Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post reports from Baghdad that A as we approach a June 2009 deadline for US troop withdrawal from some Iraqi cities it looks like and looting after the US soldiers pull out.
Separation anxiety is growing among residents, local leaders and American soldiers in the sprawling, impoverished Shiite district that was once the most dangerous battlefield in Baghdad for U.S. troops.
"When the Americans leave, everything will be looted because no one will be watching," an Iraqi army lieutenant newly deployed there said. "There will be a civil war -- without a doubt," predicted an Iraqi interpreter. Council members have asked about political asylum in the United States.
Maybe the Iraqi Army can keep it together? Or will Sadr order his militia to take back control of Sadr City?
One US military official says US forces will need to fight their way back in again when the withdrawal leads to violence.
"The bottom line is they are not ready for us to give over the cities," a senior U.S. military official said on the condition of anonymity to speak critically of the Iraqis. "If we do, and all indications are that they will make us leave, we will be in a firefight to get back in and stop the violence. And we will lose soldiers."
If there's a big uptick in violence after US troops pull back then what will Obama do? Will he delay the US pull-out from Iraq?
What I'd like to know: how big is the US program for renting the loyalty of Iraqi factions? My worry is that if the US starts channeling the payola thru the Iraqi government then too much will get skimmed off to reach the militia leaders whose loyalties are key for decisions on whether to start fighting again. I would rather that US officers directly do the bribing since that will increase the odds that US troops will get pulled out. My worry is that Obama will back track on an Iraq withdrawal just as Obama has backtracked on some other issues lately. Says Glenn Reynolds " And yet, his election was a matter of fierce moral urgency about which there could be no serious disagreement.". We are now going to watch various factions of his supporters go through the stages of disappointment as the reality of governing restricts what he can do.
The news from Saigon: ARVN is not doing well fighting on its own.
The Iraqi military push into the southern city of Basra is not going as well as American officials had hoped, despite President Bush's high praise for the operation, several U.S. officials said Friday.
A closely held U.S. military intelligence analysis of the fighting in Basra shows that Iraqi security forces control less than a quarter of the city, according to officials in both the United States and Iraq, and Basra's police units are deeply infiltrated by members of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army.
The Shiites who fight for the government in Baghdad are less enthused than the Shiites who fight for control of their neighborhoods in Basra.
What did LBJ say in a TV speech? "The eyes of the world are on Khe Sanh"? Something like that. Bush sees a similar "defining moment".
WASHINGTON — President Bush strongly defended Iraq’s prime minister on Friday at what he called a “defining moment” for the Baghdad government, saying the United States supported its offensive against a Shiite militia and would provide any military assistance that was sought.
But what is this battle defining? Greg Bruno of the Council on Foreign Relations reports the battle for Basra is really a battle between rival Shiite clerics rather than between the central government and a militia that challenges it.
Whether Maliki and his beleaguered government have the clout to quell the strife is far from certain. On March 26, the prime minister gave gunmen seventy-two hours to put down their arms (al-Jazeera) and renounce violence; a spokesman for Sadr says the cleric responded by calling for Maliki and Iraqi forces to leave Basra (AP) immediately. Dozens were killed and hundreds wounded in the initial outbreak of fighting. In the end, though, Maliki may prove a powerless mediator. Angry Shiite demonstrators in Baghdad protested the government's crackdown (NYT). CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Vali R. Nasr tells CFR.org the true players in the dispute are rival Shiite clerics Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and Sadr. Both control powerful militias, and both command important political blocs in Iraq's evolving power structure. "Maliki is completely irrelevant" in the dispute in the south, Nasr says.
Our leaders would have us believe we are fighting for freedom and against terrorism and tyranny.
He told a White House news conference: "Any government that presumes to represent the majority of people must confront criminal elements or people who think they can live outside the law - and that's what's taking place in Basra."
US-led forces joined the battle for the first time in the early hours of Friday, with air strikes in Basra and Baghdad.
A US military spokesman in Baghdad, Maj Mark Cheadle, told AP news agency: "As you know, we've been getting attacked and going after the enemy all day."
I think the US and other Western governments should place a higher priority on keeping Muslims out of the West rather than imagine we can successfully back a more Westernized faction in Iraq.
As the American military death toll in Iraq reached 4,000, President Bush conferred yesterday with top U.S. officials in Washington and in Baghdad and vowed in a public statement that the outcome of the war "will merit the sacrifice."
Think about that. Imagine that within a year all the militias stopped fighting and surrendered to the central government in Baghdad. That outcome would not merit the sacrifice. We have lost thousands of soldiers with at least tens of thousands and maybe hundreds of thousands permanently damaged. We will pay a few trillion dollars for it. There's nothing we can gain from it to pay for all that. Iraq was a bad investment.
Defenders of US military involvement in Iraq point to a substantial decline in US military casualties as a sign that the country is stabilizing. But since the British forces pulled out from around Basra the city demonstrates what becomes of a part of Iraq in the absence of a foreign occupying force. The picture in Basra is not pretty.
What makes the situation in Basra — Iraq’s second largest city and commercial hub — so alarming, they say, is that it is a test of Iraqi rule under relatively optimal conditions: Basra has the nation’s best economic base, little ethnic tension within a homogeneous Shiite population and no Western occupation force to inflame nationalist tensions.
Yet the city remains deeply troubled. Disappearances of doctors, teachers and other professionals are common, as are some clashes among competing militias, most of which are linked to political parties. Murder victims include judicial investigators, politicians and tribal sheiks. One especially disturbing trend is the slaying of at least 100 women in the last year, according to the police. The Iraqi authorities have blamed Shiite militiamen for many of those killing, saying the militants had probably deemed the women to be impious.
Did "the surge" bring a decline in violence in Iraq? Or was that surge just coincidentally done at the same time a more powerful tactic was developed? The large scale purchase of Sunni loyalty with US money strikes me as the biggest cause of decreased violence in Iraq. (I strongly urge you to click thru and read Nir Rosen's piece in full)
Now, in the midst of the surge, the Bush administration has done an about-face. Having lost the civil war, many Sunnis were suddenly desperate to switch sides — and Gen. David Petraeus was eager to oblige. The U.S. has not only added 30,000 more troops in Iraq — it has essentially bribed the opposition, arming the very Sunni militants who only months ago were waging deadly assaults on American forces. To engineer a fragile peace, the U.S. military has created and backed dozens of new Sunni militias, which now operate beyond the control of Iraq's central government. The Americans call the units by a variety of euphemisms: Iraqi Security Volunteers (ISVs), neighborhood watch groups, Concerned Local Citizens, Critical Infrastructure Security. The militias prefer a simpler and more dramatic name: They call themselves Sahwa, or "the Awakening."
Could we just pay the Sahwa larger sums of money and cut way back on US troop levels?
I have an idea of what it would take to stabilize Iraq. So far we still funding fewer security forces than Saddam had. This cries out for an obvious experiment: Scale up US loyalty rental payments to twice their current level and see if that brings calm.
The American forces responsible for overseeing "volunteer" militias like Osama's have no illusions about their loyalty. "The only reason anything works or anybody deals with us is because we give them money," says a young Army intelligence officer. The 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, which patrols Osama's territory, is handing out $32 million to Iraqis in the district, including $6 million to build the towering walls that, in the words of one U.S. officer, serve only to "make Iraqis more divided than they already are." In districts like Dora, the strategy of the surge seems simple: to buy off every Iraqi in sight. All told, the U.S. is now backing more than 600,000 Iraqi men in the security sector — more than half the number Saddam had at the height of his power. With the ISVs in place, the Americans are now arming both sides in the civil war. "Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems," as U.S. strategists like to say. David Kilcullen, the counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. Petraeus, calls it "balancing competing armed interest groups."
Update: Nir Rosen's full piece "The Myth of the Surge" (the second link above) is excellent. It explains why we are not building any sort of permanent peace in Iraq. We are basically arming and training the two sides of the conflict. What happens when the money stops flowing in to rent their loyalties?
Update II: Americans are confusing a decline in US casualties with real progress. We are not bringing the warring sides together. The Shias see our arming of Sunni militias under US tutelage as the arming of their enemies (and the Shias are correct).
To the Americans, the Awakening represents a grand process of reconciliation, a way to draw more Sunnis into the fold. But whatever reconciliation the ISVs offer lies between the Americans and the Iraqis, not among Iraqis themselves. Most Shiites I speak with believe that the same Sunnis who have been slaughtering Shiites throughout Iraq are now being empowered and legitimized by the Americans as members of the ISVs. On one raid with U.S. troops, I see children chasing after the soldiers, asking them for candy. But when they learn I speak Arabic, they tell me how much they like the Mahdi Army and Muqtada al-Sadr. "The Americans are donkeys," one boy says. "When they are here we say, 'I love you,' but when they leave we say, 'Fuck you.'"
Rosen can speak Arabic. So he can get a clue. He watches the Arabs play and manipulate the American soldiers who delude themselves into thinking they are in control. Some US officers know that without Arabic language skills they are at a major disadvantage.
U.S. troops who work with the Iraqi National Police realize that beyond their gaze, the country's security forces do not act anything like police. "The INPs here are almost all Shiites," says Maj. Jeffrey Gottlieb, a lanky tank officer who oversees a unit charged with training Iraqi police. "Orders from their chain of command are usually to arrest Sunnis, not Shiites." The police have also been conducting what Gottlieb calls "United Van Lines missions" — resettling displaced Shiite families in homes abandoned by Sunnis. "The National Police ask, 'Can you help us move a family's furniture?' We don't know if the people coming back were even from here originally." Gottlieb shrugs. "We don't know as much as we could, because we don't know Arabic," he says.
The US military is making a huge mistake by not doing a large amount of Arabic training for every soldier going to Iraq with continuing intensive Arabic training while the soldiers are in-country.
You might think we can put Humpty Dumpty back together again. After all, the civil war in Lebanon eventually stopped. But I see the numeric majority of the Shias and the lack of oil in the Sunni Triangle as huge obstacles to a power sharing agreement. The sides are not evenly matched and they do not have equal amounts to win and lose. The Shias have the most oil and the most people. They are not inclined to give to the Sunnis. At the same time, the Sunnis know that without non-democratically achieved positions they are out of power and out of the money that oil brings. Our substitute money only works if we are willing to pay them for many years to come.
Damien Cave of the New York Times reports on the worsening corruption in Iraq.
BAGHDAD, Dec. 1 — Jobless men pay $500 bribes to join the police. Families build houses illegally on government land, carwashes steal water from public pipes, and nearly everything the government buys or sells can now be found on the black market.
Painkillers for cancer (from the Ministry of Health) cost $80 for a few capsules; electricity meters (from the Ministry of Electricity) go for $200 each, and even third-grade textbooks (stolen from the Ministry of Education) must be bought at bookstores for three times what schools once charged.
“Everyone is stealing from the state,” said Adel Adel al-Subihawi, a prominent Shiite tribal leader in Sadr City, throwing up his hands in disgust. “It’s a very large meal, and everyone wants to eat.”
Transparency International rates 180 countries for corruption and finds only Somalia and Myanmar are worse. Iraqi and American officials say that as Iraq's level of violence has gone down the corruption has gotten worse. Why is that? Peace helps allow corrupt commerce to flourish?
Government jobs and promotions are sold for cash. This makes the government far less efficient and more predatory in its behavior toward the populace. When every police recruit bought his job (according to one police officer interviewed by the reporter) what sort of police force does that create?
Half-way colonialism is a recipe for disaster. If the US government directly controlled hiring it could make hiring and promotions based on merit and keep track of money and prevent most bribery and corrupt contracting. Instead we are enablers. The invasion of Iraq has been and continues to be a disaster. Bush and the neoconservatives have a lot to answer for.
You've heard how the Sunnis in the west of Iraq became tired of the foreign fighters who were brutalizing them and therefore the Sunnis turned against the fighters who claim membership in Al Qaeda and embraced an alliance with US forces. Well, maybe there is something to that story. But the Christian Science Monitor reports on an entirely different reason for the big change in the Sunni Triangle: Bribery to rent tribal loyalties in Anbar province. (and what happens when the rent stops?)
TIKRIT, Iraq - Inside a stately guesthouse on the grounds of Saddam Hussein's palace in Tikrit on the banks of the Tigris, sheikh Sabah al-Hassani jokes that the initials "SH" of the former dictator etched on the walls are his.
"I have a weakness for Cuban cigars, French cologne, and Spanish-made loafers," he says with a wide grin.
Since June, Mr. Hassani, who claims to be one of the princes of the legendary Shammar tribe, which numbers nearly 7 million across the Arab world, says he has received at least $100,000 in cash and numerous perks from the US military and the Iraqi government.
With his help, at least $1 million has also been distributed to other tribal sheikhs who have joined his Salahaddin Province "support council," according to US officers. Together, they have assembled an armed force of about 3,000 tribesmen dubbed the "sahwa [awakening] folks."
This is not a tale of the triumphal march of democracy. But it is a tale of how humans respond to incentives. The tribal chiefs were given both carrots and sticks by both sides. The insurgents who threatened and killed tribal sheikhs helped to create the conditions that made American bribery so productive.
Al-Qaida in Iraq insurgents took advantage of the upheaval, Allen said, initially portraying themselves falsely as “liberators,” but rapidly showed their true intentions not long after, declaring Anbar to be the starting point for their vision of an “Islamic State of Iraq.”
When their extremist views were rejected by Anbar’s tribes, al-Qaida in Iraq began a campaign of murder and intimidation, Allen said, targeting traditional “anchor points” including influential tribal sheikhs, doctors and teachers, as well as roads, bridges and other key infrastructure.
Can the US repeat this bribery process with the Shias? I think the bribery teams will face tougher sledding in Shia areas for a few reasons. First off, there are a lot more Shias to bribe. Second, some of the Shia insurgencies are bound at the hip to political parties with real power. The Shia insurgents aren't outsiders so much as tools of governing factions. The Shias can't be split away from the insurgents as easily. Plus, the Shias are getting a lot more of the oil revenue and powerful Shias are more likely to be wealthy Shias. So I'm thinking the bribery tool isn't going to be as successful outside of the Sunni areas.
US soldiers have had their tours of duty in Iraq extended and their times at home between tours shortened. The US military has reached its practical limits. Now the surge is nearing an end and that brings a reality test.
Tikrit, Iraq, AND Washington - The end of the US surge is in sight here. In two key central Iraqi provinces, American units will soon reduce their forces and modify their role in a region that is a microcosm of the fractured nation. There are Sunnis and Shiites in this Baathist heartland. Al Qaeda fighters have fled here from Anbar Province. This region is home to one of Iraq's three major oil refineries.
It's a risky move, both US and Iraqi officials say, but a necessary test of the strength and ability of Iraqi security forces.
The US is pulling out one of its brigades (about 3,500 soldiers) in December without replacing it. As the Americans leave, the US plans to give Iraqis more responsibility, an overall strategy the US will employ as it pulls out five brigades – the bulk of the surge forces – by next summer.
I am expecting a surge in violence as the number of US military personnel in Iraq goes down. Anyone else want to make a prediction?
After the Surge, there is a sharp decline in the price of those bonds, relative to alternative bonds. The decline signaled a 40% increase in the market's expectation that Iraq will default. This finding suggests that to date the Surge is failing to pave the way toward a stable Iraq and may in fact be undermining it.
Who you going to believe? Hard nosed bond market investors? How about the rosier view of George W. Bush? Or how about the curious view of General Petraeus who mentioned "Al Qaeda" 160 times (according to Brian Williams) in recent Congressional testimony? Think about how dishonest (or self-deluded or not too bright?) the Bush Administration and at least one top US officer have gotten to try to argue for a continued US presence in Iraq due to an Al Qaeda threat. The foreign fighters who proclaim they are Al Qaeda forces (like replica watches using brand names), being Arab Sunnis, want the Arab Sunnis to regain power and see the Arab Shias as enemies. The Arab Shias are the clear majority of Iraqis and the Arab Sunnis are up against the Arab Shias and the Kurds. The Al Qaeda Sunni threat to continued Shia and Kurdish control is small. The Sunnis are getting steadily purged out of Baghdad, cementing Shia control of the "national" (using the term loosely here) government.
The bond market participants have serious money of their own at stake and do not need to defend Bush Administration mistakes. By contrast, George W. Bush and allies are spending OPM (Other People's Money) in an attempt to find some way out of Iraq short of admitting the invasion was flawed in its conception. He's telling tall tales to play for time hoping some good trend will develop. Don't trust him.
Update: A Zogby poll conducted August 11-20, 2007 found that a majority of Americans still think we haven't lost the war in Iraq.
A majority of Americans - 54% - believe the United States has not lost the war in Iraq, but there is dramatic disagreement on the question between Democrats and Republicans, a new UPI/Zogby Interactive poll shows. While two in three Democrats (66%) said the war effort has already failed, just 9% of Republicans say the same.
The problem with such a poll hinges on what is meant by the term "lost". US troops could stay in Iraq another decade and go any place in the country any time they want to if we keep enough troops there. So in that respect we haven't lost. But we can't win in the sense of creating a liberal democracy with freedom of religion and speech and with freedom for women. The Iraqis do not share our values and we can't convert them to our values. So in that sense we've lost.
If some group of people keep making predictions about future events that turn out wrong shouldn't we turn away from these false prophets? Foreign Policy has a nice review of the many supposed turning points for the US war in Iraq. (these are excerpts from a much larger set)
Lt. Gen. Jay Garner arrives in Baghdad
Date: April 21, 2003
U.S. military fatalities to date: 131
Unwarranted optimism: “We will be here as long as it takes. We will leave fairly rapidly.” —Lt. Gen. Jay Garner
How rapid is rapidly?
Remember when the capture of Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay would supposedly spell the end to the insurgency? Remember when the capture of Saddam was considered militarily significant in a positive way for US fortunes in Iraq? Remember when gasoline was 28 cents a gallon? Oh once upon a time we lived in kinder, gentler, and more optimistic day.
U.S. forces capture Saddam Hussein
Date: December 13, 2003
U.S. military fatalities to date: 463
Unwarranted optimism: “Iraq’s future, your future, has never been more full of hope. The tyrant is a prisoner. The economy is moving forward. You have before you the prospect of a sovereign government in a few months.” —L. Paul Bremer III, head of the CPA
Maybe if we'd never tried to capture Saddam we'd be in better shape today. What I know for sure: If we'd never invaded Iraq we would be in better shape today.
Remember when people took seriously the utterances of VP Cheney?
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney declares insurgency in “last throes”
Date: May 30, 2005
U.S. military fatalities to date: 1,665
Unwarranted optimism: “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.” —Dick Cheney
The level of activity clearly increased after that point.
Remember when the standing up of the Iraqi military and police was an imminent event and how the Iraqis were going to start taking over the bulk of the fighting Real Soon Now?
White House releases “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq”
Date: November 30, 2005
U.S. military fatalities to date: 2,113
Unwarranted optimism: “As we make progress toward victory, Iraqis will take more responsibility for their security, and fewer U.S. forces will be needed to complete the mission.” —George W. Bush
But the Iraqis decided to take more responsibility by joining militias and by using positions in government to help militias battle each other. Bush was wrong again. Then in January 2007 Bush decided on a huge increase in US forces as part of his "Surge" strategy.
The ouster of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was supposed to help. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was supposed to be just the ticket - rather than just another Shiite partisan using the Iraqi government to help factions allied with him while pretending to give lip service to the fantasy of "Can't we all just get along".
Nuri al-Maliki sworn in as new Iraqi prime minister
Date: May 20, 2006
U.S. military fatalities to date: 2,455
Unwarranted optimism: “We believe this is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens, and it’s a new chapter in our partnership.” —George W. Bush
The choice of Maliki is “a good step in the right direction. He’s an Iraqi patriot. He’s a strong leader.” —U.S. Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad
“[O]ur security forces will be capable of taking over the security portfolio in all Iraqi provinces within one year and a half.” —Nuri al-Maliki
MONTEBELLO, Quebec, Aug. 21 -- President Bush pointedly declined Tuesday to offer a public endorsement of embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, expressing his disappointment at the lack of political progress in Iraq and saying that widespread popular frustration could lead Iraqis to replace their government.
"The fundamental question is: Will the government respond to the demands of the people?" Bush said. Stopping short of directly endorsing Maliki, as he has on several previous occasions, Bush continued, "If the government doesn't respond to the demands of the people, they will replace the government."
We've now lost over 3,700 US troops killed and a much larger number permanently maimed and damaged in their brains. Our total financial costs will reach into the trillions of dollars with the need to pay interest in the borrowed money, treat the chronically injured, and repair and replace equipment.
The war has been a distraction from the real fight against terrorists. The terrorists in Iraq became terrorists in response to our being there. The Iraq war has harmed US interests. It has also corrupted the upper reaches of the US officer corps that must parrot the official position of the Bush Administration.
The chief of the Sholeh Baghdad police station believes the Shiite militias should kill all Sunnis in Iraq. (and I strongly urge you to read this article in full if you want to get a sense of how absolutely terrible the Iraqi government has become)
And then one rainy night this month, the Sholeh police set up an ambush and killed Army Cpl. Kenny F. Stanton Jr., a 20-year-old budding journalist, his unit said. At the time, Stanton and other members of the unit had been trailing a group of Sholeh police escorting known Mahdi Army members.
The militas look set to have influence over the police for a long time to come.
"How can we expect ordinary Iraqis to trust the police when we don't even trust them not to kill our own men?" asked Capt. Alexander Shaw, head of the police transition team of the 372nd Military Police Battalion, a Washington-based unit charged with overseeing training of all Iraqi police in western Baghdad. "To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure we're ever going to have police here that are free of the militia influence."
Well, at the risk of stating the obvious if you are a Shia Iraqi dealing with Shia police then your ability to trust them is a lot higher than if you are a Sunni Iraq. The term "ordinary Iraqis" lumps them all together. But of course they are very untogether at this point and becoming less together all the time.
The US military's top mouthpieces make absurd claims while lower level officers and enlisted men are a lot more realistic.
The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., predicted last week that Iraqi security forces would be able to take control of the country in 12 to 18 months. But several days spent with American units training the Iraqi police illustrated why those soldiers on the ground believe it may take decades longer than Casey's assessment.
Seventy percent of the Iraqi police force has been infiltrated by militias, primarily the Mahdi Army, according to Shaw and other military police trainers. Police officers are too terrified to patrol enormous swaths of the capital. And while there are some good cops, many have been assassinated or are considering quitting the force.
"None of the Iraqi police are working to make their country better," said Brig. Gen. Salah al-Ani, chief of police for the western half of Baghdad. "They're working for the militias or to put money in their pocket."
Senator Harry Reid and Representative Nancy Pelosi along with other Congressional Democrats now shoulder part of the responsibility on what to do about Iraq. What solutions are they going to come up with?
What forces are arrayed against militias in the Iraqi police? None at all.
American soldiers said that although they gather evidence of police ties to the militias and present it to Iraqi officials, no one has ever been criminally charged or even lost their jobs.
The biggest threat faced by the Shia militiamen in the Iraqi police is from Sunni insurgents who try to kill them. Next time you read a story about a bomb blowing up a bunch of Iraqi police remember that such storties could just as easily read "bomb blows up Shia militiamen who get paid to masquerade as policemen".
US support for the Iraqi government increasingly amounts to support for the vicious killer Shia thugs against the vicious killer Sunni thugs. We do this in the name of democracy. Go figure.
The plan was simple: Iraqi troops would block escape routes while U.S. soldiers searched for weapons house-by-house. But the Iraqi troops didn't show up on time.
When they finally did appear, the Iraqis ignored U.S. orders and let dozens of cars pass through the checkpoints in eastern Baghdad -- including an ambulance full of armed militiamen, according to U.S. soldiers interviewed recently.
Senior U.S. military officers may have hailed the performance of Iraqi forces in the ongoing security crackdown against militias and insurgents in Baghdad.
But some American soldiers working the streets of Baghdad's flashpoint Shiite neighborhoods say the Iraqi troops serving alongside them are among the worst they've ever seen -- particularly disappointing in this must-win battle.
The Kurds in the Iraqi Army perform better. But Kurdistan is de facto independent from the rest of Iraq and the Kurds see themselves as fighting alongside Americans who helped them realise their dreams. Meanwhile, the Shia Arab soldiers are at least as loyal to religious leaders as they are to the Iraqi government.
"From my perspective, you can't make a distinction between Iraq army Shiites and the religious militias. You have a lot of soldiers and family members swayed and persuaded by the religious leadership," said Col. Greg Watt, who advises one of two Iraqi divisions here.
The idea that we have to negotiate with Shiite religious leader Moktada al-Sadr in order to bring a ceasefire to Iraq is based on the assumption that he controls his own militia and has the power to make a deal. Sadr's militia is breaking up into rival groups which are less keen to make nice with America.
BAGHDAD, Sept. 27 — The radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has lost control of portions of his Mahdi Army militia that are splintering off into freelance death squads and criminal gangs, a senior coalition intelligence official said Wednesday.
As Sadr has tried to restrain his militia for political reasons a third has broken off. They'd rather fight than switch to politics
But as Mr. Sadr has taken a more active role in the government, as many as a third of his militiamen have grown frustrated with the constraints of compromise and have broken off, often selling their services to the highest bidders, said the official, who spoke to reporters in Baghdad on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak publicly on intelligence issues.
A series of unprecedented comments by US officers indicated a growing anxiety over whether Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, would confront his two biggest Shia coalition partners, including the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Both have been linked to death squad killings.
A high-ranking Iraqi security official told The Times that pressure from Shia politicians had forced the Iraqi Army to stop fighting the al-Madhi Army this month in the southern city of Diwaniyah. Such political pressure had also stopped Iraqi Army operations against militias elsewhere, he said.
The longer the fighting goes on the more the Shias and Sunnis will feel the desire to seek revenge against each other.
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. soldiers trying to calm Baghdad say the sprawling Sadr City slum has once again become a haven for anti-American militants - and the source of most of the gunfire and mortars directed at them.
In the last two weeks, U.S. forces have suffered several casualties from dozens of shootings, mortar attacks and roadside bombings that American troops believe originated from Sadr City.
The Maliki government lets US troops enter Sadr City when the targets are militia groups which Sadr sees as renegades who have left Sadr's organization.
Across the capital, mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods have become battlegrounds of sectarian hostilities. West of the Tigris River, hundreds of Shiite families have fled mostly Sunni neighborhoods such as Amiriyah and Ghazaliya. In the east, hundreds of Sunni families have fled mostly Shiite areas such as Amin and Shaab. Increasingly, the strife is spreading into central Baghdad. In still-mixed neighborhoods such as Tobji, nestled in north-central Baghdad, political and militant Islam is clashing with tribal customs and a shared Arab and Muslim identity that have bonded Sunnis and Shiites for decades.
Can the US stop the trend toward more sectarian violence? Will splinter factions of the Mahdi Army scale up and launch even bigger attacks against US forces? Can Machiavellian statecraft somehow produce a settlement that will greatly dampen down the violence? So far I see no signs that the US government has the competence needed to cook up ways to change the incentives of all the Sunni and Shia fighting groups so thee stop trying to kill each other and American troops.
It turns out the official toll of violent deaths in August was just revised upwards to 1535 from 550, tripling the total. Now, we’re depressingly used to hearing about deaths here, so much so that the numbers can be numbing. But this means that a much-publicized drop-off in violence in August – heralded by both the Iraqi government and the US military as a sign that a new security effort in Baghdad was working -- apparently didn’t exist.
How often do Iraqi authorities understate the death toll?
BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. officials, seeking a way to measure the results of a program aimed at decreasing violence in Baghdad, aren't counting scores of dead killed in car bombings and mortar attacks as victims of the country's sectarian violence.
In a distinction previously undisclosed, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said Friday that the United States is including in its tabulations of sectarian violence only deaths of individuals killed in drive-by shootings or by torture and execution.
That has allowed U.S. officials to boast that the number of deaths from sectarian violence in Baghdad declined by more than 52 percent in August over July.
We are doing great in Iraq. We have everything under control. We are making steady progress. Oh, and our war against Muslim terrorists is the same as our war in Iraq. Ooops, I slipped. The rah rah brigade around Bush wouldn't use "Muslim" in front of the word "terrorists". In fact, rather than have a war on an identifiable group they prefer a war on terrorism. Battle against an activity. Better to separate the terror from the terrorists. We don't want to offend anyone because deep inside even Jihadists are all liberal democrats waiting to get out.
The US military greatly exaggerated the decline in deaths.
Violent deaths for August, a morgue official told McClatchy Newspapers on Friday, totaled 1,526, a 17.7 percent decline from July and about the same as died violently in June.
The issue of civilian casualties has been politically charged since the start of the Iraq war. Soon after the invasion, U.S. and Iraqi officials for a time forbade Baghdad's medical officials to release morgue counts.
About a week after the bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine in Samarra in February this year, a Baghdad morgue official, a Health Ministry official and an Interior Ministry official -- all of whom oversaw the morgue's body counts -- said 1,000 or more people had been killed as Shiite militias rolled openly across Baghdad to carry out retaliatory killings. Iraqi officials and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, called that figure exaggerated, saying only about 350 people were killed. An international official in Baghdad said Health Ministry officials had cited the higher toll before lowering it in response to what he said was political pressure.
Baghdad health officials want to buy more refrigerators so they can process as many as 250 bodies a day. I commend their foresight in planning for civil war. They aren't just reacting to events. They are trying to get ahead of the curve.
On the New York Times front page the caption for clicking through on an article by chief military correspondent Michael R. Gordon neatly encapsulates much of what is wrong in Iraq:
Iraqi soldiers are underpaid, underequipped and frequently AWOL. And then there’s the problem of serving a government that hardly exists in a country that’s tearing itself apart.
Aside from that things are going really well over there.
The article itself is long and excellent. The practical way the US Marines see Iraq underscores the depth of the problem.
The rules posted on the wall of the Marine base in Barwana concisely summed up the American predicament in Iraq: Be polite, be professional, have a plan to kill everyone you meet.
That such an attitude is necessary speaks to the scale of the Iraq debacle.
The Iraqi military continues to suffer from soldiers not showing up for work.
In the Haditha triad, Col. Jebbar Abass, a beefy man with a drooping mustache, commanded an Iraqi battalion that started out with about 700 soldiers in the fall of 2005. It was now down to about 400 troops. Since almost a third of his battalion is on leave at any one time, that means that Colonel Abass can field about 270 soldiers on any given day, a useful supplement to the Marine forces in and around Haditha but hardly enough to enable the Americans to draw back.
Lt. Col. Norman Cooling, commander of the Third Battalion, Third Marine Regiment, which has responsibility for the Haditha area, says that the Iraqi Army has been making important strides in terms of tactical proficiency. “The problems that have made that the most challenging are problems with leave, pay — those things that relate to Iraqi government decision-making and execution,” he told me. “Because of that the Iraqi Army throughout Al Anbar has attrited.” Figures provided by American military commanders show that the two Iraqi divisions in Anbar Province are about 5,000 short of their authorized strength, while some 660 soldiers are currently AWOL.
The amount of military resources the US has applied to Iraq has been enough to waste huge amounts of money and lives while still being too little to get control of the insurgency. The US Marines in Anbar province in the heart of the Sunni triangle have enough soldiers to go where they want but not enough to make an appreciable dent in the insurgency. In fact, soldiers in Anbar are getting shifted to try to restore some order in increasingly chaotic Baghdad.
This lethal game would be more manageable if the insurgency were weakening. Instead, it is stronger than ever. In July, 2,625 I.E.D.’s (improvised explosive devices) were found throughout Iraq, almost double the January number and the highest monthly total to date. (Of these, 1,666 exploded, while 959 were discovered before they detonated.) And by now the entire nation is caught in a vicious circle: terrorist attacks have encouraged the development of Shiite militias, which have carried out assaults against Sunnis, who have in turn provided support for insurgents. The Marines have enough combat power in Anbar to operate where they please but not enough to stop the insurgents from intimidating the population, Marine commanders say.
Some of the Marine officers I talked with were frank about the need for more American troops. Lt. Col. Ronald Gridley, executive officer with Regimental Combat Team 7, which has responsibility for a major swath of the province, told me during a visit to the unit’s headquarters at Al Asad that the regiment has recommended that additional troops be allocated to its section of Anbar. A battalion or two, he said, would help a great deal. “What we recommend and what we get is going to be two different things,” Colonel Gridley said. “In our perfect world, we could use some more infantrymen to be able to patrol the streets and partner with the Iraqi Army.”
The US has never had enough troops in Iraq. The Bush Administration has fantasized that the Iraqi government troops would rapidly scale up and take on the job of putting down the Sunni insurgency. But the government is corrupt, doesn't pay the soldiers on time, and does not inspire much loyalty. Also, local governments in places like Basra are under the control of some faction which is putting the screws to other factions. Also, the other factions are upset they are cut out of the corruption that lets government officials skim off money. So of course supposed "government" forces under the control of one tribe will fight "tribal" forces of another tribe.
I do not see how all this is going to get better unless, perhaps, the US government goes on a massive bribery binge among faction leaders in Iraq to try to pay people to act more nicely.
Iraq’s elected government is dominated by two Iranian-backed Shiite fundamentalist parties. They are backed on the streets of Baghdad and in the Shiite south by two Hezbollah-like armed militias. In Parliament, their power is reinforced by two Kurdish separatist parties, also with their own militias, which have been allowed to run the Kurdish northeast like an independent state within a state.
Washington doesn’t complain too loudly about these militias, because without them, the Iraqi government would be even weaker than it is now. But so long as they are allowed to enforce their murderous brand of vigilante justice, it is ludicrous to claim that Iraqis enjoy democracy or the rule of law.
Vigilante Shiites and Sunnis keep killing each other in a cycle of revenge. The US government helped make this possible. Your tax dollars at work.
The New York Times reports on factional fighting between Shiite Iraqi factions.
In Basra, a gun battle erupted between Iraqi Army troops and members of the dominant local tribe, the Bani Asad, apparently angered by the killing on Tuesday of a tribal leader, Faisal Raji Al-Asadi, government officials in Basra said.
In Karbala, Wednesday’s violence took on a different hue, as security forces controlled by Shiites who are aligned with the main pro-Iranian bloc, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, fought militiamen loyal to a local Shiite cleric opposed to Iran’s influence in Iraq. The battle led security forces to cordon off the city to most nonresidents and impose a curfew to restore order.
Note that even though the Basra fighting was between government troops and a local tribe the government troops might have been fighting for some other tribe or political party rather than for the abstraction called "Iraq".
The Bush Administration's claimed strategy for Iraq was that Iraqi police and soldiers would gradually take over the insurgency suppression task from US soldiers and then US forces could get drawn down. This supposed "strategy" always struck me as a fantasy. Compounding the unrealistic expectations of Iraqi security forces has been the ratcheting up of cycles of retaliations between Sunnis and Shias. Elements of the Sunni insurgency killed enough Shias, blew up a Shia mosque, and managed to send Shia militias on a killing spree against Sunnis. This led to more Sunni reprisals and so on. At the same time, the Shia-dominated government has tilted so heavily in favor of the Shias that the Sunnis are correct to see the government as their enemy.
I've been wondering whether the US forces cut back on patrols as the Iraqi government forces were deployed as substitutes. I suspected this was the case but until now haven't come across any quantitative measure of the change in US forces activities. Now Dexter Filkins of the New York Times has the details. US forces in Baghdad cut back their patrol rate as Iraqi military forces were deployed.
In mid-June 2005, Americans conducted an average of 360 patrols a day, according to statistics released by the military. By the middle of February this year, the patrols ran about 92 a day — a drop of more than 70 percent. The first Iraqi brigade took over a small piece of Baghdad early last year. Now, Iraqi soldiers or police officers take the leading role in securing more than 70 percent of the city, including its most violent neighborhoods. They control all of Baghdad’s 6,000 checkpoints.
At some checkpoints Sunnis get taken from their cars and killed. Given the chaos of Baghdad it is hard to tell whether checkpoints where this happens are manned by government soldiers or Shia militias. However, I've posted about an incident where a Shia militia checkpoint was killing Sunnis and government forces were uninterested in doing anything about it.
The rate of violent attacks in Baghad has gone up.
Thirteen months ago, Baghdad had about 19 daily violent events, like killings. Today, the daily average is 25 — an increase of more than 30 percent. Many of these attacks cause more than one death; some cause many more, like the rampage by Shiite gunmen in western Baghdad last month that left as many as 40 people dead.
The shift of US forces into Baghdad and an increase in the tempo of patrols might lower the attack rate. But suppose the attack rate goes back down to the level of a year ago. That will only be progress as compared to the current attack rate. Unless a combination of more US forces and more Iraqi forces can lower the attack rate down well below the level of a year ago the outlook will be very grim.
The ethnic cleansing ought to cause a lowering of the attack rate because as the ethnic groups become better separated from each other they'll be at less risk of attack from members of the opposing group.
Ann Scott Tyson of the Washington Post reports that some villages in Diyala province are being emptied due to fighting between Shias and Sunnis.
In mixed areas like Diyala, the primary job for U.S. troops is no longer to battle insurgents, but to try to stave off civil war.
"When we got here, our chief focus was Sunni insurgent groups," said Turner, who arrived in Diyala in December as part of the 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. But today, he said, "there's a definite trend toward sectarian violence. That's our big focus now, trying to stem it."
"It was 5 in the afternoon and the Sunnis started the fight," said Yasim Muhammed Hussein, 35, a Shiite resident. "While we were praying at the mosque they shouted 'God is great' and starting firing on the mosque," he said. "They burned my home and killed my relative." In all, Hussein said, 10 people were killed "from the two sides" -- meaning Sunni and Shiite. He said three-quarters of the 200 families in the village had abandoned their homes.
That region had 3 times as many American troops a year ago. But the troops have been shifted elsewhere to meet even more urgent needs.
Tom Lasseter of the McClatchy newspaper chain (he writes great stuff btw) reports that off the record US officials know they do not have enough troops in Iraq even as the official lie is that there are enough troops there.
Casey "can get any forces anytime he wants to ask for them. Gen. Casey has never been limited by the secretary of defense," said Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq. "To accomplish the missions that we are attempting to achieve, we do have the force structure that we need."
But the American defense official in Iraq said officers were discouraged from making such requests, and officers in Washington and at the military's Central Command confirmed that.
"They're not allowed to ask for more troops," the U.S. defense official in Iraq said. "If you say something you're gone, you're relieved, you're not in the Army anymore."
A number of senior military officials in the United States agreed.
"There's an overall feeling that if you ask for more you're going to get hammered," one said.
The official lie was bolstered by the claim that Iraqi forces were taking over and therefore additional US forces were not needed. Officers are expected to defend that lie by pretending the lie is not in effect.
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Despite the addition of almost 100,000 U.S.-trained Iraqi troops in the past year, American efforts to pacify central Iraq and the capital appear to be failing, challenging a central assumption behind the U.S. strategy: that training more Iraqi security forces will allow American troops to start going home.
The number of trained Iraqi soldiers and police grew from an estimated 168,670 in June 2005 to some 264,600 this June. Yet Baghdad's morgue is receiving nearly twice as many dead Iraqis each day as it did last year. The number of bombings that cause multiple fatalities has risen steadily. Attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops last month grew 44 percent from June 2005.
The increase in Iraqi security forces also increases the number of people who use their government positions to brutalize and kill people in opposing groups.
I can understand why some American officials have a lot emotionally invested and do not want to admit to the scale of the fiasco.
"I keep hope up -- it's misguided, perhaps -- that cooler heads will prevail," said an American defense official in Iraq, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "I have to believe that; otherwise, all of this has been a tremendous, tremendous fiasco."
But, yes, it really has been a tremendous, tremendous fiasco. Cooler heads? Iraq has tribal heads, not cooler heads.The Shias and Sunnis both believe Islam and Islam is highly problematic when it comes to toleration of anyone who is seen as heretical or non-Muslim. Well, Shias and Sunnis see each other as following false versions of Islam. On top of that, they have little loyalty to anything beyond the tribe.
"I hate to use the word `purify,' because it sounds very bad, but they are trying to force Shiites into Shiite areas and Sunnis into Sunni areas," said Lt. Col. Craig Osborne, who commands a 4th Infantry Division battalion on the western edge of Baghdad, a hotspot of sectarian violence.
Osborne, 39, of Decatur, Ill., compared Iraq to Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands of people were killed in an orgy of inter-tribal violence in 1994. "That was without doubt a civil war - the same thing is happening here.
"But it's not called a civil war - there's such a negative connotation to that word and it suggests failure," he said.
We ought to send trucks and convoy escorts to help the Sunnis and Shias move away from each other. The sooner they get separated the less they will get killed for being in each others' villages and neighborhoods.
Read that article for examples of towns that have been emptied out. Ghost towns are popping up in Iraq.
What to do about the poor behavior of Iraqi government security forces? Maybe all the US forces in Baghdad should deploy with Iraqi forces so that more Iraqi forces are under adult moral supervision.
Expect an uptick of US casualties as US troops conduct many more patrols in Baghdad.
Writing in The American Conservative, former US Army officer Joe W. Guthrie relates his experiences in a training team for the Iraqi Army.
Army doctrine and training have not accounted for a unit in combat having both to fight an insurgency and train indigenous peoples to assist in the fight. I started out as a one-man operation that grew into a cell of 60 people who rotated in for a week to a couple of months at a time. That infusion of manpower would seem to bolster the notion that Iraqi training was a priority. In reality, our leadership sent soldiers with suicidal tendencies, weight problems, and disillusionment. In a year’s time, we received only one visit from the battalion commander, only one visit from our battalion’s operations officer, and only one visit from the battalion executive officer.
This isolation set us up for failure with the Iraqis. Meetings with the Iraqi colonel in our partner Iraqi army battalion were conducted by a master sergeant and me, and almost always a problem arose in these meetings beyond our authority to control. When asked to meet with our Iraqi army colonel, our battalion commander refused.
He relays many examples of fraud in the Iraqi military and society.
The US military does not want the Iraqi military operating on its own.
From October 2004 to June 2005, the prevailing attitude of our battalion—including my own at first—was that the Iraqis were incapable of conducting operations independently. However, after speaking with locals and Iraqi army officers, I reached a different conclusion. The locals asked me why Iraqis were not doing more on missions. Iraqi officers told me that they conducted company-level operations on their own nearly a year prior to our arrival. Did our higher command know and simply not choose to use this information? Or was it a ploy to prolong a state of perpetual war?
I decided to test the theory. In March 2005, I began to send Iraqis out on missions into Mosul, usually unbeknownst to my battalion, and found them capable of conducting missions on their own except when they were hampered by our military values and horrible perception of the local area. When I sent Iraqis out alone, they found evidence and insurgents that we never were able to, though they were none too careful about complying with the Geneva Conventions. Once battalion discovered these missions, they quickly reeled them, and me, in. All Iraqi missions would thereafter be dictated by our U.S. battalion, and I would make sure that the Iraqis performed these missions in the exact manner in which they were dictated.
How can the US military tell the Iraqi military what to do? Simple really: The US military holds the purse strings that fund the Iraqi military.
Each month, along with our cell’s master sergeant, I handed a minimum payment of $100,000 to the Iraqi army battalion. $50,000 covered their monthly operational budget—facilities upgrades, maintenance parts, etc. The other $50,000 went toward the battalion’s subsistence budget, which allowed each soldier $90 a month for food. The problem was that the Iraqis said they had 556 soldiers, and we never counted more than 350 at any given time. Yet we were ordered to pay on the basis of the numbers they declared, with the remainder going directly into the Iraqi leadership’s pockets.The operational budget proved to be an even worse disaster. Each month we handed over $50,000, yet no money was ever spent on tools for the mechanics, no improvements were made to the buildings, no new vehicles were ever purchased. So why did we continue to give $50,000 each month? The Iraqi army officers would not perform for anything less. We were bribing them to keep up the appearance of a workable fighting force. Our receipts for these transactions were cleared back through the comptrollers who tracked what U.S. battalions were spending. When it was learned that we were spending $100,000 a month, we were told that we were not spending enough and were accused of not supporting the mission. The message was clear: the more money we gave the Iraqis, the greater chance of keeping the Iraqi unit together.
Of course the Iraqi officers are corrupt. Would you expect anything different? But, hey, why not use those cash payments more constructively? Hasn't the US military ever heard of Pay For Performance? Where are the McKinsey management consultants and other business consulting gurus when we need them? How about Management By Objective? What would it cost to pay Iraqi officers to, say, defeat the insurgency in Ramadi? But maybe Bush doesn't want to win on those terms or even to win at all?
$100,000 per batallion per month is chicken feed.Just for equipment the US will spend $17 billion next year.
The annual cost of replacing, repairing and upgrading Army equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan is expected to more than triple next year to more than $17 billion, according to Army documents obtained by the Associated Press.
Imagine offering Iraqi batallions money for achieving various objectives. A few hundred thousand dollars or even a couple million dollars per objective would cost little compared to the over $100 billion the US is now spending on Iraq and Afghanistan this year.
Guthrie suspects the Bush Administration does not want the Iraqi military to become effective and that the real plan is to establish permanent US bases there to control Middle Eastern oil. Could they be that foolish? It seems plausible at least. After all, they have made so many other colossal mistakes in handling Iraq.
For the cost of the Iraq Debacle we could buy every driver in the United States a Prius (really, do the math). We could fund construction of hundreds of nuclear power plants. We could insulate millions of buildings. We could fund large numbers of research labs pursuing breakthroughs in photovoltaics and batteries.
Click through and read the full article. It has lots of insights.
BAGHDAD, May 11 -- Negotiations are under way to bring a major Iraqi government paramilitary unit under clear control of the Interior Ministry, in line with an earlier announced reorganization aimed at putting all national police forces under a single commander, a top Interior Ministry official said Thursday.
The change is one of a series of steps started in March to rein in the disparate units -- commandos, public-order brigades and others -- in Iraq's Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry forces. Sunni Arab community leaders have charged that ministry forces were abducting, torturing and killing Sunni men.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr acknowledged last month that death squads were operating within the ministry. Jabr has maintained that a comparative few ministry renegades or impostors in police uniforms were carrying out many of the crimes.
I bet the death squads killing rate will not fall due to the reorganization. Toss in another mosque bombing and the death rate will hit new highs.
According to many sources, at least 1500 Iraqis are killed monthly in the last 4 months. Many of the kidnapped or the arrested never return or found. A shop keeper in Baghdad asked to be executed in his shop when some masked (police) men wanted to arrest him. He refused to go with them, to be exposed to the brutal torture and insisted on being killed on the spot. The policemen did not say no. They shot him dead and left calmly. Thousands of Iraqis (One hundred thousands, according to a most recent report) are now displaced, fleeing neighborhoods where they are a minority, a very dangerous step towards dividing Iraq into different sectarian and ethnic regions.
The Prime Minister, Nouri Al-Maliky, admitted in a press conference May 9, 2006, that the death squads are part of the Iraqi police forces, but he said that they were working on their own, and that they used the police uniform, cars, and weapons in committing their crimes. He promised to "clean" the interior ministry of them!! But in his first day in office, Maliky invited the sectarian parties' militias to join the security forces!!
These militias aren't going to get reined in by a reorganization of the government.
Figures from the Ministries of Health and Interior showed that during April, 686 civilians were killed in politically motivated violence, along with 190 insurgents, 54 police officers and 22 Iraqi soldiers.
Eighty-two coalition troops-- including 76 Americans, three Italians, one Romanian, one Briton and one Australian--died in Iraq during the same period.
In theory the Iraqis in the government security forces have taken over much more of the fighting. Then why so few Iraqi soldier deaths? Also, the Iraqi soldiers are supposedly less well protected. Certainly their police are easier targets. Are the insurgents mostly trying to kill US soldiers? Or do Iraqi soldiers just avoid doing risky things like chasing after the insurgency? What gives?
Talabani acknowledged that the morgue statistics only accounted for bodies discovered in and around Baghdad and that the total number of civilian deaths was probably far higher.
During the first three months of the year, at least 3,800 civilians were killed in Baghdad, according to statistics compiled by the Los Angeles Times based on information from the morgue and police and hospital officials. That is the highest level of slain civilians since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein more than three years ago.
The majority of the victims in recent months appear to have been Sunni Arabs.
The Shias are striking back. Will this accomplish anything constructive? Can the Shias manage to kill so many Sunnis that the Sunnis will agree to accept rule by Shias? Or will the killing continue to escalate? The Shias have far greater numbers and money from their own government and US aid. So they ought to be able to drag away more people in the night than the Sunnis can manage to drag away.
Anyone want to hazard a guess on how events are going to play out in Iraq in the next 12 months?
Maj. Gen. William G. Webster Jr. is coming to the end of his year commanding 30,000 US soldiers in Baghdad and Webster claims we are making progress.
Military operations in Baghdad have cut by about half the number of car bombs and roadside bombs, while uncovering nearly double the amount of weapons caches, Webster said. As a result, he said insurgents are resorting more to drive-by shootings and mortar and rocket attacks, which "usually don't hit anybody."
But he acknowledged that U.S. troops are dying in the city at about the same rate as a year ago. "We're working hard to reduce that number," said Webster, commander of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.
Gains against the insurgency in Baghdad have come with what Webster called "tremendous progress" in transferring responsibility to the Iraqi army and police. Over the past year, the number of Iraqi forces in the capital has increased tenfold, and they now have responsibility for 60 percent of the city, he said. Half of the city is controlled by the 6th Iraqi Army Division, and 10 percent by the Iraqi special police, with American support.
Okay, how can the insurgency get crippled while the Iraqi military takes over more than half of Baghdad and yet the death rate of US soldiers hasn't declined?
The insurgents can kill just as many US forces using only half the city? They are managing to do this while only setting off half as many road bombs total? I hear the pronouncements of progress being made and I keep comparing those pronouncements to the death rate. I do not get it.
BAGHDAD, Dec. 29 -- Under a mounting insurgent offensive against Iraq's gasoline supply, the country's largest fuel refinery sat idle Thursday. Gas station owners in surrounding communities in northern Iraq hung up their dry nozzles. A police chief put out a no-patrol order to his men to conserve fuel. And Nouri Ahmed Azaid put off his wedding.
Insurgents, apparently hoping to pick a cause popular with Iraqis, launched their offensive on gas stations this month after Iraq raised fuel prices eightfold. The International Monetary Fund mandated the reduction of government gasoline subsidies as a condition for forgiving some of Iraq's multibillion-dollar foreign debt.
The article also reports that the attack rate against foreign contractors has hit a new high.
John Burns of the New York Times reports that the Sunnis may be joining the police and military in order to undermine the Iraqi government from within.
Rising Sunni recruitment into the new security forces could just as easily portend the opposite of what the Americans hope. American officers have acknowledged that the 200,000 soldiers and policemen trained under the $11 billion force rebuilding program include some, perhaps many, who are insurgent infiltrators, just as others have proven to be agents of the Shiite militias.
Like Sunni political participation, some Iraqis say, the surge in recruits could reflect little more than a decision by Sunni hard-liners to oppose the American enterprise in Iraq from within, as the insurgents have opposed it from without. When hard-line Sunni leaders say the earlier boycott of politics was a mistake, these Iraqis warn, what they may mean is that they had forgotten the lessons of the Trojan horse.
The Sunnis are unwilling to accept the idea that after centuries of Sunni rule the political order will reverse itself and Shias will rule.
A common test is to ask Sunnis whether they will accept Shiite majority rule. Sunni politicians, like ordinary Sunnis, are generally evasive. Some say it will never come to that, because secular politics uniting Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds will prevail; most, employing an expedient arithmetic of their own devising, say that a Shiite majority is a demographic myth, so the issue doesn't arise.
Burns reports that the Sunnis believe the Sunni insurgents are winning their war, that the US will withdraw, and then the Sunnis will defeat the Shias and Kurds. But anyone who accepts the more optimistic interpretations of events in Iraq offered up by many war supporters should demonstrate their faith in the rosy scenario and be ready to heed Ayatollah Sistani's coming call for a withdrawal of US forces. In the optimistic view if the Shias think they are ready to handle the Sunnis then, by golly, they are ready.
The optimists want us to accept their optimistic interpretations of events in Iraq. Okay, I'm ready. Lets call their bluff and argue that, yes indeed, the Iraqi military is a force to be reckoned with and the Iraqi people see the Iraqi government as legitimate. They are ready to fight on their own. Their people support them. When the call from top spiritual leader Sistani for US withdrawal comes in 2006 that call should be heeded with alacrity. Why stand in the way? The Iraqis are ready.
Vietnamization is failing. Er, sorry, I meant Iraqization. Speaking before the US Senate Armed Services Committee Donald Rumsfeld and Generals Richard Myers, John Abizaid, and George Casey defended how things are going in Iraq. General Abizaid admitted that only one Iraqi battalion can operate on its own.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: General Abizaid, there was a report sent over, I think last June, that three of the hundred Iraqi battalions were fully trained and equipped, capable of operating independently. What is that number now?
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: The number now is, if you're talking about level-one trained --
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Yeah.
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: It's one.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: At one battalion?
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: Right.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: The previous report was you had three battalions. Now we're down to one battalion.
One is the loneliest number.
An Iraqi battalion has 500 to 600 soldiers. We started into this Iraq debacle back in March 2003. Now one Iraqi battalion is ready go to out there and shake their booty. Is that batallion Kurdish by chance?
I wonder if the downgraded batallions became downgraded because of infiltration by insurgents. Or did the best fighters in the batallions leave to join the insurgency?
"There are an awful lot of people chasing the wrong rabbit here, it seems to me," Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon, when asked about the number of Iraqi battalions that can operate independently.
"The important fact is ... that every day, every week, every month the Iraqi security forces are larger, they're better equipped, they're better trained and they're more experienced. And that is the central fact," Rumsfeld said.
Maybe we should be chasing caterpillars instead of rabbits? After all, caterpillars eventually turn into beautiful buttterflies. Do we need to build cocoons in Iraq? We should go ask Alice. I think she'll know.
"That contributes to a loss of public confidence in how the war is going," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said of Casey's remarks. "It doesn't feel like progress when we hear today that there is only one Iraqi battalion fully capable."
Note to Susan: I lost confidence a long time ago. But I know what you mean.
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: In the long run, there's nothing to be afraid of. We can win the fight. It's difficult. It's costly. But the implications of allowing the region to become dominated by the ideology of al-Qaida are the same as the implication in the years previous to World War II of allowing fascism to become the ideology of Germany. It will lead to a big war that none of us can stand. We have to fight. We have to win.
Gotta prevent Al Qaeda from replacing a fairly secular dictator. We need to make Iraqi safe for Shia theocracy against the dark forces of Sunni theocracy. This is the cross (er, crescent?) we have taken on.
"Their objectives are very clear," Gen. Abizaid said. "They believe in a jihad, a jihad, first and foremost, to overthrow the legitimate regimes in the region. But in order to do that, they have to first drive us from the region. This is what they believe. They believe, ultimately, that the greatest prize of all is Saudi Arabia and the holy shrines there."
If the US pulled out of Iraq would Al Qaeda take over? Or would the Shias rise up and put down the Sunnis? Or would they all make a big complicated inter-tribal power sharing deal? Or would another secular strongman come to power? Hey, an unemployed dictator is available for hire. I bet he'd make a deal to keep Al Qaeda out of Iraq.
General George W. Casey Jr, in charge of US forces in Iraq, says we'll be all ready to leave Iraq whenever conditions improve there.
"I can tell you, Congressman, it's all going to be conditions-based," Casey said in answering Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (D-S.C.), who had sought a "reasonable time frame" for Iraqi troops to take over security duties. "It's not going to be like throwing a switch where all of a sudden, one day, the Iraqis are in charge."
Any predictions for what comes next?
A report issued Thursday by the U.S. Defense Department says Iraqi security forces are improving, but that border control units remain weak, with a high level of infiltration by insurgent groups. Overall, according to a senior U.S. general, just over half the Iraqi forces are actually operating against insurgents, but only a small number can operate independently.
The report issued to Congress says the severe problems of desertion and failure to perform, that afflicted Iraqi forces early last year, have largely been solved. The document blames the poor performance on the rush to put newly trained Iraqi forces into battle almost immediately during the coalition assault on insurgent strongholds in Fallujah.The report says the Special Police Commandos are among Iraq's most effective new fighting forces. It assesses the Commandos' chain of command as "highly effective." Still the report says the 8,000-strong Commandos have an absentee rate of "below 10 percent," although some units are as low as one percent. It describes the level of insurgent infiltration in the Special Police Commandos as "low" because of a special vetting process for applicants, most of whom are experienced soldiers.
The report also gives high marks to the Iraqi army's Special Forces Brigade. It says the Brigade has been operating for a year, taking what it calls "crucial roles in major combat operations," sometimes independent of coalition forces.
By contrast, the U.S. Defense Department report says Iraq's new Border Police have "a high level of insurgent infiltration" and "a significant rate of attrition," along with what it calls "moderate to low" effectiveness in its chain of command. The report says there is a "continuing stream of foreign terrorists entering Iraq" across the borders this unit is supposed to help control.
Apparently an absentee rate of below 10% is something to brag about with Iraqi soldiers. But when the units are ordered into battle what happens to their absentee rates?
In describing the insurgency, the report differed in emphasis from recent portrayals by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
The report played down the importance of foreign fighters, saying that the radical Muslims who have been crossing Iraq's border accounted for only a fraction of the violence, though the "dramatic and symbolic nature, and lethality" of their attacks produced a "disproportionate psychological impact, relative to their numbers."
It said that Sunni Arabs "make up the largest proportion of the insurgency and present the most significant threat to stability in Iraq."
Local Sunni Arabs make up the bulk of the insurgency. No, foreigners do not play a big role. No, Shia Iraqis do not play a big role. The problem is that the Shias also do not play a big role in putting down the Sunni insurgency.
U.S. officers have developed a method of calculating the combat readiness of the approximately 76,700 Iraqi Army troops, but the Pentagon said it "should not and must not" publicly disclose specific data.
"The enemy's knowledge of such details would put both Iraqi and coalition forces at increased risk," the report said.
But you can guess how ready these units are. Look at US casualty rates. I'll believe that the Iraqi units are ready when they do the bulk of the fighting and US casualty rates fall.
The general said attacks on Iraqi forces are up slightly, but noted that should be expected because their numbers and involvement have steadily increased.
Attacks on infrastructure, however, are down. From June to November 2004, Iraq averaged 41 insurgent attacks on infrastructure targets per month. Since February, that number has been an average of seven per month. "The Iraqis are working very hard to help protect their infrastructure out there," Sharp said.
But the downturn on infrastructure attacks might indicate that the insurgents think killing government officials, soldiers, police, and others produces greater benefit than blowing up infrastructure.
The downturn in infrastructure attacks is not helping the economy. If conditions in Iraq are getting better then why has unemployment gone up 5.5 percentage points since December 2004?
Unemployment still plagues the Iraqi economy, retarding economic progress and feeding frustration with the pace of reconstruction. About 28 percent of Iraqi workers are unemployed, the report says, up from 22.5 percent in December.
Okay you eternal optimists on Iraq (and you know who you are): What quantitative measures can you point to for progress in the Iraq war? I want real measures that affect outcomes. For example, rates of IED bombings by insurgents or improvement in economic output or other more bottom line measures. Number of Iraqi troops trained just doesn't cut it as a measure of progress unless we see those troops fighting effectively in ways that are quantitatively measurable. How about a big decline in US troop casualties and deaths? When is that going to happen?
You can read the full July 2005 Pentagon Iraq report "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" (PDF format).
Washington Post reporters Anthony Shadid and Steve Fainaru spent a few days with an American Army Company and an Iraqi Army Company that at least in theory are supposed to be working together. The Iraqis do not want to fight and the Americans agree that the Iraqis do not want to fight.
Young Iraqi soldiers, ill-equipped and drawn from a disenchanted Sunni Arab minority, say they are not even sure what they are fighting for. They complain bitterly that their American mentors don't respect them.
In fact, the Americans don't: Frustrated U.S. soldiers question the Iraqis' courage, discipline and dedication and wonder whether they will ever be able to fight on their own, much less reach the U.S. military's goal of operating independently by the fall."I know the party line. You know, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, five-star generals, four-star generals, President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld: The Iraqis will be ready in whatever time period," said 1st Lt. Kenrick Cato, 34, of Long Island, N.Y., the executive officer of McGovern's company, who sold his share in a database firm to join the military full time after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "But from the ground, I can say with certainty they won't be ready before I leave. And I know I'll be back in Iraq, probably in three or four years. And I don't think they'll be ready then."
"We don't want to take responsibility; we don't want it," said Amar Mana, 27, an Iraqi private whose forehead was grazed by a bullet during an insurgent attack in November. "Here, no way. The way the situation is, we wouldn't be ready to take responsibility for a thousand years."
Well that's clear enough, isn't it?
Progress in Iraq takes forms that are pathetic.
"They've come a long way in a short period of time," Cato, the Alpha Company executive officer, said of the Iraqi soldiers. "When we first got here, soldiers were going to sleep on the objective. Soldiers were selling their weapons when they went out on patrol. I was on missions when soldiers would get tired, and they would just start dragging their weapons or using them as walking sticks."
Well, if you can get your Iraqi charges to not sell their weapons the sky's the limit. The US Army soldiers refer to their Iraqi counterparts as preschoolers.
The Iraqis just want the money.
Almost to a man, the soldiers said they joined for the money -- a relatively munificent $300 to $400 a month. The military and police forces offered some of the few job opportunities in town. Even then, the soldiers were irate: They wanted more time off, air-conditioned quarters like their American counterparts and, most important, respect. Most frustrating, they said, was the two- or three-hour wait to be searched at the base's gate when they returned from leave.
The soldiers said 17 colleagues had quit in the past few days.
"In 15 days, we're all going to leave," Nawaf declared.
The two-dozen soldiers gathered nodded their heads.
"All of us," Khalaf said. "We'll live by God, but we'll have our respect."
These guys are Sunnis. Are the Iraqi Shia Army Companies any different?
Read the full article.
Thanks to Greg Cochran for the tip.
In fact, many of the old members of Saddam Hussein's security forces are filling the ranks of the new police units and security forces. And many of these hardened soldiers practiced in the brutality of his regime initially received no Western-style training, says Robert Perito, an expert on post conflict security at the US Institute of Peace.
"In the long run, with the assistance of the US military unfortunately ... [we are creating] a security force which is very much like the old Saddam security forces," says Perito. "That's not what we set out to do."
But will we get fooled again?
America is fighting for soldiers' democracy.
But Jabbar and Ali say instinct often takes over when they arrest someone whom they are sure is an insurgent. They also say they're concerned that if they don't exact some justice, no one will.
"It's soldiers' democracy," says Jabbar. "The reason we want to kill them is because of rumors that the Americans will release them."
I'm reminded of late great science fiction writer Robert Heinlein and how he proposed a democracy in which only people who have served in the military should have the right to vote. Iraqi special forces soldier Ali Jabbar thinks soldiers engage in democracy by beating suspected terrorists to death. You might think of this as a form of participatory democracy. Each whack with a "donkey stick" on a suspect's body is a vote of sorts.
The whole article is pretty interesting though not surprising. The Iraqi soldiers and police are quite willing to beat suspected terrorists to death. One of the special forces soldiers interviewed for the article took part in beating a few suspected terrorists to death when the suspects were found to have pictures of soldiers stored on their cell phones. That strikes me as strong evidence that the suspects were terrorists. But to an American court that probably wouldn't be convincing evidence. Well, in Iraq that sort of evidence gets you beat to death on the spot by enthusiastic democracy advocates.
On the bright side Saddam's security forces broke the bulk of the resistance to Saddam's regime and therefore these same people might manage to reestablish control and slow the death rate of Iraqi civilians and American soldiers. But they are busily doing things that make the Abu Ghraib abuses seem mild in comparison. The Western press doesn't mind Arabs cracking Arab heads. External pressure will not prevent development of a more effective and brutal police state.
My question about Iraq is pretty simple to state: Will the Iraqi government be able to recruit enough determined and properly incentivized police and special forces to beat the insurgents into submission? The answer to that question will decide the outcome in Iraq.
They show the United Iraqi Alliance winning 71.6% in the areas involved.
The interim prime minister Ayad Allawi has 18.1%; no other party has more than 1% or 2%.
I am surprised Allawi did that well. Did some Iraqis think that putting a former CIA asset in charge would get them more influence with the American government.
Iraqi ChaldoAssyrians Christians understand that these results put them at the mercy of the Shias as a headline from a ChaldoAssyrian web site states it: "Early Election Results Bad News for ChaldoAssyrians".
How about pouring some gasoline on the flames? While perhaps 20% of Iraq's population the Sunni Arabs will probably have less than 10% of the Iraqi 275 member National Assembly.
Juburi said that figures he has seen suggest a turnout of less than 40 percent in Salahuddin and Mosul, and slightly more than 10 percent in Anbar, the restive western province most afflicted by the insurgency.
By his calculation, Sunni Arab parties will receive no more than 25 seats in the assembly, which will leave Sunnis, who account for about 20 percent of the population, dramatically underrepresented.
Will the US government quietly behind the scenes press for fixing of vote counts to produce more votes for Sunnis and Kurds? Or are the Shias going to get 70+% of the National Assembly? Why should the Sunnis stop fighting if that is the case? The Sunnis might start pushing for secession and so might the Kurds. As for the Turkmen, Chaldeans, etc: I wouldn't want to be you. Sorry guys.
It is hard to figure out where the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) stands because the UIA is made up of a list of 22 different parties. So will it really govern as a single majority party? Or will it have many internal splits between the parties that it contains? The Shiite Arab majority in the national assembly is going to be so huge that from the standpoint of the various minority groups the internal Shia splits probably will not matter very much. Those splits will likely center more around which Shia factions get the spoils that will come from controlling the levers of power.
Problems in Mosul could lead to an outcry from a variety of communities that they were squeezed out of the balloting: Mosul and surrounding Ninevah province have large Sunni Arab, Kurdish and Christian populations.
Insurgents are launching new attacks across the country and battling American and Iraqi security troops in scattered clashes following the easing of security measures that had been in place to guard last weekend's elections. At least 33 people have been killed in violence since Wednesday night.
The Iraqi election is not about freedom. Steve Sailler says this election is all about who gets to dominate who.
I've said it before, but I have to keep it saying it again. Even more than most people, what Muslims want is not so much freedom for all as domination for themselves. Cruel history has taught them that the only way to avoid the bite of the whip is to crack the whip themselves. The Grand Ayatollah is perfectly happy to use an election now to gain power, just as his fellow Shiite ayatollah, Khomeini (remember him?), was happy to hold elections throughout the 1980s next door in Sistani's native Iran, as long as his boys could win the elections, which they did for quite some time.
It is also about who gets to funnel away large chunks of the public purse to get rich from holding an elected or appointed office. Let me insert here (at the risk of boring long time readers) my standard list of obstacles to non-corrupt liberal democracy in Iraq. If you haven't clicked through and read all the posts on the list of items in the middle of that post then please do so. You will know why Iraq is not going to be a glorious success story and poster child for liberal democracy.
During a briefing via satellite to the Pentagon from Iraq, Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler reported the death of another Marine in the city. Marines and Iraqi security forces were going house to house, clearing buildings when they came under attack, and the Marine was killed. Another Marine was injured in the incident, and an Iraqi soldier also was killed. The Marines returned fire, and the attackers were "silenced," Sattler said.
The general said he cannot consider the city safe until Marines have gone through every house and purged the town of weapons and insurgents, "who may want to fight to the death."
The battle for the city has claimed the lives of 51 U.S. servicemembers, and 425 have been wounded. Eight Iraqi security force soldiers have died, and 43 have been wounded.
Sattler said it is safe to say that as many as 1,200 insurgents have been killed in the battle, and that the coalition is holding about 1,000 insurgent prisoners.
So we lost about 8 times as many soldiers as the Iraqis did even though our troops have better equipment and training. It seems safe to guess that down on the ground the American troops did an order of magnitude more fighting than the Iraqi troops. Unless the Iraqi troops become willing and able to take on more of the fighting the US could be stuck in Iraq fighting an insurgency for years. Regardless of whether you think that is a price worth paying my guess is that Bush will stick it out in Iraq for the next 4 years. What the next US President will decide to do about Iraq is difficult to guess.
I bet that out of those 8 Iraqi government soldiers killed and 43 wounded that a disproportionate number of them were Kurds. It would be interesting to know whether more Kurds or Shia Arabs died fighting for the government. My guess is more Kurds died even though there are about 3 Shia Arabs for every Kurd in Iraq.
Could a Kurdish Army be built up that would be willing and able to keep the Sunnis down so that the Shias could rule in a fashion that would be at least superficially democratic? Or would the Shias feel so much more loyalty for their fellow Sunni Arabs as Arabs that the Shias would be unwilling to make a political bargain with the Kurds that would induce the Kurds to play mercenary guardians of the new regime? Certainly the US could pay the Kurds for less money than it takes to keep US troops so far from home.
Col. Michael Regner, operations officer for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Fallujah, told Reuters that at least 1,052 insurgents had been taken prisoner. Only about two dozen were from outside Iraq.
The foreigners might have been more prone to flee while the local Sunni Fallujans stuck it out. But even if that is the case it seems obvious that the vast bulk of the insurgents in Iraq are Iraqis.
A National Public Radio correspondent embedded with the Marines outside Fallujah reported desertions among the Iraqis. One Iraqi battalion shrunk from over 500 men to 170 over the past two weeks - with 255 members quitting over the weekend, the correspondent said. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld called reports of some Iraqi recruits not showing up to fight ``an isolated problem.''
U.S. military officials said Monday that at least 200 Iraqi troops had deserted their posts in the American-led offensive on Fallujah, illustrating the predicament faced by men who are torn between orders from commanders and outrage from their countrymen. Another 200 Iraqi troops were estimated to be “on leave.”
“Some people were afraid because they received threats,” said Sgt. Abdul Raheem, an Iraqi soldier. “They were afraid of death.”
The US military and Iraqi commanders estimated that up to 200 Iraqi troops had resigned, with another 200 "on leave".
An Iraqi captain told a reporter at a staging area earlier in the day that 100 Sunni members of his unit had deserted rather than fight.
The weekend's desertions reportedly left only one fully intact Iraqi unit deployed with the Marines on the outskirts of Fallujah – the 36th Battalion, whose troops were recruited mostly from Kurdish and Shi'ite militia. "If the 36th turns out to be the 'Iraqi face' of the new government in Fallujah," noted one worried administration official, "it'll be seen as another occupation force."
FALLOUJA, Iraq — Ten thousand U.S. troops and more than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers in tanks and on foot attacked this insurgent stronghold Monday night in a long-planned offensive aimed at ending guerrilla control of the city.
An estimated 6,000 U.S. troops and 2,000 allied Iraqi soldiers invaded Fallujah from the north Monday night in a swift start to an offensive aimed at re-establishing government control ahead of the elections.
Some 10,000-15,000 U.S. troops have surrounded Fallujah, along with allied Iraqi forces, according to the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey. Commanders estimate around 3,000 Sunni fighters are in Fallujah, perhaps around 20 percent of them foreign Islamic militants.
There are 6 Iraqi battalions total at the moment (see below). The figure of 2000 Iraqi soldiers at Fallujah suggests that 4 of those 6 Iraqi battalions were assigned to Fallujah before defections. But probably only one of those battalions did not suffer substantial defections.
Note that even with the probably excessively optimistic estimate of 2000 Iraqi soldiers fighting for the Iraqi government and an assumption that 20% of the insurgents are foreign would still leave 2400 Iraqi insurgents at Fallujah and therefore even without defections there would have been more Iraqis fighting against the government than for it.
Suppose the desertion rate of Iraqi Army soldiers at Fallujah is really as high as the media reports suggest. US Army General George Casey, Commander, Multinational Force Iraq (i.e. he is the top US officer in Iraq) argues that the Iraqi military is in the process of getting so large that the non-defectors will be able to do the job the US would like them to do.
Q General, Jamie McIntyre from CNN. Assuming that Fallujah works out as well as you hope, what more remains to be done between now and January so that elections -- credible elections can be held in Iraq?
GEN. CASEY: Jamie, as you know, we're fighting a counterinsurgency operation here, so there's a range of political, economic and military tasks that need to be accomplished between now and then. The primary thing that we need to do is to continue to generate Iraqi security forces on the -- at the pace that we are -- the plan to generate them on.
Right now, there are -- up until the end of October, there were six Iraqi battalions in the Iraqi army. Now there are 12. By the time that we get to the election, there will be 27.
Right now we have about 40 National Guard units. They're not all fully trained and fully equipped. There will be -- we will have 45 fully trained and equipped by the elections. The police, the border guards, everyone else will continue to grow.
Between the end of September and the election, we are going to add about another 45(,000) or 50,000 Iraqi security forces to the Iraqi theater here. So that -- we will continue to do that. We'll continue to get them seasoned, and that's the first thing.
Can this strategy work? Take the figure of 27 battalions. Suppose when faced with a fight two thirds of them will quit. Suppose, as well that the deserters do not switch sides and make the insurgency even bigger. There'd still be the equivalent of 9 battalions of soldiers left. But would these non-deserting soldiers actually fight the insurgents? Keep an eye out for reports on the Fallujah fighting. Did any of the non-defecting Iraqi soldiers contribute to the fighting in a substantial fashion? Or are they just following the US soldiers into the city to become occupiers once the heavy fighting is over?
Of course, some deserters will defect to the insurgency. In fact, what better way for a would-be insurgent to get trained than to join the Iraqi Army and get trained, paid, fed, and equipped to fight?
Foreign withdrawals from Iraq mean that more of the work has to be done by US troops and hopefully non-defecting Iraqi troops. The countries that have already withdrawn troops include Spain (1300), Dominican Republic (302), Nicaragua (115), Honduras (370), Philippines (41), and Norway (down from 155 to 15). More withdrawals are coming with even Poland pulling the plug at the end of 2005.
Two large contributors to the international force - Britain, with 12,000 troops, and Italy, with more than 3,100 - have insisted they will not withdraw. But Poland, the fourth-largest contributor, with 2,400 troops, says it intends to withdraw by the end of next year, and the Netherlands, with 1,400 troops, said this week that the latest rotation of troops would be its last contribution to Iraq.
New Zealand is withdrawing its 60 engineers and Thailand said it wanted to bring home its 450 troops. Singapore has reduced its contingent to 33, from 191; Moldova has trimmed its force to 12, from 42. On Wednesday Bulgaria's Defense Ministry said it would reduce its 483 troops to 430 next month, Reuters reported.
The US military isn't big enough to substantially increase US force size in Iraq. Lots of foreign contributions are ending? Can so many Iraqis be recruited into the Iraqi military that even after desertions there will be a force big enough to at least substantially help the US military put down the insurgency?
Thanks to Greg Cochran for the tip on the NPR desertion report.
Sunday's showdown in Najaf was troubled even before the fighting resumed. Officials from the Iraqi defense ministry said that more than 100 Iraqi national guardsmen and a battalion of Iraqi soldiers chose to quit rather than attack fellow Iraqis in a city that includes some of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam. An Iraqi army battalion generally consists of 600 to 900 soldiers. U.S. military officials would not confirm the resignations.
“We received a report that a whole battalion (in Najaf) threw down their rifles,” said one high-ranking defense ministry official. He did not want his name published because he is not an official spokesman. “We expected this, and we expect it again and again,” he said.
The rebels in Lexington and Concord fighting for their freedom from the British and for the right to rule themselves through democratically elected governments did not desert en masse. Where are the Iraqi pro-liberal democracy forces? Why aren't thousands of Najaf residents rising up to shoot down the Mahdi Army fighters in the streets?
Now that significant portions of Iraq, city by city, seem to be blinking off the US map, our military is increasingly releasing air power as the weapon of choice in those heavily populated urban areas. In the past week, we have bombed, missiled or strafed (sometimes a combination of all three) in Sadr City, the Shi'ite slum holding an estimated 2 million of Baghdad's inhabitants, Samarra, Kut, Najaf, Fallujah (more than once) and possibly in Ramadi and Hilla as well among other places.
Of course the civilians losing family members to the air barrages could rise up and kill the Mahdi fighters to rid themselves of the Mahdis. But the Iraqi Shias are not rising up en masse to support the Iraqi government.
Saddam Hussein, lacking American scruples, hit the Shrine of Ali with artillery barrages in order to put down the Shia rebellion of 1991 (which George Bush Sr. helped to foment).
If the Americans and Iraqi Army do end up assaulting the Shrine of Ali, they will not be the first. Hussein threw the full force of his military against the shrine in 1991 after Shiite rebels launched an abortive rebellion. Artillery barrages damaged the shrine complex and special-forces soldiers killed the rebels inside the complex itself. The brutality of this crackdown at such a holy site turned most Shiites against Hussein, even those who had defended him in the past.
As long as the United States can not find any way to appeal to the masses of Iraqi people to get them motivated to fight against the insurgents it is hard to see how the situation in Iraq is oging to turn out as some sort of victory for the US. Eventually US forces will leave. Then civil war will most likely ensue. At least if we partition before departing we could end up with Kurdish allies in control of the north of Iraq. Those Kurdish allies would actually like us. They would definitely want the US to keep bases on their territory to defend them and they would control substantial oil fields.
Coalition Provisional Authority staffer, attorney, and women's rights advocate Fern Holland, another CPA staffer, and their translator were killed on a road near Hillah Iraq by police from Karbala.
At the Hilla jail, where the men were held until Polish troops took them into custody, the jailers insisted that the men were actual Iraqi policemen and not impersonators.
"We knew some of them," one man said. "Their commander (in Karbala) had been a criminal before Saddam left, so we knew his gang. They had been in jail here before. But then they got jobs as policemen in Karbala -- we knew this before this happened. We couldn't believe that the Americans gave police jobs to criminals like these."
The shooting Tuesday night raised two possibilities: that guerrillas had adopted a new tactic of posing as police to carry out attacks, or that some members of the security forces being trained by U.S. troops are turning to violence.
One possibility is that the criminals-turned-policemen were simply cut-throat robbers. If they were not just killing to rob then do they just hate Americans and want to kill them for fun or did they do this to pursue larger political goals? They might have been out to kill Holland becauise she was investigating human rights violations against iraqi women.
The more important question is just what background checks are used by US forces when selecting candidates to train as police? Even with the most careful process of selection the odds are against getting non-corrupt police that are eager to fairly and evenly uphold the laws in Iraq.
Update: The Friday March 12, 2004 Coalition Provisional Authority Briefing from Iraq by Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt confirms the involvement of active duty Iraqi police in the slaying of Fern Holland, Robert J. Zangas and an Iraqi woman who served as their translator.
Q: Hi. Mark Stone, ABC. Could you confirm whether anyone was detained as a result of the shootings and also -- of the CPA shooting, and also whether they were indeed policemen or people dressed as policemen? And if they were policemen, this calls into question the -- how the policemen that are recruited are checked.
(Off-mike conferral between briefers.)
Kimmitt: There were eight persons detained as part of the incident. We understand that -- correction: six persons were detained as part of the incident. Four of those persons were carrying current and, we believe, valid Iraqi police service identification. The fifth was a former policeman under the Hussein regime, and the sixth person was a civilian. Those persons are all under coalition custody being interrogated at this time.
On Monday, U.S. troops arrested one current and two former ICDC soldiers for selling weapons to insurgents and carrying out bomb attacks on the homes of Iraqis cooperating with American forces in Tikrit, Saddam's hometown north of Baghdad.