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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Maliki's crackdown targets Sunnis first

Take notice amidst all the coverage of Maliki's new "crackdown," that the first action targeted Sunni insurgents.
In the opening battle of a major drive to tame the violent capital, the Iraqi army reported it killed 30 militants Saturday in a firefight in a Sunni insurgent stronghold just north of the heavily fortified Green Zone.

And, in the Guardian,
According to Maliki, military commanders in each area of Baghdad would have full powers to implement the scheme as they saw fit. 'We will depend on our armed forces to implement this plan and the multinational force will support our forces,' he said. 'They will intervene whenever they are called on.

So, the implementation will be as Iraqi commanders "see fit?"

Israel plans and drills for an attack on IIran

I don't think it's particularly surprising that the Israelis would be planning an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Not having such a plan updated and in place would be irresponsible, but, the threat to use nuclear weapons will resound around the Middle East.

Also: Doesn't this sound like an intentional leak of deterrence?

Next week

As the indications of the "new" strategy for Iraq come in, (up to 20,000 more troops in high risk positions in Baghdad and at least $1 billion in makework programs for Iraqis,) I find myself thinking the same thing over and over.

That had better be one hell of a speech.

Al Kamen - Condi soon to leave.

Kamen's column is mostly gossip, but with the curiously unresolved reasoning behind Negroponte's move to Dep. Sec. State, I'm going to help spread the rumor that Condi may be vacating her post.

Picture or the Day - 2

A British army helicopter takes off in Basra, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2007. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)

Who benefitted from the Saddam execution

While I'm thinking out loud, for which Iraqi group was the Saddam Hussein execution fiasco a bad thing? The Sunnis are now more unified. Sadr, Maliki and the Shia have scuppered the Hadley plan. Iran gets its continued chaos putting more pressure on the US to withdraw.

The only one to lose was the US.

Really, once you accept the idea that very few of these groups truly want peace at this point, Iraq makes alot more sense.

(And the US's plight looks all the more dire.)

Is it now "hold and clear?"

So, reading the two articles in the next two posts, is the new Baghdad plan "clear and hold," but reversed?

Is the plan now for the Iraqis to search, seize, and clear, and for the US to hold and build? That would require fewer capable Iraqi forces and substantially more US forces.

(Or, is this current Iraqi push an independent effort to stave off threatened US measures?)

Just thinking out loud.

Picture of the Day - 2

Sharon and Walter Wilkus are hugged by an unidentified man at the funeral service for their son, Army Pfc. Eric R. Wilkus on Friday, Jan. 5, 2007, at Brigadier General William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Wrightstown, N.J. Wilkus 20, of Hamilton, N.J., died Dec. 25, from injuries he sustained in Iraq. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

(He died on Christmas Day.)

Petraeus of Arabia

The headline in the NYTimes piece is certainly that the Bush administration replaced Casey (and presumably Abizaid) with people who would support their strategy for a surge (which has been chosen primarily for it's domestic political applicability not it's military value.)

But, what I want to point out is this,
Having overseen the recent drafting of the military’s counterinsurgency manual, General Petraeus is also likely to change the American military operation in Baghdad. American forces can be expected to take up positions in neighborhoods throughout the capital instead of limiting themselves to conducting patrols from large, fortified bases in and around the city.

The overarching goal of the American military operation may be altered as well. Under General Casey, the principal focus was on transferring security responsibilities to the Iraqi security forces, so American troops could gradually withdraw. Now, the emphasis will shift to protecting the Iraqi population from sectarian strife and insurgent attacks.

The Petraeus plan, and by implication the administration's "new way forward," is to interpose US forces between the factions in a hot civil war.

Coupling this with the post yesterday about Iraqi forces going door to door (which I think I mischaracterized,) the plan seems to be for the US to act in a "holding" role between the various elements trying to tamp down the flaring violence in hotspots while the Iraqi forces go "door to door" to try and disarm the groups.

The big assumption is that the Iraqi government will move quickly to equally disarm all parties in this civil war. If history is any guide, not only will there be "tipoffs" to the targets and selective enforcement, but even the most even handed actions by the government will be seen as sectarian.

This plan presumes an understanding that the Iraqi government is (or can be) a non-sectarian, non-biased central actor. That is not the understanding of the Iraqis, and every action will be seen through a sectarian lens.

Even last night, Maliki was blaming all the violence on Sunni "terrorists" and was expressing reservations about going after the Mahdi army.

In the meantime, US troops will be standing right in the line of fire.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Picture of the Day - 3

A U.S. vehicle burns fter a roadside bomb attack in Falluja, January 5, 2007. (Mohanned Faisal/Reuters)

Forward Together II

Second verse, same as the first. A little bit louder, and a little bit worse.
Iraqi forces backed by U.S. troops will begin a neighborhood- by-neighborhood assault on militants in the capital this weekend as a first step in the new White House strategy to contain Sunni insurgents and Shiite death squads, key advisers to the prime minister said Friday. ....

The Iraqis did, however, signal continuing disagreement on key issues, including al-Maliki's unease over the introduction of more U.S. troops.

Another point of contention has been the Iraqi leader's repeated refusal of U.S. demands to crush the militia of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, one of the prime minister's most powerful backers.

Any serious drive to curb the extreme chaos and violence in the capital would put not only American forces but al-Maliki's Iraqi army in direct confrontation with al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

In all seriousness, what has changed in the Iraqi dynamic to make this any more successful than the previous iteration in August?

Are the Iraqi forces more capable? Are they more willing? Are they better equipped? Are they any less infiltrated by the militias? Have there been any changes in the ministries? Has the underlying sectarian tension eased? Is Maliki any more willing to let the US take on the Shia militias?

What is that they say about repeating the same action over and over and expecting different results?

(Same article: Another US contractor was kidnapped.)

Is Fallon a message on Iran?

I want to mention again that putting Admiral Fallon in charge of Centcom in the middle of two ground wars only makes sense in a few scenarios.

1) This Navy man really is brilliant and the best qualified to turn around two losing ground wars.

2) He was the top guy who was willing to tow the Bush line.

Or, 3) The coming focus is not on the ground wars, but instead on using naval and air power to attack/influence Iran and to protect the oil supply. (Task Iraq to Petraeus and let Fallon focus on "regional issues?")

Just putting it out there.


I flip across CSpan-3, and there are ten Republican Congressmen holding a sparsely attended press conference with Boehner and Blunt already whining that the Democrats won't let them add an HSA provision to the unrelated Minimum Wage Bill.

The kicker was the question from one of the few reporters, "You were in control of the Congress for 12 years, why wasn't this already done?" HaHaHaHaHa.....

Picture of the Day - 2

A Kashmiri protester throws back a tear gas shell which was fired by Indian police during a protest in Srinagar, January 5, 2007, against the execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

(There aren't many pictures coming out of Iraq right now. I don't know if it's because of Eid or because of a spike in threat.)


Don't miss this LATimes article on a cockup of an operation in the farmlands of Diyala. The Sunni insurgents were tipped off and prepared, the Iraq troops were in chaos, and not a single fighting aged male was there by the time they arrived. I don't blame the US military, it's simply a stark statement on the realities of Iraq.

The NYTimes has an emotive description of the Mansour bombing yesterday.

There's a very interesting political battle taking shape as al-Hakim and SCIRI try to become the Shia leadership with Iran's backing. Sadr is portraying himself as more nativist.

(AP) The French say "we told you so."

Later: (CBS) The troop "surge" is down to 9,000 because that's all that will be available. 7,500 to Baghdad, 1,500 to Anbar.

The Iranians arrested in Iraq were crafting Shia strategy

The BBC has more on the five Iranians arrested in Iraq in December. According to the BBC, they weren't meeting to coordinate violence, but instead to assess Maliki's government and presumably to advise/coordinate the broader Shia strategy.
Five Iranians arrested by US troops in Baghdad last month were on a covert mission to influence Iraq's government, British officials have told the BBC.....

They said that the arrested men were in Iraq to hold high-level meeting with representatives of several Iraqi Shia factions.

"There was discussion of whether the [Prime Minister Nouri] Maliki government would succeed, who should be in which ministerial jobs," one official told the programme.....

Washington now wants the Iranians concerned to be banned from returning to Iraq.

The Iraqi government is reportedly considering such a step.

Let's remember that this took place in SCIRI leader al-Hakim's compound, the same al-Hakim who the Bush administration brought to Washington to try to sway away from Iran less than a month before.

"It was a very significant meeting."

Condi Rice has been removed from Iraq policy, too?

The NYTimes reports Negroponte was brought in to take over Condi Rice's role in Iraq.
Senior administration officials said that Ms. Rice wanted Mr. Negroponte to focus on China and North Korea, which have been among his focuses in the intelligence post, and on Iraq, a country he knows particularly well.....

Ms. Rice would continue to play a central role in Iraq policy, the official said, but she has also made it clear that she wants to devote more time to a broader diplomatic initiative aimed at Middle East peace.

WaPo: "Negroponte will take charge of State's Iraq account as the administration begins a sharply uphill effort to turn around a failing war and persuade the new Democratic Congress to follow its lead."

Questions on the Iraq staff turnover.

Yesterday, early evening, ABC reported that all the top spots in Iraq were being turned over. (Outlined in this post.)

By this morning, everybody's got it, most as their top story. (WaPo, AP, Reuters, AFP, USAToday, LATimes, McClatchy)

I'll be very curious if the White House can spin this positive, rather than facing the logical questions.

"Isn't this a repudiation of almost 4 years of strategy?"

Or, "You've replaced or tranferred everyone involved in Iraq except for Rice, Cheney, and the President, what have they done right that the others did not?"

Or, "Isn't this just an effort to replace personnel who had voiced the opinion, the broadly held opinion, that a surge in Iraq is the wrong thing to do?"

Picture of the Day

From a Mahdi propaganda tape.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

And the Bush polling keeps going down

I think this has to be considered an outlier, but still, 30% approval in the latest CBS poll? 23% on Iraq?

Abizaid, Casey out, Khalilzad promoted out of Iraq

A total turnover in the top officials in Iraq.

ABCNews just reported that Gen. Abizaid will be replaced as Centcom commander(to be announced Monday.) He will be replaced by Admiral Fallon, a former Navy aviator who will now be put in charge of two nasty ground war/insurgencies.

(Both Navy and a former flyboy on top of that. Two traits every Army officer hopes for in a commander during a ground war. I guess they couldn't find anyone in the Army who would support the coming policy (or they wanted a Navy aviator for Iran.)

Gen. Casey was also reported to be replaced by Lt. Gen. Petreaus who gained much applause for training the Iraqi forces in 2005 (although I never figured out why.)

Also: ABC reported earlier that Khalilzad will be put up for John Bolton's UN job to be replaced by US ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker. (Not too surprising after all the burned bridges with Maliki.)

The bottom line though, is that the problem has never been the personnel. The problem is the situation and the plan. So long as we're not operating in the realities of this war, but attempting "victory," we will only see more blood loss and disappointment, no matter who the commanders are.

And, Don't forget to add in Odierno replacing Chiarelli. Gates has played a part in the changes. I wonder if it's Gates putting in the people he wants or if it's Gates not protecting his officers from White House politics?

(Just quick first impressions. I reserve the right to change my opinions and this post.)

Later: NYTimes article on the replacements.

Iraq - So many ways to fuel the fire

(BBC) "No amount of international pressure can stop the execution of two men sentenced to death alongside Saddam Hussein, a top Iraqi official has said. .... No date has been announced for the execution of Saddam Hussein's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and former chief judge Awad al-Bandar. "

(Tony Snow) "Also, the President today had about an hour-and-forty-five minute secure video teleconference call with Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq. It was scheduled for an hour, went for an hour-and-forty-five, about half of which were the two leaders simply talking one-on-one with their translators.....

Now, I can't tell you, Bill, what the two of them discussed privately because they've literally -- everybody out of the room but the principals and their translators. And they had a very long conversation."

(Bush: We're going to surge.
Maliki: But I don't want a surge.....)

in the Press Conference. Gen. Casey has/is/will be fired,
Q Is he happy with what General Casey is doing?

MR. SNOW: He respects what General Casey has done. And again, I'm going to -- we will be happy to discuss other personnel matters at another time.

Q Would he like him to stay until summer?

MR. SNOW: Thank you, Martha.

Picture of the Day - 4

It's all cordial, right?

(Freshman U.S. Senator James Webb (D-VA) departs with his wife Hong Le and their baby daughter Georgia after reeancting his oath of office with Vice President Dick Cheney, January 4, 2007. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Picture of the Day - 3

"You got a problem with me, you deal with me."

(Former U.S. President Bill Clinton speaks with Vice President Dick Cheney after standing with his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), as she reenacted her oath of office, January 4, 2007. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Charlie Rangel is having fun

First, we have the story that Rangel booted Cheney out of his office in the House. (Cheney has no role in the House.) This prompted FoxNews to make fun of Rangel, of course, including an impersonation. (News channel, my ass.)

But, even better than all that, check out this line from Rangel at a "Laughing Liberally" stop.
"More than any other President that I can think of, you have really, truly shattered the myth of white supremacy."

Picture of the Day - 2

(Sometimes, it's just because I like the picture.)

A young militia fighter shows bullets for his AK-47 assault rifle while waiting to hand his weapon in at a United Nations disarmament point in Congo. (AFP/Stuart Price)

Signing Statements run amok. Now, it's opening your mail.

The real problem with all these signing statements is that the only recourse is for Congress to sue the President which means a long resolution time and a serious game of political chicken.

In the meantime,
President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant, the Daily News has learned.

The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions.

That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it.

Let's start those investigations tomorrow, eh?

Rumors around the Saddam execution

In an effort to clear itself, the Maliki government is just making things worse.
"There was an infiltration at the execution chamber."

Echoing those accusations, a senior Interior Ministry official said the hanging was supposed to be carried out by hangmen employed by the Interior Ministry but that "militias" had managed to infiltrate the executioners' team.

"The execution was carried out by militias and outsiders. They put aside the team from the Interior Ministry that was supposed to carry it out," the official said.

So, is this intended to make Sadr the villain of the piece and clear the Maliki government of any wrongdoing? (The Interior Ministry is run by SCIRI, Sadr's Shia rivals.)

(And the rumor that Moqtada al-Sadr himself was one of the masked executioners doesn't help matters.)

Picture of the Day

An Iraqi boy stands beside a vehicle that was destroyed in a bomb explosion in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2007. A booby trapped car went of in Baghdad's primarily Shiite Karradah neighborhood, wounding two people and damaging several cars and shops in the area, police said. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Negroponte takes a demotion - Maybe, here's why.

John Negroponte is leaving as the Director of National Intelligence to take a much less powerful position as Condi Rice's number two. (WaPo, NYTimes, AP) Everyone's speculating why he would take this step down. I would reach back to the last round of rumors for a possibility. (Nov. 21)
There is now talk that Rice is reaching out to Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, with some suggesting that the offer has been sweetened with a promise to give Negroponte the top job should Rice leave the State Department before the end of the administration. Some Republicans still think Rice may decide to seek elected office—even the presidency in 2008—despite her many protestations to the contrary.

I don't think Condi Rice would run for President, but I would certainly put her in as a strong VP possibility.

Picture of the Day - 3

Kidnapped American contractors Paul Johnson Reuben and Jon Cote seen in these images taken from video made available to the Associated Press on Wednesday Jan. 3, 2007. (AP Photo/Via AP Television).

(AP) New video shows 5 kidnapped in Iraq

Tony Snow faces the tenor of the country

The press is growing less and less afraid.
Q The only question, though, to press a little bit, is the view that the President has been determined, he's been resolved, and nobody questions that, but does he get it? I mean, is he fundamentally out of touch with what the reality is on the ground in Iraq?.....

Q How far along is the President in developing his new plan for Iraq? (Laughter.)



Dan Froomkin asks, Where's the Outrage Over Escalation?

Vanity Fair has a loooong story detailing the kneepads John McCain is putting on for the religious fundies in the Republican party. (and he's not doing it very well so far.)

Wow. A Foxnews reporter mentions Bush doing cocaine.

And, I assume everybody saw Bush try to change the subject from Iraq this morning to the economy. Statement, no questions.

Picture of the Day - 2

A family friend consoles Kasey Miller, brother of fallen Marine Lance Cpl. Clinton 'C.J.' Miller during a funeral ceremony at Nodaway Valley High School in Greenfield, Iowa, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2006. Miller was killed by an improvised explosive device in Iraq's Al Anbar Province Dec. 11. (AP Photo/Kevin Sanders)


I don't want to get to far into "who shot the Saddam video," but Josh Marshall has been digging in deep. The Maliki government is trying to pin it on a guard.

(TimesOnline) "a Sunni group that had been negotiating with the Government immediately called off further talks. "The death of Saddam means the death of reconciliation," the Islamist National Liberation Movement, a Baathist faction, declared. "There are no further secret negotiations with the criminal Government."

(USAToday) A story on the impact on the family of the death of Pfc. Salas. (Start at "Routine Mission" 1/3 down.)

(LATimes) A telling story on the collapse of security in Baquba/Diyala. "The defiant show of force was similar to another insurgent parade caught on video by a U.S. aerial drone in November. Insurgents were seen hauling Shiite families out of their homes and executing them in the streets, U.S. military officials who reviewed the footage said."

(Iraqslogger) "Session no. 59 of Iraqi parliament has failed to convene for the fifth time since early December as a result of failure to reach quorum." Iraqi government officials blame the Hajj, but the real problem is the massive number of officials now living abroad.

"Surge and Accelerate" a political decision, not a military one.

Jim Miklazewski on NBC Nightly News last night.
"One administration official admitted to us today that this surge option is more of a political decision than a military one, because the American people have simply run out of patience and President Bush is running out of time to achieve some kind of success in Iraq. And while this plan will clearly draw some stiff opposition, up on Capitol Hill, the President is expected to announce it a week from today."

The administration's story is that they're surging because the American people have lost patience. The increase in troops is not being undertaken because it's the right thing militarily, but because the administration is worried about politics at home.

When those soldiers die, they will be dying for politics.

(Later: Thinkprogress finally put the video up.)

Maliki wants out

Can you blame him?
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has made clear he dislikes being the country's leader and would prefer to leave the job before his term ends.....

"I wish I could be done with it even before the end of this term," he said. "I didn't want to take this position," he told the Wall Street Journal.

"I only agreed because I thought it would serve the national interest, and I will not accept it again."

Seriously, if his thoughts have already turned to life (survival) after his premiership, his interests have already swung away from what we would term "US interests" towards the Shia leaders who will protect and "employ" him after he leaves office.

In a very strange way, a dictator for life would have a longer term interest in stability.

Picture of the Day

Dear Time Magazine, I'm sorry I laughed at your Person of the Year. I get it now.

Iraqis watch video footage of the execution of ousted leader Saddam Hussein on a mobile phone at a shop in Baghdad. Iraq launched a probe into a grisly video of Saddam Hussein's controversial execution that has triggered angry protests from the country's Sunni minority three days after his hanging.(AFP/File/Wissam Sami)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Picture of the Day - 3

(REUTERS/Jim Bourg)


(Reuters) Shia officials in Maliki's government expect the US to move against Sadr's militias, maybe as soon as January 5th. "The Americans want a war with the Mehdi Army," said a Western diplomat in Baghdad, who is not American or British."

(Boston Globe) A remarkable look at the very high level group coordinating actions against Iran.

(Newsweek) An interview with incoming Iraq number two, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno. You can see why they'd want him there with the "strategies" they're discussing. He's reading right off the administration's talking points. I'm afraid his "understanding" may get soldiers killed.

(Reuters) "A U.S. Marine killed an Iraqi soldier during what the U.S. military described on Tuesday as an "altercation" at a security post in Falluja. A U.S. statement did not say what sparked the fight, which occurred on Saturday, or how the Iraqi soldier was killed."

Your government at work

This is what our politics has become. A Senate Committee Chair (Dodd) using his position to extort political donations is openly discussed as "strategy."
Wall Street also looms large. The Connecticut senator will become chairman of the Senate Banking Committee in Congress, giving him oversight of the nation's banking, financial services and insurance industries. The post will create new fundraising opportunities _ a potential boost for a longshot prospect like Dodd who must prove he can raise the tens of million of dollars needed to stay competitive in the 2008 campaign.

They don't even bother to hide it anymore.

The '08 Republicans are playing dirty already

First, there was the attack on Romney for not being bigoted enough against gays orchestrated by the religious right.

Now, we have the "top-secret plan for Rudy Giuliani's bid for the White House" leaked to the press by "a source sympathetic to one of Giuliani's rivals for the White House."

Everybody but McCain. Funny, that.

I guess the lesson he learned in 2000 was that winning is more important than integrity. Now, that's the "maverick" I've come to know over the last four years.

(Question: Is this an amazing coincidence or is somebody "sympathetic to one of Giuliani's rivals" following them, bribing chamber maids, and scouring the rooms?)

Picture of the Day - 2

Different sizes of prostetic limbs rest on a work bench in the Prosthetics Lab of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, 21 December 2006. Since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003, Walter Reed has treated 5,437 soldiers from "Operation Iraqi Freedom." (AFP/Jim Watson)

Bloggy blog

Please forgive the next long post. I hate long posts, but I couldn't figure out how to say it any other way. Back to normal blogging later.

Why US strategies have repeatedly failed in Iraq - a recurring misinterpretation of "facts on the ground."

The root problem with strategy in Iraq is that Bush administration has been behind the reality on the ground from the moment looting broke out in the days after the fall of Baghdad. Their conception of the dynamics of the conflict have consistently produced tactics and strategies which have been months late.

The Early Sunni Insurgency

Within months after the fall of Baghdad, the first stirrings of a Sunni insurgency were evident. The US leadership largely viewed this nascent insurgency as "former Baathists and deadenders," with the conception that those Sunnis fighting the US were doing so because they wanted Saddam to return to power.

Within this understanding, the Sunnis were a fixed number force. If you could kill enough former Baathist leaders, there would be no more insecurity in Iraq.

But that understanding was flawed. Even in the early days of Iraq, the Sunnis were fighting for political reasons. Their goal was not to return Saddam to power, but to influence the future politics in Iraq. It was not a small, discreet group of Baathists and army officers fighting for a fixed goal, but a reflection of a broader political movement with deep support for their political goals. (if not their violent means.)

In the midst of this misconception of the nature of the Sunni insurgency, the US treated undertook a strategy to "crush the insurgency" culminating, most notably in the destruction of Fallujah.

In the "Baathists and deadenders" understanding, the Fallujah tactics made sense, but in the reality of an insurgency, it was completely the wrong thing to do, creating more resistance.

The Askariyah Mosque Bombing

In the time leading up to the bombing of the Askariyah Mosque in February, the US had begun to abandon its "Baathists and deadenders" presentation of the Sunni violence.

But the top level understanding was still limited, From mid 2005 through mid 2006, the administration perceived the problem to be Al Qaeda as the primary fomenter of the growing sectarian hatred.

In this understanding, a strategy was crafted to use special forces and strike raids to seek out and destroy the terrorists.

Yes, there were Al Qaeda. Yes, they were acting to foment the violence. But while the US was engaging in tactics to stop Zarqawi and his men, their strategy missed the larger and far more significant development.

The Shia Militias

The Shia militias had been present in some form since before the US invaded. They had been organized groups against Saddam, but because of his brutality, they had been kept small, disorganized, and limited. Even in early post invasion Iraq, the Shia militias were largely local, loosely affiliated, neighborhood affairs.

But, with the increasing attacks by Zarqawi and other Sunni groups, the Shia militias rapidly grew in numbers and prominence as a necessary Shia defense force. While the US was chasing Zarqawi, the Shia militias were developing and extending their infiltration into the government and security forces, giving them a potent weapon in quickly developing civil war.

"Sectarian Violence" and Operation Forward Together

By mid 2006, the US had recognized that the sectarian violence had become a major destabilizing influence. The solution to this problem was deemed to be Operation Forward Together, a significant influx of troops into Baghdad with the intention of enacting a large scale "clear, hold, build" counterinsurgency strategy. US troops were to "clear," then hand over control to the Iraq security forces for the "hold, build."

But Iraq wasn't in the grips of limited "sectarian violence" where discreet elements and flashpoints could be put down. Iraq was in the beginnings of a broadbased civil war.

The whole precept of "clear, hold, build" is that it's a counterinsurgency strategy primarily designed to be enacted in a binary occupier/occupied relationship. The concept is to remove the violent elements and then convince the remaining locals that their lives will be better if they abandon their resistance to the current power structure.

But, Forward Together was not conducted against that simple binary relationship. The US was attempting to pass that establishment of control over to the Shia led government.

The flaw in this was that the Iraqi security forces, infiltrated by the Shia militias, and the Iraqi government, mostly influenced by the Shia militias, didn't really want this stability to take place. So, as the US "cleared" neighborhoods, the Shia used the opportunity to advantage their side in that civil war.

So, even at this late date, the US's strategy was based on the misbelief that the Shia government wanted peace and stability.

The Basic Flaw and the "Way Forward"

I don't normally write long form like this, but I think this is a very important point. Time and again, US Iraq policy has foundered because the tactics and strategy were based on a previous understanding, or misunderstanding, of the current conditions on the ground in Iraq. The US has repeatedly gone in with the wrong tool.

So, as we look forward to Bush's next strategy for Iraq, due to be announced next week, keep this in mind. The plan is likely to involve US forces taking on the Shia militias. The understanding seems to be that "extreme" elements on the Shia side are derailing the good intentions of the centrists and the Maliki government.

The two basic flaws in that thinking are:

1) That the Shia leadership in power (even the "moderates") benefit from a cessation of the current situation.

2) That the "extremist" Shia militias (Sadr) don't enjoy broad support for their goals and aims against the Sunni.

The Shia are winning this civil war. The Shia powers are served by the current situation. They are gaining territory, both real and political, and even the civilian deaths serve to fuel their power.

Initially, Sadr's factional rivals may allow this attack against the Mahdi to knock him back a bit, but in the longer term, this will only serve to fuel the Shia cause. It's almost Fallujah all over again.

Once again, the US is looking to undertake a strategy without an understanding of the politics on the ground. Maybe it will work out this time.......

(And, I recognize this is a massive oversimplification, but I didn't want to write a book.)

Later: I left out one more thing. The current conception seems to be ignoring the current reality that Iraq has already become a regionally supported civil war with the Saudis, Syrians, Iranians, Egyptians, and others already supplying support to the various sides.

Any plan that does not involve a regional settlement with all of these players will be nearly impossible, because if one outside party fuels the conflict, there will be continuing pressures for the others to do the same.

Bush's new Iraq strategy next week - Theme: Sacrifice

One more week, another 20 US dead. The solution, more "sacrifice."
The BBC was told by a senior administration source that the speech setting out changes in Mr Bush's Iraq policy is likely to come in the middle of next week.

Its central theme will be sacrifice.

The speech, the BBC has been told, involves increasing troop numbers.

The exact mission of the extra troops in Iraq is still under discussion, according to officials, but it is likely to focus on providing security rather than training Iraqi forces.

They don't have a mission. They're going to escalate without a mission.

Picture of the Day

Protesters stand quietly as they demonstrate against the Iraq war, and commemorate the milestone of the 3000th US military person killed in Iraq, Monday, Jan. 1, 2007, in downtown Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Monday, January 01, 2007

And the winner is......

For the award in the category of "no shit," the winner is.....

(NYTimes) Chaos Overran Iraq Plan in ’06, Bush Team Says

Perenial nominee "water is wet" said, "there's no way I can compete with that."

Frequent attendee "is the Pope Catholic?" chimed in, "It really was their year. We're all logical sensibilities, but theirs was written all over the front pages. You'd have to be an idiot not to see that one."

(I mean, come on. Is this some great revelation that they had no idea how bad it really was? Do I really need the NYTimes to tell me that the Bush administration was still employing counterinsurgency tactics well after Iraq had become a civil war?)

(By the way, the failed counterinsurgency strategy, "clear, hold, build," is the one McCain is still touting as part of his Iraq strategy.)

Later: Reading a little deeper, the White House is really trying to pin the failure on the outgoing Gen. Casey. Trying to get a fresh start for their new plan?

Riots for Saddam

These riots sound small, but I'm mentioning it because one of the groups broke into the now closed Askariyah mosque in Samarra(the Golden Mosque) that Zarqawi attacked in Feb. to ignite the sectarian violence.

The Sunnis saw the conduct of the Saddam execution within the context Shia oppression, and this is a symbolic response.

3,000 dead soldiers - "a pittance" - Time Magazine (They've edited.)

Three thosand soldiers "a pittance" in the subtitle of the original.

"Relatively small" in the revised web version. (No explanation, no apology.)

(Credit to Abi for first pointing me to the article.)

Quickhits/Lazy Day Reading

Slow blogging day, so here's some stuff to graze on.

(BBC) Iraq braced for unhappy New Year
"There were six heads in our street this morning." So said one of my Iraqi colleagues as he arrived in the office recently.

Almost anywhere else, it would have been shocking news - a story in its own right. But here the shock was short-lived. Each atrocity in Baghdad is now quickly superseded by another.

(Reuters) John Edwards has taken to calling the Iraq escalation the "McCain Doctrine" hanging the decisions and policies of the Bush administration firmly around the Republican frontrunner's neck.

(WashTimes) The US has sealed off the small Iraqi town of Siniyah with an eight mile berm topped by razor wire and surveillance posts.

(Telegraph) The EU, airlines, and US have struck a deal that will turn over tons of passenger information including email addresses. Because these people are overseas, it would be perfectly legal for the US to monitor any and all of their electronic communications.

(Time) "According to military statistics, enemy fighters killed 2,320 of the troops who lost their lives in Iraq through December 2. The rest are attributed primarily to accidents (374) and illness (56). Homicide accounted for 12 non-combat deaths, while 93 were suicides."

Picture of the Day - 4

Oh yeah, they're just a regular family like the rest of us.

Debutante Ashley Walker Bush, granddaughter of former U.S. President George H. W. Bush and niece of U.S. President George W. Bush , represents the United States as she curtsies on stage in the Grand Ballroom of New York's famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel during the 52nd International Debutante Ball December 29, 2006. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Picture of the Day - 3

A man cries after his daughter was killed in a mortar attack in Baghdad December 9, 2006. Mortar rounds killed two people and wounded at least three when they landed on Baghdad's Shi'ite district of Kadhimiya, police sources said. REUTERS/Thaier al-sudani

The White House assures us that Bush cares

I'm not a historian, but doesn't the recurring insistence that the president "feels" the losses in Iraq seem a little bizarre?
Bush mourns death of 3,000th U.S. soldier in Iraq

"The president believes that every life is precious and grieves for each one that is lost," said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel. "He will ensure their sacrifice was not made in vain."

And, it's not just this bit of boilerplate. For the last few months at every press conference, Bush has made the same point.

What does it say about his image that it's deemed necessary for the president to assure us time and time again that he is, in fact, human and does care that people are dying?

An offshoot of the earlier "bring em on" tough boy rhetoric? A relic from the indifference of Katrina? Or a political necessity in the current politics of the war?

Related: Bush thanks the troops on his vacation in Crawford.

Picture of the Day - 2

Sgt. John Kriesel lost both his legs in Iraq.

President George W. Bush presents a Purple Heart to Sgt. John Kriesel of Twin Cities, Minn., during a visit Friday, Dec. 22, 2006, to Walter Reed Army Medical Center where the National Guardsman is recovering from injuries suffered in Operation Iraqi Freedom. (White House supplied photo by Eric Draper.)

3,000 deaths - What does it mean?

One of the things that has caught my eye this morning is the very different ways the news services are covering the gruesome milestone of the death of Dustin Donica, the 3,000th US service member reported killed in Iraq.

There's not one single message. The articles all seem to try to impart their own significance to this sad marker.

The NYTimes focuses on the families' grief, blending snippets of individual stories with statistics of the deaths. The WaPo frames this death in its significance to the politics of the overall war debate. One AP article starts with Arlington and then tells the personal stories of three of the fallen.

But what really caught my eye(and made me angry,) was this AP analysis piece that portrays Americans' intolerance for the casualties in Iraq as some sort of softness of the American people comparing casualties from this war to those in WWII. (Funny, how they always pick "the good war" as the reference point.)

I think the "lower" death toll is not tolerated because Americans recognize that this war is not winnable, and yet still it drags on. Longer than WWII, Iraq has no real signs of progress this far in, and in fact, progress, "winning," seems further away each day.

So, as the steady drip of casualties continues, it simply reinforces this understanding of the war, and each casualty is greeted not so much with grief over the death, but with a sadness that it never should have happened, and, yet, still continues.

(Other theories, comments? I'd be really curious.)

Also: Notice that whenever someone writes one of these stories, they always frame this war against WWII when the reality in Iraq is far closer to Lebanon 1983 with US soldiers attempting to interpose themselves and establish order on a multisided civil war. In that case, the US withdrew after 241 deaths.

One more: Do you think Americans would be nearly as upset if the 3,000 deaths were in Afghanistan chasing Bin Laden?

Picture of the Day

(From the CS Monitor.)

Really? Friedman?

I'm not a Friedman fan, but I do find myself surprised that he made it into Al Qaeda no. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri's, latest statement.
Al-Zawahri tossed out insults to various leaders, making no effort to substantiate his allegations. He called Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf a "bribe-taker," Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a "traitor," Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh an "agent of America," and he accused New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman of being a "fanatical Zionist."

I mean, really, if Al Qaeda is down to criticizing the NYTimes, they're running out of juice.

(And, no, I didn't miss the parallel.)

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Picture of the Day - 2

(AP) The death of a Texas soldier, announced Sunday by the Pentagon, raised the number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq to at least 3,000 since the war began, according to an Associated Press count.

The 3,000 soldier killed was Spc. Dustin R. Donica, 22, of Spring, Texas, a local boy from Klein High School.

From 2000. He is on the back row, far left. (Bigger if you click it.)


I know we don't pay attention often, but maybe we should now.
The outgoing U.S. commander in Afghanistan said that he expects higher levels of fighting in the coming year, and that Taliban militants will try to briefly overrun district centres to unhinge Afghans' morale. ....

Eikenberry, expected to be out of Afghanistan in late January, said he expects militants early in 2007 to attack border security posts, to extend their use of suicide bombs and to launch assault on district centres in groups of 25 to 100 fighters.

But Eikenberry said none of the Taliban's efforts would provide "a significant military challenge" for U.S., NATO and Afghan forces, which he said have improved greatly in the past year.

"The capability exists for that array of allied and Afghan forces to dominate militarily wherever they move to," he said.

Also: I don't know the source on this(Zeenews?,) so don't take this as gospel, but maybe put it on the radar.
Mullah Dadullah Akhund, the ruthless Taliban leader in charge of the militia’s campaign against NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in southern and eastern Afghanistan is fast becoming what Abu Musaib al Zarqawi had become for US forces in Iraq.

The Yuppies vs. "Old Man" McCain

I don't know why this suddenly struck me, but the likely three Dem candidates for '08 are all mostly Yuppies. Hillary Clinton is a sort of, but tell me that Barak Obama wouldn't fit right in at that cocktail party. And, John Edwards, for god's sakes, he's a yuppie dreamboat.

Now, all of them are really successful beyond that, but their images, manners, and language, especially Edwards and Obama echo the broad suburban swathes.

Those three will most likely match up against McCain who will be 74 and exhausted by summer 2008, or the creepy looking Giuliani.

If the battleground is the suburban stretches, who does better, the successful neighbor or the angry father?

(Just a random thought. If I'm wrong, let me know. Maybe I should have said "suburbanites?")

Picture of the Day

An injured woman is rushed to a hospital in Baghdad December 25, 2006. A suicide bomber killed three people and wounded 20 others when he blew himself up aboard a crowded bus in the Shi'ite Talibiya district in northeastern Baghdad. REUTERS/Kareem Raheem

2007 the end of the world or not?

Okay, so I read this AP article, and I think, "wow."
Another terrorist attack, a warmer planet, death and destruction from a natural disaster. These are among Americans' grim predictions for the United States in 2007.....

Six in 10 people think the U.S. will be the victim of another terrorist attack next year, more than five years after the Sept. 11 assault on New York and Washington. An identical percentage think it is likely that bad guys will unleash a biological or nuclear weapon elsewhere in the world.

So, I go to AOL to try to get more information, and I find this,
An AP-AOL News Poll finds that while most Americans said 2006 was a bad year for the country, three-fourths thought it had been a good one for them and their families.....

Seventy-two percent of Americans feel good about what 2007 will bring for the country, and an even larger 89 percent are optimistic about the new year for themselves and their families, according to the poll.

So, what the hell?

(Further, 6 in 10 expect another terror attack in the US? 6 in 10 expect nuclear or biological weapons in the next year? Coupled with the fall in Bush approval, I think this really captures the way Iraq/Katrina has undermined perception of the Bush presidency. That's about as high as those numbers have been since 2003, and yet that "terror number" does not help Bush approval.

ALSO: Don't miss this in the AP version, "One in four, 25 percent, anticipates the second coming of Jesus Christ." (in 2007.))

(Later still: Now I can't stop singing Vera Lynn's "We'll meet again.")