December 10, 2004

Mosul Watch

A couple weeks back I poo-pooed the notion, rather breathelessly reported in the NYT, that a full-fledged "second front" had opened up in Mosul. I still think it's not the new Fallujah or such--but David Ignatius has a pretty gloomy dispatch from there. It's well worth reading. Some key grafs:

A year ago this northern Iraqi city was a model for American commanders of how to do it right. U.S. troops worked closely with Iraqis and gradually gained their trust; they found ways to finance thousands of popular reconstruction projects; they even helped produce offbeat programs for local television, including a Mosul version of "Cops" and a talent show they called "Iraqi Idol."

Today Mosul illustrates how things have gone wrong in Sunni Muslim areas of Iraq. There are fewer U.S. troops here than there were a year ago. Meanwhile, a well-organized insurgency has taken root in this city on the banks of the Tigris, intimidating the local population and terrorizing the police. Local security forces are mostly in disarray, and American troops last weekend were fighting running street battles. U.S. commanders say the city's 2 million residents know little about the election scheduled for Jan. 30, and insurgents have even managed to destroy most of the voter registration materials.

"Many, many people are afraid," says Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, who has commanded U.S. forces here since February. The insurgents have infiltrated the city, he says, and their campaign "has had a significant effect on the population."

Ham spoke at his base at the Mosul airport during a quick trip to the city last weekend by Gen. John Abizaid, who commands U.S. forces in the Middle East. Abizaid's visit provided a window on Mosul's importance as a crucial front in the Iraq war. There's no easy optimism about the battle here; U.S. commanders know they face a brutal and determined enemy that combines the ruthlessness of Saddam Hussein's old regime and the passion of radical Islam.

Mosul is Iraq's third largest city with a population of some 2 million inhabitants. It's something of a bellwhether, therefore. Local security forces are in "disarray," says Ignatius. Meanwhile, we have fewer troops than we did a year back. Who will fill the resulting vacuum, then? Hamiltonian democrats? Of course not. Moderates are fearful of losing their heads, literally. So, all told, we likely need a larger force posture there. Have we enough men on the ground to so accomplish?

Iraq has become, not to sound too simplistic a note, a battle between chaos and order. Chaos favors the brutish Baathist restorationists and fundamentalists. Order, all told, favors the coalition and those aspiring to a democratic Iraq. Order comes from security. Security is the critical enabler for all else we seek to accomplish in Iraq. We are not doing a good enough job of it. Bush is trying, with real conviction and with limited resources (that his military advisors need to come clean on), to make a strong effort of it (much more than Kerry would have). But I am concerned that we continue to be undermanned in theater.

Regardless, and sooner or later, there will be a tipping point one way or the other. Let's hope the elections, in the main, are not too bloody and garner decent participation. That would be a big help indeed--particularly in conjunction with serious mopping up operations of insurgents in the southern approaches to Baghdad. We could then turn to major population centers like Baghdad and Mosul and target the rejectionists--who will, with any luck, begin to become more isolated as Iraqis feel more enfranchised (at least many non radicalized Sunnis)-- post elections that enjoy some imprimatur of legitimacy. Fingers crossed....


Posted by Gregory at December 10, 2004 06:18 AM
Comments

I think your assessment of elections' impact on the insurgency is too optimistic. (Remember, we thought the handover and Saddam's capture would be turning points as well.) Since the troops necessary to secure Iraq simply don't exist, the situation in Mosul and other important areas will likely worsen over time.

I hope we don't destroy Mosul in the process of defending it.

Posted by: Guy at December 10, 2004 05:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's hardly surprising that Mosul's stability is fragile.

Saddam had been moving Sunnis into the city in large numbers for years, displacing Kurds. The people he favored in this way were often loyal clans of thugs. Many Sunnis there know that their position in Mosul, and their title to their land and buildings, are dubiously legitimate. It suited them to operate out of Fallujah when that town was available, but their homes are apparently in many cases in Mosul.

This is the same set of gangsters, reduced in size, operating in a more desperate situation in another city closer to their own families. That's not all bad news. If we end up flattening many of the Sunni areas of Mosul the Kurds will end up better off, and closer to where they were before Saddam started inflicting Sunni migrants on them. Plus, when it's their own houses getting blown up maybe some of their older relatives will decide to either restrain or terminate their troublesome single young male relatives.

Posted by: ZF at December 10, 2004 10:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What ZF said ...

And the ultimate end-game in Iraq is likely to be a combination of giant score settling ... Saddam's willing executioners killed a lot of Kurds and Shia who very likely have payback on their mind; plus some power-sharing/rivalry between the winners (Shia, Kurds) and the losers (Baathists, Sunnis).

Posted by: Jim Rockford at December 11, 2004 05:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I hate to say I told you so, but: I told you so.

Posted by: praktike at December 11, 2004 06:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If we really are starting to consider collective punishment against Iraqi Sunni as the solution to our problems in Iraq, we're in big trouble in Iraq.

Posted by: Guy at December 11, 2004 08:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Personally, I'm thinking more and more that if the Kurd's want their own state, it would be a fitting reward to them to give 'em one. They've been unstinting in their support since before the first soldiers went into Iraq, and haven't said or defended any of this chop-chop beheading nonsense. Additionally, it would really piss off Turkey, which would be a plus. I'm remembering they have their own sources of oil, too, so it would be interesting if they could get an oil economy up and running and then sell their left-overs to their ex-brethren to the south. Said brethren might even figure out what the lesson is between a capitalistic society in the business of selling oil, vs. an Islamist society in the business of suicide bombs.

Posted by: NahnCee at December 11, 2004 11:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Nahncee wrote:
Additionally, [a Kurdish state] would really piss off Turkey, which would be a plus.

Why?

Posted by: Guy at December 11, 2004 11:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"If we really are starting to consider collective punishment against Iraqi Sunni as the solution to our problems in Iraq, we're in big trouble in Iraq."

Guy, do you figure we haven't *already been doing* collective punishment?

A bit behind the curve, aren't you?

Posted by: J Thomas at December 12, 2004 01:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why? Because Turkey is trying to play it altogether too cute, putting up a democratic shell over a dangerously sectarian and intolerant backroom power structure. And it is far gone along the path of the iron fist as the proper way to control its indigenous Kurdish population, and can't afford to have something much better on its borders.

It's last minute betrayal at the start of OIF needs a few long-term teaching consequences, too. The only lessons really learned are the ones whose application is seen regularly.

Posted by: Brian H at December 12, 2004 02:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Posted by: Brian H at December 12, 2004 02:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Why? Because Turkey is trying to play it altogether too cute, putting up a democratic shell over a dangerously sectarian and intolerant backroom power structure. And it is far gone along the path of the iron fist as the proper way to control its indigenous Kurdish population, and can't afford to have something much better on its borders."


So we don't like democracy in Islam or we do? I'm confused by all this. Democracy is good in the Middle East if it does what we want it to? Hmmmm.

Of course the Kurds are terrorists committing acts of terror against Turkey for many years. So are we allied with others in the war on terror or do we make allies of terror?

Or maybe it's all BS and the US is in it for the money and all this talk of democracy means nothing; just a ruse to get the 50% of the country that are unthinking suckers to go along with imperialism.

Maybe substitute US for Turkey (above) and you'd have a fair statement.

You wingnuts need to get your story straight.

Posted by: avedis at December 12, 2004 03:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wow. Avedis is hurling names again, as opposed to facts. And "wingnuts" is *such* a new and innovative name, too, especially when used in conjunction with "imperialism".

So I'm an imperialist wingnut, because avedis doth proclaimist thus. Be still my beating heart.

Posted by: NahnCee at December 12, 2004 10:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas wrote:
"If we really are starting to consider collective punishment against Iraqi Sunni as the solution to our problems in Iraq, we're in big trouble in Iraq."

Guy, do you figure we haven't *already been doing* collective punishment?

A bit behind the curve, aren't you?

I guess I poorly articulated what I was trying to say. Obviously we've been using collective punishment (rather clumsily) in Iraq for a long time. But punishment against the _Iraqi Sunni_ collectively doesn't seem like it's part of our strategy yet. Does that make more sense?

Posted by: Guy at December 13, 2004 01:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

OK, I'll be polite from here on out if someone would please answer questions in a reasoned manner.

Do we (the US) or do we not condemn terrorism?

If we condemn terrorism then we cannot work with the Kurds because they are terrorists are harborers of terrorists.

This is central to what has supposedly changed since 9/11.

The US has, in the past, supported/sponsored a variety of terrorists and repressive governments that utilize terror tactics (eg) death squads, imprisonment without due process, ect, etc.

This is a fact and much of the world seems to be more aware of our activities than our own citizens.

If we are to gain legitimacy in a "war on terror" we are going to have to eschew support of terror ourselves.

So, again, I ask, why would we do anything in favor of terrorist Kurds; especially if that is in opposition to terror fighting democratic Turks?

Or are terrorists only folks that attack us? And democracies only governments that benefit us at the moment?

BTW, I don't agree with many rightwing principles. However, I'd have more respect for their positions if rightwingers actually adhered to their principles regardless of inconviences incurred.

Posted by: avedis at December 13, 2004 03:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Guy -- Eventually the Kurdish and Shia victims of Saddam's Regime will want justice. Literally hundreds of thousands of them ended up in mass graves, and Uday and Qusay didn't shoot all of them. Most of the killing was done by Saddam's Sunni Baathist underlings.

Point being that the US will not be in Iraq forever, and either the Sunni Baathists come to terms with their loss on power, and accept some sort of state-moderated justice for what they did, or they will face tribal revenge of likely massively bloody proportions for the decades of murders. So far they seem steeped in some fantasy that if they just kill "enough" Americans, or Kurds, or Shia, they will win. A bad bet given that they're outnumbered 4 to 1 not counting the Americans, and Saddam sits in a cell rather than commanding an army and air force (both of which are totally destroyed). But then, thugs rarely have brains.

Do the Kurds "deserve" their own state? It's tempting to say yes simply to punish the Islamic government of Turkey which played a double game with the US in the run-up to Iraq but still demands NATO protection but ultimately I'd argue for Autonomy within a federated Iraq to avoid another regional war.

It's true that inside Turkey there are Kurdish terror organizations, and also widespread human rights abuses by Turks against Kurds noted by the EU, Amnesty Int'l, etc. Avedis is right on that score (but not telling the whole story). The Kurds are suppressed vigorously/violently in Turkey (depending on if the EU is looking, basically) no matter which government is in charge and including non-violent groups as well as terror groups. The Kurds inside Iraq seem to have ties to the Kurdish terror groups, but how much and how far is not known. It could be like France and say, Hezbollah, Fatah, and Hamas ... a logistic, diplomatic, and financial center/safe haven but not massive state support ... or it could be nearly wholly owned terror subsidiary like Hezbollah and Iran.

An independent Kurdistan though will be seen as a threat, and invite massive Turkish military action to crush it, likely with Syrian and Iranian support since they are also active in abusing their Kurdish minorities and have separatist movements of their own. It's just a bad idea no matter how tempting.

Are the Kurds in Iraq to be denied a state because of their brethren's terror activies in Turkey as Avedis suggests (on that basis alone?) It's an interesting thought, but it would logically require the US (and EU) to deny support to the Palestinians because of their terror actions in a struggle for formal statehood, as well as any support for the Northern Ireland Peace Process (if Tony Blair just decided to crush the IRA), or support for Bosnians or Kosovars wanting US protection against a resurgent Serbia (since both had terror organizations with bloody hands).

I couldn't argue with the logic of refusing support to the Kurds, Palestinians, Northern Ireland-ers, Bosnians, and Kosovars because of their terror.

Avedis? Would you say no to the Palestinians?

Posted by: Jim Rockford at December 13, 2004 09:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, I'm flabergasted.

Jim, you not only did you respond in a reasonable and considerate manner, but - and this is the biggie - I actually agree with your position; right down to the nuances.

Of course, I never bought into this War on Terror meme; more Straussian crap from the neocons.

So for me there is no contradiction regarding the Palistinians versus Kurds.

However, it doesn't make us look too good when we come out with that tough on terror talk and then go 180 degrees; especially when UN and NATO allies are involved.

So, ultimately, we both agree that it can be effecive to, at some point, sit down with enemies - be they terrorists or states - and hash out non-violent means of settling grievances.

Hmmmmm, that sounds awfully progressive to me.

Jim, you better go rent a copy of "Triumph of the Will" and eat some raw meat while you watch it. You'll be feeling more like yourself again in no time.


Posted by: avedis at December 13, 2004 03:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

P.S. I would not say no to either the Palistinians or the Kurds.

Also, just kidding about the raw meat.

Posted by: avedis at December 13, 2004 03:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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