Friday, November 17, 2006

Iraqi Devolution

Some quotations for you.
"No single narrative is sufficient to explain all the violence we see in Iraq today."

"Iraqi nationalists, ex-Baathists, former military, angry Sunni, Jihadists, foreign fighters and al-Qaeda,"... create an "overlapping, complex and multi-polar Sunni insurgent and terrorist environment."

"Shia militias and Shia militants, some Kurdish pesh merga, and extensive criminal activity further contribute to violence, instability and insecurity."

"Violence in Iraq continues to increase in scope, complexity, and lethality" despite operations by the Iraqi government and the U.S.-led coalition."

"[A]n atmosphere of fear and hardening sectarianism which is empowering militias and vigilante groups, hastening middle-class exodus, and shaking confidence in government and security forces."

"The longer this goes on, the less controlled the violence is, the more the violence devolves down to the neighborhood level. The center disappears, and normal people acting not irrationally end up acting like extremists."

"[The battlefield] is descending into smaller and smaller groups fighting over smaller and smaller issues over smaller and smaller pieces of territory."

"Militias often operate under protection or approval of Iraqi police [when they] attack suspected Sunni insurgents and Sunni civilians."
These are not the words of "leftist defeatists" like Simon Jenkins (yes, I know he's not a "leftist" but he seems to have been given that label by some for his habit of actually describing the situation in Iraq) or myself. No, these quotations come from the surprisingly honest evidence given to the Senate Armed Services Committee by Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the CIA director and Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, the director of the DIA (via).

They also claimed that there are approximately 1,300 al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters in Iraq out of a total of around 20,000 to 30,000 insurgents and militiamen (who are enabled by "many more who supply support").

Just to reiterate something for the umpteenth time before I go on, it gives me no pleasure to relate these facts. The smear that all those who opposed the war are now enjoying the disaster it has provoked is a particularly loathsome piece of spin. Perhaps some on the extremes are but the vast majority, I'm sure, are very angry indeed that this is happening. My own motivation is to try to play some tiny part in ensuring that our leaders are not allowed to get away with continuing to avoid facing up to the consequences of their actions.

With that in mind, I'll use this frank assessment by the two leading U.S. intelligence directors to explain a little more about the rationale behind my belief that Iraq is well on the way to total anarchy. The crucial element to grasp in the statements above concerns the devolution of violence to neighbourhood level and the related weakening of the power of the centre. It is important to understand that this isn't just in relation to the central government. To give one example, there are increasing signs that Muqtada al-Sadr has lost control of much of the Mahdi army. All over Iraq (excluding the Kurdish area where Kurdish leaders maintain good command and control over the Peshmerga) a similar devolution of violence is taking place.

The implications of this process of devolution should not be underestimated. The notion that the central government or al-Sadr or the Iranians or the Syrians are capable of reining in the violence rests on the assumption that those committing violent acts are substantially under the control of these various groups. Increasingly, they are not.

For that reason, it is now almost impossible to see how Iraq can be reconstructed as a stable secure country through a negotiated settlement between the political representatives of the various sectarian groups. As things currently stand, it is unlikely that Iraq's politicians will be able to reach a suitable agreement; Maliki and his Sunni Higher Education Minister cannot even agree on the basic facts surrounding the recent kidnappings, for example. Even if they do manage it, however, they no longer have the authority or control to impose this agreement on the multitude of armed splinter groups which have formed throughout the country. In order to persuade these groups to lay down their arms and (as they see it) stop defending their neighbourhoods, they will first need to provide security. But to provide security, they will first need to persuade these same groups to lay down their arms. It's a Joseph Heller nightmare.

Iraq is, as Maples and Hayden admit, disintegrating into a patchwork of small warring fiefdoms in the model of Afghanistan before the very eyes of the coalition and this sort of disintegration is hugely difficult to stop. The various fiefdoms will increasingly fight each other for control of various areas and resources in an effort to maintain their own security and increase their power. If Iraq is to become reunified and centrally controlled again (again excluding the Kurdish area where a different situation exists) it is likely to be only after one of these fiefdoms succeeds in fighting its way into a position of dominance over the host of other groups now operating all over the country. This could take years or it may not happen at all. Either way, the years to come will be bloody indeed.

And the coalition? The addition of 20,000 extra U.S. troops, poorly trained in peacekeeping and counter-insurgency and increasingly unwelcome and distrusted, will certainly not help. It's time to go. The situation is lost. Nobody won.

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