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Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

Red Cross: Iraq War Isn’t Over

I know the knuckleheads won’t be convinced, but here it is, anyway:

Despite the common perception that the armed conflict in Iraq is largely over, widespread violence and a lack of respect for human life continue to affect the Iraqi people. Civilians are the primary victims.

Mass explosions and indiscriminate attacks are claiming the lives of hundreds and leaving thousands more wounded every month, mainly in Baghdad, Ninewa and Diyala governorates.

‘In these three governorates, many Iraqis fear for their lives whenever they leave their homes, as anyone could be hit simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time,’ said Juan-Pedro Schaerer, head of the delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for Iraq. ‘The level of insecurity remains high and should not be accepted as somehow ‘normal’ or unavoidable.’

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The Iraqi government is quietly proceeding on new censorship laws, moving to ban web sites deemed harmful to the public, to require Internet cafes to register with the authorities and to press publishers to censor books, the New York Times reports:

[…] Opponents of the proposals question why Iraq would seek to impose the same sorts of censorship that had been among the most loathed aspects of daily life under Saddam Hussein and suggest that they are another example of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s working to consolidate his power. The new policies will put Iraq more in line with neighboring Islamic states.

Indeed. Next up, restrictions on foreign media.

To be clear, even in most Western democracies freedom of speech does not mean freedom to incite violence or insult your enemies in public. Some countries, like Finland, still penalise blasphemy. At the same time, however, our constitution forbids censorship — no one can tell you not to publish irresponsible shit, but you might end up in the can for it.

I wonder if the Iraqi government’s American advisors, when they still had leverage, could have maybe pointed out this rather important distinction.

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I have argued over and again in this blog that the United States must stand up and take moral responsibility for its actions in Iraq, even if it means an open-ended military commitment in an increasingly hostile environment.

Even so, I have to admit I find it extremely hard to disagree with Baghdad Operations Command Advisory Team chief Col. Timothy Reese, when he concludes, in his now-public, painfully honest internal memo, that — I’m paraphrasing — Iraq is a toxic swamp, that the U.S. has done all it can to dry it, and that the sooner American troops go home the better for everybody.

What is most shocking about Reese’s memo is not its unflinching depiction of the rotting corpse that is the Iraqi state, but the way he describes U.S. forces as basically prisoners of a security agreement their own commander-in-chief negotiated:

It is clear that the 30 Jun milestone does not represent one small step in a long series of gradual steps on the path the US withdrawal, but as Maliki has termed it, a ‘great victory’ over the Americans and fundamental change in our relationship.  The recent impact of this mentality on military operations is evident:

1.    Iraqi Ground Forces Command (IGFC) unilateral restrictions on US forces that violate the most basic aspects of the SA

2.    BOC unilateral restrictions that violate the most basic aspects of the SA

3.    International Zone incidents in the last week where ISF forces have resorted to shows of force to get their way at Entry Control Points (ECP) including the forcible takeover of ECP 1 on 4 July

4.    Sudden coolness to advisors and CDRs, lack of invitations to meetings,

5.    Widespread partnership problems reported in other areas such as ISF confronting US forces at TCPs in the city of Baghdad and other major cities in Iraq.

6.    ISF units are far less likely to want to conduct combined combat operations with US forces, to go after targets the US considers high value, etc.

7.    The Iraqi legal system in the Rusafa side of Baghdad has demonstrated a recent willingness to release individuals originally detained by the US for attacks on the US.

If this is true — and I have no reason to doubt it –, there really isn’t much the U.S. can do but to prepare for an orderly departure. Without political leverage, and with its military stripped of its right to fight, America is of no use to Iraq. I can only hope Reese’s talk of “victory” is in jest, because victory this isn’t, it is an utter failure on all fronts. Not only will Iraq not be stable, it will not be a democracy, and it most certainly will not be a friend of America.

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I have a difficult relationship with Captain’s Journal. On the one hand, I find Herschel Smith’s politics mystifying (who the hell cares if he’s a Christian?) and his self-congratulatory glee (“we said so and we were right”) distasteful. On the other hand, he writes well, reads a lot and, oddly enough, is often right. Case in point:

The stupid desire for ‘legitimacy’ on the world stage created the situation in which we were seeking the approval of both Iraq and the U.N. for our continued presence in Iraq.  The mistake was in ever agreeing to a SOFA to begin with.  Too much national treasure (in blood and wealth) has been invested to allow Iraqi politicians to determine the disposition of U.S. forces in Iraq.  History has taught us the lesson that we cannot even fully trust U.S. politicians with the safety, troop strength and mission of U.S. troops.  A fortiori, the Iraqi politicians can be trusted even less.

While we at The Stupidest Man on Earth obviously disagree on the legitimacy of the initial invasion, we agree that SOFA in its present form was a mistake. We further contend that America’s lack of leverage in Iraq is a catastrophe, and that ultimately Iraqi civilians and American soldiers will pay the price for this folly. Hence, we must concur with Captain’s Journal as they recommend:

[…] Don’t clear the roads, provide them with air cover, supply them logistics, or give them vehicle parts.  It’s time for daddy to take away the car keys and see just how far junior thinks he can get without his old man’s money and stuff.

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Following up on the vague and misleading McClatchy story I flagged a couple of days ago, The Washington Post today offers a fuller picture of what’s going on with the U.S. troops still in Baghdad:

U.S. commanders have described the pullout from cities as a transition from combat to stability operations. But they have kept several combat battalions assigned to urban areas and hoped those troops would remain deeply engaged in training Iraqi security forces, meeting with paid informants, attending local council meetings and supervising U.S.-funded civic and reconstruction projects.

According to an e-mail by Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, commander of the Baghdad division, the new Iraqi order to restrict American movement and operations “runs contrary to the spirit and practice of our last several months of operations”:
‘Maybe something was ‘lost in translation. […] We are not going to hide our support role in the city. I’m sorry the Iraqi politicians lied/dissembled/spun, but we are not invisible nor should we be.’
I’m sorry to have to harp on this, but the U.S. military, along with most of the foreign media still based in Baghdad, have only themselves to blame for the confusion. Instead of limply going along with the politicians’ bullshit, Bolger and his bosses should’ve clearly stated the fact: American troops remain inside Baghdad to help out in case anything goes wrong. That was the plan all along. Why everyone bought the “pullout” meme hook, line and sinker is beyond me.

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Shia pilgrims heading for the Kadhimiya shrine will throng the streets of Baghdad tomorrow in what is described as the first major security challenge for the Iraqi security forces since the June 30 scaling down of American presence in Iraqi cities.

As McClatchy reminds us, insurgents have often targeted the pilgrimage:

Four years ago on the same anniversary, about 1,000 pilgrims died in a stampede on a bridge, set off by a rumor that a suicide bomber stalked the pilgrims. The bridge has only just reopened. On April 24 this year, during another pilgrimage to the shrine, two suicide bombers infiltrated despite the checkpoints and killed 60 pilgrims, including 25 Iranians.

Meanwhile, the Kurds and the Maliki government are “closer to war than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003”, The Washington Post quotes Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani as saying.

That war will not come as a surprise to anyone following Iraq, but no matter how bloody it gets, it will be a sideshow to a world that has moved on to obsess with other things.

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Iraqi security forces have refused to ask Americans for help in dealing with violence since the June 30 scaling down of U.S. presence in Iraqi cities, McClatchy’s Mike Tharp reports.

According to one American officer interviewed by McClatchy, “the Iraqis have been hell-bent on taking control of all security operations in [Baghdad] and completely excluding the Americans, to the point of completely refusing to permit U.S. patrols of any kind into the city except logistics convoys.”

Tharp concludes:

The failure to trigger the ‘Onstar option’ suggests that the government of Iraq and its military think that they can deal with the car bombings, homemade bombs and attacks with silencer-equipped handguns that have plagued parts of the country in recent days.

That may be, but just so we understand what we’re talking about, let me point out a couple of things:

One, it is not the Iraqi Army that is in charge of security in Baghdad, but the paramilitary National Police. Hence, it is not the military that is dealing with the violence, but the ill-equipped and badly demoralised NP, which not long ago was accused of being nothing but a Shia militia.

Two, American “unilateral” patrols were all but banned long before the June 30 “pullout”, so there is really nothing shocking about U.S. troops not venturing out of their bases. As an American soldier sums up in the story:

‘Business is pretty much as usual. Our guys don’t ask for help on the ground very often, and not at all since the 30th. We give them the usual help, and they mention several times how pleased they are that we are still here with them.’

That’s it — business as usual. It’s a non-story. Why the usually dependable McClatchy chose to sex it up is beyond me. Read it carefully, though, and you’ll notice an interesting thing: although the story never spells it out, it’s clear U.S. troops haven’t actually pulled out of Baghdad, they’re just sitting in their JSSs waiting for that phone call.

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