Sunday, April 22, 2007

Surging To No Avail

The Washington Post today has a report which points up an ongoing worry I've had with the situation in Iraq:

It is virtually impossible to eliminate the suicide bombings, the commanders acknowledged. "I don't think you're ever going to get rid of all the car bombs," Petraeus said. "Iraq is going to have to learn -- as did, say, Northern Ireland -- to live with some degree of sensational attacks." A more realistic goal, he said, but one that has eluded U.S. and Iraqi forces, is to prevent the bombers from causing "horrific damage."

Another major concern shared by U.S. military leaders is whether the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is capable of solidifying gains in security as well as making the crucial political compromises needed to achieve peace. "Will the Iraqis generate the capacity in their security forces and in their government to sustain this over time? That's what keeps me up at night," Odierno said.

Iraqi leaders "come from narrow political backgrounds . . . but now there is an expectation they will be able to make decisions well beyond the group they represent. This is struggle for them," Fallon said.
Even putting aside the intellectual sidestep of not counting suicide attacks (up 30% in the last six weeks) on Iraqis as "sectarian" attacks, enabling Bush to claim that such attacks are down in number since the surge began, it is clear that violence in Baghdad isn't going away anytime soon. US fatalities are sharply up too, the surge is costing US lives.

Yet if the violence will continue despite the surge - which is now more likely to be a long-term affair than a surge at all - then what kind of Iraqi government is being propped up by US efforts. Is it one that is worth the cost?

Over to the NY Times for an answer of sorts, where there is an account of Iraqi Army officers whipping a suspected terrorist with an electrical cord to get a confession.

To the Iraqi soldiers, the treatment was normal and necessary. They were proud of their technique and proud to have helped the Americans.

“I prepared him for the Americans and let them take his confession,” Capt. Bassim Hassan said through an interpreter. “We know how to make them talk. We know their back streets. We beat them. I don’t beat them that much, but enough so he feels the pain and it makes him desperate.”
Even Ed Morrissey sees the problem.

If we allow, actively or passively, the beating and torture of prisoners in order to save the lives of American troops, have we not created a Saddam Light in Iraq with our blessings? We want to protect American troops in order to ensure the success of the mission in Iraq -- but if we have to allow torture to reach success, what has success meant?...If the Iraqi people fear torture from their government, that government will not last long under any circumstances.
Although Ed's solution - that the US "teach them better interrogatory techniques that will free this kind of information without whippings and worse tortures" - is simply risable given US approval of waterboarding and other tortures.

But the Iraqi government isn't looking like anything worth American blood. Amnesty International reports that torture is widespread and insitutional for a regime which now ranks fourth highest in the world for executions (after China, Iran and Pakistan).

The report, Unjust and unfair: the death penalty in Iraq, is based on Amnesty International's examination of hundreds of verdicts issued by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI), as well as the testimonies of families of those convicted and their lawyers. It also includes a detailed analysis of Iraqi laws that undermine the right to a fair trial.

The report's main findings include:

Insufficient or no investigation of allegations of torture despite frequent reliance on "confessions" made during detention to obtain convictions for capital offences;

Pretrial televised "confessions" and the inclusion in court of evidence identifiying the accused from witnesses who have previously seen the confession;

Inadequate access to defence lawyers and the intimidation of lawyers including death threats and attacks;

Vague and overly broad definition of capital offences under Iraqi law including abductions that do not involve killing and damage to public property with the aim of undermining security or stability.
Nor are any of the alternatives to the Maliki government looking any better.

Indeed, the only people who seem remotely interested in helping the US help themselves right now are the hard-pressed Sunnis of Western Iraq. Threatened by both al Qaida's Islamist extremism and by the Shiite majority government, they have decided to enlist the help of the US to destroy the first and protect them against the second. Yet of all Iraqis they have the most animosity towards the US occupation. I don't expect their friendship to be anything more than a fair-weather one.

The entire purpose of the surge is to give the Iraqi government "breathing space" - to cut down on sectarian violence so that it can then heal the sectarian wounds that lead to that violence. Yet there is no sign that the Maliki government wants to do that. In fact, the opposite seems to be happening, with Iraqi society still becoming increasingly fractured - along sectarian lines but then along the lines of the various factions within those secatarian divisions.

The answer to the question: "Will the Iraqis generate the capacity in their security forces and in their government to sustain this over time?" is "No". So what's the point of the surge now?