Archive for December, 2008

Iraq: 9,000 More Die in 2008

9,028. That’s the number of Iraqi civilians killed this year in war, according to a new report by Iraq Body Count.

In case anyone thinks that’s “residual violence” or, worse still,  “the irreducible minimum”, let me put it in perspective:

Even if, despite all the predictions to the contrary, civilian deaths remain at present level for the next three years, approximately 27,000 Iraqis will lose their lives before the last U.S. combat troops are out.

As IBC sums up:

Deaths are unchangeable facts of history whose number can only be cumulative. For as long as conflict related deadly violence persists in Iraq, more lives and more families will be added to its toll of victims. Thus, ‘fewer victims than in 2007’ is an abstraction imposed by a frame of measurement: the stark reality is that some 9,000 more Iraqi civilians have had their lives violently cut short since the end of 2007, most of them anonymously and with little public recognition.

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Iraq: A Lose-Lose with SOFA?

Before signing off for Christmas, I’d like to draw your attention (via Abu Aardvark) to this interesting new briefing from USIP.

The paper, written by Daniel P. Serwer and Sam Parker and titled Iraq in the Obama Administration, offers several worthwile recommendations to the inbound president on how to navigate the morass of Iraq. One in particular struck me as shockingly pertinent:

2) The June withdrawal from cities: Areas in Baghdad, Diyala and Mosul will see significant strains and may witness ethnic, sectarian or other violence.

  • Recommendation 4: U.S. forces, which should expect to live with a measure of violence, need to be ready to intervene quickly if violence reaches unacceptably extreme levels. This must be weighed against the political consequences (in both Iraq and the U.S.) of doing so, which could be damaging.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t see how this is going to work. My guess is the July referendum will end up scrapping SOFA. And even if it doesn’t, once U.S. forces vacate their COPs and JSSs, they have little chance of effectively intervening in case the bloodshed worsens — unless, as USIP’s seers seem to suggest, the U.S. unilaterally scuttles SOFA, which would mean — don’t you just love the irony — usurping the civilian government.

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Remember that funny word ‘DDR’? It stood for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration. In Afghanistan, it was a program to demilitarise the society after almost 30 years of war. The premise, if you will, was that weapons beget violence; that violence undermines the state; and that the first step towards peace is, therefore, to remove weapons from those not authorised to fire them.

You might notice that I’m speaking in past tense. That’s because DDR is no more. After a short and tortured existence, it has been officially snuffed out by the U.S. military, which, according to news reports, is planning — wait for it — not to reduce violence but to add another layer to it:

For months, Congress has been asking how soon the military could roll out ‘some sort of Awakening movement’—a reference to the Iraq program—in Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials. After initially being rejected by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the plan was developed this fall and approved just over two weeks ago.

But some senior U.S. officials worry privately about launching a program modeled on the U.S.-financed militias of Iraq, given the considerable differences in the wars.

Excuse the language, but — no shit, Sherlock?


International Crisis Group, in its update briefing on the state of policing in Afghanistan, has this to say:

As originally conceived, the program had a security function. Diluted in successive draft proposals, it now entails the appointment of community councils, selected by central government representatives, at the district level in “high risk” areas. As such, this seems less grassroots outreach than a continuance of centralised patronage. IDLG has recently emphasised that the program will not arm community members or manage armed groups. Instead the community councils would help strengthen security by supporting the police and security services, and thus enforce rule of law. If this plan proceeds, it should be ensured that the councils do not compete with the police nor interfere in appointments and operations. There are very real fears that if the councils’ make-up does not accurately reflect all local interests, they will only further fuel perceptions that state security institutions favour certain groups over others.

Josh at Registan has more.

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So this is how it ends. President George W. Bush, who probably couldn’t resist looking for that grand square named after him in Baghdad, was greeted with two flying shoes instead.

I completely agree with The Angry Arab that this would be humiliating in any culture. I’d hate to have it happen to me. And just imagine how Bush must feel: the wayward son of a war hero ambushed not with RPGs but with dusty footwear. How fitting. (No pun intended.)

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My favourite flying-shoe quote, from an Iraqi warrant officer interviewed by Wired’s Nathan Hodge:

‘This never would have happened in the time of Saddam. If that had happened, he would be executed straight away. They would chop him into a million pieces. Saddam would kill his cousins, his uncles, all his relatives.’

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Iraq: A Footprint Not So Light

Judah Grunstein, writing at WPR, makes an important semantic point about U.S. military operations in Iraq:

[…] It’s worth pointing out that despite the emphasis placed on a light fingerprint in the COIN tactics that guided the Surge, ‘light’ is used in comparison to war zone environments. What we call the ‘security gains’ in Iraq come as a result of operational measures that remain way off the scale of anything we’d consider viable in a stable civil society and that closely resemble the methods of regimes that we often blame for the emergence of radicalism in the region.

This is indeed worth emphasising. While part of COIN may be armed social work, not everything in Iraq is COIN. Last spring, when I was embedding with the 3ACR in Mosul, using tank fire and Apache strikes in the middle of an unruly metropolis seemed to be the rule rather than the exception. Don’t let the euphemisms fool ya.

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Echoing the recent ICOS report, Taleban expert Antonio Giustozzi offers a worrying year-end summary of the troubles facing the international coalition in Afghanistan:

  • The number of rebels is growing steadily and must now range in the tens of thousands.
  • The insurgents show signs of improving their tactical skills.
  • The Taliban in particular are also having some success in infiltrating the Afghan security forces, in particular the police, which is now in deep crisis in several Afghan provinces in the south and west of the country.
  • In some northern provinces – most notably Kunduz – the insurgency is beginning to represent a serious threat. Indeed, clear signs of insurgent infiltration exist in almost all the northern provinces: only Samangan and Panjshir provinces appear to remain completely free of violent activities.

This is alarming stuff for everyone concerned, save maybe for the Finnish ISAF commander who believes the insurgency is in its death throes.

Still, Giustozzi says, the Taleban’s campaign is “not quite trouble-free”:

Afghanistan’s difficult economic situation – and the large pool of unemployed and disaffected young people that is one of its by-products – favours the Taliban less than might be expected (even though there are allegations of a large mercenary presence in the movement’s ranks). Although high unemployment may push some people towards joining the insurgency, the same could be said of the police or the national army.

Moreover, the Taliban might now be experiencing a crisis of growth. Their expansion has made internal communication, and central command-and-control, increasingly difficult. Moreover, the movement’s leadership is trying to turn it into a more structured and disciplined entity. This involves a range of measures: insisting that its commanders behave more moderately towards the civilian population, marginalising its more extremist component, establishing a civilian administration, and expanding its judiciary into more and more areas.

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