Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The End Game

As the war on Lebanon dominates the headlines, conflict in Iraq continues unabated. The scale of the violence continues to rise. This from a report last month:
United Nations officials said Tuesday that the number of violent deaths had climbed steadily since at least last summer. During the first six months of this year, the civilian death toll jumped more than 77 percent, from 1,778 in January to 3,149 in June, the organization said.

This sharp upward trend reflected the dire security situation in Iraq as sectarian violence has worsened and Iraqi and American government forces have been unable to stop it.

In its report, the United Nations said that 14,338 civilians had died violently in Iraq in the first six months of the year.
[...]
According to the report, 1,778 civilians were killed in January, 2,165 in February, 2,378 in March, 2,284 in April, 2,669 in May and 3,149 in June.
There is much talk as to whether Iraq will descend into civil war. Given that an average of 2,400 Iraqis have been violently killed every month since the start of this year, it's something of a moot point. For what it's worth, I believe that what is happening could be best described as a civil war waged by unconventional means. You could call it a low intensity civil war but for the fact that it's clearly very intense indeed.

In what appears to be a last throw of the dice and in a reversal of the Bush "as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down" mantra, the US military is deploying thousands of extra troops to Baghdad in an attempt to stabilise the situation.

But who are they going to be fighting? Are they there to fight Sunni insurgent or Shiite militias or both? I listened to a couple of spokesmen for the Sunnis and the Shiites on the radio yesterday and obviously, they expected the US military to do different things. The Sunni wanted the US military to take on the Shiite death squads while the Shiite wanted them to tackle the Sunni terrorists. Sending troops into the middle of that is going to be fraught with difficulties. There's every chance that they'll have to tackle both groups and therefore end up being up being targeted by both sides.

(One of the two, I can't remember which, also pointed out the shocking statistic that something like one million middle class Iraqis have fled to neighbouring countries to escape the violence. If you've been reading Iraqi bloggers recently, many of whom are no longer in Iraq, this might not surprise you greatly)

Given that the US military hasn't been able to stop the Sunni insurgents for three years, it's hard too see how anyone thinks they'll be able to do so now. But it is dealing with the Shiite militias which will be particularly troublesome. These militias genuinely do provide a level of security for Shiites, particularly in the poorer areas, and they are well supported by the local populations in which they operate. I think most people are starting to realise the difficulties involved in using conventional military forces to deal with this sort of group.

The Shiites have generally tolerated the US occupation as a necessary evil, something to be endured as a stepping stone on the road to their goal of dominant power status in Iraq. If US military action against the Shiite militias starts to turn Shiites against the coalition in large numbers, the excrement will really hit the air agitating device. And, of course, these same militias are well represented in the democratic government of Iraq, something which complicates the situation still further.

And, as regular readers might know, the US military is spectacularly ill-equipped to deal with this sort of mission. They have begun to conduct operations against the Mehdi Army, al Sadr's militia. Here's how Iraq's Prime Minister reacted to their effort:
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki sharply criticised a joint US-Iraqi operation in Sadr City, an area of Baghdad that is a stronghold of the Mehdi Army, a Shia militia.

US military officials said the raid, early on Monday, was aimed at "individuals involved in punishment and torture cell activities". Three people were captured in the raid, the US military said.

Iraqi police said three people, including a woman and child, were killed in the operation during which US aircraft were called in and carried out an air strike in a built-up area.

Mr Maliki said he was "very angered and pained" by the operation, warning that it could undermine his efforts toward national reconciliation.

"Reconciliation cannot go hand in hand with operations that violate the rights of citizens this way," Mr Maliki said in a statement on government television.

He apologised to the Iraqi people for the operation and said it such incidents would not happen again.
As you can imagine my surprise on reading that report was literally non-existent. An air strike in a built-up area is just the sort of counter-productive disaster which the US military specialises in when conducting unconventional warfare. Sending these guys into Baghdad is much more likely to to cause all hell to break loose than stabilise the situation. I'd get them out of there again asap.

So what could be done instead? Sadly, I fear the answer is nothing. The outgoing UK ambassador to Iraq said that although all out civil war is more likely than democracy, the situation is not hopeless. It doesn't take a genius to work out that this assessment was liberally dusted with diplomatic gloss.

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2 comments:

Mark said...

Oh, I don't know....after all, time travel isn't actually hopeless - it's just that nobody's figured out how to do it yet, and nobody looks like going to. Against that frame of reference, democracy in Iraq looks almost promising.

It's a sad comment on one's leadership when one's greatest regime-change successes have come as a result of the former leader dying in office, like Arafat and Castro. Oh, I know Castro's not dead, might even rally for awhile, but the writing is on the wall. He's too busy dying to rebut his prissy U.S. critic.

Maybe that's George Bush's plan - he wants to stay President long enough to outlast Assad and Ahmadenijad.

CuriousHamster said...

By jove , I think you might have hit on the real strategy. Time travel. It's certainly more realistic than most of the stuff Bush and Blair spout these days.