Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Iraqi groups refuse to serve broader Iraq

Brigadier General Dana Pittard, the coalition head delegating the mammoth task of training the Iraqi security forces, has confirmed that a group of Shia soldiers has refused to deploy north to Baghdad to help try and root out militias there:

A group of Iraqi soldiers recently refused to go to Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, to help restore order there, a senior American military officer said Monday.
I can imagine Pittard's irritation as he's forced to disingeniously claim that the Shia soldiers felt they could better serve Iraq by staying home:
“The majority of this particular unit was Shia, and they felt — the leadership of that unit and their soldiers — like they were needed down there in Maysan,’’ General Pittard told reporters in a videoconference from Iraq. “Now, that will be worked out by the Iraqi government and the Ministry of Defense, and we’ll be in support of that.”
The band is quite small, numbering around 100 of the 5,000 Iraqi troops the US wants to bring to Baghdad for operation 'Together Forward'. But it might portend the future. Newly minted Sunni soldiers reacted savagely to the news that they would be required to serve outside their own neighborhoods:
The graduation of nearly 1,000 new Iraqi army soldiers in restive Anbar province took a disorderly turn Sunday when dozens of the men declared that they would refuse to serve outside their home areas, according to U.S. and Iraqi military authorities. ...

The protest was triggered by an announcement that the new soldiers, all residents of Anbar province -- widely considered the heartland of Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgent movement -- would be required to serve outside their home towns and outside the province as well.

A separate refusal previously occured among soldiers in the Kurdish north:
A large number of soldiers from a predominantly Kurdish unit in northern Iraq, the Second Battalion, Third Brigade of the Second Iraqi Division, refused to go to Ramadi, where American Army troops have been involved in a tough fight to take the city back from insurgents, General Pittard noted.
Back in April 2004, when US marines went in to clean up Fallujah in retaliation for the brutal deaths of four contractors there, some 15,000 Iraqi troops simply deserted. There are several other more minor instances of desertions, as well as more sinister reports of Shia militias dawning military uniforms (or simply Shia soldiers acting on their own volition) and decimating Sunni civilians and property.

We are spending American blood (2,636 plus almost ten times that amount wounded as of today) and treasure ($3oo billion thus far with another $200-$400 billion estimated to be spent over the next decade) to arm and train disparate Iraqi groups to more effectively massacre one another when support for the unpopular war finally becomes politically untenable and the US begins to pull out (hopefully not far beyond November of this year).

Kurds do not want to participate in Iraqi security outside of Kurdistan. Why would they want to risk their lives to alleviate the intensity of the back-and-forth milita killings between Sunnis and Shia? The Sunnis oppressed them for decades in the past, and a Shia-dominated, Iranian-friendly 'democratic' Iraq might very well do the same in the coming decades, especially given Iran's budding Kurdish problem. Sunnis don't want to go into places like Fallujah and clash with the very groups that are most likely to align with them against the increasing pugnacity of Shia militias like the Mahdi Army. The Shia, happily discovering that democracy in the Arab world means majority-takes-all, have all but forgotten Sistani's pleas for restraint against Sunni atrocities, past and present.

I'm grossly oversimplifying in breaking Iraq down into three factions of roughly 17.5 million Shia, 5.5 million Kurds, and 4 million Sunnis. Middle Eastern tribalism is such that loyalties usually do not extend beyond specific neighborhoods of a single city, let alone beyond ethnic groups or on a national level. I do it mostly because such a breakdown is as convoluted as I can understand. The reality is orders of magnitude more complicated (hopeless).

When I hear the Bush mantra "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down," I wonder who exactly is going to stand up and what they are going to stand up against. One another? To stop the civil war crescendo, the US would conceivably have to pick sides. But doing that in the past led to the growth of Shia militias and the persecution of the Sunni minority so that now the US is leading a combined US-Iraqi force into Baghdad to try and put down Shia militia there.

There aren't many viable options. Staying put promises continued attrition without any prospects for the future. Pulling out turns the civil war sparks into a full-blown conflagration with all the ensuing instability that entails (oil over $100 a barrel?). In my mind the best option is to have the US facilitate ethnic separation by neighborhood, then by city, and finally to partition Iraq. That is what's likely to occur anyway, but hopefully there'll be less entropy and bloodshed if big American guns are behind it (ew, re-reading that sentences has me straining to remember when big American guns did anything beneficial in the Middle East).

Also, the coalition should explicitly focus on keeping Iraqi oil pumping, as the country struggles to maintain pre-war production levels, and al-Maliki should demand a petroleum dividend for all Iraqis similar to that enjoyed by Alaskans. If ten dollars per barrel were distributed this way, it would amount to a little more than $270 annually per Iraqi, or about an 8% increase in real purchasing power. This might help ameliorate the stultifying infrastructure problems Iraq faces by boosting local economic activity across the country, especially in central Iraq.



adog said...

And all we hear is "stay the course." It's blocked by human nature and no amount of hubris will open it!

Anonymous said...

It really doesn't look like muslim arabs can handle democracy very well. Too many old blood feuds I guess.
It sure makes you wonder. mping at Fat Knowledge blog points to the fact that young black men are at greater risk of dying in Philly than in Iraq. Maybe the army recruiters in Philly could make good use of that stat?

crush41 said...

And consanguineous marriage, moderately low IQs, an intolerant and backward religion, and overdependence on oil.

The anonymous commenter is referring to this post by Mping at Fat Knowledge.

Billy Bob said...

I still think that it is hilarious to be passed by a gas-guzzling SUV with a "SUPPORT OUR TROOPS" sticker on the back......If we didn't need oil, we would not even know where the mideast was.

crush41 said...


As an avid biker, I often think about how I should have a custom-made t-shirt that reads "I'm lowering future medicare costs and you're funding al Qaeda. And you want me to get off the road?!"

But it's probably too much to read on the back of a shirt. And I don't like provoking two-ton vehicles when I'm on one that weighs twenty pounds. But I agree with your sentiment.