January 02, 2005

A Gloomy Appraisal of Counter-Insurgency Efforts in Sunni Areas

The Economist has a rather depressing article (subscription required) on the state of U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq. Apart from wishing everyone a Happy New Year, I should note I've been a tad glib of late (for instance, in some exchanges with Brad De Long) about, for instance, the need for military police in Iraq. It's not that I don't think a bitter mix of forces in theater has been critical all along--it's that Brad sometimes appears to suggest that, by simply waving a wand, myriad European and Arab nations would have contributed major troop/military police deployments. I think a sober analysis of the pre and post war diplomacy manifestly shows we provided our non-participating allies enough openings to make real contributions. It is too often assumed that the effort to get troops was one simply of coercion and bribery, a la Michael Moore school, along with the requisite mention of high-handed unilateralist methods (this is where I think Brad is overly simplistic in his analysis).

Anyway, back to the Economist piece, some keys excerpts below:

There is only one traffic law in Ramadi these days: when Americans approach, Iraqis scatter. Horns blaring, brakes screaming, the midday traffic skids to the side of the road as a line of Humvee jeeps ferrying American marines rolls the wrong way up the main street. Every vehicle, that is, except one beat-up old taxi. Its elderly driver, flapping his outstretched hand, seems, amazingly, to be trying to turn the convoy back. Gun turrets swivel and lock on to him, as a hefty marine sergeant leaps into the road, levels an assault rifle at his turbanned head, and screams: “Back this bitch up, motherfucker!”

The old man should have read the bilingual notices that American soldiers tack to their rear bumpers in Iraq: “Keep 50m or deadly force will be applied”. In Ramadi, the capital of central Anbar province, where 17 suicide-bombs struck American forces during the month-long Muslim fast of Ramadan in the autumn, the marines are jumpy. Sometimes, they say, they fire on vehicles encroaching within 30 metres, sometimes they fire at 20 metres: “If anyone gets too close to us we fucking waste them,” says a bullish lieutenant. “It's kind of a shame, because it means we've killed a lot of innocent people.”

And not all of them were in cars. Since discovering that roadside bombs, known as Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), can be triggered by mobile telephones, marines say they shoot at any Iraqi they see handling a phone near a bomb-blast. Bystanders to an insurgent ambush are also liable to be killed. Sometimes, the marines say they hide near the body of a dead insurgent and kill whoever comes to collect it. According to the marine lieutenant: “It gets to a point where you can't wait to see guys with guns, so you start shooting everybody...It gets to a point where you don't mind the bad stuff you do.”

This last sentence sounds like one of those cheap gotcha quotes one often reads in, say, the Guardian--aimed at showcasing how brutish the Yank troops are in Iraq and how they are mucking up the effort--an effort British forces are handling so much better, or so the story goes. But the Economist, of course, is an Americophile publication of high repute. I doubt the correspondent would have used this quote unless he felt it fairly conveyed the spirit of how U.S. forces on the front-lines are handling attempting to defend themselves amidst a vicious, unconventional guerrilla campaign.


Since September 1st, when the battalion's 800 men were deployed to Ramadi, they have killed 400-500 people, according to one of their senior officers. A more precise estimate is impossible, because the marines rarely see their attackers. When fired upon, they retaliate by blitzing whichever buildings they think the fire is coming from: charred shells now line Ramadi's main streets. “Sometimes it works in the insurgents' favour,” admits Rick Sims, a chief warrant officer. “Because by the time we've shot up the neighbourhood, then the guys have torn up a few houses, they're four blocks away, and we just end up pissing off the locals.”

These brutal actions are what the marines have been trained for. They are superb fighters, among the best infantrymen of the most formidable force ever assembled. They are courteous—at least to their friends—and courageous. Long will this correspondent remember the coolness with which one teenage marine flicked away his cigarette and then the safety-catch on his rifle, as a sniper's bullet zipped overhead. Since arriving in Ramadi, some 20 marines have been killed and 160 wounded by suicide bombs and IEDs, in ambushes and by mortars. Many were on their second seven-month tour of Iraq and, after a seven-month break to retrain and refit, can expect to spend next Christmas there too. Yet their morale was high.

Neither are they, nor any of the American forces accompanied during three weeks in Iraq, short of ingenuity. In Ramadi, the marines have rewritten their training manual for urban warfare. Having been taught to seize towns methodically, block by block—a method more appropriate to Stalingrad than Baghdad—they have learned to patrol at high speed and on foot, sending snipers on to the rooftops ahead, along streets littered with bomb debris and daubed with hostile slogans: “Slow Daeth [sic]” and “America down”.

In Fallujah, 40 miles (64km) east of Ramadi, the marines who survived the fierce assault on the town in November have a sardonic acronym for the skills it taught them: FISH, or Fighting In Someone's House. FISH involves throwing a hand grenade into each room before checking it for unfriendlies, or “Muj”, short for mujahideen, as the marines call them.

America's new war toys are on impressive display. In increasingly stormy northern Iraq, a lightly-armoured troop-carrier, the Stryker, is delivering infantrymen to the battlefield in numbers and at speeds unprecedented. As the Strykers race along, their computers display constantly-updated aerial maps of the surrounding area: a digitising of warfare that has made it virtually impossible for any ally of America to fight high-intensity battles at its side. The army's logistical support, needless to add, is superb. America's 138,000 soldiers and marines in Iraq sleep in smart heated cabins and enjoy tasty food, excellent gymnasiums and internet access.

But, as the article goes on to argue, where we show real skill in war-fighting we are coming up short in peacekeeping (or peacemaking, we might say).

Yet armies can be good at war-fighting or good at peacekeeping but rarely good at both. And when America's well-drilled and well-fed fighters attempt subtler tasks than killing people, problems arise. At peacekeeping, peace-enforcing or policing, call it what you will, they are often inept. Even the best of them seem ignorant of the people whose land they are occupying —unsurprisingly, perhaps, when practically no American fighters speak Arabic. And, typically, the marine battalion in Ramadi has only four translators. Often American troops despair of their Iraqi interlocutors, observing that they “are not like Americans”. American marines and GIs frequently display contempt for Iraqis, civilian or official. Thus the 18-year-old Texan soldier in Mosul who, confronted by jeering schoolchildren, shot canisters of buckshot at them from his grenade-launcher. “It's not good, dude, it could be fatal, but you gotta do it,” he explained. Or the marines in Ramadi who, on a search for insurgents, kicked in the doors of houses at random, in order to scream, in English, at trembling middle-aged women within: “Where's your black mask?” and “Bitch, where's the guns?” In one of these houses was a small plastic Christmas tree, decorated with silver tinsel. “That tells us the people here are OK,” said Corporal Robert Joyce.

According to army literature, American soldiers should deliver the following message before searching a house: “We are sorry for the inconvenience, but we must search your house to make sure you are safe from anti-Iraqi forces [AIF].” In fact, many Iraqis are probably more scared of American troops than of insurgents.

Whether or not the insurgency is fuelled by American clumsiness, it has deepened and spread almost every month since the occupation began. In mid-2003, Donald Rumsfeld, America's defence secretary, felt able to dismiss the insurgents as “a few dead-enders”. Shortly after, official estimates put their number at 5,000 men, including many foreign Islamic extremists. That figure has been revised to 20,000, including perhaps 2,000 foreigners, not counting the thousands of hostile fighters American and British troops have killed; these are the crudest of estimates.

With insurgents reported to be dispensing criminal justice and levying taxes, some American officers say they run a “parallel administration”. Last month in Mosul, insurgents are reported to have beheaded three professional kidnappers and to have manned road checkpoints dressed in stolen police uniforms. In Tal Afar, farther west, insurgents imposed a 25% cut in the price of meat.

American military-intelligence officers admit their assessments are often little better than guesses. They have but a hazy idea of when and by whom the insurgency was planned, how many dedicated fighters and foreign fighters it involves, who they are, or how much support they command. The scores of terrorists who have blown themselves up in Iraq over the past year are invariably said to be foreign fanatics. But this has almost never been proved.

In bold contrast to his masters in Washington, General George W. Casey Jr, the commander-in-chief of coalition forces in Iraq, credits foreigners with a minimal role in the insurgency. Of over 2,000 men detained during the fighting in Fallujah, fewer than 30 turned out to be non-Iraqi. In Ramadi, the marines have detained a smaller number of foreigners, including a 25-year-old Briton two weeks ago, who claimed to be pursuing “peace work” but whose hands were coated with explosives. Pleased to find an enemy who understood English, marines say they queued up to taunt him; one told him he would be gang-raped in Abu Ghraib.

B.D. has previously discussed here why I think we aren't getting the full scoop on how the insurgency's ranks have deepened and broadened over the past year--and that it consists mostly of Iraqis rather than legions of foreign terrorists and jihadists.

According to official American reports, the insurgency is relatively concentrated: 14 out of Iraq's 18 provinces are said to see fewer than four attacks on coalition forces per month. But this includes several potentially volatile Shia provinces, like Dhi Qar and Maysan, parts of which are run by the still-armed Mahdi Army militiamen loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric who made mayhem between April and August. Only four provinces—Baghdad, Anbar, Salah ad Din and Ninewa—see many more attacks. But as they include the capital city, the third-biggest city (Mosul) and the homeland of most of the country's Sunnis, they are no small problem: the equivalent in the United States might be an insurgency raging in those states that voted Democrat in November, and sporadic lawlessness in many of the rest.

More happily, since the carnage in Fallujah—now deserted and substantially demolished, though still violent—insurgents no longer control any town outright. The Americans estimate that around 1,600 of the enemy were killed in the battle to retake the town; several times that many are thought to have fled, mostly to Baghdad and the northern parts of Babil province.

It is unclear how much this really set back the insurgents. The many spectacular rebel attacks since the recapture of Fallujah show that the Americans have not, as their officials claim, “broken the back of the insurgency”. But it has at least inconvenienced their enemy. Among the treasures found in the town were 400 caches of arms and an ice-cream van kitted out as a mobile car-bomb workshop. In the last three weeks of November, when the battle began, the incidence of car bombs across Iraq dipped from 44 a week, to 33, then 22.

In Ramadi, as in many troubled places, the assault on Fallujah was marked by a sudden spike in violence, followed by a relative lull. After a bloody September and October—when the marines faced up to nine IEDs a day and fought street battles with, they reckon, scores of insurgents at a time, and when most of Ramadi's inhabitants fled—the past month has yielded roughly one IED every few days, and a handful of serious ambushes.

This may be because night-time temperatures have fallen to freezing, or because Ramadi's marines were reinforced by an army battalion. But it may also reflect a shift in the insurgency's character.

Midway through the past year—in July, in Ramadi—the insurgents began increasingly to seek softer targets, especially Iraqi security forces, Iraqis working for coalition forces, American supply convoys and the oil infrastructure. In November, one in four American supply convoys was ambushed. Three months ago, American officials overseeing reconstruction in Mosul were lobbied by 30 Iraqi contractors in an average day; now, they struggle to find even one brave enough to accept their dollars. A low helicopter flight over the Kirkuk oilfield, Iraq's second-biggest, presented a scene from the Book of Revelation: each of seven oil wells was marked by a tower of orange flame, meeting in a canopy of dense black smoke.

Starker still is the cost in lives. In the first nine months of 2004, 721 Iraqi security forces (ISF) were killed, according to figures compiled by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank; in October, the figure was 779. The surge of violence in Mosul at the start of the Fallujah campaign has not abated; the city's police are the main victims. On November 10th and 11th, rebels devastated almost all the city's police stations, after the 4,000-strong police force had fled. Around 200 dead policemen and ISF members, usually beheaded, have since been dumped about the city. Its American contingent is also under unprecedented attack. On December 21st, at lunchtime, 18 Americans were killed by a suicide bomber in an army mess-tent in Mosul.

Barely six months ago, Mosul was one of the most tranquil spots in Iraq. Now it is one of the most violent, and least policed. It may be no coincidence that, until last January, around 20,000 American troops were billeted in and around the city and led by a most dynamic commander. With troops urgently required elsewhere, they were replaced by 8,500 soldiers, around 700 of whom were diverted to Fallujah and Baghdad.

Again, insurgents will flock to areas not under robust American control--ie, where we have too few boots on the ground. As General Abizaid just mentioned last week--he counts Mosul in the 'too few boots on the ground' column.

Finally, the Economist article goes on to quote a leading military commander in Iraq to the effect that we've been forced to de-prioritize the struggle for "hearts and minds" right now:

Thus harried, American commanders have abandoned the pretence of winning the love of Iraqis ahead of the scheduled vote. “Our broad intent is to keep pressure on the insurgents as we head into elections,” says General Casey. “This is not about winning hearts and minds; we're not going to do that here in Iraq. It's about giving Iraqis the opportunity to govern themselves.”

But that goal is not easy to achieve either:

That could be possible if Iraqis would only accept the opportunity America is offering—which is not the case in Ramadi, for example. Though the city has more than 4,000 police, they refuse to work alongside American forces. According to the marines, the police's sole act of co-operation is to collect wounded insurgents from their base. For most of the past four months, Anbar has had no provincial administration, since the governor resigned after his children were kidnapped. Elsewhere, America's forces are incapable of giving Iraqis the security they crave because, quite simply, there aren't enough of them.

Consider western Ninewa, a vast desert area dotted with fiercely xenophobic towns and ending in over 200 miles of unfenced border with Syria. America has 800 soldiers there. Yet they are barely able to subjugate the town of Tal Afar, outside which they are based. In September, American forces fought a battle (in style, a prelude to the retaking of Fallujah) to wrest it back from insurgent control after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian fanatic, was reported to be preaching in the town's mosques. Over 80 civilians were killed in the crossfire and 200 buildings flattened. In November, insurgents blew up the town's police stations. The local police chief and his bodyguards are the only police still working; he changes his disguise several times a day.

I've not the excerpted article in full, so click though and read the whole thing if you're a subscriber. It ends on this rather gloomy note:

Little surprise that the Americans had not visited the nearby smugglers' town of Baij in force for three months, until they rode there one recent night in a convoy of 1,000 troops, with Apache attack helicopters flying overhead. The target was three houses in the town centre which signal intelligence had linked to Mr Zarqawi's group. The Americans had no further intelligence to support their mission except that provided by an informant from the local Ayzidi tribe, America's main ally in the area. This source claimed there was a wounded Yemeni rebel in the town. “I think it should be a great operation,” said Colonel Robert Brown, beforehand. “I think a lot of folks from Fallujah have gone there and we need to go there.”

There was no one in the three targeted houses bar women and children. Baij's police station had been blown up and its police had fled. The town's English-speaking former mayor, Abdullah Fahad, was frank about the town's allegiances. “There are terrorists here, not from Syria, not from Mosul, but from Baij. Some are Baathists and some are Islamists and before they hated each other but now they work together, and they tell people that if they don't work with them they will kill them.”

Mr Fahad, who claimed to have survived several assassination attempts and whose son had been kidnapped, refused to help the Americans on the grounds that he would be murdered if he did. When the American commander offered to protect him, he replied: “Thank you, but you are not always here. This is the first time I have ever seen you.” Whereupon the American troops labelled Mr Fahad a “bad guy”, and debated whether to detain him.

Instead, they detained 70 men from districts identified by their informant as “bad”. In near-freezing conditions, they sat hooded and bound in their pyjamas. They shivered uncontrollably. One wetted himself in fear. Most had been detained at random; several had been held because they had a Kalashnikov rifle, which is legal. The evidence against one man was some anti-American literature, a meat cleaver and a tin whistle. American intelligence officers moved through the ranks of detainees, raising their hoods to take mugshots: “One, two, three, jihaaad!” A middle-tier officer commented on the mission: “When we do this,” he said, “we lose.”

We will be looking at some of the issues raised in this article in greater detail in the coming days.

Posted by Gregory at January 2, 2005 05:44 PM


That is without doubt a distinctly disturbing article.
Two key graf's hit me very hard.
"In one of these houses was a small plastic Christmas tree, decorated with silver tinsel. “That tells us the people here are OK,” said Corporal Robert Joyce."
"Often American troops despair of their Iraqi interlocutors, observing that they “are not like Americans”."

It's the intolerance to other cultures that is so striking & without that I wonder how one can reasonably expect to win a peace ( I would be curious if the US has achieved this since WWII, I know of no such circumstance, though I am no expert on such things ).
I work about 1/2 my time in the US & I think the root of this all is that there is no real contact between America and the rest of the world on a regular basis other than tragedies, whereas most other nations play international sports & follow US Stock markets.

It sounds trite, but the USA is one of the most isolated sporting nations in the world & for alot of people ( especially if you generalise on soldiers ) sports is one real reason you have to learn about other nations & too see other cultures, not only that you learn humility ( Even my beloved All Blacks lose occassionally ), learning that your nation is not invincible & you have to continuously work if you want to be the best & excelling in one area, eg technology is not enough.

One example of the power of sport, is Sri Lanka. A World 11 ( Australia, NZ, West Indies & England / South Africa when available ) will play an Indian 11 in 2 charity matches for the recent Tsunami, raising millions, but possibly more important sending a very powerful message of unity & a focus of something fun/interesting.
Not having such a facility restricts how the US is able to be perceived and how it perceives it's own help including the "we support the rest of the world mentality" ( I know it is not universal, but it's definitely there ).

In conclusion I think there is a very deep problem here, changing core attitudes is not easy, but I believe it will only happen when the US has more universal recreational ( sport being the obvious ) contact globally.


Posted by: Nigel at January 2, 2005 09:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To go from deep respect:

    They are superb fighters, among the best infantrymen of the most formidable force ever assembled. They are courteous—at least to their friends—and courageous.

to withering contempt:

    Yet armies can be good at war-fighting or good at peacekeeping but rarely good at both. And when America's well-drilled and well-fed fighters attempt subtler tasks than killing people, problems arise. At peacekeeping, peace-enforcing or policing, call it what you will, they are often inept.

gives one the clearest indication of what a total Charlie Foxtrot the United States has created. The profound ignorance and fear that cause incidents such as with Mr. Fahad, or the "usual suspects" round-up should chill citizens of the United States to the bone.

Any good commander knows that military equipment and personnel have limited service lives. Equipment has to be pulled from combat for repair and maintennce, so should these man-boys while there is still time to avoid losing this war. Assuming such time still exists of course.

Posted by: Jon Gallagher at January 2, 2005 11:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think a sober analysis of the pre and post war diplomacy manifestly shows we provided our non-participating allies enough openings to make real contributions.

Well, if they had wanted to take part clearly they had the opportunity. The question is - did the Bush administration do a good job persuading them that they should take part? James Rubin's article in Foreign Affairs is good on this.

Posted by: Andrew Kanaber at January 3, 2005 01:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is why Bush and his war mongering advisors should have taken out founding father's advice regarding avoiding foreign entanglements more seriously.

9/11 changed everything? Erased a thousand years of history and accumulated wisdom?

Posted by: observer at January 3, 2005 01:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ramadi's been a tough egg, home of the Munitifiq
tribe as it were going back to the time when young Capt (future Jordanian Pasha ) John Glubb, patrolled there in 1924. (re War in Desert; 63) The
article, in question seems unremittingly negative,
could the Guardian do much worse. Recall again
that Ramadi is quite close to the Syrian border, where those few foreigners are from. Previous
to this Unit, the 124th Div of the Florida National
Guard, patrolled that route, headed by Major
Mirabile of the Miami PD, and he tried the old
Glubb/ Lawrence/Leachman diplomat role, with
the tribesman with little success. It seems all
the components of the insurgency are members
we cannot realistically accomodate without watering
down the goals. From the Baathist dead enders, to
the foreign jihadis, the criminal underworld, and the
tribesman, who put up no resistance to Baathism in
35 years. As for Jamie Rubin's insights. I take them
with a grain of salt, regarding the feable actions in Bosnia, Kosovo ; and the near total inaction in the
greater Near East theatre of operations

Posted by: narciso at January 3, 2005 01:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I couldn't help but smile when I read this:

"This last sentence sounds like one of those cheap gotcha quotes one often reads in, say, the Guardian--aimed at showcasing how brutish the Yank troops are in Iraq and how they are mucking up the effort--an effort British forces are handling so much better, or so the story goes. But the Economist, of course, is an Americophile publication of high repute."

You take so much pleasure in savaging anything you disagree with, when it appears in the NYT/WP or the Guardian (leftist/liberal media), I guess you'll accept something when it appears in unusually blunt language in a publication of your choice! A bit later perhaps to come to grips with the truth?!

Another point you make:

"I think a sober analysis of the pre and post war diplomacy manifestly shows we provided our non-participating allies enough openings to make real contributions".

Would barring "non participating allies" in Dec 2003 be one such opportunity to make a "real contribution"?

From the BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/3305501.stm)

Companies from countries opposed to the conflict in Iraq will be barred from bidding for new rebuilding contracts worth $18.6bn, the Pentagon has said.

US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said the policy was necessary to protect America's "essential security interests".

Posted by: Manish Khettry at January 3, 2005 05:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mon Jan 3rd, 2005 at 07:08:27 AM PDT (none / 0) #3
AMC (User Info)
Resistance estimates rising again?


Iraq battling more than 200,000 insurgents: intelligence chief

AFP: 1/3/2005

BAGHDAD, Jan 3 (AFP) - Iraq's insurgency counts more than 200,000 active fighters and sympathisers, the country's national intelligence chief told AFP, in the bleakest assessment to date of the armed revolt waged by Sunni Muslims.

"I think the resistance is bigger than the US military in Iraq. I think the resistance is more than 200,000 people," Iraqi intelligence service director General Mohamed Abdullah Shahwani said in an interview ahead of the January 30 elections.

Shahwani said the number includes at least 40,000 hardcore fighters but rises to more than 200,000 members counting part-time fighters and volunteers who provide rebels everything from intelligence and logistics to shelter.

I'd call that news gloomier still - Observer

Posted by: observer at January 3, 2005 05:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wake up and smell the coffee sunshine. You are getting your buts kicked militarily as well as politically now. Your incompetent and barbaric army is taking a good kicking and lots of people are glad to see it... you have had the quickest advance into a quagmire ever... suckers

Posted by: Jeremy at January 3, 2005 05:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

1. Economist may be pro-American, but i dont think theyve ever supported American policy in the Middle East. They may not be the Guardian, but theyre not without an agenda.

2. This of course reemphasizes the importance of using Iraqi forces for local police work, detentions, etc. ING apparently detained 200 in the 'triangle of death" one presumes they used more locally appropriate methods.

3. Ramadi, and al anbar generally is rough, and one assumes the troops have there have been shaped by that experience, more so even than troops elsewhere in the Sunni Triangle.

4. Nunber of foreign fighters detained in Fallujah is small. Well yes, one assumes that those who came Iraq to martyr themselves died fighting and did not surrender. So the foreigners are among the dead, who are not easy to identify. One thinks the reporter would have mentioned this. That he did not, may be indicative of his agenda.

5. Lets see what happens in the upcoming election before pronouncing quagmire, shall we?

Posted by: liberalhawk at January 3, 2005 09:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Can't the Economist find anything that's going well? Is Chrenkoff just plain wrong, week after week? Are all those letters from marines made up, in which they speak of their bonding with Iraqis? I know lots of marines who have been, and are, in Iraq, and they have plenty of good news, and speak with respect and admiration about most Iraqis. Ditto for many of the Polish and Italian troops with whom I have spoken. Does the Economist have a clearer picture than they do?

Well, could be. But there is a lot untold here, as no doubt the Economist's writers would grant. It's advocacy journalism, very well done. However I am very sceptical about accounts of culturally insensitive Marine officers; they have been well trained in the local mores and have been ordered to respect Iraqis...no better friend, no worse enemy etc.

The business about "foreign fighters" is endlessly debated, but there is one fact that is never mentioned: it is often impossible to answer the apparently simple question, 'who's an Iraqi'?

During the Iran/Iraq war, many hundreds of thousands of "Iraqi" Shi'ites went to Iran and fought for the mullahs against Saddam, just as others went from Iran to Iraq to fight for Saddam against the mullahs. Notice that the Iranians are now saying that 200,000 "Iraqis" living in Iran will be voting from Iran in the Iraqi elections later this month. I think that a certain number of these people have been recruited by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the intelligence service to carry out terrorist actions in Iraq. They are loyal to the Islamic Republic, but it would be hard to call them "foreigners."

In fact, they themselves are hard-pressed to tell you what they are, and you can be sure that their answers will vary according to circumstances.


Posted by: michael ledeen at January 3, 2005 11:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Economist may be pro-American, but i dont think theyve ever supported American policy in the Middle East. They may not be the Guardian, but theyre not without an agenda."

The Economist supported (and still supports) the war in Iraq. Gregory's right: they should be taken seriously.

Posted by: Russil Wvong at January 3, 2005 11:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Notice that the Iranians are now saying that 200,000 "Iraqis" living in Iran will be voting from Iran in the Iraqi elections later this month. I think that a certain number of these people have been recruited by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the intelligence service to carry out terrorist actions in Iraq. They are loyal to the Islamic Republic, but it would be hard to call them "foreigners.""

Well, that's hardly good news, is it?

Iran is involving itself in the election process to promote an extension of its power in Iraq. So we're handing Iraq to "axis of evil" Iran?

Posted by: observer at January 4, 2005 12:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I have long been an avid reader of The Economist, but lately find their standards are slipping in some areas, one of them the Iraq war.

While I would generally still take The Economist as a very good source, this article is barely distinguishable from what other anti-war media have written, with the same mistakes in terms of limited scope and perspective, focusing on what's going wrong and specifically in areas where the going is tough.

Although it's worrying that a quality publication is now adopting this line of reporting, colour me unconcinced for the moment. I await the results of the elections, which I expect to be "surprisingly" successful, albeit accompanied by some horrifying violence.


Posted by: Wijnand at January 4, 2005 02:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A shorter Wijnand: The only good media is one that conforms to my preconceived notions and biases.

Even shorter Wijnanrd: Just tell me what I want to hear.

Posted by: observer at January 4, 2005 02:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Most worrying - and confirmed by many news out of Iraq - is that most Iraqi forces seem unable to fight the terrorists, even if they do not sympathize with them. Iraqi security forces are armed and numerically strong, but there seems to be no backbone, no sense of duty, no will to work together and protect each other. Yes, they are facing a terrifying threat, are badly trained and organized (and that is not all their fault), but it is still a lousy performance that may say something about Arab inability to build functioning modern societies anywhere. Some commenters here are gleeful, but they should be ashamed. This is not America´s ruin, it is first of all Iraq´s ruin, and you are applauding those who are destroying it.

Posted by: werner at January 4, 2005 04:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

camera on the Economist on Israel:


Posted by: liberalhawk at January 4, 2005 04:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To Observer:

Charming. You judge and dismiss me on the basis of just one post.

I am just noticing that the typical MSM pattern regarding Iraq is rearing its ugly head again: increasingly negative reporting untill an undeniably positive fact happens. The Iraqi elections will very likely be such an undeniably positive fact, unless the insurgents miraculously manage to be much more effective than they have been so far.

I am patiently awaiting the Iraqi elections. We will see whose "preconceived notions and biases" will be confirmed. It will not be the MSM's.


Posted by: Wijnand at January 4, 2005 05:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

According to Stragegypage.com, the Iraqi security forces are getting a lot better at fighting the insurgents. See:

That is good, because the only real solution is for the Iraqis themselves to take over security.

Check out their other stories on Iraq. It is some of the best analysis around.


Posted by: Les Brunswick at January 4, 2005 06:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

How much more of a preponderance of evidence do you need to conclude that things aren't going well.

See the story of the provincial governor's assination today.

See story about election workers refusing to work after receiving death threats.

Sure, we can always eek out a positive story. It just that shuch are the minority of events in Iraq.

Posted by: observer at January 4, 2005 06:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

1 - It is NOT the Sunni area; it IS the Sunni ARAB area; (Kurds are Sunni, too).

2a - The Sunni Arabs area is TRIBAL and MUST BE DEALT WITH ON THAT LEVEL.

2b - Allawi tried to deal/co-opt with the Tribal "elders" from April to December - and failed to convnce them using conversation. That's when we initiated the long overdue military assault on Fallujah.

2c - The military assault on the Jihadoterrorists has been a partial success: we have killed and disprupted many cells, but not all; the Jihadists continue their violent counter-revolution.

2d - The Jihadists can be expected to continue their violent counter-revolution until they are defeated.

3 - To defeat the Jihadist counter-revolution we must accomplish two things:

First, we must seal the borders - any way we can. I have suggesed elsewhere that we mine the borders and make open military threats against Iran and Syria; (namey, that they seal the borders by a nearby-date-certain, or we will entirely destroy their military assets with missile strikes). (If the counter-revolutionaries canot be resupplied or reinforced then they will eventually "burn out.")

Second, we must co-opt the tribes of the Sunni Arab Triangle. To do this we must use tactics that they understand: I suggest we capture their tribal leaders and issue them an ultimatum - turn over the Jihadist counter-revolutionaries or die. And we should keep executing the tribal leaders until we get some who cooperate. The Sunni Arab tribes will fall in line when we have defeated their leadership.

These are harsh measures - but war is harsh and the stakes are HUGE. We should not wage war with one hand tied behind our back - especially against a foe who is utterly RUTHLESS.

FDR fire-bombed Dresden and Tokyo; Truman dropped the A-Bomb... TWICE!

We needed to be brutal to win that war; the enemy in this war is more brutal than either the NAZIS or the Japanese Militarists were - so we must be more brutal now then we were then.

If we have faith in the ultimate goal, then doing horrible things along the way are OKAY. That's what our enemy thinks and how our enemy acts - and how they expect us to act.

We must confront and defeat them in their world and ON THEIR TERMS. And the sooner the better.

Posted by: reliapundit at January 4, 2005 07:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ledeen asks, "Is Chrenkoff just plain wrong, week after week?"

Not exactly.

But if you rely on Chrenkoff to get a fair picture of Iraq, you're basically consigning yourself to reading artfully constructed propaganda. Sometimes he is wrong, notably in this week's edition when he maintained that there are no serious problems between Kurds and Arabs. This after a few hundred Kurds were effectively cleansed from a village in Northern Iraq and forced to flee to Kirkuk, where, as it happens, there are tens of thousands of Kurdish refugees living in tents, waiting to cleanse the Arabs who in turn had cleansed the Kurds several years earlier ... but everything's cool in Chrenkoff's world ... those Iraqi leaders who are going wobbly about the viablility of elections are surely just being blinded to the predations of the evil MSM ...

Posted by: praktike at January 4, 2005 10:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Praktike is exactly right in his response to Ledeen.

The coverage on Chrenkoff's site should not be seen as an "either or" proposition, but as an adjunct to other coverage. Chrenkoff is right to provide positive stories from Iraq in the sense that there are such stories to be told, and to some degree they get drowned out by the negative accounts.

Part of this is understandable, as the negative stories are perhaps more pertinent because they tell of the unfolding risks and dangers that must be addressed, whereas the positive reports are feel-good accounts that offer less in the way of urgency. Nevertheless, balance is probably best.

Reading only Chrenkoff, however, is dangerous because it can lead to false illusions about the stability of Iraq so that when confronted with an article such as the one appearing in the Economist, the reader will be left asking "Can Chrenkoff be just plain wrong?" instead of realizing that other events are occuring on a day to day basis.

And, as Praktike pointed out, sometimes Chrenkoff is just flat out wrong. There is much tension between Kurds and Arabs, especially centered around the disputed city of Kirkuk. As noted in a recent article appearing on the MEMRI site, the Kurds have threatened to boycott the elections if the interim government allows Arab emigres in Kirkuk to vote in that region.

In either event, the specter of ethnic purges looms on the horizon for that contested city.

Posted by: Eric Martin at January 4, 2005 10:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Eric, gosh I really hate to continue play the role of conspiracy nut....oh what the heck...

Take MEMRI with a grain of salt as well (I'm sure you are wise enough to do this in all instances anthow). It was originally set up by the CIA as a propaganda arm to influence perceptions of the ME and Islam.

Oddly, many of the scholars that contribute still do a pretty fair job; just sometimes there is a subtle overall slant to the publication. There is a filtering and a steering, but it seems to be less than when the org. started so maybe the company has abandoned the project and it lived on without it.

Posted by: observer at January 5, 2005 12:30 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

observer, of course MEMRI is selective - that is the point. But to my knowledge, nobody has ever questioned the accuracy of their translations. It would be easy for any speaker of Arabic to check. Nor do they quote only from fringe media. That makes MEMRI as good a news source as any other.

But let us be cautious. Can you give me your source regarding the involvement of the CIA?

Posted by: werner at January 5, 2005 11:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Werner: Actually, Abu Aardvark questioned the accuracy of at least one MEMRI translation, but, if I remember correctly, it seemed comparitively minor. The more common complaint is its so-called cherry picking. You can check out Juan Cole and Brian Whitaker's (of the Guardian) take on that. Saint Cole will also claim MEMRI is a propaganda arm of the Likudnik-Zionist axis, so the revelation that it is instead a CIA propaganda outlet is news to me. However, when government media outlets and intellectuals of the Arab/Muslim world are putting out serialized versions of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, dramas portraying Israelis harvesting the eyes of Palestinian kids, and lectures on how Jews kill Muslims to use their blood in Purim pastries, the cherry picking and propaganda claims ring hollow, at least to me.

Posted by: Geoff at January 5, 2005 02:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In a big rush out to a meeting so don't have link at this time. Will post later.

As for Geoff's observation, that's a fair response. However, true propaganda is meant to be subtle persuasion.

The issue is not so much translation, but selection of material. I do not speak Arabic so I cannot make claim as to potential inaccuracies in translation and the material effect of such. Cole knows his business so I would tend to at least consider his POV.

One technique employed is to discredit the Islamic revolution by making them appear unreasonable, hyperbolic, etc. If they are seen as such then one tends to question what, if anything, they put out is true.

Burry the truth in a landslide of dubious nonsense.

Back with link later. But yes, Cole is correct about the Likudnik connection. CIA & Likud do sometimes work hand in hand on ME affairs.

Not saying this is right or wrong- no anti-semitie name calling please - just stating the facts.

Posted by: observer at January 5, 2005 04:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Geoff, one last point.

Can we please dispense with this "they do it too so that makes it alright for us to do it" and the "they do it worse than us" defense.

We are supposed to be the good guys. We are supposed to adhere to the highest virtues.

Ethical and moral relevancy used to be a critisism of the left wing. Must conservatives indulge in further hypocrisy? I would hope not.

Posted by: Observer at January 5, 2005 04:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"But the Economist, of course, is an Americophile publication of high repute."

Indeed, the Economist is deserving of its good reputation, especially in comparison to other newspapers available these days. But I agree with an earlier comment that the Economist has been slipping of late. Since the newspaper does not print bylines, it is hard to be sure, but I have been under the impression for a while that the Economist's correspondent in Iraq has been the same person for quite some time. This person has shown for the past 18 months a unveiled contempt for the invasion, deep MSM-esque pessimism about the reconstruction, and disdain for U.S. troops. The caricature of U.S. soldiers as trigger-happy thugs (often in comparison to savvier British troops) has been reiterated over and over again in at least a dozen Economist articles since Saddam's toppling.

While these descriptions of the Iraqi situation may well be accurate, I think any reader of the Economist should read this correspondent's assessments with a few teaspoons of salt because the person has very clear prejudices.

Posted by: JZ at January 5, 2005 05:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I know the Guardian piece on MEMRI. All it told me was the Guardian doesn´t like MEMRI very much. I don´t have time for this.

I am aware of MEMRI´s cherry picking and I do not care. Their intent is cleary to show us an ugly side we usually never get to see. If the translations are accurate and they report what mainstream media are writing and mainstream politicians are saying in the Arab world, then I do not need to read the sports news and marriage ads as well.

That does not make it propaganda. Obviously, you yourself do not expect every news source to be completely balanced and ideology-free, or you would never put faith in the Guardian and Professor Cole.

Posted by: werner at January 5, 2005 05:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Observer: I will be interested to see the link you provide, so I'll be checking back later.

Admittedly I don't speak a word of Arabic, but again, I think the claim of selective translation is overblown. I don't doubt that MEMRI picks and chooses what it wants to translate, but the sheer volume of the bigotted and offensive material that is out there for the MEMRI mill should be cause for concern on its own. MEMRI doesn't need to propagandize to make the Islamic or Pan-Arab movement look unreasonable - they do it very well on their own.

I'm also not sure where you're going with the "tu quoque" thing - I never claimed we should be churning out bigoted reponses to those in the Arab/Muslim world. I just think that blaming the messenger for the message is missing the point.

Oh, and the pre-emptive "not anti-semite" defense is really unnecessary.

Posted by: Geoff at January 5, 2005 05:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

werner: I don't know if your latest comment was directed at me, but if it was, then I think you misunderstood the tone of my comment to you. If it wasn't, then I apologize in advance.

Posted by: Geoff at January 5, 2005 08:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Geoff - Sorry, I meant observer. My mistake.

JZ- I have also been thinking that the Economist is slipping, though not necessarily because of their Iraq coverage. I think it started around 2000, maybe earlier. The writing is of highly erratic quality. If they had bylines, you could at least make some sense of that. For example, their reporting from Iran is occasionally good, at other times it seems to be ghostwritten by Khatami himself.

Without giving too many examples, these days you can read inane things which used to be below them. I am in a position to judge their reporting on Germany, which is superficial. They are obviously biased against Israel, no doubt about it. I guess they can only reproduce the prejudices of the talent pool from which they recruit.

Unfortuntely, all that is not sufficient to dismiss the entire article in question here. We cannot assume they are making stuff up.

Posted by: werner at January 5, 2005 09:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink



Links with info re: MEMRI - Likud founding and slant, etc

I cannot locate a quality online link strongly evidencing CIA relations. I do have something from hard copy text. Will provide reference shortly.

Just sensitive about the anti-semite label; a lot of that going around these days.

As to MEMRI having plenty of material displaying Islam negatively, same could be done to depict US government. Plenty of neoconservative text available calling for total war, colonization, etc.

Or Isreal, after all the Jews' claim to the possession and defense of Isreal at any cost is as much based on religion as is the Muslims' claim to the Arab lands and jihad.

Not that I am indulging in revelency or equivalency myself, just attempting to establish perspective. MEMRI's cherry picking should not be taken as representative of Islamic culture no more than Richard Perle's call for waging total and continous war (replete with resulting children singing songs of praise for generations to come) should be taken by Muslims to be representative of US Christian/Jewish culture.

If you don't no much about Islam and what its multiple factions think and believe, then reading MEMRI alone would leave you as mis-informed about Islam as reading the PNAC site would about US foreign policy objectives (I mean all that stuff about bio-engineering viruses to target specific genotypes, etc, etc. - and yes it's in the document Strat. for Securing the Realm, available online for all the world to see).

Posted by: observer at January 5, 2005 10:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

observer - I could not find any reference to deadly viruses in that document. What are you talking about? Richard Perle and PNAC were much attacked and even demonized in the West. That is how a highly differentiated western society works.

Regarding MEMRI, I conceded they are selective and should not be anybody´s only source. I am sure the world of Islam is not monolithic. You are going to tell me that I do not know much about Islam. Very true. But I am also an observer and this is what I see:

To balance the extreme stuff MEMRI shows us, you would need the Arab equivalent of a Pilger or Monbiot unequivocally (even unfairly) criticising his own society. And I mean in Arabic, in mainstream media, by eminent persons. With such material you could easily set up a sort of anti-MEMRI. But I suspect we will not see such material because the authors would not live long.

Next to self-critizism you would need empathy for the other side. How many sympathetic portraits of Israel or America can I find in Egyptian, Saudi, Syrian or Jordan newspapers? Are there pages of newspapers and whole TV documentaries dedicated to justify their motivations, or to understand their anger? Or books, or even just websites? That is the test, you see. Are the faces of Israeli children, killed by fanatical suicide bombers, plastered over the front pages, with op-eds expressing horror at the deed? What about the dozens of Iraqi children blown up by the "resistance"? How much of the rage usually reserved for America and Israel is being directed at the real baby-murderers and gravediggers of Iraq? To me, Arab rage seems to be even more selective than MEMRI. I would like to be proven wrong.

Is there something like our peace movement, dedicated to empathizing with and justifying the other side, and often only the other side? They would also not be "representative" of their culture, but we have them. Israel has them. Arabs do not have them. Of course, Arabs are not free. But I dare to say that, with a few brave exceptions, such a thing would be incomprehensible to Arabs, maybe because they are fed with the sort of hateful stuff on display at MEMRI. I don´t mean to preach, but maybe it is also because, to be free, you need to have a civil society. A civil society is based on the rule of law. Making the rule of law work takes responsible citizens. To be a responsible citizen requires respect and empathy for fellow citizens that must transcend family, tribe, politics and religion. Without it, you have no nation, no democracy, no freedom and no peace within. If you are not at peace within, it will be hard to be at peace with your neighbours (if that is really what you want). And my impression is that Arabs cannot go down that way and are blaming everyone but themselves for it.

Posted by: werner at January 6, 2005 02:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Werner: The wrong doc. was cited: On page 60 of The Project for a New Century report, Rebuilding America's Defenses, the authors write:

"[A]dvanced forms of biological warfare that can 'target' specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool."

This is part of the section where the authors - well recognize neocons - are discussing nifty new capabilities that we will use to control our empire. Cyber-space and outer-space are also discussed.

"Richard Perle and PNAC were much attacked and even demonized in the West. That is how a highly differentiated western society works."

Nice attempt at playing-down, but Perle and his ilk work at the highest levels of government. They make policy. Oh yeah, not Perle anymore since he got caught being a shady putz, but all his buddies that signed the PNAC doc.

It's not like his crowd is just another little - perhaps fringe - interest party offering an opinion here and there.

Posted by: avedis at January 7, 2005 05:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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