Iraq’s Wars

This piece by Patrick Cockburn in The Independent is getting play in the b-sphere. Particularly this ending:

When the US and Britain invaded Iraq, they started three wars. The first is the insurgency in the Sunni community against the American occupation; the second the struggle by the Iraqi Shia, sixty per cent of the population, allied to the Kurds, to take control of the Iraqi state, previously controlled by the Sunni; and the third a proxy war between the US and Iran about which of them is to have predominant influence in Iraq.

With all due respect to Cockburn (he is along with Nir Rosen the best reporter on Iraq in the Western language press) he’s forgetting some wars in Iraq.

–The Kurdish War.
An actual sorta side-war (or bombing campaign) by Turkey in Kurdish territory. And the possibility of a a widening Arab/Turkomen vs. Kurd showdown over Kirkuk.

–The intra-Shia Civil War
Sadr vs. Hakim/Maliki (Mahdi Army vs. Badr Corps/Iraqi Army). This is part of what Cockburn is calling the Third War but more than simply an Iranian/American proxy fight. Because whose America’s proxy in this fight (the Sadrists are for American withdrawal, the Badrists were created in Iran).

–The intra-Sunni war. The Caliphate-seeking al-Qaeda versus the Awakening Tribes. Another round in that battle today it would appear.

In fact it’s arguable that Cockburn’s first war (the Sunni insurgency) is over which came at the price of US recognition of the Sunni community arming/defending itself, that the Sunnis were using al-Qaeda in Iraq for their own political ends, and could be bought off. At the price of further de-stabilization/fragmentation of the government. That war could re-ignite as America withdraws.

But PC’s War #2 (Shia control over Sunni) is bound to re-start as America withdraws. Both sides are armed and itching for a fight.

War #3 obviously holds the potential for destabilization of the entire Middle East and Southwestern Asia. With the possibility of Iranian backed asymmetrical counterattacks (to say an Israeli or US strike) from Afghanistan to Palestine and everywhere in between (Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria).

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Nir Rosen: The Myth of the Surge

(h/t John Robb).

Nir Rosen, Arabic-speaking American Journalist, who is the (THE) source for reporting on the insurgency, life on the ground in Iraq, and the feel of the country, comes back with another disturbing, eye-opening account from his recent trip.  This one concerns the creation of Awakening Councils (Sawha in Arabic) aka local citizen groups in Sunni neighborhoods.  The effect?  Funding both sides of a Civil War which is looking to reignite once the Americans leave.

Just a smattering of quotations from the piece (read the whole thing):

“We are essentially supporting a quasi-feudal devolution of authority to armed enclaves, which exist at the expense of central government authority,” says Chas Freeman, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia under the first President Bush. “Those we are arming and training are arming and training themselves not to facilitate our objectives but to pursue their own objectives vis-a-vis other Iraqis. It means that the sectarian and ethnic conflicts that are now suppressed are likely to burst out with even greater ferocity in the future.”

This meta point is extremely difficult to let sink in:

The Iraqis do not resist — they are accustomed to such treatment. Raids by U.S. forces have become part of the daily routine in Iraq, a systematic form of violence imposed on an entire nation. A foreign military occupation is, by its very nature, a terrifying and brutal thing, and even the most innocuous American patrols inevitably involve terrorizing innocent Iraqi civilians. Every man in a market is rounded up and searched at gunpoint. Soldiers, their faces barely visible behind helmets and goggles, burst into a home late at night, rip the place apart looking for weapons, blindfold and handcuff the men as the children look on, whimpering and traumatized. U.S. soldiers are the only law in Iraq, and you are at their whim. Raids like this one are scenes in a long-running drama, and by now everyone knows their part by heart. “I bet there’s an Iraqi rap song about being arrested by us,” an American soldier jokes to me at one point.

The clincher:

To the Americans, the Awakening represents a grand process of reconciliation, a way to draw more Sunnis into the fold. But whatever reconciliation the ISVs offer lies between the Americans and the Iraqis, not among Iraqis themselves. Most Shiites I speak with believe that the same Sunnis who have been slaughtering Shiites throughout Iraq are now being empowered and legitimized by the Americans as members of the ISVs. On one raid with U.S. troops, I see children chasing after the soldiers, asking them for candy. But when they learn I speak Arabic, they tell me how much they like the Mahdi Army and Muqtada al-Sadr. “The Americans are donkeys,” one boy says. “When they are here we say, ‘I love you,’ but when they leave we say, ‘Fuck you.'”

Gang on gang warfare, power devolved to the local level with local gangs & guns, and the Americans played by both sides within that game.  That’s victory to some.  The Sunnis are arming for another attack on the Shia post-American draw down.  The Mahdi Army is using the US Army to prune its movement of rogue elements.

Everyone is using a traditional medieval imperial Islamic technique of a hudna, to gain a better position, and then re-start hostilities when the situation improves.