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October has been a fine month in Iraq. The heat of summer has gone and the rains and mud of November are still a ways away. Oddly enough, while that's good weather for combat there's been very little of it thus far. Hot spots have gone "warm", and warm spots have grown cold - I suppose it's that time of year...
Cheers erupt on the Left side of the Blogosphere*, as after months of no notice the Washington Post finds an Iraq story worthy of their front page. 'I Don't Think This Place Is Worth Another Soldier's Life' - it's a quote from an actual sergeant on the ground in Iraq. And he's talking about one of the shittiest little corners of Baghdad.
Though like everywhere else in Iraq, before the invasion it was a place of butterflies and rainbows...
Before the war, Sadiyah was a bustling middle-class district, popular with Sunni officers in Saddam Hussein's military.But those halcyon days of sunshine ended forever the moment an elected government replaced Saddam's dictatorship.
Under a headline declaring it a "district torn by mounting sectarian violence" the WaPo reporter actually acknowledges that violence is down and decreasing, but that "...the soldiers' experience in Sadiyah shows that numbers alone do not describe the sense of aborted normalcy -- the fear, the disrupted lives -- that still hangs over the city."
Honestly, I'm not a fan of violence metrics either. But if the numbers were actually going up I'm not sure the WaPo reporter would have been quite so eloquently dismissive of their significance.
But after 14 months in hell there are good reasons for the troops to be tired, and bitter, and skeptical. Find any unit that's been here a while and you'll find guys who will give you great quotes to fit any headline you want - from page one to page 18. But this Brigade's been particularly rocked. At home they've been depicted as thugs and criminals (yes, this is Scott Beauchamp's Brigade) and in Iraq - when not investigating issues of alleged animal rights abuse - they're playing death match for keeps in a Mad Max neighborhood uniquely situated between Sunnis, Shiites, and hell.
It has become strategically important because it represents a fault line between militia power bases in al-Amil to the west and the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Dora to the east. U.S. commanders say the militias have made a strong push for the neighborhood in part because it lies along the main road that Shiite pilgrims travel to the southern holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.Last year they had partnered with an Iraqi police unit known as "the Wolf Brigade", an effort that proved to be a failure - in fact, an unmitigated disaster.
"We were so committed to them as a partner we couldn't see it for what it was. In retrospect, I've got to think it was a coordinated effort," Timmerman said. "To this day, I don't think we truly understand how infiltrated or complicit the national police are" with the militias.Really, you can follow the link to see just how big that failure was. It can't be overstated. But then came the change in strategy commonly called "the surge". And now,
In September, after Glaze led an eight-month campaign to kick out the Wolf Brigade, soldiers from the Iraqi army's Muthanna Brigade, which has clashed with Sunni volunteers in the Abu Ghraib area, arrived in Sadiyah.And late in the summer, another element of that strategy was added - building on the success experienced by other units elsewhere in country in spite of opposition from elements in the national government:
Over the past two months, the U.S. soldiers have recruited more than 300 local residents, most of them Sunnis, into a neighborhood defense force.And that "bottom up" approach is proving successful everywhere, including one of the darkest corners of Baghdad:
The Iraqi army's arrival and the emergence of the Sunni volunteers have coincided with some positive signs, the soldiers said. Some of the shops along the once-busy commercial district of Tijari Street now open for a few hours a day. The number of violent incidents has dropped, although it rose again over the past two weeks, officers said.In fact, that could have been the focus of the piece, and a different quote could have been used for the headline.
But then it wouldn't have been on page one, would it?
The narrative on Iraq - the one you see in the media, that is - is changing. Claims that "we've lost" and that American soldiers have been beaten by opponents who are righteous heroes or nine-foot tall and bullet proof are being quite subtly shifted to arguments that no potential victory (if even grudgingly acknowledged) could be worth the price. This argument may prove irresistible to those who've invested heavily in defeat.
But the men profiled in this brief and focused story will soon head home (ironically, to Germany - where we've been for over 60 years now) and others will take their place here in Iraq. The war will continue to wind down. That next unit will write the story of what Sadiyah becomes, but only these few men of the Big Red One will own the story of what it took to make it so.
*Cheers: they've scored amazing debate points against imaginary opponents who claim that Iraq is now a land of butterflies and rainbows.
Next: de rigeur
Same unit as Beauchamps? There must be a morale/leadership problem in there.Posted by jordan at October 28, 2007 04:22 PM
I suspect that a soldier has voiced that particular comment ("Fill in name of place" is not worth the life of a US soldier)about every US war. Read about the travails of the Ghost Mountain Division - talk about terrain nobody wants. Who wants to go to Guadacanal now yet we poured men and equipment into taking the place.
Yet it was necessary to take the place just as unhappily this war and Iraq are necessary.
The sargeant points out an sad paradox - soldiers' lives, our best, our future, are spent for a hunk of ground we wouldn't, if we had the choice, give two bits for.
The job they are doing in Iraq is necessary. It is vital. But I wish the soldiers were all home.Posted by don wilkins at October 28, 2007 06:06 PM
It's too late for the WaPo to censor the progress from Petraeus' bottom-up approach to anti-insurgency/anti-terror. All they can do is preach to the choir.
The WaPo/leftist/DNC approach to achieving defeat in Iraq may come to pass after the 2008 election. But in the meantime the defeat-seeking journos will have to twist themselves into increasingly unwieldy pretzel-knots to accomplish their glorious task.Posted by Al Fin at October 28, 2007 06:40 PM
"Lose, damn you! Lose!"
Must suck when you finally realize you've been betting on the wrong team all along.Posted by Buck Sargent at October 28, 2007 07:00 PM
In that first insert box, we might get a better sense of the unreality of the press report if they had replaced "sadiyah" with "Spandau", "Baghdad" with "Berlin", "Sunni officers" with "SS officers" and "Saddam's military" with 'Hitler's military". Wouldn't read so nice, but a lot more honest.Posted by tolkein at October 28, 2007 07:23 PM
In that first insert box, we might get a better sense of the unreality of the press report if they had replaced "sadiyah" with "Spandau", "Baghdad" with "Berlin", "Sunni officers" with "SS officers" and "Saddam's military" with 'Hitler's military". Wouldn't read so nice, but a lot more honest.Posted by tolkein at October 28, 2007 07:24 PM
A close reading of WWII battles will show that some battles were not worth the cost and were done in an incompetent manner. To confuse WWII with a civil war in Iraq is plain dumb. If things are improving in Iraq, then we can soon expect some 1430p thousand troops to come home, right? I doubt it. We still have Shia at war with Sunnis both physically and politically. Now we have the Kurds and the problem of Kurdish terrorists versus Turkey, intruding into Iraq.
If you must use the WWII analogy, then think of yourself as German at the time that the allies were advancing across all of Europe and Hitler still maintained that with will etc German could win. Iran has won.
"Iran has won."
It's really interesting to see so many people who believe that Iraq is simply a minor battle which has nothing to do with anything else in the world and we can just walk away from it and we will be back to the world of butterflies and rainbows - much like Saddam's Iraq was prior to 2003.Posted by Michael in MI at October 28, 2007 07:46 PM
Iran has won. That's why it pulled the Qods Force from Iraq. That's why the Maliki government approves of us targeting Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias. That's why Maliki has turned against Iran's bitch, al Sadr.
That's why EFP attacks are down, as are attacks by the rogue JAM factions, and that's why the SAS is killing gun runners inside Iran itself.
That's why Sunni tribal chiefs meet with Ayatollah Sistani to receive his blessings, and why there is an Awakening Movement sweeping the Shi'ite areas, why Shi'ites are turning against the JAM, and why the Iraqi army is arresting Shi'ite police officials in the pay of Iran.
To win, all Iran had to do was lose.
Down is up, black is white, freedom is slavery.
Welcome to the Orwellian nightmare that is "progressive" thought.Posted by Tom W. at October 28, 2007 08:06 PM
Absolutely correct on the pice running Page 1 because it fits their narrative. There is another thing in play. This is from the third page.
"On Oct. 14, Washington Post special correspondent Salih Saif Aldin was killed while on assignment in Sadiyah."
They have to.
Uncle JPosted by Uncle Jimbo at October 28, 2007 08:37 PM
What's the difference between the MSM and Pete Rose? Well they're both scumbags but at least Rose never bet on the other team.Posted by bandit at October 28, 2007 11:21 PM
The media wants to do the usual thing: move the goalposts, and then pretend they've been at the new location the whole time.
Problem is, they're having increasing trouble remembering where they left the goalposts the last time.Posted by tbrosz at October 29, 2007 12:20 AM
If things continue to improve in Iraq, get use to hearing the term "pyrrhic victory".Posted by Chairman Me at October 29, 2007 12:40 AM
"A close reading of WWII battles will show that some battles were not worth the cost and were done in an incompetent manner."
Sure, there were battles during WWII that shouldn't have been fought (or at least not the way they were). The bombing of Dresden was almost completely pointless and a horrible event to recall, for example. Does that mean that WWII was pointless? I certainly hope not.
"To confuse WWII with a civil war in Iraq is plain dumb. If things are improving in Iraq, then we can soon expect some 1430p thousand troops to come home, right? I doubt it."
Ok, so you're using an example which applies to WWII to argue that the comparison is irrelevant? We still have a lot of troops in Germany. You're confusing "progress" with "success". The battle against Japan was marked with a lot of progress after Midway. That doesn't mean that the US troops were coming home anytime soon.
"We still have Shia at war with Sunnis both physically and politically. Now we have the Kurds and the problem of Kurdish terrorists versus Turkey, intruding into Iraq."
The Kurdish problem hasn't yet escalated into full-scale fighting, and the PKK were denounced by the Kurdish government. With both the Kurds and Turkey allied to the US, hopefully we can exert enough control on them to keep the situation under control.
Nobody denied that the situation was still problematic. We've got a long and crooked road ahead of us, and the end may still be defeat. But in the past months, we've made several strides down the road towards success, and just because there's still a lot of road left doesn't mean we should stop walking.
"If you must use the WWII analogy, then think of yourself as German at the time that the allies were advancing across all of Europe and Hitler still maintained that with will etc German could win. Iran has won."
That would only be relevant if the Iranians were, you know, advancing. Tom W. handled this.
More generally: I think it's too soon to claim that Iraq has chosen America. Individuals make different choices. Many are motivated by deaths of relatives at the hands of US troops (meaning relatives of insurgents), by sectarian hatred (in the extremist factions of each sect), by their subservience to Iran (in al-Sadr's case at least), and by general hatred of the US as occupiers.
But in the past months there's been a dramatic increase in the number of people who are choosing America, documented by people like Greyhawk, Michael Yon, Michael Totten, Jeff Emmanuel etc, who've seen their relatives blown apart by suicide bombs and IEDs and insurgents firing out of mosques, or have been affected by the soft side of the coalition troops, or have realized that the US is there to stay no matter how much the US media trumpets otherwise. It is with the help of these sort of people that Iraq is improving. Don't devalue their efforts by only seeing the people who join the insurgents, or by only seeing the hatred when there is much, much more to Iraq.
There is one other discomforting possibility, which is that AQI, Iran, and local insurgent organizations are laying low until the next elections, hoping an anti-war Democrat will win and they can fight unfettered by US interference. I don't know enough to comment on the likelihood (or unlikelihood) of this possibility. Would someone who knows more like to share their knowledge?Posted by Math_Mage at October 29, 2007 12:59 AM
"Many are motivated by the deaths of relatives at the hands of US troops (meaning their relatives were either insurgents OR VICTIMS OF COLLATERAL DAMAGE), etc"Posted by Math_Mage at October 29, 2007 01:02 AM
tolkein- why is it that lefties only know about two wars? Vietnam and WWII. What about the Malay commie insurgency, successfully snuffed out by the British? What about the Rhodesian fight against Zanu and Zapu (never lost a battle)? What about the many successful punitive campaigns the British conducted in the NWFP of India?
Analogies are dangerous, especially when you don't know in detail either of your analogs. Given that the US was never in any danger of losing in Iraq, and that even the most teeth-grindingly anti-American sunni's have now largely accepted they can't defeat the US militarily and have reached a grudging accomodation with them, I would say that Iraq is akin to Gaul after the Roman invasion. The Gauls were split into many competitive factions, and because of that, were easier for the Romans to control overall. Only once did they threaten Roman hegemony, under Vercingetorix, but once he failed, there was never again a cohesive threat. Now that the momentum has been lost by the various insurgent players, it can never be regained, unless the US pulls out. And why would it do that, after succeeding?
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 10/26/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.Posted by David M at October 29, 2007 05:04 PM
Anytime I see headlines like this one it pains me. There's definitely a disconnect between what is happening in Iraq and what most major media outlets report, good thing we have the internet. The past 4 months I've seen first hand how the surge is working. In my AO there has been a marked decrease in IED and indirect fire attacks since we got here.
Greyhawk also makes a good point about soldiers who've been deployed to a war zone for 14 months being a bit...um, jaded. The troopers here when I arrived definitely had a different attitude compared to those that recently replaced them. Were the press to talk to most of the soldiers on their way home from the last rotation I'm sure they'd have produced plenty of quotes like the one used by the Washington Post in the headline. By comparison the guys that rotated in not too long ago are extremely positive and looking for ways to help the Iraqis and fight the bad guys. In my opinion, if you combine the attitude of the new guys in country with the improvements brought about by the surge/change in tactics it might just be that even after 15 months in country the old media might have a hard time finding somebody to produce such grim sounding pronouncements.Posted by Danger UXO at October 29, 2007 05:26 PM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(18) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)