December 8, 2008

Iraq at the End of the Surge

Last week I wrote that many Americans and Iraqis I spoke to in Baghdad recently expect a surge of violence after American troops withdraw from Iraqi cities as stipulated by the recently signed Status of Forces Agreement. Many readers seemed surprised by that pessimistic forecast and wondered, after two years of good news, if it could even be true. “Your report and that of Michael Yon,” Richard Everett wrote in the comments section, “published on the same day on the same subject are at so great variance that one has to ask; 'are you two in the same country?' He is positive, you are not. Why the extreme difference?”

Michael Yon did, indeed, publish an upbeat report on the same day called The Art of the End of the War. I encourage everyone to read it. Yon's work is always accurate and informative, and this time is no exception. Richard Everett is right to point out that my piece was gloomy while Yon's piece was not, but Iraq is complex. Iraq produces good news and bad at the same time.

“Al Qaeda was handed a vicious defeat in Iraq,” Yon wrote, “and it can be said with great certainty that most Iraqis hate al Qaeda even more than Americans do. Al Qaeda can continue to murder Iraqis for now, but al Qaeda will be hard pressed to ever plant their flag in another Iraqi city. The Iraqi army and police have become far too strong and organized, and the Iraqis will eventually strangle al Qaeda to death.”

I have no doubt this is true. In some Iraqi cities – Fallujah, Ramadi, Bacouba, and some parts of Baghdad – every day was September 11. Al Qaeda fanatics car-bombed and mass murdered their way into power. Some Iraqis, unlike Americans, have actually had to live under the rule of Al Qaeda. They hate Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al Zarqawi like no one else. After Anbar Awakening leader Sheikh Sattar Abu Risha was assasinated by a car bomb in front of his house in Ramadi, his brother Ahmed Abu Risha said “All the tribes agreed to fight al Qaeda until the last child in Anbar.” How many Americans talk about Al Qaeda like that?

Al Qaeda has been by far the most vicious and sadistic terrorist group in Iraq, but there are many other groups still skulking about in reduced numbers – the Mahdi Army “Special Groups,” Hezbollah, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haqq, and some others have been seriously bloodied and weakened, but they still exist. It's a near certainty that there will be spike in terrorist and insurgent activity when Americans clear the streets because Iraq's most effective counterinsurgents will have cleared out of the way. That doesn't mean the terrorists and insurgents will win. It means there will be a partial security vacuum, and they will try.

I doubt any of the weakened terrorist and insurgent groups will be able to defeat the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police. A retired Iraqi Army general told me not to worry because when they are in charge they will rule the country with much greater force and less concern for human rights than Americans. I wouldn't decribe that as encouraging, exactly, considering what Iraq looked like when it was ruled that way in the past. But at least we no longer have to worry overly much about Al Qaeda seizing power as Hamas did in Gaza after the Israel Defense Forces left. Al Qaeda doesn't have even a fraction of Hamas' popularity, and the Iraqi Army, unlike the Palestinian security forces, have been trained for years by American soldiers.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 8, 2008 3:57 PM

MJT: It may or may not be pretty, but the days when Iraq is a lethal threat to anyone outside its borders most likely are over.

"May or may not...but...most likely"?

Sounds like you're really not sure. ;-)

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at December 8, 2008 5:19 PM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 12/09/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by: David M Author Profile Page at December 9, 2008 10:57 AM

I thought for a long time that we were planning to recreate Turkey if we could find an Ataturk. We didn't but the army seems to be the dominant institution in Iraq and as long as it stays free of corruption (as free as any institution in that culture) I think it can hold. I hope Obama sees that. Jimmy Carter didn't.

Posted by: Mike K Author Profile Page at December 9, 2008 11:26 AM

"I doubt any of the weakened terrorist and insurgent groups will be able to defeat the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police. A retired Iraqi Army general told me not to worry because when they are in charge they will rule the country with much greater force and less concern for human rights than Americans."

Frankly I could not care less about how 'insurgents' are treated in the New Iraq. The difficulty in applying force to the problem of terrorist monsters is that it is virtually impossible to identify the monsters and JUST the monsters. I would expect that Iraqis are better able to see through the social miasma in that country and therefore have a better or at least a fuller grasp of who does what and where. If all terrorists developed a mark on their foreheads so that they were obvious to all, would we be not only excused but positively justified in meting out whatever punishments we determined would be effective ? The reason that Sadr the Fat is still breathing is most likely because it is still contra-indicated to 'remove' him. It isn't (or it shouldn't) be because of concern for his 'rights'.

Frankly in a tribal society 'collective punishment' WORKS, because the 'group' almost always knows who is the guilty party. The Brits ran their Empire for hundreds of years based upon variants of this tactic. We may not 'like' it, but again speaking frankly, I would rather see a 'guilty' tribal unit punished than see some poor soul eviscerated on a public street by some monstrous act of terror. The 'greater good' and all that.

As was mentioned by Mike K., as long as the Army behaves 'professionally', things should go at least 'OK'. Not perfect --- but OK. If the Army reverts to typical Mid-East form, then of course, Iraq will steadily decay into a typical Mid-East State. Which is to say ---- a quasi-failed State. What is important now is the effect that falling (tanking?) Oil prices will have on the stability situation there. Less graft for the 'usual suspects' to share, and therefore more reason to be 'difficult',and not play nice with others.

Fingers(and toes) still crossed.

Posted by: dougf Author Profile Page at December 10, 2008 1:44 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Read my blog on Kindle


Recommended Reading