I've watched with some amusement recently as reports of falling casualty rates in Iraq have been met with cries of "we won" from the Fighting Keyboardists. I imagine U.S. servicemen in Iraq reading their screeds of self-congratulatory and short-termist triumphalism and thinking "Who's this 'we', Kimo Sabi?"
But the Guardian today has a look at the kind of "concerned citizens" who are doing the actual winning in Iraq.
Abu Abed, screaming and pointing his gun, charged at the crowd. "Qaida is better than me? I will show you!"As the Guradian piece notes, "Critics of the plan say they are simply creating powerful new strongmen who run their own prisons and armies, and who eventually will turn on each other."
He held his gun high and quoted al-Hajjaj, a 7th-century ruler of Iraq, in a hoarse voice: "Oh, people of Iraq, I had come to you with two swords, one is for mercy which I have left back in the desert, and this one" - he pointed his gun at the crowd -"is the sword of oppression, which I kept in my hand."
The convoy drove off, sirens blaring, fighters hanging out of the car windows.
After we had settled again in his office, Abu Abed told me of his grand dreams. "Ameriya is just the beginning. After we finish with al-Qaida here, we will turn toward our main enemy, the Shia militias. I will liberate Jihad [a Sunni area next to Ameriya taken over by the Mahdi army] then Saidiya and the whole of west Baghdad."
Hours later the Ameriya Knights were on the streets again. There were rumours that Iraq's Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashemi, was visiting Ameriya for the first time in two years. As we approached the mosque where he was believed to be praying, the street was blocked by his guards.
"Open the road for the Ameriya Knights," yelled one of Abu Abed's men.
"I can't, I don't have orders," replied a gunman. "Do you know who I am? I am the commander of Ameriya," Abu Abed screamed at the vice-president's commander of guards. "Who are you? Did you dare to show your faces here before I kicked al-Qaida out? Even the Americans with their tanks couldn't come before I liberated Ameriya." Bakr pointed his gun at the entourage. Guns were cocked on all sides.
"Abu Abed, we all know who you are, but this is the vice-president of Iraq."
"This is Ameriya, not Iraq! Here I rule, I am the commander, I can make sure that you won't show your faces here!"
"We are all Sunni brothers. The Shia militias will be happy to see us fighting; we have the same enemy," said the man.
"You are trying to claim my victory. I will show you!" Abu Abed pushed the officer and went back to his car.
That night, Abu Abed decided to attack another group of Ameriya Knights under his general command. He suspected their commander, Abu Omar, was allied with the vice-president's Islamic party, which has been trying to control the Sunni area.
"I have to show them there is one commander. If the Americans don't like it, I will withdraw my men," he told me. "Let's see if they can fight al-Qaida alone." By sunset, his men were gathered in front of the house again. He distributed extra guns and he carried an extra shotgun with his machine gun.
All the way to Abu Omar's HQ he was humming an Islamic verse in a beautiful voice. "Oh prophet, how beautiful your light is, oh prophet of God."
Yup. We're the same critics who tried saying "don't invade' and "don't disband the army" and "don't let the elections run on sectarian bloc votes" and "don't let the Shias railroad the Sunnis with that constitution" and "don't let the Shias back out of amending it after the election" and "make sure there's accountability for all those guns" and "keep a paper trail of the money" and "watch those militias, it isn't all AQ ya know" and "COIN means hearts and minds first!" and "employ the Iraqi people, don't use reconstruction as a US corporate welfare scheme"...
Get the picture? We tried to find good paths out...often. We kept being told "we're not listening, the last throe is just around the last corner, we're winning already without your ideas you defeatists!"
I predict this "last throe" will be just like the last "last throe" and the one before that. It will in large part fail because the people in charge of U.S. policy in Iraq and their cheerleaders just aren't interested in listening to constructive criticism no matter how often they themselves get it wrong. And when it fails, it will somehow be the "damn libruls" faults. Yet another Scooby-Doo Villain excuse.