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December 01, 2005

Comments

Training the Iraqi army will increase its technical proficiency. But it will not make the Iraqi army loyal to the Iraqi government. If the army is to provide the Iraqi government with the means to enforce its will over militias and sectarian groups, its soldiers must be loyal to the government and not to those groups. Many of them are not, and all the training in the world will not solve this problem.

Brzezinski seems to agree with you:

    Q: Do you think the Iraqi army is going to be ready soon?

    A: I think our course with the Iraqi forces verges on the absurd: It is all about us training them. The question arises: Training them to do what? If it is a matter of knowing how to use a Kalishnikov in order to kill other people, I think most military-aged Iraqis don't need our training. If it is a question of training Iraqis so they behave and act like American soldiers, that's well and good. Except that is not what is needed in the circumstances we will be bequeathing them. What is needed is motivation based on loyalty to the powers that be. That will mean loyalty to various Shiite militias with a clerical connotation and loyalty to the two major Kurdish formations. Plus, perhaps eventually, loyalty to some Sunni militias based on a tribal allegiance. The motivation is not going to be created by American sergeants who are -- quote, unquote -- "training" them how to behave like American soldiers.

Are we sure that hindrocket hasn't gone completely insane and turned into some sort of self-parody?

I mean, I see his bio on the law firm website, dartmouth, harvard, very impressive yes. Minnesota super-lawyer, super. Lives in Apple Valley, MN, who wouldn't want to (except from September through May)? He even represented the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District, which is only slightly less prestigious than the Southwest Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District (don't ask).

But "more eloquently than any President since Lincoln"?!!? I know he's probably pissed that Lincoln freed the ancestors of all those Democrat voters, but really, Bush is eloquent the same way that scratching fingers across a chalkboard is: not so much.

(and is he really that old? I always thought of him as someone just out of college)

the problem is that, as Jack Straw said, they wanted the sunni's in charge. They US enemy in Iraq is the Shia - however, they have been forced into alliance with them. The US can't leave because then the Shia openly ally with Iran. But they are only allowed to stay as long as they fight the Sunni for the Shia. So they are destroying the group they wanted in charge. It is difficult to see how they will resolve this.

At the end of the day, Iraq simply isn't a "natural" entity. The idea that some sort of voluntary federal arrangement can be reached, and then be expected to last in perpetuity, is a tall order.

The trendline around the world for similar arrangements is not good, the disintegration of Yugoslavia being a notable example. Even amongst those considered rolemodels: Czechoslovakia dissolved itself. Belgium, Spain, Canada, even the United Kingdom see separatist parties enjoying prolonged success.

But whatever. It has been willed.


I completely agree with the President's take on the consequences of losing in Iraq. (see pp. 5-6. Short version: it would be a disaster.) I only wish the gravity of these consequences had occurred to President Bush before he decided to invade on the cheap, without a plan for the occupation.

We are there because it occurred to him. Otherwise what justification would he have for keeping the troops in Iraq to be used as his political mascots? That is how this president gets what he wants, by creating fait accomplis.

Yeah, ethnic cleansing is definitely a danger of the armed federalism approach, as we already see in Kirkuk. And of course they'll have to work out territories, and some kind of mixed rule over the heavily mixed city of Baghdad.

But these are the solutions that Iraqis would develop -- I'm pretty sure -- if we weren't there. And who's job is it to design their society?

It remains my view that unsweetened kool-aid is kool-aid nonetheless, and that defining victory as a state we cannot see a way of acheiving -- in this case a national army with greater loyalty to nation than to sect or tribe -- only makes it more likely that we will fail to "win."

It's not a ball game, and there's no readily apparent standard for deciding whether we are "winning" or "losing." (Indeed, as we all know, people can argue constantly over whether we really lost the Viet Nam War, and if so whether we lost in March 1968, January 1973, April 1975 or at some other point. People can argue because there's no scoreboard.) In this circumstance, we not only get to define winning (secular peaceful democracy, with ponies for everyone) but also losing (AQ in control of the central government). Losing, thus formulated, is clearly catastrophic. But there are a great many possible outcomes between these poles, outcomes that are not catastrophic for the US in general (regardless of the impact on particular individuals -- for some of whom even the most favorable outcome is still going to have been catastrophic . . .).

Agree with this. Not much to add, except that it is probably more on point to stress that the Iraqis don't think in terms of loyalty to clan/tribe/sectarian vs. loyalty to a central government -- clan/tribe/sectarian loyalty is the only game in town.

I doubt that its an issue of "infiltration" of the government armed forces by militia -- I imagine that every staffing decision in the armed forces carries with it the building of political loyalties to clan/tribe/sectarian interests. The government's armed force is another form of militia loyal to those who control the government -- it just has the most resources and the better arms.

What really worries me is the following thought. The Iraqi political process is, it seems to me, pretty flimsy. The best hope for Iraq is that that process should, over time, acquire substance, and begin to command people's loyalties. But this would take time under the best of circumstances, and we do not have time. For one thing, eventually our army will simply break, and we will have to withdraw. For another, underneath the cloak of semi-respectability provided by the Constitution and the government, serious power struggles and a limited civil war are going on.

I think that there is a possibility that the political process can emerge alongside and as an alternative to the sectarian and ethnic loyalties. Yes this will take time, and my hope is that a strongman will not emerge as the national leader, but somebody who the Iraqis are all disappointed with, but can tolerate. And eventually the power will move from militias to political maneuvering within the Iraqi govt in order to gain power within the parliament.

Keeping the Kurds in the process is the highest priority, or else they will secede and then there will be a war w/ Kurdistan vs. Iraq and Iran and Turkey, which would have happened anyway if the US had not invaded and if interbational sanctions against Baathist Iraq were dropped.

Although its vaguely defined, its seems pretty clear that the Bush "victory" is not something within US power to achieve. The plan divides victory into short, medium and long term goals (which suggests a very long occupation if we are trying to achieve these ends before leaving), but they can be lumped together as beating the mislabeled "terrorists," a constitutional government, and peace and stability.

The problem here is that "victory" as defined basically means we are going to have to solve the Shia/Sunni/Kurd divisions so that they coexist peacefully under the new government. How can we achieve that?

The plan also mislabels the nature of the conflict -- it is a simmering civil war in which we are fighting the Sunnis on behalf of the Shia. We cannot end that insurgency since it is not made up of "rejectionists" et al., but the disaffected Sunni population unwilling to accept Shia domination.

The Iraqis are going to go through a violent period of sorting out the new power structure, and it is highly unlikely to lead to reconciliation between these groups. What is likely to happen is areas of chaos in the Sunni areas of the country that the Shia just wall-off rather than try to control. The Sunni insurgents will not drive the Shia out of control of the state -- just out of the Sunnis neighborhoods.

And it is hard to see how the Shia government is going to be friendly to our interests.

This war still makes no sense.

Dave C, answer a quick question without thinking about it too much: you're a Kurdish leader. What circumstances do you require before you either (a) allow the Kurdish militia to be folded completely into the national army, with civilian control and Shi'ite generals or (b) disband completely the Kurdish militia?

Would anything less than a US military treaty -- with a tripwire force -- do?

dm, I think that the coming Shia government will be friendly to Iran -- not dominated by it, more like Mexico to Iran's US (or Colorado to Iran's Texas?) -- but I don't see Shi'ite Iraq being openly hostile to us, unless we force it to choose sides by picking an unjustified (in Iraqi terms) fight with Iran. For one thing, the Shi'a will know that we can always back a Sunni military coup, and they've been down that road before.

I think there is a list of problems, the insurgency and militias provide 2 major categories.

But we need to add street crime and corruption. The Naghdad coroner reports nearly 8,000 bodies so far this year, the vast majority shooting victims. the bulk of these are probably not political, but basic crime.

Corruption means that many food rations lack things they once had, it spreads elsewhere to troops not getting equipment, non existent troops on payrolls, a crippling of any possibility of government.

I would also add health care which WHO indicates has not improved substantially and faces a possible crisis; and the economy which both the IMF and World Bank reports indicate may be stalling and which is fragile.

If such problems are not admitted they can not be addressed.

So far we have seen one step, our president has admitted that foreign Arabs are not the major part of the insurgency.

The guys at ITM seem to be non-sectarian.

Ironically, four of us (Mohammed, I and a couple of friends; 2 Arab Sunnis, two Arab Sheat) took the test and in all cases we found that the closest party to our thinking was either the PUK or the KDP, the two major Kurdish parties while the INA of Allawi came second or third.

and Alaa is still with the program.

Vahal has a good round up. Keep checking his blog until Dec 15.

CharleyCarp, I think if US troops redeployed, there would be a considerable US military presence in Iraqi Kurdistan. Even if all goes well, I think that the Kurdish Pesh Merga militia will exist as long as the various Shiite militias exist, and realistically longer in support of Kurds in Turkey and Iran. This is a very tough problem because even if Iraq has a stable govt, it will cause problrms for their foreign policy.

Dan Kervick

Comment section to one of Steve Clemons'posts;Dan is at the bottom

One of the best in the blogosphere seems actually to have come up with a new idea:

"I believe the US should remain in Iraq for now, but in significantly reduced numbers. Most importantly, they should withdraw from most of central Iraq, and from direct engagement with the bulk of the Sunni Arab resistance. The "Iraqi" troops should do the same thing - get out. I believe casualties will drop significantly, and the US will be able to begin to draw down its forces, and give most of them a well-deserved breather."

Read the whole long thing.

Must Read Articles

The original Clemons post.

I have no problem with militias keeping and bearing arms as long as they're well regulated (now where have I heard that phraseology before?). Part of our responsibility is not just to train the troops on the technical aspects of combat, but to have them defend and uphold the Iraqi constitution. I hope our military trainers are doing that.

DaveC,

This seems to be the state of politics:

Outside Ramadi's city auditorium, the mortar rounds fell, two, then three, each rattling the concrete walls slightly. Inside, locked in an intense debate about what it would take for American troops in Iraq to withdraw, none of the camouflaged Marines or robed Sunni Arab tribal leaders even flinched.

"We all want the withdrawal," Nasir Abdul Karim, leader of Anbar province's Albu Rahad tribe, told scores of the armed Marines and Sunni sheiks, clerical leaders and other elders at the gathering Monday in Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad. "We all believe it is an illegitimate occupation, and it is a legitimate resistance."

. . . For U.S. officers, the fact that the gathering took place was heartening. "If there's a debate today, the whole city is seeing democracy," Capt. Philip Nash, a Marine commander in Ramadi, said before it began. "It's a town-hall meeting in Ramadi."

. . . The Americans said they called the meeting to discuss security, talk about what conditions would lead to a U.S. withdrawal from the province, and encourage Sunni participation in the upcoming national elections.

But the clerics in the audience said they came for one reason: They were told the Americans wanted to discuss plans for a U.S. military pullout.

"We want them to withdraw from the province," Muhammed Dulaimy, an Arabic professor at Ramadi's Anbar University, said as about 200 of the province's elders settled into their seats. "They called the meeting. We came to see why they are talking to us. We didn't come to talk about the election. If it's about the election, we'll leave."

[...]

"We hoped we would see an already made plan and not discuss it any more," another sheik, Anwar Khirbeet, said of the talk of American withdrawal. "People here are against the occupation forces. We frankly consider the current government as a terrorist government."

Khirbeet drew the only applause of the day when he warned that Sunni Arabs faced a greater enemy in Anbar than Americans: the Iranian-allied religious parties of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, now in power in Baghdad. "The occupation will end sooner or later; the most dangerous thing we can face is the Iranian involvement,'' he said, to loud clapping from the crowd.

From:
Yes, U.S.">http://www.needlenose.com/node/view/2371">U.S. Debate on Pullout Resonates As Troops Engage Sunnis in Talks
.

I dont think that Ramadi and Anbar in general are representative of Iraq as a whole. I'm no expert, but I think that is where the Baathists and AQ in Iraq are, so of course they are against US.

Now, I am not for ethnic cleansing in any way, and I have stated that I think that the Shiite and Kurdish militias are a bad thing, but I think that they are less bad than the suicide bombers that deliberately kill innocents and that operate out of Ramadi and elsewhere in Anbar.

The main threat to Iraq, however, is the presence of armed militias generally

This is absurd.

The main threat to the colonies, of course, was kids chucking rocks at soldiers.

You fail to understand that which George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and the stupidest f***ing person on the face of the earth failed to understand.

People don't like foreign soldiers in their streets. I don't anyway. I would hope, that in the event the US was invaded and occupied by a foreign power, all in attendance would join me in being the "main threat" to whoever was so foolish as to begin the altercation...

Charles, with all respect, what was that saying about hope not being a plan?

This is beyond having hope for a plan. This is hoping people will risk suicide and place their faith in people they think are out to get them. And they are not wrong about that.

Really, everyone needs to spend you a couple of minutes sitting in each of the chairs here: Talabani, Barzani, Hakim, Sadr. When do you surrender the force that protects you and yours to someone you cannot control? The US is not going to be a guarantor of your people's security beyond 2007. Only if there was someone you're more scared of than the Sunni Arabs are you ever going to let them -- any of them -- have any power over your people.

This is another reason why the lack of an NVA (to look at the VN comparison) or Soviet Union (to think of post-WWII Germany) is a really big deal. Our clients are not afraid enough of any externals to make compromises with internal enemies.

The Kurds have tasted American kool-aid several times in the past, and are not going to drink it. The Shia got a whiff of it in 1991. And the Sunni Arabs think we're hopelessly naive about the influence that Iran is going to have in the nation we are building. These people have no incentive of any kind to risk their people's lives just so we can call our withdrawal victory.

Their best strategy is allowing their various militias to integrate into the Iraqi army, but never forget who they are, and where their allegiances lie. So that if there's a civil war -- or even just a confrontation between the national government and either Sumer or Kurdistan -- the various soldiers follow the example of Robert E. Lee and choose local over national loyalty. This strategy will work fine.

A Potemkin nationalism hiding armed federalism. Victory enough for the unsweetened kool-aid crowd. No one should be surprised, though, when Kurdish soldiers mutiny or desert before they engage in armed action against Kurdish interests in Kirkuk.

Charley:

I agree with you -- my point (expressed very bare bones) had more to dd with the defined terms of "victory" in Bush's plan, which posits a friendly cooperative government in Iraq. The plan contemplates Iraq as a future partner in US aims in the Middle East. That is not going to happen, which is what I meant by "friendly" toward the US.

The Shia seem adept at getting what they want out of the US without promising much in return, but do not seek open hostility with the US since it does not serve their interests.

The rest of the Sunni Middle East must hate our guts for empowering the Shia of Iraq and Iran like never before. I am sure they see it that way, as they preferred sicko Saddam to Iranian mullahs.

But there are a great many possible outcomes between these poles, outcomes that are not catastrophic for the US in general (regardless of the impact on particular individuals -- for some of whom even the most favorable outcome is still going to have been catastrophic . . .).

It's worse than that: each party in the conflict has their own "victory" and "defeat" conditions, and while "victory" is generally agreed-upon, the varying degrees of defeat are not. To use your example above, "Al Qaeda in charge of Iraq" is certainly defeat for the US but it's not clear that that would count as defeat for the Iraqis (especially as compared to, say, genocidal civil war). This means that many of our potential friends or allies in Iraq have rational incentives to act against the US and its interests -- not because they're evil, but because the alternatives are worse for them.

That, more than anything, is to me the greatest strategic failure in Iraq. And damned if I know how to fix it.

CB:

Part of our responsibility is not just to train the troops on the technical aspects of combat, but to have them defend and uphold the Iraqi constitution. I hope our military trainers are doing that.

Except that is impossible to do. You can't train loyalty, and Americans certainly cannot train Iraqis to forego their traditional loyalties. Try to imagine any plausible scenario in which an American military trainer is able to convinve Iraqi recruits that the American ideas on to whom they should be loyal trumps their life-long loyalties based on clan/tribe/sectarian principles.

Militia power is now basic to Iraqi political structure, and no group is going to go along with a political program that transfers that power away to rivals. By definition, the central government's military will become an extension of the Shia militia, since the Shia would never allow it to become a counter-point to their own militia based power. And I cannot imagine the Shia, already in control of the central government, allowing the military to become a check on their power by becoming a separate force.

Exactly dm. Just like Palestine/Israel or abortion, I think we're ready to just have shorthand for positions in this kind of discussion. To state my position (and yours) in response to claims about our ability to train out loyalty to subnational groups, I propose the following short hand response:

"Robert E. Lee"

I suppose you youngsters will want to go with REL or rel or something yet hipper.

REL it is.

Funny how CB is such a dreamy idealist about this conflict.

Charles:

"I have no problem with militias keeping and bearing arms as long as they're well-regulated"

I don't know how to respond to this. Charles, with all due respect to your aspirations for Iraq and your knowledge of the situation there, you can't really believe the word "militia" in Iraq or any other unstable, war-torn country, with raging sectarian and tribal loyalties, has any relation to the word "militia" as we use it here in the United States.

The pathetic losers hauling their beer guts and lawn chairs along the U.S.-American border are an American-style "militia". We could get some entertaining tension going by perhaps having an armed American/Chicano nationalist group showing up down there for some militia competition, or perhaps an armed Black Muslim militia. Let's throw in a Mafia militia, well-regulated, just for fun.

It would make for good T.V., but as soon as someone accidentally Barney Fifed his big-clip weapon, there would be mass pants-wetting and folks running off into the desert night.

"Militias" in the third-world, by and large, are thugs and killers. They might wear the uniform of the National Army during the day or they might clerk at the grocery down the street, but they will harass you, steal from you, beat the crap out of you, or kill you and throw your body on a garbage heap in the street if you threaten their interests, whatever those are.

Now, if I'm a Kurd or if I'm a firm believer in a 15% flat tax, I would feel pretty good that my "militia" was protecting my interests. But I would cross the street when I saw them during the day, because looking at them cross-eyed might threaten their interests.

No doubt there are Johnny Tremain's salted throughout Iraqi militias. I hope they don't get a well-regulated bullet in the back of the head.

Pinochet's "militias" were very well-regulated. They knew precisely who to kill. Guatamalan militias were stand-up citizens, dedicated to freedom and property-rights, no doubt. If Castro were overthrown today, he might hobble off to the mountains and get himself a "militia". Filipino militia in Mindanao are a hell of a lot of fun to drink with deep into the night, until they want to go outside and empty their clips at the stars. I've seen it up close.

Do you really believe regulating a "militia" in Iraq has any resemblance to regulating a "militia" in the United States?

DaveC, there's no moral distinction between a Sunni suicide bomber and a Shiite death squad.

I make moral distinctions all the time between murderers, whether in Iraq or in the US.

I would make one minor point. Hilzoy said:

Second, while the Kurds are relatively organized, it does not seem that one group dominates in either the Sunni or the Shi'a territories. This means that even in the absence of territorial disputes, armed groups are likely to fight for power.

If we're talking about one group "dominating" within the various regions, then it should be noted that the current Kurdish unity on display masks an underlying reality of tension between Kurds who largely fall into two camps. In other words, eventually, even the Kurds could turn on each other, or there could be an internal struggle for supremacy.

I make moral distinctions all the time between murderers

I don't doubt it. So, by all means, explain to me the moral superiority of a Shiite death squad over a Sunni suicide bomber.

I'm curious myself, Dave. What's the moral distinction between blowing someone up and crucifying them with an electric drill?

Well, surely there is a distinction to be drawn between killing people that one thinks, individually, are bad guys and killing people that one has no reason to think are bad guys at all -- inded that one hopes are perfectly normal uninvolved people. A death squad's victims are opponents, while a suicide bomber's victims are props.

This distinction does not in any way correspond with the distinction betweem OK and not-OK. It exists nonetheless.

Charley, this is the kind of distinction that is completely worthless in real life and I don't think much of it even as a purely theoretical argument. In other countries where death squads have operated they tend to be somewhat, um, cavalier in who they torture to death and I'm a little doubtful myself that Iraq has produced the world's first group of ethical death squads. I further suspect a man who is willing to use an electric drill on other human being is probably not the sort who'd make careful moral distinctions between innocent and guilty people. More likely they pick up Sunnis, innocent and guilty alike, and kill them.

I agree generally, hilzoy, but I would characterize the core problem in Iraq as “faction” rather than “armed militias” and, especially, the dynamics which push the country towards civil war.

On the unity of the Kurds, Kurdish bloggers have recently commented that this is in transition. Things are changing from a common plea for Kurdish independence to political infighting among competing Kurdish factions.

In my view what all of this means is that we're going to have a substantial troop commitment in Iraq for a very long time if for no other reason but to function as referee.

A death squad's victims are opponents, while a suicide bomber's victims are props.

In this case I think that's a distinction without a difference. It's true that conventional rules of warfare distinguish between "opponents" and "bystanders," but the sorts of practices "death squads" generally engage in usually blur the line between the two. And given that "death squad" tactics traditionally rely on terror to a greater or lesser degree, I don't think the intent to make such a distinction is even ever there, except, perhaps, very cursorily. So the question remains.

So, by all means, explain to me the moral superiority of a Shiite death squad over a Sunni suicide bomber.

The Shiite death squads are a result of years of oppression and the new freedoms obtained due to the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. They are formed mostly in order to exact revengeon those who assisted the Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in murdering many of the Shiite's.

The Sunni suicide bomber is a product of a people who were once in power and abused that power by killing many many Shiite's. They grew used to the power that they abused it and would know like it back in order to continue using that power. They are willing to murder many Shiite's to accomplish this.

I for one can clearly make the distinction between the two. It isn't all that difficult.

The pathetic losers hauling their beer guts and lawn chairs along the U.S.-American border are an American-style "militia"

I wasn't speaking about today's militias, John, but about the founders' intent. Hil raised a valid concern, and I don't know if they're prioritizing country over tribe or sheik. I hope they are because the alternative could be Pinochet-style militias or some other armed vigilante group. A lot is going to ride on our training and our continued presence in some capacity.

Charles, do you have any evidence at all that they're "prioritizing country over tribe or sheik"? It seems to me that all of the existing evidence is going in the other direction...

I for one can clearly make the distinction between the two. It isn't all that difficult.

No, when you've convinced yourself Iraq is just like a Mickey Spillane novel, I guess it isn't. Whoo-hoo! Moral clarity! High-five, dude!

Anyone else who isn't twelve care to try to answer the question?

Hilzoy: [T]he consequences of losing in Iraq ... would be a disaster. I only wish the gravity of these consequences had occurred to President Bush before he decided to invade on the cheap, without a plan for the occupation.

That's 'will be a disaster.' That consequence was inevitable for any invasion, however more massively trooped and planned.

Cheney put his finger on the every-choice-unpalatable menu of results back in 1991. The only thing that's changed in the meantime is his apparent belief that a different outcome could be magically achieved by installing Chalabi. (I say 'apparent' because I think Cheney's too smart to have believed in the planless occupation, so I'm forced to consider equally likely that the ongoing chaos and destruction, and the contractor looting it made possible, was his actual goal.)

"The Shiite death squads are a result of years of oppression and the new freedoms obtained due to the U.S. led invasion of Iraq."

Posted by: creek | December 02, 2005 at 03:44 PM

This is just degenerate...yes, I remember all those histroy lessons where we learned that the death squads of freedom and liberty brought democrcy to the world.

Jefferson's death squads were the freedomist.

Paul, I think that's totally uncalled for. Can you see the moral distinction between someone who beats up random people on the street, and someone who beats people up that he thinks are gay? Both are bad, one is worse than the other.

(And to make it closer to the question presented, substitute klansmen for gay wrt the latter).

Look, I sympathize the the idea that neither guy ought to be given a bat and the run of the streets. Instead, you want a nun, and a pony. Good luck with that.

No, when you've convinced yourself Iraq is just like a Mickey Spillane novel, I guess it isn't. Whoo-hoo! Moral clarity! High-five, dude!

Anyone else who isn't twelve care to try to answer the question?

1) I see that I have somehow managed to convince myself, but you however have some form of truth to substantiate your lack of moral clarity in the situation.

2) Unrelated reference to Spillane novel

3) A Woo-Hoo and a high five.

4) Attacking someone as immature.

So much immature behavior in so few words for someone accusing another of being 12.

It's sad that you have such little historical understanding of why there might be some pissed of Shiite's in the formerly Sunni dominated Iraq.

I guess I would rather be mistaken for 12 rather than being an ass.

Charley, see my reply to your rather more serious reponse at 3:36. Based on what I know of Sunni and Shiite killings and based on the traditional use of the phrase "death squads" I don't see any moral distinction between revenge killings by groups currently in power and indiscriminate suicide killings by a group that used to be in power.

"(or Colorado to Iran's Texas?)"

Um, what sort of relationship do you see between Texas and Colorado politics or politicians, CharleyCarp? (I see about as much as between Colorado and Rhode Island, but I could easily be missing it.)

Death squads, by their very nature, are involved with terrorist acts.

Imagine this scenario.

X Clan rapes and kills people in Y Clan for no reason other than control.

X Clan sends suicide bombers to kill Y Clan.

Y Clan respond by forming a group to kill and punish members of X Clan.

Are claiming that X Clan and Y Clan are morally equivalent clans?

Of course you are because my mind reading skills just informed me that you probably think Bush=Hitler.

"I hope they are because the alternative could be Pinochet-style militias or some other armed vigilante group."

Could be?

Charles, do you feel that that all the reports of the death squads are simply lies of Iraqis (for more than a year now) and the Evil MSM, or what? What makes you assert that these are potential, future tense, problems?

Hint to many after reading the above comment thread: not all distinctions are moral distinctions. This should be obvious, but clearly not. (This is why sloppy writing and sloppy reading are evil; the best they lead to is confusion and unnecessary argument.)

I do look forward, however, to DaveC (or anyone else) getting around to answering the questions asked by Paul and Donald Johnson, among others, which I would have asked myself.

No politics, GF. I haven't spent much time in Colorado for many years. But in the late 60s and early 70s, my grandparents lived there, and we lived in Texas, and I had the distinct impression that Coloradoans had strong feelings about Texans. Like 'we'll take your money but don't ask us to like your exuberance.' I presume that Coloradoans are no more fond of their Texan visitors (or in resort towns, their Texan overlords) now than they were then.

This is pretty common: you wouldn't believe what we in northwestern Montana used to say about Canadians, and the south-of-the-border attitude they used to adopt when visiting. But we liked their money.

There were 2 versions of the question:

I don't doubt it. So, by all means, explain to me the moral superiority of a Shiite death squad over a Sunni suicide bomber.

and

I'm curious myself, Dave. What's the moral distinction between blowing someone up and crucifying them with an electric drill?

When I read the 1st question I was thinking of a Shiite death squad in terms of politically motivated violence and targeted killing of political opponents.

This I think is morally wrong, but suicide bombings targeting children to me are obviously worse.

Torturing somebody to death is quite a different matter than assassination. And it can be argued the torturer who is sadistic is more evil than the wierdly idealistic suicide bomber, though in truth I tend to judge these crimes by the innocence of the victims more than by the mental state of the killers.

This is pretty common: you wouldn't believe what we in northwestern Montana used to say about Canadians

Popular bumper sticker in Oregon
'Don't Californicate Oregon'

I also seem to remember one that said 'Beautify Oregon--shoot a Californian', but that seems a bit too violent, so I may be misremembering it.

This article which mentions the Plywood Curtain is interesting. (go past the discussion of Ecotopia)

The above discussion, btw, is a perfect illustration of why most human rights organizations are not in the business of ranking human rights violations or otherwise grading on a curve or handing out test scores.

(This is in response to a long ago discussion with Charles--he has repeatedly said that this is what Amnesty should do if it is to be really valuable.)

You embroil yourself in endless political disputes, you undercut your argument that these actions are all wrong and must all stop, you cannot actually give an objective answer to these questions, and in attempting to do so you objectivity the victims: "Gosh, how many demerits should we give per innocent child killed in suicide bombing attacks? More or less than demerits per Sunni adult male possibly suspected of Ba'athist or insurgent ties tortured to death with drill marks in his skull?"

If nothing else, sitting around having the endless arguments this would provoke instead of actually documenting human rights violations would be a shockingly poor use of Amnesty's and HRW's resources.

I realize it's an outdated topic. I'm just saying.

objectify, not objectivity. doh.

'Don't Californicate Oregon'

My favorite is: Gut-shoot 'Em At The Border

"But in the late 60s and early 70s, my grandparents lived there, and we lived in Texas, and I had the distinct impression that Coloradoans had strong feelings about Texans."

My own experience is very limited. I've only been a resident of Colorado for (almost exactly) four years, all in the People's Republic of Boulder, and I have no car and don't get around much. So you may be right, and the fact that I've never heard anyone say a word about Texas, positive or negative, isn't particularly relevant.

DaveC says: "And it can be argued the torturer who is sadistic is more evil than the wierdly idealistic suicide bomber, though in truth I tend to judge these crimes by the innocence of the victims more than by the mental state of the killers."

I have no problem making a case for idealistic torture. (Believing it is an entirely different question.) I can, if you'd like, offer quite a few cites from pro-Bush blogs and opinion pieces offering such a moral defense. I'd suggest starting with The Weekly Standard (and the Daily), but offering a set of Iraqi variants is also perfectly easy. And how to know if a suicide bomber is sadistic or idealistic without mindreading, and why care, anyway?

But I still won't prefer to be idealistically power-drilled through my limbs and then killed to being blown up.

I'm not fond of most death scenarios, though, truth be told, particularly those that involve violence. I'm not even sure I'd prefer being orgasmed-to-death over quietly expiring in my sleep.

Although if I have to be put to the test, I know which one I'd choose.

But I still won't prefer to be idealistically power-drilled through my limbs and then killed to being blown up.

FWIW, I'm not an idealist about it at all. I'm just in it for the benefits package.

Orgasmed to death. I suppose there are cultural barriers that prevent Islamic terrorist organizations from using this method of killing their foes. Reminds me of a scene in Neil Gaiman's "American Gods", but I suppose Gary was thinking more along the lines of guys with bad hearts who die happy.

Can you see the moral distinction between someone who beats up random people on the street, and someone who beats people up that he thinks are gay? Both are bad, one is worse than the other.

Which of them is worse? One of them hates everyone, the other only hates certain people for specific reasons.

Is the United States engaging in state terrorism when it drops 500 pound bombs into residential districts?

Are is everybody considered guilty, when Americans act like terrorists.

Raed's brother Khalid was arrested for reading Raeds website and was released July of this year. It is not just the deathsquads that do the torturing...

I was so lucky that I was taken to the Mokhabarat directly. Usually you have to go through a police station or a center of the national guards to get there, where the standard procedure of torturing is hanging people upside down and beating them with cables for hours, pinching their bodies with electrical drills, burning them with hot water, ripping out their finger nails, breaking bones, using acids on the wounds after whipping them, the dead bodies that are found in the dumpsters in Baghdad even had their eyes taken out of them, and a lot of these things happened with people that I know, or with people that were detained with the people that were with me in this jail, before they were brought here, and the list of torturing techniques is long, and you don’t want to hear them or know about them if you want to sleep at night.

In one of the floors in the same building, there is another prison, a bigger one called “The Palace of Hospitality” (doesn’t this remind you of 1984? The ministry of love and stuff?) Where recently a father and his son were arrested, and the son died at night because his rips were broken after they beat him, and then they spelled hot water on his body, he kept moaning of pain for the whole night, said Abo Ayid, who slept right beside him, and then he died. I’ll tell you more about Abu Ayid in the end.

The one thing in common between all the people that were there is that almost all of them were Sunnis. Interrogators told one of the prisoners during an interrogation session “you Sunnis are all terrorists” and during my interrogation, I heard a lot of racist remarks and questions. The Shia Iraqis who were there were mostly accused of non-terrorism crimes, like stealing, carjacking, etc…

The Shiite death squads are a result of years of oppression and the new freedoms obtained due to the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. They are formed mostly in order to exact revengeon those who assisted the Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in murdering many of the Shiite's.

The problem is, that's not justice -- it's mob violence. In addition, it assumes that Sunnis, en masses, were Saddam loyalists and murderers. This sort of reversal-of-fortunes leading to ethnic violence and civil war is precisely the scenerio that has concerned many observers. This time, though, the folks with power also have Iran on their side. Yay.

The Shiite death squads are a result of years of oppression and the new freedoms obtained due to the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. They are formed mostly in order to exact revengeon those who assisted the Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in murdering many of the Shiite's.

Except that they are not. The Pentagon decided that the Sunnis weren't paying enought of a price for supporting the insurgency and started work on the "Salvadoran Option" as reported in Newsweek about a year ago and the Bush administration brought Negroponte out of retirement to supervise.

The death squads aren't some natural Shia pathology, they are a strategic creation of the Bush administration.

I think it is disgusting when people try to blame others for their own crimes. It only becomes worse when the crimes are torture and mass murder.

"This is pretty common: you wouldn't believe what we in northwestern Montana used to say about Canadians, and the south-of-the-border attitude they used to adopt when visiting. But we liked their money."

This was, incidentally, hardly an uncommon opinion, as noted from everything from ob-ed pieces to common beatings to highway signs, in Washington State (where pretty much everyone wanted to beat on the rest of you for forcing us to mention the "State" part), circa late Seventies, although, of course, every darn territory in America, prior to becoming a state, as wll as most subsequent states, also have gone through that.

"This was, incidentally, hardly an uncommon opinion,"

As regards California, that is. That was so endemic that I forgot to mention the obvious. "California" in the context of the Western States seemed obvious, but possibly not in this thread and venue.

Frank, I've read the same articles you have and partly agree with you--the US does have links to some of these death squads and the current pretense of shock by our government is pure hypocrisy. Probably the US decided that death squad killings of Sunnis by Shiites are only making the insurgency stronger, rather than stamping it out. .

That said, I don't think that the Shiites or anyone else needed US training to form death squads. I think they'd have formed whether the US supported them or not.

This is one of the more interesting threads I've read on Iraq. There are several groups fighting each other, some with temporary alliances that are unlikely to survive our departure:

1) The Kurds. They control their part of Iraq, want to keep control of the oil sources in or around their area. From what I read, which is unfortunately mostly propaganda, they have the closest thing to a functioning democracy in the area, since they've been at it since the end of Gulf War I and the start of our no-fly zone.

These guys are unlikely to ever control anything more than their section of Northern Iraq.

2) Al Qaeda. Temporarily allied with some of the Sunni insurgents, they're there to kill US soldiers. But don't kid yourselves, the folks right after the local Americans on their hit list are their irstwhile allies, the Sunni Baathists.

3) Sunni Baathist insurgents. They want to control Iraq again. They're secular, but are doing the same thing as local Al Qaeda troops, i.e. killing as many Americans as they can.

4) Shiite theocrats. These are Da'awa and SCIRI, and are the folks who, in a combined slate with the Kurds, won the election. The Kurds just want to be left alone, but these guys are very closely allied with Iran. Bush seems to think, because they won the election, that they're our natural allies. But these guys include the Badr brigades and Sadr's group, and generally a bunch of thugish militias that are successfully imposing a brutal theorcratic rule over the Shia areas.

I'd argue that the folks who most closely share our *values* are the secular Iraqis, both Sunni and Shiite. That's not because the US is a secular country, but because the in the US, people put alliances to their religious group second to their alliance to the United States. The secular Sunnis, however, are trying to get us out of the country by killing US soldiers, since they were the ones thrown out of power by the invasion. The secular Shiites are being killed by SCIRI-controlled death squads, and have no power in the new Iraqi government.

The result is, I'm afraid, that we're fucked. Right now, we're fighting "with" the Iraqi government, but it seems to me that that's a sham, and they'll turn on us if the violence level between us and the Sunnis drops off. The Sunni Baathists would probably go after Al Qaeda if US troops weren't an occupying force, since both the Baathists and Al Qaeda are located in the same areas, and hate each other. Fortunately, it seems that there are at least ten times as many Baathists as Al Qaeda, so in essence, our presence is the only thing preventing the secular Sunnis from going after the only group now in Iraq that has killed Americans in the US.

Thus you see the wisdom of Murtha's plan: redeploy so as to prevent a full-scale Syrian or Iranian invasion, or attacks on the Kurdish areas by anyone else. Let the Iraqis fight things out among themselves, which will most likely result in the stomping of Al Qaeda, and some sort of power sharing between the Sunnis and Shiites, after an unpredictable (to me) amount of fighting.

Donald- I don't think that the government condemning the death squads represents a change in policy. We condem torture too while engaging in it. It is probably more about plausable deniability or possibly infighting within the military.

I would tend to think that the Shia could have started their own death squads, but we didn't here about it until after the Nicaragua option went public and the Bush administration decided they needed the Negroponte's experience. Maybe death squads are harder to organize than you'd think, or maybe the Shia leadership wasn't all that enthusiastic on their own.

In any case there is no reason to think the Shia would have set up death squads if we hadn't done it for them.

Whoops.

The training of Iraqi security forces has suffered a big "setback" in the last six months, with the army and other forces being increasingly used to settle scores and make other political gains, Iraqi Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer said Monday.

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