Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Iraq (page 1 / 2)

John Yoo on the Manning verdict

Last weekend, Bush torture lawyer John Yoo wrote about his disgust with the Manning verdict.

Bradley Manning caused one of the most harmful leaks in American history. He released into the public eye the identities of foreigners helping the U.S. in war zones, the means and methods of U.S. military operations, and our sensitive diplomatic communications with other nations. Lives — American and foreign — no doubt were lost because of the leaks. If anyone can think of a more harmful blow to U.S. intelligence in our history, let’s hear it. 

I've heard other people refer to the Manning leak as one of the most harmful in American history. But I don't think I've ever seen anyone offer any proof for that assertion. John Yoo needs to do something to prove that it was the most harmful leak in American history. Where's the evidence?

Manning published data that supposedly contained the names and identities of various American (and allied) agents who were working undercover. The data also allegedly contained the names of various Iraqis and Afghanis who were helping us, against the terrorists and the Taliban. I've seen people allege that our enemies would use that data to punish our friends.

It seems like it would be pretty easy to quantify how deadly this leak was, if it was deadly. Which agents and allies, named in the leaked documents, have since been killed, terrorized, or harmed by our enemies? Whose lives were lost because of Manning's leak? If this was a deadly leak, wouldn't that be dramatic proof? Wouldn't something have come out in a Congressional hearing, Department of Defense or Homeland Security press release, or presidential interview? Wouldn't the Administration and its allies constantly trumpet how harmful Manning's leak was?

Unless I've completely missed it, no one has done anything of the sort. I'm not convinced that Manning's leak was the most harmful in American history. And I'm not inclined to take the bald-faced word of a lawyer who thinks that the Constitution places no restraints on the President's powers to order people tortured.

If You Must Be An Empire, Don't Be An Incompetent Empire

If You Must Be An Empire, Don't Be An Incompetent Empire →

Jerry Pournelle, on foreign policy.

Iraq is another story. We’re pulling out. We have spent $Trillions, we have left chaos, we have removed a major threat to the stability of Iran, and I am not sure what we got out of it. And Iraq certainly does have stuff we want. Oil, to begin with. A fair amount of Yellowcake – uranium ore. Lots of other stuff. And we’re running out because the Iraqis insist on applying Iraqi “law and order” to the US forces in Iraq.

I’d be tempted give them a $3 Trillion bill on the way out, and leave an occupation force in one of their major oil fields where we’d be pumping oil and selling it until most of the bill was paid, but that option was apparently never considered. Incidentally, we could defend our occupied oil fields with Sudanese and for that matter Libyan mercenaries, which we pay for out of the oil proceeds.We wouldn’t need a large US force in Iraq; they could be in Kuwait . Pumping lots of Iraqi oil would drop the world price of crude, and be a great jobs program for the United States.

... I don’t much like Empire as a policy, but if we are going to play Empire, can’t we find someone who knows how to do it competently?

Re: Fort Hood's Shootings (Joe's Take)

I believe this post finishes our site's libertarian conversion. We now occupy the same portion of the libertarian spectrum that LewRockwell.com occupies.

I don't like America's wars of aggression. The problem, as I see it, is that it can be hard to tell the difference between a war of aggression and a good preemptive defense. For instance, I'm still not convinced that going into Iraq was the right thing to do. I'm not sure what risk we were defending ourselves against.

On the other hand, Afghanistan was a necessary war. You give safe harbor to people who blow up part of a city, you die. It's just that simple. But I think that we should have left a while ago. I'm not sure that we're accomplishing anything worthwhile by propping up a corrupt Karzai government. I know about the fear that that terrorists will get Pakistani nukes and attack us with those. But I'm not sure how likely that scenario is or how fragile Pakistan's own government is. So I'm not sure if what we're doing is preemptive defense against a nuclear scenario or whether we're engaging in blatant imperialism for no good return.

But I am grateful for those who do decide to join the military and protect our borders. I respect their loyalty, their sense of honor, and their dedication. I don't always agree with their mission but I know that I'm not qualified to judge how necessary each mission is. As a result, I do sympathize with them and with their families. For this attack, especially.

The Army, for its own inscrutable reasons decided that stateside military bases should be gun-free zones. That strikes me as absolute lunacy. Had someone removed this nut months ago when it became apparent that he was a nut, soldiers would be alive today. Had someone decided to allow our soldiers to carry the guns that they were trained to carry, more of them would be alive today.

I have a lot of sympathy for people who are hamstrung and betrayed by their own leadership. Incidents like this raise a lot of questions about whether a bureaucratized military is the best way to protect a country. I'm not sure that it is. The institutional Army protects its turf quite fiercely, even when that turf isn't worth protecting. Instead, I'd like to see us get back to the old way of doing things: no standing army and a fully armed citizenry that stands ready to form an ad-hoc army as conditions warrant.

Michael Z. Williamson envisioned a heavily armed libertarian society in his book Freehold. I rather like it. And I can think a large portion of our current military would like it too. I don't think they're in the military because they're thugs. I think they're in the military because it's the only institution we have that will allow them to arm up and stand on the borders, protecting those within. Getting called upon to engage in dubious ventures is an unfortunate cost of being a protector. And that's why I sympathize with them.

And, just for the record, I think this LewRockwell.com post is more than a little nuts itself.

Notes from The Future in Iraq, Part 1

Michael J. Totten: The Future in Iraq, Part 1.

On the Jaysh al Mahdi, Moqtada al Sadr's radical Mahdi Army militia:

Hajji Jasim, General Nasser's guest from the office of the Mahdi Army's "political wing," sat next to Major Kareem on the couch. "Understand something," he said to Captain Heil. "In the media, JAM only pretends to oppose the Status of Forces Agreement. Privately, we like it. It helps Sadr more than anything else. Those committing violence are going against Sadr's orders. You wanted the occupation to last 20 more years. Now, under SOFA, it's down to three years. That's great for us."

When I met Tom Ricks a few weeks ago, he relayed to me an interesting anecdote from his new book about the surge called The Gamble. "Sadr's people entered into secret negotiations with the United States in, I think, 2007, about whether or not to have negotiations," he said. "They said before we begin any talks, we have to have a date certain when you will withdraw from Iraq. The American policy said we can't do that. So the Sadrists said well, then we can't have talks. Then the Americans said, well, just out of curiosity, what was the [withdrawal] date you had in mind? The Sadrists said 2013. Which put them on the right-wing of the U.S. Congress."

On the use of force in Iraq:

Iraq has never been successfully governed by anyone but a strongman. You might even say Iraq has never been successfully governed at all. Who today sincerely believes the use of force by Saddam Hussein's Baath Party regime was an effective "remedy" for the Iraqi people, as General Nasser put it? Still, despite my unease with what he was saying, I don't think he necessarily meant a totalitarian system is the solution to what ails Iraq.

"Twelve JAM members were brought to court recently," he said. "They asked to be put under American justice because you are softer and jail people under better conditions. Iraqis are not like Americans. You are educated, we aren't. Without force, Iraqis cannot be civilized. Americans don't use real force. You talk to people nicely and worry about human rights."

On peace in the Middle East:

"If the U.S. solves three problems," the general said, "American-Arab relations will be very good. First, resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Second, promote democracy in the Arab world. Third, destroy the Wahhabis. If you solve these problems, all will be well."

On pro-American Iraqis:

Sometimes it's hard to tell if Iraqis who talk the pro-American talk are sincere or if they're just blowing smoke. General Nasser, I think, was sincere. His body language and tone of voice said so, as did the naked calculation of his own interests.

"I had Iraqis here at my house recently," he said. "I told them Americans are better than you because they keep their word and they are disciplined. American people are not profiteers. Their wisdom led them to this. I want Iraqis to learn about American honor."

On the feelings toward American soldiers:

Iraqi public opinion is hard to read. Most Arabs are exceptionally polite and hospitable people, and they'll almost always conceal any hostility as a matter of course. That's true everywhere in the Arab world as long as the people aren't violently hostile.

Much of Iraq used to be violently hostile. Even kids in Sadr City used to throw rocks at American soldiers. Some Baghdad neighborhoods were so dangerous that Americans who left the relative security of their base had a 100 percent chance of being attacked. Overt hostility is rare now, and violent attacks are even rarer. Something important has changed. Reconciliation between Americans and Iraqis is real.

On the rule of law:

"The insurgency now is more criminal than anything else," Colonel Hort said. "The Al Qaeda threat isn't down to that point yet, but Shia insurgents are becoming more and more criminal than anything else. We're working closely now with Iraqi judges, as well as Iraqi Security Forces, to ensure that when we identify a guy we're getting a warrant and arresting the guy that way. It's a significant change for us that we now need a warrant to make an arrest like we do in the States."

Some American officers I met are worried that more terrorists and insurgents will remain at large now that warrants are needed for their arrest, but others are convinced this is wonderful news. It is, at least for the time being, just barely possible to wage a counterinsurgency using law enforcement methods instead of war-fighting methods. There is such a thing as an acceptable level of violence, and Iraq is nearer to that point than it has been in years. Baghdad is no longer the war zone it was.

Some also say a transition to warrant-based arrests now instead of later gives American officers time to train their local counterparts how the rule of law works instead of letting the Iraqis sink or swim on their own later.

Read the full article, please.

War is over. We won.

Michael Yon thinks that [The Surge worked -- and we won].

The war continues to abate in Iraq. Violence is still present, but, of course, Iraq was a relatively violent place long before Coalition forces moved in. I would go so far as to say that barring any major and unexpected developments (like an Israeli air strike on Iran and the retaliations that would follow), a fair-minded person could say with reasonable certainty that the war has ended. A new and better nation is growing legs. What's left is messy politics that likely will be punctuated by low-level violence and the occasional spectacular attack. Yet, the will of the Iraqi people has changed, and the Iraqi military has dramatically improved, so those spectacular attacks are diminishing along with the regular violence. Now it's time to rebuild the country, and create a pluralistic, stable and peaceful Iraq. That will be long, hard work. But by my estimation, the Iraq War is over. We won. Which means the Iraqi people won.

Support the Troops: Bring Them Home

Driving to church on Saturday, for my daughter's dedication service, I passed a car with an anti-war bumper sticker. Of course. This is Madison, WI after all. It said: "Support the Troops. Bring Them Home". It's a nice sentiment. But is it actually shared by the troops themselves?

Occasionally, I have my doubts. This interview from Iraq is part of the reason why. The Dungeon of Fallujah:

Sergeant Dehaan was comfortable with his mission in Iraq and the flaws of the Iraqi Police he was tasked with training and molding.

"I prefer these small and morally ambiguous wars to the big morally black-and-white wars," he said to me later. "It would be nice if we had more support back home like we did during World War II. But look at how many people were killed in World War II. If a bunch of unpopular small wars prevent another popular big war, I'll take 'em."

If you want to support the troops -- if you really want to support the troops -- spend some time reading Michael Totten and Michael Yon. You might even want to spend some time reading abu muqawama's counter-insurgency blog. True, it's not exactly light reading all of the time. But, I think the troops deserve at least that much support.

Andy Olmsted

The hardest thing I ever had to read was the "goodbye" that I wrote for my grandfather's funeral. This was the second hardest.

Obsidian Wings: Andy Olmsted:

Andrew Olmsted, who also posted here as G'Kar, was killed yesterday in Iraq. Andy gave me a post to publish in the event of his death; the last revisions to it were made in July.

Andy was a wonderful person: decent, honorable, generous, principled, courageous, sweet, and very funny. The world has a horrible hole in it that nothing can fill. I'm glad Andy -- generous as always -- wrote something for me to publish now, since I have no words at all. Beyond: Andy, I will miss you.


"I am leaving this message for you because it appears I must leave sooner than I intended. I would have preferred to say this in person, but since I cannot, let me say it here." G'Kar, Babylon 5

"Only the dead have seen the end of war." Plato*

This is an entry I would have preferred not to have published, but there are limits to what we can control in life, and apparently I have passed one of those limits. And so, like G'Kar, I must say here what I would much prefer to say in person. I want to thank hilzoy for putting it up for me. It's not easy asking anyone to do something for you in the event of your death, and it is a testament to her quality that she didn't hesitate to accept the charge. As with many bloggers, I have a disgustingly large ego, and so I just couldn't bear the thought of not being able to have the last word if the need arose. Perhaps I take that further than most, I don't know. I hope so. It's frightening to think there are many people as neurotic as I am in the world. In any case, since I won't get another chance to say what I think, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. Such as it is.

Please read his last words.

His family has also provided information about how you can help out.

A member of Andy Olmsted's family has just written me to say that if people want to do something in honor of him, they can send donations to a fund that has been set up for the four children of CPT Thomas Casey, who served under Andy and was killed while trying to help him.

Syria Wants in On Iraq

From the New York Times: Syria Is Said to Be Strengthening Ties to Opponents of Iraq's Government

Syria is encouraging Sunni Arab insurgent groups and former Iraqi Baathists with ties to the leaders of Saddam Hussein's government to organize [in Damascus], diplomats and Syrian political analysts say. By building strong ties to those groups, they say, Syria hopes to gain influence in Iraq before what it sees as the inevitable waning of the American presence there.

In July, former Baathists opposed to the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki scheduled a conference for insurgent groups -- including two of the most prominent, the 1920s Revolution Brigades and Ansar al Sunna -- at the Sahara Resort outside Damascus.

The meeting followed two others in Syria in January that aimed to form an opposition front to the government of Iraq, and an announcement in Damascus in July of the formation of a coalition of seven Sunni Arab insurgent groups with the goal of coordinating and intensifying attacks in Iraq to force an American withdrawal. That coalition has since expanded to incorporate other groups.

The July conference was canceled at the last minute, however, indicating the political perils of Syria's developing strategy. It was called off by the government of President Bashar al-Assad, participants, diplomats and analysts said, primarily because of pressure from Iran.

Iran is Syria's chief ally and a staunch supporter of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government. The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visited Damascus just days before the conference was to have taken place.

"Iran is the big player in Iraq," said Mr. Hamidi, of Al Hayat, "but it lacks influence on the Baathists and the Sunnis."

That would seem to create a natural opening for Syria, a predominantly Sunni country governed by its own version of the Baath Party. But its relations with the Iraqi Baathists have long been strained. Syria backed Iran in its war with Iraq in the 1980s and supported the United States against Mr. Hussein during the Persian Gulf war of 1991.

Syria has long had a regional strategy of influencing its neighbors' politics by harboring their opposition groups. Washington imposed economic sanctions on Syria in 2004 for, among other things, its support of Hamas and several other militant Palestinian groups.

Suspected of orchestrating the 2005 assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, Syria has also come under increasing pressure from the United States and France for its support of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia.

I can think of two possibilities here, neither of them particularly good. The first is that Syria wants to escape from Iran's shadow. Iran is busy trying to establish influence over Iraq's Shiite parties. Perhaps Syria wants to establish influence of Iraq's Sunni and Baathist parties, in an attempt to outflank Iran. However, I just don't see Syria having the will to actually go against Iran.

The second possibility is that Iran is using Syria to establish even more control over Iraq. While Iran establishes influence over the Shiite parties, Syria establishes influence over the Sunni parties. Together, they play the Iraqi government like fiddles.

Perhaps. The whole situation is muddled by the fact that Iran told Syria to knock it. Pique at Syria's attempts? Wanting to hide the strategy before it gets too obvious? Something else? I don't know, but I'm worried about the whole situation.

Symptoms of Victory

I think we're making progress in the War on Terror -- both in Iraq and in the rest of the world. Here is my evidence for tonight.

American Thinker: A Quiet Triumph May be Brewing

There are signs that the global Islamic jihad movement is splitting apart, in what would be a tremendous achievement for American strategy. The center of the action is in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the very territory which is thought to harbor Usama, and from which Al Qaeda was able to launch 9/11. Capitalizing on existing splits, a trap was set and closed, and the benefits have only begun to be evident.

There were already signs of a split, but recent events strengthen that trend. In March and again in May of this year I reviewed relevant South Asian media reporting to predict that the global Islamic jihad movement was cracking up. That theory focused on a split between the leadership of al Qaeda and the jihad groups that secure them in Pakistan such as the Taliban.

He is probably the most responsible for turning the Taliban -- which he had a significant hand in creating -- against al Qaeda. Which means, believe it or not, on some level he may be working with the Pakistani government and possibly the US government, since he is purely an opportunist. No doubt he will not advertise that fact to his jihadists buddies.

This cannot be overstated: it is the most crucial development since the capture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Cutting al Qaeda's support in Pakistan has been a massive coup, of which our media has no clue of right now. It is the exact sort of thing that the Democrats and their media accomplices always complain that we are not doing and then completely ignore when we do it.

Check it out.

Next up, casualties in Iraq have been falling sharply lately -- both civilian and military. The media is doing their best to ignore it, Senator Clinton is doing her best to deny it, but it's happening.

Engram, at the Back Talk blog, has been crunching the numbers for the past week or more.

As you can see, deaths caused by Shiite militias in Baghdad dropped instantaneously when the troop surge began to unfold. This occurred because Muqtada al Sadr cooperated with US efforts by pulling his fighters off the streets as the new troops began to arrive. Up until that time, his Mahdi Army was eradicating Sunni males in an effort to quash al Qaeda suicide bombings against Shiite civilians. Note that there were other deaths occurring in Baghdad over this period, but this chart shows the number attributable just to Shiite death squads.

The next amazing chart shows the number of people killed by suicide bombers in Iraq. The IBC database has a field that describes "weapons," and the first word of the weapons description is almost always "suicide" when a suicide bomber is involved. I used that fact to identify casualties due to suicide bombers. If you don't know who the suicide bombers of Iraq are, then you don't much about this conflict (and you should not have strong opinions about the war). The suicide bombers are almost all foreigners that al Qaeda brings into Iraq (mostly through Syria) to indiscriminately slaughter Shiite civilians in an effort to incite civil war (read more about them here). They are not participants in that civil war, contrary to what clueless reporters would have you believe when they preposterously refer to these wretched terrorists as "insurgents."

As you can see from this chart, the suicide bombing campaign reached a peak in August, just before General Petraeus testified before Congress. It was a desperate ploy, and I say so because the victims were among the widely despised Yazidis. Killing 500 Yazidis did nothing to advance al Qaeda's goal of goading the Shiite militias back into the fight. All it did was provide fodder for the anti-Petraeus elements in America. They needed those casualties in order to have any hope of convincing Americans that the troop surge was a failure. But it did not work. And I know what this chart is going to look like when IBC updates its database to include results from September (because ICCC has recorded all known suicide bombings for that month already). It is going to look something like this:

Hit the link to view the astounding charts. I'm very much encouraged by this news.

Finally, we've been killing off a lot of the top leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Some of our recent kills are shedding light on who, exactly, is leading the group.

In a press conference today, Major General Kevin Bergner, the spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq, provided further evidence of al Qaeda in Iraq's foreign influence. Bergner highlighted the killing "Muthanna," al Qaeda's the emir of the Iraq/Syrian border. "During this operation, we also captured multiple documents and electronic files that provided insight into al Qaeda's foreign terrorist operations, not only in Iraq but throughout the region," Bergner said. "They detail the larger al-Qaeda effort to organize, coordinate, and transport foreign terrorists into Iraq and other places."

"Muthanna was the emir of Iraq and Syrian border area and he was a key facility of the movement of foreign terrorists once they crossed into Iraq from Syria," Bergner said. "He worked closely with Syrian-based al Qaeda foreign terrorist facilitators."

Bergner said several documents were found in Muthanna's custody, including a list of 500 al Qaeda fighters from "a range of foreign countries that included Libya, Morocco, Syria, Algeria, Oman, Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, France and the United Kingdom."

Muthanna's capture in early September is but one of 29 al Qaeda high value targets killed or detained by Task Force 88, Multinational Forces Iraq's hunter-killer teams assigned to target senior al Qaeda leaders and operatives. Five al Qaeda operatives have been killed and 24 captured. 5 Emirs at the city level or higher in the AQI leadership structure. 9 geographical or functional cell leaders. * 11 facilitators who supported foreign terrorist and weapons movements.

Four of the senior al Qaeda leaders killed during the month of September include: Abu Usama al Tunisi: The Tunisian born leader who is believed to be the successor to Abu Ayyub al Masri. Yaqub al Masri: The Egyptian-born leader who was in the inner circle with Zarqawi and then also in the inner circle of Abu Ayyub al Masri. He was a close associate of Ayman al Zawahiri. Muhammad al Afari: The Emir of Sinjar, who led the barbaric bombings of the Yazidis in northern Iraq. Abu Taghrid: The Emir of the Rusafa car bomb network.

Have no doubt about it, we are making progress.

We've Made Progress in Iraq

The Progress magazine has a good summary of the situation in Iraq. The article is a little long, but it is well worth reading. Since it's too long -- and too complex -- for me to summarize, I'll just quote from their concluding paragraphs.

Understanding this expensive victory is a matter of understanding the remaining violence. Now that Iraq's big questions have been resolved--break-up? No. Shia victory? Yes. Will violence make the Americans go home? No. Do Iraqis like voting? Yes. Do they like Iraq? Yes -- Iraq's violence has largely become local and criminal. The biggest fact about Iraq today is that the violence, while tragic, has ceased being political, and is therefore no longer nearly as important as it was.

The argument of this article -- that with nothing more to resolve from political violence, Iraqis can now settle down to gorge themselves at the oil trough -- is based on two premises: Sunni acknowledgement of the failure of their insurgency and the need to reach an accommodation with the new Iraq, and a conjunction of interests between the coalition on one hand and the Kurds and Shias on the other.

We have become very familiar with General Petraeus and the disputed numbers of his surge. Does US strategy reflect the phenomena I have described? The Americans have never argued this way. But reading between the lines, American thinking does seem broadly to accord with the conclusions of this argument, if not its premises. Petraeus has already announced the first marine and army drawdowns for September and December respectively. His boss, defence secretary Robert Gates, is hoping publicly for a net withdrawal of 60,000 troops next year. Bush too is promising cuts. These plans are a recognition that the job in Iraq is moving rapidly towards something closer to Iraqi police work than American war.

To get to that point, the article discusses the sources of Iraqi violence, the status of the political situation, the role of al-Sadr in promoting peace (seriously!), the Sunni's desparate efforts to retain control after Saddam was killed, and the Shia's patience in not wiping out all of the Sunni's long ago.

So, really, go read it.

This entry was tagged. Foreign Policy Iraq

Waiting for Political Progress in Iraq

I spend a lot of time discussing Iraq with a friend. We both agree that the U.S. needs to stabilize Iraq, but we have occasional disagreements about what that will take and what the best plan is. We're both frustrated with the lock of political progress in Iraq. It's great that casualties are down, that civilian deaths are down, that terrorist deaths are up. But it feels like we're running in place without political progress to backup the military progress.

Well, today I read the first explanation that made any sense about why there has been no real political progress: several of the political parties involved in the national government are front groups for the terrorists themselves. Obviously, such parties would have every interest in tying the government up in knots and delaying progress.

So while it is true that Al Qaeda seeks to kill the Shiites, and the Mahdi Army seeks to kill the Sunnis, they need one another to block other political options from emerging from either side's adherence to Sharia.

On the Sunni side, the terror bloc is composed by most of the Tawafuq slate of three fundamentalist parties that include individuals like Khalaf al Ayan who plotted terror attacks from his office inside the green zone, including what Iraqis and Americans suspect was the April suicide bombing of the parliament cafeteria. Mr. al Ayan has denied his guilt. He has also gone on satellite television and declared himself the next Saddam.

On the Shiite side, the saboteurs include the politicians loyal still to Moqtada al Sadr, who remains popular in Iraq, though not as popular as he was in 2005, and whose deputies turned Iraq's health ministry and Baghdad's hospitals into an instrument of ethnic cleansing by refusing to treat the Sunnis freshly wounded by Mr. Sadr's militias.

While General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker did not say this directly last month, it is obvious that they too have given up hope of reaching a meaningful accord within the current government. Hence Mr. Crocker touted some of the de facto cooperation on oil profit sharing in the absence of a petroleum law.

A fruitful approach for now is to mold alternative local Shiite and Sunni parties through the tribal network that could challenge the confessional terror parties in the national elections at the end of 2009. Until those elections come, it would be wise for Mr. Graham to abandon his wish for national reconciliation and be content with the local variety.

This entry was tagged. Foreign Policy Iraq

Turning a Corner in Iraq?

I've been reading more good news from Iraq. Here's a brief roundup.

Officials: Shiites Interested in Alliance With American Troops

American commanders in southern Iraq say Shiite sheiks are showing interest in joining forces with the U.S. military against extremists, in much the same way that Sunni clansmen in the western part of the country have worked with American forces against Al Qaeda.

Standing up the Concerned Citizens in southern Baghdad - The Long War Journal. This is critical because southern Baghdad is far more complex -- politically, ethnically, and religiously -- than Anbar is. And yet:

The impact of the Concerned Citizens on security in regions where these units have been established is unmistakable. In Haswa, IED attacks have dropped by 80 percent. Casualty causing IED attacks have dropped by 60 percent throughout Multinational Division Central’s battlespace. Markets are beginning to reopen and reconstruction projects are moving forward.

Empty wards in Baghdad hospital offer hope

A row of beds lies empty in the emergency ward of Baghdad's Yarmouk Hospital. The morgue, which once overflowed with corpses, is barely a quarter full.

Doctors at the hospital, a barometer of bloodshed in the Iraqi capital, say there has been a sharp fall in victims of violence admitted during a seven-month security campaign.

Last month the fall was particularly dramatic, with 70 percent fewer bodies and half the number of wounded brought in compared to July, hospital director Haqi Ismail said.

"The major incidents, like explosions and car bombs, sometimes reached six or seven a day. Now it's more like one or two a week," he told Reuters.

All three of these articles sound like reason for optimism about Iraq. We'll have to see if it holds up -- especially once General Petraeus starts withdrawing troops -- but I can't help but feel that we and the Iraqi people are slowly turning a corner.

Alan Greenspan: "Blood for oil's OK by me."

In a recent entry (Sunday's "Alan Greenspan's life is for sale. We don't know where.") I noted that Mr. Greenspan's autobiography The Age of Turbulence, now on sale, has received rather odd publicity: some newspapers are running whole articles about the book's declaration that the U.S. is mainly in Iraq due to oil-related reasons, but somehow failing to -... er, well, mention the name of the book in said articles (one again, that's The Age of Turbulence, Folks!).

I suggested that this was because Democrat-filled newsrooms are in a bit of a pickle: on the one hand, Alan Greenspan - the (Perceived) Bush-Lover and Elder Statesman of Finance - dissing Mr. Bush is too tempting a tale for them to resist reporting. On the other hand, Alan Greenspan's opinions are not the kind to which they'd prefer drawing a lot of attention.

How little did I know.

Mr. Greenspan has since clarified his book's comments to the world, and in a surprising twist, yes, Mr. Greenspan says, he (rightly) rips Mr. Bush to pieces concerning a lot of the president's fiscal policies - but, his tome's analysis of Desert Storm II as primarily oil-driven wasn't one of the negative bits. Actually, Mr. Greenspan thinks insuring the world's continued access to Iraqi oil is a dandy reason to have invaded.

Got that? Mr. Greenspan is not - repeat, not! - accusing President Bush of invading Iraq in order to secure access to Iraq's oil. He is just saying that nobody in power is willing to admit that securing access to that oil is a great benefit of the invasion, much less that killing Hussein for such reason alone probably would've been perfectly justifiable.

I mean, why not, right? He wasn't the elected leader of a people or anything; he was the man with his boot on an entire people's neck. And the homicidal nutcase was in control of one of the world's largest oil reserves. If anyone's whack-worthy in our national interest, why not him?

Now I disagree with that viewpoint, but it's certainly more interesting than what every news story about his book has entirely (and suspiciously) focused on: the news that one more creditable guy technically disagrees with President Bush.

What a bunch of dishonest people these journalists are. At least I can justify the glaring errors in my news stories; I'm just an amateur blogger.

More Progress in Iraq

Here's another example of how we're making progress in Iraq. Operation Alljah: The Swarm

Commenced on May 29 and ending last week, Operation Alljah was the latest and most successful bid to achieve security in the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, marrying projection of force with aggressive civil affairs outreach. During the operation, the city was subdivided into 10 neighborhoods in efforts dubbed "the swarm," a coordinated series of counterinsurgency components: US troops and Iraqi Security Forces rolled into a neighborhood and established security, cordoned it off with concrete barrier checkpoints, created a local police precinct, recruited a neighborhood watch, provided employment for day laborers, conducted an information campaign to inform the citizenry of the operation, arbitrated any claims against Iraqi or US forces, distributed food and began meetings with neighborhood leaders to address infrastructure concerns.

More and more Fallujans are signing up to become members of the Iraqi Police or of the local neighbor watch teams.

When asked about how security had changed so drastically, what they think of Americans and IPs, and why so many Fallujans had formerly backed the insurgency, one volunteer had this to say: "I want to be neighborhood watch to protect the city and 150 dinars is good pay, and I want to {become an] IP. And when I become an IP, I'll have 750 dinar. Like you said, four, five, seven months ago, the city was not good. But the reason the city is now good is because of us, we protect the city, because we're from this city; we know who's the good guy, we know who's the bad guy. So, the bad guy? To jail or get out [of] my city. The good guy? You're welcome, you can stay here."

What turned this situation around? Well, the locals realized how evil Al-Qaeda was and the Army smartened up.

Asked why it took so long for Fallujans to switch sides or rise up against the insurgency, another volunteer said, "Before, we had the terrorists, they controlled the city, so they had the power to do what they wanted to do. But you can say we woke up right now, we were asleep. We woke up to move the bad guy, to push him out, to kill him or to put him in jail. We were waiting for help from the government."

Several volunteers expressed that the key to building security momentum was the empowerment of the Iraqi Police with cover from Marine firepower. Their opinion of US troops has changed:

"At first, Americans were not doing a good job, because if they were attacked, they would kill [civilians] in the surrounding area, but now they are good to the people and trying to help. They are going out sooner or later, and it is a good gesture of them to try to help us before they leave."

Iraq has been a disaster for many years. But it'd be a mistake to write off the country now when we've finally learned how to fight and -- more importantly -- how to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi citizens.

Read the whole thing. My excerpts don't do it justice.

This entry was tagged. Foreign Policy Iraq

Keeping Up With Change in Iraq

The situation in Iraq is changing so rapidly, it can be hard to keep up with. For instance:

Thomas Ricks' Fiasco is one of the most influential books about the war in Iraq. It was published just over a year ago, to considerable acclaim. It was only a few days ago, however, that I began to read the book.

One of the first things is noticed is a map that precedes the title page. The map is entitled "The Sunni 'Triangle': Heart of the Insurgency". That title speaks volumes about the dramatic changes in Iraq over the past six months.

A year ago, when Fiasco was published, it seemed delusional to hope that the US and its Iraqi allies could ever take back the Sunni provinces of Western Iraq. We understood the war in Iraq as essentially a civil war between Shi'ites and Sunnis. Since we had taken the side of the Shi'ites after the fall of Saddam, it seemed perfectly logical to assume that the most heavily Sunni parts of Iraq were the natural home of the insurgency.

Gen. Petraeus has up-ended that logic and shown that we can turn many of Iraq's Sunnis into our most effective allies -- more effective than most Shi'ites. This strategy has its perils, but those perils are almost infinitely preferable to the status quo of July 2006.

A 75% reducation in attacks in what was once the heartland of the insurgency. Is there any hope of extending that progress to the rest of Iraq? There are good reasons to say 'no'. Whereas Anbar is all-Sunni, Baghdad is a mixed metropolis with vicious Sunni-Shi'ite violence. How can any US strategy succeed on such dangerous terrain?

A year ago, we were asking the same question about Anbar.

This entry was tagged. Foreign Policy Iraq

The Ghosts of Anbar

Several weeks ago, journalist Michael Yon posted a series of dispatches from Iraq, entitled "The Ghosts of Anbar". I recently read through them and was struck by several passages. I'm offering them here as a teaser and as an advertisement for the full series.

Michael uses lots of pictures set the mood throughout the series. His captions are more than merely descriptive. They offer a wealth of information in their own right. He also intersperses quotes from the Army's counterinsurgency manual. These quotes illustrate the model that the Army and Marines strive daily to implement.

The overall tone of the series is both reflective and hopeful. Michael offers the tantalizing vision of a strong, free Iraq as a friend of the United States -- if only we will learn the lessons of Anbar. He paints a picture of an Iraq that wants to be free -- but desperately needs us to model both the military and civil side of a functional democracy.

Here's Michael.

Michael Yon : The Ghosts of Anbar, Part I of IV

Better Business Partners

Anbar was the special provenance for al Qaeda, the one place in Iraq they could establish and maintain a robust and largely unchallenged dominance. To achieve this, al Qaeda had used the stick of terrorism and the carrot of promises to gain allies. A lot of carrots, actually, in the form of promises that they would cast out the Americans, and reward the people of Anbar with ministries in the new government.

Ironically, in Anbar al Qaeda has become our best ally for killing al Qaeda. They've managed to do this directly, just by being al Qaeda. Despite the promised carrots, what al Qaeda consistently delivered here was mostly stick, and with a special kind of hypocritical contempt that no sensible person would believe possible. (Not unlike the notion of baking the children of resistant parents or ordering shepherds to diaper the corrupting genitals of goats.)

Al Qaeda has a management style--doing drugs, laying up sloppy drunk, raping women and boys, and cutting off heads, all while imposing strict morality laws on the locals--that makes it clear that they have one set of principles for themselves, and another for everyone else.

In that kind of scheme, it didn't take long before people in Anbar realized that any benefits from al Qaeda having control would not be distributed equally. Once that realization spread, the tribal sheiks--almost all Sunni--had to consider the alternatives.

The sheiks of Anbar turned against al Qaeda because the sheiks are businessmen, and al Qaeda is bad for business. But they didn't suddenly trust Americans just because they no longer trusted al Qaeda. They are not suddenly blood allies. This is business, and that's fine, because if there is one thing America is good at, it's business.

Reframed thus from a position of strength, this stage of the Anbar-war is more a sort of business transaction, where alliances beneficial to all sides--except al Qaeda--are formed. From this perspective, there is now a moment of genuine ground-floor opportunity in Anbar, if the people here can see that by doing business with the Coalition, everyone benefits--except al Qaeda, an exclusion that most can live with.

Michael Yon : The Ghosts of Anbar, Part II of IV

Media -- The Key to Victory

Many people know the old adage about restaurant kitchens: to know if the kitchen is clean, check the bathroom. The same holds true for Soldiers, only it calls for checking windows. If you are going on a combat mission and Soldiers have not cleaned all their windows to a sparkle (during times when it is possible to do so), do not go with them. Soldiers with dirty windows are not watching for tiny wires in the road, nor are they scanning rooftops. They are talking about women, football, and the car they will buy when they get home. I will not go into combat with Soldiers with dirty windows.

On the command level, there are other indicators. In counterinsurgency, as our Vietnam veterans will vouch, press has both strategic and tactical influence. Commanders who are afraid of the press or who cannot handle it cannot win this fight. They are often the same people who alienate Iraqis. I remember one captain who had allowed his men to ransack an Iraqi home, much later shouting in my face while his lip quivered with anger, "You are a piece of shit!" He could not handle having press around, and resented the very air they breathed, and he made sure they knew it. Of course anyone whose idea of winning is to bully Iraqis would not want media around. I watched him for months as a study in how not to do certain things. Tactically, he was competent and knew how to win the gun battles, but he was incompetent and inadequate for counterinsurgency.

Dealing with the press is just a reality, like the weather. We would never put a commander in the field who refused to make plans for fighting in the cold or heat. Although it's just a reality, cold weather, for example, could destroy a unit overnight if they had not prepared for it. As with the weather, the press also influences the enemy. Cold weather freezes everyone's toes; bad press stalls progress. In either instance, he who is better-suited and more adaptable has a supreme advantage. There was a time when many of our enemies in Iraq were beating us in the press, both their press and ours, but now that is changing.

Changing Enemies into Allies

In mid-May, 2007, days before I arrived, the Iraqi Army and Police had conducted a "Combined Medical Exercise" in the village of Falahat, wherein Iraqi doctors saw about 200 villagers. About two days after that, the Iraqi Police opened a police station at the Falahat train station. That was just about the same time I was driving out to stay with a small team of Marines who were assigned as "MiTT 8" (Military Training Team 8)

The men of MiTT 8 are living along with their Iraqi protégées in filthy shipping containers on a highway. Several months ago they were attacked by a car bomb. But at about 0900, while I was traveling to their location with Marines in a Humvee (with sparkling glass) some Falahat villagers went to the new police station to report the presence of a culprit they knew to emplace bombs on the road.

It happened that quickly.

Within mere days of opening the station, people spoke up. The Iraqi Police (some of whom freely admitted to having been recent insurgents) called the tip into the Iraqi Army who were living with the Marines of MiTT 8. The Iraqi Army in turn told Marine Captain Koury, whose Command Operations Center is conjoined with the Iraqi Army unit there. Finally, CPT Koury told Staff Sergeant Rakene Lee to take care of the developing situation.

Michael Yon : Ghosts of Anbar Part III of IV

Respecting Justice

Iraqis respond to a sense of justice. The importance of this fact cannot be overstated, and it is this sense of justice on an international scale that gets undermined when people are held in prisons without being charged with any crimes.

To many of the Iraqis I've spoken with, terrorists are fair game. Kill them. But if we kill justice while doing so, we will create terrorists out of farmers. Here the Marines are creating farmers, police officers, shepherds, and entrepreneurs out of insurgents. To do that, they have to be seen as men who respect and honor legitimate systems of government and justice.

The Value of Character

Iraqis in every province I have traveled all respond to strong leadership. It's a cultural touchstone. A man like SSG Rakene Lee is not someone they would overlook. Physically, the man is amazingly strong. But what is most amazing is the strength of his moral fiber. Whatever the man talked, he walked. After all of al Qaeda's false promises, the people here have learned a hard lesson about the true value of character.

Over the next several days, I saw how much the Iraqis respected Rakene Lee and the other Marines who were all courageous, tactically competent, measured, and collectively and constantly telling even the Iraqis to go easy on the Iraqis. It's people like Rakene Lee who are winning the moral high ground in Iraq. It is people like this who are devastating al Qaeda just by being themselves. Over those same several days, I would also see the Iraqi Lieutenant Hamid treat prisoners with respect and going out of his way to treat other Iraqis the way he saw Americans treating them. Lieutenant Hamid, in his young twenties, seemed to watch every move of the Marines and try to emulate them.

The Character of Our Enemy

In August, when people were groping for answers as to why about 400 Yazidis were murdered with bombs during an attack in Nineveh, the BBC and others asked me why I thought the Yazidis had been targeted.

Al Qaeda and related groups do not need reasons. They buy press with blood.

Michael Yon : Ghosts of Anbar, Part IV of IV

The Importance of Learning Lessons

Fortunately, everyone had gone in easy and not blown doors off with explosives. Those mistakes also happen sometimes. Sometimes our own guys blow down doors to the wrong homes. Back in the early days of the war, this might have seemed like an innocent "Oh well that's war" type mistake, but after spending all this time with Iraqis I now see that it was in part actions like that which also blew open the door in Iraq for al Qaeda to come in.

Counterinsurgency is all about perception. Perception is how reality gets interpreted by people. It can be shaped, cajoled, hardened or distorted by innumerable influences

Differences Between Americans and Iraqis

At one of the houses, Iraqi Soldiers said that there had been a lot of shooting on a recent night. What had all the shooting been about? Were insurgents trying to take over? No, the old man said, it was just a couple of brothers having a shootout over a small land dispute. "Okay," the Iraqi Soldiers shrugged it off. It was just a shootout between brothers. Nothing more to ask about.

There are many similarities between Iraq and home, but at the end of the day, a Cain and Abel shootout is not even something that warrants paperwork. Tribal law. This is not Kansas. Some things are very different.

Close to Defeating Al-Quaeda

Senator Warner's Bad Withdrawal Symptoms

Out here in Anbar Province, al Qaeda did what religion-driven extremists always do eventually -- they over-reached, setting the bar so high that nonfanatics couldn't measure up (nor did they want to). The terrorists responded with a campaign of slaughter against their fellow Muslims.

Now the Sunni Arabs who were fighting so bitterly against us are fighting beside us to destroy al Qaeda in Iraq. And the terrorists are going down.

Out here in Anbar Province -- long the most troubled in Iraq -- the change has come so swiftly and thoroughly that it's dazzling. Marines who were under fire routinely just months ago are now directing their former enemies in battle.

Although this trend has been reported, our battlefield leaders here agree that the magnitude of the shift hasn't registered back home: Al Qaeda is on the verge of a humiliating, devastating strategic defeat - rejected by their fellow Sunni Muslims.

If we don't quit, this will not only be a huge practical win - it'll be the information victory we've been aching for.

No matter what the Middle Eastern media might say, everyone in the Arab and greater Sunni Muslim world will know that al Qaeda was driven out of Iraq by a combination of Muslims and Americans.

Think that would help al Qaeda's recruitment efforts? Even now, the terrorists have to resort to lies about their prospective missions to gain recruits.

With the sixth anniversary of 9/11 approaching, how dare we throw away so great a potential victory over those who attacked our country?

This entry was tagged. Foreign Policy Iraq

Should We Pull Back in Iraq?

Should we pull back from Iraq and change our mission from counterinsurgency to just providing security for the Iraqi government? Not according to the latest National Intelligence Estimate.

"We assess that changing the mission of Coalition forces from a primarily counterinsurgency and stabilization role to a primary combat support role for Iraqi forces and counterterrorist operations to prevent AQI from establishing a safehaven would erode security gains achieved thus far. The impact of a change in mission on Iraq's political and security environment and throughout the region probably would vary in intensity and suddenness of onset in relation to the rate and scale of a Coalition redeployment. Developments within the Iraqi communities themselves will be decisive in determining political and security trajectories."

I know it's cliche, but we really do need to stay the course in Iraq right now. Events on the ground are changing too rapidly for us to make a change and predict what it's effects will be.

This entry was tagged. Foreign Policy Iraq

Who We're Fighting in Iraq

Attrition: Al Qaeda Fades From Iraq

But the most compelling bit of news on al Qaedas demise in Iraq is the changing composition of the hostiles there. At the beginning of the year, about 70 percent of terror attacks were by al Qaeda, and their Sunni Arab allies. Now, only about fifty percent of , a lower number of, those attacks are al Qaeda. The rest are Iranian supported Shia Arab groups, who are also trying to establish a religious dictatorship in Iraq (one run by Shias, not by Sunnis, as al Qaeda wants.) Al Qaeda is taking a major beating because so many Sunni Arab tribes have turned on it. Three years ago, al Qaeda formed a coalition with the Sunni Arab tribes, promising that al Qaeda terrorists would put Sunni Arabs back in charge of the country. Few Sunni Arabs still believe that, and consider al Qaeda a murderous nuisance.

Iran has backed Shia Arab militias even before the 2003 invasion. Iranian involvement goes back to the 1980s war with Iraq (and even earlier). One of the reasons for that war (which began with an Iraqi invasion of Iran), was Shia clerics taking over the government in Iran, and announcing their intention to take over the world. While the rest of the world was not too concerned, Saddam Hussein was. That's because most (well, 60 percent back then) of Iraqis are Shia Moslems, just like over 90 percent of Iranians. Iran wanted to influence Iraqi Shias, and convince them (through persuasion or intimidation) to support Iran. Once Saddam was out of the way, Iran went forward with its plan. Islamic radicals in the Iranian government are willing to start another civil war in Iraq to get their way. And that's what's happening now, as U.S. troops go after Iranian supported Iraqi Shias who have been attacking American troops.

Enemy Propaganda, from the New Republic

The Weekly Standard: Fact or Fiction

The New Republic runs a piece in this week's issue titled "Shock Troops" (sub. req.) and authored by Scott Thomas -- described by the magazine as a "pseudonym for a soldier currently serving in Baghdad." "Thomas" is the author of two previous dispatches from Iraq for the New Republic, both of which recount deeply disturbing anecdotes (in one, an Iraqi boy who calls himself James Bond has his tongue cut out for talking to Americans; in the other, dogs feast on a corpse in the street). His latest piece is even more disturbing.

But is it true? The milbloggers at Mudville Gazette call it a pile of a horse manure by the second sentence.

Again, this doesn't prove Scott Thomas is a liar, only that if he is who New Republic claims he is, his ignorance exceeds that of any soldier of any rank I've ever met.

Read the whole takedown. Thomas's piece reads like enemy propaganda -- American soldiers are despicable and evil. Is Thomas really a soldier? Or he is a terrorist posing as a soldier? What proof does he have about these claims? Does TNR even know?

If true, these stories should be reported up the chain of command and the sick soldiers involved should be prosecuted. If they're not true -- and they certainly don't seem to be true -- why is TNR reporting them? Who, exactly, are they trying to help?