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Tilting at Windmills

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February 28, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THE AWAKENING BEGINS TO NOD....Sudarsan Raghavan and Amit Paley of the Washington Post report that although U.S. efforts to manage the various Sunni Awakenings are "still largely effective," some pretty serious trouble spots have started to emerge:

Nowhere are the tensions more serious than in Diyala, one of the major battlegrounds in the U.S. fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq. Awakening groups, also known here as Popular Committees, are demanding the resignation of the Shiite provincial police chief, Maj. Gen. Ghanem al-Qureishi. They accuse him of running death squads and torturing Sunnis, allegations that Qureishi denied in an interview. The Awakening leaders are also seeking recognition as an official force.

On Wednesday, they vowed to dissolve the committees if their demands were not met. "In the last 10 months, we haven't received any kind of assistance or help from Americans or Iraqi government," said Abu Talib, a top Awakening leader. "On the contrary, the police started to hunt us down."

....The U.S. military acknowledges that it is caught in the middle of a political struggle. "Yes, they are frustrated," said Lt. Col. Ricardo Love, commander of the 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, who works in Baqubah, the provincial capital. "They think we can make the government of Iraq do anything. We tell them we don't control the government. But they think we are the mighty power."

Killings of Awakening members are up, there's been infiltration of Awakening groups by al-Qaeda in Iraq, and tensions with the Shiite central government are increasing. None of this is surprising as time continues to slip by without significant political progress, and it's probably not too dangerous until/unless it reaches a tipping point of some kind. Still, it's hardly good news. The Awakening movement was arguably more important than the surge in reducing violence during 2007, and if it starts to fray at the same time that the surge is drawing down, a lot of those gains will be wiped out. Keep your fingers crossed.

Kevin Drum 1:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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The LA Times ran a story on this back on the 17th.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on February 28, 2008 at 2:15 AM | PERMALINK

The Sunnis are awakening to the fact that they won't be getting anymore goodies from the occupier, which means that it is time to take stock of what they have before going ahead with the civil war.

Still not looking too good for the Sunnis, of course, but better than it did before the U.S. started handing out equipment and funds.

For which, Sunni gratitude is likely to be in the traditional mode of that reserved for any outsider getting involved in tribal/intra-religious matters.

Posted by: not_scottbot on February 28, 2008 at 2:16 AM | PERMALINK

Wait, we aren't the mighty power? I thought the surge was working because we are the mighty power! It's so hard to keep up with these things.

Posted by: mmy on February 28, 2008 at 2:18 AM | PERMALINK

mmy is right: that "mighty power" quote really lays bare the notion that the surge is "working". We really aren't able to control the government, or much else, in Iraq. The surge was intended to reduce violence to the point where the central government could step up, begin providing more comprehensive security, make critical power and resource-sharing compromises, organize new elections, etc. And where's that gone? Nowhere. We're paying tens of millions of dollars to temporarily pacify a bunch of Sunni militias while the Iraqi gov't sits on its hands and grows fat on its own corruption. Meanwhile, the average Iraqi is getting squat and resentment on all sides is growing.

Posted by: jonas on February 28, 2008 at 2:27 AM | PERMALINK

Nir Rosen just did a lengthy article about this in Rolling Stone here:
http://tinyurl.com/2eeje8

Posted by: hawiken on February 28, 2008 at 3:25 AM | PERMALINK

In my simple view, we've co-opted, paid off a significant Sunni faction, and gotten them to work more or less with the US. These guys are former insurgents, former Baathists, as the article said.

These Sunni Awakening forces are fighting other Sunni groups, those less aligned with the US. They mostly provide a way for the US to buy off former adversaries. They also relieve Sunni anxiety over the Shiite militias and government forces, allowing Sunnis to be armed and organized.

Al Qaeda in Iraq is just another Sunni faction. Don't expect to hear that spelled out explicitly in the neo-con Washington Post, or from opportunistic, cowardly, lying politicians. For them, the idea of al Qaeda in Iraq as forces of international terrorism plotting against the US, is just too convenient.

This lie has been ongoing for years now.

Posted by: luci on February 28, 2008 at 4:31 AM | PERMALINK

The distinction between the escalation of troops in Baghdad, and this other initiative trying to co-opt Sunnis is important. The seeming fact that the latter is in the main responsible for much of the recent security gains would lead one to expect that the architect of this initiative would be paraded around, and the success crowed. Perhaps I just wasn't paying attention, but I don't remember these Popular Committees being any part of the discussion when the surge was debated, and in fact they might have been starting beforehand. I suspect that our desire to talk up the Iraqi police and Iraqi army might have been more important than announcing a plan to arm many of those whom we'd previously been demonizing. It's a shame that the need for this administration in general, and Hon. Sen. McCain in particular to keep up the mantra of the surge working has distracted most media from showing a more nuanced (and accurate) picture of the state of play in Iraq.

Posted by: jhm on February 28, 2008 at 7:17 AM | PERMALINK

This is a good read, but sad. Snippet quoted...

http://www.aina.org/news/2008029154843.htm

To: Ambassador Crocker

From: Manuel Miranda, Office of Legislative Statecraft

Date: February 5, 2008

Re: Departure Assessment of Embassy Baghdad

...The purpose of the Surge, now one year old, was to pacify Iraq to allow the GOI to stand up. The State Department has not done its part coincident with the Commanding General's effort. This is not the fault of intelligent and hard working individuals skilled at the functions of the "normal embassy." The problem is institutional. The State Department bureaucracy is not equipped to handle the urgency of America's Iraq investment in blood and taxpayer funds. You lack the "fierce urgency of now."

Foreign Service officers, with ludicrously little management experience by any standard other than your own, are not equipped to manage programs, hundreds of millions in funds, and expert human capital assets needed to assist the Government of Iraq to stand up. It is apparent that, other than diplomacy, your only expertise is your own bureaucracy, which inherently makes State Department personnel unable to think outside the box or beyond the paths they have previously taken.

Posted by: sjrsm on February 28, 2008 at 7:38 AM | PERMALINK

I've said it before and I'll say it again: If you arm paramilitary groups and encourage them to protect their areas, you're playing with fire. It's no surprise that these groups are now challenging the legitimate, state authorized authorities. But the US Gov didn't want to think about that. They just wanted a short term solution to the violence. So they operated on the "the enemy of your enemy is your friend" principle and threw caution to the wind. We're now looking at longterm internal conflict and perhaps the fragmentation of the Iraqi state. The only question is whether we're caught in the middle or not.

Posted by: Nobcentral on February 28, 2008 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, Iraq is on verge of peace at any minute.

Taking Saddam out NEVER made it better for the people of Iraq. It only made if better for Western oil companies since we all the know the real reason Bush killed Saddam, to do away with any oil contacts that were not given to Western US oil company interest. That is ONLY reason Saddam died, because Bush certainly could care less about Iraq civilians.

Bush only wanted to liberate oilfields, not Iraqi citizens. There is NO reason at all for Iraqis to care about US interest at all. The surge was not to bring peace to Iraq, but to put a stopper on American troop deaths. Iraqis never stopped dying in large numbers and the US hasn't care and everyone knows this.

McCain wants a 100 year war because blowing piplines, Turkey incursans, Sunni impatience and all.

In the past two months, he said, 20 of his fighters have quit. Many felt their monthly salary was no longer worth the risk of fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq. His men also have not received their salaries in two months, he said. "We'll all be patient for another two months. If nothing changes, then we'll suspend and quit," Kassim said. "Then we'll go back to fighting the Americans."

Yeah, there's Bush in nutshell for ya.


Posted by: me-again on February 28, 2008 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you might want to rethink closing with "Keep your fingers crossed." Ugly-minded trolls are going to accuse you of rooting for the bad guys.

Posted by: William Slattery on February 28, 2008 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

..... has there ever been a more convenient boogeyman than Al Qaeda? Are they really everywhere capable of causing such mass upheaval from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Mexican border (possibly). A mere mention of AQ or AQI seems to grant legitimacy to any and all things our government is doing. Or to cast blame on whatever entity needs to be demonised. They're a small amount of people currently populating the country yet they're responsible for every single bombing? It's gonna be a dark dark time coming whenever sumpin needs fearmongering. Juss yell AL QAEDA and mission accomplished.

Posted by: robbymack on February 28, 2008 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

This is always the way colonial powers have "controlled" Iraq. Paying off various tribal forces against each other. Eventually the colonialists realize they are losing more than they gain, and leave. In nay case the clock is ticking. Can they keep the lid on well enough long enough to keep it out of the news until election day?

Posted by: bigTom on February 28, 2008 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

What'd be interesting to know is how much of the Sunni infighting has to do with tribal allegiances and rivalries and how much of it has to do with helping the USA. It'd also be nice to know exactly how much we have paid the former insurgents to come over to our side. And lastly once they have finished taking revenge for al Qaida butchery will they lose interest?

Posted by: Lynn on February 28, 2008 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on February 28, 2008 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Then there is this:

BAGHDAD — Iraq's three-man presidency council Wednesday announced that it's vetoed legislation that U.S. officials two weeks ago hailed as significant political progress.

[snip]

The rejected bill, which sets out the political structure for Iraq's provincial governments and establishes a basis for elections in October, was only the second of 18 U.S.-set political benchmarks that the war-tore nation needs to reach.


Posted by: Dungheap on February 28, 2008 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

Someone beat me to it, but click here for Nir Rosen’s article in the most recent Rolling Stone titled “The Myth of the Surge”. The United States is buying the loyalty of the ISVs (Iraqi Security Volunteers) at the cost of many millions of dollars per month and that is the only reason that the Sunni’s are not in an open shooting war with the Shiites who are in charge. Worse yet, we are arming the ISVs with M-16s and RPGs, which you can be certain are going to be used in sectarian conflicts the second the bribery money stops flowing.

I think Bush has given the order to Petraeus to just keep the money flowing until he leaves office and then all hell is going to break loose. This worm of a man (Bush) is just trying to buy time until he can get out of Dodge and leave the mess for someone else to clean up. God, he needs to be put on trial for all of his crimes against humanity...

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on February 28, 2008 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

Glad dungheap included that article. It's very relevant to the Awakening issue because many Awakeners held out hope that October elections would get rid of corrupt Shi'ite officials. With provincial elections gone frustration among the Awakeners will only go up.

Posted by: Elrod on February 28, 2008 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

Wait, the surge is drawing down?

Posted by: Doosh on February 28, 2008 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

here's a surprise: mhr is precisely as stupid as tim russert and john mccain!

Posted by: howard on February 28, 2008 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Yes Kevin, you might want to rethink "keep your fingers crossed." It's exactly that sort of thinking that replaced one genocidal dictator in Iraq with another genocidal dictator. And the new one doesn't even bother with sham elections - he just keeps an iron heel on the necks of the populace.

For the terminally stupid - that iron heel is chaos.

Thank god we started murdering Iraqis, better us than Saddam Hussein - right?

Posted by: the on February 28, 2008 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

Now don't be hasty. Just today Nouri al-Maliki made a speech.
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080228/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq;_ylt=ArxYmm...Pd2epNdrlpHYXis0NUE

"National reconciliation efforts have succeeded in Iraq and the Iraqis have once again become loving brothers," he said in a speech broadcast live on television. "We have ended the security instability and we have to chase al-Qaida elements in other places such as Mosul, Diyala and Kirkuk in order to finish the battle for good so that we can concentrate on the reconstruction phase."

The speech came a day after Iraq's presidential council rejected a measure setting up provincial elections and sent it back to parliament for reworking — the latest setback to U.S.-backed national reconciliation efforts.

Some Debbie Downer of an Iraq lawmaker said Nassar al-Rubaie expressed concern that Iraq was shifting from a period of sectarian violence to "a period of chaos and corruption."

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080228/ap_on_go_pr_wh/bush;_ylt=AuT2BjwERZrOr03ja7R6LGys0NUE
In other news, President Bush says the country is not headed into a recession. In a scintillating display of his grasp of both details and the big picture Bush took part in the following exchange.

On one issue particularly worrisome to American consumers, there are indications that paying $4 for a gallon of gasoline is not out of the question once the summer driving season arrives. Asked about that, Bush said "That's interesting. I hadn't heard that. ... I know it's high now."

Boosting his reputation for truth-telling, Bush reiterated that . . . the country is in more danger now that a temporary surveillance law has expired.

Adding to his credentials for good judgment Bush said:

"As you know, Putin's a straightforward, pretty tough character when it comes to his interests — well so am I," Bush said. He said that he and Putin have "had some diplomatic head butts."


What's not to trust with these guys?

Posted by: cowalker on February 28, 2008 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

The U.S. military acknowledges that it is caught in the middle of a political struggle.

"But they think we are the mighty power."

Here we go again.

If you have the time, read this : Orwell's short story, "Shooting an Elephant." I recently added it to my modern European history syllabus after remembering hearing it read on Selected Shorts. It's the best example I could think of for showing how the necessary appearance of imperial power leaves that power exposed over the simplest little things.

The problem with being ruled by conservatives is that they've spent so much time being proud of being ignorant that we have to learn everything over the hard way (and other people get to pay for it).
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on February 28, 2008 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

Excellent, Grand Moff Texan. Re-read the story while I'm supposed to be working but it was worth it.

Posted by: thersites on February 28, 2008 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK
it's probably not too dangerous until/unless it reaches a tipping point of some kind.

In the same way that the guy spraying bullets in your general direction from an automatic weapon isn't dangerous until/unless the bullets strike flesh of some kind.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 28, 2008 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

Juan Cole has a good summary of the whole al-Qaeda in Iraq concept at Informed Comment.

Posted by: AJ on February 28, 2008 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks, Thersites. I've blogged it at greater length, now, and dug up an old article to explain my take on it further.
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on February 28, 2008 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK


SOSAD:


7 PM nightly Iraq war report:


Things are going well. Freedom is on the march. Less bombings and killings but we still have a long way to go since the country is in ruins, there are no jobs, soldiers get blown up regularly and a few stray rockets always seem to go off in the wrong places. Overall, the Pentagon says: “we’re cautiously optimistic."

Repeat over and over again for the next 50 years or before the oil runs out.

Posted by: Dr WU-the last of the big time thinkers on February 28, 2008 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Thank god we started murdering Iraqis, better us than Saddam Hussein - right?
Posted by: the

A heavy by any other name is still a creep. Immoderator, howzcome you're not calling him out?

[So you have access to the IP's? THere is more than one commenter here who holds that opinion.]

Posted by: sjrsm on February 28, 2008 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

[So you have access to the IP's? THere is more than one commenter here who holds that opinion.]

Same opinion, same style of expressing it, and he didn't bother to change his email address from pb@lead.com.

Posted by: sjrsm on February 28, 2008 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

The big picture is that Iraq is about the most corrupt country in the world, even worse than Haiti. You cannot do much with these corrupt countries because any leadership will succeed in perpetuating itself and establishing strongman government. Iraq was the first PC war in that Americans have been brainwashed by the libs into believing that "everybody is the same. Fweedom and democwacy are universal goals." Sadly these same naive beliefs may destroy our country through chamberpot immigration from corrupt cultures like Mexico. Corruption rises to the top, so it is only necessary for a small percentage of the population to be corrupt to ruin a country. Observe what Hispanics have done to immigration enforcement, for ex.--totally corrupted rule of law.

Corruption perception index:
http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2007
177 Haiti
178 Iraq

Posted by: Luther on February 28, 2008 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

"They think we can make the government of Iraq do anything. We tell them we don't control the government. But they think we are the mighty power."
____________________

I hope people remember this statement before blythely declaring for the umpteenth time that the Iraqi government is our puppet. In many ways, things would be easier if they were.

Posted by: trashhauler on February 28, 2008 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK
I hope people remember this statement before blythely declaring for the umpteenth time that the Iraqi government is our puppet.

Why? Are you somehow under the impression that the fact that the US military uses the notional independence of the Iraqi regime as an excuse for not delivering what Sunni tribes want in return for cooperation is substantial evidence that the Iraqi government is, in fact, not one that the US can direct, even on the matters where the excuse is being used?

Posted by: cmdicely on February 28, 2008 at 7:33 PM | PERMALINK

"The big picture is that Iraq is about the most corrupt country in the world, even worse than Haiti."
______________________

It's all part of "being sensitive to the culture," ain't it? Tourists in the Middle East are often sheltered from the worst of the corruption, but the culture of baksheesh, kickbacks, and presents in return for favors spreads across the region. For decades, our military personnel in many countries have surprised the people they worked with, simply by refusing to accept a bribe or to give one. Usually. In most places. Of course, there are always crooks found anywhere there are large sums of money to be stolen

It should be said, however, that corruption isn't restricted to the Middle East. At various times, Germany, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and many other countries have been in such sorry condition that corruption had free reign. Even today, US military installations in Germany have strict controls on purchases to counter the black market. That means military retirees (like me, for example) on vacation in Germany cannot buy things in a US military post exchange there and military personnel assigned there still have limits on what they can buy each month.

Our typical unwillingness to give and take bribes is one reason why it is so important to get the Iraqi government to follow up on promises made to newly reconstructed allies. We cannot allow ourselves to become the long term, regular source of cash and weapons (at the retail level anyway) for every group in Iraq.

Posted by: trashhauler on February 28, 2008 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

I hope people remember this statement before blythely declaring for the umpteenth time that the Iraqi government is our puppet.

You gotta love Trashy's pose as the sole honest commentator in these forums, when he's just another dishonest water carrier for the Republicans. Whatever gets you through the night, Trashy.

Puppet or not, Trashy, the government of Iraq is not legitimate.

Posted by: Gregory on February 28, 2008 at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, there are always crooks found anywhere there are large sums of money to be stolen

Of course...that explains the presence of Halliburton, Blackwater and many of the other mercenaries...er, contractors.

The irony, of course, is Trashy's complaining about corruption in Germany and Japan when he carries water for the most corrupt Administration since Nixon's, if not more so.

Shame on you, Trashy.

We cannot allow ourselves to become the long term, regular source of cash and weapons (at the retail level anyway) for every group in Iraq.

Tell it to Bush, Trashy.

Posted by: Gregory on February 28, 2008 at 8:06 PM | PERMALINK

"Are you somehow under the impression that the fact that the US military uses the notional independence of the Iraqi regime as an excuse for not delivering what Sunni tribes want in return for cooperation is substantial evidence that the Iraqi government is, in fact, not one that the US can direct, even on the matters where the excuse is being used?"
___________________

I don't know, cm. What makes you think that the US military is using the independence of the Iraqi regime as an excuse to not supply things where they are needed?

For that matter, what makes you think that the US can direct the Iraqi government to do anything? We can certainly bring strong influence to bear, but one would have thought it is manifestly obvious by now that we cannot simply dictate what we want them to do with any certainty that they will do it. That's what comes from their being independent, don't you know. Isn't that one of the outcomes we are supposed to be working toward?


Posted by: trashhauler on February 28, 2008 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

"Puppet or not, Trashy, the government of Iraq is not legitimate."
_____________________

You might not realize this, gregory, but neither of us is the authoritative opinion on the legitimacy of any government, even the Iraqi government. For any US official, military or civilian, it is enough that we must deal with the Iraqi government as being legitimate. That will be true next year, as well, no matter who is President.

Posted by: trashhauler on February 28, 2008 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

"The irony, of course, is Trashy's complaining about corruption in Germany and Japan when he carries water for the most corrupt Administration since Nixon's, if not more so."
__________________

I'm not complaining about it, just acknowledging that it has existed in different places from time to time. Always happy to help you with your daily quota of insults, though. You're welcome.

Posted by: trashhauler on February 28, 2008 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

The fact remains that the current ruler of Iraq is the guy with all the guns. That's George W. Bush. His short rule has seen the violent deaths of 100,000+ Iraqis. If any other nation had seen fit to assault an innocent nation and create the conditions for the slaughter of more than 100,000 human beings we would rightly call them out as genocidal maniacs.

Not one of the apologists for genocide has ever explained why 100,000+ Iraqis had to die. None of them can explain to a little armless boy why it is better for him to live with no arms under the benevolent American occupation than it was for him to live with both arms under the brutal reign of Saddam Hussein.

It's a simple question, but aside from mindless jingoism, none of them have anything useful to say on the topic. Instead we see bluster, asurances that everyone who dies is a terrorist, and loathsome accusations that anyone who might wonder what any of this has to do with the national security of the United States is somehow less of an American (indeed, such figures must be paid agents of foreign nations committing what can only be acts of treason - punishable by death).

But the cowards who hide behind the troops don't want to talk about why they are able to do that hiding. Because to talk about the origins of today's brutal reign is to be forced to defend the indefensible: George W. Bush's assault on the innocent people of Iraq.

Posted by: the on February 28, 2008 at 11:36 PM | PERMALINK

Remember, the United States forced "regime change" on Iraq when its military had to be assembled outside of that nation. How much easier would it be to force regime change again if the Iraqi government were to be deemed insufficiently pro-America?

That's why there is nothing but a puppet government in Iraq. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar or a fool.

Most of them are both.

Posted by: the on February 28, 2008 at 11:41 PM | PERMALINK

If any other nation had seen fit to assault an innocent nation and create the conditions for the slaughter of more than 100,000 human beings we would rightly call them out as genocidal maniacs.
Posted by: the

creep,

By your standards, it wouldn't even rate a "petty tyrant" label. You'd probably think they just need a hug or something. No gassing of Kurds with chemical weapons, no torture chambers where your kids can have some fun, no mass graves for your own people. I'm surprised you can find cause to complain.

So immoderator, it's OK to change our handles on a whim and you won't call it out, right? Just checking...

Posted by: sjrsm on February 29, 2008 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

Attacking me does nothing to explain why 100,000+ Iraqis had to die.

Posted by: the on February 29, 2008 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

Attacking me does nothing to explain why 100,000+ Iraqis had to die.
Posted by: the

creep,
Ask the Iraqis. Most of those were Iraqis killing Iraqis. Which you ought to be OK with, since your petty tyrant was just an Iraqi killing Iraqis. Why the concern now?

Posted by: sjrsm on February 29, 2008 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

You still haven't explained why they had to die. Was there some ongoing genocide in which those 100,000 were taking part? What proportion? 100%? 10%? 1%? Perhaps even fewer?

Posted by: the on February 29, 2008 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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