Thursday, August 17, 2006

Iraq: What should we do now? 

The New York Times has a very sobering article for all of us who wish that Iraq were in some state of "progress." By virtually every measure, the insurgency has strengthened since the winter and the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The number of roadside bombs planted in Iraq rose in July to the highest monthly total of the war, offering more evidence that the anti-American insurgency has continued to strengthen despite the killing of the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Along with a sharp increase in sectarian attacks, the number of daily strikes against American and Iraqi security forces has doubled since January. The deadliest means of attack, roadside bombs, made up much of that increase. In July, of 2,625 explosive devices, 1,666 exploded and 959 were discovered before they went off. In January, 1,454 bombs exploded or were found.

These attacks are not, by and large, aimed at civilians, notwithstanding the rising sectarian violence during the same period:
An analysis of the 1,666 bombs that exploded in July shows that 70 percent were directed against the American-led military force, according to a spokesman for the military command in Baghdad. Twenty percent struck Iraqi security forces, up from 9 percent in 2005. And 10 percent of the blasts struck civilians, twice the rate from last year.

American fatalities are down slightly, but that is because we have hardened the target. American wounded are way up. Civilian deaths have skyrocketed.

The political maturation that saw Sunnis voting in the last elections and the deal that betrayed Zarqawi has not held together. The Shiites were not able to agree within their own ranks to cede enough power to the Sunnis, so the latter have reverted to war. Violence among all factions, including for these purposes American and British soldiers, is increasing. The question is, what should we do about it?

In general terms, we have the following alternatives:

1. "Stay the course," meaning that we hang tough, continue to build an effective Iraqi national army, and then substantially depart. Since present trends are more likely to continue than not, we can expect violence to increase over the short and medium term. The question, of course, is whether we will ever be able to recruit, train and equip an Iraqi army of sufficient size and competence at counterinsurgency to defeat the insurgency over a period of years without substantial American soldiers "alongside." By all accounts, the Iraqi army has gotten a lot larger and bigger in the last year, but it still is not adequate to shoulder the burden. Is its planned size large enough to deal with the insurgency that it will face tomorrow? Is "Iraqification" doomed to fail?

A critical and related question is the extent to which the presence of American soldiers fuels the insurgency. Would support for the insurgency decline if the United States departed? If the increase in attacks on American soldiers is a measure of opposition to them per se, a massive reduction in their visibility or our complete withdrawal might take undercut the popular support for the insurgency. However, if the attacks on American soldiers is a tactic in a substantially domestic political fight, if the Sunni insurgents are merely trying to drive the United States out of Iraq so that they can level the playing field in their fight with the Shiites, then American retreat will accelerate the fighting.

2. We could expand the war and fight a classic counterinsurgency. This would require a different approach, more soldiers, a huge investment in "small wars" training and tactics, and a long process of securing "ink blot" areas, rebuilding them, earning the confidence of the local population, and then spreading them systematically. That is a decade-long strategy advocated by some smart people (pdf), and it is not clear that either the American voter or American strategic interests can or will sustain that approach.

3. Write off Iraq. Pick a moment to withdraw, and do it. Variations on this theme include retreating to Kurdistan so that we can maintain leverage over Iran, defend the Kurds, and take the point of view that we haven't withdrawn, or retreating to bases in the middle of the desert where we are out of sight and out of mind. Let everybody else shoot it out for control of the country, and simply use our immovable presence to make sure that we don't get a government that is too hideous, or too friendly to Iran.

4. Intervene politically with a unification strategy. We could pick a "strong man," install him, and give him carte blanche to kill people until he has control over the country. There are no end of problems with this approach, including that we do not know who such a strong man would be. We have empowered the Shiites and disbanded the old Sunni security apparatus. That bell cannot be unrung. There is now something of a balance of power in the country, which means that no one faction or person can get control of it without a long and very bloody struggle, during which there will be lots of foreign and jihadi meddling. How would we manage that?

5. Intervene politically with a break-up strategy. We could declare our support for a three-way separation and broker a deal between the Sunnis and the Kurds to split the benefits of the northern oil fields. Would that be enough? What would happen to Baghdad? Would that "Finlandize" the Shiite south into another Iranian province, or would it promote Arab nationalism at the expense of Persian expansion?

Switch off the safeties and comment at will.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Aug 17, 09:18:00 AM:

Bagdad is a major problem with partition. It is the largest Kurd, Sunni and Shiite city in the country.

If some sort of solution could be found to the Bagdad situation, splitting the country up seems like the best option to me. If the Sunnis want any oil, they'll need to reach an accmodation.  

By Blogger HackleHead, at Thu Aug 17, 09:54:00 AM:

We should go the advisory route & Special Forces:

Let the Iraqis take the lead in internal fighting with US forces in the background.

Keep some limited offensive capability in cases where a little extra muscle is needed.

Reduce US footprint by eliminating all unneccesary forces. Things like rebuilding schools and hospitals should only be done for inducement purposes not as part of a larger goal of rebuilding the entire country. That is a job for the Iraqis to undertake only after the fighting has slowed.

Control the borders - keep enemy supplies from getting thru.  

By Blogger RPD, at Thu Aug 17, 10:20:00 AM:

The key thing seems to me is that Iran and Syria must be prevented from exerting influence and sending supplies into Iraq. Cut them off, and I'd bet the insurgency disolves with a month or two.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Thu Aug 17, 10:28:00 AM:

I have been a believer in and supporter of the limited troop approach to Iraq. I think that we have traded off domination for American lives in so doing -- that is, we have lost far fewer people as a result. For that reason, I tend to agree with Hacklehead. We should not increase our Baghdad footprint but we should reduce it. If the data in the article is correct, the insurgency is targetting Americans much more than Iraqis. So let's take the hint and get out of Baghdad. Let the Iraqis assume control of the neighborhood. Hunker down in hardened remote locations. Give the Iraqi military responsibility for the cities.

Now, one elephant in the room that the article does not even touch -- and for that reason I am deeply skeptical of the authors' motives -- is Iran. The Shi'ite militias, much like Hezbollah, are probbaly linked, financed and perhaps even trained by Iranian military.

Since the NYT tends to want to avoid discussing potential causus belli with Iran, this strikes me as a hole in their reportage on the sectarian conflict in Iran.

What does this mean?

There is too much going on in the background to know for sure. It may be that Iran has launched a broad proxy offensive via these shiite militias to weaken its Arab neighbors in Iraq and Lebanon, and to position for upcoming negotiations with the US on its nuclear ambitions and the region.

The policy question the US faces is difficult. Were it not for the Mullahs, the US would prefer to befriend Iran and distance itself from the Arabs. Yet the US and the Iranian theocracy seem terribly incompatible.

The "deal" that quiets things down in the region cedes regional hegemony to Iran. I just don't know if it's plausible.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Aug 17, 10:28:00 AM:

The conventional U.S. military has very likely accomplished all it can in Iraq. America's main security interest, preventing Iraq from becoming an Al Qaeda sanctuary, has been achieved.

The main problem now is internal Iraqi political stability, something conventional U.S. military formations can do little about. America's main interest at this point is to have an Iraq dominated by Shi'ites and Kurds that is also not an Iranian proxy.

The best way to accomplish this is to empower a CIA/special forces/advisor force to support those elements in the Iraqi government and society that agree with this U.S. interest. Conventional U.S. troops, with their rules of engagement, are not of much use for settling this internal Iraqi conflict.

We describe our analysis with this post,

Baghdad makes General Abizaid blue.

The U.S. cannot abandon Iraq, not in light of the looming confrontation with Iran. But it will increase its chances of success if it adopts the techniques it used successfully in El Salvador in the 1980s, namely a low-profile advisory role, supporting proxies who fight on their own terms.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Aug 17, 10:31:00 AM:

Just presenting this analysis would have seen you branded a traitorous wimp just two years ago.

Yet even now you presume that the war can still be (sort of) won, when it cannot.

The safest refuge for a hawk is the Dolchstoss option. Be silent, wait for the collapse, then simply say the war was lost because of a stab in the back by irresolute cowards on the left.

After all, that is what Rummy will be teaching in his Princeton seminar in 5 or 6 years. "How John Murtha Cost the US the Middle East."  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Thu Aug 17, 10:44:00 AM:


Tigerhawk has been and remains resolutely serious and solution-seeking throughout this conflict. If you're a regular reader and intellectually honest, you would know that he will not resort to the Dolchstoss option.

Care to over a constructive suggestion?  

By Blogger quantum, at Thu Aug 17, 10:45:00 AM:

Funny that you write this. I've been a stalwart supporter of the war. This week, I turned to my main arguing partner and said, "I think we've lost Iraq. We're going to lose." That's all I have to say. It's a tipping point for me, I guess, and perhaps others like me.  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Thu Aug 17, 10:45:00 AM:

Sorry. Substitute "offer" for "over."  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Thu Aug 17, 10:45:00 AM:

In all of the analysis of these roadside bombs, was any mention made of their point of origin? What I mean is, are these foreign-made bombs imported for the purpose of killing American soldiers or are these bombs just put together with left-over munitions?

Mention is made that these bomb attacks "require a network: a bomb maker; financiers to pay for the effort; and operatives to dig holes in the road, plant the explosives, watch for approaching American and Iraqi forces and set off the blast when troops approach." I would be interested in knowing more details about any such network, and believe a response to this threat should be taylored to fit.

That means going after the foreign enablers of these attacks. It also means going after the "innocent bystanders" who just happen to be digging holes in the road during the middle of the night or standing idly by with cell phones waiting for an American convoy to pass.

Those are steps to be taken only if we mean to stay and see this thing through. Otherwise, we should do as that grand strategist Murtha suggests and redeploy to some much safer place from where we can project influence and power. I'm thinking Kurdistan more than Okinawa here (or wherever the hell he thought it important to go) but opinions on this point will no doubt differ.

Under no circumstance should we install some kind of strong-arm dictator who will supposedly make everything okay and good. Strong arm dictators do not make everything oday and good, maybe except--usually temporarily--for themselves and a relatively few cronies.

Maybe the Sunnis and Shiites just need to have a good long bloody go at each other. I realize not every one of them is intent on gaining vengeance or power or whatever else that is driving this blood lust, but apparently there are enough of them to matter. And maybe that matters more than any attempts we employ to encourage them to live together peaceably.

Maybe if we had been a little more violent ourselves from the start this subsequent and continuing escalation towards violence might have been averted. But for some reason we in the West have gotten it into our heads that the object of successful warmaking is not to kill but to avoid killing at all costs.

Well, we are perhaps about to see the unintended consequence of that approach.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Thu Aug 17, 10:47:00 AM:

the influx of foreign fighters continues unabated. Any discussion of next steps in Iraq must include a review of options relative to sealing the borders. The string of border forts might help but we're up against ancient smuggling routes now.

We face the same problem now in Lebanon: subrosa resupply via Syria. Unless we are willing to confront this source of insurgents the problem will never be resolved.

further, the net result of most of our work in Iraq is an essentially peaceful countryside and a city in chaos. The final showdown, it seems to me, is taking place in Baghdad. this is the Iraqi governments baptism by fire. yes I know that muslims don't do baptism, but you get the point.

To me the strategy should include stronger interdiction of border crossing routes, to include hot pursuit into both Iran and Syria and a muscular oil spot approach in Baghdad.  

By Blogger Catchy Pseudonym, at Thu Aug 17, 11:20:00 AM:

I've been hearing more and more hawks lowering their bar for Iraq. Really lowering the bar. Even though I've always thought this war was not the most intelligent thing America has done (that's me putting it nicely), I was bouyed somewhat by the confidence of hawks that this thing was actually doable, hoping maybe that they knew something I didn't. After all these years to start seeing the dodges, denials, doubts and admissions of possible failure coming from some hawks, it actually pisses me off. It seems like they're finally getting where I and many of my liberal friends were a year ago. If I hear even one hawk say we need to just get out of there, I think I'll snap. And anonymous was right, "Just presenting this analysis would have seen you branded a traitorous wimp just two years ago."  

By Blogger demosophist, at Thu Aug 17, 11:21:00 AM:

I'm thinking I might have been rash to give up drinking. But the truth is, it just makes me feel worse so it's no loss. But it at least held the promise of feeling better.

My dreams have been improving, inexplicably.

Iraq? I figured that the Shia had simply decided that their own interests outweighed the value of a unified Iraq, so they just gave the hand to the Sunni. This was mostly a result of Iranian influence. So, we need to do something about Iran... and we may have missed the bus thanks to Olmert.

Well, the dreams are nice while they last.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Thu Aug 17, 11:22:00 AM:

Today's Belmont Club offers a pertinent thought, referencing the incomparable Mark Steyn: the West's power shrank in direct proportion to the effectiveness of weaponry because the laws of political correctness always diminished the will to use them faster than their increase in destructiveness. "We live in an age of inversely proportional deterrence: The more militarily powerful a civilized nation is, the less its enemies have to fear...

The point is made that though Tehran and Damascus were fearful of our intentions early in Operation Iraqi Freedom (and so, minded their manners) they have since become emboldened. This may explain the initial relative quiet in Iraq as well the subequent disquiet.

Skipsailing's prescription of "hot pursuit" into Syria and Iran is in my opinion on target, but does not go far enough unless that pursuit takes us to the source of the trouble, residing in Damascus and Tehran.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Thu Aug 17, 11:51:00 AM:

Sirius - that Wretchard article is 100% spot on. Political will, not capability is the issue. And in a democracy will seems to wax and wane. Nonetheless, I believe we have it. And if we come to lack it, it will be restored by another significant attack...  

By Blogger FrauBudgie, at Thu Aug 17, 12:00:00 PM:

Did you see this article from RealClearPoliticsBlog: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/blog/2006/08/is_iraq_a_lost_cause.html,
which quotes Major General Caldwell's statement from yesterday. The NYT's referred to a report that was out August 3rd.

Emotionally, I like your argument for moving in with the Kurds. Because I think the Kurds do deserve their own country; they've been good allies and they're valiant. But realistically, it is probably not possible.

Anyway, Major Caldwell gives a report here on three Baghdad neighborhoods that have been cleared out by Coalition forces, the Dura, Shula and Amariyah neighborhoods http://www.mnf-iraq.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2173&Itemid=30  

By Anonymous Don Cox, at Thu Aug 17, 12:02:00 PM:

I think "stay the course" is the answer. The best thing the US can do now is to keep on with the training of the Iraqi Army and police. There is a big job to do there, it will take at least another 18 months, but my impression is that the army is coming along well. The police are still some way from being self-sufficient. Keeping the lid on a civil war is always a tough task which makes you hated by both sides, but it is worth doing. Preventing Iraq from becoming either a satellite of Iran or a power base for Al Qaeda is worth doing. (Both could happen if the country is split into three parts). ____There is nasty, grity, tough work to do, for at least another 12 months.  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Thu Aug 17, 01:05:00 PM:

Well, hats off to TH and to those who have carried this discussion forward so well in the comments. This is precisely the kind of dialogue that democracy requires. Moving beyond positions - and the blinders each of us may have on this divisive and critically important issue - will require this kind of reflection and exchange within our parties and across party lines, and I commend you for having it. It is why, while I self identify as generally left-of-center and tend to vote (through clenched teeth) Democratic, I am a regular reader of this blog and admire what TH and his co-authors have created here. And we absolutely need solutions.  

By Blogger Lone Star, at Thu Aug 17, 01:10:00 PM:

All roads lead to Iran. They are the reason for the continued violence in Iraq. Cut off the head of the snake, the body will die.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Thu Aug 17, 01:20:00 PM:

While Iran and Syria are a problem I believe that this administration percieves that we lack the political will to escalate this war.

It seems that we are trying a middle of the road course that rescues the Iraqis while picking off Iranian and Syrian interlopers.

I think that approach might work if there weren't a limitless supply of jihadis.

it is my hope that the current events in Israel, Lebanon and Britain will help crystalize our national will. Certainly the recent poll that demonstrates some clear thinking among the British is a good sign.  

By Anonymous karl, at Thu Aug 17, 01:26:00 PM:

BTW, both Brookings' Iraq Index and the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count site show that US wounded is not way up. This is what happens when you rely on the NYT for news.  

By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Thu Aug 17, 01:47:00 PM:


Thanks for tackling this question among your Hawkish readership.

We let the genie out of the bottle in Iraq, and now thousands of radicalized insurgents are trying to gain power through carnage and mayhem.

Democracy, despite the Bush/Rumsfeld rose-glasses rhetoric of the last 3 years, hasn't brought peace or order to this unstable nation. It's impossible to unshit the bed, so now we are faced with a series of bad choices. Please note that this operation is entirely a result of Bush's policies and Rumsfeld's strategies. Bush has publicly committed to staying the course, though it's impossible to believe anything that comes out of his mouth.

I'd like to see our troops pulled behind the walls of the Green Zone and other bases to see what would happen. If violence, after an initial spike, drops, then we need to pull out altogether. If violence continues to rise, then we need to create a truly multinational force whose mission is to disarm the insurgents with the help of Iraqis while continuing to push parliamentary unity.

We've created the greatest training ground in history for insurgents and terrorists, and the enemies we've trained will be fighting us for decades to come. The idea of transforming the middle east through warfare and regime change has lost all credibility. Our national reputation is in tatters around the world.

I'd like to see the Bush administration apologize for the mistakes they've made, announce a rejection of the pre-emptive doctrine, and pull the troops out of harm's way.  

By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Thu Aug 17, 01:48:00 PM:

...and to those who believe the solution is to launch another war - you are part of the problem.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Thu Aug 17, 02:08:00 PM:

If violence continues to rise, then we need to create a truly multinational force whose mission is to disarm the insurgents with the help of Iraqis while continuing to push parliamentary unity.

That's actually humorous, Screwy. Thanks for that.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Thu Aug 17, 02:31:00 PM:

It's too late to unf**k this war. I appreciate we need to rationally evaluate all our options and pick the least horrendous one, but don't ask me to put faith the same visionary incompetents who brought us to this pass. I don't pretend to know what the best course of action is, but I'm sure it starts with learning from our mistakes. To me that means firing Rumsfeld and replacing him with someone with a clue. Myself, I'd ask/beg Powell to come back and take the job. At least Powell learns from mistakes.

Full props for a fabulously realistic post, but with all due respect, this isn't new ground. Some people forsaw this outcome years ago, while others spent 3 years idolizing purple fingers and pretending that there was all kinds of good news trapped in Iraq by a liberal media conspiracy. Those "unpatriotic" people who "want America to lose" and "just don't get it", turned out to have pretty good predictive skills. We sure could use some accurate predictive skills as we get ready to chose the least available evil.  

By Blogger K. Pablo, at Thu Aug 17, 02:45:00 PM:

I think it is high time for a little bipartisan consensus building. Recently the Senated Armed Services committee called for a new National Intelligence Estimate and the occasion of its production can serve as the focus for a joint statement about the dire situation we currently face. It is time for advocates of capitulation or surrender to go on record, as events are likely to move really fast over the next two years.

Further thoughts: Keep a Cool Head and Get Tough.  

By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Thu Aug 17, 04:08:00 PM:

Lanky Bastard! Hear, hear!

...and sirius... you don't seriously think there's a multinational force do you? Aside from the Brits down in Basra, we're the ones doing all the heavy lifting. A true multinational force requires cooperation, and the Bush administration have made it clear they are unwilling to compromise.

A serious multinational force might have a German leader or a Saudi leader with American troops under his command.  

By Blogger Fabio, at Thu Aug 17, 04:22:00 PM:

"A serious multinational force might have a German leader or a Saudi leader with American troops under his command."

Ah well... it seems that the distinction between possible and feasible is unheard of.

Also the distinction between intentional and unintentional humor.  

By Blogger JAF, at Thu Aug 17, 04:53:00 PM:

I'm a believer in the "More bombs, less hearts and minds" approach. But what do I know.  

By Blogger JAF, at Thu Aug 17, 05:11:00 PM:

While I'm thinking about it, losing a war against fascists terrorists is worthy of impeachment.

(let the flames begin and yes, I'm a pro-victory conservative)  

By Blogger K. Pablo, at Thu Aug 17, 05:16:00 PM:

You might find my medical metaphors tiresome, but I think Mutant Islam is more similar to cancer than the Iraq war is to Vietnam.

During the period before diagnosis, cancers continue to grow without rest. If treatment is delayed, it becomes more difficult. Not treating guarantees death of the patient.

When cancers cannot be surgically removed, we subject them to radiation and chemotherapy. Both of these modalities are poisonous to both cancer cells and normal, healthy cells. They just kill cancer cells faster. The poison causes noxious side effects.

We need to kill cancer cells faster. Unfortunately, sometimes this also kills the patient.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Thu Aug 17, 06:11:00 PM:

Myself, I'd ask/beg Powell to come back and take the job. At least Powell learns from mistakes.

Oh for Christ's sake. I wondered how long it would be before St. Colin-of-the-Fields made a guest appearance.

I'm all for discussion, but let's try not to head into Djeridjian territory. I'd prefer not to have to slit my wrists before dinner.  

By Blogger Mark, at Thu Aug 17, 07:23:00 PM:


Since when do you believe what you read in the New York Times?

Okay. I realize that even conservatives like David Frum and Ralph Peters have become more pessimistic about Iraq recently. Still, to offer some balance I will quote some of what Tom Bevan wrote in his column Is Iraq a Lost Cause?

Allow me to juxtapose the doom and gloom assessment of the New York Times with a different perspective. Yesterday, I spoke on the phone with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson in Baghdad who is currently leading a Congressional delegation visit to Iraq. I asked him directly whether the recent shift of coalition troops to Baghdad had produced any noticeable effect on security in the capital. Secretary Nicholson responded that it was his understanding that incidents in Baghdad have decreased over the last two weeks. The delegation met with General Casey and President Talabani yesterday morning, and Nicholson characterized the current mood as "guardedly optimistic."

I asked Nicholson about the ongoing level of sectarian violence. Nicholson said that it continues to be a serious problem, but that he was impressed by the level of maturity and experience displayed by senior leaders from all three communities (Shia, Sunni, and Kurd) with whom they'd met.

And on troop morale....

I asked about the morale of our troops. Secretary Nicholson called it "outstanding" and "extraordinary." He told a quick story about a West Point lieutenant he had just visited in the main hospital in Baghdad who had been injured by an IED, resulting in his 3rd Purple Heart. He said the soldier told him how passionately he still feels about the work his unit continues to do in Iraq.

We make a mistake when we ask the question "Will Iraq be a democracy or will Iraq suffer from tribalistic, sectarian violence?"

Anyone familiar with the American South after the American Civil War or Northern Ireland could tell you that it isn't an either or proposition. Iraq is both a democracy (having held 3 freely held elections last year and having an elected parliament broadly representative of its ethnic religious group) and suffering from sectarian violence.

But let me throw this at you.....

Demacracy is a habit and each day that goes by is a day in which the large majority of Iraqis are going about the business (however imperfectly) of democracy. Iraqi security forces continue to be trained.

I'm not convinced that the Iraqi people will accept another dictator after their experience with Saddam Hussain and even if they wanted a dictator, the Sunni, Shia and Kurds wouldn't be able to agree on one.

Use that New York Times for bird cage lining.  

By Anonymous lherr, at Thu Aug 17, 07:39:00 PM:

I don't want to sound like I'm declaring a Hezbollah-type "victory" or anything, but this war was won a long time ago: when the Baathists were removed from power in Iraq. We have spent several years now trying to help the factions in Iraq create a humane government for themselves. In the end whether this succeeds or not is up to them, not us.

I heard some U.S general the other night saying the Iraqi’s have to decide whether they love their children more than they hate each other (or something like that). He was absolutely right. At this point I also favor letting them fight it out if they are bound and determined to. Let's protect the Kurd's, patrol the borders as long as we're welcome, and move out of Baghdad and the Triangle.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Thu Aug 17, 07:55:00 PM:

Here's a big mea culpa to Cassandra. I wouldn't want a blog comment to be responsible for someone's death. Try not to slit your wrists after dinner either.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Thu Aug 17, 08:16:00 PM:

This was long, so I posted a copy at my sad little blog as well, located here. http://blackfacedsinner.blogspot.com/

First things first, this is the NYT, and that article was written with a slant, though they seemed to hide it better than usual.

For instance, it begins; "the anti-American insurgency has continued to strengthen despite the killing of the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi."

That's way too simple, and not technically correct anyway. Please follow me through our collective memories...

At one time, the 'insurgency' was Baathist. It has since been crushed. Everyone knows and acknowledges this.

Then it was Salafist, fueled by MB/Hamas-types from Palestine and the Gulf. They didn't do so hot either, their chieftain got blown up a couple of months ago and their network broken from the top down. That means that the ones who were left were local, small scale groups with limited resources. All they can do are plant IEDs. When was the last time they launched a coordinated attack en masse on a prison or Marine base? Before Zarqawi was toasted, right. Simplest explanation for a rise in the number of IEDs is two-fold:

1) all those jihadists who were in Zarqawi's since disassembled organization have taken their mortar rounds and started making bombs out of them, since they aren't using them in coordinated assaults anymore. Why let them go to waste, after all? (educated guess here, I don't have hard information)

2) Iran is supplying them, to some groups. That's a fact, and has been for some time. One of theirs killed a friend of mine.

A simple rise in IED's might indicate an increase in strength, but not here because it has been accompanied by a simultaneous FALL in other activites, like the prison breaks and guerrilla assaults I mentioned. The Salafists are building road bombs because it is effective and cheap. They're not raiding installations because they can no longer afford to. That indicates a WEAKENING of the Salafist insurgency; they can no longer carry out operations that at one time they did regularly.

Given these points how can one explain the (anonymous, naturally, which I inherently distrust) statement, "“The insurgency has gotten worse by almost all measures, with insurgent attacks at historically high levels,” said a senior Defense Department official who agreed to discuss the issue only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for attribution. “The insurgency has more public support and is demonstrably more capable in numbers of people active and in its ability to direct violence than at any point in time.”"

Assuming that that statement wasn't taken out of time or context, that doesn't make any sense does it? After all, Zarqawi and almost all of his cell chiefs (remember all those raids that immediately followed his death?) have been neutralized. And how would Zarqawi's insurgency, which killed more Shi'i than Americans anyway, ever have such public support in a majority Shi'i country? Seems contradictory, doesn't it?

That's because the statement is referring to the Shi'a militias, not 'the insurgency' that everyone thinks of. The Shi'a militias are, again, funded, armed, and possibly trained by the Iranians. Their political leaders regularly travel to Iran for 'consultations.' (i.e. instructions) And they have begun to seriously misbehave by killing political, religious, and occassionally business rivals and picking fights with the British. Though they were laying off the US; after Sadr's two previous beat-downs and the nasty bloody destruction of a few of their Baghdad 'death squad' by US/Iraqi Special Forces, [which was accompanied by a 'hands off' warning to Iran; you might remember that little gem in the 'oh wow, a US diplomat is going to talk to Iranians' episode a few months ago] they didn't seem eager to play with us anymore, it looks like they've gotten their fight back.

The power and assertiveness of Shi'a militias is an Iraqi political problem and they're trying to find a way to deal with them *without* a rebellion. There have been direct assaults against some of the more obnoxious of these groups, but they were not overt or politically challenging. I don't think a peaceful effort'll work myself; they're not the type to compromise.

But anyway, tying Iranian-backed Shi'a militias in with Baathist and Salaafist fighters (who spent a significant amount of time and effort killing Shi'a) is wrong at best, dishonest at worse.

What this uptick in violence represents is not an angry country trying to rid itself of an occupying power... that's silly. If that's what the goverment wanted, all they have to do is say "leave," rather than "please don't go away yet." What this is is the increased aggression of foreign-backed militias. They've gotten themselves into a zealous, earth-cleansing crusading frenzy, helped by the Hezb'Allah drama and Ahmadouchebag's apocalyptic rhetoric, and by god they're going to purify their land with fire and blood. (they really do talk like that you know)

There may be a civil war in Iraq if no suitable peaceful way is found to reduce these militias; but it won't be sectarian. It'll be US- backed/nationalist/loyalist and Iran-backed/religious/rebel. If we depart without leaving a secure, unchallanged government (in whatever form) then we've handed the country to Iran and invited intervention by the other Arab powers. They've been working against us almost from the beginning, first with money, then with bombs and bullets.

The Baathists are beaten, and Al Qaeda is beaten. Now it's a war by proxy with Iran. Inshal'lah, after them there won't be another enemy and we can go home. Or invade Iran. Whatever.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Thu Aug 17, 08:28:00 PM:

Comments on the comments - and then my comments.

It was of course predictable that a statement of pessimism would bring out those commenters here who have no interest in actually entering the discussion with a constructive idea, but just want to sigh with wise looks and say "well, we told you stupid bastards years ago, but you wouldn't listen, and now look." Even if it were based on truth, it would still be contemptible in serious discussion. The sad pleasure you take does indeed suggest that you find it satisfying, however much you protest. Conservatives have not based our assessment of the left's attitude on what would be convenient for us to think, but on what the critics are actually saying. Like here, for example. You were offered an open chance to offer thoughts, and you offered this crap. Tell your friends how amazing it is that no one takes you seriously on conservative blogs.

That said, I don't share the pessimism, though I am pessimistic about some things in the GWOT. I have been saying since the beginning that this was a 3-10 year enterprise, and I expected the American will to peter out after 3 years. I was expecting the beginning to be far worse - I expected that the possibility of civil war within six months was better than one in three. And thinking that, I still supported the war. So absent all the current expectations, we're on track.

As to the details, we are definitely in current holding pattern or decline, especially in the cities. We have adjusted within our larger strategy framework about as well as we are going to, I suspect. The OTJ learning our troops have done is unlikely to suddenly spike. Adjustment is everything, and I fear we have not adjusted in our larger strategy. Thus, I am pessimistic that we will have a major adjustment under this administration. The attempt will be to do what we are already doing, but do it better. We seem content to half-complete any of a half-dozen worthy goals, but complete none.

Our conduct during the recent Israeli-Hezbollah war seems quite unwise in this light. A serious weakening of either Iran's or Syria's ability to resupply Hezbollah, or a more thorough defeat of Hezbollah itself, would have been useful. In attempting to do all three partially I think we have weakened our position and the Israelis'.

Preventing resupply of terrorists in both Iraq and Lebanon would be the best course, but is quite difficult. Disrupting supply, which is much easier, should be intensified. The attempt to secure Baghdad should also be intensified - for now. Public opinion remains fluid there, and dramatic events, positive or negative, are likely to have large impact.

A half-dozen provinces remain almost entirely calm. That example is not having anything like the public relations value we hoped for, but it remains an important fact on the ground. We do not seem to be losing anything there, even if we are not gaining.  

By Blogger Paul Edwards, at Fri Aug 18, 01:16:00 AM:

There is no need for a strongman. The current democratically-elected leader of Iraq can be your strongman. What would you like your strongman to do that he isn't already doing?

The solution is obvious - train Iraqi security forces to take over the job from the US. And this is ALREADY BEING DONE. There is an ENDLESS supply of volunteers, not surprising given that 77% of the electorate voted in the elections. Training up the Iraqis to do the job simply TAKES TIME. But it is a TECHNICAL TASK for the military to do. There's no need to second-guess them. Just let them do their job.

However, that is the technical way for the military to solve the problem using brute force. It is possible to also solve the problem via psyops, by addressing the underlying problems of RELIGIOUS BIGOTRY/tribalism. Here is how to solve that problem:

By Blogger Basspastor, at Fri Aug 18, 02:42:00 AM:

American wounded are way up. Civilian deaths have skyrocketed

Tigerhawk, you need to start doing your own metrics and stop relying on the NYTimes.

#1 "American wounded" are down significantly comparing year 2005 vs. 2006. The times does a lame Jan vs. July comparison that is faulty because Jan. saw an unusually low number of soldiers wounded. You were fooled by a lousy comparison. Year to year is much more accurate as the ebbs and flows match up month by month.

#2 Are civilian casulties in Iraq really up??? I don't know that the UN data is accurate, and I think I have reason to speculate that it probably isn't. What I can tell you is that deaths among Iraqi Security Forces are down significantly from a year ago at this time.
Jun/Jul 05 600
Jun/Jul 06 349
That's a hell of a big difference when you factor in that the size of the ISF on the ground has nearly doubled in the last year.

The Pessimists are wrong, this thing is doable and the metrics I'm watching show that. The # of IED's don't mean jack squat.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Fri Aug 18, 06:13:00 AM:

Now that I am far less annoyed, let me re-engage.

Basspastor makes some excellent points.

I have not looked at the numbers myself for several months so I can't comment on them, but looking at any monthly figures in isolation (at the NY Times loves to do and I have criticized them over and over again for) is idiotic beyond belief. I do this for a living. Time series data are inherently prone to random variation. That is why you always look at the long term trends and why (if you are looking at something tied to political events) you lay in major happenings along the timeline to add context.

Now gee whiz... what has happened during the last few months that might just cause an upswing in attacks? Hmmmm....

And what is going on RIGHT NOW that might cause the insurgents to step up their attacks on US troops?

Answer those two questions and you are on the way to not drawing unwarranted conclusions from the data.

There is never anything wrong with asking questions, but as I keep reminding people, have the options really changed?

I submit not.

Murtha, et al are incoherent on this point. Your option #1 is key:

If, as they maintain, the nature of what is going on in Iraq is a CIVIL WAR, then by definition it is not really the presence of American troops that is fueling the insurgency, but sectarian strife and a power grab by lawless elements.

If that is the case, if we withdraw, things will not get better, but worse. And this is really only logical because if the insurgents really wanted to they could buy into the political process and be part of the new Iraq. And some of them - many of them - are doing that now.

The truth is that the insurgency are not willing to accept minority status - they want the whole pie and are willing to take it by force if needed. That, in a nutshell, is why they are fighting, so "giving up" is exactly what they want.

And that is why we need to stay until the transfer of security ops to the IA is complete, unless of course the goal is to see Iraq turn into another Iran. We are doing what needs to be done. It just takes time and there are going to be setbacks. It doesn't help when you have unsophisticated reporters comparing numbers and not bothering to note the completely different baselines being used for comparison.

But then, that's the Times for you. Why bring in someone who knows what they're doing? That would make sense.  

By Blogger Tom, at Fri Aug 18, 08:58:00 AM:

I'm for option #2. The problem, as some here have noted, is that Bush is out of political capital. The administration is strangely lethargic given the current situation.

Dittos to Assistant Village Idiot when he says that "It was of course predictable that a statement of pessimism would bring out those commenters here who have no interest in actually entering the discussion with a constructive idea, but just want to sigh with wise looks and say "well, we told you stupid bastards years ago, but you wouldn't listen, and now look."

I believe the situation is dire. Snarky comments by naysayers are not helpful, however.

Let's think back on a few historical events for guidance. From the North's perspective, the Civil War looked unwinable in early 1864. WWII looked like a lost cause in 1941. For about 8 months we were winning the Korean War, and then China intervened and we suffered a series of devastating defeats. And the Soviet Union was on a roll in the 1970s.

Yet in the end we won all of these wars (ok, maybe Korea was a draw). It's not over 'til it's over.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Fri Aug 18, 09:02:00 AM:

Many excellent observations, but I am esp intrgued by DF 82's observations about the end of the Sunni insurgency (ies) in Iraq. It is plausible that their defeat - symbolized by Zarqawi's death, emboldened the Shia militias to try to impose their will. In effect, with the violent enemy defeated, they now sought to punish and enforce and alter the political reality further to their favor.

This must be defeated by the Iraqi military (with our assitance, of course). It is precisely the equivalent of demanding the Lebanese army to assume control of southern Lebanon from Hezbollah. The Iraqi army must assume control of Baghdad and disarm the Shia militias -- which are, in the end, an instrument of Iranian policy to subordinate Iraq to its interests. Ultimately, the Iraqi army will succeed as the Shiite militias are tarred as anti-Iraqis. And unlike the Lebanese Army, which has a serious competitor in Hezbollah in terms of sheer strength and will, the Iraqi army is already much more powerful and capable than the Shiite militias -- they will defeat the militias in any direct confrontation.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 18, 10:14:00 AM:

All the New York Times story proves is the wonderful propaganda (not reporting I am afraid) that can be made from selective statistics. Here's another summary for you - terrorists in Iraq have increasingly focussed their attacks on Iraqi security forces and civilians since January. Although terrorist bomb attacks on US forces have risen, US deaths in Iraq have fallen by almost a quarter in July from January - and are showing no increase in August. They are more than 20% below the monthly average from May 2003 to the present. Numbers of US wounded in July were also below the monthly average since the invasion and 12% below the figure in January this year (source: globalsecurity.org). Moreover, whilst IED attacks on Iraqi security forces have quadrupled, the forces have suffered an increase in casualties of less than 15% in July as against January (source: brooking institution Iraq Index)(please note - if you choose June, the Iraqi casualties would have been 50% lower than January which is why the NYT ignored this month). With US and Iraqi security forces proving too tough to crack, frustrated terrorists are now only able to kill defenceless civilians in sectarian attacks, explaining the big increase in Iraqi civilians killed in recent months. Do you think we are winning yet ?  

By Blogger Catchy Pseudonym, at Fri Aug 18, 12:08:00 PM:

I have the problem with the whole snarky comment thing. For years things have sucked over there and we've been soothed with rose-colored observations, been told how great things are going, and how the media is only showing the negative side, and those defeatist democrats just wanting Bush to fail and blah blah blah. Every few months were told... just wait things are changing. Now even the die-hards are waking up to the facts that things suck. "Well, we told you stupid bastards years ago, but you wouldn't listen, and now look." ...yes, exactly.

That's a big part of finding a solution. Working in reality, not on some theory developed by a bunch of politicians. So yes I'm glad people are waking up, and realizing how things are actually going and working to fix them. Accepting the dismal state over there is actually comforting to me. It's means, hopefully, we'll develop a solution based in reality.

I will readily admit that I don't have a clue of how to fix things. So I won't blather on about my theories because I read a book about the mideast last week or watched a really interesting show on TV. I'm not going pretend to have a clue, or that somehow by stating it on a blog means I'm making some kind of difference or somehow a better American.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Fri Aug 18, 05:35:00 PM:

Gee, Catchy P, humility suddenly strikes you when you're called to account. But you're still sure things are screwed in Iraq. And the humility was absent from your earlier comment.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Fri Aug 18, 07:41:00 PM:

And it sure seems apparent that you didn't actually read the series of opposing comments referencing statistics, history, and reason, either.

"So yes I'm glad people are waking up, and realizing how things are actually going and working to fix them."

The NYT article was written with an objective in mind and they cherry-picked their intelligence (har har) to sell the idea.

Where's the outrage?  

By Blogger Catchy Pseudonym, at Tue Aug 22, 03:53:00 PM:

Just now coming back to this post. There's no humility in my statement. I'm actually mocking those who think by posting their opinions on a blog that they're making more of a difference than those just complaining about the war. And Dawnfire, I've read comments and statistics for years telling me how Iraq is actually going well. When am I supposed to start having doubts? Three years into the war. Four? Ten? How many corners do we have to turn? Seems like we've turned quite a few that ended up going nowhere. I don't mind thinking optimistically, but it seems to me pessimism and harsh reality is more what we need now.  

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