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Fallujah, Sadr, and the Eroding US Position in Iraq
May 11, 2004 11:47 PM   Subscribe

Fallujah, Sadr, and the Eroding US Position in Iraq (PDF)
Why the US Has Already "Lost" Some Aspects of its Battles in Fallujah; A Negotiated Solution Means Limiting the Scale of Defeat; No Military Solution Can Now Work and What the US Should Do Now   by Anthony Cordesman
posted by y2karl (19 comments total)

 
The Eroding US Position on Iraq

Anthony H. Cordesman

It may not be as apparent in the US as it is in the Arab world, but several weeks of travel in the region indicate that the course of the fighting in Fallujah and Najaf is being perceived in much of Iraq and the Arab world as a serious US defeat. This is not simply a matter of shattering any aura of US military invincibility, but this is a critical factor.

Why the US Has Already "Lost" Some Aspects of its Battles in Fallujah

As was the case in 1973, the Iraqi insurgents do not have to win, they merely have to put up a determined enough resistance, with enough skill and courage, to send a signal they are capable of a determined, strong and well-organized effort. The totals of US, allied, and friendly Iraqi killed and wounded already reach the point where they act as a virtual road map for future battles in Iraq and the rest of the world. The end result is to show that an Arab asymmetric force can delay and possibly check mate the strongest Western military power in the world, that Arabs are not weak or passive, and that Arabs can "take back their homeland." It will take a new public opinion poll to determine just how much these events have changed opinion inside Iraq, but it seems likely that support for the US has dropped sharply, and that this drop is compounded by the flood of Arab images of Iraqi civilians suffering, and newscasts that claim every US use of a modern weapon is a careless use of excessive force. Certainly, these images are having a powerful impact throughout the Sunni world -- strongly reinforced by Israeli military action and statements that make the constant Arab media linkage between the US and Israeli occupations steadily more damaging. Similar images are being portrayed in Iran, although their impact is far harder to read.

The second message is equally important. The last few weeks of resistance have effectively challenged the legitimacy of the CPA, the US approach to nation building, and the Interim Governing Council. The US has been "forced" to turn to the UN. The "American" Iraqis have been divided and weak, and unable to rally the Iraqi people. The end result is that the US ability to convey "legitimacy" has been sharply undercut precisely at the time the US needs legitimacy for its June 30 turnover. In addition, US ties to the IGC are becoming steadily more damaging--particularly the image of US ties to "losers" like Chalibi.

The third message is that Iraq has become a natural battleground for Islamic insurgents and "volunteers" of all persuasions. There is no meaningful evidence that Iraq was a focus of terrorism before the war, or a primary focus early in the fighting. Over the last few months, however, the outside presence and support for insurgents has increased. Over the last few weeks, it has become all too clear that such support is paying off well in terms of American and allied casualties in terms of the image of Islamic resistance as being able to take on the US. Iraq was never a magnet for terrorism before the war, and only a limited magnet before Fallujah and Sadr. It has become a major magnet now.

The fourth message is less overt, but also real. Much of the aid program has been paralyzed. The US use of contract security has created the image of mercenary forces, and efforts to win hearts and minds in troubled areas have essentially collapsed, as they have in some formerly "friendly areas" as well. The flood of aid that should have helped win hearts and minds during this critical period is often little more than a trickle.

A Negotiated Solution Means Limiting the Scale of Defeat

The end result is virtually a no win situation for the US: Any negotiated solution effectively legitimizes the Sunni and Shi'ite hard-line opposition, while weakening the IGC--exposing the fact the US is still trying to turnover power to "mystery men" on June 30, who cannot have legitimacy because they have no identity. This compounds the problems inherent in the Ibrahimi approach, which effectively says that the government of June 30 will not have legitimacy until a popular council takes place and a real government and constitutional base must come from the Iraqis and not from the legacy left by the CPA/IGC.

No Military Solution Can Now Work

The US can of course defeat the Iraqis. However, any military solution is now likely to be the kind of "victory" that creates a new firestorm over excessive force, civilian casualties, and collateral damage. At the same time, the US cannot hope to kill or arrest all of the Sunni and foreign insurgents that exist now and is almost certain to create far more than it destroys.

Any US arrest or killing of Sadr at this point means creating an instant martyr that will have a powerful impact on many young Shi'ites in Iraq, and militant Shi'ites all over the world -- pushing them towards some form of alignment with Sunni insurgents. A serious fight from a now cold start against a well organized resistance in Najaf would be a disaster, triggering much broader Shi'ite alignments against the US. Ironically, the US might have been far better off to act decisively in hot pursuit. Certainly, the military effort and the causalities would have been far smaller, and any criticism would have been tempered with reluctance to challenge the US again.

What the US Should Do Now

At this point, the US lacks good options other than to turn as much of the political, aid, and security effort over to moderate Iraqis as soon as possible, and pray that the UN can create some kind of climate for political legitimacy.

posted by y2karl at 11:48 PM on May 11, 2004


And on the flip side....
Thousands March in Iraq Protesting Al-Sadr
NAJAF, Iraq -- About 1,000 people, including a few women in black veils, marched through the streets of Najaf on Tuesday to urge radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers to leave the city.

Tensions rose as the marchers passed by al-Sadr's office. Fighters from his al-Mahdi Army took up position and fired weapons into the air, but there was no clash and the march continued without incident.

posted by PenDevil at 12:22 AM on May 12, 2004


y2karl, I just tried to send you an email and got this message:


Postmaster
to me
More options 2:16am (6 minutes ago)
User mailbox exceeds allowed size: y2karl@capitolhill.net

posted by interrobang at 12:26 AM on May 12, 2004


Time 2 go nuclear?
posted by mokujin at 1:42 AM on May 12, 2004


And on the flip side....
Thousands March in Iraq Protesting Al-Sadr


Interesting statement. Now, how many of these marchers were also marching in support of Saddam 2 years ago?

How many of the marchers show up in support of whomever *IS* in charge at any one time?
posted by rough ashlar at 7:58 AM on May 12, 2004


No, mokujin; just time 2 go
posted by acrobat at 8:03 AM on May 12, 2004


Time 2 go nuclear?

You must mean "nucular."
posted by wsg at 8:04 AM on May 12, 2004


y2karl: what's the point of copy-and-pasting what you just linked to? We can follow links, you know.
posted by reklaw at 8:05 AM on May 12, 2004


He just wanted to let us know that, gosh, things may not be going swimmingly at Iraq. Thanks for that newsflash, y2karl!
posted by keswick at 8:43 AM on May 12, 2004


Here's a nice little bit of analysis by a dKos member, right after we announced that we were going to foist off Fallujah to a Sunni militia.
posted by jbrjake at 9:04 AM on May 12, 2004


y2karl: what's the point of copy-and-pasting what you just linked to? We can follow links, you know.

sometimes, news or editorial links "expire" and a url that worked a few weeks or months ago will stop.
posted by mcsweetie at 9:07 AM on May 12, 2004


What the US Should Do Now

At this point, the US lacks good options other than to turn as much of the political, aid, and security effort over to moderate Iraqis as soon as possible, and pray that the UN can create some kind of climate for political legitimacy.


Well, thanks for such in-depth, original and thoroughly efficient solution for the Iraq issue. If only we knew beforehand it was that easy!!!
posted by 111 at 9:09 AM on May 12, 2004


If only we knew beforehand it was that easy!!!

But, from my perspective, the "beforehand" thing is at the very crux of the problem. There was no planning "beforehand" about what we were going to do once we toppled the statues and found the bad guy.

It would appear that there was *no* forward planning. No contingency plans, no effort to understand the culture, the history, or the insanely high likelihood of open revolt against perceived invaders.

The plans of the Bush administration seemed to rest entirely on the premise that we would ride in, the Persians...who have been so welcoming of other invaders over the last 10,000 years...would throw flowers and offer their daughters in marriage, and then we could go about pumping that sweet, sweet oil into tankers while we fiddled about pretending to rebuild the infrastructure.

Of course the Iraqis aren't happy about invaders. As a rule, in any country, if you blow things up, they start forming militias to blow you up in return. Common sense, that is. Especially when the places the "invaders" are blowing up are drastically, dangerously close to some of the holiest sites in the Islamic world.

There was no "beforehand". If there had been, we wouldn't be caught in a quagmire of illegal occupation forced upon us by a cabal of neocons with a secret agenda.
posted by dejah420 at 10:37 AM on May 12, 2004


there was a big beforehand, the State Dept put together a comprehensive document called the Future of Ieaq Project.

It was thrown out by the Defense Department.
posted by chaz at 10:42 AM on May 12, 2004


Well, thanks for such in-depth, original and thoroughly efficient solution for the Iraq issue. If only we knew beforehand it was that easy!!!

111: I think you missed the 4th and 5th pages of the report (there are 5 pages total; maybe you had some problems loading them?). The paragraph you quote is just a summary of the detailed recommendations on these pages.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:45 AM on May 12, 2004


Sure mrroboto, let's consider some of them (although they are clearly defined as "other options"; his proposed solution to Iraq is precisely the one I quoted):

-Rush aid to the Iraqi security forces and military seeking more friendly Arab aid in training and support, and to provide as broad a base of Iraqi command as possible.
Continue expanding the role of the Iraqi security forces.

Wow! How come nobody has had that brilliant idea before!
No wait, the USA is already doing just that. Oh well.

Walk firmly and openly away from the losers in the IGC like Chalibi

Chalibi?

Make it clear that the US can and will leave Iraq if the Iraqis do not reach agreement on an effective interim solution and proceed with unity to implement the UN plan and move towards real democracy.

Is this a war or marriage in crisis, where one spouse will threaten to leave? Plus the fundamentalists would simply love to ruin any short-term agreement through bombings and assorted crimes.

etc
posted by 111 at 1:57 PM on May 12, 2004


Chalibi?

So there's a typo (or maybe a non-standard romanization). I agree that it would be a good idea to abandon our support of Chalabi. There are some other good ideas in there, too, like "bypassing islands of resistance" to build Iraqi control in the bulk of the country.

Cordesman is a really sharp guy, with a lot of foreign policy/national security experience. I'm not sure why you seem so passionate and eager to dismiss his ideas; I think they deserve more thought than a "etc".
posted by mr_roboto at 3:07 PM on May 12, 2004


Dejah, if you'll forgive a minor quibble, those aren't "Persians" but "Medes" (Babylonians, Sumerians) -- they are a heritage apart from Persians, properly speaking. But to all Mesopotamian peoples, Iranis included, we're from out of state, so to speak.
posted by alumshubby at 4:42 PM on May 12, 2004


Ah, my mistake. Without looking at a map, I thought that section of the Mesopotamian basin area had been Persia before the carving of the area into "states" like Iran, Iraq, etc. I got that impression from the families who run the stores where I buy most of my middle eastern food and spice supplies. One's family is Iraqi, one's family is Iranian (possibly Kurd?), and they both refer to themselves as Persian...and oddly enough, both speak an Arabic dialect that is very similar to the one spoken by French educated, Maronite Lebanese. (I only know that because it's the same dialect my grandmother spoke...so I can actually understand their Arabic better than I can understand most Arabic.)
posted by dejah420 at 6:50 PM on May 12, 2004


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