February 24, 2006
Brief Iraq Update
Interesting article in Time:
And the the key figure in bringing that about [forging a political consensus so as to stave off civil war] is less likely to be U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad than it is to be Moqtada Sadr, the radical firebrand Shiite cleric whose Mehdi Army militia has confronted the U.S. military in two insurrections since 2004.
Sadr's centrality in averting a civil war is based on three factors: He has emerged as the key power broker in the Shiite alliance that dominated January's election; his primary support base is among the 3 million Shiites of East Baghdad, which would put his militias on the main frontline of any sectarian civil war; and his uncompromising stand against the U.S. presence — as well as his opposition to the idea of a Shiite autonomous region in the south favored by the largest party in his coalition — has given him unparalleled credibility (for a Shiite leader) among Iraq's Sunnis. While Khalilzad has drawn the ire of the Shiite leadership for his efforts to pressure it into doing more to accomodate the Sunnis, Sadr represents a Shiite kingmaker with a history of reaching out to Sunnis on the basis of a common (if anti-American) Iraqi nationalism.
Sadr responded to the Samarra bombing by urging his fighters to guard Shiite holy places, but he has also appealed for restraint and warned against allowing outside elements to provoke an Iraqi civil war. He has also denounced the U.S. for failing to protect Shiites and has reiterated his demand for an American withdrawal from Iraq.
That position may yet resonate with the Sunnis, whose main political parties have long demanded a timetable for U.S. withdrawal — after all, neither side expects the Americans to protect them in the event of a full-blown civil war. In one of those paradoxes for which the Middle East is notorious, conventional wisdom throughout the region holds that a U.S. withdrawal would precipitate a civil war, but at the same time the call for such a withdrawal may be an integral part of any new national accord forged among Iraqis to avoid a civil war.
I differ with the author in that I think that a precipitous American withdrawal is much likelier to help ensure that a civil war erupts. So I guess I'm still in the CW column, per his categorization. Indeed, I fail to see how a new national accord will be facilitated by U.S. withdrawal. Left to their own devices, I am extremely skeptical that Iraqis will be able to forge a viable polity. They need, desperately still in my view, an American umpire, arbitrer, whatever you want to call it. And the security situation is dismal even with 133,000 US troops in theater. Imagine the scene without them, and how emboldened Sunni insurgents would be, not to mention Iranian infiltrators. See this too from today's NYT:
Iraqi security forces were unable — or, Sunni leaders suggested, unwilling — to quell the violence after the bombing. In many cases, the American military was either not present or not able to stop Shiite mobs exacting revenge killings across Iraq.
Military officials said the Pentagon was in effect watching and waiting to see what the next 48 hours would bring before deciding on whether a more visible American presence might be needed — in effect, sending American forces back into areas that they had turned over to the Iraqis.
A senior official said there was no thought being given now to changing the "trajectory" of pulling American forces back and eventually withdrawing part of them this year.
But other administration officials said expanding the American presence might be necessary to contain the violence, partly because despite strenuous efforts, the Iraqi armed forces are still divided along sectarian lines. In particular, Iraqi Sunnis see Shiite-dominated troops as part of the problem, not the solution.
"Just in the last 36-hour period, Sunni Arabs who were urging us to withdraw forces from cities like Baghdad are now urging us to stay," a senior American official said. "I don't know if the American military is reconsidering its posture, but I can tell you that the Iraqis are reconsidering."
I've argued this for a long time now. The trendline is going to be, as the months go by, Sunnis increasingly wanting the Americans to stay as protection against Shi'a revanchism. In the meantime, it is true, the Shi'a will get increasingly agitated vis-a-vis the Americans for holding them back from revenge attacks in the aftermath of events like the recent destruction of the shrine. But haven't we an obligation now, in one of those complex ironies that emerge from the fog of war, to protect moderate Sunnis from the wrath of Shi'a provoked by al-Qaeda and FREs (indeed some Sunni areas are becoming more fearful of Shi'a paramilitaries like the Wolf Brigades than their ostensible American foes)?
Meantime, don't miss this WaPo story, which differs from the NYT version to the extent it makes it seem the U.S. position is still more by way of putting Iraqi Forces out in front during the coming days. I think the WaPo story is likely more accurate, all told (so that re-insertion of US forces in areas turned over to Iraqi forces is not imminent), but, of course, this depends on levels of violence in the coming days. If the situation gets worse, I doubt Iraqi forces will be able to maintain any meaningful order, and then it will be crunchtime for US war planners. Not only will a more proactive posture be required, generally, but US forces might have to assist in separating belligerent factions, always a thankless task.
In the midst of all this near chaos, are there reasons for optimism? Yes. Sistani, despite seeming a tad less quietist in terms of directions to his flock, is still acting in moderate fashion--as is Sadr, relatively speaking, and for now. And never has there been a better timed and more critical curfew than that underway at the present hour (I'm writing this after midnight East Coast time). And this blogger (hat tip: Glenn) also makes some good points about why we're not quite at the gates of hell, although I have some quibbles with his arguments in parts (for instance, I can't help feeling that "civil war" is being defined up in some quarters, does it require set-piece battles to occur with armies facing each other in formation, is two-ways enough or does it have to be three-way, when does large scale sectarian violence become a civil war etc etc?)
At the end of the day, at this juncture, my take is pretty much per this quote below from the WaPo article:
This isn't a bump in the road, it's a pothole," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a senior policy and planning officer with U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the region. "And we'll find out if the shock absorbers in the Iraqi society will hold or whether this will crack the frame."
We don't know, but my gut tells me this shrine bombing doesn't necessarily crack the frame. But what happens the next time? And see this post too for concerns I have about Pentagon war planning generally. More over the weekend.
Posted by Gregory at February 24, 2006 05:20 AM
However one walked in to "Apocalypse Now" there were three ways to walk out:
- So appalled by the violence you became impotent to respond to evil.
- So appalled by the violence you resolved to meet evil.
- So appalled by the violence you resolved to find a justification for the fabric of society that was compelling to most others and a believer in defense against those who undermined it.
Society seems so overtaken by the first two, one on the left and the second on the right, that it is difficult for those of us in the third group to gain traction.
The Askariya Shrine Bombing in Iraq rattles like Kurtz' recollection of the inoculations -- where otherwise decent men set their morality aside. But rather than destabilizing society, the bombing should increase resolve to push the third group -- the work to master understanding the minimum fabric society needs for mutual benefit.
the best outcome for US has always been [well, for the last year at least] that if a political solution is not viable [and there was never much chance that it would be] that a civl war that pushed the Sunnis firmly into their camp leading eventually to a 'country' fractured into three autonomous zones would have to do. This is obvious since the only other option would be to leave the whole roilng mess to Iran - and one must assume that not even the Pentagon is that stupid.
Who benefits from civil war? Is it the people of Iraq?
If not, then why are so many so hell bent on it?
And, finally, at what point do we decide we have poured billions of dollars down a rathole, and still have no civil society in Iraq that can hold a nation together?
Sure, there should have been more troops. But Iraq has a people who have been empowered in many, many ways. And mosques blow up and mosques burn and the power still does not turn on. It's not just foreign fighters or a few malcontents who are doing these things.
When do they learn that there are consequences to their actions? And that those consequences are mainly responisble for their misery?
And for the US when do we decide that, perhaps, we are not solving the problem but simply enabling the pathology by protecting Iraqis from the ultimate consequences of their habitual rage?
It is horribly obvious that the bombing was intended to trigger this civil disaster. It was predictable somebody would try something like this. I think the Iraqis knew this. So why are they so anxious to rise to the bait? Do they not want Iraq to survive as a nation? Would they prefer Shiastan?
lets see now...for the last two days, Iraqis have been slaughtering each other while 130,000 plus US troops are....
doing what exactly?
Is this some sort of genocidal strategy by the US military? For us to sit back in the five permanent military bases we've built, allowing Iraqis to wipe each other out until they exhaust themselves and submit to the original "Iraq as a US puppet state" plan?
If we aren't going to help put a stop to this, then we should get the hell out immediately.
1. Sadrs been talking moderation, but from what I can gather the shiite violence has been largely done by his militias. I dont think its at all clear what his game is
2. Things seem to have quited down today. Of course thats with a curfew in effect. A curfew being enforced by Iraqi security forces.
I don't think the gunpowder plot will work. To the extent the plotters thought that Sunnis would rise up and take control of the country (or a portion thereof), it appears that most Sunnis were horrified by the events. If anything, they were demoralized by them.
What happens next? Two options: Sunnis become increasingly marginalized and virtual second-class citizens of Iraq OR Sunnis join the process and push for a truly liberal democratic system in which they are protected from discrimination and inequality.
Please explain how this:
"That position may yet resonate with the Sunnis, whose main political parties have long demanded a timetable for U.S. withdrawal — after all, neither side expects the Americans to protect them in the event of a full-blown civil war. In one of those paradoxes for which the Middle East is notorious, conventional wisdom throughout the region holds that a U.S. withdrawal would precipitate a civil war, but at the same time the call for such a withdrawal may be an integral part of any new national accord forged among Iraqis to avoid a civil war."
Equates to "a precipitous American withdrawal".
If anything, that paragraph explains a nuanced position where the gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops is a key "reward" to the cooperation of both Sunni and Shiite in the peace process. I believe that could be an excellent bargaining chip, not dissimilar to what Senator Levin wrote some months ago. Neither side wants us there, but the weaker side (Sunnis) would want us to help broker some acceptable compromise for both factions.
This has been a momentous pothole, and it will take weeks or months for the political results to shape themselves.
There are some major wild cards in this. Will the Shiite be less willing to accommodate Sunni moderates after this? Will the Sunnis remain bitter for the reprisal attacks? What will the militias do in the coming weeks, and the Interior Ministry? Today, yes, Hakim calls for peace and unity, but he called the attackers Takfiris -- and something tells me the Badr Brigade will not keep their gloves on when it comes to Takfiris.
It is way too early for battle assessment and optimism.
Not only will a more proactive posture be required, generally, but US forces might have to assist in separating belligerent factions, always a thankless task.
Not likely. Thankless task, produces casualties, no good comes of it.
More likely: provide arms to a weaker side, until they look comparatively strong. Then support somebody else. Let them fight each other until they're burned out, impose a cease-fire. Not thankless. They accept it, we take fewer casualties, we wind up on top, in charge, the winners.
We've seen this repeatedly with UN peacekeeping missions. Start out with two sides that want to do each other serious harm. Your job is to get in the middle between them and keep them from hurting each other without hurting either of them much yourself, for as long as they want to kill each other and you.
Guess the usual outcome....
No way are we going to accept that role. "I'm not the UN, I'm not stupid, and I'm not going."
from Iraq the model
"Looking at the geographic distribution of the attacked mosques, I found they were mostly in areas adjacent to Sadr city forming a line that extends from the New Baghdad district in the southeast to al-Hussayniya in the northeast.
The Association of Muslim Scholars is accusing the Sadrists in particular, actually it's not only the Association that accuses the Sadrists, most people here in Baghdad point out the role of Mehdi army of Sadr in carrying out most of the attacks.
The Association is trying to remind Sadr of the their times of solidarity during the battles in Najaf and Fallujah yet they are condemning his message to his followers in which he called for keeping up and escalating the "protests"."
Who benefits from civil war?
Israel, for one.
Israel does not benefit from a unified iraq, with steadily increasing strength, peacefully training scientists and engineers.
Israel does not benefit from several smaller unified arab nations, peacefully settling their differences.
Israel benefits from chaos. Every arab nation, every arab, is a threat. The more they destroy their infrastructure killing each other, the better off israel is.
And yet it doesn't really make sense for this to be an israeli operation. Zarqawi's group appears to have real connections to al qaeda. It appears to use real suicide bombers, something Mossad would be expected to have in strictly limited supply. It appears to be coincidence that they're working in israel's interest.
Zeyad at about 3 pm EST:
Friday, February 24, 2006
Fierce streetfighting at my doorstep for the last 3 hours. Rumor in the neighbourhood is that men in black are trying to enter the area. Some armed kids defending the local mosque three blocks away are splattering bullets at everything that moves, and someone in the street was shouting for people to prepare for defending themselves. There's supposed to be a curfew, but it doesn't look like it. My net connection is erratic, so I'll try to update again if possible. The news from other areas in Baghdad are horrible. I don't think it's being reported anywhere. My father and uncle are agitatedly walking back and forth in the hallway, asking me what we should do if the mob or Interior ministry forces try to attack us in our homes? I have no answer for them.
"In the midst of all this near chaos, are there reasons for optimism? Yes... never has there been a better timed and more critical curfew..."
Greg - Can you imagine back in April 2003 when Saddam's statue was being torn down that more than 2 years and over 250 billion dollars later you would be viewing a "curfew" no matter how well timed as a reason for optimism?
A long line of sometimes well intentioned, but almost never well thought out decisions has brought us to the precipice. We lost the initiative the day the statue fell and never regained it. We have been reacting to events and have spent far more attention and energy on messaging and domestic propaganda to maintain support for a failed non-policy than we have trying to actually objectively analyze the situation and develop a strategy that would minimize the tremendous amount of violence and loss of innocent life and enhance our long term security.
I'm not too far away from you on the current level of disintegration in Iraq. We have witnessed a real decline in the environment, but not a catastophic one.
However, I disagree with you that the answer is to stick it out indefinitely, and here's why.
We are moving away, not towards, any realistic chance of wrapping up militias, creating a government of diversified power centers, and restraining the Shiites. Khalizad is losing. He has less influence every day, and all sides know it. Money for Iraq outside of combat pay is only shrinking, and it'll continue to shrink. The Sunnis may dislike Zarqawi, but they're 100% behind their indigenous insurgents. The hatred yesterday was roots-based, and will continue to grow with violence. Khalizad's bluff has been called with militia weeding, and it's clear that that's what it was. The shiites, now or relatively soon, would rather have us leave. When the open demands begin, we will have only a short window before Iran kicks it up to Shiite-attacks. At that point, having nothing even resembling a dog in the fight, we absolutely will withdraw. Who would we side with? The Sunnis? Do you really see us supplying them with arms?
The point is that our influence with the Shiites is shrinking and that the sectarian hatred index is in a downward spiral. There's no reason it should lift. I can think of no event or external change that would do it.
The only argument for keeping US troops in is that they are the only thing keeping the lid on:
But they won't be able to keep the lid on forever. And the longer we stay, the more consolidated the Shiites will be.
If we had said in June 2004, instead of imposing the useless Alawi, "We're leaving in six months. PERIOD. Make peace NOW" - the Shiites might have been weak enough to go to the table with the sunnis.
Withdrawal is now not too early, but way, way too late. But the longer we stay, acting as an aritificial brake on the inherent power dynamics, the more violent will be the explosion when we cut it down.
Honestly, my advocacy of withdrawal now is kind of half-hearted.
The next couple bends in the road are basically set. I'm glad Bush will be in power through 2008, so that, just once, the American masses will have no good timetable in which to blame this one on the Democrats.
Hey, BTW, this was a great series of posts. I'm glad you've been galvanized into looking beyond the Beltway and at the outside world again.
I have always been skeptical of Time and Newsweek, who tend to favor sensational and shallow coverage and analysis of any issue, accompanied by sweeping statements.
This article seems to be no different. Time's startling declaration of Moqtada al-Sadr as a man of consensus is contradicted by many reports on the ground (see comments) of who is actually behind much of the anti-Sunni violence.
I'd have to agree re: Sadr, who may inspire passion among his followers but does not seem the kind of man to inspire trust in anyone else.
With regard to withdrawal of American forces, this may not be the prudent thing to do right now, but it certainly is something the American ambassador must be able to threaten. The danger now, as Steven Weisman writes in the NYT today, is that there may be some things that some Iraqis want more than they fear a civil war -- or, as he ought to have written but didn't, that there are many Iraqis who feel on some level that there has been a civil war going on for some time with mostly one side fighting it. In that case the threat that American forces might stand aside would carry little weight. Having said that, in something other than this worst case Khalilzad must be able to sell the case that America's army will not stay there indefinitely regardless of what happens or what Iraqis do.
Finally, I note once again Greg's focus on what is good for Iraq. I'm glad he is so broadminded, but it is passing strange that except when he raises the issue of prisoner abuse he speaks so seldom of what is good for America. Iraq is one, midsized Arab country, toward which the Bush administration chose to take drastic action for one reason and whose society it is now trying to remake for an entirely different reason, at a very high material cost and a very high opportunity cost. To "keep on keeping on" into the indefinite future does not strike me as the path of wisdom in a case like this. It wouldn't even if American resources were unlimited, as they are not, or again even if there were no other important claims on our time and energies, as there are.
What most people who discuss the "stupidity" of the Sunni's trying to start a civil war forget is that the overwhelming majority of the muslims in the world -- and in the region -- are Sunnis, and both "secular" Moslems and Sunnis will come to the aid of Iraq's Sunni minority to prevent a takeover of Iraq by religiously inspired Shia who will ally themselves with Iran.
(And lets not forget that Iraq has lots of scientists, raw materials, and perhaps even equipment laying around that would be very useful in an Iranian effort to build nukes....)
So sure, it looks like a dumb idea for the Sunnis to try and start a civil war in Iraq -- until you realize that they will have allies in that fight....
Lukasiak, do you expect a lot of egyptians to go to iraq and help stop the shia?
Or maybe turks?
Egypt and turkey together give you about 2:1 population compared to iran. And they're pretty much it in the region.
I have always been skeptical of Time and Newsweek
I doubt this will sooth you much. But here are some other sources.
Not at all a good weekend in Iraq. Whether or not this will subside is anyone's guess.
J Thomas, what about Saudi Arabia? Syria? Lebanon?
Sounds like you haven't seen a map in a little while. Here's a useful link.
Chris, egypt and turkey each have around 3 times the population of iraq, as does iran.
Saudi arabia has about the same population as iraq, as does syria+lebanon. Jordan is also small-population, a bit more than a fifth of iraq. Kuwait is insignificant.
If you want a lot of fanatics to sneak into iraq to terrorise shias while a lot of fanatics sneak into iraq from iran to terrorise sunnis, their population base is smaller than iran's unless you include either egypt or turkey.
Saudi arabia or kuwait or the UAE might provide money, but they won't provide a whole lot of people.
A little thought experiment for your die-hards. What are the conditions under which you would agree that the US needs to leave Iraq ASAP, accepting that this retreat is a strategic loss at a minimum, and shows that the Bush Iraq policy has been entirely misguided?
Similarly, what news could convince you that the war should never have been fought---at least not with Bush at the helm?
Can you conceive of any circumstances in which either of these two changes occurs? If not, then rationality flew your coop ages ago.
Saudi arabia or kuwait or the UAE might provide money, but they won't provide a whole lot of people.
jthomas... weapons and money are far more important than personnel in this kind of war....and with a nice porous Syria border through which Saudi Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood types from Eqypt could bring those supplies in, well....
we are talking about a potential bloodbath for both sunnis and shia.... in numbers that will make Saddam's atrocities look mild by comparison....
Lukasiak, yes, that's possible. Xugoslavia certainly had a bloodbath that made Tito's repression look like a day in sunday school.
But it isn't that the overwhelming majority of people in the area are sunnis -- the ratio is less than 3:2 unless you count egypt to bring it up to 9:4.
Anyway, it just occurred to me that this is potentially a big win in the WoT. If the jihadists get busy fighting shia, they sure won't have the resources to unify against *us*. We can sit back with cool drinks and watch muslims slaughter muslims, and just laugh at them.
We might never admit that this was the plan all along, but you have to admit it's brilliant. The wedge strategy applied to geopolitics. It makes a lot more sense than any of the things we said the war was about.
Let me be blunt.
The entirely wrong questions are being asked.
Iraq has effectively the same dynamics as Lebanon during its civil war.
One does not need to have large interest groups interested in and profiting from civil war, one only needs enough hard men with guns pushing at the boundaries to produce a security response. Shia rally to Shia, Sunni to Sunni, tribe to tribe.
Certainly not everyone, but enough will, and the cycle, unless there is something to truly break it, will continue. Rather like a runaway reactor. The Iraqi forces are an illusion, the heat is too high, and they'll decompose.
Frankly, I don't see any way out of a bloody civil war a la Beiruit 75-80. Of course, over at Aqoul I have been saying that ever since I got disgusted with the CPA. Bloody whankers made the bed.
If the jihadists get busy fighting shia, they sure won't have the resources to unify against *us*. We can sit back with cool drinks and watch muslims slaughter muslims, and just laugh at them. We might never admit that this was the plan all along, but you have to admit it's brilliant.
ah yes....we'll be able to sit back with cool drinks.... in the winter. In the summer, we won't be able to afford cool drinks, because the internecine warfare in the Arab world will create a worldwide shortage of crude oil, throwing the world's economies into a depression -- and only the wealthiest plutocrats will be able to afford the luxury of iced beverages on a hot summer day....
but other than considerations like that, I do see the advantages of your plan...
Lukasiak, I don't claim authorship of this plan. I hypothesize that it might be the classified plan that our government can't talk about to its citizens.
During the iran/iraq war, both sides kept shipping lots and lots of oil while they were slaughtering each other. Both sides broke their OPEC quotas because they needed the money for the war. The lower oil prices were, the more they had to pump to pay their expenses. The USA intervened when iran threatened oil shipments from the gulf from iraq. We sent in the fleet to protect oil shipments, we were glad for them to kill each other as long as they didn't interrupt our trade. We were nominally on iraq's side at the time, but it was an iraqi plane that 'accidentally' shot at one of our ships and did considerable damage. After a lot of tension we kind of forgave them.
Why couldn't it go that way again? The only problem is they don't have any reserve capacity, so they can't increase production enough to drive prices down.
But who would have time for suicide-bombing the USA when they're busy fighting a long bloody indecisive war with the shias?
j Thomas: "Anyway, it just occurred to me that this is potentially a big win in the WoT. If the jihadists get busy fighting shia, they sure won't have the resources to unify against *us*. We can sit back with cool drinks and watch muslims slaughter muslims, and just laugh at them."
This sort of war would *create* a very large number of jihadists, even more than wree created by the war in the past few years. And how much did 9/11 cost, in money and manpower? If we get to the state where the gov't Saudia Arabia is hopelessly riddled with people who have become 'jihadists' due to our actions, life will get rough.
Barry, you could easily be right. But while they're fighting each other to the death, they won't have a lot of attention or funding for opening up new fronts against additional enemies.
Of course we'd have to write off the weak governments of the various sunni areas. Some of them might survive, but we couldn't depend on it. But they're unlikely to last regardless, there isn't much we can do to prop them up over the next few years.
I don't *like* this solution, but it could be the plan we've been following over the last few years. Not something that could be announced publicly if so.
I found somebody who is willing to accept responsibility.
This guy points out -- when was the middle east the most peaceful? During the iran/iraq war when they killed a million muslims for no result. There were essentially no terrorist attacks, no threats to the USA, oil prices stayed low, it was a paradise on earth.
So he says a bigger muslim/muslim war would be even better.