April 24, 2007

Ruminations On the State of Things In Iraq

Hatched by Dafydd

Most of this post derives from several sources:

  • Historian Arthur Herman's article in the Wall Street Journal, "How to Win In Iraq (and How to Lose);"
  • Weekly Standard contributing editor and AEI scholar Fred Kagan's article in the current issue of the Weekly Standard, "Friends, Enemies and Spoilers." (Hat tip to frequent commenter Tomy for drawing our attention to this article.)
  • Previous posts by Big Lizards or articles by Bill Roggio and Michael Yon (as linked at the time);
  • What I see in the mainstream media, including Fox News, filtered through the knowledge base formed by the sources above.

Just as the title indicates, I'm simply looking at the current state of things in Iraq -- which is not only not "deteriorating," as the elites would have us believe; it's pretty good and is getting better; at the end, I'll mention a few things we can all do to help keep things moving in the right direction...

So what is this "new strategy" anyway?

We have already discussed, in How to Win/Lose In Iraq (based upon the Herman article), that the new counterinsurgency strategy envisions a very different way of fighting a war. First and foremost, in counterinsurgency, the emphasis is upon maintaining everyday security on the streets -- "clear and hold" -- rather than on hunting down and killing bad guys (the "search and destroy" tactics we used unsuccessfully early in the Vietnam war).

Sometimes clear and hold demands searching out and destroying a particular enemy; but on other days, it may demand adjudicating disputes between neighbors or neighboring tribes, engaging in simple policing in some dangerous areas, reconstruction and clean-up, police and army recruiting, training Iraqis in modern economics, marketing, and business practices, and so forth.

A second element of counterinsurgency is to deliberately mingle Iraqi and American forces to a tremendous degree, at Joint Security Stations (JSSs), as Kagan explains in the Weekly Standard article:

The new plan pushes most U.S. forces out into the population. Americans and Iraqis are establishing Joint Security Stations and Joint Combat Outposts throughout Baghdad. U.S. and Iraqi soldiers eat, sleep, and plan together in these outposts and then conduct mounted and dismounted patrols continually, day and night, throughout their assigned neighborhoods. In Joint Security Stations I visited in the Hurriya neighborhood, in the Shiite Khadimiya district, American and Iraqi soldiers sleep in nearly adjoining rooms with unlocked and unguarded doors between them.

Being constantly seen in and among the Iraqi population, while we're doing everything we can to maintain the security of ordinary Iraqis and help them in their daily lives, we obtain far more intelligence tips; Americans are seen more as "part of the solution" than "the big problem." Kagan notes that since the counterinsurgency operation began, "[intelligence] tips have gone up dramatically over the past two months, from both Sunnis and Shiites."

Second, the basic strategy of counterinsurgency, as developed by French Lt.Col. David Galula, envisions a particular way of looking at the war in order to concentrate our forces:

Galula divided his own district into zones: "white," where government control was complete or nearly complete; "pink," where insurgents competed with the government for control; and "red," where the insurgents were in complete control. A successful counterinsurgency involved turning pink zones into white zones, then red into pink, through a block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood struggle to force the terrorists into the shadows.

Besides a continuous and visible military presence and the red-pink-white model, the third element of counterinsurgency is a sense of inevitability about our eventual victory -- so more and more terrorist supporters jump ship and come to our side instead. The large number of Sunni tribal leaders who have broken from al-Qaeda and now fight against it, along with the formation of an explicitly anti-al-Qaeda Sunni political party (see below), are strong signals that the third element is working as well.

So how goes it, mate?

Drive-by media sources I read earlier said that three of the projected five new brigades have now been deployed to Iraq, and Kagan and Roggio confirm this.

Now, if a person imagines that the "surge" consists of nothing more than adding a few troops to the same failed strategy -- I name no names, but refer you to a senator whose initials are Harry "Pinky" Mason Reid -- he might be tempted to believe that the "surge" is 60% completed, and that the 40% reduction in sectarian violence is all that it will accomplish.

That opinion betrays ignorance of the counterinsurgency strategy itself. Kagan notes that the real heavy lifting has yet to begin:

Most of the military operations of recent months have been laying the groundwork for clear-and-hold operations that will be the centerpiece of the new plan. Coalition and Iraqi forces have targeted al Qaeda and other Sunni insurgent cells in Baghdad, in their bases around the capital, and in Anbar, Salahaddin, and Diyala provinces. They have established positions throughout Baghdad and swept a number of neighborhoods in a preliminary fashion. They have begun placing concrete barriers around problematic neighborhoods to restrict access and change traffic flow to support future operations. Targeted raids have removed a number of key leaders from the Shiite militias as well, reducing the effectiveness of Sadr's organization, which was already harmed by his hasty departure for Iran early this year....

Major clear-and-hold operations are scheduled to begin in late May or June, and will take weeks to complete, area by area. After that, it may be many more weeks before their success at establishing security can be judged.

In other words, the very significant drop in sectarian murder we have seen in the last two months has not been due to the actual clear-and-hold strategy, turning red to pink and pink to white, because that phase has not even started yet. Rather, the drop in murders is the result of mere preliminaries, "laying the groundwork" for the major operation to come.

This bodes very, very well: When we shift from groundwork-laying to insurgent clearing, the bad guys will face an assault many times harder than what they have experienced to date... and they're already being disrupted and dispersed!

Evolution in action

Naturally, as with any battle plan, this one has not survived first contact intact: We are already making changes as the enemy responds. Fortunately, Gen. Petraeus's strategy is flexible enough to accomodate.

When al-Qaeda in Iraq reacted to the troop buildup by fleeing Baghdad to the southern suburbs and nearby towns, and also northward into Diyala province, we responded by redirecting some of the American and Iraqi Army troops to reinforce those areas.

When the leaders of both the Mahdi Militia (Muqtada Sadr) and the Badr Organization (Abdul Aziz al-Hakim) ordered their terrorist groups to stand down and not fight us, we seized the advantage to make more thorough pre-sweeps through Shiite areas, such as Sadr City, a neighborhood within Baghdad.

And as Iran began to take a more aggressive and explicit role in the fighting in Iraq -- shipping explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) to Shiite militias, training insurgents to build their own EFPs, and even sending the Iranian Revolutionary Guards "Qods Force" into Iraq to train and even fight alongside Iraqi insurgents -- we began methodically hunting them down, capturing a number of high-ranking Iranians and infuriating President Ahmadinejad... a sure sign that those operations were successful.

What about more generally?

The Iraqi Assembly of Representatives is not only stable, it's growing stronger as more and more Sunnis come to accept it as the legitimate government. There is no sign of any popularly supported attempt to overthrow it; no Hussein-like "strongman" looks likely to seize control.

When the six members of the government who were also top players in the Mahdi Militia resigned their portfolios, on Muqtada Sadr's orders, Sadr announced that this would cause the government to collapse. It did not, and there is no sign of a motion of no confidence.

Rather, the Shia-dominated government has moved to take firmer control of the Iraq National Police, which used to have a serious problem with Shiite-militia infiltration. From the Kagan article (reparagraphed for clarity):

[S]ectarian killings have dropped because of dramatically increased partnership between the Iraqi police, the Iraqi army, and American forces. The Iraqi police were heavily implicated in the killings; the Iraqi army less so.

U.S. forces do not tolerate such behavior. The partnership has helped American units identify individuals within the Iraqi police and army who have participated in atrocities. As these individuals are identified, U.S. and Iraqi leaders work to prepare evidence packets to support their arrest, detention, and conviction.

As a result, the Baghdad Security Plan is supporting efforts to weed out the worst elements from the Iraqi Security Forces. In some cases, entire police units have been pulled off line, vetted, and "re-blued"--that is, retrained after the removal of known felons and militia infiltrators. In this way, the security plan is improving the quality of the Iraqi Security Forces, which is essential to giving these forces legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people.

This can only occur through the close cooperation of American and Iraqi forces at all levels.

The Iraqi demand that we create courtroom-ready "evidence packets" to go after the infiltrators, rather than just using military intelligence to pick them up as enemy combatants, is actually a very good sign: It means that the Iraqis no longer think of Iraq as a country under occupation, but rather as a sovereign nation that must operate under the rule of law, not "military expediency."

In my opinion, the same is true regarding Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's decision to stop the construction of the ugly, prison-like wall surrounding the Sunni Baghdad community of Adhamiya, which is next to the radical Shiite community of Sadr City: While such "barriers" certainly are effective -- there's no denying that -- you cannot wall off all the dangerous areas of Baghdad or Iraq, because then you have de facto partitioned the country.

Maliki called for "other means of protection for the neighborhoods." I suspect what will actually result is a compromise: less intrusive fencing with sensors, better gating to isolate approaching vehicles and minimize the impact of a car bomb exploding at the gate itself, and more cross-neighborhood patrols of national and local police. I believe this would better serve to bring Iraq together than would a series of walled-off "Baghdad bantustans." (Bill Roggio disagrees, seeing the wall as "a crucial component of the Baghdad security plan.")

The same Roggio piece above notes the formation of a new Sunni political party that is specifically anti-al-Qaeda:

In Iraq's Anbar province, the Anbar Salvation Council continues to gain steam in its fight against al Qaeda. Seven new tribes have just joined the Anbar Salvation Council's political movement, the Anbar Awakening. Last week, the Anbar Salvation Council announced it was forming the Iraq Awakening, a national political party which would "oppose insurgents such as Al Qaeda in Iraq and reengage with Iraq's political process." The Iraq Awakening is scheduled to meet in May, and will be the first Sunni political party to openly oppose al Qaeda in Iraq.

The oil-revenue-sharing bill continues to work its way through the Iraqi parliament. This is the most critical economic compromise that must be wrought, determining whether the Sunnis of Iraq will have any access at all to the Iraqi economy: Needless to say, if they don't, they will have no incentive whatsoever to remain bound by ties of nationalism to the rest of Iraq. Failure to enact this bill would be a death-blow to a free and democratic Iraq.

Fortunately, the Shia and the Kurds -- who control all the oil -- recognize this necessity, and the party leaders have agreed upon a plan (the one mentioned above). There also appears to be broad general agreement on the principle of "un-de-Baathification," allowing former members of the Baath Party who have no blood on their hands to rejoin society... just as Germany eventually had to allow low-level ex-Nazis, most of whom only joined because it was necessary to conduct business, to eventually rejoin German society.

We are still waiting, however, for significant movement towards nationwide local elections.

Democrats gone wild

Looking ahead, there is very little that the Democratic majority in Congress can do to prevent us from fighting this war for at least the next two years:

  • Unlike in 1973 and 1975, Congress does not have a cowed or compliant president to sign its defeatist bills; President Bush has promised to veto any bill that seeks to impose an artificial timetable for withdrawal or undercut the authority of the Commander in Chief to conduct war;
  • Also unlike the end of Vietnam, there is no significant number of Republicans so anxious to surrender that they are willing to defy their own president to override a veto; there is virtual Republican unanimity on that point;
  • The Democrats in Congress, while they have the majority, do not have the overpowering majority they did in the mid-70s; in fact, their margin in each house is slim: in the Senate, 49 Democrats and two Independents who caucus with the Democrats (51%); and in the House, 232 Democrats (53%). By contrast, back in the 94th Congress (elected in 1974), the Senate was 60% Democratic, while the House was one representative shy of 67% Democratic.
  • Many of the Democrats in both House and Senate were elected or reelected from fairly conservative districts in 2006... districts that certainly don't favor enforced defeat in the Iraq war;
  • The Democrats' willing accomplices in the humiliation of America -- the elite media -- no longer enjoy an information monopoly, as they did back in the 70s; there is no "Uncle Walter" to tell Americans that we have already lost the war... just an Ugly Stepfather Harry Reid;
  • Despite the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Bush administration about what would happen if supplementary war funding weren't approved by April 15th, in reality, the president has a wide latitude of spending power within Congressional appropriations: He can shift funds around from elsewhere in the military budget to cover ongoing operations for more or less the entire remainder of his term;
  • But he won't have to do -- since the Democrats do not dare do anything to get the "anti-military" label slapped across their mugs again; not with a tight election coming up! The public attitude towards our military is very, very different today than it was in the mid-70s;
  • And even the longer-term future looks brighter than it did at the end of the Vietnam "tunnel": While some conservatives are disenchanted with George W. Bush and less than enthusiastic about Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and especially John McCain, conservative despair is nowhere near the depths it was during the Watergate-dominated periods of the administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. Conservatives will vote -- which they did not do in 1976, once Ford defeated Ronald Reagan for the GOP nomination. There is, thus, a very good chance that the tide will turn again, and Republicans retain the presidency, retake the Senate, and maybe even retake the House as well;
  • Finally -- and most important -- today, we have the horrible example of Vietnam and what happened in the aftermath of our shameful surrender, which we can throw in the faces of those counseling just such a betrayal in Iraq.

But what can I do?

All those who support the war can do their part to help win it by refraining from, on the one hand, schoolmarmish hectoring of every wartime decision the Commander in Chief makes, and on the other, Edvard Munch-like despair at every setback. (Republicans are especially prone to the latter.) Remember that we still get most (not all) of our news from the elite media, and they have a vested economic and class interest in forcing a humiliating loss for America. Don't trust them to tell the truth.

Send or raise money for organizations like Soldiers' Angels that support our troops in the field. Press your local churches, synogogues, mosques, and civic groups to similarly support the troops, whether or not they support the war.

Keep abreast of what is happening in both the larger war on global jihad and the individual wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by reading books, newspapers and magazines, and especially non-MSM sources such as Bill Roggio and Michael Yon (now sometimes carried by Dean Barnett at Hugh Hewitt's blog).

The next time Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Silvestre Reyes doesn't know -- or care -- whether al-Qaeda is predominently Sunni and Shia, I want every questioner at the townhall meeting to be able to educate him. Maybe it will eventually stick.

If you have a Republican representative or senator, write him immediately and repeatedly, demanding that he support the war effort and refuse to join with Democrats who want to see us defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan. Use your superior knowledge base to point out the terrible catastrophe premature withdrawal would create.

If you have a Democrat in both positions, but you live in a nominally conservative or patriotic district, then write them both anyway. Who knows? Our pal above, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, actually supported a troop increase of 20,000 - 30,000 men, back in December, 2006.

If you live in San Francisco or Boston, write to fence-sitting members of Congress on either side of the aisle. If they're cowardly enough to be afraid of the war, they should be cowardly enough to be afraid of an outraged electorate, too!

Blog (or at least comment) in favor of fighting the war by the smartest means possible (which I personally think is Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy at the moment, but that's up to you).

Talk to your liberal friends about the war (yes, you "have to"). It's not enough to preach to the choir; you must preach to the anti-war "sinners." Don't hector them; but let them know that it is not a given that the war is "lost," that in fact it's going pretty well; that the Iraqis and the United States are both much better off with Saddam dead; that this is an existential fight; that the Democratic leadership really does want us to lose (look at Majority Leader Harry Reid); and so forth. Not every liberal wants to commit cultural suicide... look at Mort Kondracke and Joe Lieberman.

The biggest danger is if Republicans in Congress lose heart or misplace their courage, and the bulwark against despair or cowardice is a high morale. It would be humiliating indeed if those not even under fire sank into low morale at the very time our troops' morale is high. So don't do it, and don't let your congressional representatives or your governor do it.

Hold your head high; you're not being shot at. Be the eyes, the ears, and especially the mouth of reason and courage.

And that's the way it is, April 24th, 2007, in what is still the greatest nation that has ever existed on this planet.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 24, 2007, at the time of 5:38 PM

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Tracked on June 3, 2007 1:10 AM


The following hissed in response by: Binder

You've misspelled Galula's name just before the second block quote from Herman.

Otherwise, another fine article, Dafydd.

The above hissed in response by: Binder [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 24, 2007 7:59 PM

The following hissed in response by: Sachi



Bill Roggio at Weekly Standard writes, some defence barriers have been built in the Amiriya and Ghazaliyah districts and are showing some success.

The above hissed in response by: Sachi [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 24, 2007 9:59 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

Thank you for the excellent analysis, Dafydd. There was a time I could handle complex analyses like that on topics of no emotional import to me, but this situation's hitting way to close to home. The good guys were still winning when I left Nam in '72; the rest is history, as they say, and as you allude to.  I know I'm guilty of transferring some of my hatred for Kerry, Klute and Kennedy to Reid and Pelosi and it interferes with my ability to be dispassionately logical about what's happening today. Instead I'm reduced to prowling the web in search of pieces worth sending both of my regular readers to read. I linked from my 2007.04.25 Dem Perfidy // Islamism Delenda Est Roundup.

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2007 12:11 AM

The following hissed in response by: levi from queens

Excellent analysis -- let me be pedantic here. There are only 49 Senate Democrats. They have their majority because the members of the Socialist and Joe Lieberman parties vote with the Democrats for organization purposes. I concur with Lorie Byrd at Wizbang that it is time for Joe Lieberman to fire Harry Reid.

The above hissed in response by: levi from queens [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2007 5:37 AM

The following hissed in response by: Eilish

Excellent article, Dafydd, I'm sending my mom the link to read as she has been very down lately by what she sees in the press. Hope she passes it along to others.

Hi, Mom!

The above hissed in response by: Eilish [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2007 7:51 AM

The following hissed in response by: AMR

Thank you for your report which I have sent to my depressed friends. Your explanation of why we won't have another S. Vietnam was welcomed. I'm on the Canadian border watching for illegal crossings. There are 2 Border Patrolman for 37 miles of border where I am at (no location for our safety and border watch security). Iraq is important for our long term security, but the borders present a short term security problem. Keep up your good work. BTW, we are doing basicly the same thing that the WWII Coastal Watch did under the Coast Guard with similar SOPs; our government won't support us, but the individual agents do. Take care and be safe.

The above hissed in response by: AMR [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2007 10:45 AM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

Hands down, the best article I've read here. And, there have been some good ones in the past!

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2007 10:48 AM

The following hissed in response by: Steelhand

By far the best positive analysis I have read. I wish H. Reid would see it, but that would require an open mind. I am forwarding it to any interested friend on either side of the debate.

The above hissed in response by: Steelhand [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2007 11:10 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Levi from queens:

Thanks for the correction, which I made!


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2007 2:33 PM

The following hissed in response by: vnjagvet

Great Job, Hugh. Keep up the good work.

The above hissed in response by: vnjagvet [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2007 7:20 PM

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