Surge Redux

As a follow up to my previous post about winning/losing & the surge, I thought this was interesting (h/t A.Sullivan):

By tracking the amount of light emitted by Baghdad neighborhoods at night, a team of UCLA geographers has uncovered fresh evidence that last year’s U.S. troop surge in Iraq may not have been as effective at improving security as some U.S. officials have maintained.

Night light in neighborhoods populated primarily by embattled Sunni residents declined dramatically just before the February 2007 surge and never returned, suggesting that ethnic cleansing by rival Shiites may have been largely responsible for the decrease in violence for which the U.S. military has claimed credit, the team reports in a new study based on publicly available satellite imagery.

“Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning,” said lead author John Agnew, a UCLA professor of geography and authority on ethnic conflict. “By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left.”

The surge as John Robb long ago pointed out was not winning but rather acceding to the reality of militia control of Iraq.  [Really that started with the Anbar Awakening which contra McCain preceded the Surge but whatever…]

The issue as I tried to make clear in the previous post (one among many) is the centrality of the political.  The surge can not succeed (or frankly fail) when it is hooked to a unreachable political  goal with an overall strategy (national reconciliation) which itself can never be achieved because it is a strategy attempting to reach an unreachable point (goal of democratic, unified Iraq). 

Particularly when the surge follows on the reality of ethnic cleansing because the cleansing is at heart political:  namely the fight over who gets to control the corpse of what used to be the Iraqi state.  The “failure” goes back to the inabiilty to “mind the gap” created in the wake of the destruction of the Baath police state in 2003-2004!!!!  The peace was already lost (i.e. two years+ prior to the surge).  Once it became clear that the US was not going to fill the vacuum, and that everything was returning to a Hobbesian state (weirdly with a Leviathan there but not a backup to deal with state formation)–i.e. the war of all against all–the Shia and Sunni got on doing what they had to do in that situation….a civil war. 

The Surge following upon all that could not and did not reverse that reality. How could it?  How could in a post-ethnic cleansing situation could anyone ever seriously ask about winning or success?  When hundreds of thousands are dead and millions more are refugees? 

What the Surge did do was prevent the vacuum from being filled–hence the anger of Maliki at the US for financing the Sunni Awakening Councils which he correctly perceives as a threat and not getting out fast enough.  He wants to fill that vacuum.   We will see whether the Surge has allowed groups to re-arm providing them the (false imo) hope of an attempt to recolonize and undo the ethnic cleansing.  If so, it is going to be scary violent. 



Response to Reihan Re: Iraq

Andrew Sullivan highlights this (concluding) graf from Reihan’s new Current piece on Iraq:

Advocates of a continued American presence have much to answer for as well. Why is it that Maliki hasn’t made the necessary concessions? What can the U.S. do to encourage reconciliation that hasn’t been done? Has the economic strategy of the Iraqi government been adequate to the task of rebuilding the country? It was fair and reasonable to neglect these considerations during the struggle to bring Iraq back from the brink. But that neglect has proved very costly indeed.

Let’s go one at a time on this:

1)Why hasn’t Maliki made the necessary concessions?

–Because in his world, there are no concessions to be made.  The notion that he has to make “necessary concessions” is predicated on a certain view dictated by the United States as to what Iraq should look like.  This is the central flaw of the entire war, surge or no surge.  Maliki spent years in hiding from Saddam’s assassination forces and by all accounts is a quasi-paranoid individual (as would be normal under those circumstances I imagine).  He is a member of the Dawa Party who sees it role as defending the Shia in Iraq.  That is his job.  And he is doing it.  In Maliki’s world, either the Shia will run Iraq or the Sunni will take back over and return the Shia to the position of the powerless.

2)What can the US do to encourage reconciliation?

–Nothing. Neither staying (Salam) nor half-drawing down (Colin Kahl).  Nothing in my opinion.  See #1.  There is no encouragement because there is no desire for a deal.  If the US abandons the Shia in Iraq, they know Iran will have their back and Iran isn’t supporting some mass integration of the Sunni militias into the Iraqi security forces.

3)Has the economic strategy been adequate to the task of rebuilding the country?

–Again this assumes our understanding of what the country should be.  The economic policy, such as it is, has been correctly predicated on lining the pockets of the Shia elites to buy leverage so they can control power.  Because the Tribesmen want to fight the Shia gov’t.  The Shia mass underclass tends more to support Sadr.  In other words, they aren’t thinking about rebuilding the country.  They are thinking about ruling what’s left of it.

Reihan almost answers his own questions here, but I think backs away from the edge at the last second:

The trouble with Maliki’s vision is that it leaves no room for the Sunni Awakening. One increasingly gets the sense that Maliki sees the Sons of Iraq, one of many names for the various Sunni militias that have turned against the insurgency, as a threat. Which is entirely understandable — a proper state possesses a monopoly on legitimate force, and it makes perfect sense that he would eventually disband irregular militias. But the Sons of Iraq have no confidence that there will be adequate representation of Sunni interests in the new Iraqi state, and Maliki hasn’t exactly helped in this regard.

I don’t think it’s correct to say the Sons of Iraq turned against the insurgency.  They are the insurgency.  This has big implications.  Because what happened of course then was the US paid off these guys to stop fighting us and paid them to kill some jihadis, mostly foreign.  This necessary act undermined however the goal and strategy of the entire operation:  namely the creation of a centralized pan-ethnic government.  The fact that they were paid off by the US (against Maliki’s wishes) means that underneath they are still the insurgency against the Shia.  Against the government.  Just waiting for their moment.

Maliki knows this and that is why he is trying to preemptively neuter them.

While it’s true as Reihan states that Maliki distrusts the Sons of Iraq because any legitimate state in a Weberian sense wants a monopoly on force. But Reihan is missing a key point here.  The specific reason he distrusts this specific non-state militia is that leaders within the movement have professed that once they finish off al-Qaeda their next target is the Shia government.

In sum, the only (given the history, culture, ethno-religious makeup) way Iraq stays together with a strong central government is under a dictatorship–see Maliki’s recent heavy handedness not only with the Sunni but now with the Kurds.  The notion of a national reconciliation/strong central gov’t, constitutional democracy is not in the cards.  And still too many are thinking in terms of the US imposing its will–either through force or persuasion.  It ain’t happenin’.  It hasn’t happened in nigh on six years.  And it ain’t startin’ anytime soon.

Published in: on September 11, 2008 at 9:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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Iraq Update: Sons Not Welcome Into The Family

[Photo of Iraqi Local Security Force from Flickr poster onekingdown27 via Creative Commons License]

Following up on the reporting from the always excellent Leila Fadel in McClatchy, Richard Oppel Jr in the NyTimes points out the Shia goverment in Baghdad is going after the Sunni Awakening movement.

This is really dangerous stuff. Maliki is feeling his oats against both the Sadrists and now wants to take down the Awakening in an attempt–Weberian style–to gain a monopoly on all forms of violence in Iraq. Reconciliation, smeconciliation. Remember of all the possible outcomes of Iraq one of them is a returned dictator (the others being a Lebanon-ization, a Bosnia-ization, or a total slaughter of the Sunni). Maliki is pushing for the latter.

The American military is worried but unfortunately (as per the usual) translates that worry into fear of Salafi jihadism:

“If it is not handled properly, we could have a security issue,” said Brig. Gen. David Perkins, the senior military spokesman in Iraq. “You don’t want to give anybody a reason to turn back to Al Qaeda.” Many Sunni insurgents had previously been allied with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other extremist groups.

Now certainly the Sunni insurgency could return to a temporary alliance of convenience with the Salafi movement as was the case in 2004-2006. They could of course just as easily align with the Mahdi Army (again: Lebanon-ization of Iraq where militias cross ethnic and religious lines in terms of alliances and fights).

But even if they did reunite with al-Qaeda, the reason they would do so would be to fight their real enemy: The Shia government. Not because they care about some ludicrous never gonna happen Caliphate vision.

Exhibit A:

“Some people from the government encouraged us to fight against Al Qaeda, but it seems that now that Al Qaeda is finished they don’t want us anymore,” said Abu Marouf, who, according to American officials, was a powerful guerrilla leader in the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade west of Baghdad. “So how can you say I am not betrayed?”

This was inevitable. The Shia were and are never going to accept the Awakening. They are never going to see them as anything other than a rogue force with the potential of reinstating the Sunni. Remember Maliki is paranoid by all accounts. He lived in exile ducking assassination attempts and sees himself as the defender of the Shia (The Shia Dawa) in a sea of Sunni-ism to his West.

While I can understand the position of the US army and having to de facto accept the militia-ization of Iraq, this game of trying to prop up a government and pretend there was some reconciliation to be had was always a fraud and Maliki is calling the bluff–telling the US to get out and let them him deal as he wants to with the Awakening/Sons of Iraq.

Whatever Obama’s plans for regional dialog and such (which I think are valid), events are conspiring from within on Iraqi terms to suggest that it might not really matter. There may be nothing that can be done except prevent other countries from joining in in the next round of bloodshed.

Published in: on August 22, 2008 at 6:44 am  Comments (2)  
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The Iraq Double Bind

Perfectly described by Spencer Ackerman (italics in original):

(SOI=Sons of Iraq, the Sunni Tribes that the US Army is essentially bribing to not fight them and take out the so-called al-Qaeda in Iraq):

If we don’t keep paying off the SOI warlords/militiamen — there are probably over 100,000 of them by now — then they have little incentive to keep their guns pointed away from U.S. troops, as the Maliki government has made it clear it distrusts them intensely. If we keep paying off the SOI warlords/militiamen, we undermine the ability of the government that we still support to ever achieve a monopoly on the use of force, and put cash into the pockets of brutal men who, in many cases, promise to shoot their way to power. If we don’t keep paying off the SOI warlords/militiamen, al-Qaeda could reemerge in Iraq. If we keep paying off the SOI warlords/militiamen, the Shiites in the government will remain intransigent in terms of reconciliation, fearing that the armed Sunnis are getting ready to take a mile if given an inch. If we keep paying off the SOI warlords/militiamen, we risk a resurgence of violence. If we don’t keep paying off the SOI warlords/militiamen, we risk a resurgence of violence. Any and all of these possibilities exist whether or not we keep paying off the SOI warlords/militiamen. Pick your poison.

The analysis as a meta point on news that one of the Sons of Iraq Abu Abed has fled to Jordan because he has been accused of murder by the Maliki gov’t.

Published in: on June 29, 2008 at 5:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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