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Iraq: The Bungled Transition, How bad can things get? The Making of a Mess Far graver than Vietnam
September 21, 2004 10:21 PM   Subscribe

Iraq: The Bungled Transition. Iraq: How bad can things get?--The Making of a Mess. Far graver than Vietnam, some now see a Classic guerrilla war forming in Iraq with an Enemy With Many Faces. Iraqi Shiite philosopher--as Juan Cole calls him--and blogger Abbas Kadhim of Calling It Like It Is, likens the Allawi government to an onion farm--This lack of discipline within the Iraqi interim government is not accidental. Indeed, it is the manifestation of a bigger problem: the members of the cabinet consider themselves above the restraints of their respective positions in the government... After all, their nominal chief, Allawi did not choose them, like all prime ministers do to a certain degree. They were simply imposed upon him, and for all practical purposes, he is unable to dismiss any one of them. Iyad Allawi is stuck with a concoction of personalities that may compose a parliament rather than an executive branch.--and as US-backed armies firing blanks notes: Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Washington has been struggling to create a 40,000-strong military force... according to Brigadier General James Schwitters, who is part of the US command responsible for training Iraq's new army, only 3,000 of the soldiers could be regarded as having been militarily trained, as of early August. From March to 2003 to August 2004, the Coalition trained 3,00 Iraqi soldiers. Well? Feelin' lucky, punk? /Dirty Harry (More Inside)
posted by y2karl (58 comments total)

 
Here are are a couple of coldly realistic appraisals in pdf format:

From the Brookings Institution is The Iraq Index: Tracking Reconstruction and Security in Post-Saddam Iraq, which is updated Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

From CSIS is Progress or Peril? - Measuring Iraq's reconstruction - The Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project Here, via ReliefWeb, is an html version of its Executive Summary:

Iraq has not yet reached the realistic goals described in this report as the tipping points in any of the five sectors of reconstruction.

Both Progress or Peril ? and the Iraq Index have ample and chilling graphs and charts.

Here is a great source on topic: The War on Terrorism: Post-Saddam Iraq

And, for more background, note Abu Ghraib: The Hidden Story. Mark Danner reviews The Schlesinger Report.

What is credible, or at least comprehensible, is the subtle bureaucratic strategy that has been adopted in these reports, and which has been visible, indeed obvious, from the moment the story of Abu Ghraib broke. For at that moment, in late April, a bureaucratic and political war erupted over torture and its implications, and over Abu Ghraib and how broad-reaching and damaging the scandal that bore its name was going to be. On one side were those within the administration, many of whom had opposed the use of "enhanced interrogation tactics" from the beginning, including many in the judge advocate generals' offices of the various military services and career lawyers in the Justice Department, who for the last four months have been leaking a veritable flood of documents detailing legally questionable and politically damaging administration decisions about torture and interrogation. On the other side are those at the highest political levels of the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and the White House who have struggled, so far successfully, to keep Abu Ghraib from becoming what it early on threatened to be: a scandal that could bring down many senior officials in the Department of Defense, and perhaps the administration itself...

The delicate bureaucratic construction now holding the Abu Ghraib scandal firmly in check rests ultimately on President Bush's controversial decision, on February 7, 2002, to withhold protection of the Geneva Convention both from al-Qaeda and from Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. The decision rested on the argument, in the words of White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez, that "the war against terrorism is a new kind of war," in fact, a "new paradigm [that] renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions...." In a prefiguring of later bureaucratic wars, lawyers in the State Department and many in the military services fought against this decision, arguing, prophetically, that it "would undermine the United States military culture, which is based on a strict adherence to the law of war."

For torture, this decision was Original Sin: it made legally possible the adoption of the various "enhanced interrogation techniques" that have been used at CIA secret prisons and at the US military's prison at Guantánamo Bay. As it turns out, however, for the administration, Bush's decision was also Amazing Grace, because, by implying that the US military must adhere to wholly different rules when interrogating, say, Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo, who do not enjoy Geneva Convention protection, and Iraqi insurgents at Abu Ghraib, who do, it makes it possible to argue that American interrogators, when applying the same techniques at Abu Ghraib that they had earlier used in Afghanistan or at Guantánamo, were in fact taking part not in "violent/sexual abuse incidents," like their sadistic military police colleagues, but instead in "misinterpretation/confusion incidents."


misinterpretation/confusion incidents...

And, unsurprisingly, we see emerge a strident minority: anti-Bush US troops in Iraq:

Inside dusty, barricaded camps around Iraq, groups of American troops in between missions are gathering around screens to view an unlikely choice from the US box office: "Fahrenheit 9-11," Michael Moore's controversial documentary attacking the commander-in-chief. "Everyone's watching it," says a Marine corporal at an outpost in Ramadi that is mortared by insurgents daily. "It's shaping a lot of people's image of Bush."

The film's prevalence is one sign of a discernible countercurrent among US troops in Iraq - those who blame President Bush for entangling them in what they see as a misguided war. Conventional wisdom holds that the troops are staunchly pro-Bush, and many are. But bitterness over long, dangerous deployments is producing, at a minimum, pockets of support for Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry, in part because he's seen as likely to withdraw American forces from Iraq more quickly.

"[For] 9 out of 10 of the people I talk to, it wouldn't matter who ran against Bush - they'd vote for them," said a US soldier in the southern city of Najaf, seeking out a reporter to make his views known. "People are so fed up with Iraq, and fed up with Bush." With only three weeks until an Oct. 11 deadline set for hundreds of thousands of US troops abroad to mail in absentee ballots, this segment of the military vote is important - symbolically, as a reflection on Bush as a wartime commander, and politically, as absentee ballots could end up tipping the balance in closely contested states.


Ain't we got fun.
posted by y2karl at 10:22 PM on September 21, 2004


OK, OK, dropped a zero there--the Coalition trained 3,000 soldiers in over a year. 3,000 out of a projected force of 40,000. That should make us all feel better.
posted by y2karl at 10:24 PM on September 21, 2004


I will sponsor a collection to get you a free site over at blogspot if you promise to take these 30,000 word essays there.
posted by jonson at 11:15 PM on September 21, 2004


I feel better, karl. 3,000 is a lot, considering the mindset of your average Iraqi citizen under Saddam Hussein was dominated by surviving through submission and avoiding conflict at all costs, re-training grown men to ignore their instincts and stand up and fight would be akin to training the Metafilter army.

Let's see, since 1999, out of a projected force of 16,915 soldiers, approximately 7 show promise. You'll find much better results in Iraq, no doubt.
posted by David Dark at 11:17 PM on September 21, 2004


Not, of course, that it's entirely a bad thing.

I would hope that human beings would be capable of learning from thirty years of brutal oppression that they shouldn't willingly augment the power of a brutal oppressor...

Here comes the new king, same as the old king.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:40 PM on September 21, 2004


I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag (revisited)

Yeah, come on all of you, big strong men,
Uncle George needs your help again.
He's run America off of the track
Way down yonder in Iraq
So put down your books and pick up a gun,
We're gonna have a whole lotta fun.

And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for ?
Go ask Georgie, what’s your plan?
It’s Vietnam all over again
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

Well, come on generals, let's move fast;
Your big chance has come at last.
For every mercenary they behead
Ten thousand innocents we’ll leave dead
And you know that peace can only be won
When we've blown 'em all to kingdom come.

And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for ?
Go ask Georgie, what’s your plan?
It’s Vietnam all over again
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why
Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

Huh!
Well, come on Wall Street, don't move slow,
Why man, this is war au-go-go.
There's plenty good money to be made
By supplying the Army with the tools of the trade,
Just hope and pray that if they drop the bomb,
They drop it on Islam.

And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for ?
Go ask Georgie, what’s your plan?
It’s Vietnam all over again
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why
Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

Well, come on mothers throughout the land,
Pack your boys off to a foreign land
Come on fathers, don't hesitate,
Send 'em off before it's too late.
Be the first one on your block
To have your boy come home in a box.

And it's one, two, three
What are we fighting for ?
Go ask Georgie, what’s your plan?
It’s Vietnam all over again
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

Original by Joe McDonald (who would have done a better job at revisiting this song himself to be sure)
posted by caddis at 11:51 PM on September 21, 2004


Also regarding Progress or Peril ? see From bad to worse in Iraq

This week, however, O'Hanlon, who has developed a detailed index periodically published in the New York Times that measures US progress in post-war Iraq, was singing an entirely different song at a forum sponsored by Brookings and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

"We're in much worse shape than I thought we'd ever be," he said. "I don't know how you get it back," he conceded, adding that his last remaining hope was that somehow the US could train enough indigenous Iraqi security forces within two to three years to keep the country "cohesive" and permit an eventual US withdrawal. "A Lebanonization of Iraq" was also quite possible, he said.

His conclusion was echoed by his CSIS co-panelists, Frederick Barton and Bathsheba Crocker, who direct their own index that relies heavily on interviews with Iraqis themselves in measuring progress in reconstruction .

According to the five general criteria used by them, movement over the past 13 months has for the most part been "backward", particularly with respect to security, which they now consider to be squarely in the "danger" zone.

"Security and economic problems continue to overshadow and undermine efforts across the board," including health care, education and governance, according to a report their project released last week. Among other things, it noted that despite a massive school-building and rehabilitation program, children are increasingly dropping out to help their families survive an economy where almost half the working population remains unemployed.


And from the Making Of A Mess above:

The neocons, with their imperial dreams, might take a look at Emmanuel Todd's After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order. It is not an anti-American rant by an aggrieved French intellectual. Todd has a formula by which, through an analysis of demographic and economic factors, he accurately predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union in his first book, La Chute Finale. This was in 1976 when the neocons' Committee on the Present Danger and the CIA's Team B were predicting that the Soviet Union would very likely win the arms race.

In his new book Todd applies a similar formula to the United States. He may underrate the resilience of the American economy, but in a not unsympathetic way he raises intelligent and disturbing questions about the American future. Regarding the Iraq War, Todd writes, "The real America is too weak to take on anyone except military midgets...such outdated remains of a bygone era as North Korea, Cuba, and Iraq." Even war against a pathetic Iraqi opponent seems to have strained our military manpower to the limit. Todd concludes, "If [the US] stubbornly decides to continue showing off its supreme power, it will only end up exposing to the world its powerlessness."


Let's see, since 1999, out of a projected force of 16,915 soldiers, approximately 7 show promise.

Maybe if we all carried a Spyderco Delica Lightweight in our pocket everyday, we would feel tough enough, eh? It's an industry classic and Spyderco's top seller.
posted by y2karl at 12:04 AM on September 22, 2004


David Dark wins with "the Metafilter Army".

y2karl, what's your point? It's a mess over there, no doubt about it. I, for one, am not surprised given the history of the region.

What do you suggest we do about it? Are you suggesting that we should (a) send more troops and try to unscrew it more quickly, (b) get the hell out and let the bastards all either kill themselves or revert to rule by tyranny, or (c) wish really hard for a wayback machine so we can not go at all?

P.S. That quote from Emmanuel Todd is the stupidest thing it's been my misfortune to endure reading today. Par for the course for a French political scientist, I guess.
posted by JParker at 12:22 AM on September 22, 2004


Why the unpleasantness for y2karl? It's not like it's his fault we're in Iraq, so why should he have to come up with the solution for the mess we're in? This is one for the history books and will be analyzed for the next few decades, not to mention putting a damper on our foreign policy. We may as well take a look at it now, as unpleasant as it may be.
posted by rks404 at 12:43 AM on September 22, 2004


I think we never should have been there JParker and that for a start, the folks who got us there should go home to Texas. Do you believe in accountability? If so, explain to me please how we could ever consider W to have done even a passing job at prosecuting this war. His performance review is coming due and it seems that his job performance is sub-par.
posted by caddis at 12:59 AM on September 22, 2004


y2karl: while I broadly agree with your views on Iraq, you really do need to get your own blog.

Where's tech-no-logic to tell us how swimmingly things are going over there?
posted by salmacis at 1:17 AM on September 22, 2004


I think you should all get to know how to be an anti-anti-American American.
posted by acrobat at 2:22 AM on September 22, 2004


"I feel better, karl. 3,000 is a lot, considering the mindset of your average Iraqi citizen under Saddam Hussein was dominated by surviving through submission and avoiding conflict at all costs, re-training grown men to ignore their instincts and stand up and fight would be akin to training the Metafilter army"

This is an interesting impression I have seen presented by many people in these sort of discussions, that "your average Iraqi" was constantly in danger of being killed or executed by a brutal dictator.

My understanding, based on a variety of sources, but mainly one Iraqi ex-patriot I met and talked to one day, is that while those who expressed views in opposition to those of Saddam did face many dangers and horrors, for the 'average' Iraqi who went to work in the morning and home in the evening to see his family, Iraq was not that bad a place to live. It was a secular state which did not suffer under the often harsh rule of strict Islamic law. Despite some shortages and hardships life in Iraq for "your average Iraqi" was fairly sedate, much like your average suburban office worker.

No doubt Saddam's dictatorship denied Iraq's people many freedoms, but people were not taken randomly off the street to 'rape rooms' (as Bush likes to bring up) and didn't necessarily live in fear and abject poverty. There was access (largely) to schooling, healthcare, water and electricty, especially in built up areas. There was also an effective police force, who were probably quite brutal in many cases, but for most common Iraqis, a brush with this police brutality was unlikely.

The idea that the Iraqi people were all cowering in fear and at risk of random execution seems, to me at least, to be fictional. The situation was far from perfect (although no society is perfect) but by just about every international account was by no means the worse. There are, and were much worse dictatorships, which have not been toppled, and will not be.
posted by sycophant at 2:29 AM on September 22, 2004


And also, before I forget, "Liberating the Iraqi people" wasn't the reason for this war. Imaginary WMDs were. The Liberation was just a helpful benefit that was suitable to trumpet around when the smoking gun (or bomb, or mobile chemical lab) failed to emerge.
posted by sycophant at 2:35 AM on September 22, 2004


Well done y2Karl! One should never cease discussing Iraq, as it is the model of more to come by the Bush gang. Here's is an interesting analysis of why the U.S. cannot win in Iraq. Be sure the same fuckup will be repeated elsewhere, if Bush gets his way again.
posted by acrobat at 3:02 AM on September 22, 2004


So many great links with so much supporting evidence!
If only our Defenders of All Things Dubya could perform so admirably we could have a real discussion about this subject.

Great work y2karl and thanks.
I appreciate having you for a MeFi neighbor.
posted by nofundy at 5:43 AM on September 22, 2004


nofundy, I just have to ask: is anyone who questions one iota of anything you say automatically classified "Defender Of All Things Dubya?"

I just want to be sure before ordering the t-shirts.
posted by jonmc at 6:22 AM on September 22, 2004


I just want to be sure before ordering the t-shirts.

I think you should join the Dark Army instead. I bet they have way cool outfits.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 6:36 AM on September 22, 2004


Why the unpleasantness for y2karl? It's not like it's his fault we're in Iraq, so why should he have to come up with the solution for the mess we're in? This is one for the history books and will be analyzed for the next few decades, not to mention putting a damper on our foreign policy. We may as well take a look at it now, as unpleasant as it may be.

Agreed. I'm still curious as to the people who support the war jumping up the ass of people against it with the tired "well why don't YOU tell me how it could be done differently?" rhetoric. It's like a burglar saying "well, fine, YOU tell me a better way to have robbed you" to a homeowner after he shoots him for breaking into his house.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:55 AM on September 22, 2004


3,000 is a lot

New York City has 39,110 policemen.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:07 AM on September 22, 2004


> Why the unpleasantness for y2karl?

It seems shooting the messenger is back in style. Its a way to deal with the cognitive dissonance. The whole WMD thing didn't pan out. Bush openly lied to his supporters. The war rages on. Reconstruction is an unfunny joke. Civil war looms. Oh, did I mention the WMDs were just a bunch of lies? Hurts doesn't it?

Spyderco Delica Lightweight? Hehe. y2Karl made a funny.

Not to mention these are excellent posts. Compare them to my local fox affiliate's coverage. "Two soldiers were killed today in Iraq, next weather and sports."
posted by skallas at 8:01 AM on September 22, 2004


I add my thanks, y2karl: you consistently bring thoughtful, informative analyses to the MeFi table.

I'm beginning to think Iraq is our Crimean War. Up till the 1850s, following their defeat of Napoleon and their influence at the Congress of Vienna, Russia was perceived as a mighty power, capable of defining the future of much of Europe and Asia. After Crimea, which exposed their pathetically inadequate military and infrastructure, people took them less and less seriously; eventually, Japan kicked their ass in 1904. Will China eventually kick ours?
posted by languagehat at 8:01 AM on September 22, 2004


y2karl for President

(and languagehat as Secretary Of State)
posted by matteo at 8:07 AM on September 22, 2004


is anyone who questions one iota of anything you say automatically classified "Defender Of All Things Dubya?"

jonmc,

The statement "Defenders of All Things Dubya" pretty much speaks for itself and has absolutely nothing to do with my personal statements or assertions.
It has everything to do with the extreme partisans who would defend Dubya regardless of his words or actions.
Is that clear enough for you? Sorry you couldn't understand the statement, I'll try to keep it simpler.
posted by nofundy at 8:09 AM on September 22, 2004


approximately 7 show promise

will you then state for the record your military experience, days of active duty in combat zones, etc, David Dark?



then, nobody will be tempted to accuse you of being just another pathetic keyboard warrior happy to send other people off to war to die in his place but too chicken even to be involved in a traffic argument. Not to mention actually enlisting to personally fight, ahem, "Evil".
posted by matteo at 8:16 AM on September 22, 2004


Sorry you couldn't understand the statement, I'll try to keep it simpler.

I don't know if you could be any simpler, nofundy.
posted by jonmc at 8:28 AM on September 22, 2004


sychophant, excellent points. Which is not to excuse the brutality of Saddam's regime at all, but it is indeed intellectually dishonest to characterize the country prior to the U.S. invasion as one in which all people cowered behind closed doors at all times, in danger of being snatched off the street willy-nilly to be tortured.

For the people who learned how to get along under Saddam, one can see how life now would be substantially more dangerous, leading many to ask if they are indeed better off.

The thing that's happening with the war is that even conservatives are beginning to question it. See Pat Buchanan's book "Where the Right Went Wrong" (though, to be fair, Buchanan was a critic of the war before it was waged); see also George Will's column in Newsweek this week, Chuck Hegel's comments on "Face the Nation," etc.

Virtually everyone - except the president and his administration, of course - is coming to realize that this war is the greatest foreign policy misstep since Vietnam. At least.
posted by kgasmart at 8:46 AM on September 22, 2004


At least 20 Iraqis were killed and more than 200 wounded in fresh violence through Baghdad and fears grew for a British hostage whose two US colleagues were savagely beheaded by Islamist captors.
-The Assoc. Foreign Press, one hour ago
A year from now, I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush.
-Richard Perle, exactly one year ago today
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:33 AM on September 22, 2004


A little perspective:

What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray, and aerial bombardment in the last week?
posted by pitchblende at 11:17 AM on September 22, 2004


On a Washington street corner, he now asked me how he had done. You have a tough job, I responded. The Bush campaign has succeeded in convincing the mainstream media that the key question is, what is Kerry's plan for Iraq? Not, say, what is Bush's plan for Iraq? If Kerry is so fortunate to win on November 2, he won't take office until January 20, and the situation in Iraq could be dramatically different. Any specific plan he tossed out now could be--and probably would be--totally irrelevant at that point. Yet Republicans and echo-chamber reporters keep asking Kerry to state precisely how he would undo Bush's mess.

"I have two young daughters at home," I said to this Kerry aide. "If one takes a glass jar and throws it on the ground of their bedroom and smashes it into thousands of pieces, I don't point my finger at the other one and say, 'Okay, what's your plan for cleaning this up.'"
- David Corn
posted by euphorb at 11:57 AM on September 22, 2004


I'm beginning to think Iraq is our Crimean War.

The best analogy I've seen is the Philippine-American_War. Someone wrote a book about it recently. Of course, the History of United States imperialism is extensive enough to draw from lots of failed analogies.
posted by stbalbach at 12:13 PM on September 22, 2004


Imperial Amnesia
posted by homunculus at 12:31 PM on September 22, 2004


I agree - lets get karl his own blog. Seriously, I think it's about time he move out on his own.

Besides, you know its only going to get worse as we get closer.
posted by soulhuntre at 1:08 PM on September 22, 2004


stbalbach & homunculus: thanks for the Filipino links - the analogy is not one that I'd heard before. Great stuff.
posted by rks404 at 1:45 PM on September 22, 2004


Baghdad Year Zero
"Pillaging Iraq in pursuit of a neocon utopia"
By Naomi Klein
Harper's Magazine, September 2004

Iraq was going to change all that. In one place on Earth, the theory would finally be put into practice in its most perfect and uncompromised form. A country of 25 million would not be rebuilt as it was before the war; it would be erased, disappeared. In its place would spring forth a gleaming showroom for laissez-faire economics, a utopia such as the world had never seen. Every policy that liberates multinational corporations to pursue their quest for profit would be put into place: a shrunken state, a flexible workforce, open borders, minimal taxes, no tariffs, no ownership restrictions. The people of Iraq would, of course, have to endure some short-term pain: assets, previously owned by the state, would have to be given up to create new opportunities for growth and investment. Jobs would have to be lost and, as foreign products flooded across the border, local businesses and family farms would, unfortunately, be unable to compete. But to the authors of this plan, these would be small prices to pay for the economic boom that would surely explode once the proper conditions were in place, a boom so powerful the country would practically rebuild itself.

The fact that the boom never came and Iraq continues to tremble under explosions of a very different sort should never be blamed on the absence of a plan. Rather, the blame rests with the plan itself, and the extraordinarily violent ideology upon which it is based...

The great historical irony of the catastrophe unfolding in Iraq is that the shock-therapy reforms that were supposed to create an economic boom that would rebuild the country have instead fueled a resistance that ultimately made reconstruction impossible. Bremer’s reforms unleashed forces that the neocons neither predicted nor could hope to control, from armed insurrections inside factories to tens of thousands of unemployed young men arming themselves. These forces have transformed Year Zero in Iraq into the mirror opposite of what the neocons envisioned: not a corporate utopia but a ghoulish dystopia, where going to a simple business meeting can get you lynched, burned alive, or beheaded. These dangers are so great that in Iraq global capitalism has retreated, at least for now. For the neocons, this must be a shocking development: their ideological belief in greed turns out to be stronger than greed itself.

Iraq was to the neocons what Afghanistan was to the Taliban: the one place on Earth where they could force everyone to live by the most literal, unyielding interpretation of their sacred texts. One would think that the bloody results of this experiment would inspire a crisis of faith: in the country where they had absolute free reign, where there was no local government to blame, where economic reforms were introduced at their most shocking and most perfect, they created, instead of a model free market, a failed state no right-thinking investor would touch. And yet the Green Zone neocons and their masters in Washington are no more likely to reexamine their core beliefs than the Taliban mullahs were inclined to search their souls when their Islamic state slid into a debauched Hades of opium and sex slavery. When facts threaten true believers, they simply close their eyes and pray harder.

posted by y2karl at 1:51 PM on September 22, 2004


StsBalbach, -- The Philippine American War is only tenuously analogous. While the conduct of the war includes familiar elements, like atrocities against civilians, guerilla warfare, justifying the war on as a "White Man's Burden" crusade for freedom and civilization, and a general sense of angst over American's role as an imperial power, it's important to remember that the Philippine-American War represented America's debut as an empire, whereas the ongoing occupation of Iraq is a symbol of that power in its ascent.

International diplomacy in the late 19th/early 20th century was a markedly different creature than today's arena. The US occupied the Philippines because, back then, 'everyone was doing it.' In today's post-colonial times, this sort of ambition is an anachronism at best and dangerous at worst. How foreign pressure tempers or encourages the occupation plays a significant role.

Similarly, the stakes in the Philippines were much lower than they are in Iraq. While using the Philippines as a forward base for the Navy proved to be a prudent strategic move in building America's foreign presence, there wasn't this sense that if America lost the Philippines, that it would be forever relegated to the Imperial junior varsity company of the Ottomans and the Russians. They were going to get another chance when the Boxer Rebellion erupted, and they still had Pearl Harbor while World War I was still waiting around to grind France, England and the Germans into dust. Contrast that with Iraq, where the US is betting a great deal of international prestige as well as the psychological heatlh of its military corps and you can get a sense of why this isn't just some 'splendid little war', and why it is a test of an empire along the lines of Crimea, the French struggle in Indochina, and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

as an aside, I suspect that the book you're thinking of might be America's Splendid Little Wars, which isn't bad, but Stanley Karnow's older history of The Philippines, In Our Image, is more useful -- if only because it actually goes further into the aftermath of America's original experiment with exporting democracy and shows how convenient little compromises (like which power group you want to coddle) can lead to enduring, entrenched dysfunctionalities and corruption.
posted by bl1nk at 1:52 PM on September 22, 2004


The best analogy I've seen is the Philippine-American_War.

From the Wikipedia article:
no formal declaration of war was ever issued. Two reasons have been given for this. One is that calling the war the Philippine Insurrection made it appear to be a rebellion against a lawful government, when, in fact, the only part of the Philippines under American control was Manila. The other was to enable the American government to avoid liability to claims by veterans of the action.
Nah, I don't see any parallels there.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:07 PM on September 22, 2004


There are estimated to be some 25,000 guerrillas in Iraq engaged in concerted acts of violence. What if there were private armies[in the US] totalling 275,000 men, armed with machine guns, assault rifles (legal again!), rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar launchers?
Isn't this what the NRA does?

And less whining from some people about the links! If you have links that you can offer in refutation, then please do. Or am I missing the point of MeFi?
posted by meehawl at 3:29 PM on September 22, 2004


Why We Cannot Win

Before I begin, let me state that I am a soldier currently deployed in Iraq, I am not an armchair quarterback. Nor am I some politically idealistic and naïve young soldier, I am an old and seasoned Non-Commissioned Officer with nearly 20 years under my belt. Additionally, I am not just a soldier with a muds-eye view of the war, I am in Civil Affairs and as such, it is my job to be aware of all the events occurring in this country and specifically in my region.

I have come to the conclusion that we cannot win here for a number of reasons. Ideology and idealism will never trump history and reality...

The idea behind fighting a guerilla army is not to destroy its every man (an impossibility since he hides himself by day amongst the populace). Rather the idea in guerilla warfare is to erode or destroy his base of support.

So long as there is support for the guerilla, for every one you kill two more rise up to take his place. More importantly, when your tools for killing him are precision guided munitions, raids and other acts that create casualties among the innocent populace, you raise the support for the guerillas and undermine the support for yourself. (A 500-pound precision bomb has a casualty-producing radius of 400 meters minimum; do the math.)...

We have fallen victim to the body count mentality all over again. We have shown a willingness to inflict civilian casualties as a necessity of war without realizing that these same casualties create waves of hatred against us. These angry Iraqi citizens translate not only into more recruits for the guerilla army but also into more support of the guerilla army...

...we consistently underestimate the enemy and his capabilities. Many military commanders have prepared to fight exactly the wrong war here.

Our tactics have not adjusted to the battlefield and we are falling behind.

Meanwhile the enemy updates his tactics and has shown a remarkable resiliency and adaptability.

Because the current administration is more concerned with its image than it is with reality, it prefers symbolism to substance: soldiers are dying here and being maimed and crippled for life. It is tragic, indeed criminal that our elected public servants would so willingly sacrifice our nation's prestige and honor as well as the blood and treasure to pursue an agenda that is ahistoric and un-Constitutional.


Attacks disillusion Marines

Marine Cpl. Travis Friedrichsen, a sandy-haired 21-year-old from Denison, Iowa, used to take Tootsie Rolls and lollipops out of care packages from home and give them to Iraqi children. Not anymore. "My whole opinion of the people here has changed. There aren't any good people," said Friedrichsen, who says his first instinct now is to scan even youngsters' hands for weapons.

The subtle hostility extends to Iraqi adults, evidence some U.S. troops have second thoughts about their role here. "We're out here giving our lives for these people," said Sgt. Jesse Jordan, 25, of Grove Hill, Ala. "You'd think they'd show some gratitude. Instead, they don't seem to care."...

The acts of friendship that Marines undertook when they arrived in Ramadi now in some cases heighten their resentment toward the city's residents. After a series of ambushes one April day that killed a dozen Marines, Cpl. Jason Rodgers saw a familiar face among a group of slain attackers. The dead Iraqi, who was lying inches from a grenade, was a shopkeeper Rodgers had called on several times during foot patrols, he said. "I felt like I'd been betrayed, personally," said Rodgers, 22, of Susanville, Calif. "I'd stood there, talking to him, shaking his hand, giving his kid candy. And he'd been studying our moves the whole time."

posted by y2karl at 4:14 PM on September 22, 2004


The best analogy I've seen is the Philippine-American_War

There are some interesting parallels in terms of self-defeating attempts at crushing nationalist resistance, but I don't think anybody saw our adventure in the Philippines as a sign of weakness, which is the point I was trying to make with the Crimean analogy.

Or, what bl1nk said.
posted by languagehat at 4:21 PM on September 22, 2004


languagehat -- while we're aiming randomly at the Dartboard of Analogy, a guest poster on Tacitus.org threw up a neat, little thesis relating the insurgency in Iraq to Nazi attempts to pacify Yugoslavia during World War II. Their point being that Tito's partisans never had a hope of ejecting the Nazis from Yugoslavia, but they pinned down enough divisions and bled them deeply enough to severely damage Nazi efforts in Russia and the Western Front -- which relates quite well to questions about Iraq's drag on the general War on Terror.
posted by bl1nk at 5:10 PM on September 22, 2004


Virtually everyone - except the president and his administration, of course - is coming to realize that this war is the greatest foreign policy misstep since Vietnam. At least.

why didn't these conservatives who are now seeing the light pull their heads out of their asses a year and a half ago and smack some sense into their leader?

honestly, how many people here didn't think this mess in Iraq would be the expected result? how many of us were screaming "bad idea! horrible idea!" before the invasion? where the fuck did everyone's brains go for a year and a half?
posted by mrgrimm at 5:45 PM on September 22, 2004


why didn't these conservatives who are now seeing the light pull their heads out of their asses a year and a half ago and smack some sense into their leader?

Because after a national catastrophe (9/11) people of all stries were justifiably scared and willing to give the benefit of the doubt. I know that me and me my better half felt that way, but as time went on, the doubts grew stronger.

I don't ask anyone to justify what came out of that fear, but only to try and understand it, and how it grows stronger with every train bombing and beheadng we hear about on the evening news.

If you want what what you say to reach anybody beyond the already convinced, your going to have to understand where that fear comes from and confront it without condescencion or rancor. And that's all I've been trying to say for the past three years.
posted by jonmc at 7:29 PM on September 22, 2004


karl, I'm surprised you missed the latest polls, you're usually so fond of them and so quick to report the numbers. I wonder why you ignored this story:
The latest polling numbers released today by the Iraq office of the International Republican Institute highlight the democratic aspirations of the Iraqi people. These results are from a public opinion survey fielded throughout the nation between August 10th and 20th.

2,325 household interviews distributed across Iraq's 18 governorates form the basis of IRI's fourth nation-wide poll, conducted by the Independent Institute for Administrative and Civil Society Studies (IIACSS). Respondents were split nearly evenly between men and women, with 34% of respondents living in rural areas of the country.

IRI's poll shows that a large majority of Iraqis have a positive outlook on their young democracy and the elections that are to take place by January 2005. More than 77% of respondents feel that "regular, fair elections" would be the most important political right for the Iraqi people and 58% feel that democracy in Iraq is likely to succeed. When asked about the upcoming elections, 62.2% expressed confidence that their ballot selection would be kept secret and above 75% felt that the elections would reflect the will of the Iraqi people.

Iraqis remain optimistic about the future and committed to seeing Iraq through her democratic transition. 50% disagree with the statement that "my life was better before the war." In contrast to daily media reports of the hardships of today's Iraq, more than 70% of respondents would not leave their country if given the opportunity to live elsewhere. An overwhelming majority express an optimistic streak that belies foreign naysayers, with 75% expressing hopefulness about the future.

In measuring levels of trust for various civic organizations and leaders, teachers and university professors came out on top with 79.3% of respondents answering that they either "completely trust" or "somewhat trust" leaders in the education field. 78.5% of respondents expressed trust for religious leaders. The media and tribal leaders followed with 56.8% and 54.7% respectfully.

Government officials and governing bodies have also earned the trust of the Iraqi people. President Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawer and Prime Minister Ayed Allawi are "completely" or "somewhat" trusted by 68% and 60.6% respectfully. While IRI's July/August poll showed that Iraqis were concerned with security, the Iraqi Police and Army are well-placed to deal with these concerns, with 80.3% and 71.6% of respondents expressing trust for the Iraqi men and women trying to bring about peace. The Interim Government of Iraq (IGI) is trusted by 65.1% of Iraqi citizens. Iraqi courts and judges -- critical in implementing the rule of law in Iraq -- maintain the trust of 64.4% of respondents.
My my, you must really be dreading those coming elections, even more than you must be dreading the re-election in November.
posted by David Dark at 11:17 PM on September 22, 2004


My understanding, based on a variety of sources, but mainly one Iraqi ex-patriot I met and talked to one day, is that while those who expressed views in opposition to those of Saddam did face many dangers and horrors, for the 'average' Iraqi who went to work in the morning and home in the evening to see his family, Iraq was not that bad a place to live.

sycophant, I don't disagree with this assessment at all. It actually goes hand in hand with my point. Iraq was only dangerous and horrible if you dared to oppose Saddam. Granted. I'm not suggesting that people were randomly taken off the street, quite the opposite. It was very ordered, very predictable as to what kinds of behavior would lead to horror and danger, what kinds of behavior would lead to security and relative safety. And I'm sure people learned very quickly how to maximize their chances of living out their lives in relative peace, by adhering to one simple rule. Do not oppose. Mind your own business. Don't stand out. Avoid eye contact. Blend in. Not unlike our own cities, but here the hassle we're trying to avoid is a speeding ticket or the homeless guy asking for money. There, it was torture and death.

This went on for decades. Think of how quickly human beings acquire habits, and how difficult those habits can be to break. When I say that the average Iraqi mindset was to avoid conflict, I don't mean that they were cowering in the darkness, too terrified to move for the chaotic lawlessness of the state. I mean that avoiding conflict necessarily became a primary survival instinct for anyone, but especially those military-aged men living in Iraq today, who have literally spent their entire lives learning to live under the one simple premise that would allow them to avoid the tyranny of the powerful. This is not something that can be undone quickly, or easily. I would guess it is practically instinctual for a lot of them at this point. If I was more of a pessimist, I'd tell you I'm not even sure that it's possible to undo that kind of ingrained psychological process.
posted by David Dark at 11:54 PM on September 22, 2004


Maybe if we all carried a Spyderco Delica Lightweight in our pocket everyday, we would feel tough enough, eh?

Hell, karl, it's worth a shot. There's not much hope in your case, but it is a damn good knife, so either way you win.
posted by David Dark at 12:38 AM on September 23, 2004


3 x post POWERUP!!!
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:02 AM on September 23, 2004


jonmc: I'm glad that you have come around to the sensible way of thinking, but the fact remains that it was people like you who uncritically allowed Bush to start this little adventure. While the outcome was blindingly obvious to many of us, I will allow that some people really did think that Iraq could be turned into a democratic, America-friendly, secular state. (It appears that David Dark still does.)

However, there was one simple test you could have done, and that was: show me the evidence. If Bush and his cronies could have come up with one convincing piece of evidence that supported war, perhaps it would have influenced a lot of opposition. That they couldn't was telling.

The fear and paranoia that gripped you after 911 is still apparent in American policy - for example in not allowing Cat Stevens to enter the country. Policy making should never be made without a cool, rational head.
posted by salmacis at 2:36 AM on September 23, 2004


David -- I thought it was supposed to be antiwar liberals who believed that Iraqis were incapable of democracy. ;p

though, as someone who has grown up in a dictatorship (Marcos-era Philippines) I'd say the psychology of repression is less of a factor in complicating democratic reforms, and that tribalism is a more significant obstacle. Repression only lasts as long as the tyrant, and can usually be remedied by encouraging entrepreneurship (where individuals learn to take ownership of their trade) while nurturing existing forms of civic duty. The two go together like peanut butter and chocolate, and they can be pretty good in wiping out the bad taste of tyranny.

But complicated relationships of loyalty to clan and faith tend to linger and have a habit of corrupting the democratic process; because they encourage cronyism and strongman politics. Tribal and feudal structures are generally poor vehicles for centralized politics, and historically only come together for common defense, led by he who has the biggest army or the strongest force of personality. Consider all of those prior rumors of Allawi personally executing prisoners to show that he was a tough guy. That's less a Saddam thing and more of a "I'm a bad-ass Shaykh" thing, and it can prove to be quite pernicious and troublesome if it's not nipped in the bud.

So, get over this fixation on Saddam and look at the current factors that are hampering democratic reforms in Iraq. Even if you removed the insurgency and chaos, you'd still have a fractured, dysfunctional array of chieftains, imams and financiers-in-exile trying to sort out who they should trust and who's in who's pocket. You still have the potential for a failed state, and that's a problem that goes far beyond Saddam.
posted by bl1nk at 6:16 AM on September 23, 2004


bl1nk: Thanks much for the Tacitus link; I hereby withdraw my vague Crimean analogy in the face of that detailed analysis (and he alludes to another excellent parallel from 200 years ago: "Yugoslavia turned into Hitler's Peninsular Campaign" -- I assume he means Napoleon's abortive, guerrilla-harassed occupation of Spain rather than McClellan's abortive 1862 attack on Richmond, which doesn't seem like much of a parallel).

Dartboard of Analogy -- heh!
posted by languagehat at 8:38 AM on September 23, 2004


IRAQI SECURITY FORCES OR ARVN?

Now for the big question. Do the recruits to the Iraqi security forces possess the necessary political will to fight for the new Iraq? That is, are they invested enough in the Allawi-driven future of Iraq that even when faced with more powerful attackers from the insurgency, they'll stand and fight? That's a different question from whether they're capable of fighting. If they're willing but not able, all we need to do is make them able, which is relatively easy. If they're not willing, we're in big trouble. The caveat is that ability affects willingness--if you know you're outgunned and have little hope of survival, it makes sense to run away. What stops people from doing this is a sense that what they're fighting for is worth dying for. So while it's not easy to disentangle willingness from ability, all the RPGs, armor, and training on the planet won't make an unwilling Iraqi policeman or national guardsman successful against the insurgency.

There are some indications--not conclusive ones, but they're there--that our problem with the Iraqi security forces is a problem of will. A potent rationale for many recruits to the security forces is an unemployment rate of at least 45 percent. For an untold number of recruits, the motivation isn't to rebuild and protect Iraq, but to put food on the table. And you collect a paycheck whether you fight or not. An ominous sign is that the interim government has stopped releasing desertion figures to the public.


Kidnapped by Ansar Al-Islam: How Scott Taylor Survived and Was Saved in Iraq

CD: Based on your experiences, what can you say about the composition of the resistance in that part of Iraq? What are their motivations and goals?

ST: The core of the resistance was made up of Islamic religious fundamentalists. Most are Turkmen, but note that they are not Turkmen nationalists. According to the leader, who told me that their group is in fact part of Ansar Al-Islam, Osama and Al-Zarqawi are their brothers. So religion supercedes nationalism.

While many of the fighters may be Turkmen, they are fighting for Allah, and they are cooperating with anyone else, be it Kurd or Arab, similarly motivated by jihad against the Americans.

CD: So after all the American talk about Islamic terrorism thriving in Iraq, this was the real thing, huh?

ST: When I saw the level of organization and apparent troop numbers, and how everyone is prepared to die – these guys aren't bullshitting. All the stuff we were told before the war about how the Ba'athists would all gladly die for Saddam, well that obviously didn't turn out to be the case. But these guys, these fundamentalists, are fighting to die. This is a very potent weapon.

Worse, the American invasion has actually created this terrorism because it substantiated over time all the ugliest scenarios that the radical clerics were warning about. People being crushed by tanks, U.S. soldiers breaking down doors, violating the sanctity of the home, abusing civilians, etc., seeing all this go down has an effect. And so the strong anti-American attitude of the clerics started to seem justified to previously disinterested local people by events on the ground, and you have religion emerge as the single cause capable of uniting members of ethnic groups who'd previously been fighting only one another.

CD: So, as you've said many times in the past, the Americans have brought this upon themselves. Did you witness anything to attest to this new cooperation among the resistance?

ST: Everywhere we went, it was obvious that the militants had the full cooperation of the U.S.-trained Iraqi police. Whenever we transited outside the city, to the corners of Mosul or the checkpoints, the cops would see us bound in the back seats – and offer cigarettes to our captors! We'd be flanked by these gauntlets of teenage boys, cheering and banging on the roofs. It was clear that there's a lot of cooperation between Arab police and Turkmen fundamentalists...

CD: So if the resistance is so large and diverse, and is at very least supported by Iraqi police "loyal" to the U.S., what chance do the Americans actually have?

ST: I learned that the Iraqi police on the checkpoints were contributing part of their salary to the resistance's local leader, the emir. After all, they're whacking the crap out of these police recruits all over the place throughout Iraq, so it's partially protection money.

One guy was laughing at me and saying how ironic it is that the Americans are being attacked with RPGs purchased with their own money. Sad to say, the U.S. taxpayer is actually funding the Iraqi resistance. By paying these cops' salaries, U.S. taxpayers are actually helping to buy the weapons that are killing American soldiers every day.

CD: Incredible. It can't get worse than that.

ST: I don't know, maybe it can. Consider also that my mujahedin captors told me in advance the exact time the U.S. air strikes would hit them. I said, "How the hell you know?" To which the guy laughed and said, "Don't be stupid, of course we know." They have infiltrated U.S. command even...

Yet at the end of the day, the point is that they've got the courage and the will to die in battle. Indeed, at one point when we were being switched from car to car at a desert convoy rendezvous, two of the cars were loaded up with explosives and four aspiring suicide bombers, all set to go back to Tal Afar and wreak carnage on the Americans. And you know what? The ones left behind with us were so sad. It was like they were envious that it wasn't their turn to die yet.

CD: You really can't fight against that, can you.

ST: Not for an army like the American one, whose soldiers are fighting to live. And the worst thing for the U.S. is that their heavy-handed tactics have radicalized the population, so that local Turkmen guys who previously had no strong religious fervor are now willing to die as martyrs. Unlike what the Pentagon is saying, I saw no foreign fighters there. When we were imprisoned, we were housed by local people, in their own homes. Their mothers and wives were doing the cooking and exhorting their sons to go out and die as martyrs. It's hopeless for the U.S.

posted by y2karl at 9:11 AM on September 23, 2004


The latest polling numbers released today by the Iraq office of the International Republican Institute
The organization is almost exclusively funded by the U.S. government and related agencies. IRI's stated mission is to "support the growth of political and economic freedom, good governance and human rights around the world by educating people, parties and governments on the values and practices of democracy." However, it has also been linked to efforts to foment a violent military coup in Haiti. Max Blumenthal reports that Stanley Lucas is the program officer for the I.R.I.'s Haiti program.
posted by meehawl at 9:13 AM on September 23, 2004


One guy was laughing at me and saying how ironic it is that the Americans are being attacked with RPGs purchased with their own money. Sad to say, the U.S. taxpayer is actually funding the Iraqi resistance.
One thing that struck me in Bright Shining Lie was the analysis of "Vietnamization" as one of the best resupply mechanisms for the NLF resistance in southern Vietnam. It describes the process whereby local rebel leaders would extract tithes of arms and munitions from local, well-supplied police and national guard stations. The administrators in those stations would then fabricate detailed accounts of engagements with local "enemy factions" and submit them to the Pentagon. The Pentagon would then resupply the stations with new arms and munitions.

Obviously the greater expenditure of material, the greater the "success" of the local counter-insurgency. As a result, resupply efforts doubled and re-doubled, all the while making the NLF stronger.

Who's paying for the Iraqi police's bullets?
posted by meehawl at 1:38 PM on September 23, 2004


This, by the way, is at the core of the first link:

At the same time it was choosing Allawi as prime minister, the Bush administration effectively jettisoned the TAL. The administration had put itself in an impossible position with respect to its own creation. In 2003, at the request of the United States and Great Britain, the United Nations Security Council acknowledged that the US-led coalition was the occupying power in Iraq. As a general principle of international law, occupying powers are not allowed to make permanent, or irreversible, changes in an occupied country. Occupying powers cannot cede territory, sell assets, or make permanent law. Thus all law made by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) expired when the occupation ended on June 28.

In order for the Transitional Administrative Law to be valid after the end of the occupation, it needed Security Council endorsement. In the 1990s, the Security Council granted other international administrations (Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor) lawmaking powers but the Bush administration, having alienated its allies, did not obtain this authority in the original 2003 UN Security Council resolution. In June 2004, when the Security Council considered the resolution restoring Iraqi sovereignty, the Bush administration decided not to seek an endorsement of the TAL (and other CPA-passed laws), ignoring pleas from pro-democracy Iraqis. It made that decision in deference to the Ayatollah Sistani, who does not want an elected, Shiite-dominated assembly to be in any way constrained by the American-created interim constitution. In particular, Sistani objected to provisions in the TAL that would make it difficult to create an Islamic state and would require a permanent constitution acceptable not just to the majority Shiites but also to the Kurds and Sunni Arabs.

To mollify Iraq's Kurds, who had placed great stock in the TAL, Allawi agreed to "apply" it for the duration of his government. He has turned down Kurdish requests that it be enacted into law. And even if he did enact the TAL, he cannot commit the elected assembly that will follow his interim government to accepting it. For the Kurds, the most important provisions of the TAL were precisely those that ensure the continuation of a secular and democratic Kurdistan even after the national elections.

How did the Bush administration invest so much in the TAL and then find itself forced to abandon it? It appears that Bremer never realized that his decrees would not legally outlast the occupation. It was a rookie's mistake caused, as with so many other CPA failures, by the lack of expertise on the part of his staff. The TAL was largely the responsibility of two of Bremer's assistants (dubbed "the west wingers"), one an extremely capable but relatively junior Foreign Service officer and the other a young political appointee from the Pentagon's stable of neoconservative nation-builders. Imbued with grand ideas such as remaking the Iraqi judiciary with a US-style Supreme Court, they apparently neglected to consult an international lawyer.

The Bush administration's recruitment of staff for the CPA is one of the great scandals of the American occupation, although it has so far received little attention from the press. Republican political connections counted for far more than professional competence, relevant international experience, or knowledge of Iraq. In May, The Washington Post ran an account of three young people recruited for service in the CPA by e-mail, without interviews, security clearances, or relevant experience. They ended up responsible for spending Iraq's budget; because they knew little about the country or about financial procedures, they did so slowly. The failure to spend money was of course the source of enormous frustration to jobless Iraqis and undoubtedly produced recruits for the insurgency. According to the Post, the threesome, who included the daughter of a prominent conservative activist, had never applied to go to Iraq and could not figure out how they were selected. Finally they realized that the one thing they had in common was that they had applied for jobs at the conservative Heritage Foundation, which had kept their resumes on file.

posted by y2karl at 1:50 PM on September 23, 2004


From Hell:

Reconstruction, the most important step on the path to a sovereign and stable Iraq, has all but stalled because of targeted acts of violence that reach all the way south to Basra and north to Mosul. Successful countermoves by the Sunni insurgents have prevented the United States and new Iraqi government from gaining any real political support. In fact, billions of dollars originally allocated for reconstruction are now headed for security companies, which are quickly becoming private militias. Unfortunately for optimistic planners in the Bush administration, the coalition is up against not one single group but a constellation of allied militias. It's as if the United States had gone to war against the tribal system itself. There are so many new fighter cells that they are at a loss to distinguish themselves, and so use kidnapping and videotapes as branding strategies. In this market, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Tawhid wa al Jihad, with its monstrous beheading trademark, is the undisputed brand king. Some of the groups are crazier than others. It is a free market of demons.

In the past year, al-Qaida operatives have found in Iraq a fertile recruiting ground, the best possible training camp for jihad against the West, a destination any angry young man can reach if he has the will and pocket money. Iraq's borders, which stretch across hundreds of miles of empty desert, are perfect for smugglers and men seeking martyrdom. No one really knows how many people are coming into Iraq to fight the U.S. But the fighters who do make it across are changing the character of the resistance, internationalizing it, injecting religious extremism into the politics of a once-secular Iraq. Young men coming in from other countries don't fight for Iraq, they fight for Islam.

One of the unutterable truths for the administration is that the U.S. occupation is breeding and fueling insurgent groups. Iraqi government officials rightly fear for their lives, but Iraqi forces, which are supposed to be fighting alongside U.S. troops in the cause of a free and democratic Iraq, are often undisciplined, dangerous and in some places infiltrated by insurgent groups. The Mahdi Army in Sadr City has a number of police officers in its ranks, and in a little remarked upon event that took place during one of the large demonstrations in Baghdad at the time of the siege, the Iraqi police helped Sadr officials address a crowd of Muqtada al-Sadr supporters outside the neutral Green Zone.

On Aug. 13, with U.S. troops looking on, a Mahdi Army sheik urged the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr to go to Najaf to support the men occupying the shrine. He used a public address system in the back of a police pickup to get his message across. The fighters were yelling and grabbing at journalists, proud that the police were on their side, and they wanted us to take note. Above us, in their watchtowers, Iraqi police hung pictures of Muqtada al-Sadr and waved to the crowd. The organizers of the rally were overjoyed.

Fringe groups, extreme groups, associations with the most vocal opposition to the U.S. occupation, steadily acquire more legitimacy in Iraq because they tend to express the true feelings of many Iraqis. Not everyone takes part in the fighting, but many people understand why the groups choose to fight. Jobs in the Iraqi National Guard and the Iraqi police tend to attract poor men who desperately need the money, while the insurgents attract believers, men who feel wronged and humiliated by the U.S. occupation, and who will work for nothing. They are volunteers. Which emotion is stronger?

posted by y2karl at 9:01 PM on September 23, 2004


Inexcusable failure: Progress in training the Iraqi army and security forces as of mid-July 2004

Anthony H. Cordesman
Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy
Center for Strategic and International Studies

One can argue the decision to disband the Iraqi military forces. The Iraqi military had largely disintegrated by mid-April 2003. Most of the regular forces dependent on conscripts had collapsed because of mass desertions; the heavier units in the regular army were largely ineffective and suffered from both desertions and massive looting. The Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard units have been defeated in the field and were too political to preserve.

The fact remains, however, that the US-led coalition cannot be excused for its failure to reconstitute effective security forces and police, for trying to restrict the development of Iraqi armed forces to a token force to defend Iraq's borders against external aggression, or for ignoring the repeated warnings from US military advisory teams about problems in the flow of equipment and in creating the necessary facilities. The US failed to treat the Iraqis as partners in the counterinsurgency effort for nearly a year, and did not attempt to seriously train and equip Iraqi forces for proactive security and counterinsurgency mission until April 2004 - nearly a year after the fall of Saddam Hussein and two-thirds of a year after a major insurgency problem began to emerge...

The US wasted precious time waiting for its own forces to defeat a threat that it treated as the product of a small number of former regime loyalists (FRLs) and foreign volunteers, and felt it could solve without creating effective Iraqi forces. For nearly a year, the US acted as if the insurgency was not nationalist in character, and was small and unpopular, and would go away once the US and the rest of the MNF defeated it without serious Iraqi aid.

In many ways, the Administration's senior spokesmen still seem to live in a fantasyland in terms of its public announcements, talking about an insurgent force of 5,000 - when both Iraqi intelligence and US intelligence in Iraq quote figures of from 15,000 to 35,000. It still exaggerates the foreign threat and role of Al Qaida, in spite of the fact only a small fraction of detainees and those killed are foreign and Zarqawi's ties to Al Qaida seem limited to loose affiliation. For example, only 50 men out of the 3,800 the 82nd Airborne apprehended in the Sunni triangle area were foreign...

posted by y2karl at 9:28 PM on September 23, 2004


George Bush's vision of the liberation of Iraq has melted before harsh facts. But reality cannot be allowed to obscure the image. The liberation is "succeeding", he insists, and only pessimists cannot see it.--Sid Blumenthal in the Guardian
posted by amberglow at 5:11 AM on September 24, 2004


karl, I'm surprised you missed the latest polls, you're usually so fond of them and so quick to report the numbers. I wonder why you ignored this story:

The latest polling numbers released today by the Iraq office of the International Republican Institute


from June and July--your concept of latest is a little delica lightweight different than mine.

Here is some current information:

Violence in Iraq Belies Claims of Calm, Data Show

Less than four months before planned national elections in Iraq, attacks against U.S. troops, Iraqi security forces and private contractors number in the dozens each day and have spread to parts of the country that had been relatively peaceful, according to statistics compiled by a private security firm working for the U.S. government.

Attacks over the past two weeks have killed more than 250 Iraqis and 29 U.S. military personnel, according to figures released by Iraq's Health Ministry and the Pentagon. A sampling of daily reports produced during that period by Kroll Security International for the U.S. Agency for International Development shows that such attacks typically number about 70 each day. In contrast, 40 to 50 hostile incidents occurred daily during the weeks preceding the handover of political authority to an interim Iraqi government on June 28, according to military officials.

Reports covering seven days in a recent 10-day period depict a nation racked by all manner of insurgent violence, from complex ambushes involving 30 guerrillas north of Baghdad on Monday to children tossing molotov cocktails at a U.S. Army patrol in the capital's Sadr City slum on Wednesday. On maps included in the reports, red circles denoting attacks surround nearly every major city in central, western and northern Iraq, except for Kurdish-controlled areas in the far north. Cities in the Shiite Muslim-dominated south, including several that had undergone a period of relative calm in recent months, also have been hit with near-daily attacks.

In number and scope, the attacks compiled in the Kroll reports suggest a broad and intensifying campaign of insurgent violence that contrasts sharply with assessments by Bush administration officials and Iraq's interim prime minister that the instability is contained to small pockets of the country.

posted by y2karl at 7:06 AM on September 26, 2004


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