October 18, 2005

Stand Up, Sit Down

The Few, The Proud

Most discussions about Iraq, and our eventual ability to withdraw troops from the area, center around the achievement of certain milestones. The elections last January were one such benchmark, the constitutional referendum another, and in December there will be a second round of elections which hold the promise of actual Sunni involvement. While each of these steps forward are encouraging on their own, and hopefully each is contributing to an overall positive momentum, the most important indicia of our ability to withdraw substantial numbers of troops in good conscience remains the stability of the nation of Iraq and that country's ability to quell the various insurgencies and form a cohesive and inclusive state.

Despite increasing calls by politicians on both sides of the aisle, I do not believe we should withdraw our troops until it is clear (as close as possible) that a full blown civil war will not erupt in our absence, that the nation of Iraq will not fragment into sub-states (possibly failed states) and/or that the country will not be overrun by foreign elements. It is our ability to forestall such a large scale civil war and breaking up of the country that is the most compelling argument for the continued presence of our armed forces - en masse. This rationale does not necessarily subside because a constitution has been approved or an elected assembly is sworn in. In too many ways, they are not as dependent on each other as we would like.

One of the factors often referred to as helping to create the environment of stability needed is the formation of an Iraqi Army. As Bush is fond of saying, "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." But if our interest is truly staving off a larger civil war, and preventing the fragmentation of the nation, then we should reconsider what lies behind that simple edict. It is not enough to "stand up" an Iraqi army. We must pay attention to the kind of Iraqi army we are helping to form or we might in fact be engaging in a counterproductive exercise - in the process, we could be unwittingly helping to bring about the very scenarios we hope most to avoid. Allow me to explain.

First of all, we need to be careful of the quality and type of soldiers we recruit (an obvious statement, but easier said than done). Dr. Morton Halperin, writing at Democracy Arsenal, discusses some of the historic lessons from Vietnam and how they relate to our current efforts in Iraq. According to Halperin, the process of forming the South Vietnamese army was plagued by three slightly different phenomena (familiar to our current predicament). First:

In Vietnam we learned after it was over that about one third of those we armed and trained were actually in the Viet Cong Army. This meant surprise operations were impossible and a significant part of our force was actually on the other side. There is every reason to believe that this is true now in Iraq.
In Vietnam, another roughly one third of the trainees in the Republic of Vietnam's army (ARVN) would quickly take the weapons they were given and sell them on the black market. In Iraq we again see signs of the same thing with large desertion levels and US weapons showing up in insurgency hands.
And third:
The remaining ARVN troops, neither secretly the enemy or ready to desert and sell what they had been given, were in it for the pay and for the prestige and the opportunity to plunder. It was no wonder that despite years of training and the provision of equipment far superior to the enemy the ARVN was never capable of winning either the guerrilla war or the full scale battles that marked the final stages of the conflict. This was not for lack of training but for lack of commitment.
As Halperin points out, the Iraqis don't necessarily need training as much as motivation and loyalty. The various militias, for example, fight quite well without deserting even though they lack the advantage of superior equipment and advanced tactical instruction. What they do have is commitment and loyalty in spades. The task, and it's a daunting one, is to field an Iraqi army made up of soldiers that are highly motivated, committed to the larger purpose (not just looking for a paycheck), and that owe their allegiance first and foremost to the Iraqi nation - and not to one or more ethnic, sectarian or tribal groups. Given these lofty standards (made less accessible by the polarizing effect of sectarian/ethnic violence), it is easy to understand how the number of stand alone battalions has gone from three to one. This article on the state of the recruitment and training of Iraq's police forces, written by a captain in the US Army, highlights many of the same impediments flagged by Halperin vis a vis the army.

You and Whose Army?

The other big concern in administering this process is that the eventual army be composed of more than just Shiites and Kurds. As mentioned above, conflicting loyalties being what they are, if there is not enough of a Sunni presence in the new Iraqi army it becomes more likely that the institution will become a vehicle of certain factions to the exclusion and detriment of others. Garrisoning Shiites and Kurds in Sunni regions is likely to escalate, not defuse, tensions. Put simply, we could be funding, training and equipping one or two parts of a three way civil war and making that outcome more likely by putting sparks nearer the tinderbox. Tom Lasseter, writing for Knight Ridder, offers an invaluable look at just how problematic the issue of split loyalties in the new Iraqi army really is.

The Bush administration's exit strategy for Iraq rests on two pillars: an inclusive, democratic political process that includes all major ethnic groups and a well-trained Iraqi national army. But a week spent eating, sleeping and going on patrol with a crack unit of the Iraqi army - the 4,500-member 1st Brigade of the 6th Iraqi Division - suggests that the strategy is in serious trouble. Instead of rising above the ethnic tension that's tearing their nation apart, the mostly Shiite troops are preparing for, if not already fighting, a civil war against the minority Sunni population.
Lasseter moves from the general to the specific, discussing the case of Swadi Ghilan whose two sons and daughter were brutally gunned down in broad daylight by what were most likely Sunni insurgents.
Ghilan is a major in the Iraqi army and a Shiite Muslim, the sect that makes up some 60 percent of Iraq's population. Now, more than ever, the grieving father says he wants to hunt down and kill not only Sunni guerrilla fighters but also Sunnis who give those fighters shelter and support. By that, he means killing most Sunnis in Iraq.

"There are two Iraqs; it's something that we can no longer deny," Ghilan said. "The army should execute the Sunnis in their neighborhoods so that all of them can see what happens, so that all of them learn their lesson."

Ghilan's army unit is responsible for security in western Baghdad, where many Sunnis live. But the soldiers are overwhelmingly Shiite, and, like Ghilan, they're seeking revenge against the Sunnis who oppressed them during Saddam Hussein's rule.

In defense of Ghilan, and his comrades, the Shiites have undoubtedly suffered much in the past at the hands of Saddam's regime and continue to suffer to this day as the insurgencies rage. But if civil war is to be averted, we must find some means of controlling these all-too-human impulses. Creating mixed units would, hopefully, be one way to achieve this. If not, Shiite units could run roughshod over Sunni regions driving more and more into the ranks of the insurgencies (thus creating a downward spiral of violence). Unfortunately, recruiting Sunnis has been difficult, despite the laudable intentions of the American forces.

A senior U.S. military official in Baghdad familiar with Iraqi army operations said American officers are concerned about the lack of Sunnis in the Iraqi forces and have started a massive recruiting campaign. In the past three months, some 4,000 Sunnis have been recruited and are undergoing training, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

"We never intended to create a Shiite army," the official said. "Clearly, one of our number one concerns going forward ... is sectarianism ... that revenge mentality."

Nevertheless, as Lasseter points out, "American commanders often refer to the 1st Brigade as a template for the future of Iraq's military," further, "It's one of the rare Iraqi units with a command competent at the brigade level, instead of just smaller company or battalion-based units." This is troubling because, upon closer inspection, this is not exactly the type of unit that would embody the spirit of loyalty to a larger Iraq and ability to transcend the ethnic/sectarian divides needed to head off the potential disaster looming on the horizon. In fact, there is an unsettling relationship between non-governmental religious figures and military personnel - an unhinging of civilian, governmental control of the armed forces which is a linchpin of most successful democracies.

The Iraqi troops consult with American advisers daily. On big raids in dangerous areas, the Americans often take the lead with their superior firepower.

But day to day, the Iraqi officers mostly run their own show, carrying out most of the patrols and running checkpoints without help. Increasingly, however, they look and operate less like an Iraqi national army unit and more like a Shiite militia.

Shwail, the 1st brigade's top officer, regularly reviews important decisions, including troop distribution, with a prominent local Shiite cleric who's closely aligned with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top Shiite religious figure in Iraq.

The brigade and its sectarian leanings has alarmed not only Sunnis in the area but also other Iraqi military commanders.

They said they worry that a mostly Shiite military unit will follow religious clerics before national leaders, risking a breakdown in the army along sectarian lines.

"It is a mistake," said Col. Fadhil al-Barawary, the Kurdish commander of the Iraqi army's commando battalion, housed on the same base with the 1st Brigade. "The danger is that when there is strife between Sunnis and Shiites in the neighborhoods it creates problems" with loyalties.

Barawary continued: "It's a total mistake to have soldiers taking orders from the marja'iya. It puts us all in danger." Barawary was referring to the ruling council of Shiite clerics, whose word is law for most Shiites in Iraq.

Predictably, this brigade, comprised of Shiites taking cues from religious leaders, is prone to view the current struggle in sectarian terms (rightly or wrongly), which doesn't bode well for those that insist that as we fill in the ranks of an Iraqi army, we can withdraw from the region. An army like this might actually increase the chances of civil war, rather than provide stability and a sense of nationalism.

The brigade last week raided the home of Saleh al-Mutlak, one of the most prominent Sunni politicians in the country, a day after an Iraqi soldier was shot and killed in the neighborhood. Soldiers said some gunfire had come from the direction of Mutlak's house during the raid on his neighborhood.

Arab satellite news stations carried images of a car with its windows smashed in Mutlak's driveway, and Mutlak held a news conference, saying that the soldiers who came into his home were thugs.

Sgt. Maj. Asad al-Zubaidi said Mutlak was lucky he wasn't shot.

"When we are in charge of security the people will follow a law that says you will be sentenced to prison if you speak against the government, and for people like Saleh Mutlak there will be execution," Zubaidi said. "Thousands of people are being killed by Saleh Mutlak and these dogs."

Other soldiers from the brigade reacted to the shooting of one from their ranks in a Sunni neighborhood:

"Even if you people, you Sunnis, roll tanks on our heads we will not give this country back to you," Mousawi said. "It's ours now."

Two days after the shooting, Sgt. Ahmed Sabri stood outside the Umm al Qura mosque, home to the militant Sunni Muslim Scholars Association. The mosque is just down the road from where Jabar was shot.

"Every man we've had killed and wounded is because of that mosque. Thousands and thousands of Shiites are being killed, which is why they're joining the army," Sabri said. "Just let us have our constitution and elections in December and then we will do what Saddam did - start with five people from each neighborhood and kill them in the streets and then go from there."

Asked if he worried about possible fighting between his men and the Sunnis at Umm al Qura, the brigade's command sergeant major, Hassan Kadhum, smiled.

"Your country had to have a civil war," he said. "It will be the same here. Everything in this world has its price. In Iraq the price for peace will be blood."

Kadhum thought the matter over for a few more moments.

"There will be a day when we take that mosque and make it an army headquarters," Kadhum said.

Adding another layer to this conundrum, some of the troops in this brigade even indicated a willingness, if not latent desire, to turn on American forces if and when their religious leaders so instruct them:

Some Iraqi troops went a step further, saying they were only awaiting word from the marja'iya before turning on American forces. Although many Shiites are grateful for the overthrow of Saddam, they also are suspicious of U.S. motives. Those suspicions partly stem from the failure of the first Bush administration to support a U.S.-encouraged Shiite uprising against Saddam in 1991. Saddam suppressed it and slaughtered thousands.

"In Amariyah last week, a car bomb hit a U.S. Humvee and their soldiers began to shoot randomly. They killed a lot of innocent civilians. I was there; I saw it," said Sgt. Fadhal Yahan. "This happens all the time. If they keep doing this, the people will attack them. And we are part of the people."

Sgt. Jawad Majid chimed in: "We have our marja'iya and we are waiting for them to decide when the time to fight (the Americans) is, when it is no longer time to be silent." [emphasis added throughout]

It should go without saying that there are no easy solutions to this and so many of the other problems hampering our efforts in Iraq. Forging an army that represents all factions in Iraq (consisting of well-intentioned and motivated recruits) and one capable of rising above the continuous violence perpetrated primarily by certain sectarian factions (the Sunnis overwhelmingly initially, but that is changing) in order to maintain a sense of duty and loyalty to the larger nation will be enormously difficult. Frequent setbacks and recalibrations should be expected.

But much hangs in the balance, so getting this right is worth the political capital, wherewithal, time, resources and effort necessary to see it through. If the interest of creating an Iraqi army and police force as a fig leaf for our exit supersedes the interest of establishing a functional and representative version of each, we may be doing worse than wasting our time. We could be actively working against our stated goals. That is no way to avoid a wide ranging civil war that could easily morph into regional war.

Posted by at October 18, 2005 05:01 PM | TrackBack (24)

Assuming your worst case scenario pans out, what would be the danger of partitioning the country? Isn't it possible it could be managed in a manner closer to the Chechs and Slovackia than to Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia? At the beginning of this war I thought one of our biggest mistakes was not stating in our ultimatums to the Baathist leadership that their refusal to exile Saddam & sons would result in an independent Kurdistan, with Kirkuk as it's capital - a people that deserve a state many times more than the Palestinians.
Lets say we give the Sunni's until 2009 to get with the program - Bush leaves office and they have still not accepted reality. Then I think we would be morally justified to pull the plug on their subsidies from the Shia and Kurd oilfields and let them become a Gaza without a seashore.

Posted by: wayne at October 18, 2005 06:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't think you're necessarily wrong from a normative point of view, at least in terms of the Kurds who have suffered enough to earn statehood, but there are larger implications.

In terms of Kurdistan, Turkey, Jordan, Syria and Iran don't want it to happen for fear of what their own Kurdish minorities might do (agitate to secede and join Kurdistan). Turkey has its hands full already with such a dynamic, and they are the ones we would be most reluctant to piss off. Not to mention that they would likely begin armed confrontation with Kurdistan, which could begin a larger regional war. Israel has been siding with the Kurds in an effort to create a counterweight to the Iranian backed Shiite dominance in the south of Iraq. So Iran would have an interest in pushing the other way. That could get ugly.

Further, Iraq is not so neatly delineated in terms of ethnicity/sect, with too many mixed regions. In such a scenario, there would be too much palpable risk of Balkans-like ethnic cleansing - especially considering the current hostilities. Of course, we might see that anyway, even if the nation holds together.

The Shiites, finally divorced from the Kurdish and Sunni counterweights would likely trend theocratic and turn toward Iran for needed patronage and out of common bond. This oil rich region might not be entirely friendly to our interests now that they are on their own. Further, there are fears that the repressed Shiite population in Eastern Saudi Arabia (with the richest oil deposits) would agitate to secede and join the new Shiite republic.

As for the Sunni region, they would not likely get Kirkuk and as such would be poorer than dirt. They would probably rather fight than accept this outcome, and would receive much support from all over the Middle East and broader Muslim world (including neighboring Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to name a few). We're talking one crowded strip of flypaper. As mentioned above, since each region would have different backers (Israel-Kurds, Iran-Shiites, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, etc.-Sunnis), the whole thing could get monumentally ugly.

It's not an understatement to suggest a real World War IV scenario. As for us, would we really want to get caught in the middle of that? How hard are the insurgencies to deal with without inviting a region-wide conflict?

Posted by: Eric Martin at October 18, 2005 07:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think a good sized USAF base in Kurdistan, along with a couple of carriers in the Gulf, would give Turkey, Syria, etc second thoughts about intervening. They also might be useful in deterring conventional attacks accross whatever "green lines" are set up. I agree there would be a lot of hardship, displacement, etc. but I'm only talking about doing this if we have to put up with another four years of chronic car bombings -- any solution might look preferable by that point.

Posted by: wayne at October 18, 2005 07:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

1. Eric, you undermine yourself when you quote the one battalion figure again. As has been made clear over and over again, level 2 battalions can fight essentially on their own, but lack logistics and other support elements. There are over 30 level 2 battalions and they are fighting actively all over Iraq. Indeed level 3 battalions are fighting as well, but only alongside US forces.

2. Glass half full dept - there seem to many Iraqi officers who are troubled by this overtly sectarian brigade as you are. This indicates the Iraqis themselves are cognizant of the problem.

3. This reiterates the importance of the political process - a process that has a greater role for Sunnis will presumably lead to more sunni recruitment. A process in which Sunnis are playing a more constructive role is presumbaly one which lessen the animosities felt by Shiites.

4. Why is it that when Palestinians, Iranians, etc talk about exterminating Israel, etc I am supposed to recall the regional cultural tendency toward inflated rhetoric, but when Shiites say frightening things about Sunnis, I am supposed to take those things at face value?

5. Note I think we are in pretty close agreement on the policy need to keep large numbers of American forces in Iraq for some time - I dont happen to think you advance that cause much by emphazing the empty half of the glass. AFAICT the more of this kind of news is out there, the more the public is inclined to cut and run. I guess it depends on whether you think the admin will decide on purely policy considerations - and is listening to you - or if they are more influenced by public opinion.

Posted by: liberalhawk at October 18, 2005 07:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have nothing to add beyond the fact that I'm all for Radiohead references in mini-essay titles and section titles. Apologies for the shallow obviousness. ;-)

Posted by: Ned Raggett at October 18, 2005 08:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


1. Am not an expert, if you have links supporting this it would help.

2. I hope so.

3. Agreed.

4. Not sure. Presumably Israel takes them seriously. And it sure looks like in the current example there is a lot of walk backing up the talk (both ways of course, more like a war than a one-sided extermination). I suppose we could just dismiss these statements if we wanted to.

5. Lucky for us all, the general public isn't reading me - I assume. Not that the administration is either - I assume. Nevertheless, to the extent anyone is listening, I am most interested in what policies will lead to the optimal course of action, not encouraging or discouraging public support. Further, I think that the tone of this piece is that there is so much at stake we need to do this right, take our time as needed, spend money, commit troops, etc.

If the American people are going to want to bug out because someone says its going to be hard work, but necessary work, then they will probably bug out if someone says its going to be easy, we're in the "last throes" and then two years later, the throes are still lasting.

Posted by: Eric Martin at October 18, 2005 08:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It would be nice to think the administration were at least a little bit influenced by public opinion, to say nothing of the budget situation and the need to prepare the military to respond to threats in other parts of the world.

I appreciate Eric's concern about what is good for Iraq, but the fact is that there are practical limits on the time and resources we can devote to this country. It is an unfortunate fact that the insurgency has weakened Iraqi secularists and those who believe in a nonsectarian, unified state; it has strengthened those inclined to follow Iran's lead in religious and other ways; it has increased the hostility Iraqi Shiites and Kurds feel for the Sunni Arabs. Unfortunate, and unsurprising. Trying to address these effects if the cause persists would be about as useful an exercise as trying to stuff toothpaste back into a tube.

There isn't any getting around the fact that for full-scale civil war in Iraq to be avoided, what needs to happen is not for the "all-too-human impulses" of Shiites and Kurds to be repressed indefinitely by American pressure, but for Sunni Arabs to stand up against the insurgency. If they are not willing to do that, we cannot be their protectors. We can afford, maybe, to maintain our current commitment to Iraq for as long as a stable government looks like it might emerge, but no longer than that.

Posted by: JEB at October 18, 2005 08:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I don't doubt we could discourage Turkey, but the costs of such brinkmanship would be large. Ultimately, though, I agree with you that all options should be on the table in a worst case scenario outcome.

I was just trying to fill in what the contra to the partition argument is. I tend to think partition is very bad idea, but then again, the worst case scenario outcomes of staying the course aren't that pretty either.

Again, I'm back to trying to make the political process work. It would help to solve much of this.


I was wondering if my homage went unnoticed.

Posted by: Eric Martin at October 18, 2005 08:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I am closer to LH on the optimism scale than I think you are - I mentioned Chris Hitchens in a comment a few days ago and he has another piece on Slate that's on the same topic - I recommend you look at it.
Worst case and we are defending Kurdistan against threats from Turkey -- what do we owe the Turks? They started our problems by pulling the rug out from under our northern thrust into the Sunni triangle. I think if we had brought the hammer down as planned a lot of our problems there could have been avoided.

Posted by: wayne at October 18, 2005 09:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


see bill roggio, his posts of Oct 13, and Oct 11, on Iraqi security forces.

Posted by: liberalhawk at October 18, 2005 09:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"If the American people are going to want to bug out because someone says its going to be hard work, but necessary work, then they will probably bug out if someone says its going to be easy, we're in the "last throes" and then two years later, the throes are still lasting. "

im not arguing for last throes sugarcoating. Even IF all the most optimistic things that Ive quoted are true, wed STILL - A. Be unable to withdraw any US troops before April 2006 (not counting the completion of the current rotation, which will reduce the number due to overlap). The drawdown in April 2006 would be no larger than 10-20,000, leaving at least 118,000 American troops. And its virtually ruled out that we'd withdrawl to under, say 20,000 in anytime before Spring 2007. Hardly "last throes".

But IF we tell the American people that theres NO prospect for any safe withdrawl, anytime before say, 2009, they may well say that the benefit isnt worth the cost. IF thats NOT in fact the case, saying that is could have real negative consequences.

Im less worried by folks listening to Cheney than to Carl Levin. If only that the latter has more public credibility at the moment.

and that Cheney was essentially slapped down(on that statement), and Levin certainly hasnt been

Posted by: liberalhawk at October 18, 2005 10:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I confess to not being overly impressed when I've read anything other than a book review by Hitch over the past five years. He has become such an all out, see no evil/hear no evil booster of the Iraq campaign that he ends up sounding completely disconnected from reality.

The article is interesting. There are some points to be made, but most are obvious, and the non-obvious tend to be pedantic. Yes, the Shiites are a religious sect as are the Sunni, whereas the Kurds are an ethnic group. But that is why I always write: "ethnic/sectarian" whenever I discuss the tensions and hostilities. Many people do as well.

Then this from Hitch:

To be a Sunni or a Shiite is to follow one or another Muslim obedience, but to be a Kurd is to be a member of a large non-Arab ethnicity as well as to be, in the vast majority of cases, a Sunni. Thus, by any measure of accuracy, the "Sunni" turnout in the weekend's referendum on the constitution was impressively large, very well-organized, and quite strongly in favor of a "yes" vote. Is that the way you remember it being reported? I thought not. Well, then, learn to think for yourself.

That is a borderline tautology. Obviously, he is technically right to point out the short cut taken, but it does little to address the actual events (and I doubt given what we know about Nineveh, that the Sunni turnout, even when Kurds are included, would amount to a strong "yes" vote). From now on, though, we should say "Sunni non-Kurds" when discussing the Sunni population that is the most problematic in the current Iraq. Bravo Hitch. Where would we be without you.

Otherwise, I am somewhat confused. In typical Hitchens fashion, he is so concerned with scoring points and showing off his insider baseball credentials, that he ends up contradicting himself. He seems to say in the first half that ethnic/sectarian differences aren't that important to actual Iraqis and that it would be insulting to ask them these questions, and then goes on to say that such differences were stoked and manipulated by Saddam and thus we are left to confront the results now.

So...Iraqis don't care as much about ethnic/sectarian differences as conventional wisdom would have us believe, but they do in fact care very much about ethnic/sectarian differences because of Saddam and this has created serious obstacles, but then didn't anymore when Hitchens talked to some recently, but they actually do now because of the violence and ulterior agendas of neighbors, but it's not our fault...????

Finally, what is the point of the piece? That various players are pushing their own agenda and using ethnic/sectarian differences as a lever? If that's it, we agree. But it feels like he's trying to say something more incisive or revelatory than that. Was it the seemingly opposing points that ethnic/sectarian differences aren't very important, but are? That Syria has a similar problem? I just missed it I guess.

Posted by: Eric Martin at October 18, 2005 10:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There is another question regarding the Iraqi military that we are attempting to "stand up" that is somewhat beyond - yet related to - level 1, level 2 and discussions of ethnicity, infiltration, etc.

That question is; who will arm the Iraqi military and who will train it to use arms?

I'm not talking about rifles and pick-up trucks.

I'm talking about the type of weapons systems that would not only allow the central governmnet to decisively crush an open insurection, but also to defend against foreign (most likely bordering countries) invaders.

This means tanks, helos, artillery, airplanes, probably some sort of naval force, communication systems, etc, etc, etc.

And then the training to use all of this effectively and efficiently.

I don't see anyone anywhere discussing this aspect of standing up an army.
Regardless, it seems to me an important topic because without modern weapons systems the country is horribly vulnerable. Said vulnerability could lead to foreign - particularly Iranian - influence either through direct invasion or - more likely - through a defense compact born of the sense of vulnerability.

So when do we talk about the cost and other logistics of supplying Iraq with all of the above mentioned?

How long would that take? I'd say years for equiping and training.
How much would it cost? I'd say billions and billions of $.

Maybe that's why no one is discussing this issue.
All we are talking about now is a paramilitary police force. That simply will not do even in the medium term.

Posted by: ghost at October 18, 2005 10:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Long observation of Slate suggests to me that the point of the piece is that Hitchens has contracted to supply copy to Slate and needed something to submit by this week's deadline. Slate for its parts thinks Hitchens is a name author it has to have. And that's about it.

Honestly, Eric, talk about what people like Hitchens write is one of the banes of the blogosphere. It's like discussing Tony Kornheiser's ideas about pro football game plans -- fun for killing time, maybe, but Kornheiser doesn't play or coach, never has, and never will. There are, occasionally, public figures whose ideas are worth considering even if they are on the outside of events. Hitchens -- his man-bites-dog celebrity as an apologist for Communism who now defends a Republican administration notwithstanding -- isn't one of them.

Posted by: JEB at October 18, 2005 10:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

and I qoute.....

", I do not believe we should withdraw our troops until it is clear (as close as possible) that a full blown civil war will not erupt in our absence, that the nation of Iraq will not fragment into sub-states (possibly failed states) and/or that the country will not be overrun by foreign elements."

None of the above was remotely posssible BEFORE Dubya invaded and Occupied Iraq...... Two hundred thousand insugents? ... ( Non exisistent before then, now outnumbers coalition.... they rode in on the back of US|UK tanks.... want proof?..... Ask the Israeli's... or the Saudis.... both of whom idependently confirm that the "sucide bombers\terrorists" now engaged in Iraq were radicalized by the war and invasion.

Exactly what sort of neo-con moron morons are you guys?

Posted by: Dave Goodrich at October 18, 2005 10:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I was against the invasion. So, I'm the anti-war neo-con moron morons.


Can't say that I disagree. But Hitchens was injected into a couple different comments threads so I took a whack.


Good questions all.

Posted by: Eric Martin at October 18, 2005 10:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gundreds of thousands of unarmed civilians ( Women and childen, died at our hands before this invasion ever began ..... ( check out what the UN thinks our sanctions and bombing accounted for).

I have always loathed Saddam Hussien ( Who was, let us not forget, a documented CIA Asset from the fifties onwards)....I was campaigning for him to be brought before an international tribunal to answer for his crimes back in the eighties.... a time when Bush senior was ensuring the speedy shipment of chemical WMD to Saddam plus American (Illegal) subsidies ( Got a video of Rummy shaking hands with Saddam shortly befire handing over a billion US tax dollars.... want to see it?)........., and which his son, Bush, Junior, now states he never had any right too!

BTW.... what's with this "security code " Number we have to type in before posting?

Posted by: Dave Goodrich at October 18, 2005 11:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greetings Jeb:)

Paid brief visits to this site before ....not run across you... I'm usually stirring up trouble at "Opendemocracy.com" or "Buzzflash" etc.

UnlesS you are the guy who posted the lead article in this thread, I was not directly addressing..... or insulting you..

Doesn't mean I won't ( Give me time to dig out what it is you think or are willing to believe)

But I did not read all the way through this thread..... running into wilful, deliberate distortions of facts within the second paragraph of the top posting halted any furthewr meaningful investigation of what might have occurred later.

Posted by: Dave Goodrich at October 18, 2005 11:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ok :)...

My apolgies Eric ....

It's late here.... I'm drinking brandy.....

I will remember who you are and where I met you next time we run across each other... till then.... good luck to you :)

Posted by: Dave Goodrich at October 18, 2005 11:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You discredit yourself by relying on Halperin.

Posted by: rich at October 18, 2005 11:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Interesting War and Dissent

Posted by: DPH at October 19, 2005 02:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Interesting War and Dissent

Posted by: DPH at October 19, 2005 02:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Oops, sorry.

Posted by: DPH at October 19, 2005 02:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think a good sized USAF base in Kurdistan, along with a couple of carriers in the Gulf, would give Turkey, Syria, etc second thoughts about intervening.

I agree with this.
I served for two years in Turkey. I love the Turks but their threats on the issue of an Iraqi Kurdistan are hot air.

The fact is Anakara is significantly at fault for the current situation.
The creation of a Kurdistan would be fudimentaly stabalizing to the region.

Posted by: RickO at October 19, 2005 03:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

in defense of Hitch, I think whats hes saying is

1. That the groups in Iraq were less seperated, and were starting to move further together, under the "old regime" (i presume the monarchy, and the first republican regime before the Baathists took over - the baathists ruled for a few years before Saddam came to power, and while i think they impoased SUnni arab dominance, i dont think it was near as bloody as under Saddam)

2. Saddam's actions aggravated tensions, and created the divisions we now see.

3. However those difference are NOT essential, or natural, or part of the local culture - they are the artificial creation of Saddam, and are maintained by the remnants of his regime - IE the insurgency.

4. The correct approach is not to despair of Iraqi unity, and thus to withdraw, but to create the conditions by which this natural Iraqi unity can reassert itself - by defeating the insurgency, etc.

His overall view is to oppose "essentialism" the (Huntingtonian?) belief that currently observed ethnic/sectarian divisions are "ancient" rivalries about which we can do nothing, rather than the product of modern politics. This argument has been used wrt Bosnia, Rwanda, and elsewhere, and is potentially quite powerful. For more on it, I suggest reading ANY New Republic article on ethnic/religious conflict since Wieseltier has been an editor then.

How it relates to Iraq is something else. I suspect Hitchs policy prescriptions are pretty close to your own - the only difference is the glass half full thingie we've already discussed.

Posted by: liberalhawk at October 19, 2005 02:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Gundreds of thousands of unarmed civilians ( Women and childen, died at our hands before this invasion ever began ..... ( check out what the UN thinks our sanctions and bombing accounted for).

I have always loathed Saddam Hussien ( Who was, let us not forget, a documented CIA Asset from the fifties onwards)....I was campaigning for him to be brought before an international tribunal to answer for his crimes back in the eighties.... a time when Bush senior was ensuring the speedy shipment of chemical WMD to Saddam plus American (Illegal) subsidies ( Got a video of Rummy shaking hands with Saddam shortly befire handing over a billion US tax dollars.... want to see it?)........., and which his son, Bush, Junior, now states he never had any right too!"

Dave Goodrich


Video of Rummy and Saddam you say - what a scoop!

Next you'll tell us you have a picture of Roosevelt and Stalin smiling and chatting : o

Posted by: Pogue Mahone at October 19, 2005 03:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Though the process is maddeningly slow, the Iraqi army is working on getting some better equipment. There are 77 refurbished T-72's in the pipeline that they should be getting within the next few years. Also in the works are 180 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers donated by the UAE. In the interim they have a few stopgap T-55s.

The Iraqi Air Force has a few C-130's and an odd collection of helicopters (mainly upgraded UH-1's), with more on the way (mainly donated by Jordan).

Posted by: Andrew Reeves at October 19, 2005 03:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The threat posed by a partitioned "Kurdistan" isn't that Turkey will attack it spontaneously, but that the mere existence of Kurdistan will lead to renewed agitation by Kurds in Turkey, Syria, and Iran....and that Kurdistan will support Kurdish insurgencies in those nations.

We could find ourselves with a miltary base in Kurdistan surrounded by hostile nations, "defending" Kurds from retaliation by Iran/Turkey/Syria as the Kurds we are defending are actively exporting revolution to those nations.


The bottom line here is that by staying in Iraq, we are merely delaying the inevitable --- and creating the conditions where "the inevitable" gets worse and worse as time goes on. Despite his attempts at optimism, Eric's original post showed why his optimism is ridiculous --- you can't build an "integrated" army that won't be heavily infiltrated by the insurgency, and you can't build a non-integrated army that will be see its primary loyal being to Iraq as an "integrated" nation.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at October 19, 2005 06:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

An independent Kurdistan is not necessarily that risky to Turkey. Such a Kurdistan would depend heavily on the USA for its continued survival. This means that it would probably not agitate Kurds in neighboring countries if the USA forbade it. It could be arranged that Kurds from neighboring countries (such as Turkey) would be permitted to emmigrate to Kurdistan. This would actually reduce the number of Kurds in these neighboring countries and thus reduce the intensity of the Kurdish revolutionaries in those neighboring countries. Kurdistan would be an ally for a long time because it would need us to survive.

It is not likely that we will leave Iraq as a stable, peaceful democracy. We cannot stay there forever attempting to keep the peace. It may be necessary for the Kurds and Shiites to kill large numbers of Sunnis before the Sunnis will realize that they have been defeated and need to stop fighting.

The biggest downside to partitioning Iraq into 3 separate entities is that the Shiite part of Iraq may fall under the dominion of Iran. On the other hand, Shiite-Iraq might be very useful for mounting traditional CIA operations in Iran (assuming that we have a CIA capable of mounting traditional CIA operations).

Posted by: Steve Koch at October 19, 2005 07:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Shiite soldiers in the Lasseter article may talk about slaughtering the Sunnis after the December election, but I doubt they actually will. Such a genocide would invite the intervention of outside Sunni countries, and the US could not support it and would have to withdraw its forces.

The Shiite leaders have been playing things very smart, and the trends are basically in their favor. I think they will just keep on as they have, in particular building up the military, until the Sunni leadership realizes the insurgency is hopeless and stops supporting it, and reaches an accommodation with the Shiites and Kurds.

Posted by: Les Brunswick at October 19, 2005 11:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Many of the things that Halpern talks about are contradicted by the actual military folks on the ground in Iraq. For example, when Halpern talks about problems in the vetting process, he doesn't realize that this has been revamped recently and has been much improved. Halpern (and Eric Martin, too) could speak much more intelligently if they would listen to people actually in Iraq working on the problems, rather than whatever the local DC thinktanks are saying.

He is General Petraeus, for example, on the whole Level One/Level Two issue, where he says that Level TWO is the important level, since that is where the Iraqis can replace our troops:

Q General, there was a lot, obviously, made of General Casey's comments on Capitol Hill that there was just one battalion completely independent --


Q -- from three to one. For the guy sitting on the couch at home, if you could in layman's terms explain to him --


Q -- why that's not a bad thing.

GEN. PETRAEUS: First of all what I'd say is the focus ought to be a wider aperture than that, and the focus ought to be, at the very least, on level two, and again, above; i.e., level two and level one. It's level two where they can replace our forces, because it's level two where they can assume control of their own area of responsibility.

Beyond that, this is a very young readiness system, if you will. It is one that's literally been in existence only a few months. The transition team leaders and all the rest of them are grappling with this. You know, we don't have AR 30 dash whatever it is in this case that has, you know, 67 pages that tell you how to fill it out. And so there's still some development. In one case I think a higher commander actually asked the transition team leader, "Are you sure that's really a level one?" And the guy said, "Well, maybe it's not, I guess, so put it at level two."

Now, that will even its way out, and that's why I think it's much more important to focus on the aggregate. And what I would say is the slow migration across from level four, which is forming -- i.e., training; then into level three, which is fighting alongside; then to level two, which is in the lead -- and that is the key jump frankly, because again, that's where they can start to take over their own battlespace and allow us to move our forces elsewhere or come home; and then, of course, to level one, where they just don't need anything.

Now, let me caution that at level one there will still be transition teams with those units for the foreseeable future, if for no other reason than just deconfliction of battlespace and to make sure that we don't have fratricide and that type of thing.


I guess if your most important task is to attack the war and Bush, you will focus on Level One. That's obviously what the MSM did. Anyone interested in what's actually happening, though, will realize that there more here than is told by the MSM.

Posted by: A.S. at October 19, 2005 11:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hmmm, A.S.,

The reference to three or one battalions was in passing and not central to this post. In terms of referring to soldiers on the ground, I did cite an article from an Army captain who was, in fact, "on the ground" in Jordan. In addition, while not a soldier, Lasseter was "on the ground" and embedded with the Iraqi brigade in question.

Still, the point of this post was not that there is only one battalion of Iraqis capable of fighting independent of American support and assistance. I would be perfectly willing to concede there are more that can function without air support or arty from us. While Petraeus' sanguinity seems at odds with others "on the ground" I don't doubt that we have more capable units in some places. Either way, we can all agree that we don't have enough troops trained yet - enough that would allow us to depart in good conscience.

More important than the numbers, though, is that we take steps to ensure that these units are not overwhelmingly one ethnicity or sect (or that they are too influenced by religious leaders) such that they will become tools in, and a precipitator or, a large scale civil war. Avoiding such an outcome is my primary concern, and the thrust of this piece.

Speaking of which, what exactly about this piece conveyed the message that my most important aim was to attack Bush? Where did I attack him at all?

This piece was about obstacles we need to overcome in order to ensure the best possible outcome for Iraq, its neigbors and the world. If pointing out obstacles is attacking the president or mission, then our version of democracy is in need of some invigorating. Not to mention our prospects for success in Iraq. Good policy in Iraq, and elsewhere, comes out of a debate, not a bunch of well disciplined cheerleading.

Posted by: Eric Martin at October 20, 2005 12:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A battalion is roughly 800 to 900 troops.

The US cannot control Iraq with 130,000 troops, who are, BTW, better trained and equiped than Iraqis and who have arty and close air support, which, to my knowledge, the Iraqis do not.

So the Iraqis would need the equivalent of 150 level 1 battalions to provide the same level of security that we are currently providing. However, that does not take into account the Iraqis' need for artillery, tanks and close air support (not to mention communications systems and surveillence systems, etc).

But the level of security we are providing is obviously insuffcient to control the country; so the Iraqis would have to produce even more than 150 battalions.

If the line of thinking is that Iraqi battalions = security = US withdrawl, then I would say that we will be Iraq for a long long time.

Posted by: ghost at October 20, 2005 01:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

That's presuming the insurgency remains at something close to its current level and maintains its current tactics. If this happens, the level of training of Iraqi forces will be much less relevant, as eventually insurgent attacks against Shiite and Kurdish civilians will be reciprocated by attacks against the Sunni Arab civilian population that will require few of the skills and discipline the American army is seeking to impart to the Iraqi army now.

I appreciate what Gen. Petraeus has tried to do, but realistically it seems likely that a continuation of the insurgency will exhaust the patience of non-Sunni Arab Iraqis long before the Iraqi army and police are large enough, well-trained and equipped enough, and experienced enough to suppress the insurgents using approved counter-insurgency tactics.

Posted by: JEB at October 20, 2005 02:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"That's presuming the insurgency remains at something close to its current level and maintains its current tactics."

Yes, of course you're correct.

If the insurgency is motivated primarily by US presence, as Eric suggests, then we should get out ASAP.

If the insurgency is motivated by something else, then we will have to "stay the course" indefinitely because, as I pointed out (above) I don't see any way the Iraqi national military is going to be prepared to combat insurgencies and/or defend against foreign encroachments/invasions for a very long time.

If, as you suggest, a civil war could erupt if the insurgency continues - a sense that I agree with - then, argue many, we are compelled to stay. I am not so sure that under circumstances of civil war we should stay. We would be bogged down in the ugly business of killing the "good guys" as well as the "bad guys".

The only way it makes to sense to stay is if the Iraqi national military is developing at a satisfactory pace and if the insurgency simultaneously lessens in intensity to the point where a good to go Iraqi army is faced with absolute minimal insurgency.

I don't see either of these circumstances developing accordingly. Therefore I think we should pull out soon and let the chips fall where they may.

If the Iraqis want democracy badly enough, they will eventually work it out on their own.

Posted by: ghost at October 20, 2005 03:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

ghost - read the Petraeus briefing. He explicitly addresses the numbers issues you are questioning. Moreover, I believe that since his briefing, the plan for Iraqi forces has expanded beyond the 197,000 he discusses to 250,000+.

Posted by: A.S. at October 20, 2005 06:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

ghost - read the Petraeus briefing. He explicitly addresses the numbers issues you are questioning. Moreover, I believe that since his briefing, the plan for Iraqi forces has expanded beyond the 197,000 he discusses to 250,000+.

Posted by: A.S. at October 20, 2005 06:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ok so 350 battalions.

How many do we have now? How many battalions are we readying per quarter? per year?

Posted by: ghost at October 20, 2005 01:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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