Monday, January 29, 2007

Can Lebanon Stand on Its Own with a Hizb'allah Albatross on Her Neck?

I think there are quite a number of observers who never imagined that Lebanon would fall prey to those who daily stoke the fires.


I'm reading Nasrallah speeches now. It seems to me that he wants an Iranian-style take-over, which was relatively bloodless. Those who are chiding him for thinking that he can take over Beirut like it was Tel-Aviv have the wrong reference - he seems to be after the Kohmenei model, including things like "veto" for himself (his own jurisprudence, of course).

But, that is only what I think when being charitable.

The truth is, HA's actions also follow a far more pernicious route. Increasingly cornered, they find ways to get out from under the glare. Israel puts enormous political pressure on Hamms by withdrawing from Gaza, unilaterally? No problem - kidnap or assassinate, whenever there is cooperation or alignment. Laws not going your way on holding onto a militia or protecting your rice-bowl feed from Syria? No problem - stoke a lawless, sectarian war to focus everyone on old rivalries and dilute the attention on your own lawlessness.

After 31 years in this country, I never truly believed I would see again what I witnessed on the streets of Beirut yesterday, thousands of Shia and Sunni Muslims, the first supporting the Hizbollah, the second the government once led by the murdered ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri, hurling stones and hunks of metal at each other. They crashed down around us, smashing the road signs, the advertisement hoardings, the windows of the bank against which seven Lebanese soldiers and I were cowering. Again and again, the soldiers ran into the roadway to try ­ with a desperation all of them understood, and they were brave men ­ to drag the youths from each other. Some of the Shia men, Amal members, loyal (heaven spare us) to the Speaker of Parliament, wore hoods and black face masks, most wielding big wooden clubs.

Their predecessors ­ perhaps their fathers ­ were dressed like this 31 years ago when they fought in these same streets, executioners-to-be, all confident in the integrity of their cause. Perhaps they were even wearing the same hoods. Some of the troops fired into the air; they shouted at the stone throwers. "For God's love, stop," one young soldier screamed. "Please, please."

But the crowds would not listen. They shrieked "animals" at each other and obscenities and on one side of the street they produced pictures of the Hizbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and of Michel Aoun, the Christian ex-general who wants to be president and is Nasrallah's ally, and on the other side of the street, the Sunnis produced a portrait of Saddam Hussein. Thus did the cancer of Iraq spread to Lebanon yesterday. It was a day of shame. - Robert Fisk

Superb journalism, here, the line cut on the body politic:

BEIRUT, Jan. 26 -- During Lebanon's 15-year civil war, the Green Line divided Beirut into predominantly Christian and Muslim halves along a road that became a symbol as telling as it was intimidating. In time, in a war in which more than 100,000 people were killed, it was less a front line and more a no man's land, named, some say, for its unkempt weeds and bushes.

Little remains of the Green Line today, save the Barakat Building near the downtown, its stately columns and arches still honeycombed by the damage of war. Like much of Lebanon itself, the other scarred buildings along the road are sheathed in a thin facade of concrete, stone and glass.

These days, the front has shifted to the Old Airport Road, a mile-long stretch of which divides its residents by Muslim sect -- Sunni or Shiite. The emerging border evokes the old and the new of Lebanon's two-month-old crisis: civil war memories and the sectarian schism transforming Lebanon and the region around it.

"This is the line of confrontation," said Ahmed Itani, sitting with friends around a corner from the airport road, in the Sunni neighborhood of Dana. "They're there, we're here, and if something's going to happen, it's going to happen in between."


In the claustrophobia inspired by Lebanon's shoe-horned diversity, many Sunnis were upset that Shiites had dared to encroach upon what Sunnis consider their turf, and they set up their own checkpoints in the Bekaa Valley and on the coast south of Beirut. Along the Old Airport Road, residents wrestled with the knowledge that civil wars often start through accumulated accidents, not by design.

Nasrallah is already blowing his horn that it is everyone else's fault, but it is everyone else who will *pay* for his "opposition":

Lebanon’s strong external support, as demonstrated in the Paris 3 pledges, should be a blessing for the country, and the structural reforms in state finances that will be enacted as part of this process should also benefit all Lebanese. There is a chance that this will not happen now, which could plunge the country into years of low-intensity conflict and simmering tensions -- well below the level of the 1975-1990 civil war, but enough to keep Lebanon mired in perpetual mediocrity and stagnation.

The stakes are very high, and very clear. Lebanon is at an ominous moment of reckoning, and sadly its fate might be determined by the vagaries of gangs of angry and fearful young men with sticks and guns. The modern Arab state is tested once again, and is not doing very well.

-Rami G. Khouri is an internationally syndicated columnist, the director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star, and co-laureate of the 2006 Pax Christi International Peace Award.

blogospherical redux:

I don't think even the superbly pernicious propagandists at al-Manar can turn this one around, but against the backdrop of a poor and uneducated underclass, maybe:

Nasrallah: Bush made Lebanon chaos

Nasrallah spoke as thousands attended Ashura ceremonies in south Beirut [Reuters]

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has accused George Bush of creating chaos in Lebanon, and rejected the US president's latest criticisms of the Shia group.

Speaking at Beirut ceremonies marking the climax of the Muslim festival of Ashura, Nasrallah accused the US of ordering Israel to launch last year's attack on Lebanon.

"The one who fomented chaos in Lebanon, who destroyed Lebanon, who killed women and children, old and young in Lebanon, is George Bush and (Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice who ordered the Zionists to launch the war on Lebanon," Nasrallah said.

As an aside, here is what Juan Cole is saying - it's remarkable, yes?:
Hizbullah's energies have not been put into killing Americans during the past two decades, but rather into getting the Israelis back out of their country [emphasis added]. In fact, it isn't clear that the Lebanese Hizbullah has done anything to the US for 20 years. link

A History of Rejectionist Attitudes and Their Consequences

It just struck me as hilarious that today's news contains an item that Iran is seeking to step up its ties with Iraq (I doubt there is much more than rhetorical face-off in this).

In History:

From the BBC, 22 April 2003:

The Arab world will fall after the fall of Baghdad, and all Road Maps which are presented to us [Arabs] are Road Maps of downfall and surrender.
Al-Watan - Qatar

The USA is making every effort to impose its will on the Arabs on the one hand, and serve the interests of Israel and the Zionists on the other.
Al-Bayan - United Arab Emirates

The US's only aim in this war was the occupation of Iraq and the misrepresentation of the Arabs.
Al-Dustur - Jordan

We are now witnessing a well-planned US colonisation in Iraq.
Al-Ra'y - Jordan

Everybody is asking whose turn is going to be next after Iraq. This is nothing other than the predominance of the law of the jungle.
Al-Ahram - Egypt

Appointing a military administrator to govern a sovereign and UN member country is not meant only to humiliate Iraq and its people, but is a humiliation for all independent countries and a blow to the UN.
Al-Vefagh - Iranian Arabic-language

Iraqis greet US administrator with anti-colonial demonstration.
Al-Quds Al-Arabi - London-based

Who is this controversial Gen Jay Garner?
Al-Arab al-Alamiyah - London-based

Tariq Aziz's aunt: Let them arrest him, he was part of the oppressive regime.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat - London-based

After the downfall of Taleban in Afghanistan and the Baathist regime in Iraq, Iran has been encircled by states which are America's friends.
Mardom Salari - Iran

A leading conservative figure recently said that the reformists and their newspapers have been intimidated by America and are acting miserably in order to make themselves immune to an American attack. In order to be fearful of something, you need to be intelligent enough. Some people may not be frightened because they are not intelligent enough to understand the danger.
Yas-e Now - Iran

Some political activists have been speaking about relations with America over the past few days, describing this as an opportunity to secure the country's national interests.
Resalat - Iran

After resolving the problem of Iraq by establishing a pro-American government in that country, the next priority in America's foreign policy will concern the options for expanding America's influence.
Iran - Iran

The American administration's first action after conquering Iraq has been stealing Iraq's oil. Only one week after the fall of Saddam's regime, America's war ministry as the guardian of the Iraqi nation concluded huge contracts with companies affiliated with American statesmen. The figures on some of these so-called reconstruction contracts amount to two billion dollars.
Jomhuri-ye Eslami - Iran

Update: After reading the last items above, check out Juan Cole on the matter (despite worthy analysis, sometimes his bias is just overwhelming):

I can't see what the big crisis is [over announced Iranian plans for "ties" to Iraq]. By the way, the Iranians are building an airport at Najaf to bring in the Shiite pilgrims, too. link

Deconstructing "Jihad"

Andrew Sullivan recently featured a Channel 4 documentary on the eye-popping focus and content of some of the teachings in a mosque in Britain.


I've been slowly working my way through each of the installments and the rebuttal, listening carefully, taking notes.

I find these little glimpses quite a treasure trove. There is much of analytical value. For instance, one can remark the so-called seal of completeness, viz. no one else has the Truth (just lies) and only here can one find the Truth. While that is a common seal in a religious-teaching context, a more moderate approach would not suggest that ALL else is lies, but some others might just have pieces of the truth and it is only through reason and study of al-Islam can one find the whole Truth.


So, this brings up the question of whether pundits are willing to spend the time to actively engage Islamic thinkers on the topics raised here. Do we all have to become mujtahids, in order to have a dialogue with our moderate Muslim counterparts, with whom we would make common cause against a radical belief system that so many see as ultimately threatening to civil order and peace itself.


Moreover, in discussing "jihadi" and radical concepts, does one unwittingly do the work of spreading the jihadi viewpoint/propaganda -- the catch-22 of talking about what one would really like to bury?

Myself, I think, at some point, such messages ought not to be let to fester unattended, unanswered. Their frame of reference tends to seep into the common "understanding" with deleterious effects on how folks come to understand and judge issues.


There might be a question of *who* should address them. National leaders run the risk of legitimizing and publicizing their opponents with a direct "debate". Still, I think one could craft a governmental effort. Nonetheless, much could be accomplished among a few, dedicated intelligentsia and the political punditry machine.

Here is one person who is deconstructing Osama's message, in detail, including concepts like "the myth of grievance", etc.


Everyone has to be concerned about the "Clash of Civilizations", perhaps even more so since the Bush Administrations bungling of the effort in Iraq may have precluded the very, very important "first steps" and started a cycle of blame and recrimination all its own.

Nevertheless, I think a deconstruction of narratives goes a very long way to framing the discussion, the "ideological challenge", in ways simple enough for people without comprehensive learning to say to themselves, "See, I agree with that, and that other stuff is not what I value", or "This is what I think you ought to be teaching, instead." It's a lot more detailed and meaningful than "they hate Freedom and we don't".

Last, I would just observe that it would be facetious, IMO, to engage in such an exercise just as a matter of propaganda. One has to truly listen back, to see what might be learned and to be open to changes oneself.

Sizing Up the Baghdad Conurbation II

Not having a back-of-the-hand knowledge of Iraqi geography, I often find news reports that reference towns and cities without adequate graphics to be hard to judge.

It's been hard to find decent maps of Baghdad, ones that are easily usable. Here is my ongoing effort to add dimension to empower readers. (By the way, if you don't know what a "conurbation" is perhaps that's enough to inspire a budding geographer).

The General Areas

Basic Ethnicities:
* Adhamiyah: Sunni majority, Shiite presence.

A majority Sunni area on the eastern side of the Tigris River, A'dhamiyah is home to the shrine of Imam Abu Hanifa, an eighth century Sunni scholar, and the Imam al Adham mosque, built above the shrine and for whom A'dhamiyah is named. Under Saddam Hussein, A'dhamiyah was considered one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Baghdad, home to political leaders, professionals and business people. During the first days of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Saddam Hussein was believed to be hiding in A'dhamiyah before heading north to his hometown of Tikrit. Today, A'dhamiyah still is considered a middle class Sunni neighborhood, with minority Shiites being rapidly expelled. And, despite the establishment of a neighborhood patrol, attacks are frequently carried out on Iraqi security forces and American troops in the area.-PBS News (date unknown)

* al-Kadhimya: Shiite majority.
Kadhimiyah is considered one of the safest and most peaceful areas of Baghdad. The shrine of Imam Musa al-Kadhim located here is heavily protected and the neighborhood is home to a large American military base. A mostly residential area, Kadhimiyah is second only to the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala to Shiites. According to Iraqis living in Baghdad, few outsiders venture into Kadhimiyah because of its location to the north, its relatively small size and generations of families helping keep it safe. In August 2005, the bridge connecting Kadhimiyah to Adhamiyah across the Tigris River was the scene of a deadly stampede that killed an estimated 1,000 people. Once a highly cosmopolitan area of the city with predominantly Shiites and some Sunni professionals living harmoniously, few Sunnis remain.-PBS News (date unknown)

* Karrada: Shiite majority, Christian presence.
One of Baghdad's most upscale neighborhoods, Karrada sits in the southeastern part of Baghdad where the Tigris River bends and forms a horseshoe before heading south. The neighborhood is almost fully surrounded by the river and has infrastructure in good condition, some office buildings, banks and stores, along with some of the best restaurants and nightlife in Baghdad. Considered a culturally mixed, cosmopolitan area with a variety of writers, artists and intellectuals, Karrada is home to mostly Shiites, many Sunnis and pockets of Christians, but also foreigners. Though thought of as a generally safe area, the neighborhood has witnessed several car bombings, and in March 2004 was the site of a deadly bombing at the Jabal Lebanon hotel that killed 27 people.-PBS News (date unknown)

* Al-Mansour: Mixed area.
Saddam Hussein's son, Uday Hussein, lived in the Mansour district, an upper class area of Baghdad. In the 1990s, Uday was known to cruise the streets of the neighborhood scouting for young women. An attempt was made on Uday's life in 1996 -- his Porche was riddled with bullets and he was shot 17 times -- some say at the hands of the family of a young girl he had raped. Others say residents of Dujail, a town north of Baghdad where 148 Shiites were massacred in 1982, were the would-be assassins. Under Saddam, Mansour was home to artists, writers, business people and military officers. In 2003, during the toppling of Baghdad, the Al Jazeera news network accused the U.S. military of protecting the Ministry of Oil, located in Mansour, while letting other parts of the city burn. Today, parts of Mansour lie in the coalition-controlled Green Zone, and the area, once home to foreign embassies, boasts the best infrastructure in Baghdad.-PBS News (date unknown)

* Dora: Mixed area.
Famous for housing one of the largest oil refineries in Iraq, Dora is a mixed Sunni, Christian neighborhood with a Shiite minority. Since 2005, Sunni extremists have worked to expel Shiites from the neighborhood, drawing retaliation from armed Shiites who entered the neighborhood from other Shiite strongholds to provide protection. One of the main areas of conflict in Baghdad, Dora has been the site of bloody clashes between insurgents and American troops. The area also has seen a slew of abductions, bombings and assassinations.-PBS News (date unknown)

* Baghdad Al-Jadida (New Baghdad): Shiite majority, Christian presence.
Called New Baghdad in English, Baghdad al-Jadida was created in the 1950s under a land expansion program and was populated by mainly middle class, working Baghdadis. Residents were salaried bureaucrats, many educated and working for the government. Today, Baghdad al-Jadida is a mixed Shiite-Sunni area with a Shiite majority and a small population of Christians. The area is residential, lightly industrial with family-owned businesses that cater to the neighborhood. Residents typically bus to central Baghdad for work. The neighborhood, considered relatively safe, was the site of a suicide bombing at a crowded gas station in February 2006 that killed 23 people and wounded 51.-PBS News (date unknown)

* Sadr City [Thawra]: Almost exclusively Shiite.
A Shiite slum of some 2 million people in the northwest section of Baghdad, Sadr City, once called Saddam City, was renamed for a prominent Shiite religious family after the dictator's fall. The area was built in the late 1950s, part of a scheme carried out by Iraq's first dictator Abdul Karim Qasim. At that time, poverty-stricken residents were given tents as homes. They served as the labor force for the rest of Baghdad. The area was once the headquarters of the Sadr Foundation, a religious organization headed by Grand Ayatollah Muhammad al Sadr, father of rebel Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr. The organization ran hospitals and provided services for the poor. Today, Sadr City residents, who still live in extreme poverty, have concrete homes and running water but little in the way of infrastructure -- the worst in Baghdad, according to many. The area is the stronghold of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. In November 2006, Sadr City was the scene of one of the worst bombings in Iraq's history. The bombings -- a series of attacks that killed more than 200 people -- led to a five-day curfew.-PBS News (date unknown)

* Hurriya City [near "Kadymiha" in general pic above]: Shiite majority, Sunni presence.
Hurriya City is mainly Shiite with a small Sunni population that is quickly disappearing. The area, like Shu'la and Sadr City, is a stronghold of rebel Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Socioeconomic conditions are poor as is the infrastructure. Hurriya is a lower middle-class, residential neighborhood that along with Sadr City and Shu'la comprises nearly half of Baghdad's population.-PBS News (date unknown)

* al Shula [South-eastern part of "Kadymiha" in general pic above]
Shu'la is another Shiite enclave that has witnessed the mass expulsion of its small Sunni population. Like Sadr City and Hurriya, Shu'la is controlled by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. The area is poor and considered a slum by most Baghdad residents. In Iraq's first election since Saddam Hussein's ouster, residents of Shu'la voted largely for the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance in 2005.-PBS News (date unknown)

Ad-hoc map of ethnic mixes:

Population estimates of major areas:

Major CitiesGovernatePopulation
Baghdad Conurbation
Karradah Sharqiyah235,554
Abu Ghurayb
Sadr City
Other Cities
2MosulNineveh / Ninawa664,2211,739,000
10HillaBabylon [Babil]268,834524,000
11Ramadiyah [Ar Ramadi]Al-Anbar192,556423,000
15Ba'qubahDiyala 280,000
17Samarra'Salah ad-Din201,000
18Az ZubayrBasrah168,000
19Tall 'AfarNineveh / Ninawa155,000
23as-SatrahDiyala 83,000
Ad Duluiyah50,000
TikritSalah ad-Din28,000

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sizing Up Baghdad

The folks over at have kindly provided the comparisons, to give a sense to readers of the relative size of Baghdad and its suburbs compared to known size of various U.S. cities:


Los Angeles:

New York:


San Francisco:

Washington, D.C.:

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Is Baghdad a Maelstrom?

Without any *systematic* information on the conflict in Iraq, just ad-hoc reporting, two articles surface suggesting that Baghdad is a maelstrom.

From The Independent, a sense that the siege mentality is *complete* and that the fortifications are growing, not even holding the same (enlarged enough to shoot down helicopters over Baghdad, bold enough to kidnap mayors in Baquba and to storm council meetings in Karbala in broad daylight using uniform disguises and fancy, black SUVs).

From the NYT, a description of the effort to settle down one district, Ghazaliya.

Oddly, here is a map from last September indicating that MNF-1 thought Ghazaliya (area 2) was "cleared":

Friday, January 26, 2007

Hizb'allah's Nasrallah brings strife, death to Lebanon

The leader of Lebanon's Hizb'allah (HA, or Party of God) has brought nothing to Lebanon in the past six months but strife, disorder, and death.

One must ask, how do they get away with it and still maintain the popular support needed to run a significant militia and a network of missiles that defend no one and endanger every Lebanese?

This picture, I thought, says it all about how Nasrallah's organization follows in the steps of the Prophet (pbuh) - is this what Mecca or Medina looked like at the time of the Prophet, I wonder:

A supporter of Hezbollah takes cover behind roadblocks in Beirut
©AFP - Izzat Atta

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Falcon Bridgade of 82nd is on the ground in Baghdad

Wednesday, 24 January 2007
By Sgt. Mike Pryor 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division

BAGHDAD — The 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team arrived in Baghdad last week as part of the first wave of a planned escalation of forces in Iraq's capital city.
The Falcon Brigade is one of the most combat-experienced units in the Army. Paratroopers from the 2nd BCT have deployed six times on short-notice deployments since the war on terrorism began.
The Falcons arrived in Baghdad trained, equipped and ready to fight. Now that they've put boots on the ground, it will be up to the young paratroopers and junior noncommissioned officers to make sure the mission gets completed, said Staff Sgt. Jack Butler, a platoon sergeant with Company C, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Butler said he has no doubt they will rise to the challenge."Whatever they put out in front of us," he said, "we're going to be able to tackle."

MNF link

...joins its predecessors, Operation Lightening and Operation Together Forward, with a amazing complement of ... well, everyone!:

Soldiers with the 1st Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, officers from the 5th Iraqi National Police Brigade and elements of the U.S. 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division and 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division initiated raids as part of Operation Tomahawk Strike 11 on Haifa Street to disrupt illegal militia activity and help restore Iraq security force control in the area.

Hot from Iran: passive infared sensors

Kudos to Newsweek and its reporters Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, for picking up the trail of the Iranian weapons trade.

Full story includes perspectives on how significant the number of super-IEDs might be; the porous divide between Sunni and Shia terror activities, possibly; information about staging posts inside Syria and Lebanon; and a chief Iranian spy in broad daylight in Baghdad ...

SOTU on Threat from Terrorism

President Bush's SOTU address pointed the way toward continued un-resolved tension in the U.S. public diplomacy on terrorism.

One unresolved tension is how to deliver a message of ongoing, grave threat, while suggesting that current actions - whatever they amount to - are mitigating that threat.

Replacing the "war on terror" rhetoric with "decisive ideological struggle" doesn't quite seem to convey a full message, especially when the response to that has been military action, legal realignment (in eye-popping ways), and various homeland security initiatives, still in whatever state of implementation, which themselves are non-ideological per se (as I understand it, first responders do not have coordinated frequencies for communications in many locations still).

Notwithstanding, "Freedom" seems to be what the Administration suggests will be the decisive ideological weapon, but is that enough of an engagement, at this time? That's a very hard question to answer; but even if it is presently sufficiently sparse, one hardly has the sense that the US Government has a plan, let alone a phased plan, for how to combat the rhetoric of radical Islam that vies for legitimacy, in various ways at various stages of its own political development. What about other tie-in issues, like anti-americanism, education, and informational assymetries (imposed or natural)?

"Bring the fight to the terrorists" is somehow component, in an undescribed way. Does that mean Gitmo? Aren't people simply divided on how best to accomplish that goal, mostly? What's more, how does such a physical "fight" fit alongside defeating an ideology?

Altogether, SOTU suggests that, from the top down, the Bush Administration still needs to formulate a coherent message and strategy for counterterrorism, one that covers all the complexities of public diplomacy, military action, and law enforcement.

To date, they've done a lot to finally focus and get the message out on the objectives (remaining) for Op Iraqi Freedom. They need to do the same thing for the terrorist threat. Getting a clean conceptual landscape on the issue is a necessary first step, as complex as it is.

Only in that way can one get a sense for whether this criticism is misguided or on-the-mark:

For example, his description of the global counter-terrorist campaign waged audaciously—and so far rather successfully—by the United States government seems to be directed more at Ayman al Zawahiri, who gave his own “State of the Jihad” two days ago, than to millions of U.S. citizens under threat. By painting the campaign as a “decisive ideological struggle” against an “evil”, which, in case we were wondering, “is still at work”, President Bush promotes Al-Qaeda into a status (existential threat) and a role (defining the identity of U.S. foreign policy) which Osama bin Laden ought to appreciate, at a time when his share in the global militancy market has dramatically declined in favor of Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas’ Khaled Meshaal. - Alexis Debat, National Interest article

Because It's Impossible to Move Forward Without Frank Assessment

Generals saying what President Bush apparently cannot (or Rumsfeld before him, "Give us all your sevens.").

I've pulled up some items that highlight the political problems, rather than the current fashion, which is to focus just on troop levels, surge or otherwise. I've tacked on a few military issues at the end, because there is no clear way forward without an honest and factual assessment.

Political Mistakes / Issues / Problems

On de-Ba'athification:

The very slow (if that) execution of the reconciliation component of de Ba'athification left tens of thousands [documented?] of former Ba'ath Party members (many of them Sunni Arabs, but also some Shi'a) feeling that they had no future opportunities in, or reason to support, the new Iraq. To be fair to CPA, AMB Bremer intended to execute reconciliation (Or exceptions to the de-Ba'athification order) and gave me permission, e.g. to do so on a trial basis in Ninevah Province; however, when we submitted the results of the reconciliation commission conducted for Mosul University and subsequent requests for exception generated by Iraqi processes with judicial oversight, no action was taken on them by the de-Ba'athification Committee in Baghdad [so what was done, instead?]. As realization set in among those affected that there was to be no reconciliation, we could feel support for the new Iraq ebbing in Sunni Arab majority areas [so was Rumsfeld right about dead-enders, but "flat wrong", to borrow one of his own phrases, about how to deal with them, then?]
On disbanding the Army:
Disbanding the Iraqi army (which was, to be sure, an army that Iraq did not need in the long term as it had vastly more senior officers than were remotely required and was more of a jobs program than a competent military force) without simultaneously announcing a stipend and pension program for those in the Army, the future plan for Iraq's defense forces, and provisions for joining those forces undoubtedly created tens of thousands of former soldiers and officers who were angry, feeling disrespected, and worried about how they would feed their families. (The stipend plan was eventually announced some 5 weeks after the disestablishment was announced, but it did not cover senior officers, who remained, therefore, influential critics of the new Iraq.) This action likely fueled, at least in part, the early growth of the insurgency and anti-coalition feeling.

Military Problems / Civilian Defense Department Issues
Sufficient Planning
We obviously had inadequate plans, concepts [!!!], organizations, resources [!!!], and policies for the conduct of Phase IV (stability and reconstruction) operations; consequently, we were slow to move into Phase IV operations.
There was an underestimation of the security challenges in Iraq, particularly in 2006 ...coupled with an overestimation of our ability to create new security institutions
There was the feeling that [national] elections would enhance the Iraqi sense of nationalism. Instead, the elections hardened sectarian positions as Iraqis voted largely based on ethnic and sectarian group identity.

Rapid Reaction / Adaptation
We took too long to recognize the growing insurgency and to take steps to counter it, though we did eventually come to grips with it.
We took too long to develop the concepts and structures needed to build effective Iraqi security forces to assist in providing security to the Iraqi people.
It repeatedly took us time to recognize changes in the security environment and to react to them. What began as an insurgency has morphed into a conflict that includes insurgent attacks, terrorism, sectarian violence, and violent crime. Our responses have had to continue to evolve in response, but that has not always been easy [that seems like code talk for the old saw, "The Right Way, the Wrong Way, and The Army's Way ...].

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Vicious Intimidation and Elimination of Journalists

The absolutely brutal campaign to de-capitate the eyes and ears of the world, to intimidate professionals into carrying messages sympathetic to 'jihad' or 'insurgency', and to disable intellectual challenge continues.

The journalist dimension of the violence puts in high relief just how much the battle is not military in nature, if anyone needs more evidence.

Meanwhile, how much do the MNF and the Iraqi government rely on the press to 'get the word out'? It's hard to build a communications network that competes with the Mosques ...


MOSUL: Gunmen killed an Iraqi journalist outside his home in the northern city of Mosul, a local police officer said Saturday. Khudhir Yunis, a freelance journalist working for a number of Baghdad-based newspapers, was shot dead overnight in Mosul's southern Sumar neighbourhood, police Major Mohammed Ahmed said. Iraq was in 2006 described as the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, where more than 130 journalists and media workers have been killed since the US-led invasion in March 2003.

Yunis, a member of the Iraqi Journalist Association in Mosul, was the fifth journalist to be killed in the country's third largest city in two months.

The bloodiest attack on Iraq's media in recent months came when gunmen burst into the Baghdad offices of new television network Al-Shaabiya on October 12 [?2006] and killed at least nine staffers, including reporters and the general manager.

More detail from Committe to Protect Journalists.

New General Offers His Own Top Priorities

In testimony worth reading in every detail, General Petreaus offers up his four focus areas, put here to contrast with Negroponte (below):

  1. "The top challenge is providing the security necessary to reduce the cycle of violence in Iraq today.

    This will be a difficult mission and time is not on our side. We must focus on population security, particularly in Baghdad, to give the Iraqi government the breathing space it needs to become more effective.

  2. The second challenge is continuing the development of capable Iraqi Security Forces, relatively free of ethnic and sectarian bias.

    The Iraqi Army has made much progress, but is uneven, and the police remain a challenge.

  3. The third challenge is the integration of the interagency effort to ensure that progress is made along all lines of operation - not just security, but economic, governance, and the rule of law as well.

  4. That is related to the fourth challenge, and that is the lack of capacity of the Iraqi government. Iraq has enormous natural resources and potential wealth. However to take advantage of its blessings, not only must security be improved, but critical national issues must be resolved by the Iraqis, on issues such as national reconciliation, the devolution of power below Baghdad, the distribution of oil wealth, and so on.

    Only through unity of effort of all - coalition and Iraqi, military and civilian - can we bring the full weight of our effot to bear on the difficult situaiton in Iraq.

Private Sector Slow on Uptake ...

The economic "re-revolution" - third time through is a charm. Apparently, jobs are more important this time through than GOP ideology or economic shock therapy:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5, 2007 – A team of 25 industrial leaders and business analysts is headed to Iraq today to join 35 others already there working to get almost 200 idle Iraqi factories up and running.

The industrial revitalization initiative is part of a sweeping plan to get Iraqis back to work, restore their livelihoods and jump-start Iraq’s economic base, Paul Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense for business transformation, told Pentagon reporters yesterday.
These businesses, which have sat idle since Saddam Hussein’s fall in 2003, once employed 10 percent of the Iraqi population, Brinkley said. But their impact on the Iraqi economy was even greater, because private-sector companies provided goods and services to the government-run factories. So when the factories closed their doors, the private companies’ customer bases dried up and they, too, were forced to close.

The U.S. government's economic effort in Iraq initially focused on reconstruction, with an assumption that Iraq’s private sector would eventually take over the idle government-owned businesses, Brinkley explained. But that never happened.

So the Task Force for Improved Business and Stability Operations in Iraq, which was working to improve DoD contracting operations in Iraq, shifted its focus in May to stepping up the process.

Petreas, Counterinsurgency from the Ground Up

General Petreas offers up his lessons learned from soldiering on Iraq, by reference in testimony this week and in a Military Review article from this time last year:

A summary of points:

  1. Don't do too much with your own hands.

    Citing T.E. Lawrence observation, "Better the Arabs do it tolerably, than you do it perfectly." Lesson lost in so many ways in the Bremer-Rumsfeld era.
  2. Act quickly, because every Army of liberation has a half life
  3. Money is ammunition
  4. Increasing the number of stakeholders is crtical to success
  5. Analyze the cost-benefits before each operation [remove more bad guys than create]
  6. Intelligence is the key to success
  7. Everyone must do national building ["Civil Affairs" is not enough]
  8. Help build institutions, not just units
  9. Cultural awareness is a force multiplier
  10. Success in counterinsurgency requires more than just military operations
  11. Ultimate success depends on local leaders
    [This offers some simple, but profound observations about the primacy of individual courage and morality/fairness.]
  12. There is no substitute for flexible, adaptable leaders
  13. Especially during counterinsurgency operations, a leader's most important task is to set the right tone.
    [Some heavy words in this section ... ]

Last, citing a 1986 article by General Galvin:

an officer's effectiveness and chance for success, now and in the future, depend not only on his character, knowledge, and skills, but also, more than ever before, on his ability to understand the changing nature of conflict."

I worry that our fascination with Patreaus puts a target on his back, recalling that the head of the Scorpion Brigades got targeted and this from Ricks at the WaPo:

Perhaps most important, Army insiders say they expect Petraeus to show a very different style from his reserved predecessor, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. "You are going to see a much more active command style than Casey," said one officer who has worked with both men. "Petraeus will be out walking the streets, visiting units and firing up both his Iraqi and coalition forces with his personal attention."

Saturday, January 20, 2007

50 years on from the Battle of Algiers, the "Battle of Baghdad"?

Charlie Rose put on his first program on counterinsurgency (that I know of) tonight, with Alastair Horne, author of the classic text on the French experience in Algeria, "A Savage Peace".

Alastair listed five similarities that he sees with the effort in Iraq:

  1. US is fighting with a regular army
  2. There are porous borders
  3. Insurgents targeting local police, judges, administration
  4. Torture
  5. Difficulty to extricate [took DeGaulle 4 years]

My comments are as follows:

  1. The army has changed, I believe, at the fighting level. They are ahead of the pundits on what needs to be done, in my estimation.

    What has not occurred is broad changes in incentives and commitment that is needed at the most senior levels, like longer tours of duty (especially for advisers), revamping of financial/career incentives in the officer corps, and true co-integration of effort (i.e. bring civilians outside the chain into the 'circle of classified secrecy'). I'm at a great distance from these issues, but that is how the field looks from afar.

  2. There are hundreds of people in Iraq without jobs. Everyone has their own gun. Why not send them to do border security and kill two birds with one stone? They don't even have to do a great job, but many willing workers will at least have an income and a respectable position.

    The problem here, as viewed from afar, is that the US never saw itself in Iraq for a long period, and therefore did not take the long-term issues of border security upon itself.

    What's more, it is not clear how much of the border insecurity is a problem and how much is positioning related to whose fault the violence is attributed.

    Last, census and other methods are ways to forestall the impact of loose borders. There are smugglers that handle the borders, too. It's not clear that they cannot be co-opted or whether it has been tried.

    The Saudis are building fence to help close their border, physically. The Syrians, despite their bad press, have had a closed border with Iraq for a long, long time (at one point, they even allowed their border to be violated as the US chased, in hot pursuit, what turned out to be gas-smugglers). The Iranian borders in the South ... I don't know enough about.

  3. This is very, very grave and few early on understood the importance of it (did Rumsfeld, et. al?). Even today, many seem to think it is just one issue among many, but it is not. Charlie Rose himself skips over it, even though his second guest, former Head of Research for the Iraqi National Museum, points out the consequences, softly and plainly.

  4. This is a truly a problem, because the domestic politics of the war have been badly handled, in part. The conception of the war as the US bringing something, rather than enabling a chance for something, has permeated enough to have deleterious effects (or, as Noah Feldman wrote, the risks of old school patrician attitudes toward nation building).

    The original mission to "set the conditions for democracy to emerge" was open-ended and, as we can plainly see, a political, not primarily military endeavor. Both the politics and the military have had setbacks, even failure, and there is no domestic consensus about how to re-set, if at all.

    With luck, this consensus will emerge if enough people start to get behind a proper conceptualization of the Iraqi effort and start to manage the politics of it properly.

    The idea that only "success" will dispel the critics is more bad planning, as seductive as that may be. For what the Army is calling the "Long War", we have to transition from notions of "control", fantasies about the "glory" of America, and the promise of Victory, and settle in to a quiet, steadfast, abiding confidence in process.

Just to close, I'll add that the sectarian violence in Baghdad may not have the same motivations as an Algerian-style insurgency. Therefore, at least on that score, the "Battle for Baghdad" is quite unlike counterinsurgency, although it might be linked to it in important ways.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Intangible Benchmarks - How Progress will Really be Measured

Negroponte, on the eve of surprisingly leaving the DNI post (confirmed just in April of 2005), lays out some ideas on what National Intelligence is using for benchmarks of cricital progress in Iraq:

  • Foremost is the ability of the Iraqi gov't to establish and nurture effective national institutions that are based on national rather than religious or ethnic interests; and within this context, the willingness of the security forces to pursue extremist elements of all kinds.
  • The extent to which the Shia feel sufficiently secure in their political position: despite their recent electoral victories and overall political ascendancy, the Shia at present remain deeply insecure about their hold on power. This insecurity is manifested in the Shia's refusal to make real concessions to the Sunnis on a range of issues...
  • The extent to which Arab Sunnis develop trust and participate in the new political order ...
  • The extent to divisions within the Shia and Sunni are addressed: profound intra-group divisions among the Shia and Sunnis complicate the situation, because no single leader can speak for or exert control over these groups.
  • The extent to which extremists - most notably al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI) - are suppressed...
  • And lastly, the extent to which Iraq's neighbors can be persuaded to stop the flow of militants and munitions across their borders.

Is calling them killers enough?

Here is a snippet from Counterterrorism blog (see links on RHS), which has some elements of interest (I've taken-out what I found to be overstatement):

The overwhelmingly negative assessment of the U.S. counter-terrorism strategy laid out by John Negroponte ... was notable for its candor and the end to the happy talk that has often made its way into assessments on the struggle against the jihadist threat. What is amazing is that, five years and billions of dollars after 9-11, we are falling behind in the conflict. We are not even really competing in the field of ideas, and we have done little to mitigate the broader problems.

Part of the problem is that there is still no general consensus on who the enemy is and if a war exists. Until we decide that, little else of import can happen.

From this assessment, one gleans that the effort to "raise the costs" on al-qa'ida and to get them on-the-run has had mixed results. The DNI suggests that they continue to plan and to be organized.

The lack of a consensus suggests that leadership has failed to come up with a strategy to confront radical Islam, either in general or one that has produced a consensus approach. This may be suggestive of a failure of imagination (poor conceptualization of the key problems and their solutions), a weak implementation, a genuine lack of consensus/understanding, or the difficulty (complexity) of that task.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Rand Publishes Its Collective Wisdom on Counterinsurgency

Catching up on new pubs.

Austin Long at Rand pulls together a summary of all of RAND's work on insurgencies.

Areas of focus include government organization. Without surprise, more emphasis on co-integration of effort ("unity") and greatly expanded model of Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

Also reviewed are amnesty and reward programs, border security (external support).

Apparently, a lot this stuff is not intuitive ...

At the end, they mention census and national identity cards (something Saddam used extensively to maintain control).

I can recall, during the first months after the invasion, when the Ministries were being looted and during the days of General Garner, thinking that, with the loss of computerized registers of citizens, how elections were going to be held? Every time Rumsfeld mentioned old regime "dead-enders", I winced thinking that some early effort to quickly get a who's-who list might have provided invaluable information down the road ... anyway, there it is.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bush: Ahead or Behind the Curve?

Tonight the President rehearsed the now well worn dire warnings of "failure" in Iraq (a.k.a. "the quagmire"), but didn't add much to assist in an ongoing assessment of progress or retreat in the overall project.

The general tenor has moved from "Victory is certain" to "there is no magic bullet for Iraq".

Yet, there continue to be conflicts (necessary ones?), within the overall thinking. "America stands for freedom" and Iraq is "critical" in the "war on terror" (yes, they are still using that hapless phrase). However, such things are conditional in a somewhat unspecified way:

I [President Bush] have made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people ...
From Afghanistan to Lebanon to the Palestinian Territories, millions of ordinary people are sick of the violence, and want a future of peace and opportunity for their children. And they are looking at Iraq. They want to know: Will America withdraw and yield the future of that country to the extremists, or will we stand with the Iraqis who have made the choice for freedom?

I say 'necessary' because such contradictions seem to be part of trying to deliver steadfast message than can only help in a war-of-attrition and trying to manage the politics of shifting burdens.


Among the critical things not supplied are any new metrics to give the average American a sense of how the "coalition" is doing, in any systematic way, although gone are the blanket trust-me statements that plagued past public assessments (unless one is rigorous enough similarly to fault the blanket assessment, "the situation in Iraq is not acceptable").

We are told we are at a critical juncture. It seems to me that almost all military campaigns are constantly at a critical juncture, so one must take this statement as a patch, a way to warm over a change by 'seeing' future tactical opportunity rather than prior tactical misstep.

If this critical juncture is brought about by a realization that we don't have enough troops to "hold" areas that have been cleared, that insight has been on the table in a very high profile way for months now. It suggests incompetence to only be realizing that the 'whack-a-mole' approach is a loser in terms of fighting insurgency.

Besides, if the security strategy is still clear-hold-build, then calling it all a "new strategy" is slight of hand.


I noted a while back that the emergence of induced sectarian strife probably violated some of the given assumptions in the old "Strategy for Victory in Iraq".
There seems to be no good idea about how to stem the cycle of violence, apart from more troops while getting the Iraqi government to actually try a rule-of-law approach, rather than a eye-for-eye approach.

This background briefing suggests that there is an Iraqi-inspired plan to handle the sectarian violence around the capital. It does NOT offer a strategic outline of what the plan amounts to, therefore obviates later assessment, nor does it suggest why prior efforts didn't meet their objectives, precisely. The hope is that better organization and more resources will do what could not be done before:

The good news is that the Iraqi government has -- they have come forward with a plan. This was first given to the President when he was in Amman, Jordan, and met with Prime Minister Maliki's security people, the government security people, and our commanders have been working on that plan. The good news is that they believe that the plan fixes the problems that plagued our earlier efforts to bring security to Baghdad and is a plan that will work. And he'll describe it in some detail. - Senior White House Official
The details, from President Bush:

Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have. Our military commanders reviewed the new Iraqi plan to ensure that it addressed these mistakes. They report that it does. They also report that this plan can work.

Now let me explain the main elements of this effort: The Iraqi government will appoint a military commander and two deputy commanders for their capital. The Iraqi government will deploy Iraqi Army and National Police brigades across Baghdad's nine districts. When these forces are fully deployed, there will be 18 Iraqi Army and National Police brigades committed to this effort, along with local police. These Iraqi forces will operate from local police stations -- conducting patrols and setting up checkpoints, and going door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents.
What we don't have good information on is what is driving the sectarian violence, with some suggesting that it is reprisal and some suggesting that it is Shia trying to consolidate power inside Baghdad.


In terms of any broad understanding of how long or how far the insurgency might yet wear on (some average estimates of similar conflicts run to nine years), nothing is given. "Sacrifice" is called for, but no cost and no CURRENT cost is mentioned, other than the lives of the brave soldiers who follow orders.


There will be no grand diplomatic initiative as recommended by the Baker report. Iran and Syria are complicit in destabilization, an assessment, so far, offered time and again, recklessly, without any Karine-A like evidence.

This go-it-alone mentality continues to suggest that the militarists, despite Rumsfeld's departure are still in control of the government or that President Bush has yet to learn how to do diplomacy - true diplomacy - after all these years. "America must win" is still the operating belief - there is no sharing of risks and no sharing of glory, no prepping for passing the political baton to others who also have a stake in stability.

What Secretary Rice's announced visit to the mideast will specifically attempt to achieve is unknown. However, W. Patrick Lang offers up a clear perspective on how failure to adequately prep a regional engagement leaves the US without one, good political exit strategy.


Notes that Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Generals Casey and Abizaid are slated to leave stand in stark contrast to evidence from Vietnam that short tours of "advisers" greatly contributed to an inability to be effective on the ground. Perhaps it is time for them to move onward, but shifting of personnel in a complex, long, and phased campaign weakens the effort, rather then re-enforcing it.

The notion of doubling the number of transition teams is great. Perhaps that will help to create information flow that will keep corruption and incompetence in a new Iraqi central government from getting as far out of hand as it seems to have done in Afghanistan. All the same, what is paramount is coordination between the political efforts (reconstruction) and military efforts, and no assurances were given that organizational changes that improve integration of effort are on the way.

However, the problem that this type of effort (counter-insurgency) might need to be planned in chunks of time of 2-3 years seems to escape the people for all parts of the political spectrum.


These are the few commitments we get for the upcoming year:

To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution.

Elections "later this year". Reform of Baathification has been on the table for how long now? At least since last fall. Amend the constitution ... for pity's sake, the country barely has a functioning central government and the chief worry is how to amend the constitution?