August 14, 2007

Balance of Terror

By Michael J. Totten

Moqtada al Sadr Billboard Iraq.jpg

BAGHDAD – The American soldier sitting next to me flipped open his Zippo lighter and gloomily lit a cigarette. “Do you know why this base isn’t attacked by insurgents?” he said.

I assumed it was because his area of operations, in the Graya’at neighborhood of northern Baghdad out of Coalition Outpost War Eagle, had been cleared of insurgents. Many American military bases and outposts in Iraq are attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists and Mahdi Army militiamen with mortars and rockets. War Eagle was quiet and had not been bombarded for months.

“We aren’t being attacked because the Mahdi Army is in the next building,” he said. “They don’t want to hit their own people.”

American soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division shared the small outpost with Iraqi Army soldiers who lived, worked, and slept in the building next door.

“You mean the Iraqi Army unit here has been infiltrated?” I said.

He nodded grimly and took a pull from his cigarette.

"That's a bad reason for us not to be mortared," I said.

"Yeah," he said and laughed. It was obvious, though, that he did not think it was funny.

“How do you know this?” I said.

“Heard it from intel,” he said. “Getting information out of them is like pulling teeth, but sometimes they say stuff.”

I went inside the Tactical Operations Center and spoke to the Public Affairs Officer. “What can I help you with, Mike?” he said.

“I want an on-the-record interview with Military Intelligence,” I said.

“Why?” he said.

I told him what I had heard. “I can print rumor or fact,” I said.

He got me the interview.

Master Sergeant Jeffrey K. Tyler met with me privately.

“It’s true,” he said. “Many of the Iraqi Army soldiers here are supporters of JAM.JAM is military shorthand for Jaysh al Mahdi, or Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Shia Mahdi Army militia. “They aren’t in JAM cells necessarily, but they are sympathizers. They may let JAM guys through checkpoints, for example. They aren’t out kidnapping Sunnis or anything like that. They are sympathizers, not direct actors. Almost all the Iraqi Army soldiers here are Shias.”

“Is their presence here the reason we aren’t getting mortared?” I said. “Because the Mahdi Army doesn’t want to blow up their own people?”

“We think that’s probably so,” he said and nodded with confidence.

I didn’t hear that in the briefing when I first got there.

The outpost isn’t the only safe place in that part of Baghdad. The entire area of operations is quiet. The American soldiers based there haven’t suffered a single casualty since they arrived in country at the beginning of the surge in early 2007. The Graya’at neighborhood has been cleared of active insurgents. It’s safer than the Green Zone, in fact, which is still attacked with incoming rockets and mortars.

“If someone sets up a mortar,” said Lieutenant Colonel Wilson A. Shoffner, “we get phone calls from the locals before it is fired. We reached a tipping point here where we have more friends than the insurgents.”

Major Michael Jazdyk concurred. “We were a target at first,” he said. “Insurgents shot at us with rockets and mortars. But most of the time they killed local civilians. The locals want us here now because we pushed the insurgents out and are keeping them out.”

“How do the local civilians help?” I asked.

“We go on foot patrols and joint patrols with the Iraqi Army,” he said. “We give people tip cards with a phone number on it that they can call and give us intel. An Arabic speaker answers the phone.”

The peace, though, isn’t stable. Many areas of Baghdad have been cleared – even the notoriously violent Haifa Street neighborhood – but insurgents and terrorists need only drive a few minutes to get from one of their strongholds to another part of the city. Gunmen and car bombers from other sectors of Baghdad can and do pass through War Eagle’s area.

Until recently the biggest threat was from the adjacent neighborhood just on the other side of the Tigris. It hasn’t been cleared of insurgents. When the War Eagle outpost was still struck by mortars, they were fired from there over the water. It is the insurgents in that sector who apparently have decided to stop attacking the outpost so they won’t hurt their comrades who infiltrated the base.

Those infiltrators in the Iraqi Army are trained every day by the Americans.

“They act like our friends,” said Master Sergeant Tyler. “It is a façade to an extent, yes. They get benefits from having a good relationship with us and will do and say anything to keep us on their side.”

I heard rumors that the Iraqi Army colonel in charge of his side of War Eagle is himself a supporter of Moqtada al Sadr. I could not, however, confirm that with Military Intelligence. Maybe it’s true and maybe it isn’t. American soldiers there believe it is.

Nothing makes me more pessimistic about Iraq’s future prospects than this. The Mahdi Army is Iran’s major proxy in Iraq. It is, in effect, the Iraqi branch of Hezbollah.

The Iranians know what they’re doing. Lebanon was their proving ground. The Revolutionary Guards built Hezbollah from scratch along the border with Israel and in the suburbs south of Beirut during the chaos of civil war and Israeli occupation. In Iraq they’re simply repeating the formula, only this time more violently.

Most of Lebanon’s Shias were moderately pro-Israel before Iran barged onto the scene. 25 years later, and more than 15 years after Lebanon’s civil war ended, Hezbollah is still a menace to Israel and the elected government in Beirut. Hezbollah still has its own foreign policy. Hezbollah can unilaterally ignite hot wars with foreign countries whether Lebanese as a whole want war or not. The level of “stability” in Lebanon may be the best Iraqis can hope for in this generation if the Mahdi Army and its supporters are not somehow purged from the government, the military, and the police.

If some of the Iraqi Army soldiers at War Eagle only pretend to be friends with Americans, what about the civilians in the area? Are they faking it, too?

Who knows?

I went on mounted and dismounted foot patrols with American soldiers every day in that part of Baghdad. Except for one slightly creepy experience where shadowy figures stalked us in the dark, all the local Iraqis I met and interacted with were exceptionally friendly.

On a typical patrol at dawn the soldiers I embedded with did only two things: they kept up a visible presence in the area and tossed boxes of Girl Scout cookies to children.

As the morning progressed and more people woke up, entire families came out of their houses to greet us and wave. Private Goings, the gunner in the Humvee I rode in, threw one box of cookies after another. Kids and their parents received them ecstatically. We did this all morning, for four hours. Aside from a 20 minute dismounted patrol near a palm grove, all we did was drive around and throw cookies.

Girl Scout Cookies Iraq.jpg

“This is definitely not a war,” said Sergeant Daniel E. Lizanne. He was referring, of course, to his specific area, not to more violent places like Baqubah and Sadr City. “It’s a peacekeeping mission. We’re really just like police officers here. Right now all we’re doing is waiting for somebody stupid to shoot at us.”

It really didn’t look or feel like a war. No one in the area gets shot or blown up. For hours I watched American soldiers act as though they were employed by Santa Claus rather than the United States Army.

Kids Running Up to Humvee.jpg

I felt like I could rent a house, move in, and be perfectly safe. Several journalists I know have stayed for long periods in various parts of the Red Zone in Baghdad and they haven’t been shot or kidnapped yet. It really is possible, if you’re careful.

Still, I did not trust that feeling. I would be crazy to trust that feeling too much in Baghdad where a false sense of security must be fought against constantly. If I end up trusting the locals as a whole, at least before the war’s over, it will be time for me to get a new job.

“A lot of the people around here are Sadr supporters,” said Sergeant Lizanne. “But they’re also pro-coalition. I don’t really understand how that works.”

Don’t ask me to explain it. Moqtada al Sadr is an enemy of the United States. His militiamen kill or at least try to kill Americans every day elsewhere in Baghdad. How anyone in Iraq could support both him and the Americans is beyond me.

Iraq is a bewildering country. I can tell you what I see and what I hear, but I can’t unravel and explain with confidence the contradictions in the hearts and minds of its people. The Kurds are fairly straightforward and easy to read. The recently turned pro-American Arabs of Anbar Province likewise aren’t too complicated these days. Baghdad, though, is all but impenetrable. I don’t suggest you trust any Westerner who hasn’t spent years there who says he or she understands the alleyways and secrets of that city.

In my mind I keep returning to what an Iraqi interpreter named Hammer said to me a few days before. “You can’t understand Iraq because you can’t get inside their mind. When you get inside their mind…it is a crazy mind.”

“Do you think the civilians here are genuinely friendly or just faking it?” I asked Sergeant Lizanne. Private Goings tossed more boxes of cookies.

“Hmm,” he said. “Well, I wouldn’t want to be out here by myself at night, I’ll tell you that much. The children really do love us, though. At least we’re making friends with the next generation.”

The children aren’t the only ones uninterested in fighting Americans.

“The sheiks in our area say they won’t tolerate a single round fired at us,” Colonel Shoffner told me.

This is not propaganda from the Army. It really is true. No one shoots at American soldiers in Graya’at. If the friendliness of the locals was a complete and total sham, somebody would shoot. Instead they rat out insurgents. Every unit I went on patrol with was made up only of American soldiers. Local Iraqi Army Sadr supporters did not follow us around the city like portable human shields.

Iraqi Man Thumbs Up.jpg

On the other hand, some of the locals support Moqtada al Sadr, whose militiamen kill American soldiers.

On the third hand, fighting in Iraq between American soldiers and the Mahdi Army militia rises and falls like the tide. There are times when Sadr’s men don’t act like enemies at all, and not only in localized areas like Graya’at.

“Sometimes Sadr puts out notices saying no attacks on coalition forces,” Master Sergeant Tyler told me. “He explicitly says that violators will be executed. They he’ll turn around and tell them to launch as many attacks in the next five days as possible.”

Sadr’s Army, it seems, deploys violence against Americans as a way to earn points in negotiations. This would make him and his militia less extreme than Al Qaeda. If diplomacy between the two sides is going well, attacks are called off. If the Americans hold out on something Sadr wants or needs, attacks are resumed or ramped up.

I asked several people what might happen if Moqtada al Sadr was pulled out of the Iranian orbit and flipped to the American side, as the tribal leaders of Anbar Province have been brought around to the American side. Sadr would still live in fear of Saddam Hussein if the Americans never arrived and destroyed the old government. A peaceful coexistence of some sort is at least theoretically possible if he can be peeled away from Iran with money and promises.

“I think the reason the U.S. hasn’t killed Sadr yet is because they are trying to flip him to their side,” said Hammer. “All it takes is money. It’s all about money money money for these guys. He has only 16 percent support among the Shia. I am a Shia. I know lots of Shia in Sadr City who hate and fear him, but he has lots of power and influence.”

“If we flip Sadr Iraq might very well reach a tipping point,” Master Sergeant Tyler told me. “The war might be all but technically over. But there would be some blowback from the Sunni side at first.”

Sounds great, but it begs the question: is a tactical alliance with Moqtada al Sadr even desirable?

*

“I have a story for you,” said an Army interpreter named Feris who moved from Damascus, Syria, to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1967. “There’s someone you need to meet around the back of the building.”

I grabbed my camera and notepad. Feris took me behind the Tactical Operations Center to the far edge of the outpost.

“Come on,” he said and led me into an area concealed in camouflage netting and roped off with razor wire.

“Are we allowed to be back here?” I said.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Come on, so the others can’t see.”

An Iraqi civilian waited for us where others could not see. He panicked when he saw my camera and hurriedly covered his face and turned his back.

“No pictures, no pictures,” Feris said.

“Okay,” I said. “No problem. Tell him I won’t take his picture.”

Feris put his hand over the lens. I pointed the camera at the ground and said “No picture, no picture.”

The Iraqi who waited turned and looked me in the eye.

Jaysh al Mahdi took me,” he said. “They kidnapped me and dragged me off to the mosque where they beat me.”

“Where?” I said. He didn’t speak any English. Feris translated.

“To the Ahl al Bayt mosque in Sadr City,” he said. “It is next to Muzaffer Square and the Fire Department in Area 55. It is loaded with weapons. Every mosque in Sadr City is full of weapons. At every mosque in Sadr City they beat people. I can take you right to the spot where they beat me.”

Mahdi Army in Basra copyright Nabil al-Jurani.jpg
Mahdi Army militiamen march in Basra. Photo copyright Nabil al-Jurani.

I won’t be going to Sadr City any time soon, but anyone who needs to know where the Ahl al Bayt mosque is shouldn’t have much trouble finding it.

He took off his shirt and turned around. More than a dozen horizontal red and blue bruises crisscrossed his back like blunt lash marks.

“They beat me with iron sticks,” he said, “and fired a gun in the air next to my head.”

Then they shaved his head. The Mahdi Army does this to people they kidnap, to mark them, perhaps, or to humiliate them.

“Why?” I said. “Why did they do this to you?”

“Because I work here,” I said.

He works at the outpost as a civilian, not for the Americans but for the Iraqis.

“They say I work with Americans,” he said. “It’s not true. I told them I don’t even speak English. How can I work with Americans? I want to work with Americans, but I’m afraid. If I could I would kill them and stay on this base forever.”

“Where did they kidnap you?” I said. “From here?”

“They took me from the street in Sadr City,” he said. “They know where I live.”

“How do they know you work here?” I said.

He gestured toward the building where Iraqi Army soldiers live and sleep. Of course.

“The Iraqi Army told them,” he said.

“How do you know?” I said. “How do you know it was them?”

No one else knows I work here,” he said. “Only them.”

If the young man is right, the Mahdi Army sympathizers who infiltrated the Iraqi Army barracks may be a little bit more than the mere passive sympathizers Master Sergeant Tyler suggested.

He lit another cigarette from what remained of his first.

“I smoke so much because I’m upset,” he said.

He took out his cell phone and pointed at the screen.

“They found a video of girls dancing on my phone,” he said. “They deleted it and put a picture of Moqtada al Sadr on it instead. If you have a Sadr picture on your phone, that’s okay, that’s good. If you have a picture of anything else on your phone they will beat you. I don’t like the sonofabitch. Why would I want his picture on my phone?

I kept looking behind me to make sure no one in the Iraqi Army saw us talking. It probably wouldn’t make any difference, but it seemed like something I should do.

Feris shifted his weight from one foot to the other and kept sighing deeply. He was clearly upset. He grew up in Syria under the brutal regime of Hafez al Assad, but has lived in Iowa longer than I’ve been alive. He is hardly more accustomed to hearing these kinds of stories than I am.

“Is there anything you can do to protect yourself?” I asked the young Iraqi.

“What can I do?” he said. “No one can stop Jaysh al Mahdi. They live in the 16th Century. Everyone I know in Sadr City hates Moqtada al Sadr, but they can do nothing. Many people want the Americans to invade.”

I did not need to ask questions. He just kept on talking.

Jaysh al Mahdi has a special car they use to pack people in, take them away, and shoot them,” he said. “They have people on street corners watching out for American soldiers. They watch the city at night with night vision goggles. If anyone is out after midnight they think you’re a spy.”

He was on a roll now, telling me everything, unprompted, because I was a safe person to talk to and because I stood there and listened.

“Sadr is getting rich from Iranian money. They offered me money to join them. 3 million dinars [slightly less than 2,500 dollars.]. They wanted me as a fighter. But I said no. I won’t do that. I hate Jaysh al Mahdi.”

I heard the low sharp boom of outgoing artillery somewhere off in the distance, perhaps from Camp Taji north of the city. It is not a common sound in Iraq. I only heard it once every three days or so, and even then I only heard two or three outgoing shells being fired. Kinetic fire fights do erupt in Iraq, but I haven’t seen or heard any yet.

“They tied my hands behind my back,” he continued. “They kicked my knees backwards.” His lifted up the legs of his pants. Feris looked away. “They made me lay on my stomach and put heavy iron on my back. I had to sleep like that for five nights. My back is all screwed up now.”

“But you still have this job,” I said, “even though they beat you for having it.”

“I have to support my family. My Mom and Dad don’t work. Everyone in Sadr City is very poor. My whole family lives there, except my brother. He went to Lebanon. So many terrorists and criminals live there. If we had money we would all move tomorrow, but I only make 300 dollars a month. We have no TV, nothing, at my house. No one else from my family works. My Dad is too old and has a bad back. My Mom is too old. I want to get married. I’m engaged, but I have no money to get married.”

Neighborhoods all over Baghdad are being cleared of terrorists and insurgents as part of the surge. American soldiers are pushing them out of the city and moving into small houses and stations themselves in the neighborhoods where they can maintain security 24 hours a day. But Sadr City is still a no-go zone for American troops. I asked several high-ranking officers why, but they either don’t know or they don’t want to tell me.

“What if the US assaults Sadr City?” I said.

Sadr City.jpg
Sadr City

“We would all love that,” he said. “Everyone except the Mahdi Army would love that. Every single person I know hates Moqtada al Sadr.”

But some people do like Moqtada al Sadr. Someone in Graya’at put up a billboard with his face on it.

Lieutenant William H. Lord told me earlier that when American soldiers have gone into Sadr City in the past, children flipped them off and threw rocks. Children in our area of Baghdad, by contrast, treat the American soldiers like heroes. General Petraeus has his work cut out for him if and when he decides to surge into Sadr’s domain.

“Even Saddam was better than Jaysh al Mahdi,” he said. “They treat everyone bad. Americans treat us good. Sadr does not. They say Americans rape our women. They lie. It is just propaganda. Americans have plenty of women. Jaysh al Mahdi rapes our women for real. They are animals. But soon enough their day is coming.”

He got antsy and seemed to feel he spent too much time talking to me. He had to get back to work before someone noticed him missing.

“I cry all the time,” he said just before he set off. “I wish I was outside Iraq where I would not have to be afraid.”

I shook his hand. He returned to his post. And I felt useless. What could I do for this man? There are so many with stories like his in Iraq.

“What kind of country is this,” Feris said to me in a trembling voice, “where people do this sort of thing to their own people?”

Meanwhile, or at least so it appeared, I was safer at that outpost because the Mahdi Army was there. They did not want to hurt their own people with rockets and mortars. Moqtada al Sadr’s infiltrators and sympathizers enveloped me in a force field.

Iraq is a strange country. Where else can American civilians like me be protected by terrorist human shields?

Postscript: Please support independent journalism. Traveling to and working in Iraq is expensive. I can’t publish dispatches on this Web site for free without substantial reader donations, so I'll appreciate it if you pitch in what you can. Blog Patron allows you to make recurring monthly payments, and even small donations will be extraordinarily helpful so I can continue this project.

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Many thanks in advance.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 14, 2007 09:58 PM
Comments

Thanks so much, Michael, for your integrity. This is just a devastating report. What a terribly sad situation.

Posted by: Pam at August 14, 2007 10:13 PM

I am no expert, but it looks like everyone has a day coming to them in Iraq. I will laugh when Sadr has his and I hope someone loads it on youtube just like Saddams bad day. Same goes for the clerics in Tehran.

Posted by: mikek at August 14, 2007 10:40 PM

What a mess. Tragic.

Do the people of Iraq ever talk about splitting Iraq into separate entities? I know this is not the outcome that the US wants but it may be the only path to a more peaceful outcome. Oil revenue sharing, I would imagine, is the top issue for the three main factions.

I believe that Iraq is going to splinter into three separate parts eventually. I view this as inevitable. It's just a matter of how that happens; either via a very bloody revolution or as part of a political agreement similar to the "Velvet Revlolution" of Czechoslovakia.

Posted by: Graham at August 14, 2007 10:50 PM

According to Bill Roggio, Sadr City is certainly not a no-go zone.

Practically every day he lists joint Coalition and Iraqi attacks on the JAM, many of them taking place in Sadr City.

Here's a very successful raid in Sadr City that killed at least 30 JAM creeps:

http://tinyurl.com/yqzh62

I've seen photos of Polish, Iraqi, American, and strange unidentified long-haired operators without helmets (probably western European) conducting raids in Sadr City.

The problem with this war is we the public have no idea who to believe. Just a few months ago, everybody--and I mean everybody--told us that al Anbar was a lost cause.

Now we're being told that nothing is or will be done about the JAM.

Bad news sells.

Posted by: Tom W. at August 14, 2007 11:32 PM

This is a bad condition there in Iraq! Will The US still pull out and leave some innocent people to die for nothing?

Posted by: Furica at August 15, 2007 12:54 AM

Thanks for the report, Michael.

I've always been very suspicious of any "good news from Iraq," and this report only confirms the ambiguity of that nation's health. Totten finds a lot of friendly people who seem more ambiguous at second glance.

They seem to like Americans to the extent Americans leave them alone. This lack of trust makes for a difficult road for any U.S. government, let alone the Bush administration, which is not known for its subtlety.

I remain hopeful but pessimistic about America's adventure in Iraq. I look back at my youthful enthusiasm for the war with a mixture of disgust and amazement.

May it end for the best of Iraq.

DU

Posted by: The Mechanical Eye at August 15, 2007 01:10 AM

Didn't the Kurds also work with the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war and receive Iranian aid and weapons?

Posted by: Aaron at August 15, 2007 01:24 AM

Mr. Totten,

As you know I've always questioned how we label actors in Iraq. I had one question about a paragraph from your piece. I need clarification so that I understand well what you are saying:

Until recently the biggest threat was from the adjacent neighborhood just on the other side of the Tigris. It hasn’t been cleared of insurgents. When the War Eagle outpost was still struck by mortars, they were fired from there over the water. It is the insurgents in that sector who apparently have decided to stop attacking the outpost so they won’t hurt their comrades who infiltrated the base.

You say this base, War Eagle, used to be attacked by "insurgents" from the other side of the river. Then those "insurgents" decided to stop firing on the base so they wouldn't kill their own kind. The impression you give in your piece is that the locals surrounding this base are "Shi'ites," especially ones tied with Moqtada Al-Sadr. Do you consider these Shi'ites to be "insurgents" like the Sunnis? What is an "insurgent" in the realm of Iraq to you?

Thank you,

Dan

Posted by: Dan at August 15, 2007 03:27 AM

It seems likely to me that any group of Iraqi soldiers will include individuals with different opinions about El-Sadr; that these individuals will not tell each other truthfully what they think; and that any of them will change his views from day to day, or even depending on who he last spoke to.

If you want to divide up Iraq, I think you will have to cut through the middle of most people's heads.

Posted by: Don Cox at August 15, 2007 03:44 AM

Mr. Totten,

Don’t ask me to explain it. Moqtada al Sadr is an enemy of the United States. His militiamen kill or at least try to kill Americans every day elsewhere in Baghdad. How anyone in Iraq could support both him and the Americans is beyond me. Iraq is a bewildering country. I can tell you what I see and what I hear, but I can’t unravel and explain with confidence the contradictions in the hearts and minds of its people. The Kurds are fairly straightforward and easy to read. The recently turned pro-American Arabs of Anbar Province likewise aren’t too complicated these days. Baghdad, though, is all but impenetrable. I don’t suggest you trust any Westerner who hasn’t spent years there who says he or she understands the alleyways and secrets of that city.

I need to ask a few more questions here in this section. First of all you say Al-Sadr is an "enemy of the United States." What makes him an enemy of ours? And what are you implying should be our actions? How is Al-Sadr any different than any of those "pro-American Arabs of Anbar?"

As to how people can support him and the Americans at the same time, it isn't that mysterious. As with any Iraqi, their support of this or that interest depends on how it benefits them. Culturally speaking, a Shi'ite has far more in common with his fellow Shi'ites than with any American. It shouldn't actually be a surprise that Shi'ites, especially in Sadr City would having sharing allegiances, even when they are at complete odds with each other. If you actually expect Shi'ites to be fully supportive of our actions then you don't know Shi'ites well enough, and you have forgotten what happened in 1991. Shi'ites have not forgotten, and as such they will use us as much as they can to ensure they end up in a better situation once we end up leaving.

You say that the "pro-American Arabs of Anbar" are "easy to read these days." Why are they easy to read and Sadr not? What makes them easy to read? Is it because they have been bought by the Americans? Why are they actually not MORE complicated to read because they suddenly turned and now support Americans? What is their endgame? I actually think it is easier to understand al-Sadr and his supporters than the Sunnis who have turned. Because al-Sadr has actually been quite consistent.

Posted by: Dan at August 15, 2007 04:30 AM

Each of these dispatches are tremendous reading.

However, what nags at me is: is the person being interviewed saying what he assumes Michael Totten wants to hear?

Moqtada Al-Sadr sounds like a classic thug leader.

Posted by: erik at August 15, 2007 04:51 AM

Erik: is the person being interviewed saying what he assumes Michael Totten wants to hear?

Why would he? The Mahdi Army beat the CRAP out of him. I saw the marks on his body. And I did not seek him out. He came to me through Feris. I did not even know he existed until he came to me.

Dan: Do you consider these Shi'ites to be "insurgents" like the Sunnis?

I don't like the word "insurgent," but everyone including the US Army calls even Al Qaeda "insurgents" these days, as well as the Mahdi Army, so I have surrendered to the use of the term.

What makes [Sadr] an enemy of ours?

He and his men kill Americans every day. He is by definition an enemy, and he describes himself thusly.

And what are you implying should be our actions?

I don't know. I'm not advocating or implying anything.

How is Al-Sadr any different than any of those "pro-American Arabs of Anbar?"

He kills Americans, and they are our friends and allies.

I went to Anbar myself and will write about it and the people who live there shortly.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 15, 2007 06:21 AM

Dan: You say that the "pro-American Arabs of Anbar" are "easy to read these days." Why are they easy to read and Sadr not? What makes them easy to read?

I will get to this in several upcoming articles.

Is it because they have been bought by the Americans?

They definitely haven't been bought. Let's not discuss now, though. Wait until I write about them in detail.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 15, 2007 06:23 AM

Sounds great, but it begs the question: is a tactical alliance with Moqtada al Sadr even desirable?
-MJT

No. It would be politically expedient in the short term, but it would be very unwise in the long run.

Unfortunately, it looks like the current Iraqi government depends on his faction for votes, which means that he is unlikely to be arrested and put on trial for the actions of the men he commands.

I've seen photos of Polish, Iraqi, American, and strange unidentified long-haired operators without helmets (probably western European) conducting raids in Sadr City.
-Tom W.

The long-haired types are probably US SOCOM- regular Army have to have the regulation cut, the rules are different for special ops types.

I need to ask a few more questions here in this section. First of all you say Al-Sadr is an "enemy of the United States." What makes him an enemy of ours?
-Dan

Forces under his command take hostile action against our soldiers.

How is Al-Sadr any different than any of those "pro-American Arabs of Anbar?
-Dan

The 'pro-American Arabs of Anbar' have stopped tanking hostile action against out soldiers.

Posted by: rosignol at August 15, 2007 07:44 AM

I told him what I had heard. “I can print rumor or fact,” I said.

That's a great line.

This report makes the situation much clearer than the muddled reports I read in Time or Newsweek. (No wonder their subscriptions are falling) Sadr is a fairly standard gangster/thug. He offers "protection", from his own insurgents and the Sunni suicide bombers, he demands respect and if he gets what he wants, he's copascetic.

Although they're willing to work with us to ensure that the 'protection' continues, I'd guess that the Americans would have a hard time getting him on our side. First, we're not going to be there forever, Iran is. Second, we don't share his goals and we would prefer to be rid of him.

If we wanted to negotiate in earnest, we'd probably have to show that we are capable of destroying him, and give an offer he can't refuse. But when we are capable of destroying him and his army, there will be no real point (for us) to negotiation. I'd guess that the great and glorious al Sadr (may Allah pick his nose) knows that.

I'd read that the Mahdi army 'talibanizes' their territory, by bombing or otherwise destroying symbols of decadence, like movie theaters, liquor stores, barber shops, unveiled women, girls schools, etc. Did the Graya’at neighborhood appear to be talibanized?

Posted by: mary at August 15, 2007 08:00 AM

WIth 'reporters'like you, we don't need enemies. Who are you voting for? Hillary or Obama? Oregon gives your bias away!

Posted by: CCH at August 15, 2007 08:00 AM

Just a thought, but maybe the people of Sadr City hate the Americans so much because they're the only ones not getting Girl Scout cookies.

Think of how much it would piss you off if everyone got cookies except you. Personally, I'd be pissed off enough to storm out the door with my AK-47 and look for the people who neglected me.

We should step up those kinds of patrols. Since they avoid firing at their own people, maybe the Americans could have special teams of captured insurgent Girl Scouts distributing them.

Posted by: Edgar at August 15, 2007 08:06 AM

"I don't know. I'm not advocating or implying anything."

WHAT?!

How dare you? HOW DARE YOU! All journalists are required to advocate SOMETHING! Have you no respect for the activism of Seymour Hersh and Walter Cronkite? There are journalists risking death at the hands of CIA assassins and Christian evangelists to bring about a pefect world with nothing to kill, die, or live for, and you profane their bravery by reporting all these goddamned facts, like you're writing some kind of journal! THAT IS NOT WHAT JOURNALISTS DO!

I swear to Marx, next you'll be saying you're at a greater risk of being killed by an Arab than by a WASP.

Posted by: Tatterdemalian at August 15, 2007 08:11 AM

Mary: Did the Graya’at neighborhood appear to be talibanized?

Not at all. It felt pretty comfortable, actually.

CCH: WIth 'reporters'like you, we don't need enemies. Who are you voting for? Hillary or Obama? Oregon gives your bias away!

You have no idea how stupid you look to people who are familiar with my work. I vote for members of both parties, and I don't know which party I'm voting for next year.

As far as Oregon goes, registered Independents outnumber registered Democrats and registered Republicans. You probably didn't know that, though, did you?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 15, 2007 08:24 AM

your interpreter says it's all about the benjamins when it come to sadr and the others.

i think this is wrong. dead wrong.

the islamic extremists are not interested in money, and they cannot be bought.

witness hamas in gaza. they have made zero moves toward the west to get money.

these islamic extremists can never ever be brought into our sphere of influence.

this is why they must be defeated - wiped out - erased.

like we did to the nazis and nazism.

and this is why the answer for peace in iraq is the same as for those who want peace in lebanon and israel:

regime change in iran - or at least bringing them to their knees, economically and by wiping out their military and nuke assets..

Posted by: reliapundit at August 15, 2007 08:37 AM

CCH: "WIth 'reporters'like you, we don't need enemies. Who are you voting for? Hillary or Obama? Oregon gives your bias away!"

Brother,

I know many Oregonians who would never vote for those two morons. But more to the point, your lack of moderation is leading you to make wild generalizations. Have you read much of MJT's body of work? If he is a democrat, I say WE NEED MORE LIKE HIM!!!! It isn't dem or repub here; it's taking a no bullshit assessment and seeing the danger where it lies. And it most certainly lies with the Islamofascist creed that permeates the ME, i.e. Hezbollah, Hamas, JAM, and the nefarious Iranian regime. Something is also very rotten in the good ol' USA and we may find that our worst enemies live among us. There are many tools and useful idiots calling themselves Americans. However, IMHO, Michael Totten is NOT one of them.

'nuff said

Posted by: John at August 15, 2007 08:40 AM

michael: anyone who admits they don't know which party their voting for in 2008 is a.... fool: there is not a single solitary dependable hawk in the dem party.

they cannot be trusted with national security and defense of the free world.

any gop candidate for the nomination with a chance at the nomination is better than any dem, PERIOD.

your inability to admit that is stupid or phony: perhaps you are trying to appear as a moderate/non-partisan in order to keep your traffic up?

dunno.

but it is foolish.

imho.

all the best!

Posted by: reliapundit at August 15, 2007 08:40 AM

Clearly there is not 'unified' solution for Iraq. Any attempt to "flip" a crazy man has to stability or promise. This report is extremely valuable in any attempt to begin to understand how complex and illogical this part of the world is, always has been, and always will be. Thanks for your work. Keep it up.

www.greensrealworld.blogspot.com

Posted by: James Halm at August 15, 2007 08:55 AM

anyone who admits they don't know which party their voting for in 2008 is a.... fool

Gee, I always thought that people who habitually and unthinkingly vote along party lines were fools. Takes all kinds

Posted by: mary at August 15, 2007 09:03 AM

Reliapundit,

You are banned from posting here, remember? You called me an anti-Semite on your blog and darkly suggested that I worked for Hezbollah.

(I notice you deleted that post. At least some sense seemed to grip you in hindsight.)

In any case, get out and stay out you creepy bastard.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 15, 2007 09:07 AM

Mr. Totten,

Thank you for your answers. I eagerly await your report from the Anbar province.

Posted by: Dan at August 15, 2007 09:08 AM

Michael-
Excellent reportage. I just made my first donation to support your efforts. Wish it could be more.

best regards

Posted by: MisterH at August 15, 2007 09:16 AM

Great reporting as usual Michael.

Your description of Sadr City reminds me of the dynamics one finds in some poor black neighborhoods in the US, though on a much lower scale. The gangs 'protect' the hood and enforce arbitrary justice and many of the residents of the neighborhood are too ignorant to assert themselves. As long as they are kept poor by the gangs, they have to put up with it. Sadr is just like Castro, Stalin, Kim Jong-Il.

The Democrats tried to build this subserviency through high-taxes and the welfare state in the US but thankfully, they were not as successful as the others I just mentioned. Though we must remain vigilant.

Posted by: Keith at August 15, 2007 09:31 AM

People call al Sadr a 'just a typical thug' and 'gangster' -- that ignores his obvious political and military sophistication and goals. I suppose, but to me he is 'just' the newest iteration of religiously-cloaked warlord -- he is Nasrallah, not Arafat, not Saddam.

I suspect Hammer is wrong that it's only about money at that level. Money helps, but money only buys the frosting, not the cake. If the US thinks they can flip this guy into becoming 'ours' it just shows our ME policy really is as self-deluding, short-sighted, and schizophrenogenic as it has long appeared. We'll what -- offer al Sadr $20 Billion in weapons to match the Saudis? For what -- oil rights? What's a little Sunni blowback, anyhow? Iran wouldn't be ecstatic at that?

If you want to divide up Iraq, I think you will have to cut through the middle of most people's heads. Wonderful line, Don Cox.

Posted by: Pam at August 15, 2007 09:47 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 08/15/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M at August 15, 2007 09:52 AM

Thanks Michael. This is your second post I have read. I am grateful for the service you provide to your fellow citizens by being there and reporting as you do, so I am sending you a donation today. I also admire your ability to put up with the ludicrous certitude of armchair wingnuts so many thousands of miles away.

Have you followed the controversy over Pollack and O'Hanlon's reportage on the war being winnable and do you have any insights regarding the charges that their 8 day trip was controlled by the military and that they themselves have long been involved in Iraq planning and thus their assessments are completely unreliable?

Stay safe.

Posted by: MT57 at August 15, 2007 09:57 AM

Only if and when people suffer the consequences of thuggery and butchery in their neighborhoods do they "flip". Flip does not apply to al Sadre as such leaders frequently remain unscathed for decades while others suffer. Torture is a means of gaining submission and that submission is claimed in the name of Allah. That will not come to any screeching halt any time soon -- it has persisted in the Middle East for some 1400 years at the hands of their leaders whose accountability is never open to question.

Posted by: JAS at August 15, 2007 09:57 AM

Michael, I have been introduced to you through Bill Roggio. Amazing work!

Welcome back home! Oregan is awesome. Not all of us back home are like Muqtada Al Sadr . . . Reliapundit excluded of course.

Posted by: anand at August 15, 2007 10:43 AM

Don Cox: If you want to divide up Iraq, I think you will have to cut through the middle of most people's heads.

There's a powerful bit of dialogue in James Longley's film Iraq in Fragments, which I recommend everyone see. (It's on DVD now.)

Man: The future of Iraq will be in three pieces.
Child: Iraq cannot be cut into pieces. Iraq is a country. How do you cut a country into pieces? With a saw?
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 15, 2007 10:47 AM

Michael,

In any case, get out and stay out you creepy bastard.

So, I guess you've gotten over the jet lag a bit?

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at August 15, 2007 10:51 AM

MT57: Have you followed the controversy over Pollack and O'Hanlon's reportage on the war being winnable

No, but I read the article.

do you have any insights regarding the charges that their 8 day trip was controlled by the military

I doubt this is true. The military certainly wasn't in control of my trip. They asked me where I wanted to go. I said "Baghdad and Ramadi," so that's where I went. Pollak is a much more "important" person than me, so I doubt very much that I would have an easier time having freedom to travel in Iraq than he did.

they themselves have long been involved in Iraq planning and thus their assessments are completely unreliable?

I have no idea if this is true or if it isn't. For what it's worth, I agree with much of what they wrote, but with some reservations. You can see in this article of mine why I hesitate to be too optimistic here.

Ramadi is a dramatic success story, more than most Americans have any idea. I have no idea, though, if what worked there can work in Baghdad. Maybe it can and maybe it can't. Baghdad is a real mess, and progress there is limited and unstable so far.

I'm in "wait and see" mode, myself.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 15, 2007 10:58 AM

Mr. Totten,

I doubt this is true. The military certainly wasn't in control of my trip. They asked me where I wanted to go. I said "Baghdad and Ramadi," so that's where I went. Pollak is a much more "important" person than me, so I doubt very much that I would have an easier time having freedom to travel in Iraq than he did.

In an interview with Glenn Greenwald, O'Hanlon confirmed that the military organized their tour, including who they could speak with. O'Hanlon and Brooks did not get to choose to speak with Iraqis outside the control of the military.

Ramadi is a dramatic success story, more than most Americans have any idea.

I am curious, did you go to Ramadi? Did you see it for yourself? If not, what is your source that Ramadi is a "dramatic success story?"

Posted by: Dan at August 15, 2007 11:07 AM

I'm not passing judgement until I see the results, Mike, but according to USDOD data, there are still a lot of attacks on American troops happening in Anbar and they're not all AQI.

I've heard plenty about the Anbar Awakening by now, but the non-AQI Sunni insurgency has fallen off the media map unless you talk to an academic expert reading the regional media. For the US media, the Sunni insurgency has ceased to exist, except as "Al-Quieda".

I hope your recording provides some insight and info not just on all the Sunni insurgents who have settled down to high-five us, but also on the ones who haven't. The picture is rather incomplete without them. Unless, of course, someone on record said something like, "there aren't anymore Sunni insurgents left except Al-Quieda." Sure, I'd be skeptical, but that would be more credible than the dissapear-by-omission trick that the US policy complex has been directing to the media.

Posted by: glasnost at August 15, 2007 11:07 AM

A lot of stuff you're reporting here contradicts a lot of stuff I've read, Mike, including from official US sources, expressing uncertainty and doubt as to whether Al-Sadr has been involved in attacks on US forces since the Najaf uprising of 2004. No more than six months ago, President Bush avoided answering the question "Is Moqtada Al-Sadr an enemy of the US" in an interview with 60 Minutes. He gave a conditional answer.

You're reporting Al-Sadr's direction of JAM attacks on US forces as fact. But you don't document any evidence in your reporting, although you do quote Master Sergeant Tyler.

The US sources in question, and yeah, I'll find them, give me a day or two, have suggested that JAM attacks on US forces are made by 'rogue' affiliates at Iranian behest. They go on to describe JAM as more of a mob than a tightly-controlled organization, with local leaders who go their own way whenever they like.

Have a comment?

Posted by: glasnost at August 15, 2007 11:14 AM

Yes, Dan, I spent a week in Ramadi. It was a powerful and unforgettable experience. The situation out there is very different from that in Baghdad.

Glasnost, there are still pockets of violence in Anbar, I know. I really should only talk about Ramadi and the outskirts of Ramadi because that is the area I am familiar with. Anbar is an enormous place. Ramadi is its capital.

Let's wait until I start writing about it before getting into discussions. I should save my energy for the dispatches and not get ahead of myself by wasting time covering it here first.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 15, 2007 11:14 AM

Ramadi is a dramatic success story, more than most Americans have any idea. I have no idea, though, if what worked there can work in Baghdad. Maybe it can and maybe it can't. Baghdad is a real mess, and progress there is limited and unstable so far.

Is Ramadi a success in that the Iraqi civil society and military strength is enough now for it to stay that way? if it can flip back the minute we take our eyes off it then it is not yet a success. Same with Anbar and others. If a crucial percentage of the population hasn't fully committed to a civil society and have the wherewithal to enforce it, then we are just going to be playing whack-a-mole some more.

I know our goal is to spread that level of committment more and more until it has taken root sufficiently that we can withdraw, and I know that will probably take years, overall. But are these newly peaceful areas successes at that level and if not,how close are they?

Posted by: Yehudit at August 15, 2007 11:18 AM

For the record, I have no doubt that Sadr is a thug. Whether he's a popular thug or not appears to be a question of dispute.

Pam, how's things?

If the US thinks they can flip this guy into becoming 'ours' it just shows our ME policy really is as self-deluding, short-sighted, and schizophrenogenic as it has long appeared. We'll what -- offer al Sadr $20 Billion in weapons to match the Saudis? For what -- oil rights? What's a little Sunni blowback, anyhow? Iran wouldn't be ecstatic at that?

So, if he's not ours, shall we frag him? Then we'll find out how popular he really is, huh? If the Shiites all throw parades, we win! If they start really going after us, we lose.

I usually argue against that approach, mostly because a broad Shiite conflict with the US routs us out of the country. The US military doesn't think killing him is such a hot idea, either, apparently. I think that's a better answer about his grass-roots support than listening to the opinions of, well, individuals.

So, if we're not going to kill him, and we're not going to flip him, what exactly shall we do?

Posted by: glasnost at August 15, 2007 11:23 AM

Yehudit: Is Ramadi a success in that the Iraqi civil society and military strength is enough now for it to stay that way?

Almost. At least that's what the Army and Marines there seem to believe.

Again, let me write about Ramadi on the main page first. I should spend the energy explaining that place in dispatches before I do it in the comments.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 15, 2007 11:24 AM

Excellent work. Keep it up. It is been my experience that the contradictions you mention in the report are very understandable reactions of people put in situations like the Iraqis are, 1.e. trapped in completely bizzare circumstances in which death or injury can visit them without logic or reason at any time.

Under these circumstances, time shortens, loyalties are transitory because survival and the well being of one's family has to be confronted on a minute by minute basis, no one can be trusted. The stakes that people are playing for there far exceeds anything we might encounter in the U.S.

Again, keep up the good work and ignore the posts where people inject their own political agendas into what seems to me to be pretty raw and unbaised coverage on your part.

Posted by: TOC at August 15, 2007 11:35 AM

Excellent work. Keep it up. It is been my experience that the contradictions you mention in the report are very understandable reactions of people put in situations like the Iraqis are, 1.e. trapped in completely bizarre circumstances in which death or injury can visit them without logic or reason at any time.

Under these circumstances, time shortens, loyalties are transitory because survival and the well being of one's family has to be confronted on a minute by minute basis, no one can be trusted. The stakes that people are playing for there far exceeds anything we might encounter in the U.S.

Again, keep up the good work and ignore the posts where people inject their own political agendas into what seems to me to be pretty raw and unbaised coverage on your part.

Posted by: TOC at August 15, 2007 11:37 AM

Yehudit's question is right on the dot.

Is Ramadi a success in that the Iraqi civil society and military strength is enough now for it to stay that way? if it can flip back the minute we take our eyes off it then it is not yet a success.

What was the town that Gen. Petraeus oversaw back in like 2004 that was a short-lived success? The name is not coming to me right now.

There is a lot of dishonesty and miscommunication going on right now between the political leaders, the military and the American public. On the one hand, the American public, by a large majority, wish for the conflict to end, fairly soon, i.e. probably before the next election if they really had any voice on the issue. The political leaders are employing strategies that really only kick the can down the road for a while, most likely to run out the clock and let the next guy deal with it. This surge is not going to be effective as a short-term solution (there is no short term solution anymore), but it continues to be sold (through the infamous Friedman Units) to the American people as a short-term solution. Give it six months, they say. Just another six months and we'll go from there for another six months. The military, following the chain of command, also speaks in confusing terms. On the one hand they follow political leaders and pundits in claiming this is short term (six months), but on the other, they float the more realistic possibility that this really will take more like TEN YEARS before we're anywhere close to a resolvable position.

Are Americans willing to sacrifice for another ten years? Are they willing to lose another 10,000 soldiers? Are they willing to spend another $1 trillion dollars (oops, sorry, not spend, but put on a credit card for future generations to pay)?

This dishonesty is sickening and counterproductive. What it does is not allow for a real discussion on whether or not we're really ready for the long haul. What is worse, when the time comes for us to actually leave, we will not have a proper discussion, nor a proper withdrawal, reaching to yet another helicopter packed on the roof of an embassy, another humiliating situation due to politicking rather than really allowing a debate.

My personal view, and the one I will look for in a candidate for president is that we should get out now and let the Iraqis fix their country on their own from here on out. It is not worth ten more years, 10,000 more Americans dead, and another $1 trillion to get Iraq in a situation a rational person could even consider "normal."

Posted by: Dan at August 15, 2007 11:37 AM
Are they willing to lose another 10,000 soldiers?

I should add, do we even have another 10,000 soldiers to die for this cause? Are there not reports that the Army will be broken come next April? How many more tours must these soldiers go through before they are truly broken? Is this something that is really in the best interest of the security of our nation, to have a military so overused that they cannot effectively counter a move by a much stronger, and well rested military? Do we consider questions such as these? No. We can't. Because if we do, there will be plenty who will come out to question our patriotism. This is not good for our country.

Posted by: Dan at August 15, 2007 11:41 AM

It is dumbfounding that these morons (Mahdi Army) can march in the streets of Basra and our military is not there. What is going on? It seems to me that this type of march is a perfect target of opportunity for our military. Why weren't we there to attack and destroy these extermists?

Posted by: Mike at August 15, 2007 11:52 AM

++

i just hope those responsible for the brutality & fear they've perpetrated upon this brave soul don't read this article.. :(

==

Posted by: bg at August 15, 2007 11:53 AM

Dan,

It is not worth ten more years, 10,000 more Americans dead, and another $1 trillion to get Iraq in a situation a rational person could even consider "normal."

But if we break the back of the tactic of terrorism and the pathology it represents, it will be cheap at twice the price. Providing Iraq with stability and prosperity is the condition we need to establish to achieve the end state of terror obsolescence, it is not the end state itself.

Or perhaps you have a better method of destroying terror as a method of compelling civilized peoples?

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at August 15, 2007 11:53 AM

Simple views seem really complex when they are surrounded by craziness.
People support the US and Sadr because they want peace, which only the US will provide, and a Shiite theocracy, which only Sadr and Iran will provide. There is no contradiction. The US will not lift a finger (nor should it) to stop a popular, reasonably well behaved theocracy (think Saudi Arabia).
Sadr, on the other hand, insists on fighting the US for ideological reasons, not practical reasons. It's only compared to that lack of practicality that simultaneous support for Sadr and the US looks odd.

Posted by: maor at August 15, 2007 12:02 PM

Is "Dan" even in the U.S.? I am only asking because the comments are almost exactly the same as comments I read on another website.

Posted by: mikek at August 15, 2007 12:04 PM

Don't know, Glasnost, and don't pretend to. I'm saying that to disregard him as 'just' a gangster seems a dangerous oversimplification. It doesn't appear our policy-makers have made that mistake, or they would have taken him out.

I hope they don't make the mistake of thinking warlords are really flippable, especially for money. Saddam, Arafat -- they were corruptible, but even they were not entirely flippable. For rent, not for purchase.

I suspect al Sadr is probably better viewed as another Nasrallah -- criminal brutes, yes, but they have a very significant ideological stake in the appearance of incorruptability. In that they are clearly nurtured and guided by Iran financially, tactically, and ideologically, as opposed to being basically autonomous like Saddam or Arafat, finding leverage to persuade them to switch sides seems a total pipe dream.

I'm of the general view that assassinating such leaders tends to backfire. When Israel has taken out one problematic charismatic leader, frequently a more radical and more potent younger man grows into the gap -- e.g., Nasrallah. Maybe we have to try to limit their immediate scope, and let some of these guys age out of their youthful belligerence a bit.

Posted by: Pam at August 15, 2007 12:05 PM

Patrick,

Or perhaps you have a better method of destroying terror as a method of compelling civilized peoples?

I am not one who believes that a proper method or strategy to counter terrorism is the use of force. Terrorism is a tool for the militarily weak. It is the only tool in their arsenal that has the potency to make large, and far more powerful, nations to react and respond to them. The best counter to the use of such methods is to win the hearts of those who terrorists hope to recruit. Any action, no matter how big or how small, that undermines that strategy is completely counterproductive. Thusly responding to a terrorist strike with military force, wherein the chances of collateral damage are high, is a bad strategy and will come back to bite you in the ass.

Terrorists need to be labeled correctly. They are mere criminals. If we overhype them and their influence, that overhyping might just come to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. As mere criminals, the proper response to terrorists is their capture and their discrediting in the eyes of those they wish to recruit. Let them pretend to be martyrs. It might get a few more recruits, but this is a far better way to respond than with military force (which as we are seeing in both Afghanistan and Iraq, has not worked well at all).

Posted by: Dan at August 15, 2007 12:06 PM

I hit the tip jar and I suggest others do the same.

Thanks Michael for the great post.

Posted by: joshlbetts at August 15, 2007 12:06 PM

Dan,
This report is a joke based on the typical view of someone under 25. If you are not under 25 than you are stupid and short-sighted instead of just ignorant.
Your reporting is that of a typical kid with an IQ of 75 and NO historical perspective. The responders who whine about "what a terrible situation we're in" have no understanding of history as well, and although they make you feel justified in your views, they are wrong.
If 25 soldiers died in the last 6 months in these areas, then the same people would be pissing and moaning about the American death toll. Quit your bitching, and study history. Then you won't make yourself out to be such a stupid kid to those who actually understand the necessary role war has played in societal development over the last 5000 years, and how without those wars (particularly since 1787), you would be executed for such tripe.
You have the mind of a 21 year old, and it shows. Write this piece again in 20 years and you'll be surprised at how your perspective changes with the wisdom only time can bring.
Thanks for your ignorance.
Ron Baker

PS if you think I'm full of it and want to call, just write back with your phone # and I'd love to chat.

Posted by: Ron Baker at August 15, 2007 12:10 PM

You might think this is a good story and that it was very investigative and original. However this information WILL kill american soldiers in that you have just leaked important intel to the enemy about our capabilities. Of course none of that matters when you are trying to make money for yourself

Posted by: joe smithers at August 15, 2007 12:14 PM

Dan,
I should add, do we even have another 10,000 soldiers to die for this cause?

Is 10,000 just a round number or something? Where did you get it?

Are there not reports that the Army will be broken come next April? How many more tours must these soldiers go through before they are truly broken?

Didn't you just read an article about how the army is spending hours passing out Girl Scout Cookies? Not to belittle the violence that our army is facing in other parts of the country but please! They are trained to engage in wars far worse than what they are facing; give them some credit. Plus, think of it this way, if there was any question before, there is none now that we have the best trained, most experienced military in the world. Armies are like muscles, they work better the more you use them.

Is this something that is really in the best interest of the security of our nation, to have a military so overused blah blah blah
I don't question your patriotism but I do question your manhood. These brave men and women volunteered for the military knowing the state of the world and what they would be doing. They got rid of a thug and now they are helping with security so Iraq can rebuild. Not everyone wants to sit in a cubicle somewhere and wring their hands on blog comment pages.

Posted by: Keith at August 15, 2007 12:17 PM

Hey, I am wondering whatever happened to Al Sadr being wanted for the murder of another cleric several years ago?? Seems that aspect of this "leader" gets mentioned rarely anymore - or is it that the U.S. contingent trying to buy this vermin's loyalty are just hoping that story just fades away?

Keep up the good work, you're obviously inspiring people to become somewhat involved.

Posted by: Rhino at August 15, 2007 12:23 PM

Michael, any thoughts on what might happen if the US killed al Sadr?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 15, 2007 12:29 PM

It's not our war. It's not our problem. Men will continue to be evil and do evil. It's time for America to take care of America.

Posted by: DC at August 15, 2007 12:33 PM

Mr. Totten, I find this passage surprising:

“A lot of the people around here are Sadr supporters,” said Sergeant Lizanne. “But they’re also pro-coalition. I don’t really understand how that works.”

Don’t ask me to explain it. Moqtada al Sadr is an enemy of the United States. His militiamen kill or at least try to kill Americans every day elsewhere in Baghdad. How anyone in Iraq could support both him and the Americans is beyond me.

Allow me to explain this for you. The "Coalition" is, for now, mostly fighting the Sunni insurgency. Al-Sadr expects to inherit the Iraqi state, and we are helping defeat his enemies. He wants the whole Iraqi state, not a chunk of it. Thus supporting him, and being friendly to the Americans, are perfectly compatible.

For now.

If the US attacks the Mehdi Army full-on, (or, God forbid, if we attack Iran) then I'll bet you will see a change in the attitude of Sadr supporters. And it will be very, very ugly for the United States.

Posted by: stickler at August 15, 2007 12:37 PM

My personal view, and the one I will look for in a candidate for president is that we should get out now and let the Iraqis fix their country on their own from here on out. It is not worth ten more years, 10,000 more Americans dead, and another $1 trillion to get Iraq in a situation a rational person could even consider "normal."

IOW, make it just like Vietnam. if we get out now, we will have desperate people trying to climb aboard US helicopters leaving from the roof of the embassy, or whatever the equivalent is. I think it's important to make sure we have a different result. A lot is in the news now about Iraqis working for the US who will be left out to dry if we leave - the Brits are already abandoning theirs. We already shafted the Shia in 1991. A lot is at stake, including our reputation for being fickle and the idea that gangs like AQ and Sadr can make us run just by hanging on longer than we do.

I will categorically refuse to vote for any candidate who wants to get out now.

Posted by: Yehudit at August 15, 2007 12:50 PM

Michael,
I am from Portland OR, which I believe is your home. I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for what you are doing. Your writing is excellent, I wish their was more of you brave enough to tell the truth about a very unfortunate war. Through the media it is very difficult to tell the human side of war without trying to use it for shock value, politics or support for or against the cause. The Iraq war at its root, I believe is an unfortunate necessity, although not planned well, necessary..Sometimes the ugly stuff we just don't really want to face, but someone has to..Keep up the excellent work..I hope my gift helps you.
Cheers!

Posted by: Joel at August 15, 2007 12:50 PM

"you profane their bravery by reporting all these goddamned facts, like you're writing some kind of journal! THAT IS NOT WHAT JOURNALISTS DO!"

That is the stupidest and funniest thing I've read in a while.

Keep up the good work. Contribution enroute.

Posted by: Rando at August 15, 2007 12:51 PM

Girl Scout Cookies....now there is something to win over peoples hearts and minds. If the Iraqis would just take a moment to sit down and enjoy a box of cookies it might come to them that any country that could produce and then have the heart to give away such a wonderful thing can't be half bad. A secret weapon I tell you.

Posted by: Gary Davis at August 15, 2007 12:52 PM

My personal view, and the one I will look for in a candidate for president is that we should get out now and let the Iraqis fix their country on their own from here on out. It is not worth ten more years, 10,000 more Americans dead, and another $1 trillion to get Iraq in a situation a rational person could even consider "normal."

IOW, make it just like Vietnam. if we get out now, we will have desperate people trying to climb aboard US helicopters leaving from the roof of the embassy, or whatever the equivalent is. I think it's important to make sure we have a different result. A lot is in the news now about Iraqis working for the US who will be left out to dry if we leave - the Brits are already abandoning theirs. We already shafted the Shia in 1991. A lot is at stake, including our reputation for being fickle and the idea that gangs like AQ and Sadr can make us run just by hanging on longer than we do.

I will categorically refuse to vote for any candidate who wants to get out now.

Posted by: Yehudit at August 15, 2007 12:53 PM

Wow, you're getting it from all sides today, Michael. That's what you get for not putting everything in black and white.

Great report, and one of my favoritesso far.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 15, 2007 12:57 PM

++

my favorite..

"But soon enough their day is coming."

==

Posted by: bg at August 15, 2007 01:24 PM

But if we break the back of the tactic of terrorism and the pathology it represents, it will be cheap at twice the price.

Sure, but this is a wildly unrealistic goal. There's not a hope in h*ll that terrorism will never be used again, whether we "win" or "lose" in Iraq. This kind of talk makes it sound like, when some sort of timer finishes counting down in Iraq and we're still there, angry people with guns and bombs will all spontaneously combust.

Terrorism = political violence. The switching of power from one set of thugs to another set in Iraq, or even a set of semi-thugs with some nice technocrats thrown in, like Ayad Alawi, (sp), is going to end political violence on the planet?

Really?

Bets?

Or does "break the back" mean something other than that?

Posted by: glasnost at August 15, 2007 01:24 PM

Mr. Totten,
My brother-in-law is currently serving in the 82nd Airborne in Sadr City. I must say it was amazing reading your article because I have heard from my brother-in-law many stories about his experiences, a lot of which were nearly identical to the ones you related in this article about Sadr City (as a Humvee gunner, he has had rocks thrown at him several times by children!). I wasn't going to post a comment until I saw some of the shocking and ignorant things people were posting (probably the same ones that want Hillary Clinton to be our next President). The phrase "freedom isn't free" may sound cheesy and cliche, but it contains much truth. It IS horrible that our soldiers are dying everyday, and I could never thank them enough for their courage, but we must take the fight to the terrorists, even in their own lands. How soon everyone forgets 9/11! What must it take for these people to wake up and stop being so naive? Does there have to be a all-out nuclear war for people to realize that we must stop the crazy fundamentalists before they can concoct a MAJOR attack of biblical proportions?
I must say, my wife and I (along with both our families and friends I'm sure as well) dread turning on the news in the morning and hearing about the death of soldiers, and just waiting for the worst phone call of all phone calls. But what provides me comfort is that my family can live peacefully in our wonderful country due to their sacrafices. The alternative is the fear of some brutal fascist dictatorship oppressing our lives, which is what the people of Iraq potentially face if we are unsuccessful (and what they already experienced), and who knows, potentially what we may face someday if we don't have the stomach to stand and fight for our freedom. God bless our troops!

Posted by: Erik at August 15, 2007 01:42 PM

I remember when the Marines were fighting Sadr's army of thugs back in April 2004. Everyone started crying because the Marines were doing do good of a job of kicking their asses and our own Commander-in-Chief pulled them back. I cannot figure out why this man and his army are allowed to exist. We should surround Sadr City, drop leaflets on it, let the women and children out, and then level it. He is leading a rogue nation within the nation of Iraq. I don't see how Iraq can be stable as long as he is in power. I believe the correlation between Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army in the article is right on.

Posted by: Dan at August 15, 2007 01:47 PM

I read this, and the more I thought about, I wonder, How could anyone want to pull our troops out and leave people with nothing but fear and death in their future? Are we really going to infuse another terrorist cell like Al Queda, or worse? I support our men and women over there and in Afghanistan fully. We are all Americans, our men and women died for this cause, I don't think it should be for nothing. That is exactly what it will be for, nothing. People who are always saying take care of America and only America, I have one question, What do you think America does? This is who we are, this is what we do. We do not sit back and watch, that is why we are the Free World.

Posted by: Michelle at August 15, 2007 01:52 PM

glasnost,

I don't think anyone is suggesting that we can eradicate terrorism as a phenomenon.

What we can do is destroy the current school (Al-Qaeda-style terrorism) and make sure nobody else graduates.

I'm sure once we deal with this batch of assholes there will be new ones. Let's focus on getting rid of the ones that are actively plotting against us.

Posted by: Edgar at August 15, 2007 02:08 PM

Michael, thanks for this report.

But I tell you, this sort of thing makes my blood boil. These people have been absolutely brutalized, and the day their tormentors get their comeuppance will be a glorious one.

Posted by: BC at August 15, 2007 02:09 PM

They say Americans rape our women. They lie. It is just propaganda. Americans have plenty of women. Jaysh al Mahdi rapes our women for real. They are animals.

Probably banal of me but I have always been curious because there is nothing ever said about the G.I. and local women. Definitely not Vietnam for sure. "Americans have plenty of women". Not really surprised but why have I never read this before? I mean boys will be boys and all.

Posted by: notahack at August 15, 2007 02:34 PM

Erik,

but we must take the fight to the terrorists, even in their own lands. How soon everyone forgets 9/11!

And just what did Iraq have to do with 9/11? Aren't the guys who attacked us on 9/11 sitting pretty in friendly Pakistan?

Posted by: Dan at August 15, 2007 02:35 PM

Do you hear any feedback of our upcoming Presidential election in Iraq? Do you here of controversy if Hillary Clinton is our 44th President? Will Iraqi women feel any impowerment if she is the Leader Of the Free World?

Posted by: Stephen Link at August 15, 2007 02:42 PM

The Mahdi Army is Iran’s major proxy in Iraq.

Michael,
I've seen this repeatedly asserted, usually by right-of-center types who are trying to gin up a war with Iran, but never seen it substantiated. What evidence do you for it?

Base on the fact that they were created, trained, and continue to be supported by the Republican Guard, doesn't it seem more likely that SIIC and their militia, the Badr, are Iran's major proxy in Iraq?

Posted by: M. Duss at August 15, 2007 02:42 PM

Great post! It highlights exactly the great need we have to take out the Iranian regime ASAP. Iraq will simply never work with the Mullahs in power, they will always be able to turn the screws through their puppet Al Sadr (who is Nasrallah's cousin - no coincidence there). I think the Iranian strategy is to allow us to defeat their Sunni elements for them while biding time and strengthening Al Sadr both politically and militarily much the same way they built Hezbollah. Then they will unleash Al Sadr to establish their anti-American satellite state in Iraq. It is a terrific step we took as a nation today in declaring the entire Iranian Revolutionary Guard force a terrorist entity. This will allow us to take economic and at least kinetic covert action against them. It is absolutely necessary to crush the Mullahs by leveraging their very angry population against them while utilizing an Afghanistan-style campaign of SF / close air support and arming Iranian militias to bring the whole rotten Mullahcracy down. This will be the greatest thing ever done for Middle East stability and prosperity in the last century.

This Dan, is the LONG WAR. We must be willing to wage this war to the bitter end to undermine political Islam and the tactic of terror it employs. Only the establishment of free societies where the individuals accept responsibility for their own and national well-being will defeat the 1400 year-old cancer of political Islam.

Posted by: Evan at August 15, 2007 02:48 PM

"You might think this is a good story and that it was very investigative and original. However this information WILL kill american soldiers in that you have just leaked important intel to the enemy about our capabilities" He's not saying anything that they don't already know. Trust me.

"It is dumbfounding that these morons (Mahdi Army) can march in the streets of Basra and our military is not there. What is going on? It seems to me that this type of march is a perfect target of opportunity for our military. Why weren't we there to attack and destroy these extermists?"

We're here (right now actually). Our hands are tied by the British government who owns this battlespace. They want JAM to work it out and leave us out of it... the pause is me ducking under my desk again waiting for another rocket to impact. Mike if you get time you should come down here. Your article could be titled "How politics is truly screwing up Iraq"

Posted by: Drew at August 15, 2007 03:02 PM

Reliapundit,

I think you're just trying to draw attention from the real issue.

You're anti-black.

If you really aren't a white supremacist, put the Wu-Tang symbol in a prominent place on your blog.

Posted by: Edgar at August 15, 2007 03:34 PM

Enjoyed your article! I would like to comment on it, as follows below.

Iraq is a bewildering country. I can tell you what I see and hear, but I can't unravel and explain with confidence the contradictions in the hearts and minds of its people.

"Jaysh al Mahdi took me" he said. They kidnapped me and dragged me off to the mosque where they beat me."

"But you still have this job," I said, "even though they beat you for having it."

"I have to support my family. My Mom and Dad don't work. Everyone in Sadr City is very poor. My whole family lives there, except my brother. He went to Lebanon. So many terrorists and criminals live there. If we had money we would all move tomorrow, but I only make 300 dollars a month.

"I cry all the time," he said just before he setoff. "I wish I was outside Iraq where I would not have to be afraid."

I shook his hand. He returned to his post. And I felt useless. What could I do for this man?

What kind of country is this," Feris said to me in a trembling voice, "where people do this sort of thing to their own people?"

As I read your article, I realized there is a similarity between the Jaysh al Mahdi, the kidnapped Iraqi man, Mr. Feris and the KKK/ Nazi group that terrorized Americans in the first half of American history.

The KKK used basically the same terror tactics used today by groups like Jaysh al Mahdi. They murdered innocent people because they were Black, Jewish, Catholic, or sympathetic Christians.

They thought their cause was rightous and manipulated the words of the Bible to teach their ideology. Many of those who were recruited were people who were uneducated, socially inept and or needed a "cause" to believe in. They lacted self worth and by joining became empowered. Then there were those who joined out of fear from the KKK, family or friends.

A college history teacher told us his grandfather owned a small retail business and was threatened by the KKK. If he did not conform by silence or joining he and his family would suffer the consequents.

It took several years to wipe out the control of the KKK in those years. And, yet, they still exist in small numbers. Why do we think it will take only a few years to overcome the ideology of the jihadist and misguided religious fanatics of the Muslim countries?

Posted by: Sandy at August 15, 2007 03:37 PM

I don't think anyone is suggesting that we can eradicate terrorism as a phenomenon.

I think they were, but thanks for your opinion.

What we can do is destroy the current school (Al-Qaeda-style terrorism) and make sure nobody else graduates.

Yeah? "Al-Quieda" style terrorism? Are you talking about ISI/AQI, specifically? How about their non - AQI salafist buddies, like IAI? Are we going to 'destroy' JAM? Are we destroying the car bombers, but not the shooters in the head? Or should we just, to quote another commenter here,

should surround Sadr City, drop leaflets on it, let the women and children out, and then level it.

?

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, Erik, and assume you understand why this a) wouldn't work and b) would be wrong.

As long as the find is conducted on symbolic levels, some level of hypocrisy is going to be involved. Someone who's a terrorist to someone in Iraq is going to be shaking hands with us, rather than being killed.

I'm all for staying in Iraq long enough for killing anyone who would really try to kill US citizens even after we all left. That's my personal definition of a sustainable target set.

Posted by: glasnost at August 15, 2007 03:51 PM

Why do we think it will take only a few years to overcome the ideology of the jihadist and misguided religious fanatics of the Muslim countries?

Not sure anyone believes this can be done in a few years. Personally, I view it as a century long struggle with American troops staying in Iraq for at least 30 to 50 years, similar to Japan, Germany, South Korea, etc.

What can be accomplished in a few years is stabilizing Iraq, and training and equipping its police and army sufficiently to maintain internal security while discouraging outside interference from Iran, Syria, or other ne'er do wells.

Posted by: Dogwood at August 15, 2007 04:04 PM

"If you really aren't a white supremacist, put the Wu-Tang symbol in a prominent place on your blog."

Wu-Tang clan ain't nuthin to fuck with.

Posted by: mikek at August 15, 2007 04:12 PM

I was a little surprised that you were with that IA Bn.
The "War Eagles",
- current designation: 3-1-11 IA Bn in Adhamayah,
- formerly: 3-2-6 IA Bn in Sadr City
(the entire IA garrison there until removed in Feb07),
is one of the more questionable IA Bns in Baghdad...

Posted by: DJ Elliott at August 15, 2007 05:15 PM

Michael,

Incredible reporting ! Seems pretty grassroots to me. For all the folks that still don't get it, one more time........LEAVING NOW IS "NOT AN OPTION". Yeah, I know, Americans and Iraqi's alike are dying everyday at the hands of the various myriad of factions with varying objectives and goals. The war was not nearly as well planned and thought out as we (The U.S. Govt/Bush Administration) thought we did. And yes, it's a mess, and still I say we can't leave.

I heard someone say "It's not our war, It's not our problem. Men will continue to be evil and do evil. It's time for America to take care of America".

Guess what genius....IT IS OUR WAR !

"Freedom is not free" !

Ask yourselves, how long did it take, and how many American lives were lost before we (The American people) got our own freedom ? What about WW2 ? Do you know how many Americans died on D-Day alone ???

One main reason why we lost Vietnam (which folks love to compare this to) is because thanks to among other things (Anti-war protests that turned the tide of American sentiment, which basically castrated the "cohones" of the average American) we did not have the resolve to finish off the communists over there once and for all.

And what happened when we left Vietnam will happen in Iraq if we leave. (The deaths of hundreds of thousands of people)

Like it or not, "We are indeed the police of the world, period". It is our responsibility, it is our duty. THIS, is what makes us "different" from the rest of the world. If we leave now, the brave men and women who served and died will have died for nothing.

What do you say Michael ?

p.s. You will definately get a donation from me.

Posted by: Katdaddy at August 15, 2007 05:37 PM

Its funny that folks talk about attacking the Islamist in Iraq. It is Islamist who are the strongest parties in Iraq. If we attacked them, then we would be attacking the very government we support.
Ron Paul had said it correctly, the best thing we can do is leave this country and fast. We need to bring Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan, Turkey and Syria to the table and let a pan-Muslim force take over peacekeeping in our place. The reasons are we will never have any Iraqi's trust and we can not afford to spend tax payers money and our children’s financial future on what is essentially a hole in the sand. Cheney was ever so right in 1994 when he said that to get rid of Saddam would end in a quagmire.

Folks, like Juan Cole who are knowledgeable of the region predicted we would end up with the result we see and not the cake walk promised by so many chicken hawks.

If we leave the Kurds out of the equation, we basically have 3 power centers vying for influence, the first are Sunni nationalist allied with former Baathest and foreign forces. Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa party who are allied with Iran and the U.S. and are the main parties controlling the present government. The third power center is the Mahdi organization which is allied with Dawa and for the most part very nationalistic and not allied with Iran. It is this virulent nationalism which predisposes them to being very anti-American . The biggest losers in this war are secular Iraqis, Christians and other minority religions caught between Sunni and Shia strife.

Posted by: David R. at August 15, 2007 05:38 PM

Terrorism = political violence. The switching of power from one set of thugs to another set in Iraq, or even a set of semi-thugs with some nice technocrats thrown in, like Ayad Alawi, (sp), is going to end political violence on the planet?

Way to put words in someone's mouth. I think the idea of "breaking the back of this pathology" means to progress from the business-as-usual of switching from one set of thugs to another, to a civil society ruled by law.

If enough people get that and are willing to learn how to do it, they can change their society, and it won't be run by thugs. If enough don't, then it won't happen. it is up to the Iraqis but that doesn't mean we throw them in at the deep end and tsk-tsk when they can't swim. It also doesn't mean that we sneer at them while they are figuring it out. (Insert analogies to the 13 Colonies, etc here.)

I think it's a realistic goal to help build societies which are resilient and resistent to being destabilized by terrorism, with the end goal being the elimination of this kind of violent political manipulation. It's like having an audacious goal of "ending world hunger" or "curing cancer." It's a huge idealistic goal but why not aim for it and do much good along the way?

Posted by: Yehudit at August 15, 2007 05:59 PM

Folks, like Juan Cole who are knowledgeable of the region predicted we would end up with the result we see and not the cake walk promised by so many chicken hawks.

The reliability and character of Juan Cole.

Posted by: Yehudit at August 15, 2007 06:01 PM

glasnost: "Al-Quieda" style terrorism? Are you talking about ISI/AQI...their non - AQI salafist buddies...? Are we going to 'destroy' JAM?

These acronyms are too much for a simpleton like me, so I'll put it in easier terms.

Let's kill or arrest vast numbers of Islamic extremists who want to attack Americans. Let's take their money. Let's threaten their supporters.

By killing, capturing, taking money from, and threatening supporters of Islamic terrorists based in the Middle East and Central Asia, we'll hopefully eradicate them eventually.

More easily than we can eradicate terrorism as a phenomenon, anyway.

Posted by: Edgar at August 15, 2007 06:09 PM

Great insight on a dicey situation.

My own suspicion is that the Sadrists are interested in choosing the time and place of their actions on the outpost.

Sadr is probably hedging his bet that the Congress and American people will demand a withdrawal, essentially doing the dirty work for Sadr and his Iranian allies.

He also realizes he is out matched when it comes to winning hearts and minds (i.e., intelligence conveyed to us from the citizens).

I believe Sadr is still in Iran.

Posted by: Captain America at August 15, 2007 06:09 PM

Yehudit,
At least Juan Cole and Dick Chaney(era 1994) where right about the war before it started.
And so where many more who are not Israeli-centric. It's hard not to deny the folks who were pushing the hardest for this war either have dual citizenship or should and the dispensationist crowd.

Posted by: David R. at August 15, 2007 06:18 PM

The reliability and character of Juan Cole.

Good thing he has been correct on so many other things to offset that list then, Yehudit.

A lot of people seem to forget or do not know that Juan Cole was originally a supporter of invading Iraq. You didn't include that in your list of things he was wrong about.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 15, 2007 06:31 PM

That was a good report Mr. Totten. I think it’s the best so far.

I agree with you analysis of Moqtada al Sadar and the JAM. They are a proxy of Iran. I would say that you have an infestation of criminals in the building beside you.

These people use taqiyya with skill to gain the upper hand. Or, as Master Sergeant Tyler says: “They act like our friends… It is a façade to an extent, yes. They get benefits from having a good relationship with us and will do and say anything to keep us on their side.”

You and the troops are dealing with skilled con-artists. You will have to take sophisticated steps to turn the tables. I am sure you and others can think of a plan.

Sooner or later Moqtada al Sadar must be neutralized. It would be best if it was done surreptitiously. I doubt that al Sadar can be “flipped” with money. The Iranians have plenty of money and are plenty close.

I believe that our guys will have to conduct intensive surveillance of al Sadar’s lieutenants. And, being that they are in close proximity and it should not be that hard of a problem.

Next, our guys will have to “flip” a few of al Sadar lieutenants. How that is done up to the military but it must be done and I don’t care how much deception is used to do so.

Then, al Sadar must have an accident, illness, or sudden death and said “flipped lieutenant” must take his place.

Once al Sadar is out of the way it will be necessary to find the Iranian operatives in Iraq and liquidate them one by one.

After that, any remaining loyalist to al Sadar must be flipped or neutralized. They are the ones who are doing the day to day terrorizing.

All of this will take time, skill and patience. But, I have faith in the US military and the job will be done.

Keep up the good work and tell the guys from the 82nd that they are doing a great job and to carry on.

Posted by: Ledger1 at August 15, 2007 06:36 PM

Dan,

Terrorists need to be labeled correctly. They are mere criminals.

I disagree with this considerably in that jihadi terrorists are barbarians, not criminals. Criminals accept your cultural norms and subvert them for their own gain. Barbarians reject your cultural norms and attempt to destroy them.

The language, announced intentions, and repeated actions of jihadi terrorists are those of barbarians attempting to destroy western culture, not criminals trying to profit from its weaknesses. The nature of of situation does need to be correctly addressed. I do not think you are doing so.

Why are you including these people in your definition of civilization? They surely do not return the favor.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at August 15, 2007 06:44 PM

Reliapundit,

You are banned from posting here, as I told you before. It amazes me, truly, that you barged right back in here and repeated the libel that got you banned in the first place.

I will continue to delete all your posts, and I will not answer your despicable accusations.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 15, 2007 06:45 PM

Joe Smithers: However this information WILL kill american soldiers in that you have just leaked important intel to the enemy

Everything I published was ON THE RECORD information that Military Intelligence knew would be published.

I also have off-the-record information that I did not publish.

So you can calm down now.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 15, 2007 07:13 PM

Dan -

Terrorists need to be labeled correctly. They are mere criminals. If we overhype them and their influence, that overhyping might just come to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The best counter to the use of such methods is to win the hearts of those who terrorists hope to recruit.

So, you're trying to tell us that the best way to fight the 'crime' of terrorism is to 'win the hearts and minds' of those the criminals might hope to recruit, and to refrain from using force against them.

Has this theory of crime/terrorism prevention ever, in the history of man, been proven to work? As far as I know, it has been tested many times and it has always caused a rise in terrorism and/or crime. This theory has been proven wrong so many times that promoting it is now the equivalent of the worst kind of quackery, like prescribing a high salt diet to cure high blood pressure. It's like you almost want the problem to get worse.

Like Marxism, Fascism, and other failed attempts to gain political power by 'helping the oppressed', your theory belongs in the trash heap of history.

Posted by: mary at August 15, 2007 07:21 PM

Good thing he has been correct on so many other things to offset that list then...

Juan Cole is a Saudi quisling who says what his wahhabi handlers want him to say.

Unless you think he was right when he suggested this:

By the way, Saud al-Faisal correctly points out that a key element in the current high price of petroleum is lack of refining capacity. Since the oil majors are not willing to build a new refinery, why not resolve the problem ourselves. Can't California do one of those fancy referendum items instructing the state to build a refinery? They could insist that its products meet California pollution standards. A refinery would cost $5 billion, but it might or might not be profitable in the medium term (petroleum prices could dip once it was completed), which is why the corporations are not building one. It is highly irresponsible, and hurting the world economy.

A state referendum to build a five-billion dollar refinery at the bidding of Saud al-Faisal?

Posted by: mary at August 15, 2007 07:40 PM

Good thing he has been correct on so many other things to offset that list then, Yehudit.

Such as? Given the overwhelming evidence of his sheer nuttiness, whatever he is "correct" about can only be a coincidence. I mean, Dennis Kucinich might be correct about, say, eating healthy vegetables, but that doesn't mean I'm going to go to him for foreign policy.

A lot of people seem to forget or do not know that Juan Cole was originally a supporter of invading Iraq. You didn't include that in your list of things he was wrong about.

See above. I don't know what his reasons were, I have my own which I developed over time as I paid attention to the issue. There are many honorable fact-based reasons to be either for or against the war.

Juan Cole is a conspiracy-mongering intellectually irresponsible subpar academic. I don't respect him because of everything I know about him, so I don't care whether he supported the war and then changed his mind, or what his reasons were.

Posted by: Yehudit at August 15, 2007 08:05 PM

Michael, is this guy using revolving IP addresses or what?

Posted by: Yehudit at August 15, 2007 08:06 PM

A state referendum to build a five-billion dollar refinery at the bidding of Saud al-Faisal?

Sorry, where did al-Faisal request a refinery?

Such as? Given the overwhelming evidence of his sheer nuttiness, whatever he is "correct" about can only be a coincidence.

Just off the top of my head - the consequences of under-resourcing of the occupation, the threat of the militias, and warning about the influence of al Sadr. Those were all things that Cole reported and predicted before many others.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 15, 2007 08:53 PM

Dummies believe the reason why we invaded Iraq was Saddam’s WMDs. Surprise! The real issue is the threat posed by Syria, Iran, Iraq and the Islamic terrorist manifestation called Al Qaeda.

After 9/11, Saddam believed the “oil for food” fraud would stop the invasion because of the financial bribes in France, Germany and Russia. He was wrong.

Iran’s potential nuclear capability has been long forecasted. Iran and Syria have been the major source of terrorism directed at Israel. Syria channeled Iran’s terrorism through a cooperating Iraq. Al Qaeda has been a willing partner in support of the efforts to terrorize Israel, as has Saddam in Iraq. We now have Iran surrounded by our invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. And Syria is under heavy scrutiny. Al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq.

Syria and Iran are not dummies. They know the Democrats are supporting the terrorists by their criticism of Bush and the war in Iraq. The Democrats hope the dummies will not understand the real game plan in the Middle East so that they can embarrass George Bush!

Diplomacy doesn’t work with the Democrats. For they hope Bush fails in the Middle East so that they can regain power. Now that is a dumb political tactic that betrays our military. Even dummies understand that!

Posted by: Sherman at August 15, 2007 09:20 PM

Dummies believe the reason why we invaded Iraq was Saddam’s WMDs. Surprise! The real issue is the threat posed by Syria, Iran, Iraq and the Islamic terrorist manifestation called Al Qaeda.

After 9/11, Saddam believed the “oil for food” fraud would stop the invasion because of the financial bribes in France, Germany and Russia. He was wrong.

Iran’s potential nuclear capability has been long forecasted. Iran and Syria have been the major source of terrorism directed at Israel. Syria channeled Iran’s terrorism through a cooperating Iraq. Al Qaeda has been a willing partner in support of the efforts to terrorize Israel, as has Saddam in Iraq. We now have Iran surrounded by our invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. And Syria is under heavy scrutiny. Al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq.

Syria and Iran are not dummies. They know the Democrats are supporting the terrorists by their criticism of Bush and the war in Iraq. The Democrats hope the dummies will not understand the real game plan in the Middle East so that they can embarrass George Bush!

Diplomacy doesn’t work with the Democrats. For they hope Bush fails in the Middle East so that they can regain power. Now that is a dumb political tactic that betrays our military. Even dummies understand that!

Posted by: Sherman at August 15, 2007 09:21 PM

My impression after reading this is that Iran is dug in and prepared for the long haul.
The US military may not be able to win in totality, but can defeat the Iranians slowly and methodically.
The problem is the propoganda from the US, Europe, EU and the Arab world is all on the side of the extremists and murderers... JAM, Al Queda, thugs and criminals etc...

And I fully support the effort to stay in Iraq for the necessary time, which would likely be at least another 5 to 10 years... BUT...
A) Do I have the right to support others doing dangerous work and dying if I'm not there myself?
B) The amount of treasure in life and money the US would invest in Iraq is astronomical... and for which it will get NO CREDIT, nothing back in return... the gov't after the fact couldn't even be pro American otherwise it would be rejected from the Arab and Muslim Leagues... and after we left external players would still infiltrate and murder in Iraq.....

It's sad how easy it is to destroy and hard it is to build.

In War it is a common theme that the only way to win a war and defeat your enemy is to cut off its head... And noone in the world is prepared to confront Iran anytime soon.

Mike

PS Sadr is the same guy that had the Shiite pro Western Cleric, who's father was 1 of the most beloeved sheiks in the last century, Al Khoei, brutally murdered after he came back to Iraq from Britain, (in exile under Saddam), to throngs of adoring Shias... He got away with that and the US was contemplating taking him out back then and chose not to... OOOOOPS.....

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at August 15, 2007 10:02 PM

The answer to how these Iraqis can support Sadr AND the Americans is found in your discussion with that man at the end of your report: FEAR. They don't really support Sadr, they fear him.

Americans need to wake up, there is no such thing as "moderate Islam" -- Islam is nothing but a 7th century tribal mafia that as you reported is about power & money. The only way terrorism is going to be defeated is the same way Nazism was defeated -- undo the ideology, undo Islam -- Visit undoislam.com for more.

Posted by: Candado at August 15, 2007 10:52 PM

When we 1st went to war with Iraq, we were told by the government that, it was because Saddam Hussain had ties with Al Qaeda and that he had weapons of mass destruction. They said he used them (and showed video) against his own people.

Okay, I bought that. Now, no weapons of mass destruction have been found (although it's possible they were moved out of the country underground) and it's not clear if Saddam actually had ties to Al Qaeda or not.

But the goal was to remove Saddam Hussain from power to eliminate the threat to us and to free the people of Iraq.

I know everyone makes fun of Bush for standing on that deck with the "Mission Accomplished" sign behind him, and they have every right to. But, IMHO, the war was won, and the mission was accomplished (according to the stated goal) the day Saddam Hussain was hanged.

Then we should have done what we did do next. That is, stick around long enough to make sure the people of Iraq get a chance to freely elect new members to a new government. At this point, I think we should have made an assesment to the damage made in Iraq because of the war and cut a check to the new government for rebuilding purposes. Then we should've left.

What the new Iraqi government does with the money is there business. Our conscience could be clear. What they do in their government, what laws they pass, anything and everything they do would be none of our business. Even if it means they fall into a civil war. (How would we have turned out if some pro-slavery country had helped the south win our civil war! Not good!) They would be their own country. We would have to treat them as if they were a new country. The war would be ended, but if the new government tried to attack us for whatever reason, or we had CREDIBLE evidence to a specific attack against us, then we'd have to treat the situation as an entirely new situation, with a new country. (We could deal with that diplomaticly or militarily, depending on the situation.)

But unfortunatly, this is not the current situation.

For some damn reason, we decided which group we want in power. If you don't believe it, then answer why the hell we're helping them fight their civil war! If you don't believe it's a civil war, then you're either naive, ignorant, or a moron.

So then, since we're helping one side of the civil war, we decide for politically correct reasons that it would be wrong for us to leave them on their own. We have to train them to defend themselves. Now we find out that there's a damn good chance that, at least part of the other side of the civil war, JAM, has infiltrated the same government army that we are training!

Upon hearing this, we should have immediately ceased in our training of them. But did this happen? No! Instead everyone turns a blind eye to it and continues as if nothing is wrong! How on Earth can most of the Sergeants and Colonels, the president and his staff continue to train them when they know damn well they're probable training the enemy! This is the worst news I've heard from Iraq. I suspected as much, but really hoped it wasn't true. How foolish can we be!?

Instead of trying to root out the infiltrators or make the current government liable for it's people, we go around handing out girl scout cookies!!!! What the FU@k is going on here! I was completely flabbergasted when I read this. Since when were the bad-ass, hardcore, don't fu@k with us or we'll demolish you American military turned into girl scouts!!? This angers me so much, I can't even imagine how the people in our military feel. Imagine having to be in some foreign place, where the sun comes up when you're used to it going down, away from your family for months and months, just to do nothing more than to drive around handing out girl scout cookies! (I asume they do more than that, but still, come on!) How insulting is our government being to our military personel? I have nothing but the highest respect for these people. And to see them turned into girl scouts makes me sick! I want to throw up!

While we're out passing out girl scout cookies (no disrespect to the troops, they're just following orders) JAM is out parading around in Basra in the broad daylight without a single American soldier around. What the Fu@k!? Maybe it's just me, but we could have maybe been bombing them or gunning them down rather then passing out girl scout cookies! (Maybe the 2 events didn't coincide exactly, for you anal fu@ks, but you get my point)

Michael Totten wrote,
For hours I watched American soldiers act as though they were employed by Santa Claus rather than the United States Army.

What a shame.

Also, if anyone thinks they can buy any of these "insurgents" to make them friendly, they are completely ignorant or a complete fool! These people believe it is there religion to kill anyone who doesn't follow it. Imagine the god of whatever religion you believe, if you believe in one, told you the only way you could get to heaven, or equivlent, was to kill everyone who doesn't accept your religion. And you truely believed in this god and what he was saying. That's the mentality we're dealing with. These people are not sane.

All I can say is I support our troops, and I'm grateful for what they do to help protect us, past, present, and future. I just hope the government can get their head out of their ass and actually do something productive. Passing out girl scout cookies in not productive. Politically correct people will think it is. Let me tell you something, unless we change, and you can quote me on this, "Political correctness will be the death of America."

Posted by: Kermit at August 15, 2007 11:58 PM

Michael,

Thanks again for all your work and effort. Is Graya’ in Adhimiyah District? The 82nd ABD is also in Thawra (Sadr City), but it doesn't sound like you are there.

http://billroggio.com/maps/baghdadOOB10jun2007-thumb.JPG

Can you mention which IA unit you are writing about? Is it 1-11 IA--the old 2-6 IA? 1-11 IA is suppose to be one of the best quality brigades in the entire IA.

If you can't answer, I will understand.

Posted by: anand at August 16, 2007 12:20 AM

I am not one who believes that a proper method or strategy to counter terrorism is the use of force. Terrorism is a tool for the militarily weak. It is the only tool in their arsenal that has the potency to make large, and far more powerful, nations to react and respond to them. [...]
-Dan

Yes, terrorism is the tool of the militarily weak. Such governments seek a low-cost, low-risk way to pressure other governments (not always more powerful governments) into complying with their desires, and the last several decades have demonstrated that terrorism is an effective way to do this.

This is largely because many people think as you do- escalation of a conflict is anathema, automatically rejected without serious consideration. Such people are usually shocked when the other party demands outrageous concessions, refuses to negotiate in good faith, or escalates the conflict.

If terrorism is the tool of the militarily weak, the correct course of action is to make it clear that engaging in terrorism will lead directly to exactly the kind of confrontation the terrorist's sponsor is not suited for- use of superior force by a professional military against the sponsor of the terrorists.

As far as another 10,000 deaths is concerned... while losing even one American life is a tragedy, if 1 or 10 or 100 or 1000 or 10,000 or 100,000 KIA is what is necessary to protect the other three hundred million or so Americans in this world, so be it.

-----

Probably banal of me but I have always been curious because there is nothing ever said about the G.I. and local women. Definitely not Vietnam for sure. "Americans have plenty of women". Not really surprised but why have I never read this before? I mean boys will be boys and all.
-notahack

I know some guys who have been over there, they say the local women are generally unappealing to American eyes. Dunno why, I suspect some of it is cultural (different standards of beauty), although in Afghanistan, poor nutrition and lack of modern medical care is probably a factor.

With that said, there have been a few rapes committed by GIs. The perpetrators are court-martialed and sentenced to long terms in Leavenworth.

Posted by: rosignol at August 16, 2007 12:54 AM

"I was a little surprised that you were with that IA Bn.
The "War Eagles",
- current designation: 3-1-11 IA Bn in Adhamayah,
- formerly: 3-2-6 IA Bn in Sadr City
(the entire IA garrison there until removed in Feb07),
is one of the more questionable IA Bns in Baghdad..."

I just saw DJ's post. So I guess you were with the 3-1-11 IA. You can ignore my previous question.

3-1-11 IA is quite old and battle hardened. I am surprised they haven't fixed it yet.

Michael, do you mind sharing your thoughts on Muqtada Al Sadr? Do you think he takes marching orders from Khamenei? Or do you think Muqtada takes help from Khamenei but secretly isn't on Khamenei's side. Does Muqtada only care about Muqtada, or does he care about some other things as well?

Can Muqtada be turned against Iran? I think that as Americans we could care less whether Muqtada likes us or not. If Muqtada could be turned against Khamenei and Al Qaeda, and if he could be persuaded to reach out the hand of friendship to Sunni Arabs and Kurds . . . that would be enough for us. Muqtada can win as many elections as he wants in that case.

Am I right? Is what I propose realistic?

Obviously no one knows for sure. But what are your gut instincts?

Posted by: anand at August 16, 2007 12:55 AM

In response to "Katdaddy" Yes, I am a genius and no this is not world war 2. Your president lied to us and the world about everything. Iraq did not attack us on Setember 11, 2001. They had no ties to Bin Ladin. This war in Iraq is about money, and oil. Get over it!

Posted by: DC at August 16, 2007 01:20 AM

Mike, great article. We worked in Sadr City for four months and what an experience that was. Now we have a worse part of Baghdad (we rarely got shot at in Sadr City, we do here) and it's opened my eyes further to sectarianism as we have a shia side and a sunni side of the neighborhood.

Posted by: Ian at August 16, 2007 03:27 AM

Juan Cole is a Saudi quisling who says what his wahhabi handlers want him to say.

Mary, this unless you have transcripts or check images, this is an unbelievably insipid statement, bordering on absurdity.

How on earth is building more refinery capacity in the US make us Saudi quislings? If anything, such an act would lower the price of oil and liberate us, to a degree, from the Saudis. I'd back this plan, and so would Rudy Guliani, possibly minus the environmental standards.

Meanwhile,

Has this theory of crime/terrorism prevention ever, in the history of man, been proven to work? As far as I know, it has been tested many times and it has always caused a rise in terrorism and/or crime.

What Dan describes is a vital part of standard counterinsurgency theory, and it's being used in Iraq right now, by the US. Most of our 'gains' from the 'surge' have come not from getting better at killing people, but from getting better at making peace with them, including people with blood on their hands, former bombers, people you'd call terrorists in a more convenient setting. The only difference is that instead of shooting them, we're asking them to stop, please.
It doesn't always work, but the alternative is the scorched-earth model, which is incompatible with democracy and modern civilization, something few people understand.

So, you're wildly off base. Twice in one thread.

Posted by: glasnost at August 16, 2007 04:20 AM

Well, Mr Totten makes the situation clear enough.

It's hopelsss. We're doing no good and should get out and leave them to it. And we would never have been there in the first place if we hadn't been neoconned into it.

Good to have a journalist confirm so vividly the conclusion already reached by two-thirds or more of Americans.

Posted by: Warren Small at August 16, 2007 05:14 AM

My heart goes out to people that have had to go through so much. My son is going back for the 3rd time and it is to Sadr City. I hope they decide to go in and clean it out. If innocent civilians get killed sometimes that is the price for freedom. I want nothing but the best for the people over there to be able to have the freedoms that we have. May God Bless All The Troops.

Posted by: Marcia at August 16, 2007 05:25 AM

I want nothing but the best for the people over there to be able to have the freedoms that we have

I would like that too, but I am disgusted at the culture the 'people over there' have created. Blood feuds, tribal vendettas, religious xenophobia, murder as an acceptable means to preserve honor, misogyny ... etc

The Iraqis will never have a progressive country until they ditch all their pre-modern social attitudes. Their problems are mostly self-inflicted.

Posted by: ZZZ at August 16, 2007 06:08 AM

Sorry, where did al-Faisal request a refinery?

Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal address to the Baker Institute

To be fair to the oil companies, the main reason for the refinery shortages is the environmental and land use restrictions that limit the construction of domestic refineries. Refinery projects which already require years to construct have to wait for additional years for site approvals, if such approvals are forthcoming at all. In fact, not withstanding certain modifications and expansions in existing facilities, not a single refinery was built in the United States during the last three decades...

..Yet in spite of these refinery bottlenecks, Saudi Arabia is called upon to increase its oil production on a daily basis. Clearly, additional oil production will do little to meet the fuel requirements of the world refined products...We therefore invite all investors to join with us to build additional refineries and to expand existing ones, to alleviate the refined products bottlenecks.

As far as I know, no 'investors' responded to this call to waste billions of dollars to save Saudi face. But Cole did.

Posted by: mary at August 16, 2007 06:32 AM

How on earth is building more refinery capacity in the US make us Saudi quislings? If anything, such an act would lower the price of oil and liberate us, to a degree, from the Saudis.

I was noting that Juan Cole was promoting the same propaganda that Saud al Faisal issued to the Baker institute. At that time, (late summer, 2005) a surprisingly large number of geologists noted that Saudi Arabia and other gulf states appeared to be running low on oil. Since our 'friendship' with the Sauds is based mostly on their oil supply, the Sauds were launching a dog-and-pony show to convince us that these geologists were wrong. Al Faisal's pitch was to blame the lack of refineries in the United States and around the world.

And no, building new refineries would not give us independence from the Saudis. Where on earth did you get that idea? Even Exxon is willing to acknowledge that our oil supply will be peaking soon. It takes decades to find alternatives. It also takes many years to build new refineries. When those 5 billion dollar refineries were ready to be opened, they'd be redundant.

The only difference is that instead of shooting them, we're asking them to stop, please.

Peace through superior firepower has tends to reduce the 'scorched earth' - it has worked in the past and it'll work in the future. But 'winning hearts and minds' tactics alone have never worked against crime or against terrorism, and when a nation relies on soft diplomacy without a military to back it up, 'scorched earth' increases.

Posted by: mary at August 16, 2007 06:38 AM

glasnost: Most of our 'gains' from the 'surge' ...come...from...making peace with...people with blood on their hands, former bombers , people you'd call terrorists...

Really? I thought the suicide bomber clique was a hard case. Those guys don't want to negotiate with anyone.

Posted by: Edgar at August 16, 2007 06:55 AM

Micheal,

Please neither listen, nor respond to pompous and delusional types who write posts like the following. Trust me. They know nothing about history. Nor do they have any idea nor do they have a scintilla of the personal character you have shown in your reports.
...........................................
Dan,
This report is a joke based on the typical view of someone under 25. If you are not under 25 than you are stupid and short-sighted instead of just ignorant.
Your reporting is that of a typical kid with an IQ of 75 and NO historical perspective. The responders who whine about "what a terrible situation we're in" have no understanding of history as well, and although they make you feel justified in your views, they are wrong.
If 25 soldiers died in the last 6 months in these areas, then the same people would be pissing and moaning about the American death toll. Quit your bitching, and study history. Then you won't make yourself out to be such a stupid kid to those who actually understand the necessary role war has played in societal development over the last 5000 years, and how without those wars (particularly since 1787), you would be executed for such tripe.
You have the mind of a 21 year old, and it shows. Write this piece again in 20 years and you'll be surprised at how your perspective changes with the wisdom only time can bring.
Thanks for your ignorance.
Ron Baker

PS if you think I'm full of it and want to call, just write back with your phone # and I'd love to chat.
Posted by: Ron Baker at August 15, 2007 12:10 PM
...........................................

What a loser.

Posted by: TOC at August 16, 2007 07:04 AM

Kermit: to see them turned into girl scouts makes me sick! I want to throw up!

Relax. The point of the patrol was part of keeping eyes on and a constant security presence in the area so it doesn't succumb to violence again. Handing out cookies is a way to show that American soldiers are nice people and are not there to rape and murder Iraqis as they have been told by insurgents.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2007 07:43 AM

Ron Baker: If you think I'm full of it and want to call, just write back with your phone # and I'd love to chat.

I don't think you're full of it, but I'd love to chat. Call me at work: 718-561-3749.

Posted by: Edgar at August 16, 2007 07:43 AM

As far as I know, no 'investors' responded to this call to waste billions of dollars to save Saudi face. But Cole did.

Nowhere in that quote is a request made for a refinery. So I repeat = where is a refinery requested?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 16, 2007 07:52 AM

Glasnost, posturing as Moses coming down from the mountain with God’s commandments, issued the following edict:

It doesn't always work, but the alternative is the scorched-earth model, which is incompatible with democracy and modern civilization, something few people understand.

There is absolutely no good argument against the “scorched-earth model” -- the "scorched-earth model" is the way the horrors of Nazism, Japanese Imperialism, and chattel slavery in America were eliminated. And in the final analysis, it will be the only way Islamic totalitarianism is eliminated. If you think that asking them to "stop, please" will work, you are beyond delusional.

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 16, 2007 08:15 AM

For an excellent discussion of the moral validity and practical necessity of the "scorched-earth" approach to fighting Islamic totalitarianism, go here:

http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2006-winter/no-substitute-for-victory.asp

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 16, 2007 08:19 AM

Nowhere in that quote is a request made for a refinery. So I repeat = where is a refinery requested?

From the Baker Institute address

"We therefore invite all investors to join with us to build additional refineries and to expand existing ones, to alleviate the refined products bottlenecks.

but he didn't request that California

do one of those fancy referendum items instructing the state to build a refinery? They could insist that its products meet California pollution standards. A refinery would cost $5 billion, but it might or might not be profitable in the medium term...

That goofy, economically chuckleheaded idea probably came from Cole. In many ways, he loves the Sauds even more than they love themselves. He certainly loves them more than he loves the environment or the US. One reason why most of us stopped reading Cole a long time ago.

Posted by: mary at August 16, 2007 08:31 AM

There is absolutely no good argument against the “scorched-earth model” -- the "scorched-earth model" is the way the horrors of Nazism, Japanese Imperialism, and chattel slavery in America were eliminated.

I agree with Michael.

This is the path to victory as shown to us by history.

Posted by: joshlbetts at August 16, 2007 08:48 AM

joshlbetts,

I agree with Michael.

This is the path to victory as shown to us by history.

History also shows us that we should not put too much faith in that new-fangled automobile and that strategic bombing wins wars...if you select your sources imprudently.

While I disagree with Sean Penn's delusion that humanity evolves in a microwave into violence-free avatars of pacifism, I think we can leave the tactic of scorched earth on the shelf for now. If our backs were up against the wall and we were losing troops as a significant fraction of our population like we were in the Civil War, I might reconsider. Since we our troop losses are 4% of annual traffic deaths, we are a long way from requiring the utter elimination of thousands of villages that are thousands of years old.

Furthermore, I have a lot of friends who had scorched earth visited upon them by Saddam Hussein. They are still alive, and they still hold a grudge against him and all like him. The efficacy of scorched earth as a tactic leaves much to be desired, according to history.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at August 16, 2007 09:36 AM
There is absolutely no good argument against the “scorched-earth model” -- the "scorched-earth model" is the way the horrors of Nazism, Japanese Imperialism, and chattel slavery in America were eliminated.

Hmmm, the "scorched earth model" was also employed by the Nazis, the Japanese Imperialists, the Soviets, and so on. Not very good company to keep, frankly.

If peace is our objective, then how the hell does full destruction bring us that?

Posted by: Dan at August 16, 2007 10:08 AM

Hmmm, the "scorched earth model" was also employed by the Nazis, the Japanese Imperialists, the Soviets, and so on. Not very good company to keep, frankly.

As well as Abraham Lincoln (see Sherman's march), and Harry Truman (see Hiroshima). Not that I would support such a policy in Iraq.

Posted by: Carlos at August 16, 2007 10:40 AM

Excellent post. I just got around to doing something I've been meaning to do for years- contributing to Michaels funding. Hope y'all are doing the same. This guys a gem.

Posted by: Andrew Lale at August 16, 2007 10:51 AM

Interesting article.

Thank you

Posted by: leo at August 16, 2007 11:03 AM

Dan,

If peace is our objective, then how the hell does full destruction bring us that?

The idea is that you can brutalize your way through to a victory and the survivors are too traumatized to continue to resist. In practice it fails for a host of reasons. To start with, you have just created a desert in the middle of territory you once considered important enough to invade. For generations afterwards, you have to deal with impoverished people, used to hard living, who hate you a lot and have little to lose.

It is a desperation tactic that should be reserved for imminent existential threats, not gradual existential threats.

Peace can be achieved through intelligent application of violence. The problem with many people in the anti-war communities is that they are unwilling to acknowledge that violence can be applied intelligently.

Many of these people are excruciatingly ignorant and stupid as well. They have little knowledge, much of what they possess is flawed, and they resist the process to learn and analyze new knowledge. By avoiding conflict for generations, they have also abandoned the virtues that conflict capable people benefit from.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at August 16, 2007 11:06 AM

In many ways, he loves the Sauds even more than they love themselves. He certainly loves them more than he loves the environment or the US.

What a load of nonsense. From Cole:

Which country is providing a lot of foreign suicide bombers? US ally Saudi Arabia. Has any general or Bush administration official called a press conference to denounce Saudi Arabia? No. Has Joe Lieberman threatened it with a war? No.

...and...

The connection between Sayyid Qutb and Saudi Arabia goes right back to the 1960s. The Saudis clandestinely gave aid to the Muslim Brotherhood,
including its Qutbist wing, as a way of undermining their enemy, the secular nationalist & socialist Abdel Nasser.

...and...

Fahd not only put Saudi government money into the Afghan Mujahideen networks, which trained them in bomb making and guerrilla tactics, but he also instructed the Minister of Intelligence, Turki al-Faisal, to try to raise money from private sources.

This from one minute of Googling.

More Cole-derangement syndrome. Many people don't read Cole because he simply expresses opinions that they don't like. And then the make up a lot of crap that they wish or imagine that he says.

This reflects very badly on you, not on Cole.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 16, 2007 11:13 AM

Ramadi is in rough shape, but it was won without total destruction and the residents do not hate us. They are grateful, in fact, because the electricity is back on, water is running again, businesses are re-opening, garbage collection has resumed after a year (!), and AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) is probably gone for good.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2007 11:18 AM

Patrick,

Peace can be achieved through intelligent application of violence. The problem with many people in the anti-war communities is that they are unwilling to acknowledge that violence can be applied intelligently.

I think you'll find that this is not actually a good analysis of the "anti-war communities", at least not the ones that are anti-"war in Iraq." At least in my case, when the evidence was presented in 2002, I saw no evidence that warranted an invasion and total reorganization of Iraq. I found it to be a counterproductive move. Especially those small and simple things that we kept (and still keep) doing, knocking down people's doors instead of knocking ON the doors. Proper counterinsurgency principles require the occupier or the counterinsurgency unit to do all in their power to not even minimize civilian casualties, but to ensure you, the occupier, do not kill any civilians if possible. Accidents will happen, of course. But the moment your violence against the locals turns for the worst (for example accidentally killing guests at a wedding party---such as happened in Afghanistan) is the moment you begin to lose. I don't think Americans realize just how profoundly negative that particular incident was, from way back in 2002.

I'm in agreement with you, Patrick, on the non-viability of "scorched earth" particularly in a low-grade conflict such as this. Those who espouse such a drastic move clearly have 1) no patience for a real counterinsurgency and 2) have little understanding at what it actually means on the ground. They've played far too many video games on their X-box to understand reality.

I really wish that this counterinsurgency would actually work and be effective. Unfortunately we've got the wrong players on the field not even using the principles of counterinsurgency that the generals themselves wrote! That's why I've been against this "surge" since it began. It really is a tragic waste and will not work.

Posted by: Dan at August 16, 2007 11:39 AM

Fahd not only put Saudi government money into the Afghan Mujahideen networks, which trained them in bomb making and guerrilla tactics, but he also instructed the Minister of Intelligence, Turki al-Faisal, to try to raise money from private sources

Yes, but all those bad things will change because (according to Cole) the devout Abdullah ("the servant of God"), who has the smile and goatee of a genial beatnik, is in power.

(also according to Cole) although the left and the right have both crudely demonized the desert kingdom...the ascension of King Abdullah gives the U.S. a chance to solidify relations with this flawed but key ally

Genial beatnick? We should solidify relations with this key ally?

And yes, I did bother to include a link to this quote, because I did spend more than a minute researching it.

I haven't read Cole for a long time because he has been thoroughly discredited by many sources that I trust. I'm sorry to hear that you're still reading Cole. Arguing about this uninformed commenter is not the best use of anyone's time, but reading him is even worse.

Posted by: mary at August 16, 2007 11:49 AM

For those of currently residing at COP War Eagle, thanks now we are a bigger target. As with most reports of success ( War Eagle AO is safer than the Green zone ) we are now due to expect a surge in hostil acts against US and Iraqi army troops. He is correct that Americans dont get shot at as much in our AO ( Never mind our Brigade Commander got hit by a sniper in our AO ), but the IA ( Iraqi Army ) get hit with VBIED's in the fish market, get hit by sniper fire at their traffic control points, JAM or not. No report here of the female suicide bomber that the IA stopped at a checkpoint in our AO, no mention of the Kidnap victims that the IA rescued at out TCP's ( Suni kidnap victims at that ).... the idea that the IA are JAM related WAS an unspoken idea, now we have to try and rebuild our fragile relationship with our IA Battalion. I dont know what to do about Sadr, that is decisons made by people above me.

Posted by: WarEagle at August 16, 2007 11:52 AM

The efficacy of scorched earth as a tactic leaves much to be desired, according to history.

Worth pointing out when I agree with Patrick.

Mary:

And no, building new refineries would not give us independence from the Saudis. Where on earth did you get that idea?

I didn't say get rid of independence, I said reduce dependency. Lack of US refining capacity is contributing to higher oil prices, making the Saudis richer per barrel of oil than they otherwise would be. So Cole's suggestion, even if it was also suggested by Saudi Arabia, is not in Saudi Arabia's interest, certainly not their financial interest anyway.

You're over the barrel. And the Cole's article on Saudi you cite is fine. I agree with you about the country as a whole, but Abdullah is one of the better guys. Now the interior minister - there's a serious problem.

Posted by: glasnost at August 16, 2007 11:52 AM

Dan,

Read Michael Yon's dispatches. At least in Iraq, our troops do knock on doors rather than kick them open.

There is good news coming out of Iraq precisely because the counterinsurgency strategy is working, plus the Iraqi's don't like being decapitated by AQI.

New American tactics and strategies, plus blow back generated by AQI's behavior, seem to be a powerful combination.

Posted by: Dogwood at August 16, 2007 11:58 AM

Dogwood,

I was speaking specifically about Iraq in regards to knocking down doors rather than knocking on them. However, if the military has changed its tactics and now does things correctly then that is a positive step.

Posted by: Dan at August 16, 2007 12:01 PM

Lack of US refining capacity is contributing to higher oil prices, making the Saudis richer per barrel of oil than they otherwise would be. So Cole's suggestion, even if it was also suggested by Saudi Arabia, is not in Saudi Arabia's interest, certainly not their financial interest anyway.

Glasnost, in the case I cited, it was in their financial interest, partly because it would deflect attention away from the many geologists who were saying (and who are still saying) that the KSA is running low on oil. Their existence depends on their ability to keep the oil flowing.

I don't have any respect for the Sauds, but even I don't think they'd be dumb enough to suggest that we build refineries if it wasn't in their financial interest.

One thing to note - the Sauds made the 'build more refineries' pitch to a bunch of Jim Baker types and oil executives - you couldn't find a more Saudi-friendly crowd.

None of these friends of the KSA are currently building refineries. They know it's a bad idea.

Posted by: mary at August 16, 2007 12:10 PM

Yes, but all those bad things will change because (according to Cole) the devout Abdullah ("the servant of God"), who has the smile and goatee of a genial beatnik, is in power.

A perfect example of what I just said. Cole writes an article saying why he thinks that Abdullah might improve things in Saudi Arabia. He isn't lavish with praise, he simple details why he thinks this. And you use it to try and ilustrate your point.

What an odd viewpoint. You seem to think that unless someone is vomiting with outrage a la LGF then they're fellating the House of Saud.

You might want to work on that. There is a middle ground. Cole clearly states what he is basing his opinion on, yet you do not refute any of his points. Instead you focus on his description of the man's physical experience.

Weird.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 16, 2007 12:10 PM

I'm sorry to hear that you're still reading Cole.

I like being able to understand what is going on in the Middle East. Cole is a source that I find usually pretty reliable. And I don't suffer from the mindset that those guilty of thoughtcrime should be avoided to maintain ideological purity. That's a bit too Stalinist for my tastes.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 16, 2007 12:14 PM

<iGlasnost, in the case I cited, it was in their financial interest, partly because it would deflect attention away from the many geologists who were saying (and who are still saying) that the KSA is running low on oil. Their existence depends on their ability to keep the oil flowing.

You're seriously proposing this as credible?

If that was "partly" in their financial interest, what was the other part?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 16, 2007 12:16 PM

War Eagle: the idea that the IA are JAM related WAS an unspoken idea, now we have to try and rebuild our fragile relationship with our IA Battalion

If writing about this posed a problem for you, Master Sergeant Tyler would have told me so and given me this information off-the-record. He didn't. So I really think you can relax now. I have no interest whatsoever in putting you in danger or messing up your relationship with the Iraqi Army. The odds that they are reading this in any case are microscopic. How many of them can even read English? Three?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2007 12:17 PM

Dogwood: Read Michael Yon's dispatches. At least in Iraq, our troops do knock on doors rather than kick them open.

I never saw soldiers kick down a door, not even when they had reason to believe those on the other side may have been hostile.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2007 12:18 PM

By the way, War Eagle, I would appreciate it if you did me the courtesy of identifying yourself by name instead of anonymously, especially since I may have met you in person while embedded. For all I really know, you're not even at War Eagle, or in Iraq for that matter. I'm not saying you aren't, but how would I or anyone else know?

And seriously, check your hostility to the media. Not all of us are against you, and the constant suspicion, while somewhat understandable, is frankly exhausting. And also counterproductive for you.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2007 12:24 PM

Mr. Totten,

I'm wondering if you had a chance yet to view this report from The Guardian.

Inside the Surge part one.

This is a reporter embedded in with one particular unit and some of the incidents they experienced, some of which are particularly disturbing.

I'm particularly bothered by how the soldiers rummaged through an old Iraqi woman's house as she screams in panic for them to get out. She collapses on her chair in tears. I don't know about you, but if my grandmother was treated this way, I would not be kind in how I reacted back to those who invaded her private home like that. But that's just me.

Posted by: Dan at August 16, 2007 12:35 PM

Dan asked:

If peace is our objective, then how the hell does full destruction bring us that?

It brings peace by destroying either the enemy's will to fight or his ability to fight. Until you do at least one of those things, the conflict will not end and peace will not be possible.

See the history of the US Civil War, which was a horrifically bloody stalemate until Grant and Sherman unleashed total warfare against the civilian infrastructure of the South.

The same was true with both the Nazis and the Japanese Imperialists. The wars didn't stop until sufficient destruction was visited upon the civilian populations to destroy any possible desire and/or ability to continue the war.

The same will ultimately prove to be true with Islamic totalitarianism. Michael cites the example of a pacified Ramadi that was won without "total destruction" -- but what happens after we leave? Will Iran stay out of Iraq? Why should they? They certainly don't stay out of Lebanon.

Michael was right when he called JAM Hizbullah in Iraq. Unpunished, undefeated and undeterred, Iran will continue to make trouble until they finally acquire nuclear weapons -- whereupon they will be able to make really BIG trouble.

In fact, what has a "bad track record" are all the attempts to deal with fanatically murderous regimes and movements by measures such as negotiations, international diplomacy, UN resolutions, etc. I've watched negotiations and diplomacy and "peace processes" and "road maps" and "shuttle diplomacy" and UN resolutions and UN "peacekeeping forces" fail miserably time after time. Can anyone really believe that such things have any chance whatsoever of stopping Islamic totalitarianism? Why on earth would you believe such a thing, except for wishful thinking?

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 16, 2007 12:37 PM

Dan said:

I'm in agreement with you, Patrick, on the non-viability of "scorched earth" particularly in a low-grade conflict such as this. Those who espouse such a drastic move clearly have 1) no patience for a real counterinsurgency and 2) have little understanding at what it actually means on the ground. They've played far too many video games on their X-box to understand reality.

Please explain how a "real counterinsurgency" is going to stop Iran from turning Iraq into another Lebanon (or worse) after we leave. Please explain how a "real counterinsurgency" is going to destroy the al-Qaeda build-up in Pakistan. Please explain how a "real counterinsurgency" is going to make Saudi Arabia stop funding the spread of the Salafist school of Islam. Please explain how a "real counterinsurgency" is going to deter Syria from helping Iran.

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 16, 2007 12:54 PM

Michael Smith,

Of course Iran will have a vested interest in what happens in Iraq. Remember what happened in 1980? Iranians have not forgotten. Americans seem to have. Do you really think the Iranians want a strong Iraq that is Sunni led? Do you think they would risk having another Iraqi leader lead an attack on Iran as Saddam did in 1980?

The Iranian regime is not a "fanatically murderous regime." They are actually quite intelligent and are playing us like saxophones, outmaneuvering us on everything in the Middle East.

Can anyone really believe that such things have any chance whatsoever of stopping Islamic totalitarianism?

Yes, actually, but you've got to believe peace is possible. If you don't, then failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the violence will only continue until all are dead. That's not a very promising future, frankly speaking.

It brings peace by destroying either the enemy's will to fight or his ability to fight.

Destroying the enemy's will to fight or ability to fight does not equal destroying their entire world, their entire civilization, their entire existence. That is a policy of the worst kind. You can easily achieve your objective to persuade your enemy to stop fighting, or break his ability to fight without destroying his whole existence. Can you not see this?

Besides which, the moment that you employ such evil tactics, you become an enemy to civilization yourself. After all, you advocate the destruction of a civilization. How are you then an advocate of civilization?

Posted by: Dan at August 16, 2007 12:56 PM

Dan,

I watched the video and I didn't see soldiers "rummaging" through her house.

They appeared to be conducting a routine house check looking for terrorists or caches of weapons, but they don't appear to have knocked down her door, trashed her house, or otherwise mistreated her.

Would I want my grandmother to have her house searched by soldiers? No, but if she lived in a war zone where IED's were blowing up soldiers then I wouldn't be surprised by such searches.

It appeared pretty routine and fairly tame when placed in context of a war.

Posted by: Dogwood at August 16, 2007 12:57 PM

By the way, Michael Totten, thank you for these reports.

Quite some time ago, in another report, I recall that you commented that it appeared to you that the belief in Islam was so strong in the middle east that most people there would insist on giving Islamic theocracy a try before being willing to part with it and move on. Do you get that impression from the people of Iraq?

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 16, 2007 01:02 PM

Mr. Smith,

Please explain how a "real counterinsurgency" is going to stop Iran from turning Iraq into another Lebanon (or worse) after we leave. Please explain how a "real counterinsurgency" is going to destroy the al-Qaeda build-up in Pakistan. Please explain how a "real counterinsurgency" is going to make Saudi Arabia stop funding the spread of the Salafist school of Islam. Please explain how a "real counterinsurgency" is going to deter Syria from helping Iran.

Let's begin first of all by defining "counterinsurgency," because you are apparently having a hard time understanding what it is. If you do not understand your own tools, there is no way you will be employing them properly, and that leads to foolish policies and strategies, which in the end only ensure you will fail.

A counterinsurgency should be fairly easy to define. It is an action taken to counter an insurgency. Insurgencies are internal (though they may be influenced and abetted by external players). Successful counterinsurgencies work at minimizing the impact of insurgencies, including, when external players are involved, successfully limiting the insurgency to the country in question. Borders are sealed tight. This ensures that outside influences are minimized, and the internal insurgency can only survive through a supply from internal actors. From there, your tactics are employed to snuff out all sources for the insurgency to gain strength. The insurgency soon loses its potency and fails.

In Iraq, we've done none of that from the start. Only now are we employing the barest of minimums, which are a bandage on a corpse.

Now, in regards to Iran, you will never be able to control or even contain Iran's influence in Iraq. Instead, you must find ways to guide that influence towards your goals. We have not done that. We have failed miserably at that, so now Iran's goals in Iraq are completely against ours. That will be bad for the long haul. Iran has a vested interest in what happens in Iraq. You cannot downplay this. It is impossible. Iran will ALWAYS have a vested interest in what happens in Iraq. That's just how it is. You better accept it and find ways to turn that to your advantage.

Now, in regards to Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, you cannot employ counterinsurgency strategies because, well, Pakistan is not yours to manipulate. If you really want to go after Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, you don't use a counterinsurgency, but you either get a combined mission with the Pakistani government, or if they are unwilling or unable, and you really want to do it, you go in yourself and do what needs to be done. But that action has nothing to do with counterinsurgency principles.

Same thing with Saudi Arabia. Counterinsurgency principles have nothing to do with Saudis teaching Salafist schools. Those require political solutions.

And in regards to Syria helping Iran, again no counterinsurgency strategy will work because it is the wrong tool for the wrong job. You don't use a screwdriver to saw off a piece of wood!

Posted by: Dan at August 16, 2007 01:06 PM

Dogwood: Read Michael Yon's dispatches. At least in Iraq, our troops do knock on doors rather than kick them open.

Mike; I never saw soldiers kick down a door, not even when they had reason to believe those on the other side may have been hostile.

Mike is very carefully testifying to what he saw, but Dogwood is fooling himself if he thinks the US military doesn't kick down doors in Iraq, whether units with Michael Yon in them do or do not.

I mean, get serious, people. We use airstrikes that leave buildings scattered in many pieces, and people are seriously suggesting that "The US army doesn't kick down doors in Iraq?"

Someone should fact-check that with the US military. I have a feeling they'd say something like, "we avoid kicking down doors as much as we can, really".

In the West Bank, they cut right through the walls of houses when the doorways might be wired.

Posted by: glasnost at August 16, 2007 01:21 PM

Dan said:

The Iranian regime is not a "fanatically murderous regime."

If the stated desire to eliminate the nation of Israel and bring "death to America" doesn't qualify as fanatically murderous, nothing does.

Destroying the enemy's will to fight or ability to fight does not equal destroying their entire world, their entire civilization, their entire existence.

I never said it did. But history shows us that it can require substantial destruction to make fanatics give up.

Besides which, the moment that you employ such evil tactics, you become an enemy to civilization yourself. After all, you advocate the destruction of a civilization. How are you then an advocate of civilization?

What exists in places like Saudi Arabia and Iran today -- where women have no rights, where men may beat their wives at will, where women are not allowed to travel without a male escort and are not allowed to drive a car, where a male can get away with rape provided no one sees it because the law requires the woman to produce four witnesses, where a rape victim that fails to produce such witnesses goes to jail, where adultery is punishable by stoning, where gays are executed (or worse), where religious police roam the streets enforcing rules on lengths of beards and body coverings, where music is forbidden and violators have their ears amputated, where drawings and statues and other art forms are forbidden, where a book critical of Islam brings a death sentence, where any Muslim who wants to convert to another religion faces death, where teenagers who eat during Ramadan are whipped in public, where girls are forced to burn alive in a fire at school rather than escape out into public without their full body coverings, where the legal age of marriage and sexual intercourse is 10 -- such a place is not a civilization at all, but is, rather, a sixth century house of horrors. And the creed that creates and enforces these horrors -- state-sponsored Islamic totalitarianism -- is the enemy of civilization and deserves to be stomped out of existence with all the righteous fury western civilization can muster.

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 16, 2007 01:25 PM

Mike; I never saw soldiers kick down a door, not even when they had reason to believe those on the other side may have been hostile.

I should add that I believe that the US military is, from its own point of view, trying not to kick down doors very much. That's just good counterinsurgency doctrine. The relevant question is, of course, exactly how much is "not very much" and, along with a host of similar imposed circumstances, "is it rare enough to really have people on your side?". Some of Mike's reporting suggests "yes" in localized areas, but this of course stands in contrast to multiple broad-based surveys that seem to disagree.

Posted by: glasnost at August 16, 2007 01:26 PM

By the way, War Eagle, I would appreciate it if you did me the courtesy of identifying yourself by name instead of anonymously, especially since I may have met you in person while embedded. For all I really know, you're not even at War Eagle, or in Iraq for that matter. I'm not saying you aren't, but how would I or anyone else know.

I may have met you, you probably flew into our nice gravel LZ, walked through our motor pool full of gun trucks ( or maybe you got a ride in the bongo truck ) ate in our miniscule DFAC with the MKT right outside ( The IA DFAC is connected and alot bigger than ours ), walked up to the front doors looked and the 82nd sign that was hand painted, opened the doors to see a soldier sitting behind a makeshift desk, walked up the stairs and looked down on the TOC, and stayed in the nice plywood cubicle inside the TOC. I hope this will eliminate the idea that I am not here, for this is my third combat tour. I won't say who I am because I am unclear as to what I am allowed to discuss, and my career is more important than you or the rest of the world knowing my name.

What I was refering to in my first post about our security was related to another province that only a few days ago was slatted to be handed over to IA controll in the near future, and it was hit with 4 VBIED's killing quite a few Iraqi's. It has been my simple obervation that when things get out in the press regarding "Good News" bad things happen in the area where the "Good News" is happeneing. This was my concern regarding " Black Falcon's AO "(you did not mention Black Falcon in your article did you ? ) being safer than the green zone. I know several Iraqi soldiers who speak English and in some case's translate something's for me. I do not trust them all, but I do not trust all American's either. In this you are right, but it was an unspoken idea that was in the spot light with our IA Soldiers, and now it is, they trust us less because of this. I did highlight in my previous post just a few of the things I am aware of that these Iraqi Soldiers have done regardles of any affiliation with JAM or secretarian viloance, you might not have been aware of them, or it was not the focus of your story.I am glad, and my family back at Ft Bragg are happy that I work in, and go out in one of the safest neighborhoods in Baghdad. All of the Troopers in this AO plan on keeping it that way! AIRBORNE, ALL THE WAY !!!

Posted by: Wareagle at August 16, 2007 01:30 PM

Dan said:

Now, in regards to Iran, you will never be able to control or even contain Iran's influence in Iraq. Instead, you must find ways to guide that influence towards your goals.

Dan, what on earth makes you think such a thing is possible? You sound just like Chamberlain reassuring the world that Hitler was a reasonable man who could be dealt with through negotiation and diplomacy.

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 16, 2007 01:30 PM

Glasnost,

I'm pretty sure that during the clearing phase of clear, hold, rebuild, that doors do get kicked in, however, once the clearing has been completed, it appears that the tactics change to a more friendly approach, such as knocking.

Afterall, if the area has been cleared of insurgents and AQI, then there is no need for door kicking, which would simply antagonize an otherwise peaceful population.

Go read one of Yon's recent posts and pay attention to the debate soldiers were having about how to take out a house that a few insurgents were using for cover. They were debating what weapon to use because they were doing everything they could to avoid civilian casualties.

Is it just me, or are there a lot of people on this blog who believe American soldiers are a bunch of unprofessional thugs who only behave when there's a reporter in the APC?

Counting many former and current servicemen as friends, I can attest that they are some of the most professional and responsible individuals I have ever met.

Nice post Michael, keep up the good work.

Posted by: Dogwood at August 16, 2007 01:33 PM

Dan wrote:

Same thing with Saudi Arabia. Counterinsurgency principles have nothing to do with Saudis teaching Salafist schools. Those require political solutions.

Apparently, you did not realize that the point of my post was to highlight the numerous problems with Islamic totalitarianism that cannot be addressed by any counterinsurgency strategy.

But if you think they can be addressed through "political solutions", you are dreaming, blissfully unaware of the history of the past 60 or so years.

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 16, 2007 01:35 PM

Michael Smith: Do you get that impression from the people of Iraq?

I really don't know. But if you forced me to answer yes or no, I would tentatively say no. But only with something like 55 percent certainty.

I really don't know enough to answer that. I haven't seen enough of Iraq. Kurdistan is moderate, Baghdad is pretty secular, and Ramadi is conservative but not Islamist.

I have no idea what Sadr City, Najaf, Basra, and Karbala are like when it comes to this question.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2007 01:45 PM

War Eagle,

Ok, a reasonable enough answer.

Yes, you convinced me that you are there. I didn't really doubt you were, but I didn't know. The Internet is full of posers.

Trust me when I say I don't want to mess you guys up. I asked Master Sergeant Tyler if my writing about this would create a problem, and he said no, it would not. Feel free to ask him about it yourself if you want confirmation. I am sure you must know him.

I said "If the IA next door doesn't know you know they are infiltrated by JAM, I don't want them to learn it from me." He said not to worry about it, so I didn't. He's Military Intelligence, and I assume he has a good handle on this situation.

If "good news" reporting puts you in danger (which I doubt, honestly) then what do you expect me to do? Filter out everything positive and only write bad news stories? I would not be doing my job professionally if I did that.

Likewise if I filtered out "bad news" stories and only concentrated on the upbeat. I need to portray the situation as honestly and comprehensively as possible or I don't deserve my job.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2007 01:53 PM

Well, it seems on the political front things are not going well at all in Iraq.

Mr. Smith

If the stated desire to eliminate the nation of Israel and bring "death to America" doesn't qualify as fanatically murderous, nothing does.

Conversely, would not applying scorched earth strategies, calling for complete destruction of a people also not qualify as "fanatically murderous?" Frankly I don't see the difference, except in targets. You wish to utterly destroy Iran. They wish to utterly destroy you. Frankly, have at it boys.

And the creed that creates and enforces these horrors -- state-sponsored Islamic totalitarianism -- is the enemy of civilization and deserves to be stomped out of existence with all the righteous fury western civilization can muster.

Right there, you reveal that you too believe in "fanatical murder." I'm sorry Mr. Smith, but what you advocate is not conducive to a civilized nation.

Dan, what on earth makes you think such a thing is possible?

Because it has been done before. There are a lot of things possible which you outright dismiss to your own utter detriment. And, please, Mr. Smith let go of Chamberlain.

Posted by: Dan at August 16, 2007 01:59 PM

I'm pretty sure that during the clearing phase of clear, hold, rebuild, that doors do get kicked in, however, once the clearing has been completed, it appears that the tactics change to a more friendly approach, such as knocking.

I would imagine that to one extent or another, the trend would certainly be towards more kicking in "clear" and less in "build" ....... unless circumstances seemed to require something else.. in the judgment of whatever local commander on the scene.

Is it just me, or are there a lot of people on this blog who believe American soldiers are a bunch of unprofessional thugs who only behave when there's a reporter in the APC?

If you're talking to me, I wouldn't touch that statement with a ten-foot pole. Characterizations such as the above are things that people love to argue about to avoid or reframe facts. Facts matter, (ironically, including facts on other people's opinions), but opinions like that are inherently flawed, contestible, and almost arbitrary as soon as they're born, no matter what the opinion specifically is. None for me, thanks. I have no idea and no access to the data needed to even attempt to answer it (which doesn't even address the problem of agreeing on criteria).

I can be, and am, skeptical, however, about any attempt to use a characterization of the 'typical' US soldier's moral character, positive or negative, as evidence for or against any given alleged action. Anything's possible. Hearsay and character references are fundamentally untrustworthy, period, about everyone. They're constantly proven inaccurate.

However, as a general statement about the world, most people behave differently when there's a reporter in the room. This is especially irrefutable when dealing with an organization consisting of many individuals, because only some of them need to behave differently to change what the reporter sees. This goes double for any organization in the western world, with entire subdivisions devoted to public relations, media management, and, not to put to fine a point on it, image manipulation. Like any large corporation and many other public and private institution, the DoD spends enormous amounts of money on this task. Debate the terms I've used, but the money is spent, and it's assuredly not for literally no purpose. Any organization that wants me not to believe they don't deliberately manipulate their images needs to not have a public affairs, media relations, or a marketing department.

Now you understand where I come from.

But don't take my word for it, Dogwood. Read the results of surveys taken by US soldiers about their attitudes towards various controversial behavior types. Whether the results validate "we're good" or "we're bad" I have no idea, but it seems to validate that not every US soldier has an identical value system to every other one. This is also standard.

Posted by: glasnost at August 16, 2007 03:54 PM

what the heck. i'll give it a shot.

michael, definitely appreciate your work (along with that of Roggio and M. Yon). keep it up. will try to contribute when we can.

in the meantime, it seems to me from all the real news out there on Iraq ("real" meaning, writers who are actually with the troops and on the streets and not in some hotel getting stringer propaganda fed to them) that the U.S. forces at this time are focusing on wiping out the last, remaining pockets of AQI strongholds in Baghdad and the 'belts' around Baghdad (Diyala, Salahudin, etc...). While doing so, U.S. forces are conducting shaping operations against JAM cells that are known to be Iranian-trained and supplied and actively targeting Coalition forces. We make a mistake when we assume that all Mahdi forces are in lockstep with Mookie Sadr. In fact, based on the pathetic turn-out the last two times that Mookie called for massive demonstrations, it's clear that he has lost alot of prestige with the common Shia (as confirmed by the person you interviewed through Feris). And as that man said, Mookie's day will come. Once U.S. forces have finished up with AQI, it will be Mookie's turn and U.S. forces will move into Sadr city, carefully, purposefully and powerfully. Once neighborhoods are under Coaltion control, the people (including local JAM leaders) will have a choice to make. Fight for Iran (the Persians vis a vis Iraqi, Arab shia) or side with the U.S. backed forces. We don't need to wipe out every single JAM member; we simply need to give them a credible alternative to Mookie/Iran. They need to know that we are not going to run out on them--- see 2008 elections, ahem. And they need to be convinced that we have the muscle and grit to stand up to the Iranians. We're showing that right now.

Ultimately, if the U.S. can show patience and tenacity, the shia will join us for the same reason that the Sunnis are joining us: we, "evil" Americans, for all our many warts, represent a far better life and future than anything that the Iranians can offer. Once the Sunnis got tired of getting mutilated and murdered by AQI, they joined up with us. It sounds from your post, Michael, that many, many shia are already fed up with Mookie's Men and are waiting for the opportunity to join us, too. The time will come, just like it did in Anbar.

Wait for it. Wait for it.

Posted by: TS Alfabet at August 16, 2007 07:14 PM

the consequences of under-resourcing of the occupation, the threat of the militias, and warning about the influence of al Sadr. Those were all things that Cole reported and predicted before many others.

So do you think - like Juan Cole - that Israel plans its wars for the summer because that's when school is out? Do you think Jewish soldiers are killed in Iraq because of "expansionist Israeli policy"? (Cole sees Israel conspiracies everywhere.) Do you think the bloggers, the Iraqi Fadhil brothers, are fronted by the CIA? Do you think Bin Laden planned 9-11 in response to the Israeli-Palestinian battle in Jenin, which happened 2 years later? Etc etc. Read the post I linked - there's way more. Or if you don't want to read my post, try Tony Badran.

Cole hasn't said anything intelligent which no one else has said. If he's been accidentally right about a few things that doesn't make him a reputable commentor on world affairs.

Posted by: Yehudit at August 16, 2007 11:10 PM

would not applying scorched earth strategies, calling for complete destruction of a people also not qualify as "fanatically murderous?" Frankly I don't see the difference, except in targets. You wish to utterly destroy Iran. They wish to utterly destroy you.

Where do you read us wanting "complete destruction" of Iran? Huh? We want the Iran regime - which the Iranians dislike as much as we do - to stop making nuclear weapons. We want the Iranians to kick them out of office. You don't help your cause by making wild accusations just to balance the scales. The scales in this case aren't even. They just aren't. There's rhetoric. And then there's reality.

Posted by: Yehudit at August 16, 2007 11:17 PM

Is it just me, or are there a lot of people on this blog who believe American soldiers are a bunch of unprofessional thugs who only behave when there's a reporter in the APC?

A few, yes, but not a lot. I would estimate that among the regulars, such people are outnumbered around 5-1 by people inclined to give the soldiers the benefit of the doubt, and who understand that "soldiers operating in a combat zone" is a very different situation than what civilians in the US deal with. They do post somewhat more than their numbers would suggest, tho.

....

One of the things that I really like about the comments section here is that the people commenting have a variety of opinions and frequently disagree, but people keep the disagreement mostly civil, because MJT will ban them if they don't. Rude lefties get the boot just as quickly as rude right-wingers, and that's a rarity on blogs that deal with highly politicized matters.

Posted by: rosignol at August 17, 2007 12:41 AM

War Eagle

I am in Colorado and have been since I retired from the USN four years ago. (Not deployable for medical reasons.)

I have known that the battalions of the IA 2-6 Brigade (redesignated 1-11) had problems and that 3-2-6 (3-1-11) was particular problem for over a year now. Just from open source reporting and tracking incidents.

It is not much of a secret. Some units need a bit of work...

Posted by: DJ Elliott at August 17, 2007 05:07 AM

Hi folks. This is my first post to this blog, so bear with me.
MJT, I have been reading your posts for a few months now, and I am impressed. That isn't something I say very often, and you should take it for the compliment it is.
When I came home from Iraq, I took a year off from the news, just because I was having a hard time staying, well, non-violent. Little things would hit me the wrong way, and I would have to go lift to keep from getting into a fight. Your blog was one of the first ones I found when I decided it was time to pay attention again. This is all leading up to one point.
There are people in this string of posts that firmly believe that we (American Soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen) are worthless, bloodthirsty animals. We terrorize Iraqi civilians for fun, and are happy to be monsters.
I can say with the deepest sincerity, I hope you don't breed. Ever.
To paraphrase, cowardice is the only unforgivable sin in my book. When you sit at home, watch TV, and feel the need to armchair-quarterback a war, based on a very, very limited dataset, then you are a very sick, sad person. I hope we never meet in real life. That way you won't be shattered by the look of real concern on my face. Not for you, mind you, but for humanity as a whole.
Those of you with spines, whether you are left, right, or center, can ignore that last bit.

Posted by: Nabizzle at August 17, 2007 07:19 AM

If he's been accidentally right about a few things that doesn't make him a reputable commentor on world affairs.

He provides a lot of information that I don't see elsewhere, and I find he's right most of the time. I also find that a lot of the criticism of him is biased, and that other figures on the "correct" side of the political fence are not judged to the same standards. That makes me disregard much of the criticism.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 17, 2007 07:21 AM

TS Alfabet,
Your analysis is spot on. Please jump in more often.

Posted by: John at August 17, 2007 07:49 AM

Although Michael has made several appearances in this thread since the comment below by M. Duss, he hasn't responded to it:

"The Mahdi Army is Iran’s major proxy in Iraq."

Michael, I've seen this repeatedly asserted, usually by right-of-center types who are trying to gin up a war with Iran, but never seen it substantiated. What evidence do you [have] for it?

Based on the fact that they were created, trained, and continue to be supported by the Republican Guard, doesn't it seem more likely that SIIC and their militia, the Badr, are Iran's major proxy in Iraq? (emphasis added)

Posted by: M. Duss at August 15, 2007 02:42 PM

Seems to me that it merits a reply.

By the way, Duss has a post of his own where he explains why Michael's claim of a direct causal chain from Iran to Hezbollah to Sadr is, at best, a grotesque exaggeration (and more likely a misstatement of the facts based on sheer ignorance).

Posted by: Swopa at August 17, 2007 08:24 AM

Seems to me that it merits a reply.

Seems a bit presumptuous to me.

We're mere guests at the Totten Internet outpost, and while we have the ability to ask questions, he is under no obligation to respond.

His place, his rules.

Posted by: Dogwood at August 17, 2007 08:55 AM

Swopa,

Seems to me that it merits a reply.

That is a very specific assertion not supported by commonly understood facts. Why the Republican Guard, a Sunni organization, trained and supported a Shia organization is unclear. Why Qods Force of the Revolutionary Guard, an Iranian Shia organization with a long history of supporting insurgents, is unlikely to support the Shia Mahdi is unclear. Also, the briefings Michael and I have received above from serious political operatives in Iraq who talked about Ba'ath remnants never made any hint of this, and they would have if it was real or even plausible.

It is really far too close to conspiracy theory hell to want to go into for very long without compelling evidence not provided by this post.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at August 17, 2007 09:25 AM

Swopa: Seems to me that it merits a reply.

It's common knowledge in Iraq. If you think everyone in Iraq is wrong and that you are wiser and right, fine. Think whatever you want.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 17, 2007 10:20 AM

Why the Republican Guard, a Sunni organization, trained and supported a Shia organization is unclear.

I believe "Republican Guard" is a typo, and Duss meant "Revolutionary Guard." If you look at the Duss post I linked to above, that should be obvious.

Why Qods Force of the Revolutionary Guard, an Iranian Shia organization with a long history of supporting insurgents, is unlikely to support the Shia Mahdi is unclear.

Well, as Duss said, because they created and trained the Badr militia, whose rivalry with the Mahdi army has frequently turned violent.

Are you aware of the Badr Brigades' origins, Patrick? Of the Sadr-Hakim/SIIC/Badr rivalry?

Posted by: Swopa at August 17, 2007 10:31 AM

It's common knowledge in Iraq. If you think everyone in Iraq is wrong and that you are wiser and right, fine. Think whatever you want.

Guess I'll ask you the same questions I just posed to Patrick: Are you aware of the Badr Brigades' origins? Of the Sadr-Hakim/SIIC/Badr rivalry?

For that matter, are you aware of who was photographed last week walking hand in hand with Ahmadinejad? (Hint: It wasn't Moqtada al-Sadr.)

You don't know what "everyone in Iraq" thinks, and it's disingenuous of you to pretend otherwise. But since you appear to have no evidence to back up your claim, I suppose you have to bluff somehow.

Posted by: Swopa at August 17, 2007 10:43 AM

Michael awesome site --- love it

what is the significance of the crescent/cross
pendant in your header?

Posted by: Mark T at August 17, 2007 11:24 AM

Swopa: Are you aware of the Badr Brigades' origins? Of the Sadr-Hakim/SIIC/Badr rivalry?

Yes.

For that matter, are you aware of who was photographed last week walking hand in hand with Ahmadinejad? (Hint: It wasn't Moqtada al-Sadr.)

No.

You don't know what "everyone in Iraq" thinks, and it's disingenuous of you to pretend otherwise.

Fine, fair enough. Everyone I talked to about this, American and Iraqi alike, spoke of the Mahdi Army as a proxy of Iran in the same way you would describe the Republican Party as conservative. It's not something that needs to be proved, it's just something that is understood as obvious.

You'll note that the Iraqis I have been quoting also understand the Sadr-Iranian connection. It's not a GOP talking point. It just is.

Look, all these people could be wrong. I am not omniscient or all-knowing. But if you think they're wrong, make a case. Don't ask me to prove what everyone I know assumes to be obvious.

I had better things to do in Iraq than search for dissidents who believe Sadr isn't a tool of Iran. It did not occur to me to do this. If you want to go there and do that, you're welcome to the assignment. I'll help you get embedded. (It's a pain.)

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 17, 2007 11:28 AM

MarkT: what is the significance of the crescent/cross pendant in your header?

It is a symbol from Lebanon.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 17, 2007 11:29 AM

Great reportage. It's wonderful to read reports like this that are watered down neither one way or the other but instead reflect some eyes, ears and some grey matter on the ground and some substantial information that is lacking guile, that lends some insight rather than slant and spin. Great stuff.

Posted by: Michael B at August 17, 2007 11:53 AM

Swopa: For that matter, are you aware of who was photographed last week walking hand in hand with Ahmadinejad? (Hint: It wasn't Moqtada al-Sadr.)

MJT: No.

I do, I do. This guy.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 17, 2007 12:48 PM

I was thinking this guy:

http://tinyurl.com/yqyn3x

Looks like Ahmadinejad has a lot of friends in Asia.

Posted by: eihpla at August 17, 2007 01:04 PM

Q: "For that matter, are you aware of who was photographed last week walking hand in hand with Ahmadinejad? (Hint: It wasn't Moqtada al-Sadr.)"

A: "No."

double-plus-ungood is right.

For those too lazy to click the link, it's Prime Minister Maliki, who thanked Iran during his visit for its "positive and constructive" contributions to Iraq's security.

Meanwhile, here's the scoop on Badr (via M. Duss), since MJT was so terse:

If any group can be said to have been created by the Pasdaran "from scratch," it is the Badr Brigade, the militia wing of SIIC (formerly SCIRI), formed in Iran out of Iraqi exiles and defectors, and POWs from the Iran-Iraq War. It is the Badr Brigade that continues to serve as "Iran's major proxy" in Iraq, constantly battling the Mahdi Army for control of Shia neighborhoods in southern Iraq.

Incidentally, since 2005 SIIC/Badr has been the most influential faction in running the ministries of Interior and Defense, ensuring Shiite dominance in the police and army.

Is there a back-door relationship between Sadr and Iran? Sure, though it's far more conflicted than anyone appears to have told MJT. But obsessing about it overlooks Iran walking in and out the front door with our supposedly "moderate" Shiite allies in Dawa and SIIC.

Posted by: Swopa at August 17, 2007 01:18 PM

Ah yes, it's al-Maliki who was "hand in hand" with Ahmadinejad. The implication being, more precisely, what?, beyond the snarky, adolescent inference?

"... if you think they're wrong, make a case."

Precisely. But instead of making any type of qualitative and more substantial case and therein risking a positive thesis or even a single statement, snark ensues and pretends to be oh so meaningful. And no Swopa, your latest snarky inferences do not a more positive statement or thesis make.

Posted by: Michael B at August 17, 2007 01:28 PM

Michael B., try reading (or re-reading) the comment directly above yours.

If your reading comprehension fails you there, there's not much I can do to help you.

Posted by: Swopa at August 17, 2007 01:45 PM

Maliki has pretty close ties to Iran, I seem to recall, as does Talabani. Both lived there for a considerable period, and were supported politically by Iran.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 17, 2007 02:05 PM

I read it Swopa, if you're unable to more thoughtfully comprehend what a truly substantial statement, not to say a thesis, might reflect, then there's not much I can do to help you.

Posted by: Michael B at August 17, 2007 02:08 PM

Swopa: For those too lazy to click the link, it's Prime Minister Maliki,

Well, that is not even remotely surprising. Totally typical and to be expected.

I don't know how this undermines the idea that Sadr is an Iranian tool, though. Is there some partisan left-right squabble going on in America about this that I don't know about? If so, it doesn't exist in Iraq. No one there gives a damn about irrlevent partisan bullshit. The liberals in the military don't care, and neither do the conservatives. Neither do I. It has nothing to do with Iraq or reality.

There's a military phrase called "echelons above reality" that refers to officers too high above ground level to have a clue what the hell is going on. That phrase applies even more aptly to Washington DC, which is not only several echelons above reality, but also 8 time zones to the side.

Go to Iraq in person and the arguments are much different, more interesting and relevant, and therefore more worth having.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 17, 2007 02:12 PM

Why is it a surprise that Maliki paid his neighbor a visit? Did we expect him to live the life of a monk, cloistered in Baghdad, ignoring the fact that Iran exists?

It is in Iraq's best interests to develop diplomatic relationships with its neighbors, which is better than Saddam invading them all the time.

Just because the U.S. and Iran are bitter foes doesn't mean Iraq and Iran have to continue being bitter foes now that Saddam is gone.

Its called diplomacy and it can be quite the balancing act at times.

Posted by: Dogwood at August 17, 2007 02:17 PM

I don't know how this undermines the idea that Sadr is an Iranian tool, though.

I think the point being made is that while there is a connection between Iran and al Sadr, and that connection receives a lot of attention here, there is a much stronger Iranian connection between Iran and SIIC, and that receives relatively little attention.

I may be wrong, but that seemed the intent of the comment.

If so, it doesn't exist in Iraq. No one there gives a damn about irrlevent partisan bullshit.

Blink blink. Huh? Isn't there a fair amount of partisan bullshit, often backed up by bullets and power drills, between various parties? There seems to be quite a lot of partisan bullshit even amongst various factions within the Shia.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 17, 2007 02:24 PM

DPU,

I meant people in Iraq (Arabs, Kurds, and Americans) don't really care about the partisan squabbling between Democrats and Republicans. I also couldn't care less about such things when I'm in the Middle East. Washington DC feels as far away as Mars in that part of the world.

I expected to hear lots of complaints about the Democrats from the soldiers, but I didn't. Washington is just too remote and irrelevant.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 17, 2007 03:04 PM

And to clarify what I meant two posts ago, I was just wondering if there is some partisan domestic argument about Maliki, that maybe conservative partisans say he's a good guy and liberals don't, that maybe his hanging with the Iranians was part of some domestic point-scoring squabble that I know nothing about. I have no idea. Nevermind. My headspace is somewhere else...

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 17, 2007 03:06 PM

Handing out cookies is a way to show that American soldiers are nice people and are not there to rape and murder Iraqis as they have been told by insurgents.

I'm sorry, but people are not the same the world over. What may have kept the children of post-war Germany from hating, then attacking, Americans may have no effect upon people reared to kill "the other" out of tribal pride.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but when I studied such things the rule was that an Arab who personally likes you but whose tribal leader has declared you an enemy won't kill you when you are a guest in his own tent and may even entertain you famously, yet he will nonetheless consider you "fair game" once you've taken a few steps outside his door.

Posted by: Solomon2 at August 17, 2007 03:23 PM

I'm sorry, but people are not the same the world over. What may have kept the children of post-war Germany from hating, then attacking, Americans may have no effect upon people reared to kill "the other" out of tribal pride.

I'm pretty sure that the response to handing out cookies is a universal human trait.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 17, 2007 03:32 PM

Solomon2, I have never seen any evidence that what you just wrote is true. Lots of Iraqis make clandestine and genuine friendships with Americans against the rules of their tribal leaders. These are the people who give Americans intel and forge solid working relationships with the military.

More likely to be true (but I'm not sure) is that an Arab may hate you and refrain from harming you because his tribal leader told him to do so. This happens in South Lebanon and might (?) happen in Iraq too.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 17, 2007 03:32 PM

I have never seen any evidence that what you just wrote is true.

Oh?

“We aren’t being attacked because the Mahdi Army is in the next building,” [U.S. soldiers are their guests.]

“The sheiks in our area say they won’t tolerate a single round fired at us” [Suggesting that the sheiks do have control over the life-and-death activities of their followers.]

“They act like our friends,” said Master Sergeant Tyler. [I don't doubt that the personal friendships can be genuine; just that they aren't necessarily relevant if the person is compelled out of tribal duty to murder you.]

I think I've missed something. MJT, how, exactly, does what I wrote contradict what you have reported? If you could explain, I'd gladly accept the correction.

Posted by: Solomon2 at August 17, 2007 03:51 PM

None of that supports what you wrote, Solomon. You have it backwards, unless you mistyped your thesis.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 17, 2007 04:12 PM

He provides a lot of information that I don't see elsewhere, and I find he's right most of the time. I also find that a lot of the criticism of him is biased, and that other figures on the "correct" side of the political fence are not judged to the same standards.

The guy has given ample evidence of being a credulous conspiracy theorist. The things he is wrong about are embarrassingly glaring. I think people who want to see him as an expert on Middle East affairs are biased. BTW his expertise is 19th C Iranian history, which he specialized in because he's a Bahai. He is no more an academic expert on the Middle East today than anyone here, and less than some, but he presents himself that way.

But everyone can go to the links I posted and go from there to more links with examples and make up their own minds.

Posted by: Yehudit at August 17, 2007 07:15 PM

Thanks, Yehudit. This link and this one are good, too.

Who would bother reading someone who is so clueless!

Posted by: Hapax Legomenon at August 17, 2007 08:33 PM

More on what I was talking about here. The writer's experience speaking to the troops about this stuff matches mine exactly.

For the troops on the front lines and the colonels in the rear—and just about everyone in between—the big news in Iraq every day is that they’re still alive and healthy. When it comes to Senate votes on the U.S. presence in Iraq, Sunday talk shows thrashing out length of deployment and stateside pundits talking to themselves, nearly every grunt, airman, sailor, soldier and Marine I speak with just doesn’t care. . . .
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 17, 2007 09:13 PM

But everyone can go to the links I posted and go from there to more links with examples and make up their own minds.

Absolutely, good idea.

In the meantime, I'll go to his site and read up on the political parties making up the new Iraq coalition government, about the Shia infighting in Basra as the Brits withdraw, a roundup of the various terrorist attacks across Baghdad, and a roundup of what's being talked about regarding Iraq on various Arab television show. All posted in a single day.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 17, 2007 10:49 PM

US soldiers don't care if they will have to do another few tours in Iraq? Iraqis don't care if the GOP is whipping up support for attacks on Iran?

Posted by: novakant at August 18, 2007 05:20 AM

Novakant: US soldiers don't care if they will have to do another few tours in Iraq?

What they don't care about is the supremely idiotic bickering about the subject in Washington by people who use "Iraq" as a stick to beat up the other party.

Iraq is a country.

I have no idea what Iraqis think about an attack on Iran. They probably don't think about it one way or another because it is not going to happen.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 18, 2007 06:55 AM

I'll go to his site and read up on the political parties making up the new Iraq coalition government, about the Shia infighting in Basra as the Brits withdraw, a roundup of the various terrorist attacks across Baghdad, and a roundup of what's being talked about regarding Iraq on various Arab television show.

You could get the same viewpoint, conspiracy theories and information from other Arabist news outlets like Arab News, al Jazeera and the Guardian.

They're all posted in a single day and they're professionally produced, with graphics that are easier on the eyes than Cole's sites.

Posted by: mary at August 18, 2007 08:22 AM

..although I have to admit that Cole's Global Americana institute is an interesting idea. I wonder if they've produced any books yet?

Posted by: mary at August 18, 2007 08:27 AM

..although I have to admit that Cole's Global Americana institute is an interesting idea.

Hope so. I contributed matching funds from an Amazon book purchase when he was getting it off the ground. I liked the idea of Jefferson translated to Arabic.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 18, 2007 11:19 AM

When it comes to Senate votes on the U.S. presence in Iraq, Sunday talk shows thrashing out length of deployment and stateside pundits talking to themselves, nearly every grunt, airman, sailor, soldier and Marine I speak with just doesn’t care.

In general, I'm not surprised. But I'd bet a lot of money you wouldn't have to try too hard to find soldiers who would care if their deployment terms were extended.

Posted by: glasnost at August 18, 2007 11:50 AM

No one wants their deployment term extended, but it does happen and it's the one thing I heard complaints about.

They aren't indifferent to the situation, they are indifferent to arguments about the situation from people who aren't there and who use "Iraq" as a stick to beat up the other guy.

So am I.

One thing I like about the political arguments in the comments here is that most people on both sides of the discussion talk about Iraq as it is rather than Iraq as a media and political construct.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 18, 2007 01:24 PM

Michael:

Thank you for your insightful, unbiased reporting. All too often, "mainstream media" journalists do not expose the true complexity of a situation. They color the story with their own opinion and oversimplify it for their mass audiences to the point where it becomes far removed from reality.

Reading your earlier interview with the Iraqi interpreter, "The Hammer," does explain why some Iraqis can be both pro-Sadr and pro-American; they just want to survive and are williing to take aid and protection from anyone who can provide it, even if the two groups may be fighting each other.

Recent posts by other web reporters fortunately offer some hope for Iraq's political stability. According to these reports, ever since Maliki replaced the pro-Sadr Interior Minister, the Iraqi Army is gradually being purged of its extremist elements. And while I doubt the US could "flip" al Sadr, "The Hammer" suggests that the US could "flip" a significant majority of his followers with jobs, security and basic services, their reverance toward his father and uncles notwithstanding.

If you would like some background for your upcoming report on what Ramadi was like before the Anbar Awakening, I can put you in touch with my cousin's son. He served with the Maine National Guard in Ramadi for nearly a year prior to departing there in early June 2006. As he described it, the place was total chaos and his unit focused mainly on their own survival. When a Marine unit took over from them, they took more casualties in a week than the Guard unit had in a year.

(One footnote - In the ultimate of ironies, my cousin's son joined the Maine National Guard to help in his training for the 2006 Winter Olympics. He had hoped to make the US biathalon squad. I doubt that he saw much snow in Iraq during his 2006 tour. If he had been a bit better shot, he would have made the team and largely avoided this descent into hell. Fortunately, he survived to tell the tale.)

Posted by: Cordell at August 18, 2007 02:56 PM

If people - present company included - hadn't used Iraq as a stick to beat up the other party and had regarded Iraq as it is rather than as a political construct all along, we wouldn't be faced with the clusterfuck we are faced with now.

Posted by: novakant at August 18, 2007 03:12 PM

Novakant: If people - present company included - hadn't used Iraq as a stick to beat up the other party

Speak for yourself. I vote for both parties, and I voted straight Democrat last year.

Which party is "the other party" for me? Have I used Iraq to whack the Republicans? No, even though the military's pre-surge tactics all but guaranteed the US would lose.

That was a case of the Army (and Rumsfeld) being dumb, though, not Washington politicians. Washington politicians can be counted on to be dumb all the time.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 18, 2007 04:07 PM

You know what else is wrong with what you just said, Novakant? You're blaming blog readers for the course of events on the ground in Iraq. A perfect example of the stunning mypopia of domestic arguments on this subject.

The people at fault for Iraq being a clusterfuck are the people inside Iraq who made it that way, both Americans and Iraqis. It's not my fault, nor is it yours. What we do and say has nothing to do with what happens over there.

The problem with Iraq is Iraq, not blog readers, Republicans, or whoever else annoys you in America.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 18, 2007 04:11 PM

I liked the idea of Jefferson translated to Arabic.

Translating important sources on representative government and Western thought in general is a very worthy goal and one that several groups have been working on. The more the merrier, it needs to be done. I'm glad Cole thinks that's important but I still am not missing anything by not reading his blog.

Posted by: Yehudit at August 18, 2007 04:23 PM

The people at fault for Iraq being a clusterfuck are the people inside Iraq who made it that way, both Americans and Iraqis. It's not my fault, nor is it yours. What we do and say has nothing to do with what happens over there.

You're starting to protest a bit too much here, Michael. Once upon a time, although you may have (conveniently) forgotten, you cared quite a bit about the opinions of bloggers and their readers:

... opponents of the war (both left-wing and right-wing) did prefer a course of action that would have left Saddam in power.

... What matters in the real world is that he would still be in power if the anti-warriors had their way. The refusal of war opponents to accept responsibility for the consequences of their position is the reason we hawks keep banging on about it.

Interesting that as the "consequences of your position" have turned out so badly, you no longer think "accepting responsibility" for them is so relevant. Interesting and, as I said, convenient.

Posted by: Swopa at August 18, 2007 04:48 PM

Swopa, I haven't forgotten. Nor is it "convenient." It's impossible to care about domestic partisan bullshit in a war zone.

Working in the Middle East generally, in war zones or not, has changed my perspective on a lot of things, as it should. I don't think the same way as I did when I mouthed off about politics constantly and did little else.

If you spent years working in the Middle East you would undergo some adjustments as well. It's unavoidable to all but the most tragically close-minded and unteachable people.

I am not saying you would agree with me all of sudden about everything or even anything. But you would certainly learn a lot as any intelligent person would, and you would write about the region very differently from up close than you do from far away. At least I hope so. Otherwise, why go?

I suggest you do go, not to Iraq necessarily, but somewhere. I very much doubt you would regret it, and I would be interested in reading what you had to say about it.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 18, 2007 05:28 PM

I decided to work in the Middle East for many reasons, Swopa, but one was because I knew I was being too America-centric. I wanted to break out of it and write about the subject up close and a little more on its own terms.

I also felt I owed it to Arabs and Muslims. You may have noticed that I am a lot more sympathetic to them than I used to be.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 18, 2007 05:35 PM

I read Swopa thusly .
I think it's his natural grace which we all admire so very, very much.
There's never been a more sought after companion.

Posted by: Stephen M at August 18, 2007 05:57 PM

I am not saying you would agree with me all of sudden about everything or even anything. But you would certainly learn a lot as any intelligent person would, and you would write about the region very differently from up close than you do from far away. At least I hope so. Otherwise, why go?

I think you've done a particularly good job in these comments of treating various dissents, jaded questions, and expressions of suspicion as legitimate points of view and engaging them constructively.

Posted by: glasnost at August 18, 2007 06:02 PM

Yehudit,

I tried to respond to your email to me, but it keeps bouncing back for some reason.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 18, 2007 06:12 PM

What we do and say has nothing to do with what happens over there.

No one reader or writer is collectively responsible, but our collective opinion about events drives the policy decisions of the legislature and executive. If Bush's poll numbers were above 50%, the surge might not be ending. What we do and say does matter somewhat. I wish I could convince myself it was genuinely meaningless , I could do more pleasurable things with my time off.

They aren't indifferent to the situation, they are indifferent to arguments about the situation from people who aren't there and who use "Iraq" as a stick to beat up the other guy.

I feel better knowing the military isn't paying much attention to the politicians, yes. On the other hand,

I expected to hear lots of complaints about the Democrats from the soldiers, but I didn't. Washington is just too remote and irrelevant.

That's your opinion as to the explanation for it, but I can think of some other ones. Of course, speculating on the "opinions of the troops" is as pointless as speculating on the "opinions of the Iraqis." So I'll just let it go. But you should have tried the survey question, "how would you feel about going home in a month or so?"

Posted by: glasnost at August 18, 2007 06:13 PM

"...But you should have tried the survey question, 'how would you feel about going home in a month or so'?....."

Strawman alert...strawman alert...

I would imagine you would receive the same answer to that question in all wars, including the Civil War, the Mexican War, Spanish-American War, WWI and WWII, Korea, Vietnam and Gulf War I.

Posted by: templar knight at August 18, 2007 08:02 PM

"I decided to work in the Middle East for many reasons, Swopa, but one was because I knew I was being too America-centric. I wanted to break out of it and write about the subject up close and a little more on its own terms.

I also felt I owed it to Arabs and Muslims. You may have noticed that I am a lot more sympathetic to them than I used to be."

michael j. totten at August 18, 2007 05:28 PM

I THINK THIS IS VERY REVEALING.
I THINK IT PROVES MY POINT.

ONE OF THEM...

Posted by: reliapundit at August 18, 2007 08:08 PM

glasnost: how would you feel about going home in a month or so

Individually or collectively?

Almost all of them want to come home now, as individuals. Being in Iraq sucks. I couldn't wait to get out of there, and I wasn't there nearly as long as they are. And I volunteered to go, too. I'll go back, but being there is extremely unpleasant.

The miltitary is much more supportive of the mission overall than the civilians are, but I did meet some who were pretty cynical and gloomy about it. I can't say I blame them. Baghdad, especially, is a frustrating place that looks hopelessly cruel and dysfunctional.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 18, 2007 08:11 PM

reliapundit: I THINK THIS IS VERY REVEALING.

You're still banned for libeling me as an anti-Semite and Hezbollah agent, but I'm going to let this stand as an example of why you are a degenerate scumbag, and obviously racist.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 18, 2007 08:14 PM

MJT,

I had a very interesting conversation yesterday with one of my daughter's teachers, in fact, her basketball coach. He had just returned from a mission trip to Lebanon. The church I belong to sponcers a missionary in Lebanon, his name is Charles, and our coach had been there for 10 days to perform missionary work, and his job, along with his assistant coach, was to conduct 2-3 basketball camps.

He told me something that I found almost unbelievable, that he felt safer there than he felt right here, in our home town. Frankly, I was dumbfounded. Had it not been for some of your reports from Lebanon, I might have called him an outright liar. But he said his trip surpassed all his expectations, including the friendliness of the people of Lebanon, the success of the basketball camps, and the interaction with Muslims. There is also a young female missionary from the US who is part of the mission there, and he reported to me that she walked home(several blocks) from the church after 12:00 midnight by herself, and felt very safe, and has been in Lebanon for three years, aside from a hiatis of about 3 mo. during the Hezbollah/Israeli war.

Posted by: templar knight at August 18, 2007 09:40 PM

Templar Knight: He told me something that I found almost unbelievable, that he felt safer there than he felt right here, in our home town

He doesn't just feel safer in Lebanon, he is safer in Lebanon.

My home town of Portland, Oregon, is more violent than Beirut. And Portland is very safe.

The difference is that the bottom could fall of out of Beirut and it could turn into a free fire zone again. But right now that is not happening.

It is very safe for women, too. Every woman I've talked to says she feels much safer in Lebanon than in the West. It is very different from Egypt this way.

The Middle East is terribly, horribly, distorted by the media.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 18, 2007 09:50 PM

My mother was astonished within ten minutes of her arrival in Beirut. Her reaction was fun to watch. I tried to tell her, but she just couldn't believe me until she saw the place for herself. Ten minutes of reality was all it took for her to take me seriously.

There is such a thing as a false sense of security. I had to fight against it in Baghdad. But not in Beirut.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 18, 2007 09:54 PM

Michael,
Check's in the mail. Great job- don't be piqued by some of the hot air from "the world." You're learning something folks here will never figure out-the US ain't the world-just a very lucky, trying to be generous, naive little piece of it. A vital piece.
Iraq needs us for now, and we'd be less than human to abandon her people now. Yeah, the Mook will get his, but we'll be there a long time. Keep growing in your sympathies for the natives- they are growing weary of their misery, and they are smart enough to know it's ultimate source. It's an ideology, not any army. Can't wait for the next dispatch. You and Yon and other indies are giving us the real deal.
With gratitude from a vet.

Posted by: Bill Athanasidy at August 18, 2007 10:56 PM

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch in the Wall Street Journal today:

"Maj. Gen. Lynch said Sunni and Shiite extremists have become increasingly aggressive this month, trying to influence the debate in Washington before a pivotal progress report on Iraq."

Looks like the people in Iraq actually do give a damn about "irrlevent partisan bullshit."

Posted by: eihpla at August 19, 2007 11:06 PM

Radar says, "incoming!"

I've only skimmed half of this thread so far, but it's notable that there are so many new naive commenters who have no idea what Michael has been writing for the past few years, and have come here to lecture. Is that the state of the American public, we know very little but all think we're professors or something, ready to lecture the real experts on our amazing insight?

Anyway I hope some of these people have the sense to recognize amazing journalism and hit that tip jar. You're the ones paying the tab you know.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at August 20, 2007 12:36 AM

"Is that the state of the American public, we know very little but all think we're professors or something, ready to lecture the real experts on our amazing insight?"

Ding Ding Ding! Give the man a prize! :)
It may not be an exclusively 'American' trait though. Bloviating is surely an international sport.

Posted by: lindsey at August 20, 2007 11:21 AM

Mr. Totten,

Another excellent article. A few questions if I may.

If the the Iraqi Army is indeed infiltrated with elements of JAM,where does that leave our soldiers if a fight with Sadr was to occur? Do you believe Sadr and his followers are trying to wait us out in hopes of taking over the country when the American forces begin to pull out? In short,I don't see how this infiltration can be a good thing in the long run. I'm having a hard time trying to understand the thinking on this by our own military. Is this an intel gathering move by Sadr to use at a later date? Your opinion on the big picture of this situation would be appreciated. Myself,I'm at a loss to figure this one out. Thank you.

Posted by: WayDownSouthInBama at August 20, 2007 06:33 PM

The miltitary is much more supportive of the mission overall than the civilians are, but I did meet some who were pretty cynical and gloomy about it. I can't say I blame them. Baghdad, especially, is a frustrating place that looks hopelessly cruel and dysfunctional.

I'm not sure how much this came through. As I was typing that, I recalled a couple points from the stories that might have suggested it. On the other hand... see previous.

It sounds like the non-coms writing this editorial:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/19/opinion/19jayamaha.html?pagewanted=2&ei=5090&en=5a8349a0e944e61b&ex=1345176000&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss

agree with that highlighted statement.

From them:

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security.

Posted by: glasnost at August 20, 2007 08:16 PM

How is this news that the Iraqi Army has been infiltrated by elements unfriendly to Americans?
I've been reading about this for years. It's been a problem since the US started trying to form some sort of functional Iraqi army and it's been reported on numerous times. Why are people in this comments section approaching this as if it's some sort of new development? Maybe they should try reading the evil Juan Cole or even just pay regular attention to some semi-reputable news source. I think the real news is that things are so FUBAR that a major impediment to achieving anything remotely 'succesful' which was identified long ago still hasn't been dealt with. I appreciate the upclose and personal look at things in Iraq from MJT, but this just isn't news to me and it is dissapointing to see that it is to so many others here.

Posted by: John Mc at August 21, 2007 08:13 AM

Michael

I do recommend that NY Times link that glasnost inserted a couple comments ago. It is written by 7 noncoms in Iraq and is essentially a response to the O'Hanlan/Pollack optimism.

Also, since you're from OR, maybe you are interested in Rep. Brian Baird, from its 3d Cong District, who came back from a recent tour and said the surge is working. He is a Democrat so it is more relevant than the usual e.g., Bill Kristol, reporting.

Thanks always.

Posted by: MT57 at August 21, 2007 10:36 AM

"Maj. Gen. Lynch said Sunni and Shiite extremists have become increasingly aggressive this month, trying to influence the debate in Washington before a pivotal progress report on Iraq."

Looks like the people in Iraq actually do give a damn about "irrlevent partisan bullshit."

When Major General Lynch says the extremists have become more aggressive this month, he's probably basing it on reliable data.

When he says they're doing it to influence DC, he's probably pulling it out of his -- ah -- imagination.

When people are making up a story, it isn't evidence that somebody in a uniform makes up the same story.

Posted by: J Thomas at August 22, 2007 09:09 AM

When he says they're doing it to influence DC, he's probably pulling it out of his -- ah -- imagination.

The only hope of victory the insurgents have is to cause people in DC to decide that what the US is doing in Iraq isn't worth the effort.

If the insurgents aren't trying to influence the debate in DC, what are they doing?

Posted by: rosignol at August 23, 2007 03:30 AM

Rosignol, you are assuming that iraqi insurgents have the same assumptions you do. There's no particular reason to assume that.

Look -- we gave the insurgents in anbar everything they could want. We sued for peace, we gave them weapons and training, and now we're partly pulling out of anbar. I guess they could have asked for an unconditional surrender, but they got pretty much everything short of that.

If the insurgents in anbar can have victory, why wouldn't the insurgents in diyala or basra or nineva hope for the same deal? They just have to show that they're strong enough. If they look too weak we'll try to take them out instead of declaring they're our allies and pulling out.

Posted by: J Thomas at August 23, 2007 05:02 PM

J Thomas: If the insurgents in anbar can have victory

That's not even close to what happened.

Stay tuned. I will write many thousands of words about what really happened.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 23, 2007 05:11 PM

Michael Totten, I will be fascinated to see your interpretation of what is happening in anbar.

The media seem to present some facts as unambiguous.

We were treating essentially all of anbar as insurgents. The people who supported us were almost entirely small minority groups who were afraid of the sunni majority.

But then we negotiated a settlement with some of the insurgents. We agreed to give them weapons and training, and they'd help us destroy AQM, a small and abrasive splinter group. They did so, and we called it a victory over AQM.

The sunni insurgents we are arming are not at all part of the iraqi army, they are precisely the sort of militias we used to say we wouldn't allow. But we talk like they're on our side now.

We are now reducing our troop presence in anbar, we're depending on our insurgent/allies to keep things calm there.

I'll be very interested to see how you'll interpret this as anything other than a tremendous insurgent victory. Or perhaps you can tell us that the media reports got it all wrong, and we are really wiping out our sunni insurgent/allies, or maybe they're really joining the iraqi army and getting welcomed by the iraqi command structure.

I highly value your reports of your first-hand experience. I consider your views about the bigger picture to probably mirror those of the MI etc soldiers you meet. So for example they probably do consider al Sadr to have more iranian connections than Dawa or SCIRI-whatever-their-new-name-is. If you think it, probably they think it too.

But is there any particular reason to think they have it right?

I figure they're pretty knowledgeable about the people they interact with -- like their translators. Not so much about the people they mostly only learn about through interrogations, like Sadr's supporters.

Posted by: J Thomas at August 23, 2007 08:46 PM
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