The Big Question in Iraq

61307a717026 It is now clear that the tactic of weaning tribal and village support away from Sunni insurgent groups is working quite well.  With a minimum of babble about the "freedom agenda" the armed forces are going about the business of using existing local leadership and group identity to pit traditionalist and secularist Sunni potential against takfiri jihadist groups in western and central Iraq.  Money, a recognized status as part of a winning combination, a certain amount of protection from the rapacity of the Shia run police, all of those things contribute to the ability of US commanders to attract the willing cooperation of tribal sheikhs, village mukhtars and provincial politicians.  In Iraq tribal identity is so pervasive in much of the country that the influence of these networks of real or fictive kinship can not be ignored.  In some cases the Dulaimi relationships of the leaders are clearly a major factor.  Tribal groups like the Shammar, who stand outside that grouping should not be ignored either.

Diyala, Salahuddin and the area just south of Baghdad are proving to be fertile ground for application of methods of influence and control as old as the tribes themselves.  It continues to be ironic that many in the US government think that they have discovered something "new" in these methods.

In these stories from the LA Times, the process of "cat herding" is well depicted as well as the resulting generation of combat power in defense of village and small town life.  "Concerned Local Citizens" must sound amusing in Arabic.

All of this is to the good, and such developments can be seen as setting the scene for a gradual but steady withdrawal of US ground forces down to the short term residual force I have written of before.

BUT, will the government that we Americans largely created (purple thumbs and all) prove equal to the task of re-integrating all these Sunni Arab "ralliers" into the national body politic? If the government can do that, then there is likely to be a future for a united Iraq. If not, what?  An inevitable military coup?  De facto partition?  It is not yet clear what that future will be..  pl,0,5434110.story?coll=la-tot-world&track=ntothtml,0,296946.story?coll=la-tot-world&track=ntothtml

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21 Responses to The Big Question in Iraq

  1. Webley Webster says:

    I’ve always assumed that one way or another we get another Saddam. I don’t think that the Saudi’s would allow any other outcome.

  2. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I think you are kidding yourself if you think the Sauds have that kind of control over the outcome in Iraq. pl

  3. Jose says:

    Col, let me add two things to consider:
    1. We are now removing a 1st Calvary BCT from Iraq, will the surge tactics hold? This is a key factor to consider because if the tactics do not hold after we withdrawal there is no backup plan with the current size of the American Army. So cross your fingers and let’s hope for the best. Alliances in Arabia shift like the desert sand.
    2. The current Maliki government will not make any concessions to the Arab Sunnis, so what are our options? A coup? Consider the consequences of a Shia revolt against the American forces backed a Fatwa from Maliki supporter Sistani. Not pretty. Partition? Probably the easiest short-term solution but would be a long-term disaster for America. We have been using Chess tactics in a game of Xiangqi and now are force to realize there is no stalemate in Xiangqi.

  4. mt says:

    Another Lebanon?

  5. Homer says:

    pl: BUT, will the government that we Americans largely created (purple thumbs and all) prove equal to the task of re-integrating all these Sunni Arab “ralliers” into the national body politic? If the government can do that, then there is likely to be a future for a united Iraq.
    Did you have a precedent in mind?
    Perhaps like you, I strongly doubt that most members comprising the UIA are `ready to make nice’ (share power, etc) with the former Baathists who viciously persecuted them during the twenty plus (!!) years prior to the deposing of SH.
    Shit, before March 2003, I was told a couple of times that the common Iraqi man still abhored and bashed Genghis Khan for defiling sacred Babylon: That was over 700 freakin’ years ago!!!
    I have also learned that street artists in Tehran still (!!) re-enact that horrible time when Darius was deposed by Alexander.
    Without a model of free co-operation and good will in mind, I would say Iraq is going to be a mess for generations, a mess which the common American will have to actually and figuratively pay the price for generations.

  6. meletius says:

    Aren’t the sunni insurgents also all members of some tribe? There have been a number of press reports that AQI is (was?) not very numerous and is mostly made up of Iraq sunnis. And certainly the secularist (Baathist?) sunni insurgents are each members of a tribe, right?
    I’d also appreciate a run down of what Petraeus’s current operations consist of. We’ve seen reports of greatly increased air strikes, with US casualties way down. How does this square with a more intensive COIN program, which I thought was on the agenda.
    I feel like there is almost no information out there as to what tactical operations are currently going on in Iraq.

  7. ked says:

    Any excuse to get out (mostly) of Iraq is a good one. Thence we can do what we coulda / shoulda been (& actually WERE) doing before the invasion – suppress AQ-types & keep foreign intervention (aside from our own, of course) at bay.
    Like some US state govs, Iraq players may prefer a weak central gov with strong sects & regionalism (reflected in a powerful, but divided) Legislature. A true strong-man will emerge only after we REALLY leave… never?

  8. anna missed says:

    If I understand this correctly, the basis of this “new” tactic is that the U.S. is actively both arming and funding these tribal interests. I assume, that these channels of “support” are exclusively dependent on the U.S., and are totally independent from the Iraqi government, whom is actually against the whole idea. It would seem that the dependency being created, because it is NOT in the interest of the sitting government, will actually make it harder for a U.S. withdrawal, rather than make it easier. Its hard to see how such a system would operate in a future minus U.S. involvement and control of the program. And I doubt that the Shiite government has any interest in taking up the slack and pour its own revenue into continuing a program coordinating and strengthening its internal enemies. So the U.S. is then in the position of having to stay longer (for ever) in Iraq to maintain their Sunni alliances from the Shiite government.
    Or is it to protect the Shiite majority from the enhanced and uparmed return of Saddamist minority.
    This seems more like a protection racket designed to prolong occupation.

  9. Mark K Logan says:

    This article, and others
    like it,,331225411-110878,00.html
    indicates that the Sunni “state” is shaping up to be, for the near term
    at least, quite fractured.
    Is it logical to assume
    the Shiite government will find it nearly impossible to make deals with individual tribes?

  10. jonst says:

    I believe all we are ‘seeing’ is the following:
    1.Sheer exhaustion of the combatants, and society, after the first round. This exhaustion has led to a decrease in the level of reported violence. This, and the fact of the separating of the belligerent sectarian communities. To some extent anyway.
    2. A recognition on the part of the more reality based elements of the Bush Admin, that the war is lost. IOW…the aims once sought are beyond the reach of the military to achieve. However, this loss, and temporary reduction of violence that accompanies it, can be sold to the, literally, clueless, American people as proof that the ‘plan’ is working.
    3. The recognition by the Sunni and Shia tribes that the old Iraq is no more. What remains is a decentralized land controlled by, to greater or lessor extents, by local forces. And a similar recognition that whether or not things stay this way….or there is to be a round two, between the combatants, it might be a good idea to have the Americans pay, and arm, the respective parties. All the Americans want now is to be seen as not losing which they/we have defined as wiping out an entity, AQ in Mesopotamia, that may, or may not, have had any real substance to begin with. Except in the fertile minds of the American public.
    All and all, a modern version of the old Tacitus
    saying: “make a desert, and they call it peace”. The Wolf Blitzers’ et al will eat this up. Spoon fed.
    As we scramble, if we are smart, and I doubt we are, to find another “decent interval.” It is not possible to be too cynical about what is happening now.

  11. Walrus says:

    Fingers crossed that the strategy is working, and if it is working, why not extend it to Afghanistan as well?
    I guess nobody has ever heard of the Chitral, Hunza and Gilgit scouts, or all of the other local units raised by the British along the North West Frontier ?
    ..Of course, they did eventually mutiny and caused Pakistan a lot of grief around 1947..

  12. jon says:

    It’s a very good thing that US casualties (and others) have declined significantly. With luck, that will continue.
    I would not declare victory for this tactic just yet. Essentially it is just the ‘enemy of my enemy’ doctrine, writ not so large. And it runs opposite to the strategy of the ‘Surge’, and represents exploitation of a latent opportunity. There does not seem to be much improvement in the activity and progress of the government and civil administration so far.
    Now sunni tribes, local government and strongmen have been empowered and had their individual power bases shored up. Are they inclined to work with what passes for the central government? Is the government willing to work with them?
    Today, a government detachment (or one claiming to be so) evicted the Association of Muslim Scholars from their headquarters, located in a mosque. The AMS is perhaps the largest and most cohesive organization of Sunnis in Iraq, and holds a number of seats in Parlaiment. How is the average Sunni in Anbar likely to react to this news?
    The future of Iraq seems to look a lot more like Lebanon, Chechnya, Afghanistan or Bosnia. Much of the reduced violence in Baghdad may be the result of ethnic cleansing and expulsion of Sunnis. When these 4 million or so refugees are expelled from Syria and Jordan, they will be easily recruited to militias, death squads and other impromptu armed bands. The irreducible identities of race and religion will be the basis for conflict.
    Saddam spent a lot of effort ensuring that the tribes didn’t accumulate too much power. He knew a thing or two about power and holding on to it.
    Can a better funded, armed and trained amalgam of Baathists, tribes and refugees win over the superior numbers of the Shia – ultimately backstopped by Iran? I suppose we’ll find out before too much longer.
    The US will play the spoiler, trying to keep all sides as weak and disorganized as possible, playing fickle favorites off against each other.
    The end game might look like:
    Syria picks up Anbar;
    Turkey gets Kurdistan
    Iran takes the rest and eventually absorbs Kuwait.
    The US may get to hold onto its crusader castle in Baghdad for a few decades more. Ozymandias will have done better. And Bush may secure his place in history for the greatest military debacle of all time.

  13. I’m very concerned.
    Our armed forces will provide some sort of victory so they can come home. They will accomplish this through their dedication to the mission. They will accomplish this in spite of the fact that it was an incredibly stupid idea to invade in the first place. They will get the praise they deserve for pulling this off in spite of all the obstacles.
    This is a good thing.
    This is my concern…
    Then, some moron politicians will declare pre-emptive war a spectacularly visionary foreign policy in a decade or so. And we’ll do the same thing over again.
    All’s well that ends well, right?

  14. jonst says:

    Cold War Zombie,
    I would be curious to see how you define “victory”. As in “Our armed forces will provide some sort of victory so they can come home”.
    Further, I would be curious to see how you define “mission”> As in “They will accomplish this through their dedication to the mission”.
    Same with “pulling this off”. Pulling what off? I am tempted, but will refrain from asking you to define “alls well” and “ends well”.

  15. Duncan Kinder says:

    Diyala, Salahuddin and the area just south of Baghdad are proving to be fertile ground for application of methods of influence and control as old as the tribes themselves. It continues to be ironic that many in the US government think that they have discovered something “new” in these methods.

    This sounds like the pre-Colloden Highlands in Scotland, where the Crown relied upon such clans as the Gordons of Huntley and the Campbells of Argyle to keep more rebellious clans in check.

  16. wsam says:

    The key to Iraq has always been achieving some form of reconciliation between the different groups. To understand what reconciliation would look like you have to understand the different interests of each of Iraq’s different groups and, importantly, how they each perceive that interest and each other.
    The Kurds are gone. They participate in Iraq only to appease the United States. That is their interest. At the first opportunity they will try and enlarge their territory as much as they are able, especially into areas with oil.
    The Sunni are anxious about this as they would clearly be the losers in a Kurdish resource/land grab. This increases their insecurity and will probably contribute to Sunni belligerency toward the Kurds.
    The disparate Shia groups are in open and often violent competition. They are even less unified than the Sunni. What incentive is there for any of the disparate Shia groups to reconcile with the Sunni?
    As far as they are concerned they have won. The Americans defeated Saddam and now the Shia just have to cleanse the remaining Sunni from Baghdad.
    Why would any Shia group align with Sunni ex-insurgents, except maybe temporarily? Outside of Baghdad, they don’t want Sunni territory. The oil is under Shia held and controlled geography. If the Sunni won’t acquiesce to a Shia-dominated Iraq, screw them.
    Why would any Shia group allow Iraq to adopt anything like modern Lebanon’s electoral system? Why share power at all? It remains doubtful whether Lebanese-inspired electoral concessions would even appease the majority of Sunni ex-insurgents.
    Many Sunni ex-insurgents apparently believe they have defeated the Americans, forced them to ‘bend their knees’ and all that. Accordingly, the next thing for them to do is defeat the Shia. There doesn’t seem to be much indication Sunni leaders see the need to reconcile. The opposite.
    It seems obvious to me Sunni interest lies in reaching some sort of accommodation with the Shia, but I’m not a Sunni. I’m a secular Canadian living in Toronto. What do I know? Our world-views obviously come from different places.
    On the other hand, any lessening of violence is welcome. This phase is in its early days. It is a phase which at least offers something to build on. That, at the minimum, represents a positive change from this time last year.

  17. Homer says:

    Cold War Zoomie: Our armed forces will provide some sort of victory so they can come home.
    Some sort of victory?
    You are probably right.
    But there is a certain futileness to that since turds are not capable of being shined.
    Plus, why should the debacle in Iraq ever be perversely distorted into some sort of victory?
    Look at what has happened:
    In 2001, while it was Bush’s most solemn duty to protect the US from attack (we now know he belatedly knew of this due to it being heavily marketed in his re-election), Sunni fundamentalists senselessly murdered nearly 3000 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.
    In 2003, in order to prevent another attack like that, Bush ordered our armed forces to invade Iraq and depose SH.
    With SH deposed, men with extremely close and long standing ties to extremists in Tehran (al-Dawa, SCIRI) had the reins of power thrust into their hands democratically.
    All this has cost tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.
    Where’s the outrage?

  18. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    A few quotes from Tzu:
    “Poverty of the State exchequer causes an army to be maintained by contributions from a distance. Contributing to maintain an army at a distance causes the people to be impoverished.”
    “With this loss of substance and exhaustion of strength, the homes of the people will be stripped bare, and three-tenths of their income will be dissipated; while government expenses for broken chariots, worn-out horses, breast-plates and helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields, protective mantles, draught-oxen and heavy wagons, will amount to four-tenths of its total revenue.”
    …if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.
    “Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.”

  19. The mission of CENTCOM…
    “U.S. Central Command conducts operations to attack, disrupt and defeat terrorism, deter and defeat adversaries, deny access to WMD, assure regional access, strengthen regional stability, build the self-reliance of partner nations’ security forces, and protect the vital interests of the United States within the area of responsibility.”
    Victory in Iraq will be whatever we citizens are told it is once someone decides to leave.
    CENTCOM can continue its mission in other parts of its area of responsibility.

  20. Martin K says:

    I still dont understand why Bremer and Rumsfeldt are not on the television in orange suits. Iraq is entering a new phase, but to call it victory is just ridicolous. At the cost of your (US) national treasure, you have managed to stem the tide, but if this confrontation vs. islam continues, things may become very hairy.
    My advice is: Emulate the post-tsunami and post-earthquake in Pakistan mission profile for a while. Do good things. Dont invade Iran, fer fnucks sake.

  21. 1. The reason Rumsfeld isn’t in an orange jumpsuit is that he was right about the idiotic surge, the notion that more boots on the ground would be anything other than more meat in the meat grinder or more fish in the barrel for the insurgents to shoot. The surge passed Congress by late Feb. 2007 and in April, May, and June we had triple digit numbers for dead US soldiers three months in a row.
    2. The ONLY reason US corpses coming in through Dover AFB declined afterwards is that we and the insurgents agreed to a truce in the middle of June, and even then sustained triple digit casualties that month:
    As you’ll see from these two stories, the Iraq government is very angry since this undermines their power.
    3. Our collaboration with the insurgents, thus deliberately undermining Iraq’s security forces, is the nature of what an earlier poster (Homer) called ‘turds being shined’ – we were getting our rumps kicked, so we caved into the enemy, got a truce going so that eventually, even if not at the time of Gen. Betray-us’ “report,” we’d have some seemingly good news to report. Ironically, at the time of Betray-us’ report, there really wasn’t much good news to report since his ‘two big facts’ weren’t really relevant. Anbar is only 4% of the population of Iraq, so if it was doing better, then by definition the other places were no better or getting worse, and if eight of the past 12 weeks had fewer casualties, that was simply the July effect (July is too danged hot to fight, and casualties always went down in July in 2005, 2006, and 2007). Thus, ironically, it was only AFTER Betray-us’ report that there actually seemed to be any ‘real’ good news (namely, the declines in US fatalities in Sept., Oct., and Nov., though casualties per day in Nov. are HIGHER thus far than they were in the previous month), and as I’m saying, even THAT is only due to our sell-out to the insurgents.
    4. To tie Webley Webster’s, W. Patrick Lang’s, and Anna Missed’s comments together, yes, the Saudis DO control the whole deal, since they control George W. Bush who controls the US government, which should explain to Anna WHY there’d be any desire for a prolonged occupation on our part. The REASON for a prolonged occupation is to KEEP THE PRICE OF OIL AS HIGH AS POSSIBLE. If we had left years ago, most of the insurgents would have said ‘mission accomplished, the infidels are gone’ and would have stopped fighting, leaving only a small remainder to be crushed by the government. Oil prices would have plummeted afterwards. NOW, with our own government selling out to the insurgents, it’s more questionable which force will actually run things – the current government of those insurgents who are ‘in good’ with the US! Oil prices will still eventually plummet once we’re out of there, but short run, they might go even higher since we’ve now strenthened the insurgents’ hand with the truce – almost as if $100 oil were Bush’s goal, which is not crazy once you realize that the Saudis own him.

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