Baghdad Huddle Talk

"Gates huddled in the former Al Faw Palace at Camp Victory for nearly three hours Friday morning with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, the top Middle East commander, Adm. William Fallon, and Gen. David Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No. 1 and 2 commanders in Iraq.

The session centered on operations in Iraq, as well as the progress of the ongoing military buildup, and it came as Gates ratcheted up the pressure on the Iraqi political leaders.

"The clock is ticking," Gates told reporters Thursday. "I know it’s difficult, and clearly the attack on the council of representatives has made people nervous, but I think that it’s very important that they bend every effort to getting this legislation done as quickly as possible."

A suicide bomber infiltrated the parliament building in the heavily fortified Green Zone a week ago, dealing a blow to the U.S.-led effort to pacify the capital’s streets.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the violence in Baghdad an "open battle.""  Yahoo


You have to ask yourself what a meeting like that must be.  "Well, how are things going?"  (Gates)  "Bad day yesterday…"  (Petraeus)  [Pause – silence]  "How are things going for you Admiral?"  (Gates)  [Pause – Silence]  "How about you, Ray?" (Gates to Odierno)  "Mmmm, Ahh,  Mmmm" (Odierno)  ""Hey how about Maliki?  What is he up to these days?  Does he have many Sunni friends yet?"  (Gates)

There has been a continuing thread in the egregious incomprehension that has governed US policy in Iraq.   That has been the notion that a lack of communications is at the root of the hostility among the three major "nations" of Iraq.  An insistence on belief in the unitary nature of Iraqi society persists and this results in endless efforts to have these groups and their sub-components "play nice in the schoolyard."  In fact, the issues among these communities are quite real, are substantial and a reflection of millennia of competition for power and wealth.  Good luck!

A retired ambassador with a lot of ME experience commented here a few days ago that Iraq’s population was largely unified in spirit before the ’03 intervention.  That is partially true, but only partially.  The country was on its way to establishing a "national" identity.  The performance of Shia officers and soldiers in the Iran-Iraq War showed that, but coalition invasion and occupation halted that process and reversed it.  pl

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28 Responses to Baghdad Huddle Talk

  1. Chris Marlowe says:

    When Gates says “The clock is ticking” for the Iraqi government, what leverage does he have?
    Does he mean “We’re going to invade Iraq?” Oops, I forgot, we did…
    Or that we are going to pull out unilaterally? Isn’t that what almost all Iraqis would love to see?
    Or is the US military going to go after the Mahdi Army? Yeah, we have plenty of weapons and manpower to do that, don’t we?
    Or are we going to tie the Iraqi representatives in their seats and force them to listen to all of the speeches of Bush, Cheney and Wolfowitz on bringing freedom and democracy to the people of Iraq?
    Come to think of it, that would terrify me!

  2. John C. Adamson says:

    It seems that the “elephant in the room”, both here and in Iraq, is that it’s a loser.
    I’ve never been to Iraq, and don’t know anyone that is or has been in Iraq. My military experience ended in 1969.
    Question: Do you think we’re going to get to the point were we see “combat refusals” and “fraggings”
    in Iraq?
    If the whole thing is a loser, what’s the point of fighting except to allow politicians to save face or help commanders to burnish their records?
    It seems to me that a rational person could come to that conclusion.

  3. dasher says:

    ” The country was on its way to establishing a “national” identity. The performance of Shia officers and soldiers in the Iran-Iraq War showed that, but coalition invasion and occupation halted that process and reversed it.”
    Wonderful! Iraq was on its way to becoming a modern nation. (Yes, I know, but Saddam was a baaaaad man!) And then we showed up and fixed everything.
    Way to go, Bushies!
    It really is almost impossible to overstate how egregious this whole misadventure has been.

  4. steve says:

    “The clock is ticking,” Gates told reporters Thursday. “I know it’s difficult, and clearly the attack on the council of representatives has made people nervous, but I think that it’s very important that they bend every effort to getting this legislation done as quickly as possible.”
    I can only presume Gates here is referring to the Iraqi “oil bill”, the instrument by which western companies hope to obtain an unusually large interest–by current ME standards–in Iraqi petroleum resources.

  5. Michael says:

    The situation in Iraq is kind of like a chicken plucking factory – If you have one.. you know what I mean.

  6. Leila says:

    Dasher – egregious doesn’t describe the sense of disaster and betrayal any Arab feels over the destruction of a country of 25 million people. Iraq was modern in 2003, with high tech offices and women doctors and parliament representatives and record stores selling CDs and universities full of students. And their power and water and sewage systems worked beautifully. They had engineers and plenty of infrastructure. Yes Saddam was an evil bastard and everybody wanted for him to get out. He killed people and was a real dictator. But the country’s infrastructure, all the things we take for granted in America, functioned well, and regular folks could go about their lives.
    Gone, gone, gone. We pulverized it all and in the process we pulverized the new connective tissue that was knitting the country together. And our leaders have the temerity to then blame the Iraqis for the chaos that has ensued.
    LEt’s not even mention the destruction of the immense cultural heritage in the wake of April 2003 – the books in the libraries going back over a thousand years, looted and burned. Arabs I know, educated middle-class American Arabs, think that the American government deliberately destroyed Iraq’s cultural archives in order to “keep the Arabs down.” I think it was just criminal incompetence, but really, it’s hard to argue against the malicious intent idea.
    So egregious just seems not quite strong enough a word.
    My new motto is: Next Year In The Hague! Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz and all the architects of this war should be prosecuted in an international tribunal. Was their behavior criminal? Let a court of outsiders expert in the laws of war and nations decide.

  7. walrus says:

    Col. Lang, I can no longer comment on the situation in Iraq because words fail me. Let me explain in my final Jeremiad.
    We know we have caused at least 600,000 excess deaths according to a Lancet survey which was secretly validated by the British Government.
    Four million Iraqis are refugees and the humanitarian situation for the rest is dire according to the Red Cross.
    What was a relatively modern secular state has been torn apart, and in another posting here, you mention a return to medieval solutions to sectarian warfare.
    The nicest thing one can say is that in an apparent vendetta against one man, the Bush Administration has destroyed an entire relatively modern country and its people, bringing them death and misery they did not either then or now deserve.
    Thats the nicest thing one can say. One could say that at the behest of the Israelis and Big Oil, we have systematically destroyed and plundered Iraq deliberately and with our eyes wide open.
    I don’t believe the world is going to forgive America for this action.
    I don’t believe “the free world” is going to lift a finger to help America do anything ever again.
    I believe that Bush’s prophecy about the bad guys attacking us because of “hating our freedom” is going to come true , because Bush’s version of “freedom”, as demonstrated in Iraq, which includes the use of torture, incarceration in secret without trial and the like is repellent and deserves to be attacked, and I fail to see why anyone would lift a finger to stop such attacks.
    We have created an evil empire, and it is going to bite us one day, and the whole world will laugh when it does and say “you had it coming to you”, as Arundhati Roy wrote shortly after 911.
    I blame the Bush Administration. If Americans don’t destroy the Bush legacy and make amends for Iraq, I’m going to blame America as a whole, even if its only for being dumb, insular and too stupid to realise what they have permittted to happen.
    Let me tell you how this affects me. For reasons I won’t go into, I have American citizenship, and I was so proud the day I received it. My son is visiting America at the moment. I have already made a vow never to return, and on his return I’m telling him to remember it as it was when he saw it and not return either.
    The American Flag I used to proudly display on my yacht on the Fourth of July and to welcome visiting American warships is going to be removed today.
    Business contacts? Forget about it, not interested anymore, same with entertaining visitors and engaging with the American expat community here. There is no longer any point.
    I am inches away from making an appointment at the Consulate and renouncing my citizenship and returning my passport. So much for the American dream R.I.P.
    Sorry for the rant.

  8. ked says:

    Gates: “Hey! I know – let’s invite some of the Corps of Engineer kids over and build walls! It’ll be great – we can show old Westerns on them at night AND build community spirit!”

  9. jonst says:

    I don’t know….this public warning by Gates seems to primarily directed towards domestic opinion here. I will bet it pissed off both the Iraqi ‘government’, and the citizens. As Aretha would say, ‘whose zoomin who’ here? We’re not getting out unless we are run out, or the oil runs out. People in the ME know this. Or, at a minimum, belive this.

  10. Cold War Zoomie says:

    You said “I don’t believe the world is going to forgive America for this action. I don’t believe “the free world” is going to lift a finger to help America do anything ever again.”
    I disagree. As long as our market remains open and we continue consuming goods and services at an astonishing rate, others will continue working with us. It’s amazing how our transgressions are usually overlooked as long as money is changing hands.
    Americans are starting to see that ideology cannot always drive policy. Although the Bush Administration will pass this mess on to the next president, the new guy (or gal) will start mending strained relationships, rebuilding our reputation in the world, and leaving Iraq. Until 2009, international trade will keep us working together at the most basic levels.
    Hunker down in the short term since it will get worse before it starts getting better.

  11. Charles says:

    Apropos walls and fences: In the other war, over in Afghanistan, a “country” that periodically simply dissolved itself to deal with foreign intervention, so there was no country to attack, rule or occupy, come reports that as fast as Pakistan theatrically puts up some border fence to appease the U.S., the Afghan army, with the Israeli example in mind and tribes on ground, pulls it down.
    I have just read an astounding book by a former NPR reporter, Sarah Chayes, who has been on the ground, living with the people, rather than in some gated compound awash in nightly drinking parties for five years since the Taliban fell. Living with the people she gained tremendous insight, political access to warlords tribal elders and President alike, living under tribal protection. “The Punishment of Virtue” is a masterpiece of reportage, history, cultural and political insight that demonstrates how that war, like all the others there, is lost, when it could have been completely won immediately after the fall of the Taliban, but for boneheaded, culturally ignorant moves and alliances relied upon by the U.S. Now, the population collectively suffering the accumulated PTSD effects of 25 years of war(even the dogs have PTSD), seeing their hopes for a democratic government that did away with warlordism dashed by foreign incompetence, often seen as mysterious, sheer venality, merely longs for a government that can restore security – perhaps even one wearing black turbans.

  12. Charles says:

    I forgot PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, read The Punishment of virtue if you only read one book this century.

  13. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Much of Afghanistan was part of Iran. Her restoration now also rests with Iran; it is only through economic interaction with Iran that Afghanistan can be rebuilt over the next 3 generation since China is too far, the Central Asian States are too weak, and Pakistan is an enemy.
    I regret to state that current USG policies vis-a-vis Iran could hurt Afghanistan plenty.

  14. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    <<"I don't believe the world is going to forgive America for this action.">>
    Walrus, I agree that this may well be one outcome and international public opinion polling data would seem to support this. As General Odom has said, this is the greatest strategic mistake in US history. The consequences will no doubt reflect this over the coming decades: diplomatic, economic, political, and psychological consequences.
    In 2004, on a visit to Morocco, I was invited to a private dinner in Casa with a small group of elite Moroccan businessmen to exchange views on the situation in North Africa and the Middle East. All of the businessmen, some of whom had business in the US, were extremely upset by US Middle East policy: Iraq War, Palestine, and all that. One older gentleman, owner of one of the largest financial companies in the country, said he had been thrilled as a young man by the visit of FDR to Casa but, today, he had lost all respect for the US. Other encounters with Moroccan elites (not to mention students in various settings) gave the same reading.
    On a separate visit to Tunisia that year, a young lady in charge of the business center at my hotel left me with a lasting impression. She had studied hotel management in Spain and was a twenty-something professional in the business. We exchanged views in French and Spanish. She told me frankly that her image of American policy was the headless Iraqi baby she had seen on television.
    Personally, I do not view the Bush43 foreign policy as “American.” It is rather the policy of a transnational cosmopolitan elite that has been able to take over the levers of power in this Republic to suit its own purposes.
    I hope you retain your US citizenship and keep blogging. “…that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” [Ephesians 6:20]

  15. Curious says:

    Shorter Iraq:
    All the King’s horses and all the King’s men,
    Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
    Iraq war as Pentagon and Bush envision it is over. Everybody there now is preparing for the end game. The surge turns out to be a brief moment where everybody stops marching toward the civil war and hope there is fundamental change in the political process. But it didn’t happen. Changing a general only changes the military opration character, nothing fundamentaly changes with the politics.
    What happens now. Everybody knows our maximum man power capabilities in term of patrol and ground operations. How many men we can put in the system when we push it. Everybody adjust their ground strategy and the march toward civil war starts again.
    This time Patreus will truely break Iraq permanently if he keeps doing what he is doing to baghdad. Iraq will permanently devided into 3 ethnic group and this division will spread windshield crack to neighbooring countries in the coming decades.
    This summer probably will be the last big battle where we control the political direction to some degree. Going into 2008, It’s all Iranian game.

  16. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Pace and company remarks on Iranian weapons in Afghanistan drew the following analysis:
    “….it is well known in the Afghan bazaar that the country is awash with Iranian weapons that were supplied to Northern Alliance groups during the anti-Taliban resistance in the late 1990s. The London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting has been monitoring erstwhile Northern Alliance groups based in the north of Afghanistan clandestinely selling their stockpiles of weapons to the Taliban. A north-south corridor of arms smuggling seems to be in place. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) contingents have independently confirmed such smuggling.
    There was nothing new about weapons with Iranian markings being found in Kandahar. Was Pace making another gaffe?….”
    Also, from the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan:
    “KABUL (AFP) – The commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, US General Dan McNeill, said Thursday he was unable to confirm the interception Iranian-made mortars and explosives in the country… After 30 years of war, Afghanistan is awash with weapons of all kinds and of different origins. Iran, in particular, furnished the Northern Alliance with weapons during their struggle against the Taliban government.
    Mcneill, the head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), also said he had no hard intelligence on the existence of training camps for Afghan insurgents in Iranian territory.
    “There is no report of that fact,” he said.

  17. Charles says:

    Babak; Much of Pakistan, a country a few decades old was once part of Afghanistan. This is the problem all over the planet; so many borders and countries were carved out by foreigners rather than the people on the ground. Whatever the demarcation of Afghanistan’s borders, it is situated between Iran, Russia, Pakistan and China. Each country has it’s “representives” busily working away to foster these foreigner’s interests.
    Never mind the potential future fallout from the U.S.’s meddling in Iran; America is responsible for the complete bungling of the introduction of security and democracy in this benighted country by siding up with various warlords, particularly in Kandahar, who ruled their fiefdoms immune from influence from Kabul and Karzai, who grew fat and dangerous on taxes never remitted to the central government, and never shared that money equitably amongst the various tribes. Worse yet, by siding with various warlords and criminals, some known for their blatant connections to Pakistan, the U.S. and Karzai reduced the stature of the central government while making it clear to the various local populations who had the power – and who had the apparent blessing of THE POWER on the ground – the American generals and colonels. The Kabul government never had a chance. What’s not clear yet is if Karzai was just stupid, weak and timid, or got bad advice, or whether some of this mess is indeed what he desired, imagining that some sort of legitimation by inclusion was necessary to deal with the warlords. I think its a lot of both, and the results have been disatrous. Canadian troops have been fighting there for almost seven years now. Provincial reconstruction is a farce, because there is no security and no faith in the central goverment, leaving the hapless population confused, discouraged and tending to submit to the local powers.

  18. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I am not in disagreement with your opinions regarding USG policy in Afghanistan.
    I would like to refine your statement about Pakistan: only the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan could be considered to have been part of Afghanistan.
    USG & EU have pursued their policies in Afghanistan as though that country is an island in the Pacific. Foremost also they tried to isolate that country from Iran. This was an inefficient policy since the US & EU are not committing the level of resources to the Afghan theatre of operations that could obviate the need for “multilateralism”. In other words, US & EU have been too cheap with Afghanistan for their stated goals.
    I recall a road from Khandahar to Kabul that was built by US funds at much higher cost because no less a person than the President of the United States had ordered no construction material to be purchased from Iran.
    Another case was the training of the Afghan police by Germans: the Germans were teaching the Afghans how to be policemen in Hamburg not in Khost. The Iranian police could have trained the German police much more cheaply and much more effectively – by reasons of common culture, language, and religion.
    A third case has been the ousting of Ismail Khan, the Governor of Heart, since he was deemed to be too friendly with Iran. This was done by causing the death of his son and his removal from power. If men such as Ismail Khan are enemies (to US & EU) who in the Name of God are their friends: that pedophile boy-rapist in Khandahar?
    And mark my words, Ismail Khan will exact revenge for the blood of his son – he is bidding his time now – but he will retaliate.
    And these 3 are just the tip of the ice-berg.
    I think that the US & EU policy in Afghanistan in its present form will fail – their electorate will tire of it and leave. Taliban, Pakistan, Iran, and others are waiting for this and preparing for that eventuality.
    The correct policy would be – in my opinion – to cede some power to the Iran-Russia-India alliance and try to isolate the Taliban-Pakistan influence. This policy has to take concrete steps in facilitating Afghan economic development through Iran. This is the only way that the Afghan state can be rebuilt over the next 60 years.
    But before this policy is adopted, we will have to see more failures, death, and hurt in Afghanistan. The arrogance of US & EU has to be broken.

  19. zanzibar says:

    Its going to take a while before the “arrogance of the US&EU” will be broken”.
    At this juncture they control all the international institutions. The BRIC bloc is gaining economic power but their domestic economies are not resilient enough to sustain growth without the consumer markets in the US & EU. The US economy IMO will be the first to break when the debt repudiation in one form or another will have to happen. This could be a generation or two away. I am hopeful however that there would be a more short term financial crisis that will get the US to reasses and get back on a more sound fiscal footing as well as a more realistic geopolitical policy. I think that over the next decades we will evolve to more regional groupings as well as newer multilateral institutions with broader power sharing. I am an optimist that with the democratization of technology power will get devolved and the vested interest will be for more stability. Concepts of non-interference, international law and mutual respect would gain ground. This period of “radical change” based on ideology and at the barrel of a gun would seem hopefully an experiment not worth repeating.

  20. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I think that US, Mexico, and Canada certainly have to be treated as a common economic unit in the coming years.
    I also thik that there has to be a formal North American Union with common currency and customs union, just like the Europran Union.
    About international law, I am skeptical – it is really custom and not law since it cannot be enforced by any institutions.
    But you are right, a little bit of humility coupled with more empiricism will serve evry one more.

  21. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I think that US, Mexico, and Canada certainly have to be treated as a common economic unit in the coming years.
    I also thik that there has to be a formal North American Union with common currency and customs union, just like the Europran Union.
    About international law, I am skeptical – it is really custom and not law since it cannot be enforced by any institutions.
    But you are right, a little bit of humility coupled with more empiricism will serve every one more.

  22. zanzibar says:

    A NA Union in the current climate is going to be difficult. With the politics of immigration anyone that proposes such a union will be demonized for enabling the brown hordes invading the US from the south. So it will have to be a common market for goods which is what NAFTA is supposed to do and regarding a common currency I am sure our neighbors up north with their budgets in balance and a “resource backed” currency would have reservations with our incredible unfunded fiscal liabilities in the decades ahead.

  23. Babak Makkinejad says:

    But the North American Union is the only way forward; the theree economies are too intertwined.

  24. canuck says:

    How right you are! Balanced budgets and running a surplus for years, Canada is not going to be a willing partner in a North American merge with a nation of bloated spenders.

  25. canuck says:

    BTW, did anyone else see this article in the McClathy press?
    Training Iraqi troops no longer driving force in U.S. policy
    By Nancy A. Youssef
    WASHINGTON – Military planners have abandoned the idea that standing up Iraqi troops will enable American soldiers to start coming home soon and now believe that U.S. troops will have to defeat the insurgents and secure control of troubled provinces.
    Training Iraqi troops, which had been the cornerstone of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy since 2005, has dropped in priority, officials in Baghdad and Washington said.
    No change has been announced, and a Pentagon spokesman, Col. Gary Keck, said training Iraqis remains important. “We are just adding another leg to our mission,” Keck said, referring to the greater U.S. role in establishing security that new troops arriving in Iraq will undertake.
    But evidence has been building for months that training Iraqi troops is no longer the focus of U.S. policy. Pentagon officials said they know of no new training resources that have been included in U.S. plans to dispatch 28,000 additional troops to Iraq. The officials spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to discuss the policy shift publicly. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made no public mention of training Iraqi troops on Thursday during a visit to Iraq.
    In a reflection of the need for more U.S. troops, the Pentagon decided earlier this month to increase the length of U.S. Army tours in Iraq from 12 to 15 months. The extension came amid speculation that the U.S. commander there, Army Gen. David Petraeus, will ask that the troop increase be maintained well into 2008.
    U.S. officials don’t say that the training formula – championed by Gen. John Abizaid when he was the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and by Gen. George Casey when he was the top U.S. general in Iraq – was doomed from the start. But they said that rising sectarian violence and the inability of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to unite the country changed the conditions. They say they now must establish security while training Iraqi forces because ultimately, “they are our ticket out of Iraq,” as one senior Pentagon official put it.
    U.S. officials said they once believed that if they empowered their Iraqi counterparts, they’d take the lead and do a better job of curtailing the violence. But they concede that’s no longer their operating principle.
    Military officials now measure success by whether the troops are curbing violence, not by the number of Iraqi troops trained.
    One State Department official, who also asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject, expressed the same sentiment in blunter terms. “Our strategy now is to basically hold on and wait for the Iraqis to do something,” he said.

  26. zanzibar says:

    Bill Maher highlighted this story reported by McClatchy. They are one of the few news outlets that have consistently reported facts that have not been compromised by the spin in DC. Before the invasion they were one of the few that questioned the WMD and AQ rationales. Unfortunately they don’t have the clout of the WaPo or NYT who were complicit in the marketing of the invasion. Bill Moyers has a program on PBS that will look into the media complicity in selling the Iraq war.
    The change from training Iraqis means that the US military will now have to try and quell the violence directly which means more American casualties as we saw today with the suicide attack on a US post in Diyala province that killed 9 soldiers.

  27. Chris Marlowe says:

    It just means that the Bush administration has no intention of leaving Iraq to the Iraqis, and has abandoned any pretense of doing so…
    “Why can’t they be just like us Americans and welcome us as liberators? The ungrateful so-and-sos…”

  28. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    <<"The Bush administration has no intention of leaving Iraq to the Iraqis">>
    Marlow, Conservative economist Paul Craig Roberts, who served at Treasury during Reagan Admin, makes a realistic assessment:
    “As a colony or protectorate, Iraq is too costly to maintain. The U.S. has already incurred out-of-pocket and future costs of $1 trillion or more. The total gains from oil exploitation and military-security complex profits do not approach this massive figure imposed on U.S. taxpayers, which is growing by the day….The U.S. dollar has lost much of its value to the Bush administration’s dependence on foreign borrowing to finance its war. With foreigners accumulating huge annual sums in U.S.-denominated assets, the U.S. dollar’s reserve currency role is jeopardized. If the dollar loses its reserve currency role, foreigners will not finance our wars or our trade and budget deficits.”
    Game is not worth the candle.
    <<"the brown hordes invading the US from the south">>
    Zanzibar, demographic data suggest the “European” segment of the US population will be in the minority by somewhere around 2040-2050. As a relic of the 1940s, I will be quite dead by then. However, it seems to me the internal security situation in this country will be disintegrating as the current intensifying race war between African-American and “Hispanic” gangs suggests. See, as an indicator, the recent “National Gang Threat Assessment” on the DOJ website:
    Earlier this month, at a law enforcement briefing I attended, the statement was made that as a percentage of returing Iraq War vets “go bad” we will encounter “some of the worst criminals we have faced.” Open source reporting indicates the proliferation of hard criminal and gang elements in the US military, Army in particular, owing to a lowering of standards for the Iraq War purposes. Returning from the sandbox, the USofA will be a “cakewalk” for them.
    Come to think of it, perhaps I should retire in Canada, great fishing and hunting, fine folks, Northern Lights…

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