Monday, June 29, 2009

Tired of city life? Time to move to the countryside.....

Since Afghanistan has been in the headlines recently with a large uptick in violence, ineffectual governance, and an increase in US forces, the occupation of Iraq hasn't gotten much airtime in our media. Although sectarian violence had decreased, it's now again surging, especially in Mosul and Baghdad.

On 30 June, all US combat formations are to be evicted from Iraqi cities, theoretically leaving only Advisors and Trainers. However, in at least one instance that I know to be true, the city limits of Baghdad were redrawn to place FOB Falcon outside rather than it's previous position in the city. Further, the mission of Advising and Training are undertaken by Combat Arms Divisions and Brigades, thus making a distinction of combat forces and trainers semantic in nature.

On the political front, the Kurds are claiming Baghdad governance of oil facilities and products to be unconstitutional, and Sunni groups are charging Prime Minister Maliki with using his Iraqi Army Special Forces as 'death squads' to eliminate perceived and possible Sahwa opposition to his regime.

A few days ago, PM Maliki has made controversial statements concerning his 'allies' and the occupation.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has taken to calling the withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq’s cities by next Tuesday a “great victory,” a repulsion of foreign occupiers he compares to the rebellion against British troops in 1920.

They have closed outposts — even in Baghdad and still-troubled Mosul in the north — that they had initially lobbied the Iraqis to keep open, having concluded, the officials said, that pressing the case would be counterproductive given the political significance that Mr. Maliki had given the deadline.

The day itself has been declared a national holiday, though it is not yet clear whether Iraq will hold the “feast and festivals” he recently promised.

American and Iraqi officials acknowledge the risks — to Mr. Maliki’s political position and to Iraqis’ safety.


Iraq’s civilian leaders held a meeting on Thursday with the 300 top Iraqi military commanders from around the country to discuss the withdrawal of American forces from cities by the June 30 deadline, and scarcely mentioned the United States.

“Foreign forces have to withdraw from the cities totally,” said Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. “This is a victory that should be celebrated in feasts and festivals.”

It was the first time so many commanders had gathered in Baghdad to meet Mr. Maliki. Iraqi and foreign reporters were invited, but when a senior American military officer arrived, a major general from Mr. Maliki’s Office of the Commander in Chief told him to leave. “We apologize to you, but this is an Iraqi meeting and you’re not invited,” the general said. Neither officer would give his name.


Are the Iraqi leaders displaying a dangerous overconfidence in their ability to maintain security and governance after US forces leave the cities in a week, and [theoretically] completely in 2011? I believe so. Granted, some of Maliki's comments can be chalked up to playing to Iraqi populism......portraying himself as the post-Saddam leader to rid the country of foreign occupation. However, it's well known through Special Inspector General Reports and other sources that the Iraqi Army and police forces (IP/NP) simply do not possess the logistic system to be self sustaining, and do not maintain a corps of professionalism within their officer and NCO ranks to sustain a viable, non-sectarian and corruption free force.

As I alluded to above, boundary delineations have played semantic games with the order to disengage from the cities, and combat formations will stay put in Mosul for the time being. That there has been a rise in violence coinciding with this event is not a surprise in itself, but it does highlight the tenuous grip the Iraqi Security Forces have in their own nation....where they indeed have a grip at all.

Unfortunately, it is the American forces that will now find themselves in the most uncomfortable position. US units are now being shifted to already overcrowded smaller FOB's outside of the city, where a greater concentration and [in some cases] less force protection, will place them at greater risk when not conducting missions. Combat missions themselves provides an equally daunting outlook. There really isn't much of a framework in place from when US forces can enter the cities, where they can go, under who's tactical command they will operate under and what legal jurisdiction they will have in capturing, detaining and interrogating suspect insurgent; what land can be temporarily occupied, for what purposes and for what duration. Judging from my experience with and assessment of the Iraqi command structure.....I simply envision a call for help, and US forces riding to the sound of the guns.....uncoordinated, uncommitted and unprepared.

I'm hopeful, but not terribly optimistic that concessions and compromise are likely between Shia, Sunni and Kurd. Iraq is still very much a powder keg. There are so many political dimensions that were meant to be solved or facilitated by the surge, that they render the security success that did occur, nearly meaningless. There is still no oil sharing agreement and democratic delineation of governance in the Kurdish region; the Kurds still fielding a very viable Peshmerga militia. The has been lip service and foot dragging at the incorporation of the Sunni 'Sons of Iraq' fighters into the Iraqi Security Forces, as well as relief and reparation for the thousands of Sunni families forcibly evicted and cleansed from their neighborhoods....leaving a well armed and impatient [and formerly insurgent] minority. And there are still very dangerous power struggles occurring within the Shia community between Maliki and the Dawa/Badr coalition and al-Hakim's ISCI. Remember the political discourse favored by these entities does not consist of "I disagree with the distinguished Gentleman from Kirkuk" it consists of militia warfare. This is all assuming that the weight of rampant corruption in the Maliki government doesn't yield yet another course, that of combustible anarchy.

Iraq moved from a dismal number 5 spot on the Failed States Index, to a slightly less dismal number 6 spot this year.

The repair needed cannot come from without, it must be internal. Maybe that means a few more years of civil war, maybe it means another [hopefully more benign] dictator. This may already be occurring:

Although Iraq's parliamentary elections are not until January, the campaign has begun, and Maliki has shown a determination to fight with a tenacity and ruthlessness borrowed from the handbook of Iraq's last strongman, Saddam Hussein. From Diyala, where men under Maliki's command have arrested and threatened to detain a host of his rivals, to Basra, where security forces have swept up scores of his opponents since January, the message is: cooperate or risk his wrath.

Although Iraq's sectarian war has largely ended, and the Sunnis feel they lost, another struggle for power, perhaps no less perilous, has begun in earnest. Maliki has resorted to a more traditional notion of politics in which violence is simply another form of leverage. His goal is simple -- to ensure he emerges as prime minister again after the vote.

Nobody has a very good answer for this because it's all speculation.

We cannot maintain the footprint we currently have in Iraq -and- ramp up a suitable offensive strategy in Afghanistan. It isn't fair to our national security or to our military to maintain a one foot in - one foot our policy in Iraq. All we're left doing is the Hokey Pokey....with casualties. It's far past time to pull the plug.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Went to a West Virginia today. It's amazing when you can step into the gene pool, and not even get your feet wet. I will bear those mental scars for some time to come.