Wednesday, January 31, 2007


The quiet conflict with Iran

CNN reports that two United States agencies are investigating links to Iran in the abduction and execution of five American soldiers. One of those soldiers was Captain Brian Freeman, trained in armor. He was pulled from IRR to serve in a civil affairs unit. The Washington Post reported yesterday that he pleaded with Senators Kerry and Dodd to fight the war with better trained troops.

A Defense audit has found that troops in the CENTCOM theatre still lack crucial equipment, such as up-armored HMMWVs and ECMs -- the two most useful countermeasures to IED attack, Stars and Stripes.

Former CIA operative Robert Baer suggested yesterday, at TIME's online magazine, that Iran may have been responsible for those five deaths to counter the jailing of five IRGC operatives earlier in January. Baer writes, "Mindful of the spreading chaos in Iraq, President Bush has promised not to take the war into Iran. But it won't matter to the IRGC. There is nothing the IRGC likes better than to fight a proxy war in another country."

Brookings, including another CIA hand, Kenneth Pollack, published a dire paper that stated hundreds of thousands may lose their lives in Iraq and throughout the Middle East if the security plan in Baghdad does not work. The Independent added to their report on this paper:
Everywhere looms the shadow of Iran. In a "war game" testing US options, the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution found that, as the descent into civil war gathered pace, confrontation between the US and Iran intensified, and Washington's leverage on Tehran diminished. Civil war in Iraq would turn Iran into "the unambiguous adversary" of the US.

Indeed, everything indicates that that is already happening. The study appeared on the same day as the Iranian ambassador in Iraq told The New York Times that Tehran intended to expand its influence in Iraq. US commanders now claim that thousands of Iranian advisers are arming and training Shia militias.
The Los Angeles Times reports today that the Air Force may be more aggressive in the Iran/Iraq corridor to deter militants from gaining access to Iranian weaponry:
Such missions also could position the Air Force to strike suspected bomb suppliers inside Iraq to deter Iranian agents that U.S. officials say are assisting Iraqi militias, outside military experts said.


The tough stance has been backed by military moves. Bush this month ordered a second aircraft carrier group, led by the John C. Stennis, to the Persian Gulf, a measure described as a warning to Iran.

The stepped-up presence and visibility of U.S. warplanes is seen as likely to reinforce that message.

"Air power plays major roles, and one of those is as a deterrent, whether it be in border control, air sovereignty or something more kinetic," said the senior Pentagon official, using a term that refers to offensive military action.
Before the Iraq invasion, the United States began to more aggressively operate in the Iraq no-fly zones.

Admiral Fallon, soon to head CENTCOM, said he favors something likened to "battleship diplomacy" against Iran, the Washington Post. Admiral Fallon, interestingly enough, does not have a great deal of detailed knowledge about the plans concerning Iraq's stability, the Washington Times.

Rhetorical question: so what does he bring to CENTCOM?

Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker reported in April of 2006 that the Bush administration had conducted clandestine operations in Iran and also had developed plans for a major air attack on that country's nuclear facilities.

Baer's hypothesis that the Iranians may have sought revenge for the capture of five IRGC operatives should also be enhanced with Hersh's reporting.

Iraq's militias

The Boston Globe reports that more than two dozen militias are now tracked by the United States. Many of these groups are unwieldy splinter organizations:
Paul Pillar , who served as the CIA's chief intelligence analyst for the Middle East before leaving in 2005 for a teaching position, said the number of groups continues to expand almost daily.

"It is very difficult to get a handle on all of the contours of the current situation in Iraq," he said. "This is a civil war on top of an insurgency on top of other conflicts. There is no one simple split between side A and side B. There are numerous subgroups and splinter groups that make it difficult to say any one leader is in charge of those who come under one label."

The weekend battle against the heavily armed Soldiers of Heaven killed at least 200 people, according to the Iraqi Defense Ministry. The intensity of the battle, and the sophistication of the group's weapons, surprised US and Iraqi forces.


"The whole idea of a monolithic, unified Shi'ite community is profoundly wrong, and any calculation that uses that assumption will get into trouble," said Reidar Visser, a historian of southern Iraq who edits the Iraq-focused website, . "There is a belief that by inviting one or two select leaders to Washington, you may gain the confidence of the entire Shi'ite community, but that is not realistic."
Saad Fakhrildeen and Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times have a rare account of the messianic cult that came to a brutal end on Sunday. The level of detail is amazing:
They had plenty of food. Each fighter had his own supply of chocolate and biscuits. They were prepared: A 6-foot dirt berm and an equally deep trench surrounded the 50-acre compound.

They were well organized. Living in at least 30 concrete-block buildings, all the fighters had identification badges. The group published its own books and a newspaper. The members apparently were enamored with their leader, a charismatic man in his 30s named Dhyaa Abdul-Zahra, whose likeness adorned the newspaper.

And they were well armed and ready for battle. High-powered machine guns, antiaircraft rockets, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and late-model pickup trucks with mounted guns were scattered around the eight farms that make up the compound, about 10 miles north of Najaf.


"Without the bombings of the Americans we would have remained for two weeks unable to penetrate," said an Iraqi soldier, who led a Times correspondent and other Iraqi journalists through the compound.


Arabic readers described the articles in the group's eight-page newspaper, the Statement, as little more than religiously inflected gibberish, with made-up words and references to "manifestations and sightings" of Imam Mahdi, the last in a line of Shiite Muslim saints.

A book found at the complex, called "Heaven's Judge," also bearing the picture of Abdul-Zahra, dismisses the teaching of Shiite Muslims as well as Sunnis. "The Shiites are misled," says the book, which rebuffs central tenets of Shiite theology.

"The house of the prophet Muhammad has adopted a path using signs to point to heavenly facts, a method for considering the order of secrets," it adds, in statements that perplexed both Shiites and Sunnis who read it.
The comments from the Iraqi soldier indicate that the amount of Iraqi success may have been overemphasized by Washington.

The level of organization for this cult-militia is staggering.

Sectarian violence on Ashura

The Los Angeles Times recounts the scores killed yesterday. There were at least two bombings in Shiite districts of Baghdad today.

The Washington Times reports on the efforts to calm sectarian tensions in the region:
Terrified that sectarian Muslim bloodshed could soon engulf the region, U.S. allies and adversaries in the Middle East have stepped up joint efforts to head off a religious civil war.

Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran have held intensive talks in recent days on ways to tamp down sectarian violence in Iraq and Lebanon. Over the weekend, Saudi King Abdullah issued an unusual public call for calm.
The Christian Science Monitor recounts sectarian clashes in Yemen:
After weekend clashes in Yemen that left at least seven dead, including six government soldiers, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh warned Shiite rebels to surrender or face a military campaign by the government.
Earlier in the week, Scott Peterson, also of the Christian Science Monitor, reported from Lebanon:
The political standoff between the government and opposition, simmering for two months, has taken an increasingly violent and sectarian turn in the past week, exposing long-dormant divisions between Lebanon's Sunnis and Shiites, and rival Christian factions.

At stake in the spiraling conflict is who will define the identity of Lebanon, a colonial-era construct that includes 18 confessions, and in recent decades has served as the proxy battlefield for broader regional struggles by Israel, Syria, Palestinians, and today, the US and Iran.
If the United States, the sole super power on the planet, does not engage in this anti-sectarian effort with Iran and Sunni leaders, the potential for disaster is very high.

More forces in Afghanistan

The London Times reports that Britain may add a battalion of troops to their commitment of 5,000 in Helmand province. The vital region will also have 1,000 American troops from the 10th Mountain Division available as a mobile reserve force.

Tony Blair's time at Number 10 seems numbered, the Independent on the latest arrest in cash-for-honours.

Earlier in the week, the Los Angeles Times reported on the Canadian sacrifices in Afghanistan. Their force accounted for 20 percent of the casualties in the country last year. At home, the war has an approval rating at 35 percent.

The Jamestown Foundation recently summarized Iranian involvement in Afghanistan. One general said, "in only the first quarter of this year [2006], more than 10 Iranian officials have been arrested in Herat who were allegedly involved in illegal activities."

18 months of exceptional rule

The Washington Post writes that the National Assembly will grant Hugo Chavez "tremendous powers that will allow him to dictate new laws for 18 months to transform the economy, redraw the structure of government and establish a new funding apparatus for Venezuela's huge oil wealth." El Pais reports that the extraodrinary location of the vote was outside the assembly building. The setting is no doubt meant to convey a message.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Iraq on Ashura

Scores of Shiite were killed on their holiest day today.

Messianic cult

The BBC has a balanced account of Abdul Zahra's odd cult and dramatic end. McClatchy reports thousands of rifles and hundreds of RPGs. The Christian Science Monitor accounts for less weapons, but still a large cache. The International Herald Tribune reports that Iraqi forces "appeared to have dangerously underestimated the strength of the militia" and recquired United States ground support.

Sectarian politics

Azzaman Online reports that Sadr's movement is seeking rapprochement with Sunni organizations:
Sadr has dispatched one of his most senior aides, Bahaa al-Araji, who is also a member of parliament, to meet with officials from the Iraqi Islamic Party, a major Sunni political faction.

In the meeting, in the presence of President Jalal Talabani, the sides have agreed to put an end to sectarian killings and form joint committees to administer mixed quarters in Baghdad and work for the return of displaced people from both sects.
Think tanks

Dire predictions from Brookings in the Independent:
The unremittingly bleak document, drawing on the experience of civil wars in Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, Congo and Afghanistan, also offers a remarkably stark assessment of Iraq's "spill-over" potential across the Persian Gulf region.

It warns of radicalisation and possible secession movements in adjacent countries, an upsurge in terrorism, and of intervention by Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Ending an all-out civil war, the report says, would require a force of 450,000 - three times the present US deployment even after the 21,500 "surge" ordered by President Bush this month.

Everywhere looms the shadow of Iran. In a "war game" testing US options, the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution found that, as the descent into civil war gathered pace, confrontation between the US and Iran intensified, and Washington's leverage on Tehran diminished. Civil war in Iraq would turn Iran into "the unambiguous adversary" of the US.

Indeed, everything indicates that that is already happening. The study appeared on the same day as the Iranian ambassador in Iraq told The New York Times that Tehran intended to expand its influence in Iraq. US commanders now claim that thousands of Iranian advisers are arming and training Shia militias.

Nonetheless, the Brookings report urges the creation of a regional group to help contain a civil war. That would see exactly the contacts with Iran and Syria that the Bush administration steadfastly refuses. An alternative in the report would be "red lines" which, if crossed by Tehran, could lead to a military attack by the US on Iran.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Major battle in Najaf

Operations continue, but the situation has calmed considerably.

The Los Angeles Times has the best summary of the confusion in this battle:
Iraqi security officials offered conflicting accounts of the identity and motives of the heavily armed fighters outside Najaf, variously describing them as foreign fighters, Sunni Muslim nationalists, loyalists of executed former dictator Saddam Hussein or followers of a messianic Shiite death cult. Some witnesses reported that the attackers wore colorful Afghan tribal robes.
The New York Times may have the best explanation:
But two senior Shiite clerics said the gunmen were part of a Shiite splinter group that Saddam Hussein helped build in the 1990s to compete with followers of the venerated Shiite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. They said the group, calling itself the Mehwadiya, was loyal to Ahmad bin al-Hassan al-Basri, an Iraqi cleric who had a falling out with Muhammad Bakr al-Sadr — father-in-law of the Shiite leader Moktada al-Sadr — in Hawza, a revered Shiite seminary in Najaf.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Machinations in Iraq...

The Los Angeles Times:
BAGHDAD — Muqtada Sadr, the radical anti-American cleric, has backed away from confrontation with U.S. and Iraqi forces in recent weeks, a move that has surprised U.S. officials who long have characterized his followers as among the greatest threats to Iraq's security.

Thursday, a leader of the Sadr movement in one of its Baghdad strongholds publicly endorsed President Bush's new Iraq security plan, which at least some U.S. officials have touted as a way to combat Sadr's group.

"We will fully cooperate with the government to make the plan successful," said Abdul-Hussein Kaabai, head of the local council in the Shiite Muslim-dominated Sadr City neighborhood. "If it is an Iraqi plan done by the government, we will cooperate."
The Washington Post:
The leader of a powerful Sunni bloc, Abdul Nasir al-Janabi, provoked Mr. Maliki, saying over jeers from Shiite politicians, “We cannot trust the office of the prime minister.”

His microphone was quickly shut off, and Mr. Maliki lashed into him, essentially accusing him of being one of the outlaws he had just said would not be granted sanctuary.

“I will show you,” Mr. Maliki said, waving his finger in the air. “I will turn over the documents we have,” implying that the legislator was guilty of crimes.
The Washington Post reports that Bush has changed from "catch and release" concerning Iranian operatives in Iraq to "capture or kill".

This one paragraph struck me, the Washington Post:
For more than two weeks last fall, Abbas, his sister and his mother were treated to free hotels, trips to the zoo and religious shrines, and his mother's $1,300 eye surgery at a hospital in Tehran, all courtesy of the offices of Moqtada al-Sadr, Iraq's ascendant Shiite Muslim cleric. Abbas returned to Najaf glowing over the technical prowess of Iran.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The battle for Afghanistan

George W. Bush will seek $10.6 billion for security and reconstruction in the country, AP. The Defense Department announced that 3,200 soldiers of the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, will remain in Afghanistan for an additional 120 days (or less) instead of ending their deployment.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, always worth reading, has a negative assessment of NATO against the Taliban, Asia Times Online. He writes that some NATO deals with local leaders will benefit the Taliban.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

This may be good news...

Though we must be very cautious as Iraq seems to take one step forward and then two quickly in the opposite direction.

Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times reports that bodies found in Baghdad over the past week are less numerous. He has an Army captain referenced with the same impression. Homicides seem to be down about 50 percent. There are also indications that the victims were not brutalized leading to death, as has been the custom of the Shiite death squads.

This is only one week's worth of data. It also may be a result of Sadr ordering his followers to limit their actions.

Intense fighting occurred in Baghdad today, CNN. Clashes were in mainly Sunni areas, which is important. This CNN story concerns Haifa street. There were also clashes in the neighborhood of Adhamiyah.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Some notes on Iraq

Military enthusiasts

CNN: Attackers in Karbala, responsible for the deaths of five US service personnel, were able to pose as US military officials to get past Iraqi guards.

This level of sophistication in disguise is worrisome. But, what might be more worrisome is how many authentic (or authentic-looking) military items are on eBay. That link leads to BDU trousers.

Read all about it

The Christian Science Monitor reports that handbills were a useful tool for one armored brigade.

Sectarian strife

The substantial attack today, claiming scores of lives, occurred in a Shiite market, the Washington Post.

The Associated Press reports that intelligence linking Sadr's militia to death squads has lead Maliki to turn on the radical cleric.

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that it left him with no other option but to turn. It's been relatively obvious who was the driving force behind death squads for some time. At least it seems obvious to the Sunni insurgents who respond in their carbomb fashion.


I read a few months back in the Los Angeles Times that Shiite leaders in southern Iraq touted their fight against the British in a ceremony when the Americans handed over control of security for a city to the native population. In Rory Stewart's book on the occupation of Iraq after Saddam's fall, he encounters the same pride in what happened in the 1920s. This should not be too surprising then.

Asia Times Online:
"People here have always hated the US and British occupation of Iraq, and remembered their grandfathers who fought the British troops with the simplest weapons," said Jassim al-Assadi, a school principal from Kut. Assadi was referring to the Shi'ite resistance that eventually played a key role in expelling British forces from Iraq during the 1920s and 1930s.

Armed resistance against the occupation in the south was slow to begin with because religious clerics instructed their followers to give the occupation time to fulfill promises made by the US and British administrations, Assadi said. "But now they do not believe any cleric's promises anymore. They have started fighting, and that is that."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Nouri al-Maliki's PR offensive

President Bush made a speech. Maliki pulls aside a handfull of reporters and gets front page coverage. Here is how the London Times headlines the interview: "Give us guns – and troops can go, says Iraqi leader"

The stories are all remarkably similar. Maliki wants more equipment for his (Shiite) forces. He thinks Rice was out of line to threaten his position. And, in some accounts, Maliki states that he has detained about 400 Mahdi militia members.

The Guardian.

The Washington Post.

The New York Times.

The Los Angeles Times.

Bravo! What a show from this "embattled" leader in his "race against time"! Everything will improve, he says, if his sectarian forces get more weapons. My, does he have some bite, too! There's something for everyone in these stories. That should make one wary.

Robert Novak points out why:
In a pre-Christmas visit to Iraq, Coleman and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida met with Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi government's national security adviser. Coleman described their astounding encounter in a Dec. 19 blog entry: Dr. Rubaie "maintains that the major challenge facing Iraq is not a sectarian conflict, but rather al-Qaeda and disgruntled Baathists seeking to regain power. Both Senator Nelson and I react with incredulity to that assessment. Rubaie cautions against more troops in Baghdad."

Rubaie denied the overriding reality of sectarian violence in Baghdad because his government is tied to the Shiite belligerents in that conflict. While Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pays lip service to Bush's demand that he crack down on Mahdi Army commander Moqtada al-Sadr, U.S. officials recognize that Maliki's political support depends on the Shiite militia leader. Thus, Maliki's government is in denial about sectarian conflict. Maliki did not show up for a news conference in which he was scheduled to comment on Bush's new strategy, and he personally remains silent about the plan at this writing.
For more on why Rubaie and Maliki, read the post below.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Power politics continue in Iraq

What are Prime Minister Maliki's actual motivations in the coming months? I do not think anyone but he can say with certainty. Maliki vows to crackdown on militias but continues to exclude Sadr's group (WHDH). Maliki appointed Abud Qanbar (LA Times) (or Abboud Gambar) as his commanding general in Baghdad. The first pick, according to the WHDH link, was rejected by the Americans. That WHDH link states that Qanbar/Gambar fought against Iran in the 1980s and the United States in Gulf War I. He remained in Saddam's army until after the invasion. He is Shiite and from southern Iraq.

The WHDH link also states that Kurdish fighters are preparing to confront followers of Sadr. However, Azzaman reports that Sadr has asked his loyalists to cooperate until American forces withdraw. Sadr, according to these reports, expects this to happen at the end of 2007. This date is worth noting, because Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's (Shiite) national security adviser, wrote over the summer in the Washington Post that Americans would be gone by 2007. Rubaie was replaced by Ayad Allawi in 2004 because Rubaie argued for a compromise with Sadr while Allawi wanted a more iron fist approach, the New York Times.

This certainly makes one think. But, lest we see Sadr as too in control, we should review the Jamestown Foundation's arguments for his weakening grip on his militia. Bombings in Baghdad today targeted Sadrist enclaves, CNN. Sadr's followers also tend to come from the lower classes, so this San Francisco Chronicle report that states that 40 percent of the middle class has fled can be evidence that Sadr's demographic is more prevalent than before.

US officials, in the Los Angeles Times, call the new Baghdad plan "workable", but this is based on their assumption that the Iraqi government will improve.

Pay attention to the economic links behind the latest spat among the Iraqis, the Iranians and the Americans, the Los Angeles Times (my emphasis):
The U.S. raid on the Iranian office, which handled visas and other paperwork for Iraqis traveling to Iran, struck at the heart of Kurdistan's economy, which depends on commercial ties with Iran facilitated through that office.

Doing business with Iran also means doing business with the Revolutionary Guard, an institution that controls Iran's borders. Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, Iran's ambassador to Iraq, is a former member of the guard. Any neighboring country that wants to do business with Iran has to deal with members of the force, which was created by Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to aid the Islamic revolution.

Iraq's Kurds share a storied history with the Revolutionary Guard, fighting side by side against former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, once told The Times that he planned military operations against Hussein with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's controversial president.
Borzou Daragahi, and this time Louise Roug as well, gets some interesting material, no?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Reactions to Bush's speech and plan

Martin Kettle of the Guardian:
[I]t is difficult not to sense a frightening naivety about the practicalities of the operations that are envisaged on the ground, both in Baghdad and Anbar. Granted that these plans appear significantly more practical and militarily realistic than Donald Rumsfeld's original invasion, they nevertheless rest on some Rumsfeldian grand assumptions. The Iraqi army and police will bring order to the Baghdad suburbs. Oh yes? Iraqi forces backed by the five newly deployed US brigades will go door-to-door, street-to-street, suburb-to-suburb bringing confidence and a breathing space to allow reconciliation to take root. Really? No one with any memory of how difficult it was and still is for British soldiers and Northern Ireland police officers to achieve such a goal in west Belfast or the Bogside over the past 40 years will believe that until they can really see it happening.
Paul Reynolds of the BBC News notes that General Patraeus's counterinsurgency manual calls for a long term commitment to building up a government, while Bush's plan hints at a much shorter operation.

The Los Angeles Times quotes a senior administration official voicing skepticism on Maliki's motives.

The Chicago Tribune quotes a retired colonel saying 130,000 troops would be needed in Baghdad to replicate management of similar ethnic conflicts in Eastern Europe.

The Los Angeles Times reports that "gated communities" will be established in Baghdad and maintained once insurgents/militants are cleared out of the area.

Thomas Ricks and Ann Tyson, of the Washington Post, note that urban operations in Baghdad were avoided by the battle planners in 2003.

The biggest question is what will happen in Sadr City. The Financial Times notes:
However, any major military push into Sadr City will probably meet strong resistance from the militias, and spark a popular backlash, turning more of the majority Shia population of Iraq against the US. Until recently, the US military has moved lightly in the sprawling suburb, which may be home to as many as a third of the capital’s six million inhabitants. The influence of Mr Sistani, meanwhile, is also believed to be waning, as the senior cleric over the past year has sought to distance himself from the sectarian conflict.

Whereas Sunnis and even many Shia fear the Mahdi Army, in Sadr City the militiamen are often viewed as neighbourhood heroes doing the job that an ineffective police force cannot, suppressing ordinary crime protecting Shia civilians from car bombs and other attacks carried out by Sunni insurgents.
The president's address can be read here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Start the World Cup and send the Iraqis!

Tariq al-Hashimi, a (Sunni) vice president of Iraq, has what must be the most pathetic reason for continued optimism in today's Washington Post:
During the Asian Games in Qatar last month, Iraq became quiet, if only for a few hours. Citizens united as brothers behind the national soccer team, which against all odds fought its way to the finals. ... This tells me that all is not lost, that a deep-rooted sense of nationalism still lies within all Iraqis, and that it can and must be rekindled.

It is true that terrorism of an unparalleled nature rages in Iraq and that Iraqis are the ones killing each other on the basis of sectarian and ethnic identities. It is also true that reconstruction and economic development have ground to a halt because of the violence. And Iraqis are divided on such fundamental issues as reconciliation and how to bring about security.

Despite all the hardships, however, we Iraqis were able to raise the rudimentary pillars of our nascent democracy by writing a constitution, electing a parliament based on that constitution and granting a vote of confidence to a government through that elected parliament. It is not fair to look at Iraq as a collection of failures without identifying its successes. ...

All is not lost! Eliminating regional influence is the only way to bring Iraqis back to their senses. ...

If those soccer players taught us anything, it is that a proper strategy for eliminating sectarianism and fostering nationalism is key. Reconstituting the Iraqi Armed Services and then reforming, retraining and properly arming them must be a central component of this strategy. Another should be revising Iraq's constitution to give our central government effective powers but prevent any sort of dictatorship by the prime minister. The powers that the prime minister holds now must be revised to guarantee that all stakeholders can share in governing. Adherence to the rule of law is also central.
These steps are necessary, and his argument has some moral authority because several of his siblings have been killed by Shiite death squads. However, I find the fact that a regional soccer/football championship is one main reason for optimism to be absurd.

Perhaps we can drag the Iraqi side all around the world, playing friends and foes! I am not sure on their fitness, or if they are all still alive, but it's worth a shot.

The surge will be announced tonight, about as rehearsed as our political nominating conventions these days.

The Australian hightlights a concern of mine:
US and Iraqi officials said the assault on the Haifa Street neighbourhood rooted out an insurgent cell that controlled the area, but residents from the predominantly Sunni Muslim area and Sunni leaders said the American forces had been duped by Iraq's Shia-dominated security forces into participating in a plan to drive Sunnis from the area.

On the eve of President George W. Bush's announcement of a new war plan for Iraq, the conflicting versions underscored the difficulty US troops have in protecting civilians in this sprawling capital where Shiites and Sunnis are waging pitched battles for control of the neighbourhoods.

In the past several months, Shia militias have pushed into Sunni neighbourhoods, threatening residents with death if they don't leave. Sunni residents have responded by arming themselves and welcoming protection from Iraq's insurgents.

With Mr Bush expected to order additional troops to Baghdad in coming weeks, Sunni leaders have worried that US troops will end up helping the Shiites push them from their neighbourhoods.
Will we bring the sword when we need a scalpel?

Note how poorly armored our military remains, and how minimally our industrial base is involved, the Baltimore Sun:
"The problem with the M1114s ["Humvee"] is, they are overloaded and flat-bottomed," said Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, the senior Marine commander in Iraq.

Today, the Marines are moving quickly to buy and deploy combat vehicles with a key design improvement over the Humvee: They are built with a V-shaped hull that deflects a blast up and outward, leaving passengers shaken, but alive.

Under a $125 million contract, the Marines are buying 100 Cougar and 44 Buffalo armored trucks, known collectively as MRAP, for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, made by Force Protection Inc., a small company in Ladson, S.C. The firm is producing 40 vehicles a month, said its vice president, Mike Aldrich, a retired Army officer educated at West Point.

Aldrich said the design grew out of a joint Army and Marine Corps request "designed to literally stop the bleeding from up-armored Humvees in some of the most dangerous areas in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The military services said last month that they need 4,060 of the MRAP vehicles, with 2,500 for the Army, 538 for the Navy and 1,022 for the Marines. The delivery schedule is uncertain. Meanwhile, a permanent replacement for the Humvee, incorporating the latest design and armor improvements, is years away, Pentagon officials said, and mired in technical and cost disputes.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The so-called "surge"

George W. Bush will announce Wednesday a “surge” of additional American military power to achieve his goal of a stable, democratic Iraq that is a reliable ally in the war on terror. The “benchmarks” that the president believes will lead Iraq to that goal are the same as they were more than two years ago: bring the Sunnis into the political process and develop a way to share oil revenue. While these have been the requested diplomatic objectives for the Iraqi government for some time, the amount of progress for both has been negligible.

The first point that should be addressed is that this is not a “surge”. This is a gradual increase in combat power over the next few months, brigade by brigade. The connotation of a surge is a massive increase in numbers in a short period of time. We can expect about 7,000 or so additional combat troops in Iraq in addition to the 130,000 that are presently there. Last month, Marines were removed from warships and sent to al Anbar. To replace this reserve force, a brigade of the 82nd Airborne has moved to the region. Reports indicate that some Marine units would stay in Iraq on longer tours; I believe the number was two regiments. This is what the so-called surge will look like: battalions of Marines held for additional months, brigades of the Army moved into place a little more quickly than originally planned.

Most likely, this incremental increase is called a “surge” not because that is an accurate description, but rather because the accurate description would resemble the term “escalation”. “Surge” sounds powerful and sudden – perhaps implying a quick recession or at the very least an overwhelming force. This step-by-step addition of more combat power seems more deliberate and longer lasting. It is a boost.

To augment the additional combat power from brigades of our military, the Iraqi government will commit three brigades in Baghdad – perhaps taking the lead in central Baghdad. In the last major operation in Baghdad (Forward Together/Together Forward) the Iraqis pledged six battalions – literally a fraction of their latest promise. For that operation, the Iraqis mustered merely two of the promised six battalions.

There is reason to believe, however, that this will not happen again. The Kurdish Peshmerga will comprise two of the three brigades pledged by the government. The Peshmerga is probably the best force the Iraqi government can wield at this time, however, they are a longstanding militia of Kurdistan. In the upcoming operation, the Peshmerga will be the best unit under the government’s banner, but they don’t even fly the Iraqi flag in their native region.

Why have the Kurds made this surprisingly robust contribution to this operation? The security situation in Baghdad is dire, and a collapse of the Iraqi government could disturb Kurdish business deals and their regional stability. For the Kurds, the Iraqi government is a promising institution for the next few years. The leaders of Kurdistan may also recognize that American political will continues to recede from Iraq. Without a change in the course of the war, that political will shall affect the country of Iraq after the 2008 elections.

One Kurdish issue that relates to the aforementioned political settlement is the oil-rich area around Kirkuk. That city was once held firmly by a Kurdish majority. Saddam, however, proceeded with an Arabization of the city to enrich his sectarian backers. The Kurds would like a referendum on the city’s fate in late 2007, to bring it into their semi-autonomous region. This is strongly opposed by the Sunni-Arabs in Iraq and by Kurdistan’s neighbor, Turkey.

I doubt a Shiite dominated army would be very effective against a Sunni insurgency in al Anbar. There is no oil in that region, and the Shiite are likely to look after their interests in the region where their population is based. They would only attack Sunnis in al Anbar if it meant security in Baghdad and the south. In Baghdad, a dramatic demographic shift has been underway for some time. Christopher Hitchens recently wrote, from the capitol, that the Shiite militias (who are a strong component of the security forces) were intimidating and killing Sunnis to provide for easy access to the Shiite power base in the southern part of the country. The inability of the Iraqi government to muster four of the previously promised six battalions in Baghdad serves as another notice that a cohesive, national security force is not yet present – and won’t be for some time.

This begs the question: why would the Kurds send their venerable Peshmerga into the sectarian bloodbath that is Baghdad? We shall only know their motivations when they are acting upon their desires. But, I am worried about this unusual Kurdish initiative outside of their region.

The last issue to consider is Maliki’s governance and Sadr’s militia. The latter, at least at an organizational level, has been the leader of the Shiite death squads. This is not to say that elements of Badr or Dawa are not also responsible for ethnic cleansing. Sadr’s band just has grabbed the headlines with their bloody work. Unless Sadr’s militia is kept in check, the Sunni insurgency will doubt the government and attack with furor. It is clear that Iraq is in a state of self-perpetuating sectarian violence. It’s probably worse than a classical civil war. The Sunni insurgency is quite strong, and will draw upon resources and volunteers from neighboring Sunni-Arab states.

Apparently, this so-called “surge” is based on the premise that if security is established, a political deal can be reached. The absence of political compromise has brought us to this point. It is hard to imagine how a compromise can develop in 2007, or how this small “surge” will substantial alter that important fact.

Chavez shows us something of which to expect more

CNN (my emphasis):
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced plans Monday to nationalize Venezuela's electrical and telecommunications companies, pledging to create a socialist state in a bold move with echoes of Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution.

"We're moving toward a socialist republic of Venezuela, and that requires a deep reform of our national constitution," Chavez said in a televised address after swearing in his Cabinet. "We are in an existential moment of Venezuelan life. We're heading toward socialism, and nothing and no one can prevent it."

Chavez, who will be sworn in Wednesday to a third term that runs through 2013, also said he wanted a constitutional amendment to eliminate the autonomy of the Central Bank and would soon ask the National Assembly, solidly controlled by his allies, to give him greater powers to legislate by presidential decree.

The nationalization appeared likely to affect Electricidad de Caracas, owned by Arlington, Virginia-based AES Corp., and C.A. Nacional Telefonos de Venezuela, known as CANTV, the country's largest publicly traded company.

"All of that which was privatized, let it be nationalized," Chavez said, referring to "all of those sectors in an area so important and strategic for all of us as is electricity."

"The nation should recover its ownership of strategic sectors," he said.
This is what Sun Tzu meant when he wrote about prolonged wars, and that the best general/leader achieved his aims without conflict.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Varied points on Iraq

Ali Allawi in the Independent:
The Solution

It requires genuine vision and statesmanship to pull the Middle East from its death spiral. The elements of a possible solution are there if the will exists to postulate an alternative to the politics of fear, bigotry and hatred.

The first step must be the recognition that the solution to the Iraq crisis must be generated first internally, and then, importantly, at the regional level. The two are linked and the successful resolution of one would lead to the other.

No foreign power, no matter how benevolent, should be allowed to dictate the terms of a possible historic and stable settlement in the Middle East. No other region of the world would tolerate such a wanton interference in its affairs.

That is not to say that due consideration should not be given to the legitimate interests of the great powers in the area, but the future of the area should not be held hostage to their designs and exclusive interests.

Secondly, the basis of a settlement must take into account the fact that the forces that have been unleashed by the invasion of Iraq must be acknowledged and accommodated. These forces, in turn, must accept limits to their demands and claims. That would apply, in particular, to the Shias and the Kurds, the two communities who have been seen to have gained from the invasion of Iraq.

Thirdly, the Sunni Arab community must become convinced that its loss of undivided power will not lead to marginalisation and discrimination. A mechanism must be found to allow the Sunni Arabs to monitor and regulate and, if need be, correct, any signs of discrimination that may emerge in the new Iraqi state.

Fourthly, the existing states surrounding Iraq feel deeply threatened by the changes there. That needs to be recognised and treated in any lasting deal for Iraq and the area.

A way has to be found for introducing Iran and Turkey into a new security structure for the Middle East that would take into account their legitimate concerns, fears and interests. It is far better that these countries are seen to be part of a stable order for the area rather than as outsiders who need to be confronted and challenged.

The Iraqi government that has arisen as a result of the admittedly flawed political process must be accepted as a sovereign and responsible government. No settlement can possibly succeed if its starting point is the illegitimacy of the Iraqi government or one that considers it expendable.
Brent Scowcroft in the New York Times:
To avoid these dire consequences, we need to secure the support of the countries of the region themselves. It is greatly in their self-interest to give that support, just as they did in the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict. Unfortunately, in recent years they have come to see it as dangerous to identify with the United States, and so they have largely stood on the sidelines.

A vigorously renewed effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict could fundamentally change both the dynamics in the region and the strategic calculus of key leaders. Real progress would push Iran into a more defensive posture. Hezbollah and Hamas would lose their rallying principle. American allies like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the gulf states would be liberated to assist in stabilizing Iraq. And Iraq would finally be seen by all as a key country that had to be set right in the pursuit of regional security.
The Christian Science Monitor: "If Iraq fragments, what's Plan B?"

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

"Alice in Wonderland"

What is needed? Reconstruction teams and trainers. What would be a half-measure provoking more harm than good? A small "surge" that can't stop the sectarian violence and the insurgencies, but can put more Americans in harms way -- thus reducing the political will to fight in this country.

So guess what the Decider is up to, BBC News (my emphasis):
US President George W Bush intends to reveal a new Iraq strategy within days, the BBC has learnt.

The speech will reveal a plan to send more US troops to Iraq to focus on ways of bringing greater security, rather than training Iraqi forces.

The move comes with figures from Iraqi ministries suggesting that deaths among civilians are at record highs.

The US president arrived back in Washington on Monday after a week-long holiday at his ranch in Texas.

The BBC was told by a senior administration source that the speech setting out changes in Mr Bush's Iraq policy is likely to come in the middle of next week.

Its central theme will be sacrifice.

The speech, the BBC has been told, involves increasing troop numbers.

The exact mission of the extra troops in Iraq is still under discussion, according to officials, but it is likely to focus on providing security rather than training Iraqi forces.

The proposal, if it comes, will be highly controversial.
Ross McGinnis, a very brave PFC, is remembered in today's Washington Post. An SF operator had this to say in the story (my juxtaposition):
"The fatal flaw was when right after September 11 the president asked everyone to go on with their lives. That set the stage for no one sacrificing," said a Special Forces team sergeant who recently served in Iraq. "That's why they aren't behind it, because they don't have a stake in this war. They aren't losing or gaining anything. If you don't see it, smell it, feel it, how are you connected?"
The Financial Times:
But criticism of the planned “surge” in US forces is growing from within his own party as the death toll of US troops in Iraq rises. The figure last month passed the toll from the September 11 attacks and at the weekend independent groups confirmed the death of the 3,000th US soldier in the country.

In the past two days, a number of prominent Republican senators, including Arlen Specter and Richard Lugar, the outgoing chairmen of the Senate judiciary and foreign relations committees, have voiced strong scepticism about an increase in troops.

Although Mr Bush could expect the support of John McCain, the 2008 presidential hopeful, and Lindsey Graham, another Republican senator, the Republican tide appears to be moving against boosting troop levels. A number of Republicans have pointed out that Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, is also opposed to a beefed-up US military presence.

Mr Bush is also likely to face implacable opposition to any increase in US troop levels from the Democratic party, which controls both houses of the new US Congress that commences on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration faces the likelihood of tough senate hearings throughout January that Joseph Biden, the new Democratic chairman of the foreign relations committee, plans to hold from next week.
Robert Novak, a prominent GOP insider, offered this over the holiday, Washington Post:
President Bush and McCain, the front-runner for the party's 2008 presidential nomination, will have trouble finding support from more than 12 of the 49 Republican senators when pressing for a surge of 30,000 troops. "It's Alice in Wonderland," Sen. Chuck Hagel, second-ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, told me in describing the proposal. "I'm absolutely opposed to sending any more troops to Iraq. It is folly."


Among Democrats, Lieberman stands alone. Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, as Foreign Relations Committee chairman, will lead the rest of the Democrats not only to oppose a surge but to block it. Bush enters a new world of a Democratic majority where he must share the stage.

Just as the president is ready to address the nation on Iraq, Biden next week begins three weeks of hearings on the war. On the committee, Biden and Democrats Christopher Dodd (Conn.), John Kerry (Mass.), Russell Feingold (Wis.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) will compete for intensity in criticizing a troop surge. But on the Republican side of the committee, no less probing scrutiny of Bush's proposals will come from Chuck Hagel.
America's commitment to Iraq must be finite, because it simply cannot be any other way. Not only are our resources and resolve finite, but also the problems in that country require an Iraqi political solution. Political progress must accompany any continuation of American involvement in that country. If it does not, then our time there will be all sacrifice and no success. Our ability to control the security situation is minimal. The apparent troop increase will not be sufficient to change this fact. What is needed is additonal trainers, embedded coalition forces (NCOs, junior officers) and reconstruction efforts, such as CMDR Lee's, CENTCOM:
“At one point the local tribal leaders and the population at large fought against us. But as they observed our continuing efforts to improve their communities, they’ve taken noticeable steps switching their alliance from sympathizing with the insurgents to helping us get the security situation under control,” Lee explained.

“We’re working on schools, water and sewage treatment plants, hospitals and primary healthcare centers, electrical generation and distribution networks, waterway maintenance, roadways, police and fire stations and the local residents appreciate our efforts. Those times I would get discouraged about the ongoing challenges, it just took a stop in one of the many villages we were assessing for projects to get re-energized about our mission. The thankful smiles of their youngsters did it for me every time.”