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May 30, 2008
(Part one in a series)
Through the duration of the war in Iraq I've identified key indicators of important trends in the conflict on this web site. These indicators take the form of discrete events of variable duration, the trends are larger scale and longer term, and generally identifiable to the observer only as a series of events. The key to understanding what's happening in Iraq is to be able to identify a trend by it's indicators (and conversely to be able to determine which events are part of a trend) and to recognize which trends or events matter (in long or short term) and which don't. Identifying events and trends (or even distinguishing events from brief trends) is exceptionally difficult without the benefit of hindsight and demonstrably challenging even after the fact. And any attempt at forecasting - extending those trends into the future - compounds that challenge by an unknown degree, and at some point is an exercise in futility.
Those who attempt to accomplish any of those tasks without constant monitoring of the situation or first hand experience therein do so at a distinct disadvantage. Identifying trends from outside Iraq can be impossible - the observer is dependent upon reports from others (from traditional and new media, if no other contact are available), and must be aware of the bias of those few reporters whose work reaches the outside world. If I've had any success at all in the attempt (and I will humbly demonstrate shortly I've had some success, at least) much of that is due to my lack of those disadvantages that burden so many others. Further, while those of a certain partisan stripe might find my conclusions more appealing than others, another key to understanding is to be able to view the scene without partisan prejudice of any sort - at least as far as that is humanly possible - separate facts from feelings, and limit motives to truth over a desired outcome.
IF YOU READ BLOGS, you knew this a long time ago, but if you read the L.A. Times you know it now: Iraqis losing patience with militiamen.In short, that's old news.
Now there's new news out there under the radar. But first, the deep background...
In November, 2005 I explained how the war in Iraq would be won. At that time "violence" was increasing - a cyclical event in Iraq, and one that gets extensive media coverage, as it did then. But no one had noticed another number on the rise: the number of tips received from Iraqi civilians, grown from under 500 a month earlier in the year to over 3,000. And few realized that the increase in that last statistic was a direct result of the "increasing violence" - Iraqis were "losing patience" with the people who were killing them. Odd how that works...
As more Iraqi forces replace Americans, expect to see those numbers presented in the final chart climb even higher. This is how the "insurgency" will be defeated.I thought the key to maintaining that upward trend would be increased involvement from Iraqi security forces - those with whom the civilian population could identify, trust, and communicate more freely than they could with Americans. Unfortunately in the year following that prediction, attempts to achieve that goal proved futile and in some cases misguided as Americans pulled back from routine interaction with Iraqis in favor of "local" security forces that were often from other regions, lacked experience, and were for the most part not ready (trained and equipped) for the task.
To say the situation was further complicated in the wake of the Samarra bombing would be an understatement. That attack and the resulting chaos (magnified by a simultaneous al Qaeda public relations campaign) effectively reversed any gains made over the preceding period. "Local" (often neighborhood level) and "sectarian" militias - many of which existed before the bombing - formed (or intensified their efforts) as a result of the security vacuum. The perception of chaos and retribution so carefully cultivated by al Qaeda soon became real - an uncomplicated task in a land where grudges go back thousands of years and are fueled by tribal and religious distinctions of great degree among people clustered in relatively small geographic areas - a weakness most apparent in Baghdad.
But even as security in Baghdad deteriorated, events in Anbar would undermine al Qaeda's efforts and prove the validity of my prediction, though in ways I didn't foresee.
Sunni groups had begun to turn on al Qaeda. The significance of these events was vastly under appreciated by observers in America. But al Qaeda was further weakened by the strike on Zarqawi, an event dismissed at the time as only making the group stronger. In fact it was already too late for al Qaeda in Iraq.
Sheikh Sattar al-Buzayi summoned other tribal chiefs last week for a war council at his fortified home in Ramadi, the teeming, scarred capital of Iraq's Anbar province, desert heartland of the Sunni Arabs....and by early October - before American media outlets had noticed the event and certainly long before they appreciated the significance, the Anbar Awakening movement was in full swing.
Baghdad: Sunni tribal leaders who have vowed to drive Al Qaida out of Iraq's most restive province met the Shiite premier on Wednesday, marking what Washington hopes will be a breakthrough alliance against militants.Where the Iraqi military and police had failed (in some part due to the lack of Sunni participation) the "civilian" group would succeed. In short order they turned against the leader of al Qaeda's public relations team
Sunni sheiks from Iraq's volatile Anbar province have denounced a powerful Sunni cleric as "a thug" for supporting the al-Qaida terrorist group.The remaining question - would the coalition embrace the opportunity - was answered before the end of November.
"The American's have come to the aide of the Abu Soda tribe. They have understood the dire situation [that the Abu Soda are currently battling the Al Qaeda], because [the Americans] see it as a fight against a common enemy," said Sheikh Ahmed, Sheikh of Abu Resha.It's worth noting that the events discussed above were going on throughout 2006 - the year the media fixated on the Civil War In Iraq narrative and the "we're losing" conclusion thereto - to the exclusion of these developments that would ultimately prove to be of considerably more significance. It wasn't until the American troops surge was launched that the success of the Awakening movement was acknowledged and addressed in certain quarters. And even then it was merely touted as the real reason things were improving in Iraq - the surge itself was declared a failure..
In reality both the increase in US troops and the development of "awakening councils" were crucial. For example, recall that with no safe havens in Anbar, al Qaeda fled to Baqubah in Diyala Province. Months would pass before that could be addressed, but as Mike Yon would report, the combination of US surge forces and the 1920's Revolution Brigades (who like the Anbar tribes had turned on al Qaeda) were able to secure the area.
Last month, a milblogger there was explaining the ongoing battle - with boredom:
I'm not the only one feeling the boredom, on one of our patrols we paid 4 donkey cart drivers to race, the stipulation, one soldier on the back of each donkey cart. My donkey lost, it tried to kick its driver.He was echoing the sentiments Marines in Ramadi had been expressing for months.
This review of events that set the stage for success in Iraq continues here.
For those interested in the latest under-reported news from Iraq, see Exodus.
Posted by Greyhawk / May 30, 2008 1:00 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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