May 8, 2007

Should We Deal With the (Lesser) Devil?

Hatched by Dafydd

AP raises a fascinating question: Should we allow members of the Mahdi Militia to guard a very important Shiite mosque from al-Qaeda attack? (They overtly phrase it as a "dilemma," turning a question into a covert attack on the counterinsurgency strategy, in my opinion.)

In Kazimiyah, a densely packed [northern Baghdad] neighborhood of wooden shops and cheap hotels for Shiite pilgrims, the Americans and their Iraqi partners have opted for militia help to protect the shimmering, blue-domed shrine [of "the mosque of Imam Kadhim"].

With tacit American approval, plainclothes militiamen loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr set up impromptu checkpoints and patrol alleys day and night near the mosque.

The Americans believe that tolerating a discreet role for the Mahdi Army, which U.S. officers refer to by its Arabic acronym JAM [for Jaish al Mahdi, army of the rightly-guided one, or of the 12th Imam -- probably the latter], is better than either picking a fight with the militia or taking the blame if Sunni extremists manage a repeat of the February 2006 bombing of another Shiite shrine in Samarra.

Note that in areas like Kazimiyah and Sadr City, it's virtually impossible to wield any community influence without joining either the Mahdi Militia or the Badr Organization... just as in Germany in the 1930s, there were many civilians who joined the Nazi Party because it was the only way to get ahead (think Oskar Schindler).

Thus we must carefully distinguish between militia members who are actually bloody assassins -- and those who are just "go along to get along" businessmen with no overarching violent agenda.

That caveat accepted, I say it's a very close call... but in these particuar circumstances, with the horrific response that the destruction of that mosque would generate, I must side with the commanders on the ground and say Yes.

Let me convince you...

First, we already have an example of just this sort of "conspiracy of shared interest" -- in Anbar province. There, the American and Iraqi forces have allied with Sunni tribal leaders who, until quite recently, avidly supported al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). In fact, several of the tribes that originally backed and supported Musab Zarqawi now fight against AQI as part of the "Anbar Salvation Council." They fight AQI viciously, relentlessly, and effectively; and they're even starting to venture outside al-Anbar into neighboring provinces, such as al-Salahadin:

What is clear is that a battle between forces of the Anbar Salvation Council and al Qaeda in Iraq occurred in the town of al-Nibayi, near Taji in Salahadin province, al Qaeda took casualties and U.S. and Iraq security forces, along with the tribal fighters of the Anbar Salvation Council are securing the scene of the fight in an attempt to find al Masri's body.

While is seems increasingly unlikely that the Council managed to kill Ayyub al Masri, the current head of AQI, the take-away point is this: Al-Qaeda has a strong competitor for the hearts and minds of Iraqi Sunni in Anbar and Salahadin: the Anbar Salvation Council.

The New York Times also noted the strange-bedfellows alliance today:

Ramadi, in Anbar Province, has been at the center of a fight between Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and its supporters and Sunni Arab tribes opposed to the extremist organization....

Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, once the dominant force in Anbar, began to lose support after it started attacking civilians and other insurgent groups there. Although many of the Sunni Arab tribes in Anbar had opposed the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, they decided to form the Salvation Council and send tribesmen to join the army and police force to take back control of the province from Al Qaeda.

American troops have tried for four years to stem the insurgency in Anbar, and several times have instituted new strategies to remove insurgents from Ramadi, the provincial capital. None have [sic] shown appreciable results until this most recent effort with the Salvation Council.

They are our most important allies in the region, which used to be AQI's home base. And they're taking casualties; the recent AQI bombing in Ramadi, the capital city of al-Anbar, was aimed squarely at the tribal members of those "rebellious" tribes in the Council, as were many, many other bombings. The shift in Anbar is so pronounced, even Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-Carpetbag, 95%) has taken judicial notice:

We are making some progress it turns out, in what is called Al Anbar province against al Qaeda, and the reason we are is that our military leaders have learned a lot in the last several years there and they have made common cause with some of the tribal leaders, who don't like Al Qaeda any more than we do because Al Qaeda is also going after them.

In the cases of both Hillary Clinton and the Times, they've reversed time's arrow, of course: AQI didn't begin bombing Ramadi and other Sunni tribal areas until the tribes tired of Taliban-style totalitarian theocracy and broke from al-Qaeda. Trust Democrats to reverse causality.

But... how does this apply to the Shia? The Shia protecting the mosque of Imam Kadhim are not anti-Sadr; in fact, they're at least peripheral members of the Mahdi Miliia! It's not analogous to the situation in Anbar at all... is it?

It is; but like most analogies, it's not a perfect model. It matches in one particular way, however.

Take a step back in the Anbar situation and look at a wider view: The Anbar Salvation Council is not merely fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq; on a more general basis, they're fighting against chaos and in support of the nation of Iraq.

That's why it's so important to note, as the Times does above, that the tribes comprising the Council "opposed the Shiite-dominated government," but fight alongside it anyway: They rightly understand that the Iraq war is not a "civil war" among Iraqis or a "sectarian war" within Islam; it's an epic, existential struggle between the flying monkeys of jihadism and the defenders of civilization itself. And in that fight, as the president said just nine days after the 9/11 attacks, "God is not neutral":

The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.

The Shia in Kazimiyah are fighting the same shadow war as their brothers in the Anbar Salvation Council. They, too, fight against the terrorists -- the very same terrorists, in fact, al-Qaeda in Iraq -- who thrive amid collapse, revel in destruction, and celebrate bloody chaos.

Were AQI to succeed in destroying the Imam Kadhim mosque (they've tried unsuccessfully several times), the reaction could be as explosive as when they destroyed the Golden Dome mosque of Samarra: a massive, nation-wide wave of truly horrific sectarian slaughter, with Sunni being slain in every Iraqi city merely for the crime of being Sunni... hence suspected (often rightly suspected) of secretly supporting al-Qaeda.

Such a reaction by the Shia would undo much of what we have accomplished so far in Iraq and immensely complicate our future counterinsurgency... and don't think that AQI is unaware of that fact. It's worth risking a great deal to prevent such a calamity.

Thus, we're in the same fight and on the same side as these local Kadimiyah militiamen -- in this particular case. And even while still fighting against the more violent, activist wing of JAM in other neighborhoods of Baghdad and the cities in next-door Diyala province.

Yet we still must be vigilant, because it's all too easy for Shia with connections to the Mahdi Militia to slide from fighting for Iraq to fighting over Iraq, from confederation to conquest. That is certainly the path chosen by their now exiled leader, Iranian puppet Muqtada Sadr.

This is why I say it's a close call: On the whole, we need Iraqis defending their own neighborhoods -- but also their own country, including the far-flung parts in other provinces. It's all one nation, and Sunnis are right to demand assurance that it will not (and cannot) be split into three separate, ethnically and religiously cleansed pieces, as some Democrats advocate -- now joined by GOP presidential candidate Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS, 87%). That is a prescription for absolute disaster... which I'm sure somebody has already told Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE, 100%). (Whether he won't listen or whether he prefers absolute disaster in Iraq is anybody's guess.)

From the Times article:

The explosion came as tension over a proposed walkout by Iraq’s leading Sunni bloc in Parliament and the Cabinet seemed to ebb after a meeting Monday night between the Shiite Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, and Tariq Al-Hashimi, the Sunni vice president.

Both Mr. Maliki and Mr. Hashimi issued statements declaring that their meeting had helped move the political process forward. Mr. Hashimi had threatened to lead the boycott unless there was a clear move to change the Constitution so that the country could not be partitioned into separate Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish states.

Bottom line: So long as these militiamen remember that they're Iraqis first and Shia second; so long as, like the Minutemen on the American border, they remember that their job is purely defensive, not offensive; they are a security asset. In fact, they're part of the counterinsurgency strategy, the core of which is bringing more and more Iraqis into the defense of Iraq. If we're willing to bring formerly terrorist Sunni into the fight against al-Qaeda, why not formerly insurgent Shia?

We're absolutely right not only to "tolerate" a role for moderate members of the Mahdi Militia but to encourage even more such cooperation, especially with Sadr's passing over the eastern hills to Teheran. But as Ronald Reagan's mother always told him when he was a young child, in their frequent discussions about international arms-control treaties, "trust... but verify."

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 8, 2007, at the time of 4:06 PM

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Comments

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

We gave the Iraqis three chances to get it right:

1) Iran-Iraq War
2) Gulf War 1
3) Gulf War 11

Basically, what that means is that America lacks the will to fight a War or forgot how.

Talk doesn't Win Wars (perhaps prior to a battle...occasionally), killing does, and we talk toooooooooooooooo *MUCH*!!! Here we are, still reading and talking about ONE Battle in this War against an Enemy that uses our MSM, our Government systems, our Court systems, etc., whilst they hide behind their own women and children, and attack us at will.

OK...point one: The Enemy has already convinced most everyone that there is only one war...in Iraq. *SCREW* that shimmering, blue-domed shrine [of "the mosque of Imam Kadhim"].!!!!!!! That, along with every other mosque and bural grpong (losing my spelling here) burial ground in Iraq should've been turned into dust after Fallujah's ("city of mosques") first uprising. OK...next.

We are trying to fight an Enemy with Patience, and are...essentially, begging the Enemy to let us end the war!?! Try that mentality in any Prison.

Life on Earth is a *LOT* like Life in a Prison...

Anyway, America is going to get a pruning over this lack of will, but i'm not sure of the dosage/s yet, but am sure that we need a serious pruning...so to speak of the sooner-the-better.

Dafydd, i appreciate your effort here (and in the past) to convince us that each of our ‘moves’ are working in Iraq; however, America has about ran out of 'luck', in my humble opinion. Being nice and gentle with some enemies might work, but not in this case...i suspect. For Karma's Sake, we were in Baghdad, within three weeks (even after MSM claimed we were "stalled" after three days), and look at us now.

President Bush made some mistakes, but the fault in Iraq lays squarely at the American People's feet...since so many have aided our Enemy. President Bush still has time, fortunately; however, America is rapidly running out of time, chances, and 'luck'. The War will not end by winning in Iraq, but winning in Iraq is a must now...on that we can agree 100%. However, even if we Win, there will be other Wars, and we look like young boys just entering a Prison...some place...any Place.

Life on Earth is a *LOT* like Life in a Prison...

KårmiÇømmünîs†


The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 8, 2007 5:54 PM

The following hissed in response by: AMR

Your comparison between the JAM and Minutemen was interesting. It appears that the JAM have the US government’s official approval to operate where the Minutemen don't. So a mosque is more important than the US borders from a strategy standpoint. Probably now, but down the road the porous borders might be the greater of the two threats from al Qaeda. I guess the government doesn’t want to make the Minutemen an auxiliary of the Border Patrol as the Coast Guard did with the Coastal Watch during WWII; its just not PC.

The above hissed in response by: AMR [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 8, 2007 6:28 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

AMR:

It appears that the JAM have the US government’s official approval to operate where the Minutemen don't.

We give tacit approval to this particular knot of Mahdi Militia by not stopping them; we give tacit approval to the Minutemen the same way.

Dafydd

The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 8, 2007 7:19 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

A very good question with no very good answer. I added an excerpt and link to my 2007.05.08 Dem Perfidy // Islamism Delenda Est Roundup.

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 8, 2007 7:41 PM

The following hissed in response by: Binder

The Big Lizard hissed....

...they're fighting against chaos and in support of the nation of Iraq.

The way I always explain this, and the general idea of counter-insurgency, to those who are aware of how little they know about military operations, is that the way to "win the hearts and minds" of indigenous populations is to make life under your rule seem more stable and peaceful than it is likely to be if the other side is in charge.

I suspect that, as with most people, the average Iraqi (regardless of ethnicity) cares more about the safety (current and projected) of himself and his family than the political platform of the person at the top, except, of course, as that political platform directly affects his security.

AQI's (relatively) recent bombing of civilian targets which prompted the change of heart of so many tribal leaders in al-Anbar province leads me to believe that AQI's decision makers either never actively understood this, or else have decided that they are no longer able to adequately protect their own territory from Iraqi/Allied forces and so thought there was nothing to lose (and probably quite a bit to gain in the European and North American media) by launching spectacularly deadly attacks against Iraqi citizens.

If AQI's decision makers (not necessarily their leaders; history is rife with cases of mid or even low-ranking personnel acting in such a way - without the consent of their superiors - that comits the whole to an action the true leaders were loathe to take) thought that a few terrible attacks against their wavering supporters would bring them firmly back into the fold, they would appear to either be admiting ignorance of the basic psychological wants of humans (safety, food, opportunity for betterment), or else that the Coalition forces are providing better security for common Iraqis.

Either way, the use of elements of the JAM to guard important shrines (and the local area) and the defection of the tribal leaders in al-Anbar province from AQI suggests that whether or not AQI understand the basic facts of how to "win hearts and minds" the new General Petraeus commanding Coalition forces in Iraqi certainly seems to have no problems with it, and it strikes me as the basis of Galula's strategy. White zones create lighter pink zones because the people living in the pink zones see how much better the people in the white zones are living (in terms of safety, sanitation, food supply, education, etc), and want to see that come about where they are.

(Hope this doesn't come across as a lecture!)

The above hissed in response by: Binder [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 8, 2007 9:45 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Binder:

(Hope this doesn't come across as a lecture!)

Lizards love lectures!

Dafydd

The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 9, 2007 12:23 AM

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