October 08, 2007

The Best Police Force in Iraq

Roof Guard Majed 2.jpg

RAMADI, IRAQ – In late July when I visited a police station in the town of Mushadah just north of Baghdad I worried that Iraq was doomed to become the next Gaza. As many as half the police officers, according to most of the American Military Police who worked as their trainers, were Al Qaeda sympathizers or agents. The rest were corrupt lazy cowards, according to every American I talked to but one. No one tried to spin Mushadah into a success story. By itself this doesn't mean the country is doomed. How important is Mushadah, anyway? I hadn't even heard of it until the day before I went there myself. But Military Police Captain Maryanne Naro dismayingly told me the quality of the police and their station was “average.” That means one of two things. Either Mushadah is more or less typical, or roughly half the Iraqi Police force is worse.

I had a much better experience when I embedded, so to speak, with the Iraqi Police in Kirkuk. I trusted the Iraqi Police in that city enough that I was willing to travel with them without any protection from the American military, even though Kirkuk is still a part of the Red Zone. Kirkuk, though, is an outlying case. The Iraqi Police there are Kurds. The Kurds of Iraq are the most pro-American people I have ever met in the world. They are more pro-American than Americans. There is no Kurdish insurgency, and the only Kurdish terrorist group – Ansar Al Islam, which recently changed its name to Al Qaeda in Kurdistan – is based now outside a town called Mariwan in northeastern Iran. The Iraqi Police in Kirkuk may be corrupt, but they aren't terrorists or insurgents.

The Kurds have problems of their own, even so, and not every Arab region of Iraq is the same shade of dysfunctional. Every complaint I heard about the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police in and around Baghdad was balanced with genuine praise for the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police in and just outside Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, which until recently was the most violent war-torn place in all of Iraq. If these Iraqis were typical – and make no mistake, they are not – the American military might have little reason to stay.

Captain Dennison and his men took me to the Al Majed station just outside the city on the banks of the Euphrates River.

Majed Station.jpg

Euphrates Anbar Police Station.jpg

Iraqi Flag Majed Station.jpg

“They recently changed the name,” he said as we parked the Humvees outside. “The station used to have a tribal name, but they're trying to move away from that now.”

The Al Majed station is so much cleaner than the one in Mushadah I could hardly believe what I was looking at.

Order and tidiness aren't everything, but police officers who live and work in a sloppy dump of a station don't inspire much confidence. If they can't clean up their own space, how can they be expected to clean up a neighborhood infested with terrorists, insurgents, and criminals? They can't, at least not in Mushadah, especially since as many as half the police themselves are terrorists, insurgents, and criminals.

The Al Majed station wasn't as clean and orderly as a hotel, but it was at least as clean and orderly as a hostel. I would have been perfectly comfortable staying there for a week. The station in Mushadah was a nasty place I couldn't wait to get out of. Even some of the American outposts in Ramadi were disgusting.

Humvee Anbar.jpg
A Humvee outside the Al Majed station in a lagoon of “moon dust” that will be a lake of deep mud in the winter

Iraqi Lieutenant Colonel Jumaa Abdul Rahman, the man in charge of Al Majed, invited me, Captain Dennison, Sergeant First Class Kitts, and First Sergeant Rodriguez into his office for tea. He sat behind his desk, and the four of us sat on couches that circled the room. A young boy brought us dark brown tea with sugar in small plastic cups.

As usual in the Middle East, the greeting ritual was considerate and elaborate. Hello. Welcome. How are you? Fine, I hope. Did you sleep well last night?

“Our success in this region is because of you,” Captain Dennison said to Lieutenant Colonel Rahman. His statement was completely sincere. He was not being perfunctory or merely polite.

Captain Dennison.jpg
Captain Dennison

“And also because of you,” Lieutenant Colonel Rahman said, also sincerely. “Please don’t leave us.”

Majed Station Colonel.jpg
Iraqi Lieutenant Colonel Jumaa Abdul Rahman

Several minutes of idle chit chat followed, which is typical even when the real point of a meeting is business. But there didn’t appear to be any business to discuss. The lieutenant colonel led us outside after a while to admire the view of the river and the orchard of fruit trees behind the station.

Iraqi Police Trucks and Orchard.jpg

“We see Iraqis smile now,” Sergeant Kitts said to me on our way out. “And seeing Iraqis smile…that’s a big deal. These people haven’t had anything to smile about for a very long time. This is where we are finally earning our money.”

“I agree,” First Sergeant Rodriguez said. “It’s a lot less volatile now, so we can actually move this place forward.”

I walked among the tidy rows of grapes, figs, dates, and olives with Lieutenant Colonel Rahman and an Iraqi interpreter named Jack.

“Now that the fighting is over,” I said, “what kind of work do you focus on?”

“Mainly on gathering intelligence on sleeper cells and support networks,” the colonel said. “It is much easier now. People here are very appreciative and cooperative with what happened and with what is happening now. If Iraqi Police officers or coalition soldiers go to people's houses they are welcomed with open arms for food and for tea. Before the people here were not allowed to even look at coalition forces or they would be murdered by Al Qaeda.”

“What do you think about the possibility of Americans withdrawing their forces?” I said. He had already said please don't leave us to Captain Dennison, but I wanted at least a little elaboration.

Majed Station Colonel 2.jpg
Iraqi Lieutenant Colonel Jumaa Abdul Rahman

“That is not in the best interests of Iraq right now,” he said. “We need some more time. If they pull out there will be a real possibility of serious sectarian warfare. Anbar is secure. Only Baghdad and the surrounding area remains to be secured. As soon as that happens, the fight will be over.” He is right to suggest that most of the violence is in the Baghdad area and its surroundings. But it’s still game-on in Mosul and in parts of Diyala Province. Southern Iraq suffers a lot less violence than the center, but Shia militias still control parts of it.

Jack Picks Fig in Orchard.jpg
Jack, an Iraqi interpreter, picks fruit in the orchard

“Are you optimistic?” I said.

“Yes,” he said.

“Why?” I said.

“I’ll tell you why,” he said. “I could not even dream of seeing what has taken place here in Anbar. Couldn’t even dream of it. If in Anbar, why not in Baghdad?”

“Baghdad is hard,” I said. “It is so much more complicated than here.”

“Yes,” he said and nodded. “Here we are strictly anti-terrorist. In Baghdad the police still favor their sectarian militias.”

I asked Captain Dennison if American troops were still needed in Ramadi, which has not only been cleared of terrorists and insurgents but transformed into one of the most staunchly anti-terrorist communities in the world.

“We still take care of around 80 percent of the logistics for the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police here,” he said. “They're doing great work, but they still need some help getting organized.”

“What are we doing here today, anyway?” I said. “Do you have anything to do here at the station?” So far all the Americans had done is say hi to the Iraqis and show me around.

“We're just checking in,” he said. “The Police Transition Teams are out here are training them to do slower more normal police work, less kicking in doors and beating up bad guys. The Iraqi Police are still in a bit of shock from the hell of a few months ago. They are definitely gung-ho anti-terrorists. If anything, at this point, they need to dial it back.”

Iraqi Police Poster Ramadi.jpg
An Iraqi Police poster

Until recently the Iraqi Police in Ramadi were more like soldiers than police officers. They weren't issuing traffic tickets or doing slow procedural work. They were fighting terrorists in a war zone that was every bit as bad as the one in Fallujah just down the road.

“It's been four months since a single mortar round hit the station,” Captain Dennison said. “None of the Americans or the Iraqis out here have been in a fire fight for several months.” This was in early August.

There wasn't much dramatic to see or do. Counter-insurgency soldiers often go into hostile areas looking for fights that draw combatants into the open where they can be captured or killed. But the Americans and Iraqis couldn't find a fight in Ramadi now if they tried. So they do not try.

What can I say about Iraqis and Americans who cooperate with each other professionally and have their act together while ironing out minor problems? Peace is much harder to cover than war. Not much of note happens. Once again, I understood why war correspondents write off Ramadi as boring and why major networks don't broadcast from there.

The most compelling material I got in that city were war stories several months out of date. Anbar Province may be an ideal location for a historian or reporter who wants to research an oral history of the Iraq war or write human interest stories, but not so much for reporters who need to break news every day. It's no wonder, really, that so many journalists hole up in the Green Zone and rely on local stringers scattered all over the country to keep them apprised of the most recent car bombs and firefights. It is not, or at least not necessarily, because they are lazy or gutless.

The stories I heard about the battle of Ramadi from these soldiers were harrowing. It’s one thing to relate all this to a journalist. How do they explain what they experienced to their families? It isn’t easy, as Sergeant Kitts explained to me over lunch.

Kitts Anbar.jpg
Sergeant First Class Kitts

“I’m outnumbered at home with a wife and two daughters,” he said. “I love going home, but sometimes it’s hard. My littlest girl asks how long is Daddy going to visit. Visit! It’s my family and my house and I only visit. She doesn’t quite understand what I do. I tried to explain. I said Daddy goes after bad guys. She thought about that. Do the bad guys have guns? she said. Yeah, I said.” I could tell it hurt him to say this. “Don’t forget yours, she said.”

*

“We went from having 200 police officers last year to having 8,000 today,” Major Lee Peters said. “And that’s not counting those with the orange bands.” The men who wear orange bands instead of blue uniforms are semi-official community watchmen who were deputized by the tribal authorities. The people of Anbar want another layer of hyper-local security in a province Al Qaeda desperately wants to reconquer after their humiliating eviction.

I attended a brief ceremony where hundreds of newly minted Iraqi Police officers graduated.

Iraqi Police Graduation.jpg

Some finished the training and are still waiting to be formally hired. Each unit marched around the room a little bit awkwardly. They looked a bit like amateurs, but everyone who said anything about them insists they are dedicated and reliable.

Iraqi Police Faraj.jpg
Established Iraqi Police officers. Not much uniform discipline.

Iraqi Policeman Graduation Ramadi.jpg
An Iraqi police officer just outside the graduation ceremony

“We worry about potential future infiltration by AQI,” or Al Qaeda in Iraq, Colonel John Charlton said. “But we’re very certain this is not a problem right now. The tribal influence on IPs [Iraqi Police] is strong. Every single one of the tribal leaders is against AQI. In Anbar Province it is very shameful and dishonorable to be a terrorist or an insurgent.”

Iraqi Police Officer with Weapon and Hat.jpg

Captain Dennison also took me to the Farraj police station just outside Ramadi in an area that was sort of a suburb and sort of the countryside.

Humvees Outside Faraj.jpg

Faraj Staion Door.jpg

Just inside the front door was a large portrait of the much-admired Iraqi Major Quather who was killed by a car bomb during the fighting in early 2007.

Martyred Police Faraj.jpg

The captain handed me over the First Lieutenant Bryan Schnitker who gave me the grand tour.

Iraq Police Officer Farraj Station Anbar.jpg
These Iraqi Police officers insisted I take their picture

No one seemed to think the Iraqi Police had been infiltrated, but I wondered if they were corrupt in other ways. Almost everyone with power in the Middle East is at least financially corrupt to an extent.

Iraqi Police Poster Ramadi 2.jpg
An Iraqi Police poster

“The Farraj station doesn’t skim the money we give them,” Lieutenant Schnitker said, “if that’s what you’re asking. We monitor it closely enough that we know they aren’t corrupt. I can say this with confidence. We use to cut them checks, but there’s no bank in Ramadi anymore. It got robbed twice, and that was it. It literally got robbed out of existence. There is no insurance in Iraq, let alone anything like FDIC. So we give them cash, and we watch how they spend it.”

Iraqi Police Colonel Saidi Saleh Mohammad al Farraji, who long ago was a captain in Saddam’s army, invited me and the American officers for lunch in his office. The usual Iraqi fare was served – chicken and lamb kebabs with bread, fried tomatoes, and salad.

Food Faraj Station.jpg

“What's your biggest challenge,” I said to the colonel, “now that Al Qaeda is gone?”

“It was counter-terrorism,” he said. “Now we just need to make sure the area stays secure so they don't come back. We have sources in the community who will tell us if they come back. Civilians cooperate with us now, but they didn't before we built this station. They didn't feel safe.”

Colonel Faraj Station.jpg
Colonel Saidi Saleh Mohammad al Farraji

“How much longer do you think the Americans need to stay?” I said. “Would it be okay if they left Anbar Province?”

“Within a year?” he said. “No. We don't get enough support from the Iraqi government. If we had the support we need from Baghdad it would be okay here. But the government is too infiltrated with militias. It is very dangerous for us to go there.”

Most of his answers to my questions were stock and uninteresting, but he did say something that surprised me a bit when I asked if he had anything he wanted to add.

“All your reporters are men,” he said. “Every reporter I have seen in Ramadi is a man. You should send American women so they can talk to our women. Someone needs to find out what they think about what's happening here.”

First Lieutenant Schnitker led me to the roof where I could take pictures. It’s hard to photograph the landscape in Iraq because most of it is flatter than Iowa.

Roof Top View Faraj.jpg

The roof was cooler than I expected thanks to the netting that blocked most of the sunlight. A barbecue and a weight set without weights were the extent of the furniture.

Roof Top Faraj w Barbecue 2.jpg

An Iraqi Police officer manned a machine gun and watched the surrounding countryside.

Guard Roof Top Faraj.jpg

We were three stories up. A man bellowing at us in Arabic from ground level.

“What’s he yelling about?” I asked Jack, our Iraqi interpreter.

He laughed.

“He is an IP who got in trouble today,” he said. “I’m not sure what he did, but he was put into detention for an hour. He is saying Let me out! It was supposed to be for one hour, but I’ve been in here for several. It is degrading to be in here with these people.

“Who is he in the cell with?” I said.

“They locked him up with Al Qaeda.”

I froze.

Al Qaeda was just down the steps? I was suddenly overwhelmed with morbid curiosity. Ever since September 11, 2001, I have wanted to look into the eyes of the kinds of people who would murder thousands of innocents and think their reward would be virgins.

A few years ago a friend of mine – an academic, not a journalist – met Qays Ibrahim up in Kurdistan. Qays is an Al Qaeda member or sympathizer who tried to murder Dr. Barham Salih, who was then the Prime Minister of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and who is now Deputy Prime Minister in Baghdad’s Maliki government.

Qays missed Barham but shot and killed a handful of bodyguards. He’s in prison now just outside the city of Suleimaniya. Barham refuses to sign Qays’s death warrant even though the caged Al Qaedist stridently insists he will again try to murder the Deputy Prime Minister if he ever gets free.

My friend who met the blunt-speaking and chillingly unrepentant Qays in his cell described the encounter as “very scary,” as though the terrorist were an Iraqi version of Hannibal Lector.

“Can I see the prisoners?” I asked Lieutenant Schnitker.

“I don’t see why not,” he said.

Captain Dennison concurred. It would not be a problem.

“Can I take pictures?” I said.

The answer was yes. Military lawyers later gave me clearance to publish them through the public affairs officer.

Now that I had the chance, though, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to meet them, especially since I had no idea what to expect, had no time to prepare myself, and didn’t know what to say if they would talk to me.

We descended the stairs and approached the freestanding cell.

“All they get is a hard floor, a few blankets, some food, and a fan,” said Jack, our Iraqi interpreter. I wondered from the tone in his voice if he thought they deserved even that much.

Sergeant Kitts joined us.

“Can I interview them?” I said as we approached the door.

“You can, but there is no point,” Sergeant Kitts said. “They won’t tell you shit. Hardly any Al Qaeda guys admit to being Al Qaeda. They’re doomed if they do. All they’ll do is deny it.”

“I at least want to see them,” I said.

“They look just like everyone else,” he said.

Of course they look like everyone else, but I still wanted to see. It’s hard to picture Al Qaeda terrorists looking like me or like some random Arab after all they have done. Even many Iraqis I know think of them as an alien race of monsters. Obviously they are not aliens or Orcs or any other kind of non-human monster. They are as human as I. I don’t have to look to know they don’t have horns or a tail. But they saw off the heads of Iraqi children with kitchen knives. I wanted to look. I still don’t understand why.

One of the soldiers unlocked the door. I let them go inside first. I had no idea what to expect.

We stepped through the door. Six young Arab men groggily stood up and faced us in silence. I almost said “Salam Aleikum,” but then I checked myself, unsure if it's even appropriate to say Peace Be Upon You to the ideological brethren of Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

I noticed, after a few awkward moments of silence, that they did not say Salam Aleikum to me.

“Why are you here?” I finally said as politely as possible. “Why have they arrested you?”

“We are accused of being Al Qaeda,” said one.

“We are innocent,” said another. “We ask that our case be heard in court soon so we can go home.”

Sergeant Kitts warned me they would deny being terrorists. Maybe they’re liars. Maybe they really aren’t terrorists. There is no way I can know. I wished I could meet someone who didn’t deny it and who was unrepentant like Qays Ibrahim. We could have an interesting, if disturbing, conversation.

They looked tired and bored, and somewhat like marginal people who had been picked on in school and who could not get a job. None looked remotely threatening. Only weapons in their hands could make them look threatening. I thought they looked more like gas station attendents than head-choppers.

Detainess Faraj Al Qaeda.jpg
Prisoners alleged to belong to Al Qaeda

Hannah Arendt’s The Banality of Evil came to mind. I was almost disappointed that I wasn’t face to face with a handful of Hannibal Lectors. It would have been a clarifying moment. But life is rarely so poetically simple and obvious.

“Are you treated well here?” I said lamely. None appeared to have been beaten or tortured.

“Yes,” one said and shrugged. He clearly wasn’t happy to be there.

Prisoner abuse is strictly prohibited by the American Uniform Code of Military Justice, but it still happens sometimes in war zones. Many American soldiers have told me that the Iraqi Police, especially, have a hard time restraining their officers.

I lifted my camera. None of the prisoners hid their faces, but one crossed the room to get away from the others.

“He isn’t Al Qaeda,” Jack said. “He is just a common criminal. Don’t think he is one of them.”

I decided, then, not to take that man’s picture.

“Those four are Al Qaeda,” Jack said.

I snapped their pictures.

Detainee Faraj 1.jpg
A prisoner alleged to belong to Al Qaeda

“That man was caught firing mortars,” he said.

“Say hello to the camera, Ass Munch!” Sergeant Kitts yelled in disgust.

The accused mortar launcher smirked slightly when I took his picture.

Detainee Faraj - Mortarer.jpg
A prisoner alleged to have been caught firing mortars

The American and Iraqi officers, fairly or not, are sure these men are guilty. But they have not been convicted. They only allegedly belong to Al Qaeda.

I need to be careful here, but I want to put the Americans’ and Iraqis’ words into context:

I have seen dozens of Iraqis arrested and brought blindfolded and hand-cuffed into various stations. Almost all are quickly released. American soldiers have told me the overwhelming majority of Iraqis who are arrested aren’t terrorists or insurgents. I never once detected any presumption of guilt just because someone was arrested.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said. An interview with alleged terrorists is useless if they deny it. I don’t want to offend innocent Iraqis and falsely accuse them of terrorism. Nor do I wish to publish lies by people who really are killers.

We briefly returned to the main station said our goodbyes to the Iraqi officers.

“Thank you, sir,” I said to Colonel Mohammad and put my hand on his shoulder.

“You are welcome,” he said and shook my hand firmly.

Then we drove back to the base.

Iraqi Police Anbar Through Humvee Window.jpg
An Iraqi Police checkpoint through the window of a Humvee. Al Qaeda exploded dozens of car bombs at checkpoints like this one during the fighting.

Sergeant Kitts slept in a trailer just around the corner from mine. “That’s where I’ll be,” he said as we walked back, “if you need anything in the middle of the night.”

I took a hot shower – the only kind available in that country in August – and cleansed Iraq from my skin.

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 October 8, 2007 01:51 AM
Comments

So that's the face of this irascible deadly enemy of ours in Iraq? Why do we, as a nation, our media, our politicians, our generals, so overhype who these thugs are? These men shake the very foundations of the most powerful nation on the planet, the most powerful nation in the history of the world?

I thank you, Michael, for taking pictures and casting a light on the foolish nightmare our sandmans have conjured, to show that the shadow we see on the wall is nothing but a pipsqueak mosquito.

Posted by: Dan at October 8, 2007 04:02 AM

As the Israeli raid in Syria showed last week, Dan, those pipsqueak mosquitos really want the bomb badly.

Posted by: Dan Collins at October 8, 2007 04:20 AM

It is not, or at least not necessarily, because they are lazy or gutless.

Not gutless, but inarguably lazy. Michael, did you or did you not just file nearly 4,000 words on Ramadi, where -- for an American audience -- every peaceful day is more unbelievable than the last? This is interesting precisely because it doesn't resemble the Iraq, or Iraqis, as portrayed by the media for the last four years.

You worked hard, but it wasn't impossible. Were you employed by a newspaper you could have provided a week's-worth of dispatches above the fold. So -- why don't those who are so employed do the same?

Posted by: Cover Me, Porkins at October 8, 2007 06:09 AM

I get pumped every time i see that one of the Michael's has a new column out. (and Yon too) I would love to ask him, after all this time with the sunni's of anbar, whether these past few months of quiet and progress have created any lasting bond between the community and the americans? Or, as many suggest, a temporary reprieve from the madness

Posted by: Brett Rudduck at October 8, 2007 06:51 AM

Dan Collins,

As the Israeli raid in Syria showed last week, Dan, those pipsqueak mosquitos really want the bomb badly.

Hmmm, perhaps you did not know this, but Assad's regime is anti-Al-Qaeda. In fact, Al-Qaeda is a threat to them. The Middle East is not monolithic.

I thought we were talking about Al-Qaeda, not about Syria.

Posted by: Dan at October 8, 2007 08:09 AM

"So -- why don't those who are so employed do the same?"

I think it's obvious by now that most media outlets have a vested interest in not reliably and honestly reporting the situation in Iraq. Case in point: CNN saying they'd happily report any and all bad news coming out of Iraq, while intentionally ignoring any good news ( http://newsbusters.org/blogs/noel-sheppard/2007/10/07/journalists-tell-howard-kurtz-why-good-news-iraq-shouldn-t-get-report ). If it weren't for people like Totten and Yon, I might have taken those contemptable scoundrels on their every word.

Michael, thanks for all of your dispatches. I confess I have not yet hit the tip jar, but I'll be doing so tonight.

Posted by: stephen at October 8, 2007 08:09 AM

Furthermore,

What was the original purpose of the "surge?" Was it not national reconciliation? Was that not what George Bush claimed back in January? Well, what happens when Iraqi leaders give up on national reconciliation? Does that not indicate that the surge failed?

Posted by: Dan at October 8, 2007 08:12 AM

Dan-

You're behind the curve (again.) Over a month ago, Col. Kilcullen, one on Gen. Petraeus' advisors, published an article stating that the surge was supposed to enable top down reconciliation, but what it is enabling is bottom up. So our leadership is well aware of this fact.

I don't think you can have reconciliation until the violence in Iraq drops below a certain (unknown but not zero) threshhold. The fact that Iraqi civlian casualties continue to drop again so far in October is a sign that reconcilation will occur at some point down the road.

Posted by: MartyH at October 8, 2007 08:32 AM

Good dispatch. Thanks, Michael.

It's too bad you did not have a chance to prepare for the interview with the prisoners. Even if they deny the accusation, it would have been interesting to get their perspective on what they want to accomplish when the war is over. Tons of questions I'd like to ask those guys - Do they have dreams of learning a particular trade or skill? Do they have families? How do they feel about the transition from Bathist rule to their current government. Will they vote - if allowed - in future elections? What sort of candidates would they support?

I could go on, but you catch my drift.

Posted by: Stevend at October 8, 2007 08:35 AM

So that's the face of this irascible deadly enemy of ours in Iraq?

LOL.

What did you expect they should look like? Like a devil with horns and a tail? AQ isn't the caricature you've created in your mind apparently.

Posted by: Carlos at October 8, 2007 08:51 AM

Michael:

Another interesting well-written story.

One prisoner was accused of firing mortars - what were the others accused of? How long had they been held? What's the next step in their cases? Are are there trials? judges? lawyers? I have little sympathy, but curious about the process now that sanity has returned to Ramadi.

I assume "chicken & lamp kebabs" actually contain lamb. The bread looks like Mexican tortilas.

Posted by: Tom in South Texas at October 8, 2007 10:19 AM

Carlos,

What did you expect they should look like? Like a devil with horns and a tail? AQ isn't the caricature you've created in your mind apparently.

Heh, you didn't get it. I was making fun of war supporters here. I already knew that Al-Qaeda wasn't much more than cave-dwellers and/or educated Saudis and Pakistanis who have had enough of our interfering in Middle East affairs.

These particular guys, from the looks of them, are mere hardscrabble, either guys looking for some extra dough and hating the West, or mere foot soldiers. But nothing more than that. Certainly not a potent force that could rock our foundation. Certainly not worth nearly $1 TRILLION dollars on a credit card for our children to pay off.

Posted by: Dan at October 8, 2007 10:20 AM

Mike,

Its good to see reporters such as yourself without the restraints of media chieftains, force-feeding the American public there own political agenda. Lord knows we need more honest eyes on, brave men like you, bringing us the truth. The American people and myself thank you for your work and pray you stay safe.

Louis V.

Posted by: Louis V. at October 8, 2007 10:38 AM

Thanks for a positive news story. US politics has been absolutely disgusting for the past 5 years with bickering and powergrabbing mostly from the left. We all know war sucks, but positive things are happening even if the brainwashing major media outlets try to control the output.

Posted by: Jon at October 8, 2007 11:03 AM

Dan,
Would you please post your picture so we know what the enemy truly looks like?

Posted by: bman at October 8, 2007 11:53 AM

No one seems to have stepped forward yet to contest them, so I guess I might as well.

Dan-
"I already knew that Al-Qaeda wasn't much more than cave-dwellers and/or educated Saudis and Pakistanis who have had enough of our interfering in Middle East affairs."
Quite a stretch indeed to paint the whole outfit in this light. Grossly misrepresentative and an extreme exaggeration. I might even go as far as to call it outright false. But I won't, and instead encourage you to read more or go study the subject in person.

"So that's the face of this irascible deadly enemy of ours in Iraq? Why do we, as a nation, our media, our politicians, our generals, so overhype who these thugs are? These men shake the very foundations of the most powerful nation on the planet, the most powerful nation in the history of the world?
I thank you, Michael, for taking pictures and casting a light on the foolish nightmare our sandmans have conjured, to show that the shadow we see on the wall is nothing but a pipsqueak mosquito."

Quite an interesting world you live in. I'd say that this group has proven its capabilities repeatedly (9/11, Ramadi, African Embassies, etc.), and thus has shown to be quite a more potent force and threat than you give them credit for (heck, didn't Michael's writings prove that already?). I would be one to urge you to not underestimate the enemy. It has happened countless times throughout history, and the lesson learned is always the same: Don't do it, you will pay a higher price because of it.

Posted by: Joe at October 8, 2007 12:14 PM

Certainly not a potent force that could rock our foundation.

I guess it's safe to assume you didn't live or work in the Towers. They did quite a job on that foundation. When they get a hold of nuclear weaponry, I anticipate they'll do much more.

But I freely grant you that the damage AQ can do to us from the outside is nothing compared to the damage our surrenderists are doing from within.

Thanks again Mr. Totten for another detailed and nuanced description of what you're seeing on your travels.

Posted by: Jonathan at October 8, 2007 12:19 PM

Dan has never been to Iraq. Dan likes to look at pictures, read other people's comments and then pass himself off as informed. Come on over to Europe and play with the fun loving soldiers that have returned from your idea of a Disneyland.

Two weeks in Iraq and you'd be singing a different tune you spineless shit.

Posted by: Keith at October 8, 2007 12:40 PM

Dan,

Great reporting! You touched on WHY mainstream media will NOT report anything but the bad stuff, because it is boring to them.

I have tried to tell people that I know that Al Qaeda members won't just look like Gangster-types, but rather like "average" or "normal" people. After all, the hijackers on September 11th, did NOT appear menacing, did they?

The problem is that nice-looking or even wimpy-looking people can and do some very horrible things to people.

It would be a grave mistake to correlate appearances with lethality. Some of your most prolific killers look "nice" and frankly "wimpy".......

That is really one of the most scary things about terrorism........is it your local Pakistani store owner who is grumpy and not too friendly, an Al-Quaeda sympathizer or is it really the very friendly and social Pakistani store owner located in the same city?

Just some things to ponder......

Again, congrats on your reporting.

I look forward to more of your reports.

Posted by: Jack at October 8, 2007 12:42 PM

Michael- Great reporting as always. Thanks for your insights on this war.

I do agree with you; that it was interesting that one Iraqi Colonel who used to work for the old regime would specifically mention that nothing was being mentioned about the women of Anbar. I asked you about it in your previous article. It is quite sad that the MSM sees less death in a war zone as ho hum, but you are in the middle of transformation that the world is igoring.

You could be in the middle of another awakening. The Colonel wouldn't mention the women of Anbar if it wasn't positive or signicicant. Maybe, you could get a woman nurse to go with you and really find out what the women of the Anbar think of the surge.

Another observation Michael, I don't what else to call it but it seemed that you were disappointed that the Al Qeada suspects didn't look more mean. I had to laugh at that. In my personal experience I've dealt with people that you would think couldn't hurt a fly, but turn out to be the devil incarnate. If the Americans soldiers and their Iraqi counterparts say they are Al Qeada; at this point that's good enough for me. Thank God you didn't find out the hard way if these guys were Al Qeada.

God Bless and stay safe!

Posted by: Pete Dawg at October 8, 2007 12:48 PM

Dan,

Let me first say that I'm no warmonger.

That said, the "mere hardscrabble", existing in the thousands, are exactly what can rock the foundation of stability around the world. It takes precisely one person to kill a nation's leader, take down a building or neighborhood with a bomb, or open a can of ricin on a train.

If you saw pictures of the 9/11 hijackers in their daily life prior to 9/11, would you have felt the same about them then as you did on 9/11? If you saw a picture of bin Laden posing with his pals over tea in 1989, what would you have concluded? That he was a smiling and harmless cave-dweller, or a charismatic icon of destruction and muder?

My rather simple take on this is that the pool of people who buy into the ideology of death and religious domination needs to be reduced, one misguided person at a time. Otherwise, future "educated Saudis/Pakistanis" with the means and faulty motivations will continue to have an army of footsoldiers to direct.

I wonder why people think that the rest of the world should just walk away from the Middle East and let things happen as they may.

By the way, one of those "overhyped thugs" killed my cousin, his 2 best friends, and thier platoon leader while they were delivering food and medicine aid.

Posted by: Kevin at October 8, 2007 12:52 PM

"...the foolish nightmare our sandmans have conjured, to show that the shadow we see on the wall is nothing but a pipsqueak mosquito."

Mosquitoes (jihadis) carry deadly germs (ideologies) that sicken and/or kill millions every year. There are areas of the planet that are blighted and deserted because of unchecked disease-carrying mosquitoes. You dismiss the threat of mosquitoes at your peril.

Posted by: Cromert at October 8, 2007 12:55 PM

Mike;

Outstanding job, well done. I appreciate having someone tell the truth about the sand box and what we are doing there. It is a shame that the Berkley Sleeper Bunch in Congress don't give a damn about the truth.

DLA
USAF, Ret.
SOCCT

Posted by: Dale Anderson at October 8, 2007 12:58 PM

Good idea from one of your interviewees - is it possible to find out about the Iraqi women? For years we've seen so much of Iraq on the news and the only time one sees women is when they are dead or mourning the dead. Surely they do other things during the day.

Wonderful reporting - thanks

Posted by: S.Schaum at October 8, 2007 01:09 PM

Great article and pictures. Why isn't mainstream media and left politicos telling it like this???

Posted by: f r caron at October 8, 2007 01:16 PM

This comment is for Dan and his tirade regarding the appearance of those suspected Al Qeada supporters:

I'm pretty sure the Romans thought the Barbarians looked futile and peasant like, i'll wage a gentlemen's bet on that. FYI, visited FDR's Libary over the weekend, amazing what the majority of the american public thought back then, almost exactly what's going on today, people really should pay attention to their history, honestly, these Dan-like quotes are over 70 years old.

Great reporting, keep up the good work!

Posted by: JOE at October 8, 2007 01:18 PM

Great job, Michael. Keep up the quality, even if I often wish for more free quantity.

I wish you could have prepped for speaking to the prisoners more, too. What would you have asked, if you'd been ready?

For me, I'd always ask a) if they were AQ, b) if they knew AQ had been in the area, and c) if they knew anybody who was AQ.

I'd also be interested in where they grew up, and what they did under the old regime.

It was interesting, and not a big surprise, that a mid-level Saddamite captain would become a leader.

I can't help but think the Sunnis should be making a big push into ... solar powered air conditioning. Plus pistachios, to compete with Iran.

Any chance of a Ramadi almost at peace pamphlet by Thanksgiving?

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at October 8, 2007 01:19 PM

I was suddenly overwhelmed with morbid curiosity. Ever since September 11, 2001, I have wanted to look into the eyes of the kinds of people who would murder thousands of innocents and think their reward would be virgins.

I think a lot of people felt that way. It sounds strange to say this, but you were, in a way, lucky to find a few where they belong, in prison. Thanks, as always, for reporting on this.

It's odd to hear that there haven't been many female reporters in Ramadi. Are there many female reporters embedded with the troops in general?

Posted by: mary at October 8, 2007 01:26 PM

I already knew that Al-Qaeda wasn't much more than cave-dwellers and/or educated Saudis and Pakistanis who have had enough of our interfering in Middle East affairs.

Dan - They've had enough of our interfering in Middle East affairs? Is that why they saw off the heads of Iraqi children with kitchen knives?

So that's the face of this irascible deadly enemy of ours in Iraq?

That's the face of the average disarmed foot soldier in prison. I expect they'd look different to you if they were free, armed, and greeting you on the street.

They look like average guys, about as threatening as an SS soldier was, one of Stalin's minion, a Hutu genocidaire, or a recruit in Pol pot's army. The fact that they look like average guys doesn't mean that they weren't part of irascible, deadly organizations that were capable of destroying societies and murdering thousands.

Posted by: mary at October 8, 2007 01:30 PM

Looking at a human face and trying to deduce good or evil intent from that is ridiculous.
The question is not what they look like, but what they do, or are willing to do.
Whose orders do they follow, and will they obey them when told to butcher a pregnant woman or kill a child to terrorize the parents?
I've lived in Russia, and have many Russian friends. Lots of them look quite sweet. But when they were willing to follow orders, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, E Germany etc. lived under their thumb for decades.

Posted by: Stan T. at October 8, 2007 01:44 PM

I've read a lot of news stories on Iraq, but this was my frist from Mr. Totten and by far the best (definition: felt like you were there).

I found it on the front page of FOXNews.com so it appears I'm not the only one who was impressed.

Keep up the good work!

Posted by: Ed Rooney at October 8, 2007 01:46 PM

Disturbing info about the slovenly and enemy-controlled police stations. Those would seem to be a priority bubbling towards the top of the heap in the new environment. That kind of grass-roots rot is exactly what needs to be expunged.

Posted by: Brian H at October 8, 2007 01:59 PM

I guess expecting them all to look like Charlie Manson in Helter Skelter was unrealist?

Posted by: Tom in South Texas at October 8, 2007 02:04 PM

"unrealistic"

Posted by: Tom in South Texas at October 8, 2007 02:06 PM

I fought in Ramadi and can had friends die there. I also worked with the IP's you say didn't exist a year ago and can pick out every false reporting of your story. You stayed on the outskirts of the "peaceful" city and never went anywhere near the danger. For you to downplay the situation is a disgrace to all the Marines and Soldier who have died there, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Posted by: truth at October 8, 2007 02:39 PM

Heh, you didn't get it. I was making fun of war supporters here.

Dan,

maybe the reason I didn't "get it " was because the "war supporters" are the first to call AQ a bunch of cave dwellers. Bush, our War Supporter in Chief, pretty much dismissed Osama as a cave dweller not more than a month ago after the latest Osama tapes were released. Did you miss that? So I fail to see how stating the obvious (that they're cave dwellers) makes "fun" of war supporters.

It doesn't take but one of those hard scrabble cave dwellers to drive an explosive-laden truck into a crowded market, killing dozens and dozens. In fact, one of those cave dwellers is potentially a lot more deadly than any of one of our GIs. Don't be deceived by their appearance. They are deadly killers. I don't care if they live in a cav.

Posted by: Carlos at October 8, 2007 02:50 PM

Whoa, Truth, down boy. That is a big indictment you've just thrown down. For you to call to Michael an outright liar is downright unfair; unless you start spilling the beans on what you know. Now be careful because you aren't just calling Michael a liar, but the soldiers and marines he inbeds with. So unless you want to be A-hole #1 or called a Jesse Macbeth aka (Phoney Soldier). Please enlighten us.

Posted by: Pete Dawg at October 8, 2007 03:03 PM

truth: I fought in Ramadi and can had friends die there. I also worked with the IP's you say didn't exist a year ago and can pick out every false reporting of your story. You stayed on the outskirts of the "peaceful" city and never went anywhere near the danger. For you to downplay the situation is a disgrace to all the Marines and Soldier who have died there, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

You're either a liar or absolutely ignorant of the current reality in that city.

I didn't say IPs didn't exist a year ago. Major Lee Peters, who is undoubtedly your superior if you're really a soldier, said there were 200.

I didn't stay on the outskirts. I stayed on the outskirts and in the city center. This is one article of five.

I didn't "downplay" a goddamned thing.

If you want to continue posting here, I demand you tell us your name, rank, unit, and the name of at least one superior officer you report to. Otherwise, you will banned as a phony soldier.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 8, 2007 04:01 PM

Pete Dawg: So unless you want to be A-hole #1 or called a Jesse Macbeth aka (Phoney Soldier)

Too late.

I think he's a fake soldier. He is completely full of shit and doesn't know fuck all about Ramadi.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 8, 2007 04:05 PM

I am certainly glad to see Michael call out phony soldiers. Very good reporting Michael. I will be hitting the tip jar again soon enough.

Posted by: Kenneth at October 8, 2007 04:10 PM

Kenneth: I am certainly glad to see Michael call out phony soldiers.

It's easy when they have the audacity to call me a liar.

I have received so many emails from soldiers in Ramadi who thank me for telling it like it is. Some of them have even left commnets on the blog -- and signed with their real names.

This clown is suggesting all of them are liars, too, in addition to those I quoted in my articles.

What a joke. I am frankly amazed this person thought he could fool anyone, let alone me.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 8, 2007 04:28 PM

Right on, Michael. I'm glad you put Truth in his place. Maybe now you understand why I was so upset with Glasnost. Glasnost basically called you a liar in a backhanded way. Not with direct evidence, but with a freakin poll.

I'm surprised more on the looney left haven't called you an outright liar. They don't know what to do with themselves with the surge working. So they have nothing else, but to attack the soldiers and inbeds with them. Don't believe me just check out the Daily Kos. They are finally being honest that they don't support the soldiers. And sorry Michael I know you are just reporting what you see, but the positives coming from the surge just doesn't fit their narrative. They want the public enraged so the Americans will tuck tail and run.

Keep your "body armor" on bud, because they've got a bullseye on you.

Posted by: Pete Dawg at October 8, 2007 04:43 PM

if you're really a soldier,

Michael,

Did you just call him a phony soldier???? Shock! Horror! Alert MediaBlathers!

Posted by: Carlos at October 8, 2007 04:47 PM

To All Who Read This:

The individual "Dan" is a socialist...he believes that one person cannot make a difference, that we are each only cogs in a soulless machine, that only the "masses" or the great sweep of history is important. However, he forgets so many names at his own peril, as do so many others...Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Queen Elizabeth the First, Johannes Gutenberg, Jonas Salk...I just randomly picked names, it could be a list of thousands, and more properly, millions; however, just because we don't KNOW the name, doesn't mean they did not have great impact...DAN, please pull your head out of the socialist sand...we are not bees or ants, we are HUMANS and each of us has potential for good or for evil...we are not just products of our environment or programming, and thus each of those Al Qaeda thugs must answer for their crimes, mostly against their own people...even if they do not look like the devil.

Posted by: Kirk at October 8, 2007 05:04 PM

MJT: What a joke. I am frankly amazed this person thought he could fool anyone, let alone me.

Are you especially fool-resistant?

Posted by: Edgar at October 8, 2007 05:17 PM

Edgar: Are you especially fool-resistant?

When we're talking about my own personal experience, yes.

I know better than anyone that I visited Ramadi's city center, for instance. I'm editing some video I shot there right now as you read this.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 8, 2007 05:28 PM

It took a while to read through all these comments, but I think they completely illustrate how people hear and read what they want.

This reporter makes a great attempt to show the many facets of Iraq: past, present, south, north, peaceful, war torn. Too much argument is centered around "we need to stay" or "we need to go," "I was right" or "you were wrong."

Our role in this conflict will be better managed when people check their egos at the door and begin to take a hard look at the facts. Why can Ramadi be considered successful? What events lead to the current situation? What strategy can be utilized elsewhere?

Lessen the importance of politics the so-called mainstream media and left politicos.

Posted by: Tiffany at October 8, 2007 05:32 PM

Dear Tiffany- Huh, what the hell are you trying to say? And whose egos needs to be checked?

I read Michael's blog because I'm getting a perspective that isn't being reported in the Lamestream Media.

Here's a suggestion; maybe you could call Senator Harry Reid and tell him to check his ego. You know he's the guy that called the "Surge" a failure before it even began. Talk about, politics. sheesh!!!!

Truth, buddy where are you? Guess Michael bascially bitched slapped you.

"Gotcha, bitch" Dave Chappelle

Posted by: Pete Dawg at October 8, 2007 05:47 PM

Mr. Totten,
I am wondering if it is possible to do a story on the Chaldean Catholics that are still left in Iraq. They are assyrian and have the longest historical roots of anybody in that country but their numbers are dwindling rapidly. I would be interested to hear of their plight. Thank-you.
I will make a donation.

Posted by: Terence Launey at October 8, 2007 05:52 PM

Michael,

Thank you for daring to do what most journalists refuse to do; reporting the truth, including the good news, objectively and without bias. I read one of your articles on Lebanon, and it brought back memories of the time I spent on the ground there in 1983-84 while serving in the Navy. I would like very much to meet you some day and buy you a few beers while listening to you tell of your experiences. I have donated and will continue to do so. If you're ever near NW SC, let me know. Hell, I'll fly to wherever you want to meet! Keep up the good work! I'll keep those beers cold!

Posted by: BeachGator at October 8, 2007 05:52 PM

Thanks so much for your dedication and reports. Americans - and the world - need your, and other independent reporters', unbiased perspective about our men and women serving in Iraq and other countries. God bless, enlighten and keep you safe from harm along with our troops. Jacqi in MI

Posted by: Jacqi at October 8, 2007 05:58 PM

Great report MJT.

Good for you on calling "Truth" out.

Your reporting had meaningfully influenced my knowledge and perception of what is happening in the ME. I very much hope that your business model continues to work out.

Bman -agree with your comment.

Mary, quit being so reasonable, thoughtful and erudite in your comments, you are making me feel bad about my typical knee-jerk comments :)

Regards,

Posted by: Ron Snyder at October 8, 2007 06:06 PM

Michael,

Excellent writing young man. It is good to read of the peace in Ramadi now, I sincerely hope that it continues.

And good job calling out 'Pravda,' he needed a good smackdown and you delivered.

Posted by: Nelson D. Noel at October 8, 2007 06:28 PM

I think he's a fake soldier. He is completely full of shit and doesn't know fuck all about Ramadi.---MJT

Oh my. Now you've gone and done it. As in the old Groucho Marx show , you just said the magic word . Duck came down and everything.

And even if Truth has never been to Ramadi or ANYWHERE, he still knows what the REAL story is. The 'narrative' told him. I'm surprised he conceded that you yourself were even in Ramadi at all. Maybe he misspoke.

ps--- Harry Reid wanted to talk to you. He said he'd call back.

Posted by: dougf at October 8, 2007 06:36 PM

QUOTE OF THE DAY
"The Kurds of Iraq are the most pro-American people I have ever met in the world. They are more pro-American than Americans."--MJT

I have mixed feelings about broad sweeping generalizations, but the sentiment is clear. So, is it fair to say someone (perhaps Dan) who is anti-conflict, is not pro-American? Not once have I heard rumblings of "America sucks" or "freedom is shit" from the left, right or center. Americans love America and thankfully we have granted ourselves the rights to express our views and advance our society.

I think Dan is full of shit but I cannot bring myself to say he is not pro-American. I just wish he would expend his energy on more constructive efforts than his usual trash talk. I don't mean to elevate Dan's status by suggesting the quote refers to him, but it made me think of him as I was reading.

Posted by: Kevin China at October 8, 2007 07:24 PM

This is another report from a different area of Anbar by a reporter who actually went there. A British reporter at that. If you liked what Michael had to say about Ramadi, you will really like what this guy has to say about Husaybah. 'Truth' should probably just turn away now. Save trouble all around.

Different Station---- Same Tune.

Posted by: dougf at October 8, 2007 07:29 PM

Dearest Pete Dawg:
Your comments exemplify the "I am right and you are wrong" mentality. Thank you for making a perfect example of the kind of whining I am talking about.

Why can't we stop pointing fingers and commend those that try to report unbiased stories?

Posted by: Tiffany at October 8, 2007 07:44 PM

Not once have I heard rumblings of "America sucks" or "freedom is shit" from the left, right or center.

One in 5 Democrats believe the world is better off if America loses in Iraq. Another 20% of Democrats don't know:

www.foxnews.com/projects/pdf/100407_Iraq_prayer_web.pdf

That is indeed a strange species of patriotism!

Posted by: Carlos at October 8, 2007 07:44 PM

Another outstanding article. Read every word. Keep up the great work! I can only hope that we actually learn something from what you report and keep the effort going in the right direction and not retreat leaving these people to a certain death if we lack the backbone to see it thru to the end.

Posted by: Robert Smith at October 8, 2007 07:54 PM

It is going to be difficult to get any kind of real economy up and running without some sort of banking system. Maybe what they need to try is a computerized system with banks that have very little physical cash.

Employers would pay their help with electronic funds transfer. The people would use a debit card in the shops. To arrange a loan, a business owner or person would visit an office and if the loan is approved, the funds are transferred into their account. The idea being to keep money circulating but not in the form of physical cash notes that can be stolen.

That might not be feasible right now but something has to be done. You can never really have an operating economy without a viable banking system.

Posted by: crosspatch at October 8, 2007 08:51 PM

Kevin: I think Dan is full of shit but I cannot bring myself to say he is not pro-American.

It has never occured to me to think Dan is anti-American. I know anti-Americans, and Dan isn't one of them.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 8, 2007 09:03 PM

Kevin: Not once have I heard rumblings of "America sucks" or "freedom is shit" from the left, right or center.

I certainly have. Not from the center, but from the far-left and far-right, definitely.

Want examples?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 8, 2007 09:06 PM

crosspatch: You can never really have an operating economy without a viable banking system.

Well, you can't have a banking system when all the branches get robbed by terrorists with RPGs.

Let's focus on wiping out the insurgents before introducing online banking.

Posted by: Edgar at October 8, 2007 09:06 PM

Tiffany,

I agree with your assessment of this thread, but there are a decent number of regulars around here who are civil and thoughtful. A few of them have posted already: MartyH, mary, Kevin China, Edgar.

The average posting quality is often low near the beginning of a thread, for a couple of reasons. First, MJT's dispatches frequently attract a ton of incoming links, and when they do there are a lot of one-time contributions of uneven quality as that traffic filters through. Second, Dan habitually posts a bunch of sincere but poorly-thought-through flame bait right away; it usually takes a little while for the resulting shitstorm to die down.

There are still several toxic regulars, but they are fewer in number than they used to be and many of them lose interest as soon as the subject gets more complex than "lefties are stupidheads."

Why can Ramadi be considered successful?

The levels of violence in Anbar generally and Ramadi in particular have dropped precipitously in recent months. The Anbari Sunnis are considerably less anti-American than they were even a year ago. In the present calm, many good things are happening on the ground.

What events lead to the current situation?

Al Qaeda in Iraq overplayed its hand, the general Sunni population suddenly decided they couldn't take it any more, and the US military was around to help.

Check out the recent archives on this blog, particularly Anbar Awakens Part I: The Battle of Ramadi and Anbar Awakens Part II: Hell is Over.

What strategy can be utilized elsewhere?

Excellent question. We've discussed that in several other threads, and nobody has good answers yet. I hope you'll stick around to contribute to future discussions.

If you have the time for it, the David Kilcullen article that MartyH mentioned, Anatomy of a Tribal Revolt, is a lengthy but enlightening strategic assessment.

Posted by: Creamy Goodness at October 8, 2007 10:53 PM

Michael: "Want examples?"

No, not necessary. We have different experiences, that's all. I know there are plenty of non-Americans that say "America sucks" and I know that people like Ahmadinejad think "freedom is shit" but I am not referring to that ilk, only Americans.

Anyone can find something they don't like about the USA if they want to complain, but that isn't being anti-American. Personally, I have lived in many countries, both free and communist. There is not one that I would trade my citizenship for.

On the flip side, I am glad that we have allies in the Iraqi Kurds.

Posted by: Kevin China at October 8, 2007 11:36 PM

even pipsqueak mosquitos are responsible for spreading one of the most deadliest diseases in the history of man...Malaria...never underestimate the little guy...

Thanks Michael for doing something so simple as honest journalism...no sensationalism. just conveying your thoughts as you see it. and the pictures are great too.

K

Posted by: Keith at October 8, 2007 11:38 PM

Great article Michael, love them as always.
To truth: you are an idiot. Plain and simple. Dan: same thing. I am currently here in Iraq. I have seen the bad guys. The only way you can tell is when they are in flex-cuffs and bags over their head. If they all looked evil with tails and such, it would be alot easier to kill these asswipes.
Michael, keep up the good work and come see us down on MSR Tampa!

Posted by: craig m at October 9, 2007 01:30 AM

“We still take care of around 80 percent of the logistics for the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police here,” he said. “They're doing great work, but they still need some help getting organized.”

This is one of the most interesting statements in this article. It is often argued that the astonishing transformation that has occurred in the Anbar province has nothing to do with US forces, or the surge, and is exclusively related to Sunni tribes turning against Al Qaeda.

This quote palpably suggests otherwise. Al Qaeda would not have been defeated without the work of US troops and likely would rebound were the US to precipitously withdraw.

Posted by: mertel at October 9, 2007 04:40 AM

'Truth', 'Smartman', 'Genius' ...

I rarely take people who signup like that seriously.

Posted by: leo at October 9, 2007 05:46 AM

I must confess, I also get suspicious when someone writes that they are a US Soldier, but their writing "style" suggests that English is their second language.

Posted by: Jim/Waco at October 9, 2007 07:10 AM

There are plenty of well thought out and intelligent posts in response to this discussion.

I apologize if, in my criticism of the politically charged arguments, I didn't applaud them enough.

Posted by: Tiffany at October 9, 2007 07:56 AM

Jim/Waco: I must confess, I also get suspicious when someone writes that they are a US Soldier, but their writing "style" suggests that English is their second language.

What of the hell do you mean, by that?

Obviously to me, as from others, many variation of "style" exist within dialogs of people. Even USA soldiers, by God.

That is ignorance, then, you had put in statement form.

Posted by: Edgar at October 9, 2007 08:10 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 10/09/2007
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 October 9, 2007 08:18 AM

Man, I cannot fathom the magnitude of the waste of blood, treasure and American prestige this adventure has been and will continue to be for years to come. The amount we're spending 4 years in makes my blood boil. W. wants another $190 billion for one year of the war but vetoes $35 billion over five years for SCHIP. We spend that much in one month in Iraq. Nice priorities, Bush. How truly Christian of you. You could at least have the courage to put that "emergency spending" on the books.
I pray the surge does work so we can get out and end this madness, but I'm not holding my breath. The political reconciliation that was promised, the SURGE'S ACTUAL OBJECTIVE, is nonexistent and Iraq's leaders recently said not to expect it any time soon. We are holding a tiger by the tail; eventually we will have to let go. If Iraq turned into a flourishing democracy tomorrow it would not be worth it.
Shame, shame, shame on all politicians, Democrat and Republican, who led us into this disaster. There is a special place in hell reserved just for you.

Posted by: waka waka at October 9, 2007 09:10 AM

Thanks for the laugh Edgar!

Posted by: Dogwood at October 9, 2007 09:23 AM

Kevin China - You've never heard any anti-American crap from the left, huh? Unless you have hearing like Superman, guess you wouldn't being in China. You should come to the San Francisco Bay Area, bud.

In 2005 my son and I ran in the Bay to Breakers race. They had the usual charities you could raise money for, but saving the rainforests or some seals just didn't seem important to me. I decided I'd do my own fundraising for the troops. My family adopted 35 soldiers thru Soldier Angels. The support I received from family, friends and complete strangers was overwhelming. Considering that Bay to Breakers is basically one big costume party (and some without costumes aka Nudists) I decided that my son and I would wear Army shirts and run with "Old Glory" and the Army flag.

Well, to say it was an eye opening experience would be an understatement. I knew that we'd get some cat calls being in the belly of the Liberal beast, but I wasn't prepared for the outright hate by some people. Don't get me wrong I did get some words of encouragement, but I don't where these people were when the shit hit the fan. It was like my son and I were the freaks and the nudists were the normal people. The people flinging their tortillas directly at us and calling us "warmongers" and "fascists" was pretty cool. Twice during the race a-holes got in our faces and tried to rip the flags from us. They would have to kill me if they wanted those flags. My wife called me halfway thru the race to see how we were doing. After I told what had happened she was pissed that I put PJ in that position and she wanted us to quit the race. Well, I wasn't to do about to that. I did try to get my son to take a cab to meet his mother near the finish line, but he wouldn't leave my side. A block later I wished that I forced him to go, because the Abu Graib sex pyramid was just too much. It was my second shouting match and the closest I got into a fight. Hearing my wife's voice in my head brought me back to why were there? Which wasn't for these freakin a-holes, but for our troops. PJ and I attacked the Hayes St Hill and finished the race. The only thing we had to dodge were fat old white guys. Looking back I don't which one was worse.

Now, I know that there are some on the Right might say that America is going down the tubes because of illegal immigration. Pat Buchanan is someone I just can't stand even though we probably agree on a majority of things. But I've never heard or seen anyone on the Right go rabid because you have an American Flag or Army Flag. The American flag is a symbol of us; not a representation of some past, present or future administration. The fact that these "peaceful" people would zero in on my son and I because we were showing pride in our country should say something about the "tolerant" people on the Left.

Hey, Kevin Bay to Breakers is coming up again in early 2008. My son needs to get in shape because he's going to boot camp in July, 2008. Maybe you could run with us this time? I got an extra Army shirt and flag.

Posted by: Pete Dawg at October 9, 2007 09:34 AM

waka whacko: We are holding a tiger by the tail; eventually we will have to let go.

No, we actually have the tiger in an incapacitating crucifix hold. If we let go, the goddamn thing will tear us to pieces.

We need to keep the pressure on for now and wait for our friends to come and stomp on the tiger while it's down.

(Note: I have nothing against tigers -- it's only a tiny minority among them that are vicious animals)

Posted by: Edgar at October 9, 2007 09:34 AM

Edgar: "We need to keep the pressure on for now and wait for our friends to come and stomp on the tiger while it's down."
Exactly. Unfortunately Bush and his childish snubbing of our allies ensured from the beginning that this would never happen. And since it never will happen, there is no point in continuing to drain our resources and have our troops die. With Bush & Co. running this thing, it has been a fait accompli from the very beginning that our final options would range from bad to worse. What a tragedy.

Posted by: waka waka at October 9, 2007 09:50 AM

Thanks for the laugh, Edgar.

Now Sigfreid & Roy might debate you on the viciousness of tiges... On second thought I'll take that back. They still love their tigers.

Posted by: Pete Dawg at October 9, 2007 09:51 AM

I meant to say "nude, fat, old white guys" - yuck

Posted by: Pete Dawg at October 9, 2007 09:55 AM

Waka Waka,

I needn't worry. Whoever will replace Bush in a short while will run it much better.

PS. Do you know everything there is to know to pass judgement? I do not.

Posted by: leo at October 9, 2007 09:58 AM

"I needn't worry."

Sorry. I meant

"You needn't worry."

Posted by: leo at October 9, 2007 09:59 AM

Leo - I hope you're right, bro. New blood in the White House is about all we can hope for right now. The stubborn, little man inhabiting it right now certainly is not up to the task.
And yes, I do know everything there is to know about everything.

Posted by: waka waka at October 9, 2007 10:05 AM

Unfortunately Bush and his childish snubbing of our allies ensured from the beginning that this would never happen.

Wrong again. The problem was that our "allies" thought beating up the tiger was mean and wouldn't accomplish anything. They whined about how we needed the support of the hyenas in the region to make it work. And they were all going on about how it's our fault that tigers became angry beasts in the first place, etc.

So, that's why we're training the Iraqi Police. Sure, many of them might be moonlighting as tigers themselves. But most of them have the balls to at least kick the crap out of a defenseless cat pinned to the ground when we ask them to. Is that so hard?

Yeah, it does costs a lot of money. But it's a good investment. If not we'll just steal the oil, I guess.

Posted by: Edgar at October 9, 2007 10:07 AM

Dearest Pete Dawg:
Your comments exemplify the "I am right and you are wrong" mentality. Thank you for making a perfect example of the kind of whining I am talking about.
Why can't we stop pointing fingers and commend those that try to report unbiased stories?
-Tiffany

Why do you think I've been defending Michael? All I want from his the truth; from what I can confirm he hasn't broken the trust. And I would still defend him if the surge wasn't working and he was screaming to get the hell out of Iraq.

You know Tiffany my invitation that I extended to Kevin also includes you. I got a lot of flags and Army shirts.

Posted by: Pete Dawg at October 9, 2007 10:40 AM

Jim/Waco: I must confess, I also get suspicious when someone writes that they are a US Soldier, but their writing "style" suggests that English is their second language.

Yes, me too. I'm reasonably sure that "truth" is actually the banned troll named "Hezbollah Lover" from Lebanon. He shows up every now and then under a new name and with the same poor spelling. He once called himself "the truth" and posted Hassan Nasrallah's latest talking points.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 9, 2007 10:56 AM

The problem was that our "allies" thought beating up the tiger was mean and wouldn't accomplish anything. They whined about how we needed the support of the hyenas in the region to make it work....So, that's why we're training the Iraqi Police.

Some of the allies that wouldn't support the invasion of Iraq are doing some of the police training, Edgar. For example.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 9, 2007 11:04 AM

First, the best new story I ever read on Iraq, now a bitch slap of the worthy.

I'm becoming a fan...

Posted by: Ed Rooney at October 9, 2007 11:18 AM

Here is another article about the factions fighting in Iraq:

http://www.macleans.ca/article.jsp?content=20071001_110054_110054&source=srch&page=1

The following is an exert which relates to the nature of the Al Qaeda fighters:

"AMZ [Zarqawi]'s foreign fighters were never more than a tiny percentage of the insurgency, but they got all the credit, especially when their car bombs began killing civilians. Al-Qaeda in Iraq also had a tremendous appeal among the Sunni Iraqi underclass, just as Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda appeals to poor, angry Muslims the world over. Provinces like Anbar are very poor and very hierarchical, with a large and resentful social stratum at the bottom. Local Iraqis were drawn to al-Qaeda's Salafist fundamentalism because it freed them from the conservative, tribal oppression that governed their lives. Al-Qaeda was able to take over some of the insurgency -- and still controls chunks of Iraq -- precisely because it was revolutionary, not conservative, and offered poor people in Anbar a chance to kick some rich sheik and Baathist ass, as well as kill Americans and Shias. In part, al-Qaeda was part of a class war fuelled by profound anger and social resentment."

The article is rather long but I found it to be informative, although the author's prognosis is not very rosy. The article concludes with the following:

"A few years ago, I was asked to speak about Iraq at a conference on insurgencies. At the end of the day, participants were asked to guess what might happen in five years. I said I thought the U.S. would be allied with the Sunnis and fighting Iran. In a limited way, that has turned out to be the case. To some degree, the military has switched sides in the middle of the fight.

So far, the plan has not been as successful as its proponents maintain. But it isn't entirely a failure, either. It is probably the only major military strategy that has had any real effect since the original invasion. I've now been invited to "hunt al-Qaeda" in two other areas outside Anbar, which means there has been a ripple effect in the Sunni areas. But in the end, it may not matter much. The discussion in Washington and New York has always drowned out the reality of Iraq. One of the terrifying aspects of the war is the monumental failure of analysis and action on the part of America's political, military, journalistic and even business elites.

That problem may be systemic -- the result of a "fact-based" America confronting a society it did not understand and simply making up an alternate reality, guns ablaze. So far, the Republicans have done an impressive job at failing in Iraq. Soon it may be the Democrats' turn to fail, albeit in a different way. It's a shame because Iraqi political parties are perfectly capable of doing that on their own. Indeed, they seem to be going out of their way to compete with the Americans on that score."

Posted by: ChrisR at October 9, 2007 11:30 AM

"I must confess, I also get suspicious when someone writes that they are a US Soldier, but their writing "style" suggests that English is their second language."

It is not necessary to be US native born or even US citizen in order to become member of US military.

Posted by: leo at October 9, 2007 11:33 AM

Waka Waka: Unfortunately Bush and his childish snubbing of our allies ensured from the beginning that this would never happen.

Doesn't Jacques Chirac deserve some of the blame, too? The instant he left office our relations with France improved dramatically. Likewise, the instant Gerhard Schroeder left office in Germany our relations with that country improved dramatically. Yet Bush is still in office.

Bush is hardly the world's greatest diplomat, but the world doesn't revolve around him. The behavior of others matters, as well.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 9, 2007 12:15 PM

Leo: It is not necessary to be US native born or even US citizen in order to become member of US military.

I think we all know that.

The reason the bad English is part of the give-away for me is because I have a chronic troll originally known as "Hezbollah Lover" who changes his name and posts crap exactly like that by "truth" above. It's not that every American soldier is supposed to be native-born. Rather, so many of my phony commenters in general are actually "Hezbollah Lover." And this "soldier" obviously doesn't have the slightest clue what he is talking about.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 9, 2007 12:22 PM

MIchael:
"Doesn't Jacques Chirac deserve some of the blame, too? The instant he left office our relations with France improved dramatically. Likewise, the instant Gerhard Schroeder left office in Germany our relations with that country improved dramatically. Yet Bush is still in office."
Arguing that because relations are "dramatically better" because Chirac and Schroeder are gone, and therefore they share the blame for the prior breakdown, is a syllogism. One point does not prove the other.
Merkel and Sarkozy came in after the diplomatic bloodletting that preceded the war. They were not personally snubbed by Bush & Co. Bush had no personal grudge against them. Plus they are (at least in Merkel's case) more closer ideologically to Bush. Rapproachment is bound to happen, but not necessarily through any fault of Chirac and Schroeder.
I reckon Chirac and Schroeder deserve some amount of blame, although I'm not sure what. It's hard to imagine what else they were supposed to do: They refused to sign off on an illegitmate invasion that they correctly predicted would be disastrous. In return they were vilified by Bush's surrogates (Freedom Fries, anyone?) and called "Old Europe" by Rumsfeld. Don't forget these are America's closest allies Bush & Co. are treating with such unprecedented disrespect. They were left with no wiggle room.

Posted by: waka waka at October 9, 2007 01:08 PM

MJT,

Point taken.

Thank you

Posted by: leo at October 9, 2007 01:34 PM

Whacko: They refused to sign off on an illegitmate invasion that they correctly predicted would be disastrous.

You're right. But they did sign contracts to supply Saddam with all sorts of goodies for many years.

Spitting on the U.S. while giving Saddam a reach around - Chirac was definitely a guy with his priorities straight. You're absolutely right.

As for Rumsfeld picking on them, well, personally I think they should have settled it on the mat instead of whining about it. Only problem is, of course, that Rumsfeld was quite the wrestler in his day (see here: http://www.princeton.edu/~paw/archive_new/PAW04-05/02-1006/features2.html)

Think about how fast Chirac would have tapped out after a strong, wiry Rummy pounced on him. Rumsfeld would make French toast (Freedom toast?) out of him in five seconds flat.

Posted by: Edgar at October 9, 2007 02:10 PM

Spitting on the U.S....

I had a girlfriend for a few weeks in the distant past that would be horribly insulted if I didn't obey her the instant she commanded something. She had trouble distinguishing respect from subservience, and self-determination from rebellion.

I don't know whey she just popped to mind there.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 9, 2007 02:18 PM

Whacko: They refused to sign off on an illegitmate invasion that they correctly predicted would be disastrous.

Ya think maybe oil for food bribes played a role in their decision to oppose the invasion, especially in France and Russia?

Also, the President had all the Congressional authority he needed to invade Iraq. It was and is a legitimate military mission.

Posted by: Dogwood at October 9, 2007 03:39 PM

DPU: I had a girlfriend for a few weeks in the distant past that would be horribly insulted if I didn't obey her the instant she commanded something.

Weird. I had the same problem with my mom. But I'd just her in a headlock for a little while and she'd calm down.

I guess everyone handles that sort of thing differently.

Posted by: Edgar at October 9, 2007 04:10 PM

Weird. I had the same problem with my mom. But I'd just her in a headlock for a little while and she'd calm down.

At least you didn't play Twister with her, that kind of behavior will get you banned around here.

Posted by: Dogwood at October 9, 2007 04:22 PM

Pete Dawg: "I got an extra Army shirt and flag."

Hey thanks for the offer but I have a closet full of Army shirts (and trousers, boots, cap, dress uniforms, etc.) I just recently retired from 30 years of service so I might look more like one of the old, fat guys. Wouldn't want to spoil your run.

I don't think it was the flag that had the people riled against you, Pete. If you were running nude with the flag painted on your butt cheeks you most likely would have been left alone (I wanted to say unmolested but it didn't seem right given the event). You say you were in paramilitary attire in an area known for its extreme left politics. It sounds to me like they were anti-military, anti-conservative. Perhaps they didn't want their flag being associated with militarism.

If America is only for conservatives, then I will concede to you that you are right; but, I believe these people have a fervor for their homeland or they wouldn't have tried to chase you out of it. I served for their freedoms as well as for yours and my own. I don't like the aspect of America that those people represented. I find the decadent cultural attitudes associated with the SF Bay area repugnent. But these people are part and parcel with America. If I reject them out of hand then perhaps I am the one who is anti-American.

But more on track, thanks, Pete, for having the guts to support our troops. I appreciate your sense of patriotism.

Posted by: Kevin China at October 9, 2007 04:23 PM

dpu, thanks for the 3-year-old article on how Canadians are willing to spend $10 each to send some cops to the safest country in the Middle East. My eyes have been opened.

Posted by: bgates at October 9, 2007 05:00 PM

Kevin - Thanks for your service. When we ran the race we wore black shorts and those grey t-shirts that had ARMY in the front. And I don't have anything against old, fat white guys. Just when they are butt-ass naked and I have to run by that crap. PJ and I were joking "where are all the fine ass naked girls?" LOL

In no way do I believe that America is just for conservatives. My father who spent 25 years in the Army drilled that into me. Those A-holes who confronted us and tried to take our flags probably did have the mistaken idea and equated "Old Glory" with militarism, but that's their problem not mine. In no way was I ashamed of this country when we found out that President Clinton was playing hide the cigar with Monica. I think it is sad that of all things this country can't even rally behind are flag. Like I said before "it represents us, not some administration." PJ and I could've been green, ten-armed, 5 legged aliens that day and we would have been accepted, but have an American flag and a grey shirt with ARMY on the front and we are "fascists". Nobody, says reject them. As stupid as they acted I really don't have any hate for them. I save my hate for the Jihadists. I'd like to believe they are my countrymen. But hell a good tongue lashing is good once in a while... Oh, wait this is San Francisco these guys might have enjoyed that. Never mind... ;p

Posted by: Pete Dawg at October 9, 2007 05:01 PM

dpu, thanks for the 3-year-old article on how Canadians are willing to spend $10 each to send some cops to the safest country in the Middle East.

You must have read a different article than the one I linked to. $10 each?

My eyes have been opened.

Glad to have helped.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 9, 2007 05:22 PM

dpu, thanks for the 3-year-old article on how Canadians are willing to spend $10 each to send some cops to the safest country in the Middle East.---bgates

You must have read a different article than the one I linked to. $10 each?---dpu

Well if bgates thought that the $10 was a puny amount, wait until he reads further in the 2004 article and finds that it was really only .33 CENTS per person. And according to the press release it was expected that 32000 police would pass through this training program in two years. Insofar as many people have recommended that the entire Iraqi police force be scrapped due its almost complete and utter incompetence / corruption / sectarianism it would appear that even that $0.33 did not accomplish much. I would love to have an audit published of that particular program.

This effort hardly appears to constitute heavy lifting , but since Canada can't even really stomach our commitment in Afghanistan ( the GOOD War), it is probably unfair to expect much on the Iraq Front.

But the Press Releases look good.

Posted by: dougf at October 9, 2007 07:12 PM

I reckon Chirac and Schroeder deserve some amount of blame, although I'm not sure what. It's hard to imagine what else they were supposed to do: They refused to sign off on an illegitmate invasion that they correctly predicted would be disastrous. In return they were vilified by Bush's surrogates (Freedom Fries, anyone?) and called "Old Europe" by Rumsfeld. Don't forget these are America's closest allies Bush & Co. are treating with such unprecedented disrespect.

Every super or larger-than-average power in the world has a pit bull to defend their interests in the middle East. We depend on our Saudi allies to defend our interests in the Middle East (which is an incomprehensibly stupid policy that I'm not going to explore in detail in the interests of brevity), the Russians use the Iranians for the same purpose, the Chinese use the Sudan and whomever else they can grab. The Europeans used Saddam. Saddam rewarded his friends with favors and oil-for-food money.

We killed their pit bull. Of course they're angry. There's no reason why we should give too much credence to the opinions of 'our closest allies', the people who gave the world fascism, communism, colonialism, self-destructive pacifism and the peace to end all peace in the Middle East. Sarkozy and Merkel are a big improvement over their predecessors, but we should always be wary. When it comes to bad ideas, Europe is usually the world leader.

Posted by: maryatexitzero at October 9, 2007 07:47 PM
This effort hardly appears to constitute heavy lifting , but since Canada can't even really stomach our commitment in Afghanistan ( the GOOD War), it is probably unfair to expect much on the Iraq Front.

But the Press Releases look good.

Damned Canadian conservative government, I wish they would pony up some more cash.

Well if bgates thought that the $10 was a puny amount, wait until he reads further in the 2004 article and finds that it was really only .33 CENTS per person. And according to the press release it was expected that 32000 police would pass through this training program in two years.

Ah, I see that you've made a slight arithmetic error, in that you've assumed that Canada was the only one doing the training.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 9, 2007 09:30 PM

And after all this, it's a former member of Saddam's army who asks the most interesting question - and wonders why folks don't send women reporters to find out what the women of Iraq think of everything.

Glad you're finally getting more media exposure, Michael. You surely deserve it - precisely because you, unlike most reporters in Iraq, do NOT take the lazy way out.

Posted by: Joe Katzman at October 9, 2007 09:33 PM

Saddam rewarded his friends with favors and oil-for-food money.

It's interesting, then, that the bulk of the illicit food-for-oil transactions went to Turkey and Jordan.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 9, 2007 09:34 PM

Damned Canadian conservative government, I wish they would pony up some more cash.--dpu

Once more I find myself agreeing with you. Maybe we should just start our own Party.

At least we would be assured of 2 votes. That is if I could trust the 'left-wing' faction of this new venture. --:-)

Posted by: dougf at October 9, 2007 10:10 PM

Dan,
Jeffrey Dalhmer and John Wayne Gacy and Charles Manson and thousands of other monsters all looked "normal"...like boring every day people. But they did ALOT of damage and grief to alot of people and they unleashed unthinkable horror on the public. The devil never appears as a cartoon...he appears like your neighbor. How do you think evil gets away with it?

Posted by: Joyce at October 10, 2007 12:49 AM

Mr. Totten and Mr. Yon are the only sources of in-depth reporting on Iraq I'm aware of. Everyone else just seems to gather quotes. It's very heartening to see the people of Anbar getting on with their lives. Freedom is a wonderful thing,but only when combined with security. Iraq can be a role model for the Middle East. Once Baghdad is secure,neighboring regimes days are numbered. I think those dictators are perfectly aware of the dangers of a dynamic,open society right next door,and have spared no effort to derail Iraq. Here's hoping karma bites 'em in the butt...

Posted by: Perry at October 10, 2007 04:41 AM

Michael,

I understand your reports are few month old.

Do you still have connection to those soldiers you were embedded with?

Do they think today it is time to leave Anbar (or parts of it) to Iraqis or is it too early?

Do they think it would be proper to have just few coordinating military outposts instead of main force or is it just too dangerous?

Thank you

Posted by: leo at October 10, 2007 05:31 AM

Perry, I agree that MJT and M.Yon are first rate, though there are some other very good and reliable sources:

John Burns of the NYT (soon to be moving to London unfortunately)

Bill Roggio (http://www.longwarjournal.org/)

BlackFive (http://www.blackfive.net/)

Captain's Quarters (http://www.captainsquartersblog.com/mt/)

Military.com Blog (http://www.military.com/blog)

Victor Davis Hanson (http://www.victorhanson.com/)

MJT references a number of local (i.e. ME based bloggers/reporter) that he thinks highly of; I do not have a list of these sites.

Regards,

Posted by: Ron Snyder at October 10, 2007 06:40 AM

Joyce: The devil never appears as a cartoon...he appears like your neighbor. How do you think evil gets away with it?

On the other hand, I think MJT looks pretty sinister in his mugshot. But I'm sure he's really a nice guy.

Posted by: Edgar at October 10, 2007 09:00 AM

Thanks Ron. I do read most of those sites. I wasn't aware the NYT had a reporter in Iraq. Unfortunately,most Iraqi bloggers are in the U.S.. Hammorabi and Mohammed at last-of-iraqis are the only two bloggers I know of still in Iraq. I also like the sandbox,because it's firsthand accounts from soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
http://gocomics.typepad.com/the_sandbox/

Posted by: Perry at October 10, 2007 09:23 AM

DPU,

It's interesting, then, that the bulk of the illicit food-for-oil transactions went to Turkey and Jordan.

I am sure you are mistaken, if you mean that Jordan and Turkey benefited the most from the program. Jordan was heavily utilized as a port for the money laundering aspect of the fraud, but Dubai and Bahrain were also involved. The flexibility of local banking standards was the determinant.

Most of the actual graft payments went to UN officials and Security Council member officials. Several million dollars were sent in a forlorn hope towards palliating the US. Jordan and Turkey were not nearly powerful enough to keep a UN resolution authorizing action from occurring. Saddam bought what he thought was a perfectly good exemption from the UN with his bribes.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at October 10, 2007 11:16 AM

Leo: Do you still have connection to those soldiers you were embedded with?

A few, yes.

Do they think today it is time to leave Anbar (or parts of it) to Iraqis or is it too early?

It is still too early.

Do they think it would be proper to have just few coordinating military outposts instead of main force or is it just too dangerous?

It isn't too dangerous exactly, but it become that way if there is a sudden power vaccuum. The Americans are still taking care of most of the Iraqi logistics. And they learned their lesson about clearing areas and then leaving. Fallujah had to be cleared a couple of times.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 10, 2007 11:16 AM

I am sure you are mistaken, if you mean that Jordan and Turkey benefited the most from the program.

I'm basing my remark on this article:
Volcker has promised that this aspect of Hussein's exploitation of U.N. sanctions will be examined in his final report in June, and in Washington it has drawn the particular attention of Sen. Carl M. Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations, which is conducting its own inquiry into the program.

In an interview, Levin said he had no quarrel with Annan's comment. "There is no question that the bulk of the illicit oil revenues came from the open sale of Iraqi oil to Jordan and to Turkey, and that that was a way of going around the oil-for-food program," he said. "We were fully aware of the bypass and looked the other way."

Are his remarks in error? Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 10, 2007 11:45 AM

Michael,

Thank you.

Posted by: leo at October 10, 2007 11:55 AM

DPU,

At the very least, your expression of benefit is incomplete. The Oil for Food fraud poisoned international standards in three main areas: illegal oil sales, fraudulently inflated material purchases, and international bribery from the resultant profits. It is very easy to be incomplete when describing this massive fraud. You are only naming the main beneficiary middlemen of one third of the criminal enterprise.

Jordan and Turkey benefited in other ways, including truck drivers carrying a minimum load of aid in and a maximum load of subsidized Iraqi fuel out. ($0.37 a gallon diesel and gasoline when it was selling for $1.50 in Jordan and Turkey, for instance.) The scope of the failure of UN sanctions was immense. But Jordan and Turkey were not the lead beneficiaries in fraudulent aid purchasing schemes or in bribery receipt.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at October 10, 2007 12:07 PM

But Jordan and Turkey were not the lead beneficiaries in fraudulent aid purchasing schemes or in bribery receipt.

Could you point me to a source for the amounts of bribery receipts? I'm not aware of the figures involved.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 10, 2007 12:27 PM

DPU,

Wikipedia has a decent overview that covers several aspects of the situation. My rule is that if you are not looking at a spreadsheet that gives you migraines, you are not getting the full story. Since this is a substantially lower bar for you than me due to pre-existing conditions, you may need a different rule. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_for_food

When looking at these numbers keep in mind that the GAO report is constrained on the basis of proof; many of the scams will never be found out. Additionally, the lingering problems caused by making corrupt people wealthy (or wealthier) is not directly addressed. It is very hard to know how many diplomats and other officials have blackmail files assembled by Saddam's regime and are still under some degree of control.

Roughly $10.1 billion in illegal revenues that we know about was obtained by the Hussein regime, $5.7 B for oil sales and $4.4 B for illicit surcharges. That buys 5-10 thousand diplomats, NGO officials, inspectors, and etc. More if you are not trying to buy them for life.

Additionally, the companies that were involved in the trades were substantially compromised. There is some evidence that Enron and other energy traders were involved in illegal transactions right up until the end. Although the probity of companies like Enron is nothing to write home about, the people who did this kind of illicit and immoral trade are going to escape criminal prosecution. Since these people are not going to go away and they haven't been punished for wrongful acts, they are going to go looking for other lucrative crime in the future. This cancer on our economy is likely to metastasize without proper oversight.

The corruption of Jordan and Turkey is the tip of this iceberg, not the bulk.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at October 10, 2007 02:24 PM

DPU,

A more sympathetic to the UN breakdown can be found here: http://www.oilforfoodfacts.org/numbers.aspx

It indicates that Syria was handling a lot more of the fraud than Turkey. Jordan got the biggest chunk of fraudulent fund transfers.

There is still a very strong element of doubt because we cannot know the full damage by simple accounting. How much harm can a compromised diplomat cause in his career? Corruption has derivative costs that are intentionally difficult to account for.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at October 10, 2007 02:38 PM

There is still a very strong element of doubt because we cannot know the full damage by simple accounting.

I agree, but how can you dispute that Jordan and Turkey were the largest beneficiaries if there isn't proof otherwise? The Wikipedia page you reference confirms that the head of the US investigation into the scandal says that Jordan and Turkey were the prime beneficiaries.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 10, 2007 02:51 PM

DPU-

From Wikipedia's entry on the Oil for Food Scandal:

It is estimated that as much as $10 billion to $21.3 billion went unaccounted for and/or was directed to Saddam Hussein and his government in the form of kickbacks and oil smuggling. Record keeping of illegal behaviour is hard to come by and rare at best. To date, only 1 of 54 internal UN audits of the Oil-for-Food Programme have been made public. The UN has refused all requests for its audits.

Staff from the Senate investigations committee presented documentary evidence that the Bush administration was made aware of illegal oil sales and kickbacks paid to the Saddam Hussein regime but could do nothing to stop them. The Senate report concludes the United States ended up with a majority of the oil lifted from Iraq after vendors paid illicit surcharges of 10 cents to 30 cents a barrel to Saddam, though U.S. firms directly purchased less than 1 percent of the crude. However, the two countries to profit most from the programme were allegedly France and Russia. These two countries were the strongest supporters of lifting UN-imposed sanctions against Iraq and were also against the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_for_food

As the articel points out, record keeping of illicit behavior isn't stellar, so exact dollar figures are hard to come by.

Posted by: MartyH at October 10, 2007 02:55 PM

DPU,

The Wikipedia page you reference confirms that the head of the US investigation into the scandal says that Jordan and Turkey were the prime beneficiaries.

The Hussein regime was masterful at corruption, and their control over elements of the OFF program allowed them tremendous opportunities to taint the international community. There are a lot of different areas that money was spread across.

I am bound by confidentiality agreements from talking too extensively on this topic, and I am not going to go into too much detail on this. This argument is not so worth winning that I will risk legal action.

I can say that what MartyH mentions above is correct.

It is overly simplistic to focus on Turkey and Jordan as primary beneficiaries because more traceable money ended up there. Some very experienced people with huge amounts of money spent considerable time and effort to damage the international community's ability to act effectively.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at October 10, 2007 03:12 PM

This argument is not so worth winning that I will risk legal action.

Well, I didn't think it was an argument, just me looking for information.

It is overly simplistic to focus on Turkey and Jordan as primary beneficiaries because more traceable money ended up there.

That may well be, and you may be bound by confidentiality agreements, but I'm afraid that I have to go with published fact. As such, I think it's within reason to quote what the head of an investigation into the scandal on the issue.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 10, 2007 03:35 PM

... says.

(missing from the end of my comment above)

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 10, 2007 03:36 PM

DPU,

The statement is not objectionable, except that it only covers part of the problem. The breadth of the OFF disaster is so great that commentary on it needs to be open ended to move closer to accuracy. Succinct soundbites serve to mask the scope of the problem. As long as we keep our minds open about the scale and pervasiveness of the corruption, we have a chance at reducing recidivism.

This is a problem that we cannot afford to let ourselves be distracted into complacency about.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at October 10, 2007 03:53 PM

Thank you for the reporting, Mr. Totten.

re:allies, Remember when Bush called our allies, the ones that actually put up when we needed it, "the coalition of the coerced, the bribed, and the bought?"

oh, wait...

Posted by: Randy Miller at October 10, 2007 06:13 PM

General Petraeus has turned the whole Iraq war around. He is to Bush what Grant was to Lincoln. Why is the left so wedded to defeat, that they refuse to even acknowledge the progress being made, and continue to look for ways of claiming defeat. An analogy would be like refusing to acknowledge the success of the D-Day invasion weeks after it was proven a success by saying how can you trust Roosevelt, and his lackey General Eisenhower, after all what did Germany have to do with Pearl Harbor, and look at the mess that Eisenhower made in North Africa’s Kasserine Pass. These folks would be calling for the IMMEDIATE withdrawal of all troops from the European continent and redeploying back to at least Great Britain, at the start of the “Battle of the Bulge”. It is clear that the press and the Democrats are committed to failure, no matter what the cost.

Show me where and why I am wrong.

Posted by: Mike at October 11, 2007 02:22 PM

An analogy would be like refusing to acknowledge the success of the D-Day invasion weeks after it was proven a success by saying how can you trust Roosevelt, and his lackey General Eisenhower, after all what did Germany have to do with Pearl Harbor, and look at the mess that Eisenhower made in North Africa’s Kasserine Pass.

D-Day had measurable goals, and within a week progress toward those goals could be measured. There are few measurable goals presented in the Iraq case, and so progress and success are nearly impossible to measure.

Regarding "What did Germany have to do with Pearl Harbor": you might want to read up on some history. Germany was not attacked because of Pearl Harbor, it was attacked because it declared war of the US four days after Pearl Harbor.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 11, 2007 03:03 PM

You mean the dramatic reduction in reported casualties is not measurable?
The change in attitude towards the coalition troops is not measurable?
The reverse migrations of civilians in Anbar are not measurable?
The quality and quantity of Iraqi forces is not measurable?

I know that Germany declared war on the U.S. just as I know about Iraq’s violation of UN mandates, surrounding their first "surrender", the shooting at Coalition planes, that Pres. Bill Clinton, stated that Saddam had to go, about the same time as he blew up an aspirin factory, that Clinton swore was “manufacturing poison gas.”

I think your response proves my point.

Posted by: Mike at October 11, 2007 03:47 PM

DPU,

D-Day had measurable goals, and within a week progress toward those goals could be measured.

Yes, for the first weeks, the Allies were largely stalled and blocked in their efforts. Omaha beach was a slaughterhouse for the US troops there. Our main tank, the Sherman, was two generations out of date and dead meat to the standard anti-tank round of the enemy. The only things that kept our troops from being pushed back into the sea was Allied air superiority and logistical might, and even then close air support was often marginalized by the calls for strategic bombing. If we hadn't cracked major German codes and used that to sink their submarines by the pack, we would have been fighting Germany well into the 1950s. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normandy_invasion

By the way isn't it a shame that signals intelligence like we had in WWII is now viewed as a massive invasion of privacy?

By the way, the measurable goal of the Allies in WWII was unconditional surrender of the Axis powers.

Of all the statements I've seen you make here, this is arguably the least defensible. You really should stay away from making historical arguments, your conclusions are not supported by your examples. Germany declared war because we were already heavily supporting the British through Lend-Lease and convoy protection.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at October 11, 2007 04:02 PM

Do the insurgents in Iraq have measurable goals? How do things look from their point of view? They can't possibly be happy with what's happening on the ground now.

War isn't a home construction site, a classroom, or a high tech company. Progress isn't linear, and victory is often very sudden. See Ramadi for Exhibit A.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 11, 2007 04:07 PM

You mean the dramatic reduction in reported casualties is not measurable?
The change in attitude towards the coalition troops is not measurable?
The reverse migrations of civilians in Anbar are not measurable?
The quality and quantity of Iraqi forces is not measurable?

Okay, then what figures need to be achieved in order to determine success? There are over two million Iraqi refugees at the moment. How many should there be in order to judge success? Within what time frame?

I know that Germany declared war on the U.S.

Then what was that business about Pearl Harbor?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 11, 2007 06:47 PM

Of all the statements I've seen you make here, this is arguably the least defensible.

That the allies had measurable goals as an aim in the invasion of Normandy that could be measured after a week?

Is your position that they did not?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 11, 2007 06:52 PM

DPU,

That the allies had measurable goals as an aim in the invasion of Normandy that could be measured after a week?

It is my position that they failed in almost everything except linking up and not getting thrown back into the sea.

Take for example Omaha Beach: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omaha_Beach
Very little went as planned at Omaha on D-Day. Difficulties in navigation caused the majority of landing craft to miss their targets throughout the day. The defenses were unexpectedly strong and inflicted heavy casualties on US troops as they landed. Under heavy fire the engineers struggled to clear the beach obstacles, causing later landings to bunch around the few channels that had been cleared. Weakened by the casualties taken just to land, the surviving assault troops could not clear the heavily defended exits off the beach, causing further problems and consequent delays for later landings.

Following the penetrations inland, confused hard fought individual actions pushed the foothold out barely a mile and a half (2.5 km) deep in the Coleville area to the east, less than that west of St. Laurent, and an isolated penetration in the Vierville area. Pockets of enemy resistance still fought on behind the American front line, and the whole beachhead remained under artillery fire. At 21:00 the landing of the 26th RCT completed the planned landing of infantry, but losses in equipment were high, including 26 artillery pieces, over 50 tanks, about 50 landing craft and 10 larger vessels.75 Of the 2,400 tons of supplies scheduled to be landed on D-Day, only 100 tons was actually landed.76 Casualties for V Corps were estimated at 3,000 killed, wounded and missing. The heaviest casualties were taken by the infantry, tanks and engineers in the first landings. The 16th and 116th RCT’s lost about 1,000 men each.77 Only five tanks of the 741st tank battalion were ready for action the next day.78 The German 352nd division suffered 1,200 killed, wounded and missing; about 20% of its strength.74 Its deployment at the beach caused such problems that General Bradley, commander of the U.S. First Army, at one stage considered evacuating Omaha,79 whilst Field Marshal Montgomery considered the possibility of diverting V Corps forces through Gold beach.80

So, on Omaha Beach, casualties on the first day were close to what we suffered so far in Iraq. Benchmarks and planning are really cool, but they are not the same as victory. Plans do not survive contact with the enemy.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at October 11, 2007 07:53 PM

It is my position that they failed in almost everything except linking up and not getting thrown back into the sea.

But I didn't say that they did not. I said that they had measurable goals, and then you said that that may have been one of the least defensible statements that I had ever made.

So I'm afraid I don't understand what you're getting at, especially as you keep seeming to argue that on D-Day they may have looked like they were failing, but the evaluation point being discussed was a week after D-Day.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 11, 2007 08:03 PM

Benchmarks and planning are really cool, but they are not the same as victory. Plans do not survive contact with the enemy.

I continue to not get what you're saying. That you can't judge whether you're winning or losing a war until at the end?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 11, 2007 08:04 PM

DPU,

In case you needed an example that is Canadian, let's look at Juno Beach: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juno_Beach

None of the assault divisions, including 3rd Canadian Division, had managed to secure their D-Day objectives, which lay inland, although the Canadians came closer than any other Allied formation.

Congratulations, the Canadians failed on D-Day less spectacularly than anybody else! But the plan went to crap, just like everybody else.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at October 11, 2007 08:30 PM

Congratulations, the Canadians failed on D-Day less spectacularly than anybody else! But the plan went to crap, just like everybody else.

Is it just me, or does this not address anything being discussed?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 11, 2007 08:40 PM

DPU,

In the real world, information always lags. Measurable goals are set using old information and untested strategies. In addition to the deviations in planning implementation caused by the enemy, there are diversions in the plan creation caused by the agenda of your staff. In the current war, our planning goes through layers of lawyers well before it sees the enemy that shoots at us.

What we are trying to tell you is that measurable goals do not allow for this: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/12/world/middleeast/12mahdi.html?ex=1349841600&en=99b9cbf75663ad43&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss
Relations Sour Between Shiites and Iraq Militia
Mahdi Army members operating checkpoints in Baghdad in January. Today, many Shiites regard the militia as a band of thugs.

Your intellectual faith in measurable goals is less defensible than you think. We have people on the ground making decisions based on much more current and relevant information than you have access to. Much of that information is classified, but even more of it is just not published. Things are happening all the time and the goalposts need to keep shifting. That this is an inconvenience for your thought process is a cost we are willing to pay.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at October 11, 2007 10:41 PM

Your intellectual faith in measurable goals is less defensible than you think.

Patrick, consider the situation here. You are objecting, somewhat strenuously, to me saying that one of the world's greatest and most complex military operations had goals that could be measured in order to determine whether they were being achieved.

Are you feeling okay?

Are you sure?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 11, 2007 10:54 PM

The concept of "measurable goals" doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me in war. War is far too messy and unplannable and non-linear and uncertain and unpredictable. You can't plan and fight a war the way you can plan and build a house. It just doesn't work like that. The enemy has plans of its own, there is far too much you cannot control, and the information at your disposal is always out of date -- unless you're on the front line, and then the information at your disposal is too limited and local.

Expecting a linear set of benchmarks to be met during combat, especially during counter-insurgency combat, seems strange and almost irrelevant to me.

It took the Lebanese quite some time before they realized their 15-year civil war was actually over, just as it took them a while to realize that it had started. Every plan to end the war failed utterly, until all of a sudden the thing just wound down and the Taef Agreement actually held. No one knew when it would happen, even after it happened, because there were so many false endings. None of the "measurable goals" amounted to a hill of beans until they all came together at once at the end.

If you tried to track "measurable goals" during the battle of Ramadi, nearly zero progress was made throughout almost the entire duration. Then BANG it was over very abruptly.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 12, 2007 02:37 AM

Expecting a linear set of benchmarks to be met during combat, especially during counter-insurgency combat, seems strange and almost irrelevant to me.

But this is not the case. Take, for example, Operation Cobra:
The original planning for the Normandy campaign, once the initial D-Day invasion was successful, envisioned a rapid Allied build-up of forces in a steadily-expanding beachhead. Specific objectives such as towns, ports and airfields served as guidelines to operations. Eventually the Allies sought a mobile battle in which their advantages in numbers, tactical air power, armor, mechanized infantry and logistics would be brought to bear. They wished to avoid a slow, World War I-style stalemate or near-stalemate, though it was recognised that the battle would be at least partly attritional, and the original planned length of the battle was ninety days.

...

Building up Allied forces on the continent was also succeeding. Allied forces were growing faster than their opponents, but by July this growth was constrained by the Allied failure to "peg out claims well inland" in General Montgomery's words. The beachhead was crowded; the number of airfields in Allied hands was far fewer than planned; Caen (a D-Day objective) had not been taken; no major operating port was yet in Allied hands. In general, progress was being measured in yards rather than miles. The battle for Normandy had devolved into a series of small-unit actions in which Allied infantry units, supported with barrages of artillery fire, slowly ground into the German defenses. For example, between July 2 and July 14, the U.S. VIII Corps took over 10,000 casualties while advancing only 12,000 yards. By July 25 (D+49, the start date of Cobra) the Allies had only reached the D+5 phase line; that is, they held positions they expected to have had by June 11, 5 days after D-Day.

This led to frustration at the top Allied command levels. Allied infantry losses were high, major mechanized units were not in the battle, and close air support was difficult because the fighting was at such close range. The Allied commanders could not bring their advantages to bear on the battle, and the fear of another stalemate seemed to be close to reality.
Now, as Patrick has repeatedly pointed out, the goals of D-Day were not being met anywhere as quickly as they had been planned, but the point is that they had goals, and they were clearly measurable. They didn't meet them, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they felt defeated, packed up, and went home. It meant that they needed to adjust their plans.

I'm not a military tactician, but I do do planning work in a fairly chaotic arena, software development. You don't give up planning and measurement of success because something is chaotic, you actually increase it. Detecting failure early is pretty important, especially so, I would think, in military matters. Then you can adjust your planning when it is still cheap to do so.

I'm not arguing that the surge is failing, I'm saying that without well-known benchmarks of some kind, no one here can say with any level of accuracy that it is succeeding or failing. And I suspect that some that are pointing to certain figures as proof of success at the moment will not start thinking that the surge is failing if those same figures reverse themselves in a month.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 12, 2007 07:33 AM

The subject of benchmarks is obviously embroiled in controversy here. The problem using the benchmarks set for Normandy as an example is that that war was fought entirely different. It was a "linear" war. You had the Allies and the Axis. Nothing really in between. It was a war relatively easily followed on a map.
In Iraq the problem is that there are no "lines." Therefore "benchmarks" are more subjective. To me, a more credible benchmark would be the number of local leaders banding together, or at least holding councils, to discuss what to do about the current situation where before they wouldn't give each other the time of day. The casualty reports. Infrastructure progress. Support of the populace/refugee situation. And these are just a few. Even with the suggestions I have given there is no clear "benchmark". It is all subjective. Those in Washington base success on politics. The military on casualty reports, etc. So the whole issue of benchmarks is subjective. Everyone uses the numbers and criteria that best suit their position. Timetables and benchmarks are best left to conventional warfare. Counter-insurgency is a different creature, with Iraq/Afghanistan being the truly first large scale implementation of this strategy.
From what I have deduced, counter-insurgency is about trends. The current trend is against AQI and more slowly against the local insurgents. We have obvious success in Anbar, and some success in other regions. other regions seem to be a stalemate. Time is the key. How much time? Who knows. And that is where WE have a weakness. We expect instant gratification. You want popcorn, put a bag in the microwave and push the "popcorn" button. Want to watch a movie, download it. We get what we want almost instantaneously. Wars are not fought that way even in the best of times.(Grenada and Panama don't count) We must exhibit patience if we are to defeat our enemy. They don't subscribe to benchmarks and timetables. Just a single goal. Counter-insurgency is the name of the game. There are no time-outs, no half-times, no calling off due to weather. Michael has a valid point, one day we will wake up and it'll be over. And when it is, Iraq and Afghanistan will be the benchmarks by which all ops are measured against, right or wrong.

Posted by: Kevin Schurig at October 12, 2007 09:42 AM

I'm not arguing that the surge is failing, I'm saying that without well-known benchmarks of some kind, no one here can say with any level of accuracy that it is succeeding or failing.

I agree. I don't think goals/benchmarks for the surge are very useful or meaningful - there isn't a very good understanding of cause and effect, many non-linear systems are in play, each group of people behaves differently, etc. It doesn't mean you should have goals/benchmarks, it just means that they won't be very accurate and not as helpful as one would think. The best indications are trends - are things getting better or worse, short-term and long-term? Building a house or developing a software app are well-understood, repeatable processes - measuring not-very-well understood ongoings in Iraq using relative, subjective terms may be much more helpful than concrete numbers.

Goals/benchmark usefulness is overrated in my opinion. I like this quote from a race car champion who passed away recently, "I didn’t set goals as I went along,” McRae told Autosport Magazine in January. “I just wanted to be quick as possible and win as much as possible.”

And he was very successful.

Posted by: markytom at October 12, 2007 09:51 AM

DPU,

I'm not arguing that the surge is failing, I'm saying that without well-known benchmarks of some kind, no one here can say with any level of accuracy that it is succeeding or failing. And I suspect that some that are pointing to certain figures as proof of success at the moment will not start thinking that the surge is failing if those same figures reverse themselves in a month.

My point is that for benchmarks to be well known by you is ludicrous at best and severely detrimental to the effort in most situations. For example, if you know that it is considered critical by high command that 80% of the Shia sheiks are firmly on our side by Thanksgiving, you think we are a day late and I think we have another month. Beyond that, the Shia sheiks will know that and will adjust their requirements accordingly. Most importantly, AQ and Qods Force will know and will stop fighting us so they can terrorize the designated sheiks who are on the fence.

How are you supposed to come by this knowledge without sharing it to our enemies? How much time are you able to spend tracking changes in the plan if you are still trying to do your civilian job?

You should read David Bellavia's book "House to House" if you want to understand what measurable goals we had three years ago and how throughly articulated they were to the Non-Commissioned Officer level. If you want to know what is going on right now, wait three more years for that book to come out.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at October 12, 2007 10:49 AM

markytom: Building a house or developing a software app are well-understood, repeatable processes...

You obviously do not develop software.

PSL: My point is that for benchmarks to be well known by you is ludicrous at best and severely detrimental to the effort in most situations.

Whether or not I know what the benchmarks is irrelevant. The point being addresses is that there are benchmarks. If the benchmarks are not well known, then it's difficult for outsiders to determine the level of success of the venture.

As to the rest, have you indicated that the surge is succeeding? If so, what was the basis of that opinion? I'm guessing that it was based on ... benchmarks.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 12, 2007 11:35 AM

DPU,

As to the rest, have you indicated that the surge is succeeding? If so, what was the basis of that opinion? I'm guessing that it was based on ... benchmarks.

The problem with this analogy is that it causes people to focus on benchmarks and not on what is happening. If your software program was a spreadsheet that spontaneously developed a killer graphics application, you would feel compelled to keep demanding recursive total summing development instead of marketing the hell out of the new thing that worked great.

Checkboxes grind out controlled development like the machines they emulate, but they don't reflect the open-ended solutions that occur in reality. They also tend to develop solutions that don't work in the market. One of the best things I ever did as a software tester was to test a product to death rather than expose the corporation to the liability it was bound to create.

Ever since Vietnam the US military has been excruciatingly careful about using simple benchmarks to judge success. While we do announce that certain raids caused specific numbers of confirmed casualties, that is not the basis of our assessment of how the fight is going.

I suppose that a lot of resistance to your insistence for clear benchmarks that is being posted here is due to a comprehension that this methodology has tried and found wanting. We do not want to go back to McNamara's Garbage In Garbage Out data analytics. We are using methods that only a few thousand people in the world are conversant in, but there are strong secondary indications that those methods are working.

I am sorry if this does not satisfy your desire to be in control of the process, or at least clear on the principles. Regrettably, tight control on feature creep has kept the "Informing DPU" applet off the schedule. We have a black box that is churning out results, but making the code open source is just not going to happen.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at October 12, 2007 12:07 PM

You obviously do not develop software.

Actually I've been a software engineer for over 20 years and have managed dozens of large projects (successfully - meaning that the apps are used by happy customers, and projects were delivered on-time and on-budget). I've also spent a large part of my career taking over failing projects and turning them into successes.

There are thousands of books and articles on software development and project management based on decades of research and experience. There are many proven processes (waterfall, OO, etc.) and some that I don't agree with as much (agile, extreme, good enough) - which usually turns into "forget discovering the customers' real needs, just start hacking code now and spin in circles" and you end up with crap (as well as being late and over-budget). I've tired of the software development world and changed careers this year.

Nobody has a clear guide or process (or benchmarks) to follow for what to do in Iraq. It's unique, very complex, non-linear, and rapidly changing. I still have the question today as the day the US invaded Iraq - when do we know when to get out? What are the success criteria? If the politicians (both Dems and Reps) in Washington are risk averse, and I think that they are, then it is likely that there will be a presence US/NATO/UN/whatever in Iraq for decades. Viet Nam was abandoned but I just don't see the US abandoning Iraq - oil and "stability" in the Middle East are too big of national interests to the US to ignore.

Posted by: markytom at October 12, 2007 12:36 PM

Actually I've been a software engineer for over 20 years and have managed dozens of large projects (successfully - meaning that the apps are used by happy customers, and projects were delivered on-time and on-budget). I've also spent a large part of my career taking over failing projects and turning them into successes.

Well then, I am surprised, and apologize for getting that wrong. I have approximately the same credentials, and I've worked extensively with both waterfall and agile. Waterfall works well when the organization is mature with well-developed software development processes and a well-defined end product, but agile works better in a more dynamic environment (new technologies, employee turnover, a variety of skill-sets among the staff, etc).

I was initially hesitant about agile for the reasons you mention, but I've been using scrum now for nearly a year, and it's working extremely well.

At any rate, every project that I've ever worked on involves a fair amount of chaos that needs to be managed. The technology and processes used to build houses do not change much over a decade or two, whereas most software development projects are constantly on the bleeding edge, hence the unpredictability.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 12, 2007 12:58 PM

I suppose that a lot of resistance to your insistence for clear benchmarks that is being posted here ...

I would love you to point out any insistence on that from me. Any at all.

I swear, Patrick, that you are so busy debating an internal voice here that you aren't actually reading what I'm writing.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 12, 2007 01:00 PM

...or I could read your own comments a bit more carefully. Sorry about that Patrick, I completely got that wrong. Too much coding recently and not enough blogging, I suspect.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 12, 2007 01:35 PM

I've been using scrum now for nearly a year, and it's working extremely well.

most software development projects are constantly on the bleeding edge, hence the unpredictability

In my experience the trick to success is to managing the customers' expectations, that yucky, human interation, digging deep to find the real needs, open communicating stuff - the developers are secondary in a sense. I also try to stay one or two steps back from bleeding-edge - that way I can deliver on my promises without near as much unpredictability. Programmers like to play with the cool, bleeding-edge stuff - the customers really couldn't give a shit - they just want something that meets their needs, is easy-to-use, relatively fast, reliable, and is on-time and on-budget. Too many times the pigs (programmers) are really chickens and are more interested in playing with sexy, new tools and doing their own thing than actually getting the job done. I try to use proven technologies and techniques rather than using the sexiest new betas on the market, and guess what? I've had very few failed projects, and have turned around many failing projects. Risk management is a skill few programmers take seriously in my experience. Using bleeding-edge tools and technology greatly reduces your chances of success.

Posted by: markytom at October 12, 2007 01:47 PM

Wow, I never expected my first post to generate so much “heat”, and even some “light”. But I would like to point out there is a big difference between writing “code”, and fighting a war/insurgency. When you write a line of code you get the same result over, and over, till you change something in that code. When you make that change, the outcome can/should change. But again the result continues to replicate till another change is made to the code. War is a case of constant adjustments to strategy, by more the “code writer” i.e., our Dept of Defense. Therefore a static sense of benchmarks with dates set is beyond foolish. It is more of an impediment to the final success then any possible benefit.

Tell me where I am wrong.

Mike

Posted by: Mike at October 12, 2007 03:49 PM

Risk management is a skill few programmers take seriously in my experience. Using bleeding-edge tools and technology greatly reduces your chances of success.

Well, this would be a really interesting discussion regarding my own circumstances, but it's occurred to me that much of the supporting info would be confidential. In short, I agree with you, but there are circumstances that force new technology onto existing staff. In those cases, the customer and the programmers aren't often aware of the capabilities of the technology until development is already underway. Using waterfall guarantees that you need to scrap large pieces of work already accomplished, while agile methodologies allow quite a bit of flexibility once the project has begun.

As I said, I was quite resistant to agile because it just seemed a form of disguised process laziness inherent in most programmers, and a celebration of lack of planning. But I've been surprised at how effective agile is under some circumstances.

Maybe agile is being used in Iraq? A novel thought.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 12, 2007 04:19 PM

But I would like to point out there is a big difference between writing “code”, and fighting a war/insurgency.

The reference was an analogy for processes intended to run chaotic situations, not coding.

Therefore a static sense of benchmarks with dates set is beyond foolish. It is more of an impediment to the final success then any possible benefit.

Who was arguing for static benchmarks?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 12, 2007 04:28 PM

Who was arguing for static benchmarks?

The dictionary?

bench·mark (bĕnch'märk')
n.
A standard by which something can be measured or judged: “Inflation . . . is a great distorter of seemingly fixed economic ideas and benchmarks” (Benjamin M. Friedman). See synonyms at standard.
often bench mark A surveyor's mark made on a stationary object of previously determined position and elevation and used as a reference point in tidal observations and surveys.

Posted by: Mike at October 12, 2007 04:38 PM

And where does the qualifier "static" get mentioned?

This is actually a bizarre discussion. If you guys are correct, and the US military never accesses how successful it's being in its operations, then I'm amazed that it does so well.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 12, 2007 04:59 PM

the customer and the programmers aren't often aware of the capabilities of the technology until development is already underway.

Technology isn't a solution, it is a tool. Too many times in my experience have customers and programmers bought into the "magic bullet" state-of-the-art, wonderful new technology as the solution to a problem only to see the project go up in flames. Technology turns out to be only a minor piece in the overall success of a project. Would you rather have a surgeon perform a major operation on you with the latest technology that he doesn't understand well? Or would you rather he use older, proven technology he has experience with? Only as a last resort would I choose the latest technology. The risks are too high. Sometimes you need to tell your customers to wait a year or two - to mitigate the risks. Programmers say "yes" way to often to their customers.

Maybe agile is being used in Iraq? A novel thought.

Now it seems to be, sort of. The problem was that waterfall was used for the first several years. Only in the last year or so have the strategy and tactics changed significantly - flexibility, adaptability, true and open self-assessment, communication improvements with the Iraqis, focus on protecting Iraqis in battle, etc., and it looks like the military is finally moving in the right direction. At least for now the trends look to be improving. Using an agile model in Iraq the risk of failure is high, but with using waterfall the risk of failure was almost assured as the model didn't fit with the assumptions (liberation, etc.). The past is past - I wish people could just let it go and move toward the future. With the recent success in Anbar it seems that the rewards are very high - making the risks worth it. DPU - how do you see the risk/reward structure in Iraq?

Posted by: markytom at October 12, 2007 05:43 PM

Fantastic article,

It's clear we need to stay in Iraq until all is sucessfully set in the Iraqi Government. If this effort is to be a sucess we have to see this through to the end. Nice job Micheal,I mean Walter Cronkite..errr...Micheal.

Posted by: Richard A. Morholt at October 12, 2007 10:28 PM

Muslims see the end coming very soon for them. I say this because they are looking for allies from the Christian faith. Before this would have been unheard of, any faith other than theirs is heresy. Christians to them are infidels. I believe they think they are witnessing the beginning of the end of Islam. I feel that this "unlawful war", as some call it (not myself of course)has the terrorists up against the ropes. They are now backed into a corner and we can not let up now, that would be seen as a sign of weakness. Their mentality is "Do unto others before they do it to you". Ours is "Say Uncle and I'll let you go". That wont work here. The line has been drawn, we are Americans, we are the first lne of defence, we are the last, we stand at the gate gate and the barbarians are beating their shields. Our children will know us in the future for what we do now, stand and fight or retreat and fall. Tell the people there that most Americans are willing to pay their small part of the bill to keep our military there until it is safe to come home.

Posted by: paul at October 13, 2007 01:14 PM

DPU,

This is actually a bizarre discussion. If you guys are correct, and the US military never accesses how successful it's being in its operations, then I'm amazed that it does so well.

Chesty Puller's biography recounts a conversation he had with the author of "Lee's Lieutenants" where the legendary Marine asked if there was any interest in covering the latest conflict. The author responded that he did not believe the history could be accurately written until all of the participants had died. "Lee's Lieutenants" is an outstanding source of insight into the military actions of the Confederacy, but it did not come out for a nearly a century after Appomattox.

We've gotten better and MilBlogs have helped in that regard to some extent, but the analytical lag right now runs to years instead of decades. The scope of the problem is the cause for the recursive delay. It is too big a problem that needs to be solved so broadly that it takes a long time for anything significant to happen.

Have you ever managed a project team with more than a thousand participants? Right now Petraeus' team extends two orders of magnitude greater than that.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at October 13, 2007 01:38 PM

This is for Kirk,
You are correct. It only takes one person to start an avalanche. My example is found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayaan_Hirsi_Ali . She was a Muslim and knows the potetial of what they can do. She lives under the threat of death for speaking out against Islam, and I believe she is starting an avalanche. As is so often stated today "All it takes for Evil to thrive is for good men to do nothing." This must always be remebered as one man here, Michael T, and one man there, Michael Y, do what others wont. They tell us that American service men and women do good things to combat evil.

Dan, Carlos and all others of your mind set, don't be fooled into thinking that this will just go away if we leave, it won't.

Wish I had something witty or insiteful to leave with but I don't so I'll just say thank you, thank you America for giving this country brave individuals who are willing to sacrifice in the worlds time of need.

Posted by: paul at October 13, 2007 01:39 PM

DPU - This is actually a bizarre discussion. If you guys are correct, and the US military never accesses how successful it's being in its operations, then I'm amazed that it does so well.

Who in their right mind would be arguing this? Certainly no person in this comment section that I see.

Posted by: Kenneth at October 13, 2007 07:29 PM

It's odd to hear that there haven't been many female reporters in Ramadi. Are there many female reporters embedded with the troops in general?

Send Pam Hess!

Posted by: Yehudit at October 13, 2007 10:23 PM

Kenneth,

Who in their right mind would be arguing this? Certainly no person in this comment section that I see.

There is a big difference between the first reports an the accurate reports in combat. I would argue that there are distinct and significant time lags in the OODA loop. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OODA_Loop Our OODA loop is significantly faster than our enemies are on a strategic level, and attrition of the enemy is causing some serious hits to their OODA responsiveness on the tactical levels as well.

This is not like a computer game, the feedback you need for effective action is not available instantaneously.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at October 13, 2007 11:33 PM

Who in their right mind would be arguing this? Certainly no person in this comment section that I see.

From above...

Me: D-Day had measurable goals, and within a week progress toward those goals could be measured.

Patrick: Of all the statements I've seen you make here, this is arguably the least defensible.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 14, 2007 08:02 AM

Hey, I'm software guy with 30 years experience. Can I play too?

As the original owner and developer of the development methodology that we use in running client projects (one of the top 5 software providers in the world) I've done a fair bit of thinking on this topic.

The key point that has been mentioned is that the methodology (aka process) has to fit the circumstances.

However, the thing that is not well understood is how to define what all the circumstances are.

Breaking down the two major SDMs you have the Waterfall style and the Rapid Prototype style.

While their goal is the same they are not both applicable. The criteria for making a choice are numerous. There are IT criteria that are mostly centered around the quantity and quality of resources (aka people); but also include the maturity and reliability of the tools involved.

The forgotten part (by IT that is) of the process are the criteria that pertain to the user community. How good & how many are their resources AND MOST IMPORTANT how well do they understand their business processes and how clear are they in knowing what they should be for the future! There's all sorts of group in-fighting when it comes to these definitions.

In the case of Iraq, the military is IT and the Iraqis, US politicians, Iranians, etc. are the users. And unlike software, there's no CEO to play God and make the decisions that group in fighting drives.

To succeed with any methodology the key is your control points and structures. These would be equivalent to benchmarks. BUT, given that you are dealing with a user community that has no unified view and never will. The benchmarks must change rapidly with each iteration of the cycle. The IT community cannot publish the benchmarks they use to measure their own success if their are hostile groups that will use that information to blow the metrics (aka the project) out of the water.

There's a whole lot of subjectivity going on that can never be really quantified. This is true in IS project work and several orders of magnitude more in war.

Posted by: AlanC at October 14, 2007 11:52 AM

DPU,

Let me spell this out for you:

The measurable goals used in D-Day were unmet and irrelevant. The city of Caen was a day one objective that took months to capture. The measurable goals entirely failed to comprehend the difficulty of the bocage hedge defense. The measurable goals entirely failed to comprehend the difficulty of the Omaha beach obstacles. The measurable goals did not into account weather problems that slipped the entire schedule one day.

The measurable goals became a source of friction and in many cases reduced the effectiveness of the operation. Measurable goals in the military tend to become expressed in headstones, which is why your statement is so vigorously denounced here.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at October 14, 2007 01:56 PM

Let me spell this out for you:

Why? Did I misrepresent something you said?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 14, 2007 02:08 PM

This is from Washington Post via Bill Roggio

In September, Iraqi civilian deaths were down 52 percent from August and 77 percent from September 2006, according to the Web site icasualties.org. The Iraqi Health Ministry and the Associated Press reported similar results. U.S. soldiers killed in action numbered 43 -- down 43 percent from August and 64 percent from May, which had the highest monthly figure so far this year. The American combat death total was the lowest since July 2006 and was one of the five lowest monthly counts since the insurgency in Iraq took off in April 2004.
During the first 12 days of October the death rates of Iraqis and Americans fell still further. So far during the Muslim month of Ramadan, which began Sept. 13 and ends this weekend, 36 U.S. soldiers have been reported as killed in hostile actions. That is remarkable given that the surge has deployed more American troops in more dangerous places and that in the past al-Qaeda has staged major offensives during Ramadan. Last year, at least 97 American troops died in combat during Ramadan. Al-Qaeda tried to step up attacks this year, U.S. commanders say -- so far, with stunningly little success.

I don't know if this counts as a metric
Double-Plus, but to me it smacks of a remarkable turnaround, and if it continues a remarkable success

Posted by: Mike at October 14, 2007 02:08 PM

I don't know if this counts as a metric
Double-Plus,...

Me neither, which is the problem. Good news, though.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at October 14, 2007 06:51 PM

Wondering what others will think of this thought?
What are the odds of Lebanon succeeding or failing in relation to Iraqi's chances of being a democratic nation?

Posted by: Kevin Schurig at October 15, 2007 10:38 AM

Michael -- are you familiar with the independent journalist Dahr Jamail? Heard him speak for an hour on Democracy Now the other day. He's very anti-war, anti-American occupation. He just had a book published, and it appears as if he is coming to Portland in early November. It would be really interesting to put the two of you together on some stage for a dialoge -- two American freelance journalists on the ground in Iraq, seeing some of the same things, coming to entirely different conclusions.

Posted by: Markus at October 16, 2007 07:39 AM

Comment on what AQ followers may look like. If you walk into a mosque in the US any Friday noon, you will see Pakistani/Arab doctors, engineers and other professionals gung ho supporters of AQ. The imam most likely is a bigger supporter. These guys could be your neighbors, you would not be able to tell what's in their heads. On Sunday's they send their children for direct indoctrination in mosques - purportedly for "religious education". Children growing up brain-washed in mosques here, then sent to their parents' native countries, for further identification with Pakistan or an Arab country - which they call "my country". In a few years (in some cases already) they will attack their neighbors. AQ is well entrenched among Muslims in the US.
After trying to advise, counsel and enlighten Muslims at the local mosque for over 20 years, I have given up. Terror attacks are imminent.
So what do AQ adherents look like? Most are your Pakistani/Arab neighbors or co-workers.

Posted by: mkarim at October 20, 2007 11:05 AM

Whether or not you wanted us in Iraq no longer matters.

Should we leave Iraq? Yes. Someday. At a time when we can no longer do good or prevent damage.

You may believe that on balance we are not doing any good there. We can most objectively judge this by those who are there and involved in Iraq, the Iraqi people, and the soldiers helping them. The Iraqi people clearly want us to leave, just not today. Our soldiers certainly wish to leave, but believe we are doing good work there, enough so that many of them return to do more.

The one other group we cannot ask is Al'Qeda. However, we can safely assume they wish us ill in any case. With this in mind:

What does Al'Qeda want us to do in Iraq?

Diplomacy only works when both sides are willing to comprimise. As long as one side is unwilling, you have two choices: Give in or Fight.

Posted by: Karl at October 21, 2007 11:44 AM
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