Prospects in Iraq

Cfaa729fd7a04583c58de010__aa240__l "The deployment of more U.S. and Iraqi forces into AQI strongholds in Anbar Province and the Baghdad area, as well as the recruitment of Sunni tribal fighters to combat AQI operatives in those locations, has helped to deprive the militants of a secure base of operations, U.S. military officials said. "They are less and less coordinated, more and more fragmented," LTG Raymond Odierno, the second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, said recently. Describing frayed support structures and supply lines, Odierno estimated that the group’s capabilities have been "degraded" by 60 to 70 percent since the beginning of the year. "  Ricks and De Young


As I said in my recent talk at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, it seems likely to me that the sun is setting on AQ in Iraq.  There are three main reasons for that in this order of importance:

1- The Sunni Iraqi hostility to AQI which has emerged since Autumn, 2006.  I have discussed the reasons for this operationalized hostility in the talk mentioned above as well as in this space.  This development seems exportable to many parts of Sunni Iraq.  An underground irregular warfare organization still depends on its support in the population of its potential adherents.  Mao’s dictum on this subject concerning the fish and the sea remains as true as ever.  A modicum of accommodation on the part of the Shia run central government and the command of US forces should keep this phenomenon growing.  This is a death threat for the takfiri jihadis in Iraq.

2- The increase in US forces known popularly as "the surge" is serving to clear space in the cities for subsequent assertion of government control by Iraqi forces.  This is working rather well in the short term but long term success will be dependent on the ability of Iraqi forces to "take over’ responsibility for cleared zones and permanently exert government authority.

3- Continuing operations of US and Iraqi Special Operations counter-terrorist commandos against AQI cadres.  This activity is productive but, in and of itself, would never defeat AQI because the organization would simply continue to re-build itself from internal and external reinforcement if the political support of the Sunni Arab population did not come to an end.

If this tri-partite pattern of activity continues, then it is likely that the leadership of the international movement (in all its decentralised manifestations) will decide to "cut its losses," reduce commitments in Iraq and concentrate on other, seemingly more attractive fields of endeavor. 

Will that "solve" the Question of Iraq?  No.  It will not.  The mislabeled "political" problem of ethno-religious communal reconciliation will remain.  It will wait for a willingness on the part of the communities to share power and resources among them.  In addition, the inherent contest among the Shia factions will have to come to some end for true stability to emerge.

The Kurds?  Well, they watch and wait for US and Turkish action or inaction on their fate.

Iran will continue to play a delicate game, playing off the different Shia groups against each other in order to increase its own leverage, while keeping communications and minimal support ties with the Sunni Arab resistance.  Iran does not want to see a Sunni Arab resurgence in power but in the time honored Middle Eastern tradition of intrigue is quite willing to use Sunni fighters to keep pressure on both the Iraqi government and coalition forces.  All the while Iran waits for the Americans to decide that their position in all this can be greatly improved by serious bargaining over roles and relationships in the region.  pl

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27 Responses to Prospects in Iraq

  1. meletius says:

    So AQI is KIA. At some point this sideshow in the sunni ranks comes to an end, more or less, and the foreign occupying troops return as the main focus of the “resistance” and the great logjam facing Iraq.
    The US entered Iraq to create (knowingly or unknowingly) a shi’ite dominated political entity. That’s what the shi’ites (including Iran) are now expecting to obtain and what the sunnis are faced with—we are helping “the persians” take control. How is there any way around that, strategically?
    Either we’re tenaciously holding onto Iraq to aid shi’ite political power (which sunnis don’t want) or we’ve decided we made a big mistake and are now going to back and champion the old minority sunni power within Iraq (which shi’tes and kurds don’t want).
    So under any scenario, looks like we’ll be back in the minefield fairly soon.

  2. jonst says:

    My opinion on this (and that is certainly all it is….a layman’s opinion)remains the same. The US has jettisoned it stated strategic goal(however unrealistic and ludicrous,it may, or may, not, have been in the first place)of backing a strong central govt in Iraq that represented the will of the majority of the citizens of Iraq. (read: Shia). In exchange we have achieved, perhaps, a tactical goal. Namely, a peeling away of some part of the Sunni community from the insurgency. For the moment. And we are directing, and enabling, this faction of Sunnis to attack one of the their many natural foes, in this case AQ in Iraq. I believe it fair to say Col, you think this is, all things relative, a good thing. You have asserted in the past, if I recall correctly, that if we strengthen the Sunni community they might have enough confidence to come to the negotiating table. A sweeping generalization on my part but I hope a fair representation of your views. Some of your views, anyway.
    I tend to disagree with you to the extent I have accurately represented your views. I believe the Sunni and Shia communities are in the process, aided now by the US, wittingly or unwittingly, of drawing sharper battle lines. Outsides forces will provoke the civil war. Pitched battles will occur. I have no idea who might win or even what winning will look like.

  3. Chatham says:

    The hostility has been going on for longer than a year, both in terms of armed groups fighting and anger by the local population against radicals.

  4. Cloned Poster says:

    “The deployment of more U.S. and Iraqi forces into AQI strongholds in Anbar Province and the Baghdad area, as well as the recruitment of Sunni tribal fighters to combat AQI operatives in those locations.
    With learning curves like that, China must planning for their fourth year in occupation of Taiwan, before the penny drops at the Pentagon.

  5. Cloned Poster says:

    Novice here says, “he who pays the piper, calls the tune”
    “Piper” being the pipes of ultilities…. USA is in serious overdraft position.

  6. JohnH says:

    “Will that “solve” the Question of Iraq? No. It will not. The mislabeled “political” problem of ethno-religious communal reconciliation will remain (INCLUDING reconciliation with the US ethno-religious tribe). It will wait for a willingness on the part of the communities to share power and resources among them. (That includes the willingness of the US sect to share a substantial portion of the country’s oil wealth with the other sects.)

  7. Steve says:

    You analysis seems correct about the AQI situation amoung the Sunni population.
    I’m sure President George W Bush will use this kind of information to shamelessly mislead the United States public as he did before he and his organization decided to occupy Iraq.

  8. Cold War Zoomie says:

    It sounds like the “Anbar Model” has worked with regards to AQI for the most part. Now I’m looking for evidence that one of the following will become the *majority* within the Sunni circles:
    1. The Resistance. These are the folks who will turn around and start fighting us when they’re done with AQI. Their motivation may be personal revenge or just plain resistance against an occupying force. A broad political outcome is not their primary goal. Some of these guys never stopped fighting while the news shifted to AQI.
    2. The Wily Ones. These Sunnis recognize a stalemate when they see one. They know that President Bush isn’t pulling the troops out before he leaves office. They also know that we cannot be defeated in a traditional sense. And it sure as hell isn’t hard to figure out who has the most money and resources in Iraq right now: Uncle Sam, not Baghdad. So, these folks are coming up with every angle possible to give our next president what he/she needs to leave – an opportunity to declare “mission accomplished” one last time – while also trying to part us from as much of our money and resources as possible before the last truckload of ice cream machines leaves.
    So far, it’s worked pretty well for the Wily Ones. Now all they have to do is get us to start dumping tons of money into their towns and villages.
    Of course, individuals can roam in and out of these two groups depending on circumstances.
    The trouble is, this only concerns Sunnis. The Kurds and Shia are a different story.

  9. Charles I says:

    As the AQI threat is reduced 2 more problems will emerge for every success in Iraq. Assuming intra-Shia and intra-Sunni conflict does not fatally preclude some kind of modus vivendi between the two groups of groups – a mighty assumption given comments I saw after the recent assassination of the Sunni Shaik down south, to the effect that after AQI, the next Sunni target would be Baghdad – wither Iraq as a state given developments on the Turkish border in the north?
    Turkey was reported Sunday as shelling Kurdish villages near the border as reprisal for PKK attacks on
    Turkish forces. The Kurds care not for Iraq. Their designs on Kirkuk, and the oil wealth that must be shared in a sustainable
    Iraq don’t augur well should the Shia and Sunni ever reach some kind of accommodation to the south. What forces will compel their participation in an new Iraqi state, as opposed to just securing the Turkish border against the PKK?
    Its like a giant game of Problem Whack-a-Mole. Surely some of the most serious problems, papered over in pursuit of somebody’s legacy, will never totally manifest until AFTER the Occupiers leave the locals to their own bloodied devices.

  10. Mad Dogs says:

    Ok, I’m just trying to keep track of just who all has a hand in this here poker game. Let’s see:
    1. Shia Iraqis (multiple parties).
    2. Sunni Iraqis (multiple parties, but less than Shia).
    3. Kurdish Iraqis (multiple parties, but less than Sunnis).
    4. United States (multiple parties, but less than the Kurds).
    5. Iran (who knows if multiple parties?).
    6. Syria.
    7. Saudi Arabia.
    8. Turkey (multiple parties about the same number as the US?).
    9. Jordan (who knows if multiple parties?).
    10. Al Qaeda (multiple branches?).
    11. Britain (leaving but still interested).
    12. Israel (kibbitzing over US shoulder and occasionally behind US back).
    And finally there are the folks in the Peanut Gallery who are busy taking side bets on each play of a card:
    13. Russia.
    14. China.
    15. France.
    16. Other minor bettors and potentates worldwide.
    Have I missed anyone?
    And the game is? Liar’s Poker of course!

  11. Jose says:

    “All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” – Sun Tzu
    “We have made Italy. Now we have to make Italians” – Massimo d’Azeglio
    “regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings” – Bennedict Anderson
    “Tribal sovereignty means that; it’s sovereign. I mean, you’re a — you’ve been given sovereignty, and you’re viewed as a sovereign entity. And therefore the relationship between the federal government and tribes is one between sovereign entities.” — George W. Bush

  12. Tonsure Wimple says:

    In the 60’s there was this band called Steppenwolf. I always got the impression that anyone calling themselves “Al Qaeda of X” were like the bands touring around calling themselves Steppenwolf. One band is the singer, one band is the drummer and two roadies, etc. Not really to be taken seriously.

  13. Arun says:

    FYI, link to another Colonel’s top three reasons the US is in Iraq:

  14. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Lt. Col (Ret.) Kwiatkowski has been a reliable wirness to what she saw in Feith’s offices but she is in no sense an authority on the ME. pl

  15. jonst says:

    Mad Dogs,
    “Have I missed anyone?”
    Non-state actors who supply the ‘goods’ for the ‘party’; and reap great profits in the wake of the chaos. Perhaps the most important players here.

  16. W. Patrick Lang says:

    With regrd to 4GW theory. My problem with it is that it has been over sold. It has been sold not as an exposition of an eternal aspect of warfare which had been neglected, but rather as a substitute for all other forms of warfare in a radically new situation.
    Remember that I am an SF officer. It is to my advantage if the 4GW theorists carry the day, but the implications of their preaching would be that conventional forces would be neglected in th contest for rsources. That would be bad. pl

  17. JohnS says:

    Wow. There’s an eye-opening editorial in the WaPo today. 12 former Army captains who served in Iraq argue for immediate (not scaled) withdrawl. Here’s the link:

  18. b says:

    well, the twelve former army captains achieve one thing: Blame the Iraqis.
    They write: “indeed, many of us witnessed the exploitation of U.S. tax dollars by Iraqi officials and military officers”
    Yeah sure – what about that §23 billions of Iraqi funds the US got from the UN. $8 billion of that is “missing” the rest was spend on Halliburton to achieve nothing.
    Since 2006 no more US tax dollars go to Iraq reconstruction.
    How the f”’ can the captains blame the Iraqis for “graft”.
    I’m outraged.

  19. VietnamVet says:

    Your points are all well taken but I can’t help but feel the Sunnis are making alliances with Marines or whomever to prevent further ethnic cleansing.
    The 12 Captains are absolutely correct: “To continue an operation of this intensity and duration, we would have to abandon our volunteer military for compulsory service. Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq immediately. A scaled withdrawal will not prevent a civil war, and it will spend more blood and treasure on a losing proposition.”
    But the Captains, like are all Americans, have cognitive disonance. We are the Invaders. We are the Bad Guys to the Iraqis. The Germans kept down the French Resistance till too many troops were diverted to the Eastern Front. The Soviet Union controlled Eastern Europe until Afghanistan illuminated their basic weakness, but in the end the French, Poles, Hungarians, and even the Germans all regained control of their homelands. Sooner or later, all Invaders leave, the costs are too great; unless, they move their families, settle the land, kill the Aborigines and move the survivors onto Reservations.
    There never was and never will be a way America can colonize Iraq.

  20. rjj says:

    By way of umbrage …
    Seems to me the captains described the situation as they found it.
    Why would they dilute their op-ed message or clutter the print space with academic analysis?
    If I were doing cleanup/damage control, the details of who took the crap in the fan (and why, or the make and model of the fan) would not be high on my list of concern(s).

  21. anna missed says:

    Perhaps we need to question just how big a deal the roll-back of AQiM really is. The ease which the tribal folks have accomplished this, makes me suspicious, in that A) they seemed to have had this capacity all along, which implies that AQiM were never more than a useful idiot to the Iraqi Sunni’s anyway, and when they got too demanding they overstepped their usefulness – and so went easily poof, when the time came. B) Who exactly does this benefit, besides the Anbar folks, easy guess – but in the process the universal scapegoat has been put out of commission. And if the waves of civil war continue to break over Iraq without the reliable instigator, then who is to blame, and what then are the iron clad anti-terrorism rationals for continued U.S. presence? One thing for sure, we’ll get to see just how much of AQiM was made of straw, and how much was made of substance.

  22. W. Patrick Lang says:

    This reminds me of the age old phenomenon in military history in which the following takes place:
    – A situation or enemy is judged fearsome.
    – A victory is obtained nevertheless.
    – Historians judge the defeated opponent to have been inconsequential.
    Stonewall Jackson (look him up Americans) in 1862 (yes, that was in the past) faced several Union generals who each commanded larger forces than he. He defeated them all seriatim. Historians now say that his adversaries were

  23. Cold War Zoomie says:

    “Stonewall Jackson (look him up Americans)…”
    I looked up to him very frequently growing up. Didn’t have a choice…
    Stone Mtn
    Drinking beers, jumping over the “Off Limits-Do Not Climb” signs, and scaling that rock was always a good way to spend a summer evening.
    When I think of Confederate generals one always comes to mind before all others…
    NB Forrest
    Never have been an admirer of his politics, though, to say the least.

  24. Arun says:

    Dear Col Lang,
    Not being a Middle East expert does not preclude Col Kwiatkowski from being correct about the reasons for being there. It is at least as plausible as anything any of your readers has offered so far.

  25. Neo says:

    New hardship in Iraq ..

    At what’s believed to be the world’s largest cemetery, where Shiite Muslims aspire to be buried and millions already have been, business isn’t good. A drop in violence around Iraq has cut burials in the huge Wadi al-Salam cemetery here by at least one-third in the past six months, and that’s cut the pay of thousands of workers who make their living digging graves, washing corpses or selling burial shrouds.

  26. John Minehan says:

    I think the success story of the “Tribal resistance to AQ” is overblown. Sheiks, who are political, religious and judicial authorities, like an Hasidic Grand Rebbe, are killed all the time. When they are killed, they are killed in Raimadi and Fallujah, not out in the Vills. When the Sheiks came to the French side in Algeria (the “Bene Oui Oui”), it was because the people embraced the FNLN. When the Sheiks in Aden embraced the Brits, it was because the people embraced the Rebels. I think the real question you need to answer to know if the surge in working or not is who teaches the kids, staffs the mosques, adjudicates civil and criminal controversies and collects the taxes out in the Vills in Anbar? My guess is that it is not the Sheiks and it is not the tribes, and we are just before a nasty surprise about who will rebuild the failed state of Iraq.

  27. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    “(CNN) — The U.S. State Department is unable to account for most of $1.2 billion in funding that it gave to DynCorp International to train Iraqi police, a government report said Tuesday.
    The bottom line is that State can’t account for where it went,” said Glenn D. Furbish, who was involved in putting together the 20-page report for the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction (SIGIR).
    The Department of State’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) “did not have the information needed to identify what DynCorp provided under the contract or how funds were spent,” the report said.”

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