VDH at it Again

I really don’t know where to begin with this Victor Davis Hanson piece. It is contains so many errors, breezy unsubstantiated assertions, and relatively minor truths conflated into enormous macro-changing realities as to be almost impossible to criticize. But I’ll see what I can do.

The first thing to say is watch this discussion with Nir Rosen and Michael Ware the two Western journalists with the contact on the ground in Iraq (the third would be Counterpunch’s Patrick Cockburn). Rosen an Arabic speaking American has been the only Western journalist to really break through to the local Iraqi level. Ware has more contacts with the US military.

The picture they paint is one of reduced violence yes but largely due to 1) the American military undertaking a shift in realizing the basic fragmentation of the country and the recognition of the militias (The Awakening for the Sunnis, the freeze with the Mahdi Army, and the Badr Brigade and Peshmerga dominance of the ISF) and 2)the ethnic cleansing essentially completed in 2006/7.

What both make clear–contrary the entire premise of VDH’s piece–is that it is just a matter of time before these guys go at it again after the US leaves. The Awakening Sunnis see their enemy–and tell anyone who asks (e.g. Ware and Rosen)–as the Shia government which for them is an Iranian transplant. (more…)

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Nir Rosen on ME-Iraq-Iran

There is no better journalist in the English-speaking media world (and hasn’t been since 2003) on these issues than Nir Rosen.  No one who knows the region better, interacts with the people (as opposed to hand picked “experts” from the region vetted by the governments) and knows what is going on than this guy.

If you read and think deeply about this long post, it would be like scales falling from your eyes. Kudos to Steve Clemons who has Rosen on board to post regularly at The Washington Note.

There is a rant/digression towards the end on Palestine-Israel that is not his best stuff.  But the majority focuses on Iran and Iraq.

There is so much in this post, so I can only highlight a few central elements.

On the Iraq gov’t and the recent fighting in Basra (and a nice shot on ideologue Fred Kagan):

Why anybody even hires or publishes Kagan on the Middle East is a mystery, but there is nothing legitimate in the government of Iraq, it provides none of the services we would associate with a government, not even the pretense of a monopoly on violence, it was established under an illegitimate foreign military occupation and it is entirely unrepresentative of the majority of Sunnis and Shiites who are opposed to the American occupation and despise the Iraqi government.     (my emphasis)

Moreover the dominant parties in the government and in those units of the security forces that battled their political rivals in Basra and elsewhere are the ones closest to Iran. The leadership of the Iraqi government regularly consults Iranian officials and is closer to Iran than any other element in Iraq today. Moreover, the Americans have always blamed their failures in Iraq on outsiders, Baathists, al Qaeda, Iranians, because they refuse to admit that the Iraqi people don’t want them. So Iran is a convenient scapegoat to explain the strength of the Sadrists, a strength actually resulting from the fact that they are a genuinely popular mass movement. Blaming Iran also lets the Americans maintain the illusion that the Mahdi Army’s ceasefire is still in effect.

Then this–bullseye: (more…)

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.