• Why the U.S. Plan for Iraq is Doomed to Fail

    December 19, 2014 // 20 Comments »

    Free Iraqi Child


    If the United States was looking for the surest way to lose Iraq War 3.0, it might start by retraining the failed Iraqi Army to send — alongside ruthless Shi’ite militias — into Sunni-majority territory and hope that the Sunnis will welcome them with open arms, throwing out the evil Islamic State.

    Maybe it’s time for a better plan. The way to find one is by understanding how we lost Iraq War 2.0. We need a plan to create a stable, tri-state solution to the Sunni-Shi’ite-Kurd divide, or the current war will fail as surely as the previous one.


    ISIS

    A critical first step is, of course, to remove Islamic State from the equation, but not how the Obama administration envisions. The way to drive Islamic State out of Iraq is to remove the reason Islamic State has been able to remain in Iraq: as a protector of the Sunnis. In Iraq War 2.0, the Iraqi Sunnis never melded politically with al Qaeda; they allied out of expediency, against the Shi’ite militias and the Shi’ite central government. The same situation applies to Islamic State, the new al Qaeda in Iraq.

    The United States is acting nearly 180 degrees counter to this strategy, enabling Shi’ite militia and Iranian forces’ entry into Anbar and other Sunni-majority areas to fight Islamic State. The more Shi’ite influence, the more Sunnis feel they need Islamic State muscle. More Iranian fighters also solidify Iran’s grip on the Shi’ite government in Baghdad, and weakens America’s. The presence of additional Sunni players, like the Gulf States, will simply grow the violence indecisively, with the various local factions manipulated as armed proxies.


    The Awakening

    Iraq in 2007 was, on the surface, a struggle between insurgents and the United States. However, the real fight was happening in parallel, as the minority Sunnis sought a place in the new Shi’ite-dominated Iraq. The solution was supposedly the Anbar Awakening. Indigenous Iraqi Sunnis would be pried lose from al Qaeda under American protection (that word again), along with the brokered promise that the Shi’ites would grant them a substantive role in governance. The Shi’ites balked almost from day one, and the deal fell apart even before America’s 2011 withdrawal — I was in Iraq with the Department of State and saw it myself. The myth that “we won” only to have the victory thrown away by the Iraqis — a favorite among 2.0 apologists — is very dangerous. It suggests repeating the strategy will result in something other than repeating the results.

    The Sunnis are Who fans; they won’t be fooled again.


    Political Progress?

    Progress otherwise in Iraq? The new prime minister has accomplished little toward unity, selecting a Badr militia politician to head the Interior Ministry, for example. The Badr group has been a key player in sectarian violence.

    Islamic State still controls 80 percent of Anbar Province, the key city of Mosul and is attacking in Ramadi. U.S. air strikes cannot seize ground. The Iraqi Army will never rise to the fullness of the challenge. One can only imagine the thoughts of the American trainers, retraining some of the same Iraqi troops from War 2.0.

    Military vehicles of the Kurdish security forces are seen during an intensive security deployment in Diyala province north of Baghdad. Elsewhere, the Kurds are already a de facto separate state. Their ownership of Arbil, the new agreement to allow the overt export of some of their own oil, and the spread of the peshmerga to link up with Kurdish forces in Syria, are genies that won’t go back into the bottle. America need only restrain Kurdish ambitions to ensure stability.


    Tri-State Conclusion

    Present Iraq strategy delays, at great cost — in every definition of that word — the necessary long-term tri-state solution. It is time to hasten it. The United States must use its influence with the Shi’ites to have their forces, along with the Iranians, withdraw to Baghdad. America would create a buffer zone, encompassing the strategically critical international airport as a “peacekeeping base.” Using air power, America would seal the Iraq-Syria border in western Anbar, at least against any medium-to-large scale Islamic State resupply effort. Arm the Sunni tribes if they will push Islamic State out of their towns. Support goes to those tribes who hold territory, a measurable, ground-truth based policy, not an ideological one. Implementing the plan in northwest Iraq can also succeed, but will be complicated by Kurd ambitions, greater ethnic diversity among the Iraqis and a stronger Islamic State tactical hold on cities like Mosul.

    There’ll be another tough challenge, the sharing of oil revenues between the new Sunni and Shi’ite states, so this plan is by no means a slam-dunk.

    The broad outline is not new; in 2006 then-Senator Joe Biden proposed a federal partition of Iraq along the Bosnian model. Bush-era zeal kept the idea from getting a full review. But much has transpired since 2006.

    If the tri-state plan works, it will deny Islamic State sanctuary where it is now most powerful, and a strategy for northwest Iraq may emerge. America will realize its long-sought enduring bases in Iraq as a check on Iranian ambitions and an assurance of security for the embassy. The president can decouple Syrian policy from Iraq. An indefinite American presence in Iraq will not be fully welcomed, though one hastens to add it basically is evolving anyway.


    I Hate Myself

    For advocates of disengagement like myself, this is bitter medicine. But we are where we are in Iraq, and wishful thinking, on my part or the White House’s, is no longer practical. A divided Iraq, maintained by an American presence, is the only hope for long-term stability. Otherwise, stay tuned for Iraq War 4.0.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military

    I’ll Be at the Army Heritage Center at the War College

    November 19, 2014 // 6 Comments »

    USAHEC_Seal


    The Army has a renewed interest in Iraq, to include what went wrong in Iraq War 2.0 as Iraq War 3.0 metastasizes. Who knew, right?


    Unlike many other parts of government involved in the Iraq swamp, the Army is a learning institution. Unlike my former employer, the Department of State, who prefers to stay warmly inside the bubble of agreeing with itself, I have found the Army is very interested in a range of opinions, and open to hearing a side of the story that some may disagree with. Indeed, they often seek out sides of the story they may disagree with.

    To this end, I’ll be speaking on November 19, 7:15 pm, at the Army Heritage Center, Carlisle Barracks, at the Army War College outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The event is free and open to the public. There will be a Q&A and a book signing as well.

    Any possibility of any definition of “success” in the current war in Iraq demands an understanding of how we lost the last time. The myth that “we won” only to have the victory messed up by the Iraqis because we left is very dangerous, and of course fully untrue. This uber myth plays out specifically in the belief, still a favorite among 2.0 apologists, that the Anbar Awakening/Surge was a strategic success.

    The two apparent pillars of America’s current strategy — that a unity government can be formed and that indigenous Sunnis can be split from ISIS — are exactly the two pillars that failed the last time (ISIS was al Qaeda then.) Repeating the strategy will result in repeating the mistakes. And that does little but sacrifice more at great cost in every definition of that word.

    It also sets up the inevitability of Iraq War 4.0, same as the failure in 2.0 begat 3.0. See the pattern?

    If you are in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area, please come out and see what I have to say!




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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military

    Iraq’s Sunnis Won’t Fight ISIS for U.S.

    October 31, 2014 // 6 Comments »

    iraq women1


    Iraq’s Sunnis won’t fight ISIS for the U.S. says NIQASH, a non-profit media organization operating out of Berlin. Without Sunni support, America’s war in Iraq cannot succeed. Here’s why.


    Negotiations Fail

    According to NIQASH, a source at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad said there have been secret negotiations between various Sunni Muslim armed factions, via Arab and Iraqi Kurdish intermediaries, for the past three months. At the request of U.S. diplomats and military personnel, Shia officials from the Iraqi government have also been meeting with the leaders of these groups in Erbil, Kurdistan and Amman, Jordan.

    At the same time General John Allen, the Obama’s appointed coordinator of U.S. efforts in Iraq, has been trying to contact the Sunni tribal leaders he worked with in Anbar during the previous war’s “Awakening.” “But it was surprising,” a NIQASH source reported, “Most of General Allen’s former allies refused to cooperate with us. And some of them are actually now living outside of Iraq because of the Iraqi government’s policies.”

    Oops. With some irony, America’s failure to secure the 2006 Awakening caused those Sunnis sympathetic to America’s aims to flee Shia persecution. Those “good guys” are thus not available in 2014 to help out America in the current war.


    ISIS and the Sunnis

    When ISIS first took control of Sunni areas in western Iraq, anger towards the Shia government in Baghdad caused many to see them as liberators from the Iraqi army. The army, along with paramilitary police from the Interior Ministry, had engaged in a multi-year campaign of beating, imprisoning and arresting Sunnis, to the point where many felt that Baghdad was occupying, not governing, the Sunni majority areas. For the Sunnis and ISIS, the Baghdad government was a common enemy, and a marriage of convenience formed.

    Recent events in Baghdad do little to assuage Sunni fears. A recent report suggests the new Iraqi Prime Minister may nominate a Shia Badr Militia leader as Interior Minister. Since the Shias took control of Iraq following the American invasion of 2003, the Interior Ministry, which controls the police and the prisons, has been a prime tool of repression and punishment.

    Still, cracks in the ISIS-Sunni relationship have started to form. Many of the Sunni groups, especially those led by former Baathists, are largely secular in nature, seeing their Sunni ties more as broadly cultural than strictly religious. ISIS’ requests to pledge allegiance to its cause, coupled with demands to implement Sharia law, have created friction. Some internecine fighting has taken place. The U.S. has sought to exploit these issues to break the indigenous Sunnis away from ISIS, and ultimately to turn the Sunnis into American proxy boots on the ground as was done with the Kurds.

    America’s problem is that most Sunnis are fearful about cooperating via America with the Shia government in Baghdad. They fear history will repeat itself and the Americans and the Shia government will betray them, exactly as they betrayed them only a few years ago when the Awakening movement collapsed. Quite a pickle.


    Sorry America

    The Sunnis seem to be choosing a middle ground, one which does not serve America’s interests.

    According to a 1920s Revolution Brigades (Sunni militia) leader, various militias came to the decision “not to support the international coalition against ISIS. They also decided not to cooperate with ISIS either. If the [Iraqi] army or the [Shia] militias attack [Sunni] areas they control though, they will fight both groups.”

    “We are against the acts of the hardline Islamic State. And we are also against bombed cars exploding randomly in Baghdad,” Abu Samir al-Jumaili, one of the Sunni Mujahideen Army’s leaders in the Anbar province, told NIQASH. “However we are also opposed to the government’s sectarian policies against Sunnis… In 2006 we cooperated with the government to expel al Qaeda from Sunni cities but the government did not keep its end of the bargain. They chased our leaders and arrested us… The ISIS group are terrorists but so are the Shia militias.”


    History is a Witch

    There is no way America can succeed in its goals in Iraq– repel ISIS and keep the country together– without the active participation of the Sunnis. It is very unlikely that that will happen. American strategy rests on the assumption that the Sunnis can be bribed and coerced into breaking with ISIS, no matter the shape of things in Baghdad. That’s hard to imagine. As with al Qaeda in Iraq during the American occupation years, the Islamic State is Sunni muscle against a Shia government that, left to its own devices, would continue to marginalize, if not simply slaughter, them. Starting in 2006, U.S. officials did indeed bribe and coerce some Sunni tribal leaders into accepting arms and payments in return for fighting insurgent outfits, including al-Qaeda. That deal, then called the Anbar Awakening, came with assurances that the United States would always stand by them.

    America didn’t stand. Instead, it turned the program over to the Shia government and headed for the door marked exit. The Shias promptly reneged on the deal.

    Once bitten, twice shy, so why, only a few years later, would the Sunnis go for what seems to be essentially the same bad deal? It appears they will not, and that by itself suggests the current Iraq war will end much the same as the previous one. It is foolish for America to expect otherwise.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military

    The Myth of the Anbar Awakening, Afghan Remix

    October 23, 2012 // 6 Comments »

    The New York Times reports on an isolated incident in Afghanistan where, fed up with the Taliban closing their schools and committing other acts of oppression, men in a village about 100 miles south of Kabul took up arms late last spring and chased out the insurgents with no help from the Afghan government or U.S. military.

    American officials nonetheless are quietly nurturing the trend, hoping it might become a game changer, or at least a new roadblock for the Taliban.

    Yeah, right. The Times then drops what Americans still cling to, the myth of Anbar:

    Some have compared the apparently spontaneous uprisings to the Iraq war’s Anbar Awakening of 2007, in which Sunni Arab tribes in the western province of Anbar turned on al-Qaida in their midst, joined forces with the Americans and dealt a blow that many credit with turning the tide of that conflict. The U.S. armed and paid the tribal fighters and sought to integrate them into Iraqi government forces.


    The myth of Anbar is one of the Iraq War’s nastier leftovers. Many Iraqis did push back against al Qaeda, but typically for personal gain and local control. The US carried out an awful lot of night raids against “al Qaeda” that instead eliminated local rivals of Sunnis more skilled at manipulating the desperate-for-success Americans. The limited initial successes were quickly subsumed by the need to pay “Sons of Iraq” essentially protection money to stay on our side (I watched their enthusiasm fade as the money dried up in my own year in Iraq). And of course al Qaeda still maintains an active franchise in Iraq even to this day, and Anbar is still a shithole.

    As in Iraq, the U.S., ever-so-desperate for something close enough to call a “victory” before we just get the hell out of Afghanistan, so wants to believe any anti-Taliban action is somehow even remotely related to a pro-Afghan government or maybe– maybe– a pro-U.S. stance. That was the meme in Anbar.

    It is not true. Just because local people do not want one group of outsiders (al Qaeda, Taliban, Mormons) messing with their lives, that does not imply acceptance of another group of outsiders (Shiite Iraqi government, Afghan kleptocrats or U.S. occupiers). The more somewhat authoritative sources like the Times keep this myth alive, the longer it will take for any chance of learning any lessons from these failed counter-insurgency farces.

    It’s time to really wake up America, and bring the troops home.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military

    Same as it Ever Was: US Commander Predicts Violence Ahead in Iraq

    November 21, 2011 // Comments Off on Same as it Ever Was: US Commander Predicts Violence Ahead in Iraq

    Here’s some good news on a Monday– The top US general in Iraq predicted a level of upheaval in the country as militant groups jostle to fill the vacuum left behind by the withdrawal of all American forces in the coming weeks.

    Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said the threat from the Sunni extremist organization, al-Qaeda in Iraq, could grow at the same time that Iranian-backed Shiite militias are also seeking to assert themselves.

    “Al-Qaeda will continue to do what it’s done in the past, and we expect that it’s possible they could even increase their capability,” he said. Meanwhile, Shiite militias based mostly in the south will pursue their efforts to expand their capabilities, Austin said.

    But, he added, “I’m hopeful that the right things will continue to happen.”

    Wait, according to a million email signature lines, “hope” is not a strategy. Has that changed?

    So, quick summary: almost nine years after the invasion of Iraq, $63 billion in reconstruction, so many elections and of course the Surge/Awakening that was supposed to have helped settled the Sunni-Shia civil war, as the US withdraws the best view the Army’s main guy can offer is a revived al Qaeda and renewed Sunni-Shia violence?

    That sort of seems like… after everything… we… did… not… accomplish… much.

    See you on the Embassy rooftop for the ride home. Last person out of the compound shut off the lights in Baghdaddy’s!



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military