Thursday, December 20, 2007

Iraq - Let's Review

By Cernig

I can't be the only one who is hearfelt sick of wingnut crowing that, because violence is dramatically down in Iraq, they have won the war with liberal "Defeatocrats" as well as the war with Al Qaeda, all from the safety of their Cheeto-strewn beanbag chairs.

So let's review, shall we?

Liberals told them extreme de-ba'athification and disbanding the Iraqi army immediately post invasion was a bad idea and would move hordes of trained and armed manpower from security forces to insurgency overnight. They didn't listen. Had they done so, the Anbar Awakening could have happened before Al Qaeda got off the ground and as an organised part of the government's monopoly on force rather than as competition to that monopoly.

We told them, as long ago as 2005, that the earlier the insurgency was separated into AQ and nationalist elements, and negotiations began with the nationalists to bring them into the fold, the better. We were told that there was no such thing as a nationalist insurgency and that "you don't negotiate with terrorists". Yet today the bulk of the leadership of the various local Sahwa (Awakening) groups are former insurgents from one group or another.

We told them that bringing in poltical cronies and handing them the power to run Iraq - especially since many of those cronies were more beholden to iran than America, no matter what they said at the time - was a bad idea. We told them holding elections in which only those out-of-exile cronies would win seats was a bad idea. We told them that allowing those cronies to soft-pedal on those parts of the Iraqi constitution that were most relevant to Shiite/Sunni reconcilliation was a bad idea. We told them that if they did that, they'd still be waiting for their cronies to actually act on their promises to review those parts of the constitution a year and more later. We told them that all this would make reconcilliation impossible as long as the cronies held U.S.-backed office. We were correct on it all and we were ignored on it all.

In 2005 we also pointed to Col. McMaster's success in Tal Afar and to the small group of maverick officers who were being sidelined because they were saying the Bush administration's counter-insurgency strategy was wrongheaded and counter-productive. We were ignored for another two years, as things got worse and thousands died.

The debacle following the bombings of Samarra redefined the scale of violence to such an extent that, even now, the fall in violence from that high is only back to levels that destroyed Iraqi society in the first place. Even the members of the War party realised that Iraq was a disaster of monumental proportions - although they blamed their cronies rather than themselves. Some threatened to revolt until the Bush administration and its neocon enablers found a pet general willing to nod as they passed those good ideas they had previously ignored off as their own work.

In the two years between liberals saying these things and the extreme Right deciding to pass them off as their own fresh, new ideas a couple of thousand US servicemen and women died, thousands were wounded. Many more Iraqis died or were wounded while more than 4 million became exiled from their own homes. If the Right had listened to liberals in the first place, there would have been a real Iraqi security force, integrated and in accord with the people...and Samarra wouldn't have happened.

Even now, with the U.S. military forced to admit (after pointed questions from liberals) that the Sahwas and Sadr's ceasefire constitute the bulk of the reasons for a quieter Iraq, the pro-war crowd try to ascribe the credit for those things to a Surge which was entirely taken by surprise by both of them. Meanwhile, we anti-occupation types were predicting that both were possible back in 2005. How many died becuase the Bush administration was slow to listen?

So now we've come to a situation where most of those ideas put forward by anti-occupation commentators back in 2005 have been belatedly implemented - and things have improved, as we always said they would. However, instead of a co-ordinated and national Sawha, we have balkanisation all the way down to the level of local neighbourhoods. As one member of a "concerned citizens" group in Baghdad told the Guardian - "We learned we could not trust anyone who is not from our neighbourhood." The cronies are still useless - that same Guradian report, which is being linked to by pro-war pundits approvingly today as a sign of successes, quotes an obviously American anonymous diplomat:
"They are filling a void left by Iraq's feuding and self-serving political elite, most of whom are hunkered down and out of touch in the Green Zone,"
Indeed, the Bush administration's cronies are stalling the Sawha movement as much as possible. So much so that 80% of them will go to civil works projects, with American pay, rather than stay as part of Iraq's security forces. It's worth noting that another thing libverals said way back when was that the idle and dissafected youth of Iraq must be given jobs - that it would be cheaper to pay them for make-work than to pay to fight them as insurgents. We were correct, again.

But how quickly the Right forgets. Another thing we told them was that they shouldn't be so quick to enable militias such as the Badr Brigade or to incorportate them into Iraq's security forces en masse, for then they would have divided loyalties and undermine the government's monopoly on military force which is an integral part of peaceful and civilised society.

The worry now for those who have always opposed both the invasion of Iraq and the debacle the Bush administration made of the occupation, is that the US is still seen as the divider, not the uniter - by both sides. The various Iraqi factions will continue to clash - they must, by their own internal dynamics. When they do, no matter which side the U.S. military aids it will be seen as the enemy by the other. It's a no-win situation which is only made worse by the fact that every Iraqi faction already sees the U.S. military as a fairweather ally at best and the original source of all their troubles at worst. The best way out is to remove the primary causus belli - American protection and the battle between the factions to gain and keep it. In other words, a complete withdrawal to leave Iraq a true sovereign state.

Yet again, the Right aren't listening, being too busy crowing about "their" win in the face of all the evidence that it was, in fact, liberal ideas which have succeeded where their's failed.

Is it any wonder we don't want to join their victory celebrations?

update The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad has a sobering thought for the victory-criers:
One of the main stated objectives of the US troop surge was to clear a space for the Iraqi politicians to enact nation-building legislation and pursue national reconciliation as the cornerstone of the New Iraq.

But virtually none of the key pieces of required legislation has yet been passed by a fractious Iraqi parliament which has been wracked by factional disputes.

There is still no shared and agreed vision of Iraq's future. Kurds and some Shias want a loose, federal arrangement, while Sunnis and some others want a stronger, more centralised state.

It matters. To which Iraq are people signing up with the security forces swearing allegiance?
To which I can only, pessimistically, add: and what will they do if they find they aren't getting the Iraq they want?

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