Since General David Petraeus and his team took the Sunni insurgents out of the equation of war in Iraq by paying them off, what happened in Baghdad over the weekend¹ has been waiting to happen. I don’t think anyone ever seriously believed the Iraqi government would try to bring 90,000 former fighters back into the fold, let alone give them money. And yet, the chewing-gum-and-duct-tape nature of Petraeus’s peace raised no alarms.
Now, it turns out, not only are the Sons of Iraq screwed, but, bound by the Status of Forces Agreement, their erstwhile benefactor is about to help the Maliki government screw them over. Here’s Petraeus’s former XO Pete Mansoor:
As I recall what I said was that the status of forces agreement would put U.S. forces into a position where they could not intervene to stop the government of Iraq from attacking the SOI. If the Iraqi Security Forces needed help once engaged against the SOI, U.S. forces could be drawn into the fight against the very people who helped us turn the war around.
I certainly hope this doesn’t come to pass, but given what we’ve just seen happen in Baghdad, the possibility is disturbing.
It might be worth remembering, however, that not everyone in Petraeus’s circle of advisors thinks so highly of the SoI. Last June, Marc Lynch reported a surprising outburst from General Jack Keane, widely regarded as the primus motor behind the surge:
‘We’re not bringing 90,000 hoodlums into the Iraqi security forces… we don’t have to accommodate these people.’ They aren’t qualified, they know it, and they will just have to deal with it, [Keane] said – never mind that these are the same people who evidently were quite adequately qualified to fight a multi-year insurgency against the United States to the point of near-victory in 2006, by Keane’s own account.
[¹ Two years ago, I stood in a Combat Support Hospital ER room and watched as a three-year-old Sunni boy fought for his life, his stomach punctured by a stray bullet. My son was the same age, and I sort of took the little guy’s struggle personally. I tagged along as he was taken to surgery, and watched as they cut open his stomach, and the next day I watched as he was reunited with his black-clad young mother, whose first question to the nurse was: “Will he be a normal boy again?” The reason I mention this is that they were from al-Fadhil, the same Sunni neighbourhood where gunbattles erupted again on Saturday. I hope the boy is safe and won’t be watching the firefights from the rooftop this time.]