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Tilting at Windmills

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September 3, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

VICTORY THROUGH ATTRITION....I've mentioned in passing once or twice before that one possible way for Iraq's civil war to end is simply through attrition. If we just wait it out long enough, eventually someone will win and the fighting will stop — regardless of what the United States Army does or doesn't do. Today, Newsweek puts that possibility into stark relief with a story about the massive and ongoing ethnic cleansing taking place in Baghdad right now:

The surge of U.S. troops — meant in part to halt the sectarian cleansing of the Iraqi capital — has hardly stemmed the problem. The number of Iraqi civilians killed in July was slightly higher than in February, when the surge began. According to the Iraqi Red Crescent, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has more than doubled to 1.1 million since the beginning of the year, nearly 200,000 of those in Baghdad governorate alone. Rafiq Tschannen, chief of the Iraq mission for the International Organization for Migration, says that the fighting that accompanied the influx of U.S. troops actually "has increased the IDPs to some extent."

When Gen. David Petraeus goes before Congress next week to report on the progress of the surge, he may cite a decline in insurgent attacks in Baghdad as one marker of success. In fact, part of the reason behind the decline is how far the Shiite militias' cleansing of Baghdad has progressed: they've essentially won.

....Citywide, Sunnis complain that in the early phases of the surge, as Shiite militias refrained from attacks on U.S. troops, the Americans focused their firepower on Sunni insurgents. The implicit trade-off — pushed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and others — was that the Shiites would scale back their sectarian attacks once they felt safer. Instead militias like the Mahdi Army have become emboldened. Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the top ground commander in Iraq, recently noted that 73 percent of American fatalities and injuries in Baghdad in July were caused by Shiite fighters. That same month, for the first time since 2003, Shiite militants carried out as many attacks on Coalition forces as Sunni insurgents did nationwide.

....Of course, with Sunnis cleaned out of many Baghdad neighborhoods, Shiites may turn on each other. The fighting in Karbala was only an extension of battles that have been raging in the south for months now. (In the past two weeks, two provincial governors from a rival faction were assassinated, possibly by Sadr loyalists.) Could this be the start of a civil war within Iraq's civil war?

I mentioned yesterday that I wanted to get back to blogging about "the underlying political, confessional, ethnic, and tribal issues that are driving the violence in Iraq," and that's what this story is all about. Read the whole thing. Really.

Kevin Drum 12:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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[OT news item]: Remarkably familiar scenario, isn't it? One can only wonder why the British government, much like our own, is so dead set against any independent public scrutiny of the UK's own "9/11" event:

British government faces legal action over refusal to hold inquiry into London bombings
[WSWS News]

The British government is facing legal action over its continued refusal to hold an independent public inquiry into the July 7, 2005 bombings in London that killed 56 people and injured 700.

Lawyers for a group of survivors and relatives of the dead have applied for a judicial review of the governments decision to ignore their request for "an independent inquiry, open to public scrutiny to allow for participation from the bereaved and survivors." The Brown government has shown itself even more determined to rule out an inquiry than the Blair government, despite new evidence emerging in recent terror trials.

Clifford Tibber of Oury Clark Solicitors said, "We will ask the court to say that the home secretarys decision not to order an inquiry is irrational, and to recognise the rights the relatives and victims have to an inquiry."

Tibber said the government was "accountable" for the deaths and damage caused by the July 7 bombers, adding, "All the evidence shows that the government knew or should have known of the existence of at least two of those bombs; and they have done nothing about it." ...
_____________

When history repeats ... do we notice?

Posted by: Poilu on September 3, 2007 at 1:15 AM | PERMALINK

I read the whole thing. So the legions of the dead, the thousands more with broken bodies, broken minds, broken lives, were all sacrificed on the alter of ego so that ethnic cleansing and thuggery could prevail.

Heckuva job, boys. Heckuva job.

Posted by: Dennis P on September 3, 2007 at 1:27 AM | PERMALINK

Although I myself used "ethnic cleansing" in an earlier comment, the term used by Newsweek, "sectarian cleansing," seems more accurate.

Posted by: John de Hoog on September 3, 2007 at 1:33 AM | PERMALINK

John, "sectarian cleansing" is better but I would suggest that "factional cleansing" may be sadly appropriate. The battles between the Mehdi Army and the Badr Corps, the rise of various ( and nihilistic) takfiri all suggest that we will need new descriptors before this thing is over.

Posted by: Dennis P on September 3, 2007 at 1:51 AM | PERMALINK

But the Mahdi Army don't actually try to clear families of Badr Corps loyalists out of neighborhoods they take over, do they? What would that even mean? I've only read about sectarian-based cleansing so far. Though one wonders whether tribal cleansing may be going on as well.

Posted by: brooksfoe on September 3, 2007 at 2:18 AM | PERMALINK

But the Mahdi Army don't actually try to clear families of Badr Corps loyalists out of neighborhoods they take over, do they?

Not yet, as far as I know. The history of the French Revolution seems applicable here.

Posted by: Dennis P on September 3, 2007 at 2:34 AM | PERMALINK

Anyway, it seems clear that local actors -- Shiite militias and Sunni tribes -- are acting to bring stability to their respective areas of Iraq, after first engaging in a power-establishing phase of genocide and expulsion (and looting). Why exactly US troops have to be sitting in the middle of this, and what they think they're accomplishing, is unclear to me.

Posted by: brooksfoe on September 3, 2007 at 2:51 AM | PERMALINK

I read an article in Harpers several years ago, pre-W. Bush, about grid computing. One of the simulations the article explained about was sectarian conflict, and in every simulation, the majority surrounded and then eliminated the minority. I am just a person who reads random articles in magazines. Operational military strategists probably read stacks of this type of research routinely. They knew the sectarian violence was going to happen, thought it the best way to reduce the overall resistance to foreign occupation, and have steered operations to increase violent conflict between Iraqis.

Posted by: Brojo on September 3, 2007 at 3:36 AM | PERMALINK

I'm reading the Newsweek article. Teasing some of the numbers, it sounds like, rather than worrying about the Sunnis, we really should be concerned by the Shi'a militias. According to the article, the number of attacks by Shi'ites in July was equal to the number by Sunnis, for the first time since 2003. And Lt. Gen. Odierno said that 73% of the US casualties in July were caused by Shi'ite attacks. Which means that the Shi'ite attacks were 3 times as "effective" as those by the Sunni insurgents.

However, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. It really seems to me that the brass has decided that the center of gravity that matters in the Iraq insurgency is not in Iraq, but is in the US, and public opinion here (or, more accurately, in the opinion of the 535 folks sitting in the House and the Senate).

Posted by: Marc in Denver on September 3, 2007 at 3:51 AM | PERMALINK

What counts as a Shite militia attack on the US Army? Does it include armed responses by the Shite militias to US/Iraqi Army attacks on those militia? If it does, then it is obvious why the number of such attacks has increased. I don't expect the number of attacks on the US/Iraqi Army to decrease now that al-Sadr has declared a unilateral six month ceasefire.

BTW, has anyone wondered why the neo-cons are so opposed to the current British pullout from Basra? Could it be that because after it, nothing much will change and so demonstrate that the occupying armies are doing more damage than they prevent. If there is only a little more bloodshed between the militias and if there are only a few more civilian deaths, how long will the "surge" supporters claims that the US Army's presence stops worse bloodshed last? I hope Bush and Cheney haven't been reading The Quiet American by Graham Greene.

Posted by: blowback on September 3, 2007 at 7:24 AM | PERMALINK

Is the goal an eventual end to violence?

It seems to me a rat could jump over those goal posts. I mean we could have stayed out of WWII or Bosnia and won those wars by simply waiting for the facists to run out of Jews and Muslims to stuff into furnaces.

No. If we're supporting a government that is itself actively supporting cleansing and covertly supporting attacks on us we've long ago lost our minds and lost the war.

Posted by: toast on September 3, 2007 at 8:07 AM | PERMALINK

Marc in Denver: "And Lt. Gen. Odierno said that 73% of the US casualties in July were caused by Shi'ite attacks. Which means that the Shi'ite attacks were 3 times as "effective" as those by the Sunni insurgents."

One of the predictable outcomes of Bushco's invasion of Iraq is that Shi'a Iran has more influence in the region. Put your observation together with mine, and we can predict a lot of pain.

Yes, one of the terrible things about war is that, like a forest fire, sooner or later it will run out of "fuel." Supporters of Bushco's invasion of Iraq keep arguing that in 25 years it will be a peaceful country, lucky to be rid of evil Saddam Hussein; Our invasion will be totally justified, a brilliant Victory for democracy. And, indeed, "Peace" will come someday if enough people are killed.

Posted by: PTate in FR on September 3, 2007 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

toast,

"run out of Jews and Muslims to stuff into furnaces."

Surely you can't possibly mean Muslims getting stuffed into furnaces by the Germans.

I mean, you could have said Jews and a number of other things: gypsies, homosexuals, political dissidents, etc. But there were entire units of the "ethnically pure" Waffen-SS that were designated "Muslim." Now, whatever else you can say, you can't say that the Germans were systematically trying to kill Muslims.

Posted by: cactus on September 3, 2007 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

cactus, toast said "WWII or Bosnia" and "Jews and Muslims". Referring to the respective victims of genocide/ethnic cleansing in each conflict.

Posted by: brooksfoe on September 3, 2007 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Well, some speech writer for Shrub did some speed reading of "Quiet American" from Classic Comics prior to Shrub's speech in KC at the VFW convention.

Greg Mitchell in Editor and Publisher, has a column "Pressing Issues" about their misreading of Graham Greene.

Yes, Alden Pyle, the American CIA agent in QA is very much a young Shrub - Greene wrote of him, "Pyle was impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance...Innocence is like a good leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm. You can't blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them. Innocence is a kind of insanity."

In "Heart of the Matter", Greene wrote, with a prescience of Shrub, "He entered the territory of lies without a passport for return".

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 3, 2007 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

"Newsweek puts that possibility into stark relief with a story about the massive and ongoing ethnic cleansing taking place in Baghdad right now"

If you actually click the link you'll see that the story does not say anything at all about ethnic cleansing going on in Baghdad right now. Just thought I'd point that out.

Posted by: Simon on September 3, 2007 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

If you actually click the link you'll see that the story does not say anything at all about ethnic cleansing going on in Baghdad right now.

No, if you actually click the link you'll see that the story is about massive ethnic cleansing going on in Baghdad right now. Or "sectarian cleansing", if you prefer that term. The ethnic cleansing described includes both the massacres of large numbers of young men of the opposing sect, and the eviction through campaigns of terror of the entire opposite-sect populations of various neighborhoods in Baghdad, mainly performed by Shiites without any significant American attempt to stop them.

Just thought I'd counter your attempt to confuse people through laconic, opaque lies.

Posted by: brooksfoe on September 3, 2007 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

SimonSez probably believes that this is simply a sort of white flight, or Sunni flight, to those magnificent suburbs built by Perry of Texas, with wonderful 3 bedrooms on cul-de-sacs, Wal-Marts and Targets on their backs.

Even among the Shiites, there appears to be a purification, or only the purest of the pure, campaign ongoing. A type of Shrub inner Administration Committee of Safety cleansing. Only those who can find him the finest of bike trails to ride, can remain. Only, in Baghdad, the unpure die.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 3, 2007 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

The question I keep asking war proponents is to identify our enemy in Iraq at this point. Who are we fighting? If the answer is -- as I think it is -- more or less everybody except the Kurds, I think it is time to go home and let the Iraqis sort it out in whatever nasty fashion they choose. At some point, one side wins or people become exhausted by the bloodshed. But let's be clear -- it is Bush and his coterie with blood on their collective hands, not the war opponents.

Posted by: Klein's tiny left nut on September 3, 2007 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin wrote: "I mentioned yesterday that I wanted to get back to blogging about "the underlying political, confessional, ethnic, and tribal issues that are driving the violence in Iraq"

It would be nice if you would blog about the real underlying cause of the violence in Iraq, namely the US invasion and occupation for the purpose of establishing a subservient US puppet government that will enact the the Iraq Oil Law, accept a large permanent US military presence to enforce that law, and thereby hand over control of and the vast majority of the profits from Iraq's oil reserves to US-based multinational oil companies.

That is the sole and entire reason that the US is in Iraq at all. That is the Cheney-Bush administration's definition of "victory" in Iraq. That is the reason that the Cheney-Bush administration is going to steadfastly resist all demands, from the American public and from both Democratic and Republican legislators alike, to end the US occupation: they will not leave until they have secured possession of that oil for their cronies and financial backers in the oil corporations. And they will kill, displace and impoverish any number of innocent Iraqi civilians, and send any number of US troops to their deaths in Iraq, for as long as it takes to achieve that mission.

On this blog there is endless discussion by "armchair generals" of the Cheney-Bush administration's means in conducting the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Rarely is there any serious discussion of their ends.

How many times has Kevin blogged about the minutia of "sectarian divisions" and "counter-insurgency strategies" in Iraq? In contrast, how many times has Kevin blogged about the US-written Iraq Oil Law, what it contains, the effect it will have in transferring Iraq's oil weath to US-based multinational oil companies, the efforts of the various constituencies among the people of Iraq to oppose it?

The Cheney-Bush administration is happy to have everyone distracted with obsessing about "stategery" -- e.g. the success or lack thereof of the "surge" -- while they keep their eye on the prize.

It's all about the oil.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on September 3, 2007 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Violence begets violence.

Israelis and Palestinians have had fractions for over 35 years now – the violence never ceases.

Iraq has had tribal wars since before the Ottoman Empire and jihads was been a religion practice for centuries in the Mideast region.

So why is Kevin, who is no slouch on history, want anyone to believe that American has simply to wait for the ethic cleansing to finished running it's course to have peace in Iraq or anywhere in the Mideast? Kevin Drum knows this full well – so why is Kevin promotion this lie – that American merely need wait out the ethic strife?

Mideast has had civil strife for literally centuries.

American could not have waited out civil strife in Vietnam either, not for 10 years, not for 20 years.

Invading Iraq didn’t discourage al Qaeda – it caused an expansion of al Qaeda throughout the Mideast.

It was a lied about war in Vietnam that caused those boat people, the refuges from Vietnam and what eventually brought about the killing fields of Vietnam. The destabilizing and complete anarchy of the country in a supposed fight to give the people of Vietnam freedom, that was the lesson of Vietnam and is now what has happened to Iraq.

Americans let themself be lied into war twice now. Last time it was about communist and this time it about an extremely lucrative natural resource – oil and gas. The longer the US stays, the bigger the killing fields will be.

Posted by: Me_again on September 3, 2007 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

--the ethic strife? -- opps should be "ethnic".

Posted by: Me_again on September 3, 2007 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

...Yes, one of the terrible things about war is that, like a forest fire, sooner or later it will run out of "fuel."...
Posted by: PTate in FR on September 3, 2007 at 9:08 AM

I've been looking for a decent analogy for what our role in Iraq seems to be and you just provided it: We are supervising and conducting a "controlled burn". It is refereeing that has been taken to a new and sordid level. Where the Sunnis predominate... well we are giving them weapons and making deals. Where the Shia predominate we are "letting" them cleanse the neighborhoods. Big enclaves we put the barriers around (in Baghdad), but I'm wondering how long that will last.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on September 3, 2007 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

another item about schools, construction of the American University in Iraq:

http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/09/02/asia/kurds.php

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on September 3, 2007 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, has anyone wondered why the neo-cons are so opposed to the current British pullout from Basra? Could it be that because after it, nothing much will change and so demonstrate that the occupying armies are doing more damage than they prevent.
Posted by: blowback on September 3, 2007 at 7:24 AM
-------

Yes. At first I thought that we were pissed because we wouldn't have as much cover for a withdrawal without the British there in the South. But now I think your assumption is very accurate. The only argument that Bush/Petraeus/et al really have for hanging around is to prevent chaos and the resultant expensive gasoline. That argument is going to look rather thin if the South stays relatively peaceful, unless of course we start some shit with Iran and stir things up down there again. IOW, WE create the chaos that justifies our stay.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on September 3, 2007 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

So the current strategy for Iraq is that if we simply hold on long enough, the fighting will end by itself and we can declare a victory.

It does seem pretty self-evident - If we just stay and allow our military people to continue in the occupation, ultimately the problems there will go away. All we have to do is ignore the costs and fail to ask what "winning" will look like.

Sounds like a strategy designed by someone who has never read Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers to me.

Posted by: Rick B on September 3, 2007 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's always been useful to question what we would "win" if he "won" in Iraq. We won't win anything other than a couple of oil contracts.

Cue Robert Redford's character in "Three Days of the Condor".

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on September 3, 2007 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

difficulties with Iraqi electricity:

http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2007\09\03\story_3-9-2007_pg4_14

Iraq has at least 50% more generating capacity than before the invasion, and correspondingly more use, due in part to increased purchases of appliances and consumer electronics. But the power lines to Baghdad are cut/damaged/impeded, reversing the preferential treatment that Baghdad received under the Baathist regime.


Simply through attrition? There is nothing simple about attrition. The article that you quoted documents the reversal of Sunni conquests/expropriations of Shi'ite neighborhoods carried out by the Baathists. It's too bad (too say the least) that the redress of grievances is violent, but the grievances are real, and the violence did not originate with the American/British invasion.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on September 3, 2007 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

I'd guess that the sectarian violence our troops are refereeing right now is mostly a matter of the various Shiite tribes in Iraq, supported by those in Iran, mopping up the mess Bush/Cheney created in Iraq.

Iran and the rump Shiite Iraq will remove the majority of the Sunni dissenters from Southern Iraq and Baghdad, pressure us to get out, then focus on the next set of violent areas that interest or threaten them - Israel-Palestine, the Kurds up north and the Sunni nations of Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Since Pakistan has nukes but also has a lot of its own internal strife, it seems likely that Iran and rump Iraq will leave them alone. Especially since they don't have oil.

NATO will have troops in Afghanistan after our kids die, with the Taliban and opium fields causing trouble (especially in Europe) for the foreseeable future.

Except for trying to stop the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and keeping a single Middle Eastern nation from getting monopoly control of all the Middle Eastern oil fields, why in God's name do we want to be anywhere near that ant-bed? I mean now that the benighted PNAC experiment of using American force of arms to invade Iraq and convert it to a demonstration project showing the conservative glories of democracy and a free-market, limited government society have failed, what can we do over there except cause more problems?

Posted by: Rick B on September 3, 2007 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

[idiocy deleted. Gonzos departure had nothing to do with racism and everything to do with being corrupt and inept and hapless.]

Posted by: mhr on September 3, 2007 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

You've got to be kidding me mhr -- so Gonzales was a target because he is hispanic, not a lying incompetent hopelessly out of his league intellectually.

As for the segregationist forbears you invoke -- yeah they found a nice home in the GOP with Strom and Jesse, etc.

Posted by: Klein's tiny left nut on September 3, 2007 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Of the millions of Iraqi refugees, most are Sunni. That makes about half the Sunni population already out.

.... construction of the American University in Iraq...MatthewRmarler at 12:01 PM
There is widespread destruction of Iraqi education system throughout the country. Why don't meathead republicans even concentrate on the real situation they have caused. Instead they attempt to tout those few exceptions to try to make their Dear Leader look like a savior reborn.
.... The article that you quoted documents the reversal of Sunni conquests/expropriations of Shi'ite neighborhoods carried out by the Baathists....MatthewRmarler at 12:19 PM
The article you cited on electricity does not does not contain the claim of 50% more generating capacity and complains about less available electricity for Iraq.

...But attacks on cables, plants and workers, make it hard to repair an already dilapidated grid damaged further in the US-led invasion of 2003 and the ensuing looting and violence.
Waheed’s ministry is also working with provincial governors to wrest control of power transmission stations, around half of which are now under the control of militias. With many of the cables that feed Baghdad down the capital is suffering some of the worst of the power shortages in a country that gets an average 12-16 hours of electricity a day.
“We lost about 1,100 people, engineers and technicians, over the last year, killed or kidnapped because they are working with us,” Waheed told a conference on Iraqi energy and power in Dubai. “Baghdad is subjected to big shortages of electricity.”...

It is the obligation of occupying powers to provide safety and security to the occupied. If wrongs need be redressed, it is the duty of the occupier to do so without bloodshed and with full access to legal recourse.

Posted by: Mike on September 3, 2007 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

Jeffrey Davis wrote: "I think it's always been useful to question what we would 'win' if he 'won' in Iraq. We won't win anything other than a couple of oil contracts."

The "win" would be a lot more than "a couple of oil contracts." The US-written Iraq oil law gives almost complete control of, and almost all the profits from, Iraq's oil reserves to US-based multinational oil companies -- an arrangement that is found in NO other major oil-producing country in the world.

The "win" would be possession of what Dick Cheney himself has called "the prize" -- the world's last, biggest reserves of high-grade, inexpensively-extractable oil. This is a "prize" worth trillions of dollars.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on September 4, 2007 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

"The US-written Iraq oil law gives almost complete control of, and almost all the profits from, Iraq's oil reserves to US-based multinational oil companies -- an arrangement that is found in NO other major oil-producing country in the world."

Oh come on now, don't be ridiculous. There may be an agreement, but there is not a snowball's chance in hell that it will be carried out. Do you think that a government dominated by Shiite Islamists is going to turn most of Iraq's oil income over to American oil companies? If you believe that could actually happen, you are completely out of touch with reality. And furthermore, American oil companies, which have been in the Middle East for three-quarters of a century, are perfectly aware that it could never happen.

Posted by: bobo the chimp on September 4, 2007 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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