July 14, 2005

Iraq: The View From the Green Zone

From a reliable source I hear the tea-leaves from a senior, seasoned diplomat at our Embassy in Baghdad are thus: 1) the strategy of us standing down as they stand up (translation: train and equip) is making real progress (if often hard and tortuous progress); 2) the Sunnis are getting increasingly involved in the political process so that there is some optimism the insurgency will see some life sucked out of it; and 3) there are fears federalist demands from the Kurds could be a sleeper issue that imperils progress on 1 and 2. There are other nuances, but this is the story from the Green Zone at present. If you are on the ground, of course, and this is your life and blood and daily chore--you have the right to be a cautious optimist. My source tells me too that the thinking there is that we will 'make it', if only we do not lose our 'will'. I think all this is pretty much right. Assuming we have the resources in theater if things take nasty, unpredictable turns, however, I'd like to caveat too.

Posted by Gregory at July 14, 2005 06:49 AM | TrackBack (0)

That's, in some regards, encouraging -- but how well do the observations made from within the Green Zone match observations made from outside the Green Zone?

I don't know, but I do think it's an important and critical question; not just for this particular report, but for the conduct of the war as a whole. Because if there is a serious disconnect between the leadership within the Green Zone and the realities on the ground outside of it, we could be in serious trouble.

Posted by: Tortuga at July 14, 2005 01:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Interesting report, especially on the Kurdish demands for "federalism." I assume by federalism we mean a federation of autonomous regions -- this is the Kurdish play for autonomy. Not surprising that its coming but significant that its being seen now. This in itself is actually a good sign because it implies the current political process is developing sufficient credibility to matter in the long term.

From the outset, there has been more optimism from inside the green zone and "peaceful" parts of the country than reports from places where the insurgency is active. This is part of the reason why many directly involved in Iraq complain that the situation is better on the ground than the media reports. Of course the media always reports the negative -- in any theater. Bad news is news. Good news is a featurette. The skeptic in me also would say this is part of the continuing misunderstanding by many involved about what the REAL metric of progress is in Iraq -- the strength of the insurgency. Economic development and political milestones don't mean much independent of that. Overall, this is not different from my own assessment that we at the beginning of a difficult transition period where we hope insurgency fatigue and a slowly reducing US footprint takes enough wind out of the insurgency to not overwhelm the new Iraqi government. Plenty of room for further setbacks.

Posted by: POTUS B at July 14, 2005 02:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Autonomy is one thing. Autonomous armed forces are not. I think the major sticking point other than Kirkuk will be the eventual fate of the peshmerga militias and the Badr Brigade. Let's not forget the Mahdi Army didn't exactly disarm, either.

Posted by: ckrisz at July 14, 2005 03:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Anthony Cordesman pointed this out in his response to the president's Ft. Bragg address, almost as a throwaway paragraph at the end, but the Iraqis have almost no military hardware. Almost zero tanks, APCs, artillery, planes, helos, patrol boats, electronic gear, all that stuff the US relies on in our fight against the insurgents.

I've not seens plans to change that situation. But it seems to me there's no way to expect the Iraqis to stand up for themselves if they're riding around in Toyotas with only the armament of light infantry. Furthermore, it takes time, a great deal of time to train people how to use and maintain those types of equipment.

Combine that with a constitutional process that no one sees as being resolved by its deadline, and I'm not sure that there's room for optimism. Maybe for slightly less pessimism than June, but that's not saying much.

Posted by: SamAm at July 14, 2005 06:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Interesting point Sam. Do you know what happened to the leftover stocks of Iraqi equipment? I doubt that we destroyed everything. Second, this is what military assistance and arms sales are for!

Plus fighting insurgents might actually be better done in Toyotas... the best way to avoid an IED is for the insurgent to not know its a military/government vehicle. COIN is primarily a light infantry mission, although a little armor plus some rotary lift and air support is nice.

My guess is that we'll equip Iraq to fight Iran, not the insurgents!

Posted by: POTUS B at July 14, 2005 08:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

PB raises an excellent point, I'd have traded all my gizmos for an M-1 Garand and a couple of University of Michigan ethnic iraqi ROTC grads. Or better still, have had a 4 year language degree in arabic that the Army made me take if I wanted a commission, and be able to negotiate with the local LE types myself.

Army ought to start with this year's contracted cadets (soph-juni) and build it right into our OBC. Most of us aren't going to bother frying our brains on that language unless they make us.

Posted by: Tommy G at July 14, 2005 08:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

from strategypage.com, this anecdotal note about Sunni Iraqis--
Iraqi television and radio cover this battle with the terrorists intensely. The deaths of Iraqi civilians and security troops are given front page coverage, as are the operations against the terrorists. Much to the dismay of Iraqi Sunni Arabs, the media keeps pointing out that nearly all the Iraqi supporters of the al Qaeda terrorists are Sunni Arabs. The leaders of the Iraqi Sunni Arab community are working hard to prove their loyalty, before popular opinion against Iraqi Sunni Arabs gets out of control, and widespread attacks on Sunni Arabs begins.

Posted by: Jim, Mtn View, CA at July 14, 2005 08:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


ISTR that the Iraqi army is set to take delivery of about 77 T-72's and an odd number of T-55's. Still, they desperately need better equipment, and one of the bigger tragedies of this unpleasantness is the crappy equipment that the Iraqis on our side are getting.

Posted by: Andrew Reeves at July 14, 2005 08:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've heard that too, Andrew. Especially early on the suspicion among Americans that equipment given to Iraqi government forces would soon end up in insurgent hands appears to have led our guys to hold back on certain items, like body armor, which as you note has its own negative consequences.

On another subject, we might want to take note of one piece of good luck that Iraq has had. The sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites that the jihadis are trying so hard to start has been staved off by the really remarkable forebearance of the senior Shiite clerics and political leadership. However, it helped a lot that Sadr burned so many of his best people in frontal confrontations with American infantry and armor last year. Impatient to stake out territory in post-occupation politics, Sadr fed hundreds of men to American guns who otherwise would be out hunting Sunni civilians now.

At the time there was some discussion in the American press about how American tactics were faulty or whether Sadr was cleverly trading lives for political power. The truth was just what it looked like -- taking on American troops directly was an incredibly stupid thing for Sadr to have ordered done. God only knows how strong his position in Iraq would be now if he'd had the patience to husband his strength.

Posted by: JEB at July 14, 2005 10:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yeah, I've heard of the refurbished Hungarian T-72s, though not the 55s, and the Swiss are sending some old APCs. There are also 3-4 transport planes for the Wolf Brigade and a few utility helos.

My point remains, and like I say Cordesman himself brought it up as well.

Some degree, call it X degree of the success the US has had in fighting the insurgency-terrorists and keeping things from getting worse can be directly attributed to technological superiority. What plans are there to provide continuity in that regard? So far it seems as if there are exceedingly few, compounded by the issue of training . Either we're going to make the Iraqi Army one of the best in the region or they're not going to be able to hack it. So why hasn't this been taken care of, more than 2 years into the occupation?

Posted by: SamAm at July 15, 2005 01:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Step by step. Recall that in Gulf War I, the Iraqi army was said to be equipped with the best that money could buy and it did them little good. The effective use of high tech weaponry, depends upon the army so equipped having a culture that understands has internalized, and, indeed, celebrates the technology and what it can do. The Israelis have proven this over and over. Not only do we have to train the new Iraqi army to function as a coherent and effective military force, but we have to familiarize them with the appropriate cultural values which underlie modern weaponry. Thus far, the insurgency is using comparatively crude weapons, but using them effectively - if you call attacks on civilians effective. I suspect that the assimilation of greater and more effective firepower will take longer than the formation of cohesive, aggressive and effective fighting units.


Posted by: Michael Pecherer at July 15, 2005 04:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sam Am: "What plans are there to provide continuity in that regard?"

Technology has certainly been useful but I'm not sure it is the key to winning the war. Iraq's government needs to occupy inhabited areas incrementally and then hold each area with an adequate police force and capable civil administrators, using troops only as a SWAT-like reserve. Once an area is permanently occupied by government forces, a combination of police work, civil administration of a high standard, and inclusion in the political process should separate the civilian population from the insurgents. As this is accomplished, the army can be retrained and reequipped for external defense, and the concerns you raise about technology should then be addressed.

Posted by: David Billington at July 15, 2005 06:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

ISTR that the Iraqi army is set to take delivery of about 77 T-72's and an odd number of T-55's. Still, they desperately need better equipment, and one of the bigger tragedies of this unpleasantness is the crappy equipment that the Iraqis on our side are getting.

Dunno. If what you've got is a AK-47 and an RPG, does it really matter if the tank coming towards you is a T-55 or an M1A2? I'm asking, because I really don't know... the AK is going to be ineffective either way, dunno about the RPG.

POTUS B is right that counterinsurgency is an infantry mission, not something you send an armored division to do. Tanks and air support are nice to have, but they aren't essential.

Posted by: rosignol at July 15, 2005 01:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This article might point out some reasons why Iraqi equipment sucks.


Posted by: ckrisz at July 15, 2005 01:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

C'mon : please tell me how problems involving the Kurds is a 'sleeper' issue? Since before the war the political aspirations of the Kurds and troubling reprecusions thereof has been on the table as an issue. Sleeper issue?!! are you kidding?!! Eventually Kurdish problems and issues concerning viability of 'democracy' in a place like Iraq will be just as big if not bigger than current insurgency problems -- assuming of course insurgency problem ever goes away. Talk of 'things are getting better' is just cover for a spring draw down before midterm elections. And you can take that to the bank.

Posted by: Kinch at July 15, 2005 03:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Please ask Mr. GreenZone how the Constituion is coming. It's supposed to be on parchment in thirty days, but I've seen little reporting on it.

Posted by: martin at July 16, 2005 02:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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