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April 18, 2007


The question is: If our presence, even with increased troops, isn't helping, why are we there any more?

Would it really be any worse if we left?

Granted , it may be, but we don't know. What we appear to be finding out is that our presence isn't doing anything positive that I can tell from these stories.

john miller: I think it will get worse if we leave. (Just guessing.) The reason I support leaving despite this fact is that I think it will get worse when we leave whenever we leave, and that nothing that's likely to happen in the foreseeable future will reduce the level of badness that happens when we leave. (Some things might increase it.) So the 'getting worse' seems to me to be a given; the only question is: will it get worse before or after we lose a lot more people and break our army and spend a ton of money?

I can't begin to say how much I hate the fact that this is the sort of choice we face.

Can we help people get out, if thheyy want to leave? I'm thnking of protected convoys, relatively large scale rescue effort. And not at the last minute.


I don't think so. That would just provide more large scale gatherings to target.

Clearly Baghdad is no more deadly than Blacksburg, Virginia.

Clearly Baghdad is no more deadly than Blacksburg, Virginia.

Clearly too, if only Baghdadis were issued permits to carry concealed weapons some of these horrendous events might be deterred, or stopped in the act by an armed passerby.

And if Baghdadis weren't such f*cking pussies like the British sailors and Va Tech students, none of the suicide bombers would have gotten away to strike another day.

There is nothing more to say about this.

The slaughter will continue whether we leave or not; merely the rate of slaughter will increase upon our leaving.

Regardless, we will leave at some point, or at least withdraw to garrisons on the other side of the border.

But here's the deal. There are a large number of bitter, diehard war-supporting Republican men and a few women in THIS country who have been using this war as their own virtual reality video game to take out their imaginary enemies, the Arabs, the Commies, the Liberals, the flying-while-swarthy.

They all own guns.

Their voices are louder, and then further amplified by the haters whom we have permitted to infest our media and demagogue them.

If the worst happens in Iraq, all of us who have been vocally against the war will be blamed for the defeat and the resulting slaughter.

We (hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of us), will be the new Jane Fondas, and you can multiply the anger per capita.

Most of US don't own weapons.

When Sean Hannity boasts of owning one gun, I think maybe I require two.

For those of us who have been critics of the war from the right -- i.e., who favored more troops early and often -- the continued failure of the surge is further evidence that timing is important. Had this war been fought soberly and seriously from the start, with a clear understanding that the fairy tale ending was not going to happen, we may (or may not) have been in a better place. Surging troops at the end, however, may be the worst of all worlds.

I regret my faith that Bush would do right by the war -- despite his other foibles. I do not regret my decision to oppose the surge.

Crap (again). I supported Bush, and then I didn’t. I supported the surge, and then I didn’t. Yet I still hope it works, the downside is too horrible to contemplate. Funding or not?

Bear with me folks. In the future, you will undoubtedly be able to point to my contradictory statements all over this blog. Can we chalk it up to “I don’t know where the hell to go from here”? Consider this my official “I am clueless and never listen to me on any issue” post. Won’t stop me from trying – but I warned you…


That you contradict yourself is a sign of strength -- one sorely lacking in others. After all, you are in the land of the hypocrites at Obsidian Wings!

So, let me contradict myself:

If George W. Bush donned a flight suit and floated over Iraq and pacified it by sprinkling pixey dust, I'd kiss him on the lips.


It may be that invading Iraq (invading Afghanistan was unavoidable) was a bad idea regardless of the degree of seriousness and sobriety applied. The place is a powderkeg of religious and ethnic stresses, pressurized by decades of authoritarian rule.

More troops? Methinks an even larger conflagration.

Listen, if a foreign power invaded the United States with the goal of forcing us to consume the most wonderful-tasting ice cream for our own pleasure, we would resist, regardless of how good the ice cream was.

If they increased troop strength to have their delicious way with us, you and I would just find a way to blow up more ice cream trucks.

Any argument that we should stay in Iraq has to first establish that we are currently making progress. But all we hear are scattered anecdotes. "It was just like a market in Indiana!" The case simply hasn't been made.

The same people who believe "the surge is working" are the same people who believed "we've turned the corner" and the same people who fell for that same line every single time it was offered. "Okay, you're right, things haven't been going so great, but NOW things are finally starting to look up. How can you think of leaving just when we're finally starting to see improvement?"

Even back in 2004, it seemed to me that the case for "progress" being made in Iraq focused solely on political milestones. We've held an election, we've drafted a constitution, so on and so forth. But there was never any improvement in the actual security of the country, and security trumps all. The political milestones were simply there to create the illusion of progress.

I have seen nothing in the past four years to challenge my extreme-minority argument that the US' natural allies in Iraq are precisely those groups it is fighting - namely the Sunni middle class, professional and Baathist stratum, and the nationalist Shia represented most visibly by Sadr.

Why? Because only those factions share Washington's wider interests, most importantly a unified Iraq. The paradox is that nationalist Iraqis are those most likely to resent American occupation. The only way that circle would have been squared, if at all possible, would have been to stitch up a Sadrist-Sunni-Kurd federalist coalition in 2003, and promise them that America would be gone in 12 months.

Instead, a buffoonish viceroy took charge, the Marines 'liberated' Fallujah and Samarra several times each, and now Washington is in hock with sectarian creepos who are a lot more sympathetic to the Iranian perspective than the American one.

By this view, consequently, the most encouraging sign to appear in Iraq in the past few months has been the Sadrists' unilateral ceasefire, and their big parade last week in which they at least made a show of sectarian unity. This latter fact is far far more relevant than the obligatory call for US withdrawal.

If Washington has the vision to see it, this is probably the last branch to grasp that might pull them out of the mire.

Of course, I could be wrong. But I think that my argument has a logic to it. I'm sick and tired of everybody repeating the mantra that there is no solution except more of the same or withdrawal. If you think that, then it's time to question basic assumptions. And the first basic assumption since day 1 has been that these guys are America's enemies. Since every policy since then has been a disaster, I think it's about time people acknowledged that the counter-argument might have some merit.

Hilzoy, I do realize it will probably get worse in terms of intensity. What we don't know is long term which will be worse.

Right now there is the slow bleed. If we leave would there be a quick explosive up-tick in violence, with a "somewhat" rapid settling? Will the overall damage be less or more if we leave? That is what is uncertain.

A lot of the Sunnis have been anti al Qaeda for a long time but see them as having a common enemy. If we leave that enemy is gone. Do the vast majority of the Sunnis go after al Qaeda? We can be pretty sure the Shiites will.

OCSteve. I have been against this war from the beginning. Yet I have vacillated between our staying or leaving. So you can count on a lot of us, right and left, joining you in that realm of constant contradiction.

von, I can appreciate your views, but what I really don't understand is why anyone really thought invading Iraq was a good idea. Believe me, like John Thullen, if a miracle happened and Iraq suddenly calmed down and became a vibrant democracy, I would be overjoyed. I probably wouldn't kiss Bush, but I might give Barney a hug.

But even if that happened, I would still say we never should have invaded.

Can we chalk it up to “I don’t know where the hell to go from here”?

Who could blame you. And who could say they have a magic bullet. FWIW OCSteve, I was late to hop on the withdrawal bandwagon for fear of what would happen when we left, and in hopes of finding something to staunch the bleeding even a little

byrninman notwithstanding.

Byrnie, the weaknesses I see in your solution, logical as it is are only a few, but they're important:

Sadr and Sistani are close allies - and getting closer. Sadr's militia is one of the more ruthless in terms of reprisal killings, unprovoked killings and ethnic cleansing. If he ever had a chance to join a pan-Sectarian coaltion, it would have been early on circa first siege of Fallujah. But now, that would be difficult to walk back all of that brutality to find some common ground with Sunni elements. Regardless of feel-good rhetoric on unity.

Also, I don't think Sistani would give his blessing for Sadr to make that move now. And Sadr likely wouldn't stray that far from Sistani in pursuit of questionable and dubious objectives.

byrningman, I agree we're working with the wrong people in the geopolitical sense. Many people have commented on the irony that we're propping up a government mostly comprised of ex-agents of the Iranians against nationalists who want Iran contained much as we do.

I also rather doubt withdrawal will make things worse. Most of the violence at least theoretically could be controlled by the Sadrists and the Sunni insurgents. At present, though, they are underground, and largely unable to control rogues. While they're both rather unsavory groups, they do want power and they do have constituencies of relatively normal people who want peace or at least a cessation of suicide bombers and death squads. If we go, Sadr will have effective control of most of Shia Baghdad and the Sunni insurgents of most of the Sunni triangle. They will have both incentive and ability to curtail the violence then. At present they lack incentive - since the violence allows them to pose as anti-American nationalists - and ability, since it's hard to control an area when any concentration of your forces can get whomped by airstrikes.

john miller: "Hilzoy, I do realize it will probably get worse in terms of intensity. What we don't know is long term which will be worse.

Right now there is the slow bleed. If we leave would there be a quick explosive up-tick in violence, with a "somewhat" rapid settling? Will the overall damage be less or more if we leave? That is what is uncertain."

-- I'm assuming that we will have to leave eventually. If there were some sign that we were progressing towards some point at which we'd be able to leave without that explosive up-tick (unfortunately, I'm not very optimistic about the "quick" part), I'd probably be in favor of sticking it out, though obviously that would depend on the time frame. (I mean, if things were progressing at a rate that would let us withdraw without calamity in three hundred years, I'd still be in favor of leaving.)

My problem is that I don't see any signs of that at all. So I think: it's a matter of bringing on the horror now or later.

Not that we can't work really hard to try to ensure that we leave in as un-damaging a way as possible. But we are not now trying to do any such thing.

Keep in mind, hilzoy, that you and I are on the same page on this. And I think have gone through the same tortuous process to get where we are.

It is just that when one reads things like the statistics in this post, one can wonder what waits when we leave. Just how gorrific will it be if it is going to be worse than this?

Obviously gorrific=horrific, although based on the bloodiness of all this, perhaps the original may be apt.

Just how gorrific will it be if it is going to be worse than this?

We’ll remember when it was only 180 per day.

No snark. Proper contrition…

The next Hilzoy post on Iraq will have "gorrific" in its title.

John Miller, you have added to the lexicon.

When the next President of these here United States meets with the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the first time the morning after inauguration, he or she will ask for an assessment of the Iraq situation.

They will answer: "Mr. and/or Madame President, we regret to report that the situation is gorrific."

John Derbyshire will imagine himself hanging on to to Empire State Building spire with one paw, grasping at a frail female straw with the other, swatting at the enemy.


My problem is that I don't see any signs of that [leaving Iraq without a full-scale slaughter] at all.

I agree that our attempts to "Weberize" Iraq are almost certainly doomed, since as soon as the Iraqi police/army are operating without adult supervision, they'll look to start settling scores. OTOH, even Sadr's forces are marching with Iraqi flags, which is indicative that to some extent they feel that there's some broadly Iraqi identity underlying sectarian forces.

Right now, there are about three things that need to be done that could make post-withdrawal Baghdad less of a charnel house:

1) Give more help to the Anbar Salvation Council

2) Go Fallujah on Baqubah's Sunnis

3) Give the Iraqi Army more artillery/tanks

As it stands now, Iraq's Sunni population is still looking forward to a supposed reckoning when they can slaughter their Shi'ite fellow citizens. If there's an actual army with artillery, tanks, and suchlike, the Iraqi Sunnis might be more likely to look to a negotiated settlement.

Give Iraq's Shi'ites a few more years so that once we leave they have sufficient force to threaten to level western Baghdad. Otherwise, Iraq's Sunnis are going to continue with their lust for slaughter they've been engaged in over the last fo9ur years.

3) Give the Iraqi Army more artillery/tanks

What are they going to use that against?

Israel, obviously.

I guess I should throw in here what I always throw into these discussions of "won't it get worse if we leave?"

Last summer in Amman, a wise Jordanian diplomat answered that question in a way that has stuck with me: "My solution may be brutal, but I believe the U.S. must leave completely. Iraq will have a difficult rebirth; it may take 10 or 15 years. But Iraq has enough heritage to recover, to stand on its own two feet. There is no other way."

We, even those of us who opposed the war, underestimate the sophistication and the historic depth of the Iraqi political culture whose destruction we've set in motion. Yes, there will probably be an uptick in slaughter when the US leaves -- but these are not children; they'll sort it out, even if we don't like the result. We forfeited our influence on the result by our mindless invasion and occupation.

Well said, janinsanfran.

But the invasion and occupation of Iraq was championed by Americans who think the problem with colonialism is ungrateful natives.

(I don't, needless to say, mean grassroots war supporters: I mean PNAC and this PNAC administration.)

One essential (or one prerequisite) of being a colonialist is the belief that "the natives" aren't adult enough to "handle" self-government. People who take a cool look at the situation and conclude "They don't want to be ruled by us, we don't want our people to die enforcing that rule, why don't we just give both nations what we both want?" are by definition never going to be colonialists.

We’ll remember when it was only 180 per day.

frankly, America doesn't really give a sh!t about the death toll in Iraq. you don't have to look any farther than this past Monday to see that: 35 v 160. and 160 is merely the largest death toll in a day since the Surge began. CNN hasn't done 24/7 coverage of the killings in Iraq, ever.

the toll could go up to 1000/day and we, as a country, still wouldn't care. we've washed our hands of it.

When we first handed over "sovereignty" to Allawi, he announced that insurgents could lay down their arms and become productive iraqi citizens and be forgiven foir past violence. The americans said no, he couldn't do that.

And he said he had the right to veto US airstrikes etc. The americans took him aside and talked to him, and he announced that we had shown him how wonderfully accurate our airstrikes are, how they only hit known insurgents, and he approved of them all.

And now there's an iraqi army that's almost completely under US command. The new wrinkle is that officially in Baghdad there's an iraqi counterpart to each US officer, and officially they're supposed to discuss things and agree, so officially the iraqi army isn't just controlled by the USA. And we are beginning to turn over iraqi army units to the iraqi government, the most useless and unreliable brigades first, of course.

The iraqi government can't really negotiate with the terrorists, because anything they agree to we can ignore and we can make the iraqi army ignore.

But we say that we're going to keep fighting for peace until the iraqi government arranges a political settlement.

Now Gates is in Baghdad telling the iraqi government they need to make progress quick or we'll pull out. If I were them I'd be saying "Please, please Mr. Gates don't trow us in dat dere briar patch!".

After we pull out they can collect whatever they can salvage from the iraqi army plus whatever militias side with them, and figure out what their BATNA is, and negotiate. They have the problem that we haven't built a credible logistics and transport system for the iraqi army, we've been supplying them ourselves. So they'll have to build that on the fly. And of course they lack armor (not so important when IEDs slice through armor) and artillery, and an air force. All those things would help them against insurgent armies, if the negotiations failed and it turned into a real fight.

But while we're there controlling their army, they can't negotiate and they can't fight. And yet we say that the victory depends on them....

2) Go Fallujah on Baqubah's Sunnis

3) Give the Iraqi Army more artillery/tanks

U.S. Bolstering Force in Deadly Diyala
(WaPo, April 16,2007)

The province is a microcosm of nearly all the problems encountered today in Iraq. Under Saddam Hussein, Diyala was a stronghold of Baath Party officials and military and intelligence officers, a group that has morphed into several Sunni insurgent organizations, including some that have recently battled al-Qaeda in Iraq. About 25 main tribes and 100 sub-tribes are vying for influence, Shiite militias are encroaching north from Baghdad, and Kurdish settlers are pushing south into the province from northern Iraq.

Sutherland traces the province's deterioration to specific changes last year. In April 2006, he said, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, declared Diyala the capital of the Islamic caliphate he hoped to create, attracting followers from the violent Anbar province in western Iraq. Five months later, the spigot of food and fuel rations to the province ran dry. The provincial government temporarily ceased meeting in October.

Around the same time, the Shiite-led Iraqi security forces conducted mass sweeps -- in one instance arresting nearly 700 people, all but two of them Sunnis, Sutherland said -- and created an environment of deep mistrust of the government. As the U.S. military shifted resources away from the province and into Baghdad, Diyala's residents looked to the armed groups for protection.

Attacks Surge as Iraq Militants Overshadow City
(NYT, April 16,2007)

There are many reasons for the mayhem. Diyala and Baquba had significant Shiite and Sunni populations. Shiite-dominated security forces in the city inflamed tensions by persecuting Sunnis, but remain ill prepared to fight the insurgents without support of American forces. Basic government services like food and fuel deliveries have collapsed.

Sunni extremists operate with an extraordinary ruthlessness that terrorizes residents into submission. And Baquba has always had a heavy population of former Baathists and Fedayeen, providing a sympathetic backdrop for the insurgency. Some fighters still wear black Fedayeen uniforms, American officers say.
Fighters from the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia largely loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American cleric, have also flooded north from Baghdad and now control villages west of Baquba and north of Sadr City. The police chief of Khalis, a city controlled by the Mahdi Army, was arrested by American forces in March for sectarian wrongdoing.
American soldiers cited repeated instances of Iraqi troops or police officers terrorizing Sunnis in Diyala. The Iraqi forces’ conduct induced some Sunnis to turn to the insurgency for protection, American officers said. Iraqi lawmakers in Baghdad continue to block provincial elections that would give Sunni Arabs — a majority in Diyala, but one that largely boycotted the last provincial elections — a real stake in government.


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