state of Middle Eastern economies can be mostly explained by a single table of politically incorrect taboo information.

Another curious cost of the Iraq war is that the drug war is getting cut back in order to supply troops for the Iraq war.

Marijuana eradication efforts have been hampered by cutbacks in Air National Guard budgets and personnel have been assigned to tasks related to the Iraq war, Wagg said. National Guard helicopters are the most productive way to spot marijuana patches in the county's remote fields and draws, he said.

"We used to get three or four days of flying time. Now, it's one to 1 1/2 days," he said. "They do a great job for us."

Some drug decriminalization advocates might see this as great. But most of Bush's supporters are not for decriminalization and see illicit drugs as a bane on American society. Fortunately for them their brains will reward them for defending their man against inconvenient facts.

By Randall Parker    2006 February 18 01:56 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2006 January 16 Monday
US Leans Toward Supporting Sunnis Against Shias In Iraq

Writing for the Christian Science Monitor Charles Levinson reports that the United States is trying to support the Sunni Arabs to an extent that is creating strong Shia resentment.

Increasingly, the US is throwing its weight in Iraq behind Sunni Arabs, about 20 percent of the country, to ensure they are part of a new coalition government.

Analysts say the US is convinced reconciliation with Sunni Arabs will help stop the insurgency. There is also an American unease with the growing influence of Iran on Iraq's dominant Shiite bloc.

But Shiite leaders have responded defiantly, threatening unflinching stands that could push the country closer to full-scale civil war.

Read the full article. It has lots of fascinating quotes from Iraqi political players about their reaction to the shift of the US toward supporting the Sunnis in their power struggle with the Shias.

Recall what I said yesterday about the idea of the US shifting support toward the Sunnis.

I do not see that a continued US military presence will help reduce the problems flowing from inter-group rivalries. The US occupation forces would have to morph into a protective force for the Sunnis against the Shias in order to change Sunni attitudes toward the US military. But even if that happened the Sunnis would resent their protectors and the Shias would see the US forces as enemies.

If the US goes too far with this it could find itself once more fighting the Mahdi Army. Tribal societies are very hard to manage unless one is willing to ruthlessly kill random members of extended tribal families when any member steps out of line. But the US isn't going to rule as Saddam did. So US attempts to balance the power aren't going to work too well.

By Randall Parker    2006 January 16 10:07 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2005 December 20 Tuesday
Iraq Vote Splits Along Religious And Ethnic Lines

Ilene Prusher of the Christian Science Monitor reports on the preliminary election results which show Iraqis overwhelmingly voted for parties which represent religious and ethnic factions and secular national parties were the big losers.

BAGHDAD – Stretching newfound democratic muscle upon their first chance to elect a full-term government, Iraqis overwhelmingly threw their support behind religious parties defined along sectarian lines and ethnicity.

A bloc of Shiite religious parties close to Iran has, according to results released Tuesday, attracted the largest percentage of voters.

Here in the capital, a national barometer because it is the most diverse of Iraq's 18 provinces, the United Iraq Alliance - religious Shiites who dominated the interim government formed in May - won about 58 percent of the vote.

A Sunni Islamist alliance comprised of politicians who have defended the insurgency campaign against US troops came in next, with close to 19 percent.

Trailing in third is Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite who was favored by the US and Iraqi moderates hoping to rise above the country's rising sectarianism. Mr. Allawi, billed as a man who could unite parties and crack down on terrorism, received less than 14 percent of the vote.

Three quarters of the Iraqi people voted for Islamist parties. According to the Bush Administration the United States is fighting in Iraq to prevent Islamists from coming to power through violence. Instead the Islamists are coming to power through the ballot box. American soldiers died for this Bush faith-based initiative. Sam Harris' view of religious faith is making more sense to me every day.

The Sunni Arabs see any election results in which they are the minority as an election which is illegitimate.

The rejection of the early results, the first set of which were released Monday, also raised the possibility that Sunni Arab politicians could boycott the political process, as they have done several times in the last year.

The Bush administration's plans to temper the Sunni-led insurgency and reduce the U.S. troop presence in Iraq are based on the assumption that Sunni Arabs would participate in the new government. Any withdrawal by the Sunnis at this stage would be a serious setback for the White House.

"In order for Iraq to succeed, there has to be cross-ethnic and cross-sectarian cooperation," Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said Tuesday.

The obstacles in the way of such cooperation are insurmountable.

The many Iraqi Sunnis who insist that Sunnis are really a majority in Iraq (not in the links above) demonstrate the depth of the delusions of Arab minds. In their model of the world they are the rightful rulers. All "facts" are adopted to support that view. A Western Enlightenment view of an objective reality independent of our beliefs just doesn't enter into their style of reasoning.

On the bright side the leaders of the religious parties coming to power in Iraq favor a US withdrawal from Iraq. The Bush crowd will feel increasing pressure to declare victory and bring home the troops. That will leave Iraq in the hands of democratically elected Islamists. But since the Bush Administration and the neocons insist that democracy is the solution for what ails the Middle East we can not hope for a better outcome.

By Randall Parker    2005 December 20 09:48 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (19)
2005 July 18 Monday
Civil War Building In Iraq?

Shia politicians in Iraq call for the return of Shia militias.

Shiite parliamentarian Khudayr al-Khuzai called on the government Sunday to "bring back popular militias" to protect vulnerable Shiite communities. "The plans of the interior and defense ministries to impose security in Iraq have failed to stop the terrorists," he told the National Assembly.

But the Shia militias never entirely disbanded. They control parts of Baghdad and certainly control Basra (see below).

The Shias see civil war between Sunnis and Shias in the offing. (same article here)

“What is truly happening, and what shall happen, is clear: a war against the Shias,” Sheikh Jalal al-Din al-Saghir, a prominent Shia cleric and MP, told the Iraqi parliament.

Sheikh al-Saghir is close to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the supreme Shia spiritual leader and moderate who has so far managed to restrain powerful Shia militias from undertaking any outright attack on Sunni insurgents. His warning suggests that the Shia leadership may be losing its grip over Shias who in private often call for an armed backlash against their Sunni assailants.

If the US withdrew then the Shia militias would quickly explode in size and take on the Sunni groups.

The Shias are reacting to the continued killing of Shias by Sunni bombers. Perhaps the bombers in Iraq decided to have a weekend bomb contest to see who could blow up the most people.

Some 15 suicide bombers have struck within just over 48 hours in the capital and along the main road south in what al Qaeda's Iraq wing has declared is a campaign to seize Baghdad.

In Saturday's attack a suicide bomber blew up a fuel truck near a crowded vegetable market outside a Shi'ite mosque in Musayyib, in a lawless area U.S. troops call "the triangle of death." In addition to the 98 killed, hospital sources said 75 people had been wounded, 19 of whom were in serious condition.

In southern Iraq Basra has been spared the Sunni bombings because it is under control of oppressive Shia fundamentalist Islamic militias.

For a visitor from Baghdad the contrast is striking: there are none of the blast walls that surround the capital's government buildings and at the night the markets and streets throng with people.

But the calm has come at a price and offers an object lesson to strategists in western capitals that bringing democracy to the Middle East can easily usher into power religious forces at odds with the west.

In January's historic Iraq election a majority of religion-inspired leaders were elected in Basra, but they have struck a deal with the militias which have been influential since 2003 and effectively have free rein in the city.

The militias help impose order and warn of any Sunni infiltrators but only while working to transform the city into a miniature theocracy reminiscent of that found across the Shatt al Arab waterway in Iran.

Pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Iranian revolution, have become a common sight on street corners. Shops selling musical instruments have been bombed after warnings that musicians were the "servants of Satan".

Stores selling DVDs report that groups of men inspect their wares to ensure it contains no items considered too provocative.

American soldiers have fought for Iraqi freedom. The freedom to create a stifling oppressive religous state.

Iran looks to be the big winner in Iraq.

Iran hopes that the United States can crush the insurgency and that free elections will keep its allies in power. If Iraq eventually breaks apart into Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite countries, Iranian officials think they will have strong influence in Kurdistan and the Shiite state.

Asked if it's ironic that when the United States eventually withdraws, Iran could have greater influence than the United States, Asefi said, "That is true, but that's not our fault. When Americans are working for us, we'll let them do it."

America is running out of allies to make the war in Iraq multinational on the American side. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says 10% of Italy's 3000 troops in Iraq will go home in September 2005.

'As far as our troop withdrawal goes, the situation has not changed. We will begin, as I have already announced, a partial withdrawal of around 300 troops in September,' he said at the end of a summit of world leaders.

British Defense Secretary John Reid expects British troops to bring withdrawing some time in the next 12 months.

He added that Britain does not want to be tied to what he called an "immutable time scale" for withdrawal.

"That will be a process. I believe it is a process that could start - no more than that - over the next 12 months," Mr. Reid says.

The war will go on for years if the US remains.

Update: I have a big question: Is civil war between the Shias and Sunnis more likely if the United States leaves soon or stays longer? If the US leaves now then the Sunnis could decide that the central government is so weak that they can capture control of the government and restore the Sunni supremacy. That would lead to a civil war. On the other hand the very presence of US troops is a big lure for non-Iraqi Arabs to heed the call to Jihad and to go into Iraq and conduct bombings. Shia Arabs bear the brunt of those attaccks. Therefore the US presence brings in bombers who drive Shias toward retaliatory attacks against Iraqi Sunnis which then make the Sunnis want to retaliate in kind. So the US presence helps to create the conditions for civil war.

My guess: Iraq would be calmer and at less risk of civil war if US troops left.

By Randall Parker    2005 July 18 02:35 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (20)
2005 July 02 Saturday
Why Won't the Shiites Fight The Sunnis In Iraq?

The Economist reports that in an Iraqi military training academy in Tikrit at very most 5% of the trainees want to fight for their government.

The instructors had more pressing concerns than the quality of their recruits. Two months ago, Iraq's Ministry of Defence took over the job of paying its employees, up to then paid by America, and since then they had not seen a cent. Language is also a problem, with half the recruits speaking Arabic and the others Kurdish, and few instructors knowing both. Perhaps the worst problem is the quality of leadership. The Iraqi colonel nominally in charge of the academy tried to employ his relatives, said his American supervisors, including one who was subsequently arrested in murky circumstances. He would not have been the first insurgent to practise on the academy's range: after the fighting in Fallujah, last November, American marines found the academy's badges on enemy corpses. Asked to estimate how many of the academy's students were motivated by a desire to help their country, Major Donald McArdle, the American in charge, reckoned 5%; his colleagues thought this too high.

The lack of pay for Ministry of Defence workers might be the result of corrupt officials funnelling money off to foreign bank accounts.

The Iraqi force that is supposed to take over the fighting from American soldiers is a mirage. ARVN (Army for the Republic of Viet Nam - the South Vietnamese Army in the 1960s and early 70s) was a better fighting force.

In recent weeks, ISF units have taken charge of small areas of Baghdad and Mosul. By the end of this year, when elections are due to be held under a new constitution, they are supposed to number 230,000, and to be operating in divisions. America would withdraw, or so officials say, some troops early next year.

That is a pipedream. Corrupt, patchily trained and equipped, often abysmally led and devoid of confidence, most army units cannot operate above platoon-size. Between Iraqis and Americans there is deep mistrust: Iraqi units billeted on American bases are fenced off from their hosts as a security measure.

For every vaunted ISF success, examples of cowardice and incompetence abound. Even when stiffened by American forces, the ISF often flee when under attack. Iraqi marksmen have a habit of closing their eyes and spraying bullets in "death-blossoms", in GI slang. Some of the better units, including the 12-battalion, mostly Shia, police commandos, are accused of torture and sectarian violence.

Not that most American commanders--many of whom are on their second or third tour of Iraq, and want it to be their last--admit these deficiencies. To "put an Iraqi face" on operations, they are often accompanied by an Iraqi counterpart. But during operations observed by this correspondent in the violent northern town of Tal Afar last week, the "Iraqi face", that of a genial Kurdish general, spent much time with its eyes closed, gently dozing.

Look at it on the bright side. The dozing Kurdish general isn't going to pass military intelligence on to the insurgents. An alert Sunni Arab general might approach the operation looking for ways to give notice to the insurgents that the Americans are coming.

I don't buy the argument that the Iraqi military just needs more time training. The insurgents do not have training bases and big budgets. Yet they still manage to do lots of fighting. Also, plenty of Iraqis received military training under Saddam's regime. Plus, plenty of Iraqis who have been trained in the new Iraqi Army then left it and used their skills and equipment to eagerly fight for the insurgency.

John Tierney of the New York Times argues normal bias against outsiders is amplified in Iraq by the practice of cousin marriage.

Because marriage between cousins is so common in the Middle East - half of Iraqis are married to their first or second cousins - Arabs live in tightly knit clans long resistant to outsiders, including would-be liberators. T. E. Lawrence learned that lesson when trying to unify Arabs early in the last century.

"The Semites' idea of nationality," he wrote, "was the independence of clans and villages, and their ideal of national union was episodic combined resistance to an intruder. Constructive policies, an organized state, an extended empire, were not so much beyond their sight as hateful in it. They were fighting to get rid of Empire, not to win it."

Today's liberators in Iraq like to attribute the resistance to Islamic fascists' fear of democracy and hatred of the West. But those fascists know that an abstract critique of Western ideology isn't enough to attract followers. In their appeals they constantly invoke the need to expel foreigners from their soil, a battle cry that is the great common denominator of suicide bombers around the world.

For more links about the problem posed by consanguineous marriage (marriage to cousins and other genetic close relations) see Steve Sailer's excerpt of Tierney's essay. Also see my previous post on Tierney's previous essay on consanguineous marriage and Iraq. Also see my posts Consanguinity prevents Middle Eastern political development and Pessimists on Muslim Democracy.

Steve Sailer argues that Iraqis have a stronger desire to dominate than to be free.

Freedom or Dominance: I fear that one of the Administration's fundamental misconceptions about Iraq was the assumption that Arabs value freedom most of all. In reality, I suspect they prize dominance most highly We assumed we could hand them their freedom and they'd be grateful to us for our selfless sacrifice, or, at worst, appreciate our enlightened self-interest. But Arabs have no history of the powerful giving anyone their freedom, so they assume it is a trick and a trap. In Arab thought, the only way to prevent the dominant from exploiting you is to be the dominant one yourself.

The practice of polygamy as a "winner take all" competition for a limited supply of females makes my list of reasons why democracy is doomed in Iraq. Polygamy might be a major cause of the preference for domination over freedom.

The timing of eventual American withdrawal from Iraq will be determined by a combination of US domestic factors and developments in Iraq. On the latter score the most important question in my mind is why aren't the Shias joining the Iraqi military to vigorously fight the Sunni insurgency? Some possibilities:

  1. Most Sunnis are fighting in areas where few Shias live and the Shias just don't see a threat. But Baghdad and a few other cities have substantial numbers of both groups.
  2. The Shias are content to let the United States do their fighting for them. Why get killed when American troops will die for you? If this is the case then only the withdrawal of US troops will make the Shias fight for their government.
  3. Most Shias do not see the Iraqi government as their government even though it is dominated by Shias because the government is predictably so corrupt that it just exists for the people who are in power. If they believe this then they probably have an accurate assessment of the situation.
  4. Most Shias do not feel much allegiance to the abstract concept of "Iraq" since their loyalties to extended families are much stronger. Consanguineous marriage weakens higher level loyalties so much that nation-states can't work. In this case the Shiites are hopeless and we can never hope to establish a functional democracy in Iraq.
  5. As long as the Americans are present the Shias question whether fighting for the government amounts to fighting for their Iraq controlled by Shia Iraqis. Are the Americans just going to use Shias to suppress the Sunni so that the Americans can take all the oil? If this fear is holding them back then US withdrawal should cause the Shiite majority to fight harder for their government.
  6. The Shias figure that the Sunnis are most eager to fight the Americans and that if the Americans would leave the Sunnis would make peace with the Shias. Well, if so then this argues for American withdrawal.
  7. The Shiites have become conditioned to a submissive position vis a vis dominant Sunnis for so long that they are just don't have the mindset needed to defend their position in power.

Can you think of other reasons why the Shiites are not eager to fight for the government while the Sunnis are eager to fiight for the insurgency? Or do you think one or more of the proposed explanations above suffice to explain the unwillingness of the predominantly Iraqi Army to show some eagerness when going up against the Sunnis?

By Randall Parker    2005 July 02 04:26 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2004 June 28 Monday
Shiite, Sunni Tribes May Fight Over Fallujah Killings

Paul McGeough reports on a twisted tale of tribal revenge in Iraq. The Shia Chinani tribe, part of the larger Rabia tribe, wants the Janabi Sunni tribe of the Fallujah region to turn over 2 Janabi sheikhs to the Chinanis to be killed. The Chinanis claim these Janabis killed 6 Chinanis because the Chinanis are Shias. The Chinanis are threatening to start an inter-tribal war if the Jinanis do not comply with their demands. (Syndey Morning Herald free registration required)

Control of much of Falluja has been ceded to a hard core of insurgents and their foreign Arab colleagues - Saudis, Syrians, Yemenis and Jordanians - who are imposing a local regime that is reminiscent of the defeated Taliban of Afghanistan.

...

They have identified two prominent Falluja identities - Sheik Abdul al-Janabi of the Janabi tribe and Sheik Dafar al-Obeidi, the imam of Falluja's imposing Al Hadra Al Muhammadia mosque - as those who should die as an act of tribal revenge for the death of the six. "Janabi, whose tribe is big, told us that it was his insurgency group that killed them," Adnan said.

This is not one young man's grief talking. Speaking to the Herald, Adnan was standing in for his father, Faisal Muthair al-Chinani al-Rabia, who is the sheik of the Chinani tribe which, in turn, is part of the several-million-strong Rabia tribe - predominantly Shiite.

His father was still receiving official condolences, but interviewed a day later he was matter-of-fact. "We don't want money. We want the criminals - and we will kill them. The Janabi people say this is not their tribe's problem - it's a resistance problem.

"But if they don't hand them over, we have many tribes and much power and we will attack Falluja as many times as we need, and we will kill as many as we have to."

The Chinanis want to fight the Janabis. But perhaps are they confused and they really ought to want to fight the local Taliban that the US helped set up in power in Fallujah? Wait, isn't the US opposed to the Taliban-style of government? So then are the real enemies of the Chinanis the local Iraqi Taliban that the US now supports? (note that there is an element of sarcasm in my writing of this paragraph - but it seems uncomfortably accurate)

The widening split between the Arabs and the Kurds is even less tractable but the Shia-Sunni split is being boosted by the fact that each tribe tends to be predominately Sunni or Shia. Weren't we supposed to be establishing a democracy to set an example of Arab democray that will cause a political transformation of the Middle East? Huh? What does democracy have to do with anything? We have tribal scores that need settling and bonds of blood that are far more important than governments.

Also, while I'm asking questions: Did the neoconservative civilian appointees to the Defense Department and the White House have to submit to testing for hallucinogenic drug use? Or are the delusions of the neocons due to organic malfunctions that aren't caused by drug use? (here I hope my sarcasm is more obvious)

Iraq is especially unwelcoming ground for a modern liberal democracy because of the practice of consanguineous marriage. See my post John Tierney On Cousin Marriage As Reform Obstacle In Iraq as a good starting point to many previous posts I've made on the subject. For a more comprehensive list of reasons why the prospects are very dim for political transformation of the Middle East to make it more Western, liberal, and less hostile to the West see the bullet list in the middle of this post: Unilaterally Withdraw From Iraq Or First Partition? Since liberalisation isn't in the cards for the Middle East the Bush Administration's announced strategy for dealing with the terrorist threat is harmful to US interests.

By Randall Parker    2004 June 28 01:25 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (23)
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