Saturday, April 10, 2004
An "Eyes-On" View of Iraq
from a veteran who's in-country
Josh Marshall has a friend on the ground in Iraq, a former Army Intel guy (perhaps one of my former associates), who's sending him occasional sitreps. He paints a picture of a country rapidly going from bad to ugly. Short-sighted decisions by the U.S. are making it worse. Here's a key graph:
General Kimmet is wrong if he thinks that he will destroy the Badr brigade or Sadr Army as a military organization because there isn't really one ... he will disperse them into small, highly armed teams of friends and ... voila! Al Qaeda-Iraq or Hezbollah-Iraq will be borne in numbers we will not be able to control. Since the ICDC [the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps] seem to have run off and joined the opposition in Nasiriyah it may reflect the true loyalties of the new Iraqi army and Police. No one is going to cross their family, tribe or religious community for the Americans.I hope he keeps these coming. I also hope he keeps his head down. Read the whole thing.
UPDATE: For some unexplained technical reason, I've been unable to upload this for several hours since it was written. My apologies.
Plenty of Bad News
Leading into Easter
No original thoughts from me today. Other people have some good ones.
Matt Yglesias notes that the U.S. doesn't negotiate with terrorists (a lie, by the way, that goes back to Reagan dealing with the Iranians so that he could clandestinely send illegal arms to terrorists -- oops, I meant Freedom Fighters -- in Nicaragua). So anyway, when U.S. needs to talk to the terrorists in Fallujah to coordinate a temporary cease-fire, they are no longer terrorists, but insurgents. Calvin Ball.
Billmon does a good job of articulating the mounting tension between the military, Procounsul Bremer's operation, and the crumbling Governing Council. Things seem to be going down hill pretty fast.
And CENTCOM is asking for more troops for Iraq. Gen. Erik Shinseki was right all along. Lots of people have written about it, including me. (see Post-war Planning for Iraq: a Victory of Arrogance, a Failure of Imagination) Tell me again why Paul Wolfowitz still has a job.
Tomorrow is Easter. Pray for Peace and Redemption. God knows we need it.
Friday, April 09, 2004
Where's the Leadership?
No offense to academics. Heck, some of my best friends are college teachers (at various levels of tenure and professorship).
One of my best army buddies has been working on his PhD for years. He was hoping to get a job teaching political science when he retired from the military, but wars kept getting in the way. The last I heard, he was working as a DOD civilian contractor in Baghdad.
But enough about me -- let's talk about Condi Rice. Her little performance before the 9/11 Commission was certainly underwhelming. She continued with the White House party line (structural problems, nothing we could have done, CIA's fault, FBI's fault, Clinton's fault).
She comes across as both an academic ideologue, and a bureaucratic syncophant, personally loyal to George W. Bush who gave her such an important, high-profile job. Her loyalty is admirable, if terribly misplaced.
My real complaint with Ms. Rice is that she's completely unqualified for the job she is expected to perform. She doesn't have the tools in her tool kit, and it's doubtful that she ever will.
Sure, perhaps she was an expert on the 1980s-era Soviet military. That and 3 bucks will get you a mocha down at the corner shop where Josh Marshall does most of his writing.
If her major shortcoming isn't immediately obvious, it's because her position is mis-named. She's the National Security Advisor, and if all she had to do was advise the president, she might be up to the task.
But the National Security Advisor is supposed coordinate all the various arms of the national security apparatus. This is, in reality, a leadership position. Rice was also put in charge of a task force to cut red tape in the reconstruction and democratization of postwar Iraq. I guess we have her leadership to thank for all those no-bid contracts that Haliburton subsidiaries got so they could price-gouge the Army in Iraq.
Say what you will about the military. It has the best built-in leadership training program at every level of any large organization anywhere. Officers and enlisted personnel are sent off to a school every few years to learn the things they'll need to know at their next level of responsibility. I once overheard my Detachment Sergeant counseling one of his young NCOs:
"You could get away with asking what you were supposed to do when you were a corporal," he said. "Now that you're a sergeant, I expect you to know what you're supposed to do."In academia, this doesn't happen. One may get smarter in one's area of expertise. But nobody teaches college professors how to be in charge of anything.
Fred Kaplan at Slate takes a look at how this plays out in Ms. Rice's work as the National Security Adivsor, especially in light of the national security failures of 9/11. Needless to say, he is not impressed.
One clear inference can be drawn from Condoleezza Rice's testimony before the 9/11 commission this morning: She has been a bad national security adviser -- passive, sluggish, and either unable or unwilling to tie the loose strands of the bureaucracy into a sensible vision or policy. In short, she has not done what national security advisers are supposed to do.
Responding to Ben-Veniste, Rice acknowledged that Clarke had told her that al-Qaida had "sleeper cells" inside the Untied States. But, she added, "There was no recommendation that we do anything" about them. She gave the same answer when former Navy Secretary John Lehman, a Republican and outspoken Bush defender restated the question about sleeper cells. There was, Rice said, "no recommendation of what to do about it." She added that she saw "no indication that the FBI was not adequately pursuing" these cells.
Here Rice revealed, if unwittingly, the roots -- or at least some roots -- of failure. Why did she need a recommendation to do something? Couldn't she make recommendations herself? Wasn't that her job? Given the huge spike of traffic about a possible attack (several officials have used the phrase "hair on fire" to describe the demeanor of those issuing the warnings), should she have been satisfied with the lack of any sign that the FBI wasn't tracking down the cells? Shouldn't she have asked for positive evidence that it was tracking them down?
Former Democratic Rep. Tim Roemer posed the question directly: Wasn't it your responsibility to make sure that the word went down the chain, that orders were followed up by action?
Just as the Bush administration has declined to admit any mistakes, Condi Rice declined to take any responsibility. No, she answered, the FBI had that responsibility. Crisis management? That was Dick Clarke's job. "[If] I needed to do anything," she said, "I would have been asked to do it. I was not asked to do it."The person in charge of our nation's national security doesn't do anything unless she is asked to do it? I'm sorry, but where I come from that doesn't cut it.
(Thanks to Fred Clark at Slacktivist and Avedon Carol at The Sideshow for the links.)
It's going to be a very light blogging day for me today. But I would like to point out a couple of things you might want to read.
Mark Kleiman has a good summary of what's being written by some of the Iraqi bloggers. Worth the read to get their perspective on the current situation.
Legal Fiction tells how to send books, magazines, and other stuff to troops in Iraq. Regardless of your feelings about the Iraqi war, I hope you will have some compassion for the troops who are there in the middle of that mess. Do something good on Good Friday. Send something to those who are serving.
Finally, be sure and check in with Juan Cole for reports on what is actually happening in Iraq. I haven't found anyone in the blogosphere who's got a better handle on it.
Thursday, April 08, 2004
The Pentagon is in Denial
and the White House is Out to Lunch
Neither will admit how bad it really is
James Risen, writing in the New York Times (registration required), says the intelligence folks are saying that there is, in fact, a broad-based uprising taking place against the U.S. occupation forces. This contradicts statements this week from Donald Rumsfeld and the White House.
United States forces are confronting a broad-based Shiite uprising that goes well beyond supporters of one militant Islamic cleric who has been the focus of American counterinsurgency efforts, United States intelligence officials said Wednesday.
That assertion contradicts repeated statements by the Bush administration and American officials in Iraq. On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that they did not believe the United States was facing a broad-based Shiite insurgency. Administration officials have portrayed Moktada al-Sadr, a rebel Shiite cleric who is wanted by American forces, as the catalyst of the rising violence within the Shiite community of Iraq. But intelligence officials now say that there is evidence that the insurgency goes beyond Mr. Sadr and his militia, and that a much larger number of Shiites have turned against the American-led occupation of Iraq, even if they are not all actively aiding the uprising.That's only half of the bad news. The other half is that the Sunnis and Shi'ites are starting to work together. This from Jeffrey Gettleman, also in the Times:
According to several militia members, many Shiite fighters are streaming into Falluja to help Sunni insurgents defend their city against a punishing Marine assault. Groups of young men with guns are taking buses from Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad to the outskirts of Falluja and then slipping past Marine checkpoints to join the battle.
"We have orders from our leader to fight as one," said Nimaa Fakir, a 27-year-old teacher and foot soldier in the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia. "We want to increase the fighting, increase the killing and drive the Americans out. To do this, we must combine forces."Apparently, the U.S. commander on the ground is somewhat less clueless than his bosses back at the Pentagon.
"The danger is we believe there is a linkage that may be occurring at the very lowest levels between the Sunni and Shi'a," Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the occupation forces, said today. "We have to work very hard to ensure that it remains at the tactical level."Those who are surprised by this development shouldn't be. It is exactly what happened in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Tribes that fought one another for generations joined forces against their Soviet occupiers.
The fact that the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan eventually drove the Soviets out of their country is not lost on the Iraqis. They'll settle their internal scores once they kick out the infidels.
New Front in the War on ... Porn
Attorney General John Ashcroft is not letting the War on Terror get in the way of the Cultural War. The Department of Justice has just opened a new front against soft porn in hotel rooms.
You can't make make stuff like this up. Mark Kleiman has the story.
Quote of the Day:
from The Command Post
"Where does the USA get women like these?"
From a U.S. soldier who survived what sounds like the situation in Kut:
The Alamo is over-rated as a tourist attraction, dammit
We faced a force of four to five hundred rebels, with mortars, RPGs and various handheld weapons. There were four US soldiers---myself and the other people in my team----about twenty Ukrainian soldiers, and thirty or so scared British and Aussie expats, including the British governor. The Ukrainian soldiers had a couple tank/hybrid vehicles, but they didn’t have much ammo for them. By midnight, everyone was running out. We kept impressing this on Higher, and they just couldn’t get that through their heads. What the fuck good are they? We are running out of ammo. We will be over-run if light hits this place in the morning and finds us still here.
More than that, it was the concrete reality that you were going to die. I felt that a few times yesterday, last night, and this morning. Escape attempt after attempt fell through, and those mortars started hitting the grounds, the gate, the vehicles. The enemy sent word that when darkness fell, they were going to over-run the compound and exterminate everyone there. The whole Iraqi security force just up and quit. One guy claimed that his mother had had a heart attack and he had to go home. I heard that on the radio myself. It’s the dog-ate-my-schoolwork excuse as applied to battle.
Fallujah was on everyone’s mind, but nobody---thank God----said it.It's a great piece of first-hand narrative from a woman in combat. Read the whole thing.
Just when you thought the U.S.
had everything under control
From Reuters this morning:
Forces of a renegade adviser to the Afghan president have overrun the capital of a northern province, a defense ministry official said on Thursday.
"Both the governor and the commander have fled. Dostum's forces have overrun Maimana," said the ministry official, who did not want to be identified.
The ministry earlier began flying the first of several hundred troops to restore order in the remote northern province of Faryab after forces of ethnic Uzbek strongman General Abdul Rashid Dostum occupied several districts on Wednesday and surrounded the capital Maimana.Be sure to read Seymour Hersh's The Other War: Why Bush’s Afghanistan problem won’t go away, a very timely article in the latest issue of The New Yorker. Here are four key graphs:
Rothstein wrote that Rumsfeld routinely responded to criticism about civilian casualties by stating that “some amount” of collateral damage “is inevitable in war.” It is estimated that more than a thousand Afghan civilians were killed by bombing and other means in the early stages of the war. Rothstein suggested that these numbers could have been lower, and that further incidents might have been avoided if Special Forces had been allowed to wage a truly unconventional war that reduced the reliance on massive firepower.
The Administration’s decision to treat the Taliban as though all its members identified with, and would fight for, Al Qaeda was also a crucial early mistake. “There were deep divisions within the Taliban that could have been exploited through a political-military effort which is the essence of unconventional warfare,” Rothstein said. “A few months of intensive diplomatic, intelligence and military preparations between Special Forces and anti-Taliban forces would have made a significant difference.”
Instead, Rothstein wrote, the American military campaign left a power vacuum. The conditions under which the post-Taliban government came to power gave “warlordism, banditry and opium production a new lease on life.” He concluded, “Defeating an enemy on the battlefield and winning a war are rarely synonymous. Winning a war calls for more than defeating one’s enemy in battle.” He recalled that, in 1975, when Harry G. Summers, an Army colonel who later wrote a history of the Vietnam War, told a North Vietnamese colonel, “You never defeated us on the battlefield,” the colonel replied, “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.”
Rothstein delivered his report in January. It was returned to him, with the message that he had to cut it drastically and soften his conclusions. He has heard nothing further. “It’s a threatening paper,” one military consultant told me. The Pentagon, asked for comment, confirmed that Rothstein was told “we did not support all of his conclusions,” and said that he would soon be sent notes. In addition, Joseph Collins told me, “There may be a kernel of truth in there, but our experts found the study rambling and not terribly informative.” In interviews, however, a number of past and present Bush Administration officials have endorsed Rothstein’s key assertions. “It wasn’t like he made it up,” a former senior intelligence officer said. “The reason they’re petrified is that it’s true, and they didn’t want to see it in writing.”
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
The Logic of Guerrilla Warfare:
We're losing friends fast
Back in the days when I worked in the Special Operations community, we used to say that there were two kinds of missions. There were the "winning the hearts and minds" missions. And there were the "kill people and break things" missions.
The American military has crossed a threshold in its war of occupation in Iraq. Judging by the operations carried out today, the focus of the U.S. forces has definitely shifted from "Hearts and minds" to "Kill people and break things."
No one knows for sure the numbers, the actual size of the various Iraqi forces that have been engaging U.S. and coalition units during the past few days. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld described the number of anti-coalition forces as relatively small:
"You have a mixture of a small number of terrorists, a small number of militias, coupled with some demonstrations and some lawlessness," he said.Rumsfeld has always tried to play down any opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, referring to the Iraqi resistance with terms like "bitter enders." The idea that large numbers of everyday Iraqis might not appreciate the U.S. invading their country and then handing it over to a bunch of Iraqi ex-patriots simply doesn't fit into his reality of the world. And the actual numbers of those Shia and Sunni militiamen who are engaging coalition forces may be relatively small.
But that may not last for long. A little cultural insensitivity here, a little more collateral damage there, you bomb a couple of mosques, and the next thing you know, the vast majority of the Iraqi people, at least in some parts of the country, aren't so receptive to the on-going U.S. occupation of their country anymore. They're not especially neutral either. They're mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore.
It's about that time that you realize that there are a whole lot more people in Iraq that you have to categorize as "the enemy." Digby made this point pretty well:
I have noticed a new proclivity among the press to call the Iraqi insurgency "the enemy." No doubt the military sees them as such since they are exchanging gunfire. And, perhaps the CPA and the US government see them as "the enemy" too. It's strange, though. I thought "the enemy" was Saddam Hussein and his Sunni "bitter enders." But, the pictures I saw of the 4 corpses being defiled in Fallujah showed that many of the perpetrators were children. Are they bitter enders, too? Are they "the enemy?"
Now we are calling Sadr and his militia "the enemy," too. Fred Barnes is saying on Fox that the military has to "take out" the bad guys in Fallujah and Ramadi as well as "take out" Sadr and his followers before the June 30 takeover.
So the dream of a united Iraq may come to pass after all.
First they told us that we went into Iraq to disarm Saddam Hussein, but there were no weapons. Then they said we went into Iraq because Saddam had worked with al Qaeda, but we have found no evidence of those ties. Finally, they insisted that the real reason we went into Iraq was to liberate the Iraqi people from their ruthless dictator. Now, Saddam is behind bars, his sons are dead and yet Iraqis from one end of the country to the other, Sunni and Shi'a alike, are "the enemies" that we must "take out."The guerrilla always operates from a position of weakness. A common strategy in guerrilla wars for decades has been to cause the stronger side to over-react, to crack down, and in the process, to alienate the masses, causing them to support the cause of the guerrillas. Here's a perfect example:
Abu Hussam, an elderly man in Haswa just east of Fallujah, said: "We were pleased when the Americans overthrew Saddam's miserable regime but today our lives are worse than they were when he ruled in Baghdad." He said he hoped the insurgents would win.There are no easy solutions to the mess the U.S. has made of Iraq. But every time we bomb a mosque, destroy some homes, or fire into a crowd, we push Abu Hussam and thousands of other like him into the waiting embrace of one armed faction or another. Either way, it's bad news for any hope of a peaceful resolution to the U.S. destabilization of Iraq. And bad news for the GIs we've sent there to clean up the disaster Mr. Bush and his fixers have created.
Tuesday, April 06, 2004
Iraq and Tet:
and Afghanistan and Mogadishu
The sudden escalation of violence in Iraq over the past few days has brought back memories of the Tet Offensive of 1968 in the Vietnam War. While not a tactical victory for the Communists, it shattered the image that the Johnson administration had been selling to the American people that all was well and that victory was soon at hand.
Billmon takes a look at the similarities and differences between Tet in 1968 and the dual Sunni-Shi'a uprisings in Iraq this week:
It's almost always a bad idea for guerrillas to come out and try to hold territory against a modern military machine like Centcom. Tactical surprise only takes you so far, and while the Sunnis may have gotten the better of the Marines today, Centcom almost certainly will try to deal out an annihilatory response. And God help any civilians who happen to be in the way.
In the end, Tet virtually decimated the Viet Cong's main battalions, forcing the North Vietnamese to rebuild them from scratch using NVA regulars. It was a price Hanoi was willing to pay to deliver what turned out to be a knockout blow to the Johnson administration. History suggests Hanoi got the better end of the bargain.I suspect that it isn't Tet that the Iraqi insurgents are thinking about. There are two other conflicts, both closer to home and fresher in the memory. They are a deep source of militant Muslim pride, and they provide a source of inspiration to both Sunnis and Shi'ites who choose to fight.
The first is the defeat of the Russians in Afghanistan. At the time, the Soviet army was arguably the most powerful military in the world. But in the end, they were driven out by the mujahadeen (supplied by the CIA with American-made Stinger surface to air missiles). The second was the American pull-out from Somalia. Though the troops who fought in Mogadishu demonstrated unquestionable courage and fortitude, the lesson that many in the Middle-East internalized was that, if there are enough American bodies in the news, the Americans will go home.
Mistakes Were Made:
Two kinds of plans
Kevin Drum sees much of the current troubles in Iraq as beginning with the decision to disband the Iraqi army.
This was one of the first acts directed by Paul Bremer, when he took over the show in Iraq from Jay Garner. Garner wanted to keep the Iraq army intact as a source of stability during the transition to future democracy and a return to Iraqi sovereignty. Kevin notes:
It's possible, of course, that nothing we could have done would have made a success of Iraq -- and Garner probably had his faults too. But from where I sit, the hasty decision to disband the army seems like it was the one big mistake from which all the others have followed.Then he links to Lerxst who cites an old quote from Newsweek, that says the "de-Bathification" decision came straight from George W. Bush.
Bush himself, in fact, may have had a direct hand in one of the most disastrous decisions of the postwar period: the move to "de-Baathify" Iraq to the point of dismantling the entire Iraqi Army. U.S. officials now believe that former Iraqi Army officers are among the leaders of the insurgency. When Bremer arrived in Baghdad in mid-May, the insurgency was just getting started, and clots of former Iraqi troops were reappearing, asking to be remobilized. Bremer, who has been widely blamed for reversing the decision of his predecessor, Jay Garner, to hire such men and pay them, was warned he would cause chaos by demobilizing the Army instead. The CIA station chief told him, “That’s another 350,000 Iraqis you’re pissing off, and they’ve got guns.” According to one official who attended the meeting, Bremer replied: "I don’t have any choice ... Those are my instructions." Then Bremer added: "The president told me that de-Baathification is more important."Let's say it one more time, just so no one forgets:
Just another indication that the Bushies only seem to have two kinds of plans: bad ones and nonexistent ones. There are times when it's hard to say which is worse.
Quote of the Day
Clearly, if this thing got out of control over there, we would have to start looking at the number of forces that we have in theater and whether they were adequate to meet our needs.Newsday quoted a senior official at CENTCOM, the unified command that has responsibility for operations in Iraq.
The CENTCOM officer was speaking on the condition that his name not be used. He also mentioned that several units, due to return to the U.S. soon, might be held over a little longer in Iraq to provide a little additional fire-power while their replacements were rotating in.
What I find interesting in this is that, while the officer was just talking about contingency planning, not what they are doing right now, mentioning the possible need for more troops flies in the face of rhetoric from the senior civilians in the Pentagon, who have insisted from the get that don't need any more troops in Iraq.
The Newsday report continues:
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has long resisted calls from some in Congress and outside analysts to add U.S. troops to help stabilize Iraq.
Two senior Pentagon officials sought to downplay the Central Command official's statements, saying he was referring mainly to the most likely option: to move U.S. troops already in Iraq into other, more dangerous parts of the country to boost security. The senior Central Command official, however, did not specifically limit his comments to that option.Looks like we may be seeing a little divergence of opinion between Rumsfeld and his think-tank weenies on the one hand, and the men and women who actually have to fight the war on the other. Imagine that.
Monday, April 05, 2004
Blogging for Babbitt
There are good reasons for you to
contribute to his campaign
I hope you've noticed the request over to the left where I ask you to lend your support (that's cash) to the Paul Babbitt for Congress campaign.
From everything I've read, and from what I've heard from people who live in his congressional district, Paul Babbitt is a genuinely good guy. His opponent, on the other hand, freshman Republican Rick Renzi, is not.
Here are a few graphs from a recent article in the Arizona Republic:
Another last-minute vote switch by freshman Republican Rep. Rick Renzi this week helped kill a Democratic effort in the House requiring that any tax cuts or benefit increases be offset with savings elsewhere in the federal budget.
As Republican leaders urged defeat of the motion in the final minutes of the vote Tuesday, Renzi and seven other Republicans changed their votes from "aye" to "nay."
The vote ended in a 209-209 tie, killing the measure.
The episode is not the first time Renzi has switched his vote to help derail a provision opposed by the GOP leadership. In October, he switched his vote at the last minute to help kill an effort to give a one-time $1,500 bonus to members of the military for their service in Iraq and Afghanistan.In short, Renzi is exactly the kind of toady that Tom DeLay knows he can tap when he needs a critical vote. And for his unswerving loyalty, DeLay throws Renzi a few little slices of pork to bring back to the district, so it will look like Renzi is really working hard for the good folks back home.
This is exactly the sort of politics that allows the Republicans to claim to be fiscal conservatives while they're running up the deficit and hocking our treasury the Saudis and the Chinese. I personally find it disgusting.
Do something good for America this week. Help elect one more good Democrat to Congress. Send Paul Babbitt a few bucks so he can send Renzi back to Virginia.
When are the adults
going to be in charge again?
Not quite a month ago, I wrote in Post-war Planning for Iraq: a Victory of Arrogance, a Failure of Imagination:
The fact that the U.S. army prevailed in combat against the Iraqi army didn't surprise anyone. But the smaller size of the U.S. force began to have consequences immediately following the defeat of the Iraqi army. While America brought enough troops to win the war, they were not enough to secure the peace. Issues of looting, securing suspected nuclear sites and arms caches, and the ability to provide security throughout a nation the size of California came to the forefront.
And it became immediately clear that the rosy scenario that Ahmad Chalabi and his friends in the Iraqi National Congress had painted for Dick Cheney and the Pentagon's civilian leadership, that of the Iraqi people joyously welcoming the American's as liberators, wasn't anywhere close to accurate. As a result, the effort to secure and rebuild Iraq was going to be a lot more difficult than Donald Rumsfeld and his chief assistants had imagined.
In their arrogance, they chose to disregard well thought out Army studies about the difficulty of winning the war, securing the peace, and the size of the force necessary to do it.Now that combination of ignorance and arrogance is coming to bite us in the ass with a vengeance.
Josh Marshall quotes some insider observations that were reported in the Nelson Report:
Gloom...has been building over Iraq. Increasingly, the Wise Heads are forecasting disaster. Wise Heads say they see no realistic plan, hear no serious concept to get ahead of the situation. Money, training, jobs...all lagging, all reinforce downward spiral highlighted by sickening violence. There seems to be no real "if", just when, and how badly it will hurt U.S. interests. Define "disaster"? Consensus prediction: if Bush insists on June 30/July 1 turnover, a rapid descent into civil war. May happen anyway, if the young al-Sadr faction really breaks off from its parents. CSIS Anthony Cordesman's latest blast at Administration ineptitude says in public what Senior Observers say in private...the situation may still be salvaged, but then you have to factor in Sharon's increasing desperation, and the regional impact.
Note: "quagmire"...when you are in a bad situation you created yourself, and would quit in a minute if you could, but which if you did, it would make everything else worse. So you can't...and it gets worse anyway. (Apologies to Bierce...)
1. Comes word from Very Senior Foreign Policy Observers that the situation now unfolding in Iraq is "a qualitative change of very profound significance. The chances of something like a general breakdown after the July 1 transfer is accelerating." The Observation continues: "Even if [dissident cleric Muqtada] al-Sadr is arrested, the whole question is whether the Shi'ia majority is comfortable with continued U.S. occupation." The suggested answer seems to be "no".
-- the Observer goes on to warn that, on the basis of personal soundings within the Administration, the conviction arises that the White House has "no concept of how to manage the crisis, no plan in place likely to work." This Observer last week relayed a concern that President Bush was not being given accurate reports from Iraq, but today, one assumes that even a President who prides himself on not reading the newspapers now grasps that things are not necessarily proceeding to our advantage, to borrow an historic phrase.I am reminded of the words of my old comrade Del, after he had returned from a year of duty in Iraq. This was his assessment of the people who sent the U.S. Armed Forces into Iraq:
They are either liars or they are incredibly stupid. The net result is about the same.I'm afraid we're about to see just how costly that net result really is.
Sunday, April 04, 2004
Bad News in Iraq
did not come without warning
The war in Iraq appeared to enter a new phase over the weekend. Reuters reports:
Open warfare between U.S.-led forces and radical Shi'ite militiamen left at least nine coalition troops and 21 Iraqis dead, officials said on Monday, raising the spectre of a new front in the Iraq conflict.
Ferocious gun battles killed seven American soldiers in Baghdad and more than 20 people near the city of Najaf, posing an unprecedented challenge to occupation forces ignited by their attempts to crack down on a radical Shi'ite faction.Juan Cole, perhaps the most knowledgeable blogger on Iraq and the rest of the middle east, suggests that the U.S. may be way under-force to deal with the situation if it continues to escalate.
The outbreak of Shiite/Coalition violence is a dramatic challenge to US military control of Iraq. The US is cycling out its forces in the country, bringing in a lot of reserve and national guards units, but will go from 130,000 to only 110,000 troops. It is too small a number to really provide security in Iraq, but the country has not fallen into chaos in part because the main attacks have come in the Sunni heartland and because the Coalition has depended on Shiite militias to police many southern cities. If the Shiites actively turn against the US, the whole military and security situation could become untenable.Finally, Josh Marshall puts the violence in perspective and notes that many in Washington have let their wishful thinking about Iraq provide a rose-colored assessment of the situation.
Time, however, was very much on the side of the Shia. From a cynical viewpoint, why not let their American and Sunni enemies bloody each other into exhaustion in the central Iraq and sit back and wait on the day -- not too distant, certainly -- when they would inherit the new Iraqi state?
A central question has always been, when would the Shia come off the sidelines? A number of Sunni attacks have been aimed at triggering just that.
Now, they seem to have come off the sidelines with a vengeance, though the particular trigger here seems to be factional rivalry within the Shia community.
In any case, it really amounts to the same thing. Part of the myopia of the Iraq is hunky-dory crowd was not to recognize -- and in this case I'm talking really about political spinners in Washington, the policy types across the political spectrum understand this -- that the key ethno-factional groupings in the country have been hanging back and strengthening themselves to have it out with each other after we depart. As I noted earlier with the Shia, they were in no rush: why not let us kill a lot of their Sunni opponents while they prepare for the real battles -- either political or paramilitary -- after we leave?
It will be critical to see, in the coming days, whether this is one spasm of violence (organized by the young firebrand Muqtada Al-Sadr in response to being shut out of the political process by the Americans) which can be brought under control or whether this is the first day of a new phase of violence or even uprising.
The reality is that the US doesn't have anywhere enough soldiers in the country to control the place if there's this sort of widespread violence on an on-going basis. That could quickly lead to a vicious cycle which will put a virtual end to reconstruction and prevent the coming into being of any entity for us to hand the place off to. In Jefferson's ugly phrase, we may end up holding the wolf by the ears.This is one of those times when I don't delight in being right. But back in mid-February, I noted in Spiraling Out of Control that the U.S. intelligence community was warning of the possibility that Iraq was stumbling toward civil war. For everyone who is in-country right now, Iraqi and Coalition, we should all hope that isn't what's actually happening.
Major Violence in Najaf and East Baghdad
China View has picked up a story from al-Jazeera on mounting violence in Iraq in the past 24 hours:
More than 20 supporters of the firebrand Shiite cleric, Moqtada Sadr, were killed and dozens of others injured in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf on Sunday as Moqtada called for jihad, the Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV reported.
The clashes took place after the coalition troops opened fire on thousands of Shiite demonstrators outside their base in Najaf, the channel correspondent reported.
The death toll rose due to the continuing of armed clashes and the large number of seriously injured people, medical sources were quoted by the channel as saying.
Moqtada Sadr called on his supporters to stop demonstrations and retaliate by guns and finally he called for jihad (holy war) in a statement issued by his office.
Sadr, a young and radical Shiite cleric, has often challenged the US-led occupation and the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, in contrast to many other Shiite groups that have cooperated with the occupying forces.Juan Cole provides some good background on the situation:
Some 5,000 followers of Muqtada al-Sadr marched through largely Shiite East Baghdad on Saturday, protesting the closure of his al-Hawzah newspaper. The building demonstrations come against a backdrop of continued violence in Iraq.
The night before, heavy fighting had broken out in Kufa, a town of about 120,000 near Najaf south of Baghdad, acorrding to The Washington Post It involved rocket propelled grenade fire. It is murky who was fighting whom. Kufa is the headquarters of Muqtada al-Sadr, the young, radical leader of militant ghetto Shiism in Iraq. In the past his followers have clashed with the militia of the Badr Corps, associated with the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, headed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. On two occasions last fall, Sadrists clashed with US military forces.
Several thousand Shiite protesters had gathered outside the headquarters of the American administration of Iraq in downtown Baghad on Friday. Press accounts differ on the size of the crowds, with The Washington Post, presumably relying on Coalition Provisional Authority sources, putting them at only 1500, while Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald called it the largest protest rally yet assembled outside the Coalition HQ, some 20,000 strong. The throngs objected to the the closure last Sunday of the al-Hawzah newspaper of Muqtada al-Sadr.Busy non-blogging day for me, but we'll have more on this I'm sure.