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August 24, 2007


“Joe Lieberman” – you do know that them’s fightin’ words around here right? Just the mention of his name in any context elicits a Pavlovian response. ;)

Thanks as always for sharing your perspective.

Actually, I am not sure Lieberman was correct either. Are the Sunni tribes really coming over to our side, or are they just turning against al Qaeda?

There is a difference. Obviously, you are on the ground, but being polite and nice to another group does not mean joing them. Are the Sunnis actually working side by side with US troops? Are they joining the Iraqi police forces and Army, or are they working independently?

Is it a plus? Short term definitely so. And of course, if al Qaeda is taken down by the Sunnis, then Bush loses his final justification for being there. So then we can leave, right? Right?

Yes Yglesias was wrong to be so definitive, and over reached, and thsi was somewhat surprising ashe has been pretty consistent in pointing out that there are numerous "enemies" in Iraq, and he ahs hated the tendency on the part of the press and administration to keep using the term al Qaeda whenever anything bad happens.

Appreciate your perspective, and my questions are not to deny your statements. They are honest curiosity.


I am the token 'conservative'. I feel that it is my duty to raise provocative targets.


For the moment, many Sunni tribes have shifted their allegiance to the GoI/Coalition. As I noted, I interacted yesterday with some 1920s Brigade people. This was the first time, so I not certain how close they are working with U.S. units. There are also reports from Anbar that Sunnis are joining the IA and IPs. Still, the fact they were manning a checkpoint suggests to me fairly close cooperation.

Please note that when I say Lieberman was right, I mean only that that particular statement was factually accurate. I will not for a moment attempt to defend how he interprets that into the larger scheme of things.

As for leaving, I have no great hopes that the U.S. will be leaving Iraq in the next 2-3 years. All the leading Presidential candidates continue to insist on leaving residual forces that will likely include a sizable fraction of the troops currently there. If, for example, they intend to continue training the Iraqi Army, as main force units leave Iraq, the units assigned to train the Iraqi Army will expand in size in order to be able to secure themselves in the absence of troop units. The net result will be a reduction, but I am dubious as to how large the final numbers will be.

I take it from your last paragraph that I have come off as particularly short. My apologies if that is the case. I shall endeavor to be more patient in my responses in the future.

So here we have Lieberman making a factually accurate statement, yet drawing the wrong conclusion from it, paired with Yglesias making two factually inaccurate statements yet arriving at a more accurate conclusion.

In a hall of mirrors, some of the reflections end up being right way round again.

Stay safe.

Thanks -

Not in the least. My last paragraph was to make sure you didn't think my questions were of the sarcastic nature.

And you bring up a good point. Even if we leave troops in place in a training capacity, we will still need a force to protect them.

Even if we leave troops in place in a training capacity, we will still need a force to protect them.

Yes. And to protect the logistics tail, and to staff up the various non-permanent permanent bases, etc. Given the current leadership, and those vying to become the next leadership, there are going to be lots of Americans in Iraq for a good long time.

On the Sunnis coming over: AQI was never a threat to Iraq long term (the locals were pretty good at managing that problem before we showed up). I don't think it's correct to say that the Al Anbar Sheikhs have decided they need the coalition to help them with AQI. The Sheikhs need help with the Shia.

I think the Coalition has decided that it needs the Sheikhs, for the same reason.

I am the token 'conservative'.

You're a terrible conservative. For example, you actually engage in dialogue with us Defeatocrats, undoubtedly giving us aid and comfort.

Thanks for your insights, as well.

You mentioned the 'residual force' concept in your comment above. If, ultimately, the political decision is to withdraw most of the troops, I wonder if you think there's a constructive role for such a force. A lot of people seem to take the view that we really should go all or nothing.

Heck, Richardson wants to withdraw all forces, "except for a contingent of Marines to guard the embassy." I find it really difficult to believe a secure embassy could be maintained under those circumstances - no offense to the Marines!

I find it really difficult to believe a secure embassy could be maintained under those circumstances

right. how do you protect against mortar fire, for example, without going after the source of the mortar fire (a.k.a. sending US troops out into the streets to shoot Iraqis. a.k.a. what we have now) ?

AIF are moving across Iraq in response to the surge and the shifting allegiances of other insurgent groups.

What's AIF?

Steve: You mentioned the 'residual force' concept in your comment above. If, ultimately, the political decision is to withdraw most of the troops, I wonder if you think there's a constructive role for such a force.

Cleek: how do you protect against mortar fire, for example, without going after the source of the mortar fire

I won’t pretend to speak for G’Kar, but I can speculate until he has time in his schedule to respond. The short answer is that unless there is a decision to make a complete withdrawal the changes will be more structural and possibly even cosmetic than substantive.

No one (certainly no politician) is going to make the decision to leave training units there without adequate force protection. They wouldn’t last a week. The same goes for the embassy and the Green Zone in general. So while in general some units will come home, in reality force protection will just integrate into the training units. This will also necessitate IMO falling back to large bases that can more easily protect the largest number of people. In short, things will look an awful lot like they did prior to seriously implementing the COIN strategy. Essentially we’ll take a giant step backwards. I can’t guess how many troops will actually come home, but I’ll hazard a guess that there will still be a heck of a lot there (75,000+).

Based on all that, you can add me to the folks who would favor a complete withdrawal rather than leaving behind any ‘residual forces’.

What's AIF?

Anti-Iraq Forces is what I'm familiar with.

Here is how I read Yglesias' comment:

Iraq's Sunni Arab [militias we are currently arming] are [still a part of] the insurgency [against the GoI].

Lieberman's statement is wrong because it frames the war as only having two sides. The assumption that if you are allied with the US against AQ, you also support the GoI is a bad one that will come back to bite us.

Facts on the ground.

Aren't the Sunni opposed to the government while the Shia are fighting on the side of the government (even if the support is extra-legal)?

To say that the Sunnis are the insurgency is akin to claiming that McDonalds is the fast food.

Sure. But then, if you're lobbying against fast food, and the fast food industry is lobbying against you, and you start making a deal with McDonalds where you start telling the press thast McDonalds isn't fast food after all....

I can easilyi believe that lots of people in anbar are tired of us treating them as the enemy. They're naturally glad for us to be willing to make a deal where we say they aren't our enemy after all. But what's changed is *our attitude*.

This will only be a long-term victory for Iraq's central government if they take advantage of this opportunity to reach out to the Sunnis and try to draw them into the process of governing. I am not aware of any evidence the GoI is doing so

Yes. Exactly. And they haven't made any effort to reach out to GoI either, have they? So when we decide they aren't insurgents after all, it means -- we've decided to be friends with some of the insurgents. For awhile now, we've been facing two sorts of insurgents. There are the ones who oppose us, and there are the ones who oppose the GoI. Of course there weren't any of the latter until we created the GoI, but now there are.

Some of the "insurgents" have strongly supported the GoI, it's just they don't want *us* there. And now some of them don't mind us but they don't want the GoI there. Hmm. So, what's it all about, Alfie?

In point of fact, Joe Lieberman is correct when he claims that "more and more Sunnis are coming over to our side, to fight against al Qaeda."

So, the enemy of my enemy is my friend? That supposes a transitive friendship. How about "I choose to be a friend to the enemy of my chosen enemy." We'll find out how the other guy feels about it when he has the advantage.

Just yesterday I rolled up on a nominally Iraqi police checkpoint now manned by 1920s Brigade fighters in support of the local government. They waved to us, we waved back and we both continued to march.

So, before we wouldn't have let them do that, and now we do. The change is on our side. What do they do at their checkpoint when we aren't around? If they're doing the same things we were stopping them from doing before we chose to let them, how is this an improvement?

I'm also curious about claims the U.S. is arming the Sunnis; if the Sunnis had needed to be armed, we really wouldn't have had nearly as much trouble with them over the past four years.

These claims are US army claims that got quited in the media and repeated. It isn't clear what importance to give them. As you point out, the sunni insurgents have all the weapons they need and don't need any more, so maybe we should have been arming them all along, huh?

Here's my take on it. Anbar is a mess, we don't have any friends there and the GoI doesn't have any friends there. We can do COIN there as long as we want and it would take a lot of resources for little result. On the other hand, most of the people there just want to protect themselves, they don't particularly want to infiltrate predominantly-shia areas and go on killing sprees. So if we pull out of anbar, we can put those troops where they can do some good instead. The result is we contribute to defacto partition, but there's not much choice.

Since we're pulling out anyway, we can put a good face on it and make peace with the sunnis there. They can kill each other if they want and we don't have to report it. We can make a big deal about what good friends we are with the sunnis in anbar, and talk like they've switched sides, and that sounds good to the US public. It's a smart move, we weren't doing any good attacking anbar.

So if anbar somehow gets reconciled with GoI then great, wonderful, it's probably more likely for that to happen when we aren't in anbar ravaging the place. And if anbar doesn't get reconciled but mostly minds its own business then that's OK too, that's partition. And if anbar serves as an insurgent base for attacks elsewhere we can do airstrikes and big raids and maybe move our bases back in, and it will look bad to the US public but that's a PR problem for a later day.

We are making a separate peace with anbar, and we're talking like what that means is they've given up being insurgents. But the difference is that we've stopped attacking them. They were insurgents because we said they were insurgents, and they attacked us in anbar because we attacked them in anbar.

By the same reasoning, insurgents elsewhere in iraq are attacking us because we're there, and if we leave we can say they aren't insurgents any more because they won't be attacking us in iraq.

Based on all that, you can add me to the folks who would favor a complete withdrawal rather than leaving behind any 'residual forces'. I tend to think you're right, but I fear the most likely political result is a mushy middle that combines the worst of both worlds. What happens is that the Republicans demagogue the issue by accusing Democrats of favoring a "precipitous withdrawal." And the Dems, fearful as ever of appearing "weak," respond "Oh no no, we don't want that, we advocate leaving residual forces!" Because by definition, no extreme position like complete withdrawal can be correct, and the truth must always lie in some sensible centrist middle ground. It really bothers me that with lives on the line, this is how our decisions get made.

If I said "Whereas a year ago, McDonald's was largely allied with the fast food industry ..." and Yglesias responded with "McDonald's is the fast food industry", I wouldn't interpret that as a statement that Burger King doesn't exist.

Oops, paragraphs are more readable, but it seems my cell phone disagrees. Sorry for that last post.

More facts on the ground

I think Matt was basically right, but it sort of depends on what you mean by insurgency. ¿Are the Mahdi Army part of the insurgency, for example? They certainly weren't at first, and they are still part of the "governing" coalition, right? ¿Can they be part of the insurgency and the government at the same time? My guess is that the way Matt sees it, the war USED TO BE mainly an insurgency thing (back in 2003, 2004 for example) and back then, the insurgency was almost completely Sunni. But over time, the dysfunction of the Iraqi State, the work of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the political dynamic has turned the conflict into a low grade free-for-all civil war, a situation where every political actor has its own private armed organization. But for Matt, not all of these armed organizations are insurgents, in the sense of having as its political objective the overthrow of the Shiite government and the expulsion of the US Armed Forces. Most (if any) of the Shiite militias are not insurgents in that sense, for example. In this military-political environment, it can be difficult to discern who is exactly an insurgent (two rival Shiites militias clash. ¿Does it means that one of them is an "insurgent" one?) and you need some criteria for that; Yglesias thinks that insurgents are the ones who want to completely replace the governing Shiite coalition with a non Shiite government, since they were the "original" insurgents and they are the hardest to accommodate to the present political landscape. The others, in his view, are simply armed political actors trying to improve their position inside that same political landscape. His vision of the conflict is debatable, but not obviously wrong.

This post seems to be needlessly quibbling with definitions. As the term is used in US discourse to discuss the state of things in Iraq, the "insurgency" is a term used to describe the many factions of Sunni outsiders committing violence against the Shia majority. That would include both the more radical "Al Queda" element and also the other Sunnis who oppose them, who we are arming in the false belief that the enemy of my enemy is also my friend (hey, we shipped weapons to the USSR in WWII, so why not?).

The term is typically not used to describe Shia or Kurds acting similarly who also happen to be allied with the government. Blasting Yglesias for this manner of using the term overstates the case.

The real problem is that the use of the word "insurgency" is itself not particularly accurate. What you have is a civil war with many factions at work (not your typical two-sided affair). The faction not in control of the government uses more insurgent-like tactics, and hence the label. But it is all about militia power.

As always, you are entitled to your own opinions.

G'Kar: In any case, agree or disagree, I think that we all greatly appreciate your taking time out of your ah, very busy day to comment and post here. And I think that we’ll all acknowledge that the Narn Regime ambassador has a much more, uh, hectic day than any of us.

So thanks.

Please. Joe Lieberman is a dual loyalist and everything he says should be scrutinized in that context. In other words discarded.

Another spam cleanup on aisle, er, whatever this is.

I'll say it again -- the sunnis we've made a separate peace with are people that 6 months ago we called insurgents. If we found their ammunition dumps we got rid of them. If we found their leaders we took them away to be strenuously interrogated. We didn't have sufficient forces in anbar to hold anything much so we went into one town after another and disrupted things -- we shot at people and blew things up and if anybody shot back at us we killed them as insurgents. We searched as much stuff as we had time for, and tried to destroy their ability to maintain fighting forces, and then we moved on somewhere else.

Now they've agreed to a truce, or possibly something more. We ignore their militias. We let them set up their own checkpoints. That would be pretty ominous for shias if there were any shias in anbar. It's surely ominous for turkmen and christians etc. There's no word that they're trying to join the official shia national government, and no word that the shia government wants anything to do with them.

I sure don't see that it's wrong to call them the insurgents.

At the same time, it's the right thing to do. While it made a certain tactical sense to continually ravage anbar to keep them from getting organised enough to be a terrorist base area that they could attack other areas from, in the longer run that was completely unworkable. It gave our Marines a lot of practice attacking hostile towns full of civilians, but it was at best a temporary holding action. The more we did it the more antagonism we'd build up.

It's right for us to make a separate peace with the insurgents in anbar. We can use the troops elsewhere. The anbar insurgents are better set for partition or for joining the iraqi government, either way. Ideally in the next election (which will ideally happen soon) they'll vote heavily and get their own people elected, and they'll be an important force in the iraqi government. Say Sadr gets 33% of the vote and sunnis get 22%, that's the start of a workable coalition. And the more the conflicts can be handled politically, the less the need for violence.

Ideally our military would allow and encourage local neighborhood watches and militias and such, and would encourage them to act *defensively*. We can't give them security, maybe they can give themselves security. This is a start in that direction, though it's also a start toward strengthening sunni insurgents.

But the way we win an insurgency in the end is by persuading insurgents and government to do politics instead of war. Even if you get an unconditional surrender somebody will have to rule them afterward for an indefinite time. Better to do politics.

I'm not sure that you're correct regarding the former insurgents J Thomas. The ones I have seen (and I'll note that I'm not tied into this directly; they don't operate in the area I am responsible for) are filling in for IPs; the ones I describing seeing were at an IP checkpoint, not a separate one they had created. Now that certainly has the potential for problems, but that is the case any time the Iraqis set up a checkpoint; there is a disturbing strain of Iraqis who consider any job their opportunity to extort, whether IA, IP, or insurgent/former insurgent.

I'm not sure if they still qualify as insurgents if they are operating with nominal GoI sanction and are not actively involved in attempting to overthrow/undermine the GoI.

"I'm not sure if they still qualify as insurgents if they are operating with nominal GoI sanction and are not actively involved in attempting to overthrow/undermine the GoI."
Depends on what they are doing when they are not at the checkpoint.

True. I assumed that was included in the second conditional of my note.

G'Kar, if they're working for the shia GoI that's reassuring. But if it's the americans who gave them permission to fill that role and not the shia GoI then much less so. And of course the degree of supervision matters a whole lot.

Anyway, I think it's a good tactic for the US forces to work with them, whether they're insurgents or not and whether we apply the 'insurgent' label to them or not. I'm just kind of bemused that -- by my understanding of it -- the difference is that we changed and not that they changed. A year ago, 6 months ago, we were calling them insurgents and fighting them, and they were fighting back. Now we decide that we accept them and we spin it as a victory. Most likely we could have done that any time within the last 2 or 3 years, any time after they were armed and trained well enough to be worth paying attention to. I can't be sure we could have done that since we didn't try, but it's at least plausible.

The obvious difference between them-now and them-then is that we used to call them insurgents and attack them, and now we say they aren't insurgents and we wave at them.

Another related post about recent changes

Although there is the caveat not to be over-optimistic.

We won't see home run after home run; touchdown after touchdown; or slam dunk after slam dunk; there have been setbacks, some poor decisions were made; there were will be more setbacks and some people will still make mistakes, but if we are determined, if we continue to try and do the right thing, we can and will prevail, because the ability to stick to something and never quit is what will see us through this or any challenge. A better life for Iraq and Iraqis means a better life for their neighbors and for us.

I'm not sure if they still qualify as insurgents if they are operating with nominal GoI sanction and are not actively involved in attempting to overthrow/undermine the GoI.

The "nominal GoI sanction" reflects the fact that the GoI cannot do much about what they are doing. The Sunni areas operating in this manner are more closely akin to the tribal areas of Pakistan -- areas basically outside the functional control of the government. Fortunately the Iraqi version at the moment is rejecting the more radical Al Queda element.

Justin, can you post as another name, so as not to confuse?



Were this occurring only in Anbar, perhaps you would be correct. Since I am not in Anbar and once again met with 1920s brigade personnel, today in a meeting to discuss local security that included IA and IP as well as the 1920s guy, and since this is far from a Sunni-dominated area, I think you might want to reconsider your assumptions.

I'd be interested in G'Kar's take on the notion of the Sunni resistance is fighting what it perceives to be two occupations, as described in this http://arablinks.blogspot.com/2007/08/how-blogs-mislead-you.html>post.

Obviously, when you have two enemies, who are enemies of each other, you look for ways to collaborate with the weaker against the stronger (as measured in potential harm to your position). Allied with Stalin against Hitler, for example.

What strikes me, though, about the whole narrative of some Iraqi factions coming on board with us is the lack of coherent explanation from their perspective -- other than that we'll be leaving soon, and all the sooner if they quit shooting at us, so why not use us to get a head start in their own struggle for position in post-US Iraq.

(I'm sure that not getting shot at is a big damn deal to our folks in uniform. It's a goal that can be accomplished much more effectively, though, in other ways.)

Nothing I've read leads me to believe that any of these alliances are other than of the convenience-for-the-moment type. So as useful as they might be to the individual soldier, they really don't have anything to do with US policy, which is about the Iraqi endstate, not whether X shot at Y today.

CC, what if the US policy is not about the iraqi endstate, but just about how to get through the next six months?

I was struck by a comment some colonel in our first gulf war made, that went something like "I don't want to see any heroics, just do your jobs. There isn't anything in iraq worth dying for.".

If our army is taking that stand generally, and if they've mostly given up on long-term goals, then the main thing would be to go through the motions as well as possible and survive to the end of the current deployment. Then it will be somebody else's problem until they get called back.

If they can arrange a cease-fire with some insurgent groups, or even a temporary alliance, and it looks good to the media, who should complain?

Only the people who would have complained almost whatever happened.

G'Kar: "Can you be right even when you're wrong? How about wrong even though you're right? "

By now, the pro-war group has demonstrated an impressive ability to swallow camels, while straining at gnats. Lieberman has been a fanatical supporter of the war ever since Bush announced it; this makes him wrong for literally tens of thousands of words, almost five years, and probably approaching 1 million dead.

"That question sprang to my mind reading Matt Yglesias' explanation of what has happened with the current move of some Sunni insurgent groups towards the U.S. and the Iraqi government: "Iraq's Sunni Arabs are the insurgency"."

IIR, they are supposed to have inflicted the overwhelming majority of casualties upon US troops and Shiite Iraqis.

I know that us America-loving Americans aren't supposed to remember such things, but the current policy consists of cutting deals with the majority of Sunni guerrillas. I would say 'bringing in', but it's been pointed out that we're not bringing them into any sort of government, just getting them to shoot less (openly?) at Americans.

This follows US officials talking about the US 'switching sides' to work against Iran and Shiites in the Middle East, and accompanies lots of pure BS about how the current Iraqi government is the problem.

It seems to mean that the US is now an anti-Iraqi gov't organization in Iraq; perhaps we should call ourselves 'anti-Iraqi forces'.

"“Joe Lieberman” – you do know that them’s fightin’ words around here right? Just the mention of his name in any context elicits a Pavlovian response. ;)

Thanks as always for sharing your perspective."

Posted by: OCSteve

Back a while once, in college, I had bit too much to drink in an evening - a pitcher of beer, plus a rum and coke.

Plus five Long Island Ice Teas.

I don't really know how I got back to my dorm room, but at 5 AM I had a, um, visceral reaction.

For years after that, the thought of a Long Island Ice Tea gave me a Pavlovian reponse; I swear that one or two of my stomach muscles took that long to heal from the stress.

That's the sort of response that a mention of Lieberman produces for most people here, and for much the same reason. Except that small to moderate doses of Lieberman don't give please like a Long Island Ice Tea.

JT, I didn't say it was bad. I said at the ground level it was good. It just shouldn't be confused with the strategic goal of the policy.


I read the article you linked. I'm not sure I concur with the broader conclusions; the writing style had the ring of someone who things they have a direct line to THE TRUTH, which I find offputting. That having been said, I suspect there is some truth to the argument you highlighted. Many Sunnis are probably working with the CF/GoI because they see AQI as the greater threat right now. Still, a lot of them are giving up their anonymity to work with the Coalition, which will make it difficult for them to turn around and go back to fighting the CF. I suspect that at least some of them may come to realize that the Coalition forces have no interest in staying after they have interacted.

I should note that my own experience with these groups is limited. It was a coincidence this issue came up when I happened to run into them. Normally I do not visit that part of the AO.

If you don't like writing that rings of direct line to the Truth, G'Kar, I can imagine that much of the blogosphere, including but not limited to the right half thereof, is intolerably irritating.

In this I agree with you: I read Missing Links, though, because it's not a direct line to truth, but is a direct line to the Sunni press. It's useful to see what is being said, obviously without confusing it for simply what is.

Here, he posits that the Sunni groups that are showing willingness to cooperate with the US are doing so not because they are afraid of AQI, but because they are afraid of IRI I think the author, and nearly everyone else, views AQI as a transitory phenomenon, brought to prominence by the occupation, and destined not to long outlast the occupation. I meant in my earlier comments to contrast, for say the Baathists, their enmity towards us, and towards the IRI. If they can enhance their post-occupation position against the IRI (post-occupation position vis-a-vis us is irrelevant, for obvious reasons) by being friendly towards us (and unfriendly towards those losers in AQI) then it's a rational decision. We shouldn't confuse this with agreement with us about anything other than the danger posed by the IRI, and uselessness, in the Irai context, of AQI.

The key item, though, is the actual, and, perceived in Sunni resistance eyes, relationship between the IRI and the GOI. (I don't like using GOI, not because there isn't one, but because it papers over the many factions within the government -- some of which are very close to IRI, some not).

Is it reasonable for a Sunni to consider Dawa to be a catspaw of IRI? Whether it is or not, it's important to keep in mind that many do, and weigh choices Sunni tribal leaders make accordingly.

Much has been made of the Anbar Awakening. While not actively opposing the US, and/or protecting AQI, are important in the day to day sense, I'll be ready to call it strategically significant when these groups put themselves under the power of the GOI.

For now, our relationship with 1920 is one of mutual distrust and hatred, a sign of the times. A conversation between a member of my platoon and a 1920 source is ripe with foreboding on the future of this partnership, and of the war to come. “Do you want to kill me?” asked the soldier. “Yes,” replied the source, coldly and without emotion. “But not today.”


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