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I hold Jonathan Finer's reporting from Iraq in high regard, but this story:
Shiite Muslim militias pose the greatest threat to security in many parts of Iraq, having killed more people in recent months than the Sunni Arab-led insurgency, and will likely present the most daunting and critical challenge for Iraq's new government, U.S. military and diplomatic officials say....might be an example of bad timing, in light of this one from the NY Times:
Three suicide bombers, including at least one who appeared to be a woman, exploded in a sea of Friday worshipers at the main mosque of the most powerful Shiite political party in Iraq, killing at least 71 people and wounding at least 140.Of course, exactly whodunnit will be a matter of speculation, accusations, and counter accusations, and those who want any sort of reasonable coverage of events (or at least in-text acknowledgement of factual and speculative elements in a story) will find the Times is not a generally reliable source. I have no idea whether this one contains such failures - and that's exactly the problem.
Shiite and Sunni leaders called for restraint, fearful that the attack would unleash a wave of sectarian violence like the one that left hundreds dead following the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in February.
Periodic media "coverage flux" occurs from Iraq - "we are the targets of an insurgency" becomes "we are caught in a civil war", "the Sunni insurgency is the problem" becomes "the Shiite militias are the problem" (oddly enough in the wake of an attack on a Shiite shrine). Ultimately the media will arrive at a unified theory - and stick with it until they can no longer hammer every development into it's shape. I propose "chaos" as that theory - everything fits that one.
CAMP PENDLETON — A top Marine general fired a battalion commander and two company commanders Friday amid an investigation into whether Marines from the battalion wantonly killed Iraqi civilians in a November firefight.More:
Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, relieved Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, and two of his company commanders, Capt. James Kimber and Capt. Luke McConnell, of their duties. The three have been reassigned.
Deadly Shootings, Airstrikes Strain Relations Between Iraqis, AmericansMore:
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Shakir Abdul-Hassan goes out of his way to avoid U.S. military convoys as he drives his minibus around town, fearing U.S. soldiers will mistake him for a suicide bomber and open fire if he accidentally gets too close.
Atheer Kamal is just as cautious: When U.S. soldiers set up a checkpoint near his computer shop in east Baghdad, he locks up and heads home, worried about stray gunfire if the Americans shoot at approaching cars.
Such fears show the dilemmas created – on both sides – as U.S. soldiers struggle to differentiate between friend and foe when conducting raids, patrolling roads and traveling in convoys.
WASHINGTON — In a rare incident of fratricide between U.S. and allied Iraqi forces, a soldier in the new Iraqi Army allegedly shot and killed a U.S. Marine on a coalition base for joint operations in western Iraq, the U.S. military said yesterday.There's a 'race to the finish' ongoing in Iraq, between coalition forces who want to hand security to fully trained and capable Iraqi forces under a stable elected government and an "insurgency" that desires all out war. (If their goal was US withdrawal they'd find it mutually acceptable and easily achieved - let's not pretend that's their desire.) With universal human frailties working in favor of the enemy*, the coalition (to include it's Iraqi component - the largest member) is in many ways an underdog in that particular struggle.
The Iraqi soldier was shot by another Marine following the attack Thursday at the base near the Syrian border town of Al Qaim, according to a statement from the Marine base at Camp Fallujah, about 30 miles west of Baghdad. The Iraqi was taken to a hospital in Balad in “very serious” condition.
The statement did not disclose what may have led to the shooting but said it was under investigation. “Obviously, this just happened and it’s going to take a bit to sort through it,” said Navy Cmdr. Robert Mulac, a military spokesman in Baghdad.
The odd thing is an all out war could be won by the "infidels" (who thus far have successfully avoided it) in short order, even if it engulfed a broader region. In addition to unleashing airpower not seen since the last century this would involve finally deploying the half million shooters (or more) that so many have claimed would have prevented any problems in the first place. (That treasured bit of speculative hindsight is true, by the way, if one assumes the enemy would have responded in exactly the same manner to those hypothetical conditions that they did to the reality. Chaos theory says that wouldn't be the case.)
But in the background, signs of hope:
Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the most feared commander in the Iraqi insurgency, may have been forced to surrender his leadership by rival groups, angered by his tactics and the interference of foreign fighters in the Iraqi conflict.That cause is the aforementioned broader war, the long established al Qaeda jihad.
According to Huthayfah Azzam, the son of Abdullah Azzam, al Zarqawi’s former mentor, the notorious commander of al Qaida in Iraq was stripped of his political duties at a meeting two weeks ago.
“The Iraqi resistance high command asked al Zarqawi to give up his political role and replaced him with an Iraqi because of several mistakes,” said Azzam in an interview with al-Arabiya, the Arabic news channel.
“Al Zarqawi’s role has been limited to military action,” he said.
The fugitive al Qaida leader, who has a $25 million American bounty on his head, is credited with masterminding some of the bloodiest episodes in the Iraqi war, including suicide bombings against the UN, Shias and US forces and the videotaped execution of western and other hostages.
But his tactics have alienated many Iraqis, even those sympathetic to the insurgency. Azzam, whose father is known as the “prince of the Mujaheedin”, said that he was accused of “creating an independent group” in Iraq, “making political mistakes” and hijacking the Iraqi insurgency for his own cause.
Chaos, of course, is exactly the goal of that jihad. A more refined "unified theory" for all the above stories requires acknowledgement that the forces of jihad have a considerable degree of both savagery and savvy - both claims can be defended. Each event described above must be acknowledged as a attempt at focused acts by a small group designed to maximize coverage and elicit a response in kind (savage) from the opposition. From IED attacks on Marine patrols to demolition of sacred shrines, the enemy achieves much with small numbers, and expects to successfully portray themselves as victims of that response. (And when no such response occurs, they claim it did anyway.) A media that fears accusations of bias above any other charge (and relies heavily on 'sources' from within that enemy camp) invariably lives up to those expectations. This breeds more 'success'; at a minimum, supporters of the coalition find their enthusiasm diminished, while others are converted to the terrorist cause.
And the cycle continues...
If all this causes you great despair, you are probably a human being. And Orwell knew your grandparents:
The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it, and if one finds the prospect of a long war intolerable, it is natural to disbelieve in the possibility of victory.
One can acknowledge this without surrendering to that evil.
"There's a race to the finish ongoing in Iraq, between coalition forces who want to hand security to fully trained and capable Iraqi forces under a stable elected government and an "insurgency" that desires all out war"
I don't believe the aim is all out war with two sides pitted against each other. This is a bar room brawl in Iraq. The sheriff and his deputies have not been able to stop it yet. Need better methods. Reducing this to an "us vs them" fight is the wrong thinking and will lead to the wrong results. There are multiple groups seeking ascendancy. We need a multi-level strategy.Posted by Dale at April 8, 2006 12:58 PM
There are indeed other factors and factions that complicate the already chaotic, but I'm referring to Iraq in the context of the larger war, the "outer onion", if you will.
Why did an Iraqi soldier kill a Marine? Was he an al Qaeda plant on a mission to sow distrust? Did the Marine look at a Mohammed cartoon? Did a simple language barrier result in murder? Had Marines killed the man's brother in 2003? Regardless of motive, the results will favor al Qaeda, as that "sow distrust" bit is an inevitable result.
A few other layers of complexity:
- Throughout al Anbar, individuals seize opportunity to achieve power in their own city or village.
- Sadr, with or without nudging from Iran, seeks a more prominent profile on the national scene.
- Kidnappers take hostages with the desire to make a buck
- Neighbors kill neighbors to settle long-held grudges
All of which can be used by al Qaeda to further their goal of all out war. We want Iraq to solve the problems described above, and countless others like them (If you prefer, we know we can't solve them).
That is the essential "us vs them" aspect of that part of the struggle, and the race I described. "Multi-level strategy" is indeed a required response - I'm addressing one level.
Admittedly in the context of this post I didn't even offer a strategy for that level - what's yours? (This is in fact, the sort of discussion I hoped to engender.)Posted by Greyhawk at April 8, 2006 01:25 PM
Odd that the one group who most wants to avoid the larger war is the one who would indeed win it in short order. America probably won't accept a "long war" with civilian casualties in the manner it did the cold war. The enemy assumption is that this will mean an American defeat. That's a miscalculation, at some point the option for swift victory could be exercised.
But believing the US is currently "overextended" (by extension defeated) militarily is a faulty asssumption shared by two groups who wish it to be true - al Qaeda and the US domestic political opposition, who coincidentally view each other in the same light: "The enemy of my enemy".
The media isn't in the al Qaeda camp, but they are squarely in the domestic opposition. It's becoming increasingly hard to note any distinction.Posted by Old Soldier at April 8, 2006 03:36 PM
Ignoring for a moment the "we can't win" crowd described by Orwell, I can see the debate moving to one between the "long war" proponents (I think that was poor descriptive choice by the Pentagon, but what else is new?) and those who support Anne Coulter's first reaction; "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."
Those on the homefront who sneer at our efforts to give democracy a chance in the ME probably don't realize we do so as an alternative to Coulter's advice. That's the basis for my support of our current efforts. As for the Coulter approach, we're not there yet, but it ain't off the table either. Between cartoons, arrests of Christians in Afghanistan, and developments in Iraq it seems every time I read a newspaper I shift a little more.Posted by Darwin at April 8, 2006 03:54 PM
In fact, we should get the hell out of there and let them beat on each other till they decide to call a halt to killing their own. We have now two sub religions killing each other for the Main religion (Muslim), and Iran standing by waiting to be the winner in the eventual (not democratic) theocratic state. There is but one question and our govt simpoy refuses to answre this:
Are we or are we not building permanent bases in Iraq?Posted by fred lapides at April 8, 2006 04:04 PM
I've just read Nagl's book "Learning to eat soup with a knife." I think I finally understand why we lost in Vietnam when the British won in Malaya. I also think this explains why we have had so much trouble the first year and a half in Iraq. Nagl is there now in his second tour.Posted by Mike K at April 8, 2006 04:13 PM
Re: The Shinseki claim that 500,000 U.S. troops in Iraq would've prevented problems in the first place. You said, "Chaos theory says that wouldn't be the case."
We don't need to rely on theory to argue that more troops in Iraq would not have prevented all the problems. We just need to look at the last time a great western power fought a protracted Muslim insurgency--the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962).
The French had 500,000 troops in Algeria, which at that time had a population of 9 million. If you scale the troop-to-citizen ratio up to match Iraq's population, that would mean we'd need 1.5 million troops in Iraq. We currently have 138,000.
The French lost 18,000 troops killed over an eight-year period, or 2250 a year. Again, if you scale it up to Iraq ratios, it would be 6750 a year. We're losing about 700 a year, and that figure is falling.
Between 350,000 and 1.5 million Algerians were killed. To scale those figures up to Iraq, multiply them by three. So far in Iraq, about 32,000 have died, including terrorists.
The French used a policy of collective punishment in Algeria: If a village harbored insurgents, it was bombed from the air or hit with artillery strikes. The French also tortured suspects to death, rounded people up by the thousands and shot them without trial, and put about 2 million in concentration camps. And they still lost the war.
With less than 10% of the troops (proportionally) that France had in Algeria, and with a policy not of conquest but of partnership, look what we've accomplished. More importantly, look at the slaughter we've avoided.
More troops in Iraq = many more dead Americans.
The "more troops" canard is also shown wrong in Vietnam. A real issue is credit -- the US wants to "win", but only the Iraqis can really win. When Human Rights/ pro-democracy Iraqi forces form a gov't in Iraq, one that is making progress against the anti-democratic Iraqis & foreigners, then Iraq wins, and US gets the assist. That should have always been the goal.
More troops means more targets; more accidents (look how many died under Clinton); and less training, so likely more Abu Ghraib abuses.
Posted by Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at April 8, 2006 09:48 PM
The media views Bush as the enemy, giving only a quarter of the truth--the bad of Bush. The good of Bush (like 17 quarters of economic growth!) is ignored almost as much as possible. The bad of Saddam is almost ignored; the bad of the terrorists is actually blamed on Bush; yet the "good" of Saddam (quickly getting power functioning after Desert Storm, for example) is fairly well covered.
I still believe this is a bar room brawl. The instigators are foreign to tie us up in Iraq. The 'sides' include the the three Iraqi regional power seats,the mullahs (and their militias), the in-process government, and the coalition. Our task is to figure out who we want to win regionally, co-opt them, and then begin to control territory. We must halt freedom of movement. Cordon and contain the population. Use the mullahs to our advantage, trade federal political power for regional power to the mullahs. City by city and block by block we must demonstrate that we can bring safety to what we control.
We must expand our control until all the populous areas of the country are physically safe. Rebels/insurgents must be driven to the fringe creating a guerrilla war from remote areas instead of an insurgency/sectarian conflict originating from within.
The Green Zone must expand until it embraces all of Baghdad.
And, yes, I know that this denial of movement will be seen as anti-freedom. We must defer freedom of movement until and only until there is physical safety.