Thursday, November 30, 2006

Iraq Study Group favors conditional redeployment

The Washington Post:
The Iraq Study Group, which wrapped up eight months of deliberations yesterday, has reached a consensus and will call for a major withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, shifting the U.S. role from combat to support and advising, according to a source familiar with the deliberations.

But the recommendation includes a series of conditions and qualifications that would govern any drawdown of forces, the source said. "It describes a process by which combat brigades could be pulled out, but there wasn't a specific timetable on it," he said. The source demanded anonymity because members of the bipartisan panel have been pledged to secrecy until the report is officially issued Dec. 6.


Some people knowledgeable about the group's deliberations said it might be possible in a year or two to halve the U.S. military presence, to about 70,000 troops. Earlier reports that said that the group simply had decided to call for withdrawing combat forces from Iraq were "garbled," the source familiar with the panel's recommendations added. "It wasn't as specific as that, and it was a lot more conditional," he said. He declined to discuss those conditions.
The New York Times:
The report, unanimously approved by the 10-member panel, led by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, is to be delivered to President Bush next week. It is a compromise between distinct paths that the group has debated since March, avoiding a specific timetable, which has been opposed by Mr. Bush, but making it clear that the American troop commitment should not be open-ended. The recommendations of the group, formed at the request of members of Congress, are nonbinding.

A person who participated in the commission’s debate said that unless the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki believed that Mr. Bush was under pressure to pull back troops in the near future, “there will be zero sense of urgency to reach the political settlement that needs to be reached.”

The report recommends that Mr. Bush make it clear that he intends to start the withdrawal relatively soon, and people familiar with the debate over the final language said the implicit message was that the process should begin sometime next year.
More than a year ago, John Murtha called for a redeployment in short order, with a quick reaction force in the region and Marines over the "horizon".

Is this the right policy for right now? I ask this question because there has been a consistent inability to actually understand what is going on in Iraq. I think the Iraq Study Group's recommendations, as they seem in this latest set of reporting, would have been smart policy in late 2005.

Conditional redepolyment sounds like a compromise based on foreign policy theory and not what is actually happening in Iraq.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"My report on Eyerack" By Stevie Hadley

He wrote five pages for our president. The full memo is here. Highlights from the New York Times, reactions from my high level of frustration:
“His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change,” the memo said of the Iraqi leader. “But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.”
This is a brilliant observation. Either he's lying to us or he's not! Thanks.
Addressing Mr. Bush, the memo said one option was for the president to “direct your cabinet to begin an intensive press on Saudi Arabia to play a leadership role on Iraq, connecting this role with other areas in which Saudi Arabia wants to see U.S. action.” Although the memo did not offer specifics, this appeared to be an allusion to a more active American role in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Recently, Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has reached out to the Palestinians and has said he wants to move ahead with peace talks. But the memo’s authors also contemplate the possibility that Mr. Maliki’s position may be too tenuous for him to take the steps needed to curb the power of Shiite militias, to establish a more diverse and representative personal staff and to arrest the escalating sectarian strife.
This advice would have been helpful several years ago, say 2002.
In that case, the memo suggests, it may ultimately be necessary for Mr. Maliki to recast his parliamentary bloc, a step the United States could support by pressing moderates to align themselves with the Iraqi leader and providing them with monetary support.
The United States tried to put a "moderate" in charge of Iraq. His name was Iyad Allawi and he met with no success. At that point, the environment for moderates was far more favorable. More, any "moderate" backed by U.S. dollars would have no legitimacy in the eyes of Iraqis. This is a fantasy idea, not a though experiment. Maliki would not survive such a political move, and I am not talking about "politically survive".
The memo lists a number of possible steps to build up Mr. Maliki’s capability. They include asking Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander, to develop a plan to strengthen the Iraqi leader.

This could involve the formation of a new National Strike Force, significantly increasing the number of American advisers working with the Iraqi National Police, a force that has been infiltrated by Shiite militias, and putting more Iraqi forces directly under Mr. Maliki’s control.
Maliki wants more control, Los Angeles Times. Creating a new security force seems to be a long-term, at best, solution. One major problem in Iraq is the security forces we have created.
In addition, the memorandum suggests that Mr. Bush ask the Pentagon and General Casey “to make a recommendation about whether more forces are needed in Baghdad.”
Dear George Bush, I recommend that more forces are needed in Baghdad.
The administration appears to have already begun carrying out some of the steps recommended in the document. Among them were a trip over the weekend by Vice President Dick Cheney to Saudi Arabia as part of an effort to seek help from Sunni Arab powers in encouraging Sunni groups in Iraq to seek a political compromise with Mr. Maliki.
Cheney has demonstrated that he might be the worst person to analyze events in Iraq. Excellent start.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Each attack produces more radicals

The Christian Science Monitor:
If last Thursday's attack proves to be another landmark event that drives Iraq further into civil war, it will complicate even more the American military exit strategy.

"We can compare it to the Hiroshima bomb," says a Sadr City water-department chief, who gave only his nickname, Abu Khadhim. Appeals from anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, coupled with a three-day lockdown in Baghdad, have checked violence so far.

Expectations of more heavy attacks Monday as the curfew lifted turned to tentative relief when few incidents were reported. These included gunmen shooting on a busy street, killing six.

"Without Moqtada's statement, the [2.5 million] people in Sadr City would go [and] destroy all Sunni neighborhoods," says Abu Khadhim. "If [Shiite clerics] declared war, like [Sunni cleric] Harith al-Dari, then there would be no more Sunnis left in Baghdad. All would be thrown into the Tigris River."
The Los Angeles Times:
BAGHDAD — Retaliatory attacks sparked by last week's massive bomb assault on a Shiite neighborhood here are driving more Iraqis into the ranks of sectarian militias amid rising distrust of government security forces, newly recruited gunmen and residents said Monday.

Besieged Iraqis, many with no previous affiliation with established militias, are taking up arms, barricading their communities and joining new Shiite Muslim militia cells or increasingly militant Sunni Arab neighborhood-watch groups.


Thousands of unsanctioned fighters have been on high alert since the car bombings Thursday in Sadr City, a poor Baghdad neighborhood that is home to the Al Mahdi militia, a Shiite force loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada Sadr.

Colonel Devlin's report re-enters the news

Dafna Linzer and Thomas Ricks have an update to the report filed by Colonel Peter Devlin in the summer of this year. The most important news item is (my emphasis):
The Marines recently filed an updated version of that assessment that stood by its conclusions and stated that, as of mid-November, the problems in troubled Anbar province have not improved, a senior U.S. intelligence official said yesterday. "The fundamental questions of lack of control, growth of the insurgency and criminality" remain the same, the official said.
In September, I put together news stories on this report to create a mock up. I will work on another as soon as I have time. In October, I speculated that an email written by a Marine intelligence officer and published by TIME may have been from Devlin. That email mentioned some surprise on the Marine's part at how persistent the Iraqi police were. That sentiment finds its way into this report on Devlin's assessment.

Important quotes from this latest Devlin report:
"The fundamental questions of lack of control, growth of the insurgency and criminality" remain the same, the official said.

The report describes Iraq's Sunni minority as "embroiled in a daily fight for survival," fearful of "pogroms" by the Shiite majority and increasingly dependent on al-Qaeda in Iraq as its only hope against growing Iranian dominance across the capital.

True or not, the memo says, "from the Sunni perspective, their greatest fears have been realized: Iran controls Baghdad and Anbaris have been marginalized." Moreover, most Sunnis now believe it would be unwise to count on or help U.S. forces because they are seen as likely to leave the country before imposing stability.

Between al-Qaeda's violence, Iran's influence and an expected U.S. drawdown, "the social and political situation has deteriorated to a point" that U.S. and Iraqi troops "are no longer capable of militarily defeating the insurgency in al-Anbar," the assessment found. In Anbar province alone, at least 90 U.S. troops have died since Sept. 1.


The report notes that illicit oil trading is providing millions of dollars to al-Qaeda while "official profits appear to feed Shiite cronyism in Baghdad."

As a result, "the potential for economic revival appears to be nonexistent" in Anbar, the report says. The Iraqi government, dominated by Iranian-backed Shiites, has not paid salaries for Anbar officials and Iraqi forces stationed there. Anbar's resources and its ability to impose order are depicted as limited at best.

"Despite the success of the December elections, nearly all government institutions from the village to provincial levels have disintegrated or have been thoroughly corrupted and infiltrated by Al Qaeda in Iraq," or a smattering of other insurgent groups, the report says.


Devlin wrote that attacks on civilians rose 57 percent between February and August of this year. "Although it is likely that attack levels have peaked, the steady rise in attacks from mid-2003 to 2006 indicates a clear failure to defeat the insurgency in al-Anbar."

Devlin suggested that without the deployment of an additional U.S. military division -- 15,000 to 20,000 troops -- plus billions of dollars in aid to the province, "there is nothing" U.S. troops "can do to influence" the insurgency.

He described al-Qaeda in Iraq as the "dominate organization of influence in al-Anbar," surpassing all other groups, the Iraqi government and U.S. troops "in its ability to control the day-to-day life of the average Sunni."

Al-Qaeda itself, now an "integral part of the social fabric of western Iraq," has become so entrenched, autonomous and financially independent that U.S. forces no longer have the option "for a decapitating strike that would cripple the organization," the report says. That is why, it says, the death of al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June "had so little impact on the structure and capabilities of al-Qaeda," especially in Anbar province.


In a final section of the report, titled "Way Ahead," Devlin outlined several possibilities for bringing stability to the area, including establishing a Sunni state in Anbar, creating a local paramilitary force to protect Sunnis and to offset Iranian influence, shifting local budget controls, and strengthening a committed Iraqi police force that has "proven remarkably resilient in most areas."

Devlin ended the assessment by saying that while violence has surged, the presence of U.S. troops in Anbar has had "a real suppressive effect on the insurgency." He said the suffering of "Anbar's citizens undoubtedly would be far worse now if it was not for the very effective efforts" of U.S. forces.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Iraq is not a civil war...

It is, however, on the verge of failed-state status.

An instructive, and brutal, analogy is the Lebanese Civil War. In that conflict, demographic shifts undermined the Christian controled government. Militias were formed during a (longer relative to Iraq) period of Sectarian polarization. A catalytic event, an assassination attempt, lead to a violent confrontation between and among those militias. It was a sectarian and intra-sectarian conflict.

All of these characteristics are evident in Iraq with the exception that Iraq has no strong central government to war against. The government is more or less a series of buildings in the Green Zone. It's power only reliably extends when it is carried on the trucks and tanks of the United States military. Two recent stories, one in the Christian Science Monitor and one in the International Herald Tribune, detail the continuing difficulties of establishing an effective Iraqi security establishment. On 60 Minutes last night, General John Abizaid said that it was crucial for the Iraqi government to back the Iraqi Army.

That would be a positive, but only in an increasingly meaningless symbolic sense. What exactly would be gained from a weak "central" government supporting an ineffective military? If we see such a public proclamation from either Maliki or Talabani, we could interpret it as the final political gesture of an extinct government.

Zeyad anticipates a new phase in the horrific war in Iraq. Though it is likely to be soon declared a "civil war", it in fact can never be such. There never was an Iraqi government, thus nothing to rebel against. Had the United States managed to establish a legitimate government between the fall of Saddam and the troubles of today, then there would be the potential for civil war. A component of the government, the Sunnis for an example, could split and form their own militia.

The administration will hide behind definitions to protect their reputation concerning Iraq. They will correctly assert that it is not a civil war. But, it is a failed state and it is their fault. The closest Iraq came to a civil war was actually on election day, the day that was exclaimed to be a sign of great success. In fact, those elections were on Sectarian lines. Sunnis voted against the constitution, or they voted for political goals that the Shiite and the Kurds would not accept. The Shiite and the Kurds went with their own agendas.

That was one of the few days that Iraqis agreed to a concept of governance, and their factions wanted something very different. This is a crucial point: elections were a tool for the different factions. They were not a priori democracy. These elections were a posteriori tribalism, sectarianism, civil strife -- there are a lot of descriptions fitting circumstances.

Violence and demographic shifts, in part caused by ethnic cleansing, have radicalized the parties involved. At this point, it is more likely than not that some sort of terrible Sectarian (and Intra-Sectarian) War will rage in Iraq. Like Lebanon's civil war, it will draw in regional powers, more so than it already has.

The current situation in Lebanon looks troubling as well.

My blogging friend, Mike, more or less agrees with the failed state position.

Confronting the state within a state

We are about to press Sadr at a time when his power is at its peak.

The Washington Post:
For U.S. officials, dismantling the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias that have fomented sectarian strife in Iraq is a cornerstone of their calculus to stabilize Iraq and bring U.S. troops home. They view it as a crucial step toward isolating the Sunni Arab insurgency and reconciling the nation.

But the attacks Thursday illustrated the immense difficulties involved in tackling the Mahdi Army, the country's largest and most violent militia, in today 's Iraq. The militiamen were heroes that day, Sadr City residents said in interviews. They did everything that Iraq's fragile unity government did not, or could not, do. In the days since, their actions have boosted Sadr's popularity and emboldened him.

"The Mahdi Army are the people who helped us after the explosion," said Shihab Ahmed, 24, a salesman who was wounded by flying shrapnel. "They saved us."

Against this backdrop, President Bush is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday in Amman, Jordan. U.S. officials have grown increasingly impatient with Maliki for his inability, or lack of will, to confront the Mahdi Army and other militias, who operate unchallenged. Some U.S. lawmakers on Sunday television talk shows called for Sadr's arrest and for Bush to urge Maliki to take stronger measures against the militias.
You can be frustrated by a "lack of will", but you should not be frustrated by an "inability".

Friday, November 24, 2006

Sliding closer to chaos

An apparently recurring CENTCOM slide was published by the New York Times. I noted that we should pay attention to these categories.

In mid-October, CENTCOM ascribed the following values:

"Key Reads"

1. Political/religious leaders increase public hostile rhetoric GREEN
2. Political/religious leaders lose moderating influence over constituents ORANGE
3. Provocative sectarian attacks/assassinations YELLOW
4. Unorganized spontaneous mass civil conflict GREEN

There are ten additional indicators.

1. Militias expand security role ORANGE
2. Governance ORANGE
3. Police ineffectual ORANGE
4. Army ineffectual YELLOW
5. Neighbors enable violence YELLOW
6. Sectarian tensions/violence displace population ORANGE
7. Sectarian conflicts between/within ISF forces YELLOW
8. ISF refuse to take orders from central government, mass desertion YELLOW
9. Kurdish accelerate moves toward secession/annexing Kirkuk YELLOW
10. Low level violence motivated by sectarian differences CRITICAL/RED

If I had photoshop, I could update this. My work PC does not permit that though. Here's how it looks today (with notes).

"Key Reads"

1. Political/religious leaders increase public hostile rhetoric GREEN (STATIC. They still call for calm.)
2. Political/religious leaders lose moderating influence over constituents CRITICAL/RED (DECLINE. Kidnappings last week and attacks in Sadr city, with retaliation today, indicate that moderating influence may be lost.)
3. Provocative sectarian attacks/assassinations ORANGE (DECLINE. Two massive attacks in as many weeks)
4. Unorganized spontaneous mass civil conflict YELLOW (DECLINE. Attacks today despite curfew. Some very spectacular: namely Sunnis burned alive in front of crowds.)

There are ten additional indicators.

1. Militias expand security role ORANGE (STATIC.)
2. Governance ORANGE (STATIC. Critical level may approach if Sadr leaves governing coalition)
3. Police ineffectual CRITICAL/RED (DECLINE. Curfew not effective enough)
4. Army ineffectual ORANGE (DECLINE. Curfew not effective enough)
5. Neighbors enable violence ORANGE (DECLINE. Shiite neighborhoods launched mortar attacks last night and today. Vocal protests.)
6. Sectarian tensions/violence displace population ORANGE (STATIC. But, UN reports 1000s displaced per day, according to some reports.)
7. Sectarian conflicts between/within ISF forces YELLOW (STATIC.)
8. ISF refuse to take orders from central government, mass desertion YELLOW (STATIC.)
9. Kurdish accelerate moves toward secession/annexing Kirkuk YELLOW (STATIC.)
10. Low level violence motivated by sectarian differences CRITICAL/RED (STATIC. Already at worst level in scale. Actually intensifying.

We shall see who calls the shots...

Unless there is a settlement, which I don't anticipate, we shall see who is in charge of Shiite-Iraq. The New York Times:
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 24 — As the death toll from a series of devastating car bombs in a Shiite district here rose today to more than 200, a powerful legislative bloc loyal to firebrand Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr threatened to boycott the government if Iraq’s prime minister attends a scheduled meeting with President Bush in Jordan next week.
A representative of Sadr said this, not the man himself. This is interesting. There remains room to maneuver politically.

Sadr said this, according to Australia's ABC News:
A day after seeing his Baghdad power base devastated by explosions, radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has called on Iraq's most prominent Sunni religious leader to tell his followers to stop killing Shiites.

Sadr, who on Thursday blamed Sunni Islamist Al Qaeda militants and Saddam Hussein loyalists for the blasts which killed 202 people, made the call during a Friday sermon in Kufa, just outside the Shiite holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad.

It was directed at Harith al-Dari, the head of Iraq's influential Muslim Clerics Association, an umbrella group for Sunni religious leaders, who is wanted by Iraqi authorities on suspicion of links to terrorism charges. Dari, who lives abroad, denies the accusations.

Sadr said Dari must issue religious rulings, or fatwas, to fellow minority Sunnis, who form the backbone of a three-year-old insurgency, forbidding the killing of Shiites or membership of Al Qaeda.
There have already been retaliations, CNN:
In the aftermath of the bloody strike Thursday on Shiites in the Sadr City slum, attackers assaulted three Sunni mosques Friday in Baghdad.

Gunmen burned a Sunni mosque in Hurriya, a majority-Shiite neighborhood in northwestern Baghdad. Police said people tried to put out the fire, but gunmen stopped them.

Eyewitnesses said gunmen also attacked another Sunni mosque in Hurriya using rocket-propelled grenades.

The people of Hurriya called on the Iraqi government to secure and protect their neighborhood, according to a TV station controlled by the Iraqi Islamic Party.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The bleak conclusion to 2006

It was my intent to keep this page as light in tone as possible during this week. It is, after all, the holidays -- and a particular holiday meant to celebrate and be thankful. It is one of my favorite holidays.

But, this is a very terrible Thanksgiving Day.

Lebanon is on the brink, again. Hezbollah is not the battered remnant that so many wish to will into existence. It is so strange how columnists and politicians assert success in the face of failure. George W. Bush's eternal, fierce, terrifying optimism has become a disease that plagues people who wish to forget that history is a sometimes bloody sport.

Finger-pointing at Syria is premature. We should recall that al Qaeda has vowed to influence affairs in Lebanon, to move one step closer to Israel. I have seen no "expert" note that this assassination was not a Syrian (massive) bomb. This was the sort of killing a crime syndicate would enact. There was also an attack on a Greco-Christian minister's office. It seems to be far more amateurish -- something like a Jihadist B Team. Students of political assassinations, such as Abraham Lincoln's and Franz Ferdinand's, would note that the B Team sometimes does not deliver. The B Team is probably not Syrian operatives, for I think their success rate would have been remarkably higher. That second minister, who is alive at this point, would have tipped the Lebanese government into disarray. Who would benefit? Small, nimble and violent organizations that feed and thrive within chaos.

There is as much reason, at this point and with what little we know, for speculating that this was al Qaeda as there is for any other villain.

Then there is the brutal carnage in Sadr city. At least 150 Shiite have died in that neighborhood, and an unprecedented curfew has descended over Baghdad. The curfew is indefinite. Al Jazeera, and other media outlets, reports that Sadr's Health Ministry was attacked. Sadr's followers, with or without the cleric's support, have killed numerous Sunnis. This sectarian conflict is tit-for-tat and is growing more intense, not less. Gunmen kidnapped numerous Sunnis just over one week ago. I have not found an accounting of the dozens that were reported still missing, though in the past few days there have been a lot of dead bodies showing up in Baghdad. The largest kidnapping in the war happens in mid-November. Before the month is done, the largest civilian bombing happens.

At the beginning of this month, I said we must mind the metrics. October saw almost 4,000 civilian deaths, which were reported. Two of CENTCOM's four "key reads" are: Provocative sectarian attacks/assassinations and Unorganized spontaneous mass civil conflict.

We have seen the former, we shall soon see the latter.

How far does Iraq slip as a result of this uncontrollable civil war? How far will Lebanon slip?

The two will influence each other.

Then Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal cautioned the Bush administration before the invasion of Iraq:
"If change of regime comes with the destruction of Iraq, then you are solving one problem and creating five more problems.

"That is the consideration that we have to make, because we are living in the region. We will suffer the consequences of any military action."

Regime change can only be a possibility if it is done "indigenously", he said.

"There has never been in the history of the world a country in which a regime change happened at the bayonets of guns that has led to stability."

The worry is rising fundamentalism in America and the West - not in the Middle East, he said.

"Our worry is the new emerging fundamentalism in the United States and in the West. Fundamentalism in our region is on the wane. There, it's in the ascendancy. That's the threat."
As it turns out, fundamentalism is on the rise in the Middle East, to levels that are approaching a historic degree of violence and terror. This conflict, these conflicts, can rival the most terrible periods of our world's history.

Robert Fisk ends his most recent column with some optimism. He states that perhaps the Lebanese will find unity and kick out foreign influences. I think this is too optimistic. How can the rhetoric of Sunni-Maronite anti-Syrians be tossed aside because one minister was slain? His death was terrible, his family destroyed. But, how does that single death change the dynamics? It shall only make the anti-Syrian powers more assertive, not less. Is that unity? No, they will call it unity as George Bush calls bloodshed democracy. The slain minister spouted racist rhetoric before his death -- he dismissed the pluralistic superiority of the Shiite by saying that they were "quantity" compared to the Christian "quality".

He was hardly a democrat.

Now, he is a martyr. If so, for whom?

You know the answer to that. You know what happens when sectarian factions have their martyrs. Or, their tragic string of car bombs.

Be thankful for the relative peace we have seen in 2006.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving 2006

Abraham Lincoln:
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

A. Lincoln

A very clear message delivered from assassins

Civil war in Lebanon began with the attempted assasination of Pierre Gemayel in 1975. Gemayel's grandson, his namesake, was shot to death yesterday. Today is Lebanon's independence day -- celebrating independence from France. There are French troops garrisoned in the southern part of the country, and the remaining ministers of the government (24 seats, six vacated by Shiite aligned members and one empty after Gemayel's death) have been accused by Hezbollah of an alliance with the United States.

Al Jazeera reports a second attack yesterday:
In a second incident, shots were fired on the office of a Lebanese minister of state, shortly after Gemayel's death.

"The office of the state minister for parliamentary affairs, Michel Pharaon, in the Ashrafieh neighbourhood was the target of gunshots today from gunmen in a white Suzuki car," Pharaon's office said.

"The security forces cordoned off the area and is carrying out the necessary measures to identify the culprits" who fled the scene.

Pharaon is a Greek-Catholic Christian MP from the majority anti-Syrian parliamentary bloc.
Troubling news reported in the Guardian:
Amid all the destruction that Lebanon has witnessed over the years, the bulletholes in the window of Pierre Gemayel's car yesterday seemed almost insignificant - but their consequences may be tremendous.

"This is the most panicked I have ever seen Lebanon," said 27-year-old Habib Batah as anxious Beirut residents left work early, causing huge traffic jams.


At 34, Mr Gemayel was by no means among the most important or prominent of politicians - though that, perversely, may have made him an easier target. His real significance, as often in Lebanese politics, lay in his family name: he was the son of a former president, Amin Gemayel, and grandson of the late Pierre Gemayel, founder of the Christian Phalange party.

The immediate question is what impact his death will have on the anti-Syrian government led by Fouad Siniora. His cabinet was severely weakened earlier this month by the resignation of six ministers, including all five Shia members, and the Shia Hizbullah movement has been threatening to topple it.

With yesterday's killing, Mr Siniora lost a seventh minister. If nine are absent, cabinet meetings become inquorate - triggering the government's collapse. A few days ago Samir Geagea, a Christian leader, warned that three ministers might be assassinated to achieve just that. With Mr Gemayel's death, his prophecy seems to have been partly confirmed.
Robert Fisk:
For days, we had been debating whether it was time for another political murder to ratchet up the sectarian tensions now that the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was about to fall. For days now, the political language of Lebanon had been incendiary, the threats and bullying of the political leaders ever more fearsome. Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Shia Hizbollah leader, had been calling Siniora's cabinet illegitimate. "The government of Feltman," he was calling it - Jeffrey Feltman is the US ambassador to Lebanon - while the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt was claiming Iran was trying to take over.

Yesterday's assassination of Pierre Gemayel was a warning. It might have been Jumblatt, who has told me many times that he constantly awaits his own death, or it might have been Siniora himself, the little economist and friend of the also murdered former prime minister Rafik Hariri.


Yet nothing happens by accident in Lebanon and political detectives - as opposed to the police kind who most assuredly will not find Gemayel's killers - have to look beyond this country's frontiers to understand why ghosts may soon climb out of the mass graves of the civil war.

Why did Gemayel die just hours after Syria announced the restoration of diplomatic relations with Iraq after a quarter of a century? Why has Nasrallah threatened street demonstrations in Beirut to bring down the government when Siniora's cabinet had just accepted the UN's tribunal to try Hariri's assassins?


Today, Lebanon celebrates - it would be difficult to find a more lugubrious word on such an occasion - its 63rd year of independence from France, whose troops again patrol southern Lebanon. And Siniora's government still - just - exists. With Gemayel gone, however, it would only need the loss of two more cabinet ministers to destroy the legitimacy of his Shia-less cabinet and close down Lebanese democracy.

The Lebanese may be too mature for another civil war. But ministers might be well advised to avoid driving their ministerial cars along the highways of Beirut for the next few days lest someone blocks their way and fires through the driver's window.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Another political death in Lebanon and the Middle East

There is a passage in Theodore Rex that I recall at times like these:
His test, an affirmation of the Monroe Doctrine with special reference to Cuba, Venezuela, and Colombia, featured his favorite "West African proverb," except now the source was obscured, to make it more memorable and quotable:
There is a homely old adage which runs, Speak softly and carry a big stick: you will go far. If the American nation will speak softly, and yet build, and keep at a pitch of the highest training, a thoroughly efficient navy, the Monroe Doctrine will go far.
This generated such loud applause as to suggest that the audience took his "adage" as aggressive, rather than cautionary. Actually, Roosevelt was trying to say that soft-spoken (even secret) diplomacy should be the priority of a civilization, as long as hardness -- of moral resolve, of military might -- lay back of it. Otherwise, inevitably, soft speech would sound like scared speech.
A stick can only get you so far. This is as much a message for the assassins as it is for our president. The situation in the Middle East is very precarious. Hezbollah is likely to build a more autonomous state within a state, despite a United Nations resolution. The death of Pierre Gemayel will likely send Lebanon into disarray.

Lebanese Christian cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel, an outspoken critic of Syria, was assassinated near Beirut on Tuesday, security sources said.

Gunmen rammed their car into Gemayel’s vehicle, then leapt out and riddled it with bullets as his convoy drove through the Christian Sin el-Fil neighbourhood, witnesses said. Gemayel, 34, was rushed to hospital where he later died of his wounds.
The Times of London:
Once his death was confirmed Lebanese television channels interrupted their broadcasts and played classical music. He is the first anti-Syrian politician to be killed since Gebran Tueni, who was assassinated in a car bomb blast on December 12 last year.

The shooting could intensify the crisis in Lebanese politics, which has seen six Cabinet ministers resign in the last week in an attempt to bring down the government.

Gemayel was a member of the Phalange party and supporter of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, which is in the midst of a power struggle, with Hezbollah threatening to topple the government if it does not get a bigger say in Cabinet decision making.

Saad Hariri, the head of the anti-Syrian majority in parliament and son of Rafiq Hariri, the former prime minister, interrupted a press conference to accuse the Syrian regime of "trying to kill every free person" in Lebanon

"The cycle (of killings) has resumed," he said, in reference to a number of assassinations of government ministers in the past two years, including the killing of his own father.
Our debacle in Iraq has invited instability throughout the Middle East. Syria and Iran feel comparatively emboldened. That may lead to the Mullahs with the Bomb. Iraqi leaders will meet with both Syrians and Persians this week. Moreover, we see a clear power grab by Putin in Russia (Asia Times article today) and Chinese machinations in India and Pakistan (today's Christian Science Monitor has a good article).

Theodore Roosevelt's point was that you settled your problems at the table. This is not a moral point on the evils of war -- though war is terrible. This is a point concerning power. Sun Tzu says that when you wield the sword, you shall leave it blunt. After the weapons have been blunted, what force do you rely upon? You are left with the intentions of your allies and adversaries.

We have got to make a drastic change of course in Iraq, and adding 20,000 or 30,000 troops is not going to cut it. It's far passed that. We are incompetent occupiers, a worst case scenario that should have never been. The Washington Post details how poorly we have trained Iraqi Security Forces at this point:
Some of the American officers even faulted their own lack of understanding of the task. "If I had to do it again, I know I'd do it completely different," reported Maj. Mike Sullivan, who advised an Iraqi army battalion in 2004. "I went there with the wrong attitude and I thought I understood Iraq and the history because I had seen PowerPoint slides, but I really didn't."
General Barry McCaffrey held no punches on Hardball last night:
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s get to the particulars of the options apparently being discussed at the colonel level at the Pentagon. More troops, maybe 20 to 30,000 now for the short term, for training in the long term. No real option there of an immediate pullout and no dramatic doubling of forces or anything like that.

What do you think of this proposal that we bring in another 20 to 30,000 troops for a short term to begin a long training period?

MCCAFFREY: Well, first of all, I‘m adamantly opposed to reinforcing the current troop strength in Iraq. I think it‘s a big mistake.

If you put an inconsequential increase, you know, 20-30,000 troops, three, four, five brigades, it won‘t make any major change in the tactical situation. And then you‘ll be asking commanders six months from now, with the situation very likely to be worse, not better, to agree that it‘s a great idea to send them home.

And, by the way, we‘re going to have to take this tiny Army and Marine Corps, tell them to extend their tours, accelerate the deployment, call up the National Guard for involuntary second deployments of the brigade, this is a bad idea.

By the way, Chris, neither the Baker commission nor the leaks out of the JCS make one comment on the disastrous shortfall and resources, $61 billion to the Army, our National Guard has a third of their equipment, generators, trucks, helicopters, we better fix the Army and Marine Corps before we start talking about options to fix Iraq.

MATTHEWS: So John McCain‘s proposal for a substantial increase in forces over in the area is just not credible.

MCCAFFREY: No. North Koreans invade South Korea, we could surge a quarter of a million troops in 90 days. We call up the entire National Guard, the Army reserves, Marine reserves, we could do that, but not steady-state for a war that the American people have walked away from.

One way or the other, it‘s $7 billion a month. That money is coming out of Air Force and Navy modernization. We‘ve got sailors and airmen filling ground combat roles all over Afghanistan and Iraq.

We simply, the Congress, Article 1 of the Constitution, has to fix the resource shortfall before they willy-nilly talk about extending the tours of the combat forces now in country.
If you thought 2006 looked bad, ask yourself what has improved for 2007? The answer is nothing. This is in no way meant to disparage those that have risked and sacrificed everything to try their best in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, unless we realize the extreme potential for harm in the present situation, we will stumble into an even more damnable mess. It is time to repeal a lot of George W. Bush's tax cuts and to recover the resource gap in our Armed Forces.

There are several ways to recover that resource gap. One is pulling out of Iraq, which would throw that country and the region into a terrible conflict. The other way is "going big" -- not some hustle from the Pentagon that will force the same questions/problems in 2008.

Monday, November 20, 2006

"Go Big but Short While Transitioning to Go Long"

That headline comes from a defense official in Thomas Ricks's article in today's Washington Post. Apparently, we can add that Going Home will follow Going Long, whether Iraq is stable or not, according to the Christian Science Monitor:
The numbers would not be huge, perhaps 20,000 on top of the 144,000 US soldiers already fighting the war. But the idea would be to stabilize Baghdad - a priority that has proved dishearteningly elusive since September - and to allow for a major diplomatic push aimed at drawing Iraq's neighbors into resolving the spiraling violence.

Implicit in the perspective of the officials and experts who see this as a kind of military "Hail Mary" pass is the assumption that a phased reduction of US troops would begin next fall - whether or not Iraq had been brought back from the brink of all-out civil war.
Key excerpts from Ricks (with my emphasis):
"Go Big," the first option, originally contemplated a large increase in U.S. troops in Iraq to try to break the cycle of sectarian and insurgent violence. A classic counterinsurgency campaign, though, would require several hundred thousand additional U.S. and Iraqi soldiers as well as heavily armed Iraqi police.


"Go Home," the third option, calls for a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops. It was rejected by the Pentagon group as likely to push Iraq directly into a full-blown and bloody civil war.

The group has devised a hybrid plan that combines part of the first option with the second one -- "Go Long" -- and calls for cutting the U.S. combat presence in favor of a long-term expansion of the training and advisory efforts. Under this mixture of options, which is gaining favor inside the military, the U.S. presence in Iraq, currently about 140,000 troops, would be boosted by 20,000 to 30,000 for a short period, the officials said.

The purpose of the temporary but notable increase, they said, would be twofold: To do as much as possible to curtail sectarian violence, and also to signal to the Iraqi government and public that the shift to a "Go Long" option that aims to eventually cut the U.S. presence is not a disguised form of withdrawal.

Even so, there is concern that such a radical shift in the U.S. posture in Iraq could further damage the standing of its government, which U.S. officials worry is already shaky. Under the hybrid plan, the short increase in U.S. troop levels would be followed by a long-term plan to radically cut the presence, perhaps to 60,000 troops.
The stigma of occupation is not addressed sufficiently in this article. It is vital to the political front against the Sunni insurgency that the United States announce that it will not garrison a force in Iraq on a long term basis. This must be done before we go long, big, shot, tall or else we will be sent home.

More on Iraq...

This is the environment in which we will be going a little bigger.

The Washington Post:
"There are a lot of lives that are lost," Adelman said in an interview last week. "A country's at stake. A region's at stake. This is a gigantic situation. . . . This didn't have to be managed this bad. It's just awful."

The sense of Bush abandonment accelerated during the final weeks of the campaign with the publication of a former aide's book accusing the White House of moral hypocrisy and with Vanity Fair quoting Adelman, Richard N. Perle, and other neoconservatives assailing White House leadership of the war.

Since the Nov. 7 elections, Republicans have pinned their woes on the president.

"People expect a level of performance they are not getting," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Republican of Georgia, said in a speech. Many were livid that Bush waited until after the elections to oust Rumsfeld.

"If Rumsfeld had been out, you bet it would have made a difference," Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said on television. "I'd still be chairman of the Judiciary Committee."
The Los Angeles Times:
Yet with Iraq near chaos 3 1/2 years later, a key Army manual now is being rewritten in a way that rejects the Rumsfeld doctrine and counsels against using it again.

The draft version of the Army's Full Spectrum Operations field manual argues that in addition to defeating the enemy, military units must focus on providing security for the population — even during major combat.

"The big idea here is that stability tasks have to be a consideration at every level and every operation," said Clinton J. Ancker III, head of the Army's Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate and an author of the guide.
The New York Times:
In a cycle that has been tracked by the American military since May and June, after months of apparently random sectarian violence the pattern has become one of attack and counterattack, with Sunni militants staging what commanders call “spectacular” strikes and Shiite militias retaliating with abductions and murders of Sunnis.

Militias come to funerals and offer to carry out revenge attacks. Gunmen execute blindfolded people in full public view. Mortars are lobbed between Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods. Sometimes the killers seem to be seeking specific people who were involved in earlier attacks, but many victims lose their lives simply to even out the sectarian toll.

“The problem is that every time there’s a sensational event, that starts the whole sectarian cycle again,” said Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the chief spokesman for the American command in Iraq. “If we could stop the cyclical nature of this in Baghdad, we could really change the dynamics here.”

General Caldwell said that a recent and intensive series of American raids against Al Qaeda cells, as well as against Shiite militias that have struck back at Sunnis, had seriously damaged some of their networks. But American commanders have made similar claims on several occasions in the course of the war only to have the killing resume later at a higher level.

Scores of survivors and witnesses have noted the emerging cycle of revenge in interviews, describing highly personal attacks that involve a bullet in the head far more often than a bomb. In the past eight days, at least 715 Iraqis have been killed or have been found dead, according to The Associated Press. The death toll has reached 1,320 already this month, higher than the 1,216 who died in October, according to The A.P.’s count.
The New York Times:
"You have to define win, and I think everybody has a different perspective on winning,” General Odierno said during an interview at the Army’s III Corps headquarters here.

“I would argue that with Saddam Hussein no longer in power in Iraq, that is a partial win,” he said. “I think what we need is an Iraqi government that is legitimate in the eyes of the Iraqi population, an Iraq that is able to protect itself and not be a safe haven for terror. That’s what I think winning is.”

As a bugle sounded across Fort Hood with the call to lower the flag at dusk, General Odierno paused, and added, “Notice I left out a few things, such as a democracy in the sense that we see a democracy in the United States. We have to allow them to shape their own democracy, the type of democracy that fits them and their country.”
The Financial Times:
Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary of state who has advised the Bush administration on the war in Iraq, on Sunday said he no longer believed a military victory was possible in the conflict.

“If you mean by clear military victory an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control . . . I don’t believe that is possible,” Mr Kissinger told BBC television.
No one can say with any certainty whether 20,000 or 30,000 additional United States troops in Baghdad will stop the cycle of sectarian violence. Sectarian violence in Iraq is a result of the al Qaeda driven salafist/Sunni insurgency and the pervasive involvement of Shiite militias in the security forces of the country. Expanding the number of troops would only help to limit the symptoms but would not address the problems that caused the illness.

There's something rotten in Russia

Iraq is the most important foreign policy issue for the United States. However, while our president stumbles along in that quagmire, there's every reason to be worried about Russia, or China/India* for that matter.

BBC News:
The Kremlin has dismissed as "sheer nonsense" claims it was involved in the poisoning by thallium of a former KGB colonel living in the UK.

The denial came as Alexander Litvinenko returned to intensive care following his poisoning by the toxic chemical.

Mr Litvinenko fell ill on 1 November after a meeting at a London sushi bar.

Mr Litvinenko, 43 - a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin - is in a serious but stable condition in University College Hospital.

Doctors say he was moved to intensive care as a precaution, after his condition deteriorated slightly.

Friends of Mr Litvinenko have alleged he was poisoned because he was critical of the Russian government.
The poison used on this former KGB operative was Thallium. It is nicknamed "Inheritance powder".

The Times of London (keep in mind this was a defector):
Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned on the direct orders of the Kremlin because of his biting mockery of President Putin, according to a former Soviet spy now living in Britain.

Oleg Gordievsky, the most senior KGB agent to defect to Britain, said that the attempt to kill Mr Litvinenko had been state-sponsored.

It was carried out by a Russian friend and former colleague who had been recruited secretly in prison by the FSB, the successor to the KGB. The Italian who allegedly put poison in Mr Litvinenko’s sushi “had nothing to do with it”.

“Of course it is state-sponsored. He was such an obvious enemy. Only the KGB is able to do this. The poison was very sophisticated. They have done this before — they poisoned Anna Politkovskaya (the campaigning journalist murdered on October 7) on a plane last year. Who else would know where she was sitting and could poison her food? Probably also it was the KGB that shot her.”
*The above-linked Boston Globe story recounts efforts by China to build a friendship with India.

Friday, November 17, 2006

How much time do we have for reports?

While four different groups work with a Chinese menu of options (Link is to the Iraq Insider's entry on said options), the actual situation on the ground continues to evolve -- with worrying trends. How long does it take to draft a report with options we all can anticipate and then scan that report into .pdf form?

Sunni cleric to be arrested?

The Los Angeles Times:
BAGHDAD — Iraq's Shiite-led government issued an arrest warrant Thursday for the country's leading Sunni Arab cleric, accusing him of colluding with insurgents, a potentially explosive charge that could exacerbate tensions between the country's warring sectarian groups and further divide a fragile national government.

The move against Harith Dhari, head of the Muslim Scholars Assn., came two days after an audacious daytime kidnapping in Baghdad ruptured the government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, setting Sunni politicians against Shiites.

In an appearance on state-run TV late Thursday evening, Interior Minister Jawad Bolani, a Shiite, announced that Dhari was wanted on a charge of inciting violence. "The government's policy is that anyone who tries to spread division and strife among the Iraq people will be chased by our security agencies," Bolani said.

Dhari has been a vocal, sometimes sarcastic, critic of the government, questioning the legitimacy of the criminal trials of former President Saddam Hussein and ridiculing the government's reconciliation efforts.
The AP:
BAGHDAD (AP) — The head of Iraq's most influential Sunni Muslim organization said Friday that the government's bid to arrest him was illegal, and his spokesman urged Sunni politicians to quit the parliament and government.

The brewing political crisis threatened the Shiite dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and could provoke an even more violent surge in sectarian conflict as Iraq teeters on the edge of civil war.
Coalition of the no longer willing

The Washington Times:
As U.S. generals and lawmakers debated this week whether to cut, raise or hold steady the 141,000-strong U.S. troop contingent in Iraq, the coalition of foreign countries willing to deploy their forces in Iraq has shrunk steadily -- and soon could shrink even more.

Twenty-three countries remain in the U.S.-led coalition and the United Nations' mission serving in and around Iraq, down from a high of 42 that joined the United States in the invasion or the postwar occupation of Iraq. More than half of those contributors have fewer than 150 troops, engineers or military trainers in the Iraq theater.
This trend is problematic because the job is getting harder, more labor-intensive.


The AP:
Security is tight and snipers abound, but Fallujah _ once an extremely violent Sunni insurgent bastion where the charred bodies of four Blackwater security men were hung on a bridge _ has become a refuge from the death squads and mortar battles in Baghdad. U.S. Marines say about 150 Iraqis flee here each week from the capital, 40 miles to the east.

Unlike Baghdad, which houses large numbers of both Muslim sects, Fallujah's population is overwhelmingly Sunni Arab. As a result, Fallujah has not experienced the raging sectarian warfare that has the capital teetering on the brink of civil war. The migration is part of a larger exodus out of Baghdad, where entire neighborhoods have been uprooted.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sources and methods

I'm reviewing a few items for a larger post, which I probably won't be able to write until later in the weekend. This might end up as several posts.

Just War Theory

In the May/June 2005 issue of Foreign Policy, Boston College's Kenneth Himes wrote about Just War Theory as it applies to Iraq. His comments are even more important as Iraq cracks apart:
Now we must probe the jus post bellum: What obligations does the occupier have and when are they discharged?

St. Augustine, one of the founding figures of the just war tradition, helped us understand that peace is not simply the absence of conflict. This understanding suggests that America’s work is only half done—if that. The invasion has created a moral obligation for the victors to maintain a measure of social order, while reestablishing the government and institutions of the defeated nation. The moral imperative during the occupation is Iraqi well-being, not American interests.
Himes has more recently produced an article covering a moral/theological debate on the topic. The National Catholic Weekly (PDF) from October:
This is not simply a matter of semantics, for it signaled a concern voiced by an Irish theologian that the language of just war lends a moral legitimacy to violence that ought not be given easily. To her mind, talk of a “just war” draws attention to military solutions, when the church should be the community that promotes other possibilities. Participants suggested that just war theory makes war “thinkable” in an era when the devastation of war is particularly great. Certainly, the dramatic growth in the proportion of civilian to military casualties raises questions about modern warfare and the language of collateral damage or indirect killing of noncombatants.

An American moral theologian reminded listeners that combatants must not be overlooked. More than 18,000 members of the U.S. armed forces have been wounded in the war in Iraq. Many have suffered multiple wounds that would have killed them in previous wars, without today’s dramatic advances in battlefield medicine. Military casualties returning from Iraq frequently have lost more than one limb, and more than 1,700 have suffered brain injuries.
The week, America's Roman Catholic Bishops had this to say concerning Iraq, the Boston Globe:
BALTIMORE -- The nation's Catholic bishops, saying the United States needs to move past the "shrill and shallow debate" of last week's midterm Congressional elections, declared yesterday that the goal in Iraq should be justice and peace, rather than victory, and that the nation should withdraw its forces at the earliest opportunity, consistent with a responsible transition.
This blog has a reputation for playing on the realist side of the game. That is accurate. It is interesting that the moral course resembles, to a degree, the pragmatic efforts advocated by retired generals and other experts. The New York Times and the Washington Post have each published a story this week that addresses what further instability in Iraq could look like.

The Last Push Idea

Related to the above discussion...

Today, the Guardian broke a story that states that George W. Bush will send 20,000 more American troops into Iraq to try and secure Baghdad. Stars and Stripes reports in tomorrow's edition that as many as 2,200 Marines in the 15 MEU, presently aboard ship, will deploy into al Anbar. (Hat tip: Mike)

Senator Carl Levin has suggested that some American forces be removed from the country after four to six months, his remarks from yesterday's Senate hearings. General John Abizaid has voiced strong opposition to that idea, the Washington Post. Last month, Michael Gordon of the New York Times (my blog entry) wrote that there was a "this is it" mentality to efforts in Iraq. That lead me to believe that units scheduled to leave the country would remain. However, that did not occur. I still believe a substantial troop increase may be just a few months away. But, there are significant doubts as to if this will be sustainable beyond just a few months.

20,000 more troops for Iraq?

An addition of 20,000 U.S. troops could be in the works. This information is interesting because yesterday General Abizaid shot down any drawdown plan tied to a timetable. The Guardian's story (in full, but out of order):
Four-point strategy

· Increase US troop levels by up to 20,000 to secure Baghdad and allow redeployments elsewhere in Iraq

· Focus on regional cooperation with international conference and/or direct diplomatic involvement of countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

· Revive reconciliation process between Sunni, Shia and others

· Increased resources from Congress to fund training and equipment of Iraqi security forces


President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations.
Mr Bush's refusal to give ground, coming in the teeth of growing calls in the US and Britain for a radical rethink or a swift exit, is having a decisive impact on the policy review being conducted by the Iraq Study Group chaired by Bush family loyalist James Baker, the sources said.

Although the panel's work is not complete, its recommendations are expected to be built around a four-point "victory strategy" developed by Pentagon officials advising the group. The strategy, along with other related proposals, is being circulated in draft form and has been discussed in separate closed sessions with Mr Baker and the vice-president Dick Cheney, an Iraq war hawk.

Point one of the strategy calls for an increase rather than a decrease in overall US force levels inside Iraq, possibly by as many as 20,000 soldiers. This figure is far fewer than that called for by the Republican presidential hopeful, John McCain. But by raising troop levels, Mr Bush will draw a line in the sand and defy Democratic pressure for a swift drawdown.

The reinforcements will be used to secure Baghdad, scene of the worst sectarian and insurgent violence, and enable redeployments of US, coalition and Iraqi forces elsewhere in the country.

Point two of the plan stresses the importance of regional cooperation to the successful rehabilitation of Iraq. This could involve the convening of an international conference of neighbouring countries or more direct diplomatic, financial and economic involvement of US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

"The extent to which that [regional cooperation] will include talking to Iran and Syria is still up for debate," said Patrick Cronin, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "Externally, US policy is focused on what is achievable. Some quarters believe Syria in some ways could be helpful. There are more doubts about Iran but Iran holds more cards. Some think it's worth a try."

Yesterday, a top state department official, David Satterfield, said America was prepared in principle to discuss with Iran its activities in Iraq.

Point three focuses on reviving the national reconciliation process between Shia, Sunni and other ethnic and religious parties. According to the sources, creating a credible political framework will be portrayed as crucial in persuading Iraqis and neighbouring countries alike that Iraq can become a fully functional state.

To the certain dismay of US neo-cons, initial post-invasion ideas about imposing fully-fledged western democratic standards will be set aside. And the report is expected to warn that de facto tripartite partition within a loose federal system, as advocated by Democratic senator Joe Biden and others would lead not to peaceful power-sharing but a large-scale humanitarian crisis.

Lastly, the sources said the study group recommendations will include a call for increased resources to be allocated by Congress to support additional troop deployments and fund the training and equipment of expanded Iraqi army and police forces. It will also stress the need to counter corruption, improve local government and curtail the power of religious courts.

"You've got to remember, whatever the Democrats say, it's Bush still calling the shots. He believes it's a matter of political will. That's what [Henry] Kissinger told him. And he's going to stick with it," a former senior administration official said. "He [Bush] is in a state of denial about Iraq. Nobody else is any more. But he is. But he knows he's got less than a year, maybe six months, to make it work. If it fails, I expect the withdrawal process to begin next fall."

The "last push" strategy is also intended to give Mr Bush and the Republicans "political time and space" to recover from their election drubbing and prepare for the 2008 presidential campaign, the official said. "The Iraq Study Group buys time for the president to have one last go. If the Democrats are smart, they'll play along, and I think they will. But forget about bipartisanship. It's all about who's going to be in best shape to win the White House.

The official added: "Bush has said 'no' to withdrawal, so what else do you have? The Baker report will be a set of ideas, more realistic than in the past, that can be used as political tools. What they're going to say is: lower the goals, forget about the democracy crap, put more resources in, do it."

Addressing Congress yesterday, General John Abizaid, the top US commander in the Middle East, warned against setting a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, saying it would impede commanders in managing US and Iraqi forces. Gen Abizaid spoke as the Senate armed services committee began re-examining US policy after last week's Democratic election victory. But Gen Abizaid argued against extra troops, saying US divisional commanders believed more pressure needed to be put on the Iraqi army to do its part.
A few thoughts.

1. This would mean either a heavy National Guard component, which would break with stated policy on Guard rotations, or a change in deployment patterns for the United States Army and Marine Corps. Those deployment patterns have been changed for a few Army brigades. This would be a more substantial change.

2. How long would this "last push" last? 20,000 more troops in Baghdad would have an impact, but would they be enough? The 4 ID just left Baghdad to be replaced by the First Cav. Why wait for this push? It seems time is of the essence. (We know the answer to that last question: elections.)

3. Does the Army have the extra vehicles to make this increase work? How about equipping Iraqi forces?

4. This is a macroscopic view of the conflict in Iraq; if it's not working, send more troops. What about different troops? More soldiers and Marines working one-on-one with Iraqi non-commissioned officers.

5. What sort of government are we defending? The latest news is not encouraging.

BBC News:
Iraq's higher education minister has said he fears some ministry workers kidnapped by gunmen on Tuesday have been tortured and killed.

Abd Dhiab said some of the 70 or so captives who have since been released were badly beaten.

They were among scores of workers taken hostage when the gunmen raided an education ministry building in Baghdad.
The AP:
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's higher education minister said on Thursday that as many as 80 kidnap victims still were still being held, disputing government claims that most has been released.

Minister Abed Theyab reaffirmed that 70 of 150 hostages were released, saying those freed "were tortured and suffered a lot."

Speaking on state television, Theyab — a Sunni Muslim — also said his decision to suspend his membership in the Cabinet until the crisis was resolved was not driven by politics. He nevertheless issued a sharp attack on the country's security apparatus.

"Those in charge of security should be responsible for security," he said of the Ministry of Interior, which runs the police and security agencies.
Let us hope that those Sunnis taken from their offices this week do not end up dead on a street, but I have great concerns that they will. For the sake of security in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, let us hope that my concerns are poorly founded.

The Washington Post:
BAGHDAD -- While American commanders have suggested that civil war is possible in Iraq, many leaders, experts and ordinary people in Baghdad and around the Middle East say it is already underway, and that the real worry ahead is that the conflict will destroy the flimsy Iraqi state and draw in surrounding countries.
The Los Angeles Times:
LONDON — Iran has consistently opposed the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq, but new prospects of a stepped-up American withdrawal are prompting growing unease in the Islamic Republic, where many fear the repercussions of a dangerously unstable neighbor.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Troop levels, Bloggers, the war in Iraq

Bloggers on the left have championed General Zinni in the past. In today's New York Times, he states (see emphasis):
This is the case now being argued by many Democrats, most notably Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who asserts that the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq should begin within four to six months.

But this argument is being challenged by a number of military officers, experts and former generals, including some who have been among the most vehement critics of the Bush administration’s Iraq policies.

Anthony C. Zinni, the former head of the United States Central Command and one of the retired generals who called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, argued that any substantial reduction of American forces over the next several months would be more likely to accelerate the slide to civil war than stop it.

“The logic of this is you put pressure on Maliki and force him to stand up to this,” General Zinni said in an interview, referring to Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister. “Well, you can’t put pressure on a wounded guy. There is a premise that the Iraqis are not doing enough now, that there is a capability that they have not employed or used. I am not so sure they are capable of stopping sectarian violence.”

Instead of taking troops out, General Zinni said, it would make more sense to consider deploying additional American forces over the next six months to “regain momentum” as part of a broader effort to stabilize Iraq that would create more jobs, foster political reconciliation and develop more effective Iraqi security forces.
Neither Zinni nor Senator Levin find themselves on the same page as the head of CENTCOM, CNN:
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Abizaid said, "At this stage in the campaign we'll need flexibility to manage our force and to help manage the Iraqi force. Force caps and specific timetables limit that flexibility."

In opening remarks, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, said responsibility for Iraq's future should be put "squarely where it belongs: on the Iraqis. We cannot save the Iraqis from themselves.

"The only way for Iraqi leaders to squarely face that reality is for President Bush to tell them that the United States will begin a phased redeployment of our forces within four to six months," Levin said.

Abizaid said he was encouraged by what he saw when he visited the region recently.

"I remain optimistic that we can stabilize Iraq," he said.

"While sectarian violence remains high and worrisome, it's certainly not as bad as the situation appeared back in August," he said.

"I wouldn't say that we have turned the corner in this regard, but it's not nearly as bad as it was back in August, and I was encouraged by that."

Asked whether more troops are needed in Iraq, Abizaid said, "I believe that the troop levels need to stay where they are."

Brazen kidnapping's consequences uncertain

Reports are at best mixed.

The BBC:
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has called for the immediate arrest of those behind a mass kidnapping from a government building in Baghdad.

The authorities say about 40 people taken from the higher education ministry building by gunmen in interior ministry uniforms have been released.

Police say they are attempting to free more, but there are conflicting reports of how many are still being held.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The fate of those kidnapped from a Baghdad research institute remained unclear Wednesday.

An Iraqi Interior Ministry official told CNN that most of those kidnapped Tuesday had been freed. But on Wednesday, an emergency police official in the Iraqi capital said no more than 20 people had been released.

It was unclear whether those released represented all of those abducted, as the Interior Ministry did not know how many were kidnapped, the Interior Ministry official said. No one was killed and no one was tortured, he said.
BAGHDAD, Iraq Nov 15, 2006 (AP)— The Higher Education Ministry said Wednesday that "about 40" people abducted from its offices had been released. No official was able to say how many were still held captive.

Government ministries have given wildly varying figures on the number of kidnap victims in the assault in central Baghdad Tuesday, with reports ranging from a high of about 150 to a low of 40 to 50.
This is the government we are struggling to preserve.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Back from the brink?

There are many unresolved questions. But, this seems like exceptional news. If PM Maliki has pulled this apparent attack back from the brink, then this might be the biggest success after on of the biggest potential disasters.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Most of those kidnapped Tuesday from a Baghdad research institute have been freed, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official told CNN.

It was unclear whether those released represented all of those abducted, because the ministry did not know how many were kidnapped, the official said.

No one was killed and no one was tortured, he said. Al-Iraqiya state television was also reporting most of the hostages had been released.

Earlier, as many as 80 gunmen clad in old and new Iraqi National Police uniforms kidnapped the people at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research/Scholarships and Cultural Relations Directorate building in central Baghdad, according to Higher Education Minister Abed Dhiyab al-Ajili.

The Iraqi interior minister ordered the arrests and interrogations of several high-ranking police officers over their handling of security in the area.

More on the brazen and likely sectarian kidnappings

This is a major issue, and early indications are troubling. If Iraqi Security Forces -- or militias operating as such, or militias operating in plain-view of ISF -- conducted these kidnappings and harm a large number of Sunni professionals, it could serve as the bloody antithesis to the Samarra attack in February. These details from the New York Times are ominous:
Shiite leaders, however, say that in most cases the kidnappers are simply criminal thugs, or even Sunni insurgents, who avail themselves of the military-style uniforms that are widely available on the street, and pass themselves off as government forces.

Basil al-Khateed, a spokesman for the Ministry of Higher Education, said that the employees who were inside the building at the time of the abduction included Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds.

“It’s not clear if this kidnapping was sectarian or not,” he said.

The abduction today bore many of the hallmarks of sectarian attacks, which have usually ended brutally for the hostages. But the kidnappers released a dozen men later in the day, bound and blindfolded but otherwise apparently unharmed.

One of the 12 said the kidnappers blindfolded the hostages and loaded them into the back of pick-up trucks; he said he believed they were then taken eastward, toward the impoverished Shiite Sadr City neighborhood.

Once they arrived, he said, the gunmen divided their hostages into two groups, asking each for their names (often a sure giveaway of religious sect), requested identification from some of them and asked what each was doing at the ministry that day; ministry employees were asked what their jobs were.

Witnesses said the incident began when about 30 official-looking pickups and Land Cruisers with tinted windows surrounded the ministry buildings in Karada, a middle-class neighborhood considered relatively safe.


The released hostage said he could sense, as he and the other abducted men were driven off in the pickup trucks, that they were crossing the Army Canal Highway, the western boundary of Sadr City. He could hear the gunmen shouting for other drivers and pedestrians to get out of the way, he said.

The released hostage said that when they arrived, the gunmen took their captives into what seemed to be a large hall with a concrete floor and began to grill them about their identities, all the while shouting and terrorizing the men with their weapons.

“They split us into two groups,” he said. “The first group, they said, we will release you. The second group, we will keep you for additional investigation. They put me in the group that would be released.
This concluding paragraph follows the tactics of Shiite death squads in Iraq. The scope of this kidnapping is simply massive.

The impact could be equally destructive. If a large number of these individuals, which I presume are Sunni, do not survive, then there will be retaliations in Sadr city. The terrible cycle will continue at a potentially enhanced pace.

Two crucial CENTCOM metrics are: "Political/religious leaders lose moderating influence over constituents" and "Provocative sectarian attacks/assassinations". This attack is likely to increase instability.

Iraq Bishop Group

The Boston Globe:
BALTIMORE -- The nation's Catholic bishops, saying the United States needs to move past the "shrill and shallow debate" of last week's midterm Congressional elections, declared yesterday that the goal in Iraq should be justice and peace, rather than victory, and that the nation should withdraw its forces at the earliest opportunity, consistent with a responsible transition.


The bishops, who have consistently expressed moral concerns about the war, did not call for immediate withdrawal, saying the United States now has "moral responsibilities to help Iraqis to secure and rebuild their country." But the bishops said the "terrible toll" in Iraqi and American lives now requires a discussion driven by "moral urgency, substantive dialogue, and new directions."

Brazen kidnapping in Baghdad

There have been other raids and kidnappings which seemed to involve police assistance or at least awareness. This incident almost certainly involved high-ranking police. CNN (my emphasis):
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's interior minister ordered the arrest and interrogation of several high-ranking police officers over their handling of security in the Baghdad area where scores of people were kidnapped from a government research institute Tuesday.

Higher Education Minister Abed Dhiyab al-Ajili originally said 100 to 150 people were abducted at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research-Scholarships and Cultural Relations Directorate building.

However an aide said fewer than 100 were kidnapped, and 16 have been freed, most of them Shiites.

The Interior Ministry said 60 people were abducted.

Facing discipline are the police brigade commander in charge of the area, the police chief of Karrada -- where the kidnappings took place -- and a number of police officers. However, they are not suspects in the actual kidnappings.
The Guardian:
Since the US invasion in 2003, Iraq's academic institutions and staff have come under regular attack from insurgents and religious extremists. Scores of senior academics have been killed or assassinated and thousands more threatened.

Adnan Pachachi, an Iraqi politician and ex-governing council member, said: "There is evidence of a systematic and very sad attempt to drain Iraq of its brains."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Fault lines in the greater Middle East


BBC News:
A sixth minister has resigned from the Lebanese government, which was plunged into a political crisis when all five Shia cabinet members quit.

Environment Minister Yacoub Sarraf, a Christian, is an ally of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud like his Shia colleagues from Hezbollah and Amal.

They resigned after calls for a greater role in government were rejected.
The Christian Science Monitor:
The resignation of the Shiite ministers in the 24-member government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora came after Lebanon's top leaders reached deadlock in a week-long series of round-table talks to discuss opposition demands for creating an expanded national unity government. The opposition, spearheaded by Hizbullah, is seeking a one-third share of the cabinet, granting it veto power over government decisions.

The walkout threatens to prolong political gridlock in Lebanon and raises the threat of Hizbullah launching street protests to demand early parliamentary elections.

"We are going to witness a peak in this political, media, and popular cold war that we saw in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination, only this time around the consequences are going to be much more profound for Lebanon, the region, and the United States," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Middle East center in Beirut.
The New York Times:
“After the first of the year, I am leaving to Qatar,” one woman, Myrtha Hadidi, said Sunday, after she bowed her head and crossed herself in front of the grave. “The situation is very, very dangerous now. I think there will be a war again.”

Across town, along the crowded streets of the poor Shiite neighborhood devastated by Israeli bombs during the summer war, there is despair over the destruction, but confidence in the growing power of Lebanon’s Shiites.
Joshua Landis wrote last week about war rumors for Summer, 2007.

He quotes, I assume approvingly, from Reuters:
While the resignations will not bring down the government, they pose a major challenge to the majority anti-Syrian coalition in a country where the political system is based on a delicate sectarian balance….

"The two groups allied to Syria said the anti-Syrian majority had rejected their demands for a decisive say in government during week-long talks that collapsed earlier in the day.

The escalating political crisis could provoke confrontation on the streets of Beirut at a time of rising tension between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims.
Either you give the Shiite extensive power in Lebanon, thus enhancing Syria and Iran (for the short term, and more so the latter than the former) or you present Hezbollah and Nasrallah with a political cause within Lebanon to enhance the group's position among the Shiite. This is a tough spot.


KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Insurgent activity in Afghanistan has risen fourfold this year, and militants now launch more than 600 attacks a month, a rising wave of violence that has resulted in 3,700 deaths in 2006, a bleak new report found.

Afghanistan saw about 130 insurgent attacks a month last year, said the report by the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board, which consists of representatives from Afghanistan and the international community, including the United Nations.

The new report said insurgents were launching more than 600 attacks a month as of the end of September, up from 300 a month at the end of March this year. The violence has killed more than 3,700 people this year, it said.
The Los Angeles Times:
THE commander of Afghan troops confronting the Taliban here is a career officer with a clipped gray beard and a formal bearing who once fought for a Soviet-backed puppet government. His deputy is his former enemy.

Many of their soldiers fought for or against the Russians, against the Taliban or for various warlords — except those so young they had never picked up a rifle.

From this unwieldy mix, the U.S. military and the Afghan government are attempting to create something Afghanistan has never had: a national army that is made up of all the country's ethnic groups and represents a unified central government.

Five years after the fall of the Taliban government, thousands of well-armed insurgents have reemerged to seize large swaths of southern Afghanistan.

In many districts, warlords, opium dealers and corrupt police help the religious extremists exert authority. Except for their fortified, American-built bases in the south, Afghan army units control virtually no territory, and they depend totally on the Americans for supplies and support.

Robert M. Gates

The Boston Globe:
Gates, a longtime CIA operative and former director, was the official responsible for delivering secret intelligence to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s to help Iraq fight Iran. After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Gates traveled secretly to the region to plot Hussein's overthrow, even though he personally worried there was no viable replacement waiting in the wings, according to congressional testimony from the time.

Before the 2003 US invasion, Gates cautioned about the potential consequences of a preemptive war, questioning whether the United States was fully prepared for the task.

Now, after spending nearly eight months reexamining US policy in Iraq as a member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, his varied knowledge and experience will help inform his views of what can be accomplished as he prepares to take on the most difficult mission of his career, according to former government officials and participants in commission's deliberations.

"Gates was an analyst, and his mind is always thinking and weighing," said Judith Yaphe , a former CIA analyst on Iraq who worked with Gates at the CIA. "I think it's a good choice."
The Washington Times (my emphasis):
"He definitely is not seen as someone wimping out on the global war," said a Pentagon adviser. "How he does it, and what tools, and who he entrusts with them, that's a whole different issue."


"He has experience leading large and complex organizations, and he has shown that he is an agent of change," Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address. "He will provide a fresh outlook on our strategy in Iraq, and what we need to do to prevail."

That task will be Mr. Gates' overriding focus in the administration's last two years. The quiet government staff man and former college president will be the Pentagon leader the president hopes will ensure that Iraq is not as damaging in the 2008 election to Republicans as it was in 2006.

The Guardian:
Tony Blair will use his Mansion House foreign policy speech today to offer Syria and Iran a chance to play a major role in a wider Middle East settlement, but if they reject the offer they will be beyond the international pale, his spokesman said today.

Number 10 is anxious that the prime minister's call for a dialogue with Syria and Iran, the so-called "axis of evil", is not presented as a surrender or an admission that the government's policy on Iraq has collapsed.

The Los Angeles Times:
Maliki later told journalists that he had authorized the use of "extreme force" against private militias blamed for the growing bloodshed between Iraq's dominant Muslim sects, including the deaths of nearly 100 people in 24 hours.

"There cannot be a government and militias together. One of the two should rule," Maliki said in a session Sunday with Iraqi newspaper editors broadcast on national television. "I personally will not be in a government based on militias."

It was unusually tough language for a leader widely criticized as failing to stand up to key members of his governing Shiite coalition, some of whom are backed by militias blamed for nightly killing rampages against the Sunni Arab minority.
The Washington Times (Telegraph):
Stopping monsters such as Abu Deraa -- whose nom de guerre means "the shield" -- is a top U.S. priority as it tries to halt sectarian violence, which regularly claims 100 lives a day.

But the Shi'ite-dominated government has shown a marked reluctance to sanction the kind of large-scale operation necessary to arrest him in his stronghold of Sadr City, a vast Shi'ite slum in eastern Baghdad.

Taking action against him could cost it valuable support among other Shi'ite militias who, despite official disdain for Abu Deraa's bloodthirstiness, value the fear that such a loose cannon inspires in their enemies.

"We are proud of leaders like Abu Deraa," said Hassan Allami, 25, a fighter with the Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi's Army, which Abu Deraa quit earlier this year to form his own faction. "His drills destroy the crazy minds of the Sunnis."
al Sadr

The New York Times: "Influence Rises but Base Frays for Iraqi Cleric"