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2010 September 12 Sunday
Iraq Violence Declined Due To Rising Currency?

Did a surge in the value of the Iraqi dinar make it too expensive for external jihad funders to hire warriors?

The most intriguing theory comes from Peter Berck and Jonathan Lipow, academics at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Defense Resource Management Institute, respectively. In a recent paper, they argue that it was the Iraqi dinar, and its almost obscene appreciation, that played a crucial role in the decline of insurgent activity, ushering in the current period of relative peacefulness. "[The dinar] played perhaps as large a role as the Surge," Lipow tells AOL News.

By Randall Parker    2010 September 12 10:25 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2008 March 25 Tuesday
Mahdi Army Ending Iraq Ceasefire?

Sadr's Shiite Mahdi militia has been obeying a ceasefire he imposed several months ago. But Sadr shows signs of ending that ceasefire in response to a Baghdad central government launched offensive to seize Basra from the Mahdi and other militias.

BAGHDAD — A cease-fire critical to the improved security situation in Iraq appeared to unravel Monday when a militia loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr began shutting down neighborhoods in west Baghdad and issuing demands of the central government.

Simultaneously, in the strategic southern port city of Basra, where Sadr's Mahdi militia is in control, the Iraqi government launched a crackdown in the face of warnings by Sadr's followers that they'll fight government forces if any Sadrists are detained. By 1 a.m. Arab satellite news channels reported clashes between the Mahdi Army and police in Basra.

The Iraqi military is trying to take control of the southern Iraqi city of Basra and the Madhis don't want to surrender to the Baghdad government. Prime Minister Maliki and Sadr are in something of a game of chicken. Will one of them blink?

The Madhi fighters have spent the ceasefire period modernizing and stocking up on supplies from Iran.

The Mahdi Army, believed to number up to 60,000 fighters, was battered by U.S. troops in a series of battles in 2004. But the militia appears to have regrouped and, according to commanders, is ready to respond to "provocations."

According to the three commanders, the militia has received fresh supplies of weapons from Iran — contradicting repeated Iranian denials that it is supporting Iraqi militias.

The weapons, the commanders said, included rockets, armor-piercing roadside bombs and anti-aircraft guns that could be effective against low-flying helicopters.

Additionally, they said an infusion of cash from Iran has been spent on new communication centers equipped with computers with Internet connections, fax machines and mobile satellite telephones.

How fast is their broadband access? Do they stream live feeds of cars getting blown up?

The US government claims the latest violence from Madhis comes from rogue members. Does the US believe this or is this posturing in order to give Sadr room to get back on the plantation?

"The cease-fire is over; we have been told to fight the Americans," said one Mahdi Army militiaman, who was reached by telephone in Sadr City. This same man, when interviewed in January, had stated that he was abiding by the cease-fire and that he was keeping busy running his cellular phone store.

Ilan Goldenberg argues that out of the 4 major factors that contributed to a decline in Iraqi violence the most important was the Mahdi Army ceasefire.

The drop in violence in Iraq has generally been attributed to four elements 1) More American forces and the change in tactics to counterinsurgency; 2) The Awakening movement; 3) The Sadr ceasefire; and 4) The ethnic cleansing and physical separation of the various sides.

It's hard to say for sure, which of these factors was the most important. The Bush administration will tell you it's all about the troop levels. I've tended to believe it's more of a mix and was most inclined towards the Anbar Awakening and the sectarian cleansing as the important factors. But when you look at the data it really seems to indicate that the Sadr ceasefire may have been the key.

He shows a graph where the biggest decline occurred in early 2007 - too early for the surge to be responsible. Another later big drop came around August 28 when Sadr told his forces to stop fighting.

In his article "The Myth of the Surge" Nir Rosen argued in The Rolling Stone that "The Awakening" movement of Sunnis to work as security forces under US supervision came in large part because the US bribed Sunnis to stop fighting American forces.

Now, in the midst of the surge, the Bush administration has done an about-face. Having lost the civil war, many Sunnis were suddenly desperate to switch sides — and Gen. David Petraeus was eager to oblige. The U.S. has not only added 30,000 more troops in Iraq — it has essentially bribed the opposition, arming the very Sunni militants who only months ago were waging deadly assaults on American forces. To engineer a fragile peace, the U.S. military has created and backed dozens of new Sunni militias, which now operate beyond the control of Iraq's central government. The Americans call the units by a variety of euphemisms: Iraqi Security Volunteers (ISVs), neighborhood watch groups, Concerned Local Citizens, Critical Infrastructure Security. The militias prefer a simpler and more dramatic name: They call themselves Sahwa, or "the Awakening."

At least 80,000 men across Iraq are now employed by the Americans as ISVs. Nearly all are Sunnis, with the exception of a few thousand Shiites.

Can the US keep the Sunnis bribed and in approved militias? Will Sadr treat the US withdrawal and attacks in the central government forces as reasons to resume fighting? How much has the ethnic cleansing reduced the number of flash points? I expect the factions to resume fighting eventually.

By Randall Parker    2008 March 25 09:50 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2007 November 22 Thursday
Saudi Arabia Biggest Source Of Foreign Fighters In Iraq

Saudi Arabia is the bigges source of foreign Muslim fighters in Iraq.

BAGHDAD: Saudi Arabia and Libya, both considered allies by the United States in its fight against terrorism, were the source of about 60 percent of the foreign fighters who came to Iraq in the past year to serve as suicide bombers or to facilitate other attacks, according to senior American military officials.

The data come largely from a trove of documents and computers discovered in September, when American forces raided a tent camp in the desert near Sinjar, close to the Syrian border. The raid's target was an insurgent cell believed to be responsible for smuggling the vast majority of foreign fighters into Iraq.

Fortunately that raid helped cut down the flow of foreign Sunni fighters into Iraq.

The records also underscore how the insurgency in Iraq remains both overwhelmingly Iraqi and Sunni. American officials now estimate that the flow of foreign fighters was 80 to 110 per month during the first half of this year and about 60 per month during the summer. The numbers fell sharply in October to no more than 40, partly as a result of the Sinjar raid, the American officials say.

Saudis accounted for the largest number of fighters listed on the records by far — 305, or 41 percent — American intelligence officers found as they combed through documents and computers in the weeks after the raid. The data show that despite increased efforts by Saudi Arabia to clamp down on would-be terrorists since Sept. 11, 2001, when 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, some Saudi fighters are still getting through.

But only 1.2% of the insurgents held in American detention camps are non-Iraqi. 80% of the detained insurgents are Sunnis.

So what does this tell us? The insurgency is overwhelmingly Sunni. That makes sense. The Shias control the government. The Sunnis oppose Shia rule and they also oppose US support for the Shia government.

This also shows us something we already know but which the Bush Administration tries to officially ignore: Saudi Arabia is home to the fundamentalist form of Sunni Wahhabi Islam that generates the largest number of people actively hostile to the United States. When we buy gasoline we fund our enemies. The article reports that Saudi citizens provide the biggest source of funding for Al Qaeda in Iraq.

This report also shows something else the Bush Administration would just as soon you didn't know: Iran isn't the biggest source of external support for insurgents. Rather, our pseudo-ally Saudi Arabia produces the jihadists.

15 of 19 9/11 attackers were from Saudi Arabia. We could do more to reduce of risk of terrorist attacks by simply keeping Saudis out of the United States than from any other measure. Doing that is a subset of Separationism.

By Randall Parker    2007 November 22 04:15 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2007 February 13 Tuesday
Sadr In Iran To Sit Out US Troop Surge In Iraq

A few weeks ago Iraqi Shia cleric and Mahdi Army militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr brought his political party back into Iraq's parliament after a boycott.

Ending a two-month boycott, the powerful political movement of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr will return to Iraq's parliament, the parliamentary speaker announced Sunday.

Politicians backing al-Sadr withdrew participation in Iraqi politics in a protest over Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's November meeting with President Bush in Jordan.

The al-Sadr bloc controls six government ministries and holds 30 of the 235 seats in parliament.

But around the time that this was happening Sadr fled Iraq for Iran in order to safely sit out the US troop surge.

WASHINGTON | Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr fled Iraq for Iran ahead of a security crackdown in Baghdad and the arrival of 21,500 U.S. troops sent by President Bush to quell sectarian violence, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday.

Al-Sadr left his Baghdad stronghold some weeks ago, the official said, and is believed to be in Tehran, where he has family. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss U.S. monitoring activities, said fractures in al-Sadr's political and militia operations may be part of the reason for his departure. The move is not believed to be permanent, the official said.

Ian Bremmer thinks the factions in and around Iraq can wait out the US troop surge.

To be sure, Bush's new strategy is highly unlikely to help Iraqis avert a slide into sectarian civil war. A temporary 16 percent boost in troops simply is not enough to get that job done. Bush insists that there will soon be enough US troops in central Iraq to "hold" areas seized from militia groups and insurgents. But for how long? A month? Four months? Three years? American troops will eventually leave Iraq, and all the relevant parties - the Maliki government, Shiite militias, Sunni insurgents, Iran, and Iraq's Sunni Arab neighbors - know it. Sadr can simply hold back and wait the Americans out.

I agree with this analysis. The armed groups that take on the US forces will take a lot of casualties. The result will be to strengthen the other factions that decide to hide and lay low. Sadr will benefit because some of the groups that have split off from the Mahdi Army have less sense and less discipline. They'll fight US forces and get weakened. After US forces peak and decline in number Sadr will eventually return to Iraq with fewer competitors. His forces will pick up where they left off.

By Randall Parker    2007 February 13 10:26 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2006 November 25 Saturday
Iraq Insurgency Financially Self-Sustaining

John Burns of the New York Times got hold of a US government report completed in June 2006 about the high level of funding that the insurgency has in Iraq.

BAGHDAD, Nov. 25 — The insurgency in Iraq is now self-sustaining financially, raising tens of millions of dollars a year from oil smuggling, kidnapping, counterfeiting, corrupt charities and other crimes that the Iraqi government and its American patrons have been largely unable to prevent, a classified United States government report has concluded.

The report, obtained by The New York Times, estimates that groups responsible for many of the insurgent and terrorist attacks are raising $70 million to $200 million a year from illegal activities. It says that $25 million to $100 million of the total comes from oil smuggling and other criminal activity involving the state-owned oil industry aided by “corrupt and complicit” Iraqi officials.

As much as $36 million a year comes from ransoms paid to save hundreds of kidnap victims in Iraq, the report said. It estimates that unnamed foreign governments — previously identified by senior American officials as including France and Italy — paid Iraqi kidnappers $30 million in ransom last year.

Even the higher $200 million estimate is less than the United States spends in Iraq in a single day. Can you say asymmetrical warfare? Sure.

The lesson here is that huge budgets and lots of hardware do not buy victory as long as the insurgents are willing to die and the occupying power has moral scruples. The Roman Empire, possessed with the might of the US military, would have made the Iraqis (at least those left alive) cower in such fear that there'd be no insurgency. But we do not play by those rules and so should not try to occupy a country like Iraq.

The insurgents fight for little or no pay. They can get weapons left over from Saddam's days and probably from soldiers in what passes for the Iraqi military and security forces.

Oh, and the insurgents are getting so much money that the report has an amazing kicker:

“In fact, if recent revenue and expense estimates are correct, terrorist and insurgent groups in Iraq may have surplus funds with which to support other terrorist organizations outside of Iraq.”

But outside experts say the report writers are doing a lot of guessing. Maybe so. But if the "insurgency' is the Sunni insurgency then the best way to cut off their ability to send any money abroad would be for US forces to withdraw so that the Shias can go after the Sunnis without restraint.

The report says that Saddam's Baathist loyalists have hundreds of millions more. But they do not see a prospect for regaining power and so they are mostly using that money for their own lifestyles.

What I find puzzling about the above report: If the insurgents mentioned are Sunnis then how are they making so much money off of oil tradiing? The Iraqi government is dominated by Shias. The Shias control the oil ministry. The oil fields are in Shia areas and in Kurdistan. So how can the Sunnis make tens of millions off of oil trading? Can't the Shias in the government find Shias outside the government to help them pull of diversions of oil into the black market for export?

Update: The atrocities by Shias against Sunnis have gotten so horrific that I find it hard to believe the Sunnis are getting money to fund their insurgency from dealings with Shias in the Iraqi "government".

Iraqi soldiers at a nearby army post failed to intervene when the Sunnis were seized as they left Friday prayers, drenched with kerosene and burned to death. The troops also did nothing to stop subsequent attacks that killed at least 28 other Sunnis, including women and children, in the same neighborhood, the volatile Hurriyah district in northwest Baghdad, police Capt. Jamil Hussein said.

The Shia government soldiers side openly with Shia militias against Sunni civilians. Yet we are supposed to believe Iraq is not yet in a civil war. How far down will Iraq go? Any guesses?

By Randall Parker    2006 November 25 05:16 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2006 July 04 Tuesday
Zarqawi Death Did Not Slow Insurgency

US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad says the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had no impact on attacks.

In a wide-ranging interview with the BBC on US Independence Day, Mr Khalilzad said the death of Zarqawi - the then leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq - had encouraged "other insurgent groups to reach out, because some were intimidated by Zarqawi.

"But on the other hand, in terms of the level of violence, it has not had any impact at this point. As you know, the level of violence is still quite high," he said.

Let us all feign surprise and shock that the killing of Zarqawi by US forces had little or no impact on the death rate and the tempo of insurgent attacks. The spin masters around America's maximal leader proclaimed Zarqawi's death a great success. Surely the US effort "turned a corner" when Zarqawi died. The problem is we don't know what road we were on or what road we turned onto.

The BBC refers to Khalilzad as the "US ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad". Not to Iraq? Well, might have been a mistake on their part. Or maybe it is an accurate measure of his position. Certainly, whoever the US ambassador is in Kabul, Afghanistan represents the US to a "national" government which exercises sovereignty over a rather limited area. Similarly, in Iraq the "national" government doesn't have much sway over the Sunni Triangle, Kurdistan, or even Basra for that matter. When will the US appoint its first ambassador to Kurdistan?

Lest you think I ignore the good news from Iraq, oil exports are up.

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq is producing an average of 2.5 million barrels of oil a day, its highest level since the war began in 2003, an oil ministry spokesman said today.

Assem Jihad said 1.6 million barrels are being exported daily from the southern port of Basra, while 300,000 are being pumped from the northern city of Kirkuk to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

An interesting article in the Boston Globe goes over the cessation of attacks on northern Iraq pipelines that allowed the big increase in Iraq oil exports through Turkey.

BEIJI, Iraq -- For more than two years the attacks came like clockwork. As soon as the military secured and workers repaired the pipelines from Iraq's northern oil fields insurgents would strike.

But roughly three weeks ago they suddenly stopped, letting crude oil flow freely from Iraq's vast reserves near Kirkuk.

Maybe the US military killed or captured some key figures who were coordinating pipeline attacks in order to boost profits from selling refined oil products brought to Turkey from Iraq by trucks.

The 3d Brigade, nicknamed the ``Rakkasans," has studied the intricate web of oil corruption near the refinery in Beiji as part of a renewed effort to restore the oil industry.

Working with other coalition and Iraqi soldiers, they targeted oil smugglers, who they believe are behind many of the attacks on the fuel export lines. The black market truckers buy gasoline or diesel at Iraq's government-subsidized prices and drive to Turkey to sell it for 10 times the amount, so official exports compete and cut into their profits.

Read that whole article. My guess: The insurgents/black marketeers who were profitting from the disruptions probably made a deal with a certain Baghdad insider (think former pal of Washington DC neoconservatives) to get a cut of the revenue that the "government" gets from the oil.

The secret to peace in Iraq: Figure out the identities of all the powerful insurgency leaders and bring them into the pay-off system. Can Ahmad the Thief figure out how to do this? Does he see it as in his best interest to do so?

By Randall Parker    2006 July 04 08:44 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2006 January 15 Sunday
Anthony Cordesman Sees Signs Iraqi Insurgents Still Potent Force

Anthony Cordesman argues that the Sunni rebellion strategy is to discredit the new Iraqi government and to widen rifts within that government.

If one "red teams" insurgent motives, there are also reasons for insurgents to be more optimistic about what they can accomplish during the coming year:

—They still can mount large numbers of attacks. The Coalition forces stress that the number of attacks has risen, but that successes have dropped. It is far from clear this is true about success if one considers the impact of the attacks, and the key point is that the insurgents are still strong enough for the number of attacks to increase.

It is also worth noting that the ability of the insurgents to cause casualties is undiminished.

—Some key aspects of the fracture lines between Sunni and Shi'ite are growing. The Arab Sunni vs. Arab Shi'ite and Kurd tensions in the security forces are more serious, although the US and UK have made major efforts to control and ease them. Sectarian divisions within the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior continue to grow. The new army is becoming steadily more Shi'ite and there are growing problems in promoting Sunni officers. The police remains divided along sectarian and ethnic lines. These problems are being increased by rushing new Iraqi units into the field, many in areas where they create sectarian friction. (There seems to have been some manipulation of readiness data to get the number of battalions with level 3 and level 2 readiness up to 50. Low quality units may have been added somewhat prematurely to the level 3 readiness total in spite of poor quality and experience.)

The Kurds in the Iraqi Army aren't really in the Iraqi Army. Effectively they are Kurdish Army units getting paid by the Iraqi government. They might serve that government to hunt down Sunni rebels, especially in areas where populations are a mix of Sunni Arabs and Kurds. But their larger purpose will be to serve the de facto semi-independent Kurdish government. The Iraqi Arab Army is going to be dominated by Shias. The Sunnis are going to increasingly see the Shia Army as having the primary purpose of putting down the Sunni rebellion.

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.

I think the death tolls say a lot about how the war is progressing. Check out the Iraq Coalition Casualties web page. The daily average death rate for coalition (mostly US and UK) forces has not been trending downward. Though Iraqi civilian casualties have gone down a lot from the summer of 2005 peak.

By Randall Parker    2006 January 15 07:49 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2005 November 16 Wednesday
Foreign Fighters Rare In Iraq

US forces rarely capture foreign fighters in Iraq.

BAGHDAD -- Before 8,500 U.S. and Iraqi soldiers methodically swept through Tall Afar two months ago in the year's largest counterinsurgency offensive, commanders described the northern city as a logistics hub for fighters, including foreigners entering the country from Syria, 65 miles to the west.

"They come across the border and use Tall Afar as a base to launch attacks across northern Iraq," Col. H.R. McMaster, commander of the Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which led the assault, said in a briefing the day before it began.

When the air and ground operation wound down in mid-September, nearly 200 insurgents had been killed and close to 1,000 detained, the military said at the time. But interrogations and other analyses carried out in recent weeks showed that none of those captured was from outside Iraq. According to McMaster's staff, the 3rd Armored Cavalry last detained a foreign fighter in June.

The role of foreign fighters in Iraq has developed into part of a mythology constructed to try to justify a foolish and counterproductive war.

So why the constant exaggerations about the role of foreign fighters? Anthony Cordesman says the exaggerations are politically useful.

"Both Iraqis and coalition people often exaggerate the role of foreign infiltrators and downplay the role of Iraqi resentment in the insurgency," said Anthony H. Cordesman, a former Pentagon official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, who is writing a book about the Iraqi insurgency.

"It makes the government's counterinsurgency efforts seem more legitimate, and it links what's going on in Iraq to the war on terrorism," he continued. "When people go out into battle, they often characterize enemies in the most negative way possible. Obviously there are all kinds of interacting political prejudices they can bring out by blaming outsiders."

Thanks to Greg Cochran for the tip.

Army Maj. Gen. William Webster, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division says US forces in Baghdad have capture 81 foreign fighters in almost a year.

Addressing a reported statement by Iraq's Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, Webster said he believed it "a distinct possibility" that insurgents now were training in Iraq for attacks in other countries. Webster added he had not seen any evidence of Iraq being used as a training ground or of any large-scale training camps.

Webster said U.S. forces in Baghdad have detained 81 foreign fighters since he began his current tour in Iraq almost a year ago. The "overwhelming majority" came from Syria, he said. The second-largest category was those whose origin could not be determined, he said. Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Egypt accounted for the next three largest groups, in that order, he said.

The bulk of the insurgents in Iraq are Iraqis. Most of them are fighting because US troops are in Iraq. Some fight because they want Sunnis to rule Shias. The main connection between the war in Iraq and the counter-terrorist battle against Al Qaeda is that the US troop presence is like a big expensive recruitment advertisement for Al Qaeda: "See, those infidels reallly do intend to invade and rule us".

James Fallows sees the US strategy in Iraq as too little too late and based on too of short time horizons.

The U.S. military does everything in Iraq worse and slower than it could if it solved its language problems. It is unbelievable that American fighting ranks have so little help. Soon after Pearl Harbor the U.S. military launched major Japanese-language training institutes at universities and was screening draftees to find the most promising students. America has made no comparable effort to teach Arabic. Nearly three years after the invasion of Iraq the typical company of 150 or so U.S. soldiers gets by with one or two Arabic-speakers. T. X. Hammes says that U.S. forces and trainers in Iraq should have about 22,000 interpreters, but they have nowhere near that many. Some 600,000 Americans can speak Arabic. Hammes has proposed offering huge cash bonuses to attract the needed numbers to Iraq....

If you want to develop an appreciation of the importance of local language skills I recommend Stuart Herrington's book about his service as an intelligence officer in Vietnam: Silence Was A Weapon: The Vietnam War In The Villages. The deficiencies in Arabic language training are an appalling, very large, and on-going mistake. Though the same could be said about the war in the first place.

[I]f the United States is serious about getting out of Iraq, it will need to re-consider its defense spending and operations rather than leaving them to a combination of inertia, Rumsfeld-led plans for "transformation," and emergency stopgaps. It will need to spend money for interpreters.... It will need to make majors and colonels sit through language classes.... It will need to commit air, logistics, medical, and intelligence services to Iraq—-and understand that this is a commitment for years, not a temporary measure. It will need to decide that there are weapons systems it does not require and commitments it cannot afford if it is to support the ones that are crucial. And it will need to make these decisions in a matter of months, not years—-before it is too late.

Short time horizons would make sense if we were preparing to leave. But the Bush Administration will not hear of talk about withdrawal.

Iraqi government forces might eventually improve. IQ tests under development for selecting smarter Iraqis to serve in the military (developed at the behest of the US military btw) might eventually help improve the Iraqi military's performance. So many Iraqis will end up getting recruited that some will want to fight for the Iraqi government. But how many? And how many US soldiers will get killed or maimed in the meantime and how many more tens or hundreds of billions will we spend before we finally withdraw?

By Randall Parker    2005 November 16 11:07 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2005 June 24 Friday
Iraqi Insurgency Not Getting Weaker Says General Abizaid

General John Abizaid, commander of US forces in the Middle East, says the insurgency is not getting weaker

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.: "General Abizaid, can you give us your assessment of the strength of the insurgency? Is it less strong, more strong, about the same strength as it was six months ago?"

Gen. John Abizaid, top U.S. commander in the Persian Gulf: "In terms of comparison from six months ago, in terms of foreign fighters, I believe there are more foreign fighters coming into Iraq than there were six months ago.

"In terms of the overall strength of the insurgency, I'd say it's about the same as it was."

Levin: "So you wouldn't agree with the statement that it's in its last throes?"

Abizaid: "I don't know that I would make any comment about that other than to say there's a lot of work to be done against the insurgency."

Levin: "Well, the vice president has said it's in its last throes, that's the statement the vice president — it doesn't sound to me from your testimony or any other testimony here this morning that it is in its last throes."

Abizaid: "I'm sure you'll forgive me from criticizing the vice president."

Levin: "I just want an honest assessment from you as to whether you agree with a particular statement of his — it's not personal. ...

Abizaid: "I gave you my opinion of where we are."

That is pretty clear.

Vice President Richard Cheney is telling a more optimistic tale.

In a CNN interview last month, Cheney said: “The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.”

Who you going to believe?

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsefld told the Senate that setting a timeline for withdrawal would result in another bad regime coming to power in Iraq.

"Let there be no doubt. If the coalition were to leave before the Iraqi security forces are able to assume responsibility, we would one day have to confront another Iraqi regime perhaps even more dangerous than the last in a region plunged into darkness rather than liberated and free,"

Implicit in the phrase "before the Iraqi security forces are able to assume responsibility" is the idea that at some point in the future the Iraqi security forces will become strong enough to handle the insurgency. Well, what if that never happens? How long should the US stay waiting for this to happen?

Also, suppose the US withdraws and the central government falls apart and the civil war scales up. Will the government that results from that civil war necessarily be any worse than the government which the Bush Administration hopes will result from US military efforts? Suppse the US sticks around for the supposed point in time when the central government's security forces become strong enough to keep the central government in power. Will that produce a better government? Or just a different government?

Iraq is one of those cases where we have to wait for various Panglossians to learn the hard way. Though the bulk of the costs do not fall on the Panglossians and so they don't suffer enough to have an incentive to learn quickly. Servicemen and their families pay and the damaged soldiers will pay the rest of their lives.. So do the taxpayers who also will be paying for the war decades after it is over.

By Randall Parker    2005 June 24 12:48 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2005 June 16 Thursday
Insurgents Pass Over Syrian Border Into Iraq

Tal Afar, near Iraq's border with Syria, fell back into insurgent control after the 101st Airborne was withdrawn several months ago.

After the battle here in September the military left behind fewer than 500 troops to patrol a region twice the size of Connecticut. With so few troops and the local police force in shambles, insurgents came back and turned Tal Afar, a dusty, agrarian city of about 200,000 people, into a way station for the trafficking of arms and insurgent fighters from nearby Syria - and a ghost town of terrorized residents afraid to open their stores, walk the streets or send their children to school.

It is a cycle that has been repeated in rebellious cities throughout Iraq, and particularly those in the Sunni Arab regions west and north of Baghdad, where the insurgency's roots run deepest.

"We have a finite number of troops," said Maj. Chris Kennedy, executive officer of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, which arrived in Tal Afar several weeks ago. "But if you pull out of an area and don't leave security forces in it, all you're going to do is leave the door open for them to come back. This is what our lack of combat power has done to us throughout the country. In the past, the problem has been we haven't been able to leave sufficient forces in towns where we've cleared the insurgents out."

Iraq is the same old story. The US doesn't have enough troops. The insurgents operate wherever the US soldiers are too thin on the ground.

What the New York Times reports as the Pentagon's new hope is the same hope they've been touting for a couple of years now: Iraqi forces to take over part of the job.

Now, with the pace of insurgent attacks rising across Iraq and scores being killed daily in bombings and mass executions, Tal Afar and the surrounding area is becoming something of a test case for a strategy to try to break the cycle: using battle-hardened American forces working in conjunction with tribal leaders to clear out the insurgents and then leaving behind Iraqi forces to try to keep the peace.

Well, if US soldiers chase most of the insurgents out of Tal Afar again will Iraqi soldiers be able to keep them out? Or will they desert or go on strike or not bother to post guards and come under attacks that kill a bunch of them?

Most of the tribal leaders claim they want the insurgents gone but none of them will finger suspected insurgents.

Real leadership in Tal Afar lies with the 82 tribal leaders. Angered by the attacks and emboldened by the enlarged American military presence here, some sheiks have become outspoken critics of the insurgency. On June 4, at great risk to their own lives, more than 60 attended a security conference at Al Kasik Iraqi Army base near here. To the surprise of Iraqi and American commanders who organized the gathering, many sheiks demanded a Falluja-style military assault to rid Tal Afar of insurgents and complained that American forces do not treat terror suspects roughly enough.

Other sheiks said it was better to pursue a political solution. But sheiks from each point of view accused one another of being unwilling to identify suspected insurgents. American commanders had planned to circulate a list of 1,400 people thought to have potential insurgent connections, seeking verification - or denials - from the sheiks. But they decided against it because few sheiks would openly affirm or deny the status of insurgent suspects in front of other Iraqis, Colonel Hickey said.

Even if some of the sheiks are sincere why aren't members of their tribes catching insurgents in alleyways and knifing them? 200,000 people live in Tal Afar and the article quotes an estimate of 500 insurgents. If people were sincerely opposed to the insurgents and had enough courage and anger they'd kill the insurgents rather quickly. The smaller number of insurgents are willing to put their lives at risk but the masses are not. What to make of that?

US military officers liken the Iraq-Syria border to the US-Mexican border in terms of difficulty to control.

U.S. military intelligence officials believe the Qaim area sits at the crossroads of a major route used by groups such as Abu Musab al Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq to smuggle foreign fighters into the country.

"It's like the Mexican-American border there. There are attempts being made to seal it," a senior U.S. military intelligence official said on condition he remain unnamed for security reasons.

Of course the 1920 mile US-Mexican border could be controlled just as the 376 mile Iraq-Syria border could be controlled. It is a matter of allocating sufficient resources. But the US Border Patrol is starved of sufficient resources by Congress and the President in order to ensure a large influx of cheap illegal alien labor. The Border Patrol could be expanded (and the National Guard could be called out as a stop-gap measure) and a layer of fences and sensors could be built on the entire US border withe Mexico. In the case of the Iraq-Syria border proper control would require instituting a draft in the United States to supply enough soldiers to control Iraq's 605 km (376 miles) border with Syria.

total: 3,650 km
border countries: Iran 1,458 km, Jordan 181 km, Kuwait 240 km, Saudi Arabia 814 km, Syria 605 km, Turkey 352 km

To control all of Iraq's 2268 miles of borders would require a lot more troops. But some of the neighboring countries are more willing and able to prevent the insurgents from using their countries as bases. A lot of the Saudi Arabians going to Iraq find it necessary to go by way of Syria for example.

I don't think a draft and budget to supply soldiers for closing the Iraq-Syria border is worth it because the whole war is not worth it. But we'd derive a large benefit from closing the US border with Mexico.

The Saudi jihadists pass into Iraq from Syria because they want to pass into zones which have lots of Sunnis.

Experts say there is not much the Saudi authorities can do to stop jihadists from leaving Saudi Arabia for Iraq. Most Saudis who go to fight in Iraq enter through Syria, not via the 426-mile-long Saudi-Iraqi border. The desert border area is closer to Shiite communities in southern Iraq than to the Saudis' fellow Sunnis in central Iraq. "When you come in through Syria you are right in the heart of the Sunni area. Just a few miles inside you can get into Sunni urban areas," said Thomas X. Hammes, a counterinsurgency expert with the U.S. Marines, whose book "The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century," prescribes strategies for fighting urban-guerrilla insurgencies.

The Saudi authorities are trying to block the trickle of jihadists crossing the border into Iraq, but that is easier said than done, Hammes said. "People always talk about sealing these borders," he said. "I would first want to see the United States prove its capability to close the Mexican-U.S. border."

The previous article quotes Joseph Biden saying that US military officers in Iraq report an increasing flow of Saudi jihadists into Iraq. Though the vast bulk of the insurgents in Iraq are still locals.

What to make of all this? The US continues to lack sufficient troops to put down the insurgency. The US strategy continues to rely on eventual development of a competent Iraqi Army. Some officers think the development of such a force will take years. Will the new President of the United States elected in 2008 keep US troops in Iraq long enough for that to happen? How many years will that take? Will it ever happen as long as US troops remain or will the Iraqi Shias continue to figure they can just keep their heads down and let the US fight the Sunnis for them? Will Congress shift toward open opposition to a continued US troop presence in Iraq?

By Randall Parker    2005 June 16 11:23 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2004 October 22 Friday
Iraqi Insurgency Has Lots of Cash And Members

The insurgency in Iraq has as many as 20,000 members depending on how they are counted.

When foreign fighters and the network of a Jordanian militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, are counted with home-grown insurgents, the hard-core resistance numbers between 8,000 and 12,000 people, a tally that swells to more than 20,000 when active sympathizers or covert accomplices are included, according to the American officials.


In recent interviews, military and other government officials in Iraq and Washington said the core of the Iraqi insurgency now consisted of as many as 50 militant cells that draw on "unlimited money'' from an underground financial network run by former Baath Party leaders and Saddam Hussein's relatives.

Their financing is supplemented in great part by wealthy Saudi donors and Islamic charities that funnel large sums of cash through Syria, according to these officials, who have access to detailed intelligence reports.

The government of Saudi Arabia is of course not doing enough to cut off these flows of funds. Saudi Arabia is where the largest portion of Al Qaeda terrorists and money comes from. That is why we invaded Iraq. Make sense?

Foreign money is more important than foreign fighters. But domestic insurgents are the biggest problem.

Despite concerns about foreign fighters, American officials said the most significant challenge to the stabilization effort came from domestic Iraqi insurgents, and not from foreign terrorists, despite the violence of attacks organized or carried out by foreigners.

The foreign fighters, Baathists, and other factions pay criminals to plant bombs and kidnap people. Saddam let 90,000 prisoners go right before his government fell. Many of these are still on the loose and are available for hire. Iyad Allawi's government has been locking up some of them. But US forces clearly would have benefitted had the US systematically tried to round up and lock up all the common criminals soon after the invasion. But it was hard to plan for an insurgency that the Bushies didn't foresee happening in the first place.

Iraqi security services have been infiltrated by insurgents. (same article here)

The defense official described a country where a fearful citizenry doesn't fully accept the concepts of Western law and order and remains unwilling to take their future into their own hands, where police are often corrupt and the security forces are "heavily infiltrated" by insurgents.

In some cases, members of the Iraqi security services have developed sympathies and contacts with the guerrillas; in other cases, infiltrators were sent to join the groups, the official said.

The people of Iraq are reluctant to commit to the American and Iraqi government side because it is dangerous for them to do so. They do not know whether the US-supported faction will come out on top. If the US-supported faction loses power then some day any Iraqis collaborating with the US or the current Iraqi government could end up getting killed by the new regime.

The big wild card continues to be whether the new Iraqi military, police, and intelligence services will become serious threats to the insurgency. As long as that does not happen the insurgency will go on until US troops leave. If you were an Iraqi citizen would you bet your life on the US side prevailing?

By Randall Parker    2004 October 22 03:34 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2003 November 18 Tuesday
On Intelligence Estimates Of The Iraqi Opposition Forces

The US military estimates there are 5,000 Iraqi insurgents launching attacks against Western forces and other symbols of outside influence in Iraq.

The military estimates the number of resistance fighters at no more than 5,000, including about 200 foreign fighters.

Many attacks are carried out by criminals released from prison by Saddam before the war. "In most of the cases of direct-fire engagements that our troops have, they find very young, out-of-work young men that have been paid to attack our forces," the general said.

Some in the military think the number in the Iraqi opposition is even smaller than 5,000.

CNN anchor Bill Hemmer spoke Monday with Time magazine's Brian Bennett, who wrote an article about the Iraqi resistance.

BENNETT: [CentCom commander] Gen. [John] Abizaid said there could be as many as 5,000 insurgents. He was actually criticized for passively underestimating the number. According to my sources, I think the number could be less than that. People told me if you have a well- organized, well-led resistance force of maybe several hundred or a thousand, they could be inflicting the amount of damage and instigating the amount of chaos we've seen in the last couple of weeks.

By contrast, the CIA estimates there could be 50,000 Iraqi insurgent fighters.

A Central Intelligence Agency report leaked to U.S. newspapers Wednesday suggests as many as 50,000 fighters may be taking part in the insurgency, and that they increasingly enjoy the support of ordinary Iraqis. The report, written by the CIA's station chief in Baghdad and commissioned by director George Tenet, also raises doubts about the U.S. military's ability to crush the opposition unless serious political changes are made in the country.

General John Abizaid, Commander, CENTCOM (and a man who, parenthetically, is very fluent in Arabic and who has a strong grasp of Arab culture and history) sees the military estimate of a 5,000 man opposition force as very dangerous in spite of its small size.

The clear and most dangerous enemy to us at the present time are the former regime loyalists, the Ba'athist cells that operate in the areas primarily of Baghdad, Fallujah, Tikrit, Mosul, Kirkuk, and conduct operations against us primarily through the use of improvised explosive devices, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and, very infrequently, but sometimes also small arms fire. I would say that this group of Ba'athists by far represents the greatest threat to peace and stability and it is very important for us to close with that enemy, to discover their cellular structure, to unravel it and to remove that threat from moderation emerging in the Iraqi government.

The extremists are those that can fill a large number of different groupings. They represent religious extremists, they represent national extremists that may or may not have been associated with the Ba'athists, yet nevertheless desire to fight the coalition, and to ensure that no moderate Iraqi government emerges.

There are a large number of criminals that are hired by the Ba'athists and the extremists to do their dirty work. As a matter of fact, in most of the cases of direct-fire engagements that our troops have, they find very young, out-of-work young men that have been paid to attack our forces, and it is very important that as we progress militarily, we also progress politically and economically so as to get these young men, these angry young men, off the streets.

There are a small, yet important and well-organized, group of foreign fighters, some of whom have been operating in Iraq for a long time, many of whom are infiltrating across various borders. I would point out to you that the border areas of Iraq are as long as the U.S.-Mexican border areas. And they are difficult to secure, yet on the other hand, we have had good success recently in interdicting many of these foreign fighters. And although we have had very good cooperation from the Shi'a community in the south, it is also true that there are some anti- coalition Shi'a movements that also aim to destabilize any moderate government that would form in Baghdad.

So in all, I would say that the force of people actively armed and operating against us does not exceed 5,000. Now, people will say, well, that's a very small number. But when you understand that they're organized in cellular structure, that they have a brutal and determined cadre, that they know how to operate covertly, they have access to a lot of money and a lot of ammunition, you'll understand how dangerous they are.

What is most noteworthy about the 5,000 guerilla insurgent fighter figure of the US military and the 50,000 figure of the CIA is that we are given little insight into how each organization arrived at their estimates. This brings to mind the most historically significant previous disagreement between the US military and the CIA about an enemy order of battle which occurred during the Vietnam War. A then-secret bureaucratic fight pitted a lower military estimate of the Viet Cong and NVA order of battle (OOB) against a much higher estimate by lone CIA analyst Sam Adams. Adams' higher estimate was kept from being the official OOB for the enemy and yet Adams turned out to be right. Shortly before Adams died he wrote an excellent insider's account of the internal bureaucratic battles he fought to try to bring the military to a more realistic appraisal of their enemy: War of Numbers: An Intelligence Memoir.

Is history repeating itself? Is the more pessimistic CIA estimate of Iraqi opposition accurate? It depends in part on how the opposition is defined. This was one of the issues between Adams and the US military back in the 1960s. The communists had various levels of fighters who were progressively less formal, less trained, and less consistently involved in the war. It has been too many years since I've read War of Numbers to recall the exact categories of fighters in Vietnam but Adams included estimates of different types of village-level militias and part-time fighters that the military tried to ignore. As a consequence of this difference over definitions of the enemy Adams came up with much larger counts of enemy forces. The military was opposed to estimates that would make the enemy seem much higher in number and hence more formidable. The higher estimates were seen as potential fodder that could be used as arguments against the US fighting in Vietnam in the first place. Also, once mistaken lower number estimates of enemy forces were made public the Johnson White House and military saw that an upward revision in the estimates would be seen as evidence that the communist opposition was actually growing in strength. The US military's lower unrealistic estimates eventually helped undermine public trust in the US prosecution of the war even as US forces really did significantly degrade the size of enemy forces and as they did most notably during the Tet Offensive.

Abizaid's comments about the nature of the Iraqi opposition bring up somewhat analogous questions about military OOB estimates about the Iraqi opposition. Note that Abizaid refers to criminals hired to do the work of the Baathists. Are those criminals included in the 5,000 number? Probably not. There are likely many criminals who could be hired who haven't even been approached yet. How many would respond to monetary inducements and how much money do the Baathists have available to offer would-be attackers?

In Iraq a likely bigger source of differences of estimates for the opposition probably comes as a result of the tribal nature of much of Iraqi society. An account from Time illustrates how a single fighter can count on an extended family support network.

The Saddam aide says the attack in Nasiriyah was planned and executed by a cell from a town between Fallujah and Ramadi. He adds that a member of the cell told him that the coalition troops in the south, where Nasiriyah lies, were much more accessible, with fewer fortifications, than those in the Sunni triangle near Baghdad, making them an easier target. To further increase their chances of eluding capture and to protect their families, the members of a cell based west of Fallujah, says the aide, never sleep at home. Instead they stay with relatives who live in other towns in the area. And they never keep their weapons in these or their own houses, but hide them in farmers' fields and orchards.

Are the family members who help house a fighter part of the enemy order of battle? Are the family members who look the other way and ignore and do not report weapons caches or who provide money or who stay silent part of the enemy order of battle? It would be misleading to include them in a simple total number of all enemy fighters. But it would also be misleading to ignore their role. Also, will a Baathist loyalist or Saddam Fedayeen member who is killed fighting coalition forces be replaced by a brother who cousin who seeks vengeance?

One factor that the US has working in its favor in Iraq is that the majority Shias and the Kurds fear the return to power of the Sunni Baathists.

For many Iraqis, the foremost worry is that the oppressive Hussein regime and its security forces could return if public ire over poor conditions continues to grow, some religious leaders say. But as attacks against Coalition forces and civilians have increased, such as last week's devastating bombing of an Italian military compound in Nasiriyah, a broad range of Iraqis also speak more fervently of rejecting "Wahabis," or foreign religious extremists they believe are sent by Osama bin Laden. At the same time, many Muslims, especially among the Shiite majority, say they do not envisage an Islamic regime for the country.

While the insurgent attackers are learning and their attacks are growing in sophistication at the same time some of the Shia clergy who were until quite recently preaching a fairly hostile line about the US troop presence are suddenly striking a more conciliatory tone. The Shia are rightly more worried about the Baathists and the Wahhabis than they are about the US forces which the Shias must realize by now will eventually be greatly scaled back as more power is transferred to Iraqi hands. The Shias want to be on the inside when Iraqis assume positions of power and the Shias definitely do not want to see the Baathists or Sunni Wahhabists come to power. That the majority of the population is hostile toward the Baathists and toward Sunni Arab rule is a large factor weighing in favor of US and coalition forces.

Even if the Baathsts continue to refine and improve the efficacy of their tactics and increase the amount of damage they cause in the short run they still face the very real threat that US and coalition intelligence work could break into some of their rings and gradually cut down their numbers. Also, a more deft US handling of the Iraqi Sunni populace could somewhat reduce the level of support they enjoy in their base. The US forces will continue to find and destroy arms caches and the Baathists no longer have the power of sovereign control to use to replenish their cash supplies. So time may not be on their side. Still, at this remove it is hard to judge the accuracy of the US military or CIA estimates or to understand the depth of the support that the Baathists and other insurgent factions enjoy in the Sunni heartland of Iraq.

By Randall Parker    2003 November 18 05:35 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2003 September 19 Friday
Local Wahhabi Terrorists In Sunni Iraq Region

Scott Peterson has an interesting article about a Wahhabi cleric in a Iraq who has taught his followers to oppose the American occupation of Iraq.

BAGHDAD – To his followers, Sheikh Tahma Aboud Khalif is a loving father of four; a poor and harmless Islamic ideologue whose only fault is his "temper."

But for the American soldiers who caught the sheikh red-handed attempting to ambush their convoy, early one June morning south of Baghdad, the sheikh is a Wahhabi terrorist - and deserves to be sent to Guantánamo Bay.

They can't be reasoned with.

"These guys, you can't change their minds - you have to kill them, and squash them like an ant," says a senior US officer familiar with Tahma's case. "He's a terrorist."

Other non-Wahhabi clerics in the same area have initiated a dialog with US forces in an attempt to dispel mutual misunderstandings and to show them that not all the Sunnis think like those who engage in attacks on US soldiers. What would be interesting to know is for some group of villages how many of the mosques have radical preachers and how many attend each radical or non-radical mosque. Anecdotal accounts such as Peterson's are interesting but provide no clear indication of the scope of the problem.

By Randall Parker    2003 September 19 09:45 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
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