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May 12, 2008

Comments

silly Iraqis, don't they know that "We're from the US Government, and we're here to help" are the ten most comforting words in the English language ?

Thanks, Eric.

{Hey, I'm not the boss of you! That was merely a gentle request... ;>}

Actually, gentle by your standards. Sometimes you get kind of stern with me ;)

Who is this Mr. Malor person responding at your site Eric?

Dunno Ugh.

He's some poster at Ace of Spades. I was going to respond, but it just seemed like a waste of time. He's not looking for a dialogue. His post is here FWIW, and it ain't much:

http://ace.mu.nu/archives/262131.php

"For what reason: because a majority of residents in these regions support a political movement, and militia, that oppose our presence."

You said that before. Do you have support for this view?

From the link, it sounds like Ace of Spades' alt.

pwned by Eric Martin, natch.

Eric - Thanks. I saw the Ace link and had just assumed you'd encountered him before.

David,

I discuss this at greater length in Parts I and II linked above (as well as several other posts). I'll try to summarize here. It helps if you start by asking the following questions:

1. If we are opposed to militias such as Sadr's, why do we help create more (Awakenings) and embrace other brutal Shiite militias (ISCI's Badr Corp militia for one)?

2. If we oppose Sadr because of his ties to Iran, why do we embrace political parties that have much stronger ties to Iran (ISCI and Dawa for starters)?

3. If we say that we want a strong, unified Iraq, why do oppose Sadr - who wants to maintain a strong, unified Iraq - but embrace Shiite parties that want to fragment the state through the creation of semi-autonomous regions (ISCI)?

The crucial differences between Sadr and ISCI are as follows:

Sadr opposes the US occupation, ISCI and Dawa are amenable to its continuation.

Sadr wants to keep oil production national, opposes sweetheart deals for foreign firms and wants a strong union presence in connection therewith. ISCI and Dawa are open to heavy foreign investment on beneficial terms, as well as weakened unions.

If our stated reasons for opposing Sadr are sincere, we should be opposing ISCI and Dawa as well. Instead, though, we defend ISCI and Dawa, invite them to the White House for photo ops, absorb their militias into official state organs and even go as far as to provide military support for their intra-Shiite rivalry with the Sadrists.

Thus, by deduction, I conclude that the crucial factors in the Bush administration's decision making process are Sadr's position vis-a-vis the occipation and oil sector investment.

dave kilmer,

I'm trying to understand your question...which of these do you are you seeking support for:

1. a majority of people living in Sadr city support Sadr's political movement and militia

2. Sadr's movement opposes the US occupation

3. that this opposition is what motivates our moves against Sadr's forces

Ugh, FWIW, I have encountered Paleoprog before. Hence my short tone with him. We go way back. Good times.

Eric - #3 is the only one that I'm not following.

Your argument is interesting, but it seems a little more like induction than deduction. Hopefully without following the path of your discussion with paleoprog on AF, I have a few points in response, but they'll have to wait until I'm free from the oppressive regime of my employer.

Establishing legitimate security forces as opposed to militia control in Sadr City was needed for a long time. Government needs a monopoly of force in any stable state, and competing militias will only lead to failed countries like Somalia. I'm sure some will argue with this comment that "Well, Badr Corps is pretty much in control of the Iraqi Army, ergo competing militias", but that is a bit outdated and I'd challenge anyone to show me concrete evidence of that with current the security force makeup.

cutting off the supply of food and walling off entire sectors of the embattled region, causing a refugee crisis by their actions

The thugs that operate out of Sadr City are the ones who caused a good portion of the refugee crisis with their brutal intimidation campaign in 2006, not the US ground forces in 2007. The militia was actually firing at government convoys who were trying to get into Sadr City. But I'm active duty, so I shouldn't be getting into arguing mode, just offering up what I see. Thanks, Mr. Martin.

LT,

Establishing legitimate security forces as opposed to militia control in Sadr City was needed for a long time. Government needs a monopoly of force in any stable state, and competing militias will only lead to failed countries like Somalia.

Couldn't agree more. But we are, right now, implementing a policy that creates new Sunni militias, or supports and funds existing Sunni militias. We are also actively supporting the Badr Corp militia (more below), and have turned a blind eye to myriad more.

In the inconsistency lies the backstory.

Re: the Badr Corp - We have not outlawed the Badr Corp., and while many members have infiltrated official Iraqi Security Forces, some have not. Badr Corp members fought alongside the Iraqi Government troops in Basra, for example.

Analysts such as Anthony Cordesman, and think tanks such as the ICG, CSIS, USIP and others have documented Badr's infiltration of the ISF. This is not the stuff of conspiracy theories.

In fact, after the Basra offensive bogged down, Maliki issued an order instantly deputizing 10,000 Badr Corp. militia. Actually, deputizing is probably inaccurate because they will be permanent members going forward.

Also LT: I was discussing the 2008 conflict, not 2006 or 2007 of which I know less.

David,

Paleoprog notwithstanding, I am generally polite and respectful, and really enjoy a good faith exchange of ideas (I only match snark with snark - not that that's a good defense). I don't foresee us stooping to those levels.

As for #3, what I mean is this:

ISCI is the main proponent of a plan to create a Shiite dominated "Super Region" in Southern Iraq - modeled on the autonomy enjoyed by Kurdistan. This is also a policy wish of the Tehran regime - which should not be surprising considering ISCI was formed in Iran by the Iranian regime and members still receive pensions from the IRGC (our strongest allies and Iran's too!).

Sadr, and most Shiites, oppose this plan. They see it as having the effect of weakening the central government and aiding the break-up of the Iraqi state.

The Bush administration's stated position is to promote a unified Iraq, and oppose fragmentation/partition. The ISCI plan is at odds with that goal, and Sadr is working toward that goal. Yet that doesn't seem to matter much at the end of the day.

Government needs a monopoly of force in any stable state, and competing militias will only lead to failed countries like Somalia.

LT Nixon,

I agree with this statement with the important modification that a stable state needs a monopoly on legitimate force, not just force per se.

The problem that is evident to me from reading about this crisis (and with due humility in deference to those who are actually in the middle of it) is that the legitmacy of the Iraqi state is a Humpty Dumpty which has fallen off the wall and is now in pieces all over the place and the Sadrists seem to have gotten a hold of some of the pieces needed to put the eggshell back together again.

Short of wiping them out together with the very large population of poor Shi'ites with whom they enjoy legitimacy, what are we to do about this? Isn't this really the crux of the matter - that a sufficiently large number of Iraqi's see the Sadrist movement as a legimate expression of their grievances and needs (more so than the govt) to render the use of force against them counterproductive, regardless of whether said force is monopolistic or not?

“So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”

I don’t believe that this is the reason for our involvement in Iraq; he couldn't have been that naïve. I hope.

I believe that Iraq has something to do with oil. But as the Middle East needs Western money as much as we need their oil, it is unlikely that OPEC would voluntarily end oil production. If OPEC ended production for any length of time, it could be declared an act of war and we could just go in and take their oil. A protracted ground presence does not make strategic sense if the goal is to protect oil supplies.

Paul Chefurka has come up with a speculative hypothesis that Saudi Arabia has passed peak oil and that some Iraqi oil is being diverted to Saudi Arabia to prevent market panic. He presents it here:

http://www.paulchefurka.ca/Iraq%20and%20Saudi%20Arabia.html

Five years ago I would have thought he was crazy. He’s pretty convincing to me now. His interest is peak oil and the consequences. It is a very good web site.

Wasn't it a good thing when so many of the thugs and gangsters that were ruining Basra got put out of power? I'd say that the Iraqi government is way more legitimate than the Mahdi Army.

And gosh, DaveC, your opinion of legitimacy counts for so much more than that of the people to whom we claim to want to give the right of self determination.

Now if only we could get them to cooperate.

This is, after all, the reason why neither Bush Sr. nor Clinton would topple Hussein. Their intel people kept telling them that the country would split along religious lines and fragment if given a chance.

Bill, I have to say, that link was actually...informative and interesting and not crazy. I mean, I don't think it is correct because it requires a level of skill and organization far beyond what we've seen Bush/Cheney demonstrate, but the theory was far more reasonable than I expected.

Thanks for providing a unique and interesting perspective.

Wasn't it a good thing when so many of the thugs and gangsters that were ruining Basra got put out of power?

Why do you think the Iraqi government forces differ significantly from thugs and gangsters?

I'd say that the Iraqi government is way more legitimate than the Mahdi Army.

How can the current Iraqi government be legitimate when it is so closely tied to Iran? I mean, elements of the Iraqi government are literally drawing pensions from a foreign government. That behavior seems incompatible with nationalism, which is usually bound up pretty tightly with people's notions of legitimacy.

Eric - It seems to me that your argument is affirming the consequent:

- If our true motivations were X, then we'd neglect to go after other brutal groups.
- We're neglecting to go after other brutal groups.
- Therefore, our true motivations are X.

I won't try to argue whether SCIRI is evil, or whether Dawa should be lumped in with them. But I'd suggest that our motivations have something to do with siding with the "legitimate" government, and with our estimation that we can exert some control over the government outside of bombing them.

If Sadr had decided to achieve his goals through the government, we would likely have held back on him. We held back on him before. And we disagree with the current government on a host of things but still support them. There are no "good" players in this situation. There are no strong alliances. It's a shallow, pitted energy landscape.

I guess it just doesn't make sense to me that our goal would be to prolong the occupation. If we could "secure American interests" (oil, a stable and friendly government, etc.) we'd be out of there in a flash.

"How can the current Iraqi government be legitimate when it is so closely tied to Iran?"

Because it was elected?

Because it was elected?

Judging by our treatment of Hamas, I'm going to hazard a guess that the Bush administration does not care overly much about legitimacy derived from popular elections per se.

Thanks Turbulence; Chefurka’s main work isn’t conspiracy theory stuff, it’s peak oil. His analysis is eye-opening and the objective way he deals with things is refreshing. His homepage is here:

http://www.paulchefurka.ca/

His analysis of where we are and what may come next is presented in a series of papers at the bottom. He may be underestimating the potential for nuclear power, (hopefully) making things a little more hopeful.

But oil is a big deal.

Just to be clear, I'm using the word legitimacy as it is understood in counterinsurgency. Governments may have legal authority, but that does not always translate into legitimacy in the eyes of the civilian population.

Also, given that non-trivial allegations have been made the 2005 elections were tampered with, I can understand why some Iraqis might be skeptical of the current government's legitimacy. I mean, I suppose that Iyad Allawi, the candidate most closely aligned with the US (what with being a CIA asset and all) would increase his support from 3-4% to 14% overnight merely by chance, but that seems...unlikely.

Finally, most people are more inclined to question the legitimacy of a federal government, even one that has been elected, once that government starts bombing them and their local government. That is especially true for people who have lived their whole lives in the shadow of a repressive federal government that went out of its way to marginalize them.

"Judging by our treatment of Hamas, I'm going to hazard a guess that the Bush administration does not care overly much about legitimacy derived from popular elections per se."

Sorry. I thought you meant "how can it actually be legitimate", not "how can we consider it to be legitimate".

There is nothing good about the Mahdi militia, but it is phony to pretend that this is a policy driven by a desire to get rid of militias. We are creating one with the Sunnis -- the Iraqi government has not accepted them. The Kurds have always been allowed to have their militia. Those currently in control of the Iraqi government have their own militia.

At some point in the near future, there are going to be elections, and either the current Shiite faction will retain power or power will shift to the Sadr and allied factions. The current offensives against Sadr militias is all about consolidating the power of those currently in control. It has very little to do with ridding the country of militias.

If Sadr had decided to achieve his goals through the government, we would likely have held back on him.

Sadr is trying to achieve power through the government. His faction has very strong popular support and may shift the power in the government after the next elections by winning more seats.

This is about the Shia factions in control of government power trying to crush a rival political movement. A political party in Iraq cannot succeed without a militia. That is the reality of the political landscape there.

What dmbeaster said.

David, Sadr was and is part of the elected government, and we targeted him then too.

Now, he wants to compete with ISCI and Dawa in local elections (which his group largely boycotted in 2005). ISCI and Dawa are frightened of this prospect, and that is why ISCI initially vetoed the local elections law.

Problem is, the Bush admin needs the local elections to appease the Awakenings - who are threatening violent revolt unless they get a political voice (via those same elections or otherwise).

Recall, two days after Cheney flew to Iraq to meet with ISCI's head (Hakim), ISCI dropped its veto of the regional elections law.

A few days after ISCI did that, an assault on Sadr's faction in Basra began. Then Sadr city.

These events were connected.

Sadr stands to benefit the most from free and fair elections. It is not he who is opposed to letting the political process determine the outcome.

I guess it just doesn't make sense to me that our goal would be to prolong the occupation. If we could "secure American interests" (oil, a stable and friendly government, etc.) we'd be out of there in a flash.

Yes, but since that's not going to happen any time within the next decade, we must prolong the occupation. Sure, all things being equal, we'd be thrilled with a Chalabi-type administration ruling over a stable Iraq such that we can leave, for the most part (see below). But again, not in the cards. Instead, we have to try to play a bunch of Iran-friendly Shiite factions against each other, as well as Sunni factions of various temperament, in order to ensure our long term goals. And by "our" I mean the Bush administration mostly.

Also: We want permanent bases somewhere other than Kurdistan (the Turks and the PKK make that unappealing). Leaving would necessitate abandoning this plan.

"Sadr was and is part of the elected government, and we targeted him then too."

Okay, but with all of his shenanigans, I think it would be a stretch to say that he was trying to work through the government.

I'm not disagreeing with you about militias - we're obviously not trying to get rid of militias in general (at least in the short term). I'm questioning the notion that we're attacking Sadr's people because they oppose our presence. It implies that it is our goal to stay there.

What has Sadr done to indicate his unwillingness to work through the government, that other parties have not done as well?

Also: it is our goal to stay there. If it weren't, we would leave. Even if we don't want to stay in Iraq forever, Petraeus says that COIN will need at least a decade or two to succeed.

So it is our goal to at least stay there for that duration. At least, that is the Bush administration's goal. And McCain's. And the Bush team is trying to tie the hands of the next Prez regardless.

"Also: it is our goal to stay there. If it weren't, we would leave. Even if we don't want to stay in Iraq forever, Petraeus says that COIN will need at least a decade or two to succeed."

I'm sorry, Eric, but that just doesn't make sense. If I'm baking a cake, is it my goal to keep it in the oven for 35 minutes?

OK. But now you're getting into distinction without a difference land.

First of all, it is our goal to establish permanent bases, so yes, it is our goal to stay. Second, it is our goal to have sweetheart access to all that oil, so yes, it is our goal to stay.

I very much disagree with anyone who claims that the Bush administration does not want permanent bases and/or oil access. You don't build FOBs, embassies and other facilities in such a manner unless your intention is to stay for a long time.

But even tabling that for now, if our only goal is to implement effective COIN for humanitarian reasons, and that could take 10-20 years, then it would be our ancillary goal to eliminate any obstacles to our staying 10-20 years.

We oppose Sadr because he stands in the way of our prolonged presence - be it for COIN, or bases and oil. We obviously don't oppose him because he has a militia or has ties to Iran. Our allies have those too, in some instances, moreso.

That was my original point: If our goal is humanitarian, why are we slaughtering thousands of innocent civilians?

"I'm sorry, Eric, but that just doesn't make sense. If I'm baking a cake, is it my goal to keep it in the oven for 35 minutes?"

I suggest reconsidering what "even if" means, and rereading those sentences for meaning.

Eric wrote: "Also: it is our goal to stay there. If it weren't, we would leave. Even if we don't want to stay in Iraq forever, Petraeus says that COIN will need at least a decade or two to succeed."

The third sentence is not a conclusion derived from the first two sentences, which is how you seem to have read it.

You're free to argue with Eric's assertion, of course, since he's under-supported here in passing, but he's not asserting it simply as a conclusion following from how long it takes to successfully win a counter-insurgency.

Attempting to mind-read Eric slightly, I tend to assume that his assertion largely stems from observations about the strategic military usefulness of military bases in the mideast, and of a good relationship with an Iraqi government that will make pliably good deals on oil. That both of these goals are major goals of the U.S. government is, I think, quite easily supportable assertions, though I leave them as exercises for the reader.

Hmm, I guess it would have saved me time if I'd noticed that Eric has already replied to this. Oh, well. More coffee.

"I suggest reconsidering what "even if" means, and rereading those sentences for meaning."

Good point, Gary. Assuming I can't find some way to cook it faster, keeping it in the oven for 35 minutes is an ancillary goal.

Were I Eric, I would have stressed the issues that you pointed out (about relationships, oil, etc) rather than stressing the ancillary goal as he did in the original piece.

My personal philosophy is that positing bad faith on someone else's part is one of the least effective ways to make an argument. If one is actually right, there are almost always better ways to tackle it. It often has the nasty side effect of making one sound like a "moonbat".

Thanks for calling me on it.

I hope you're settling well and enjoying the NC spring.

"My personal philosophy is that positing bad faith on someone else's part is one of the least effective ways to make an argument. If one is actually right, there are almost always better ways to tackle it. It often has the nasty side effect of making one sound like a 'moonbat'."

I have no idea if you've ever looked at my blog, but I have a bunch of quotes on my sidebar, each of which is there for a reason, and all of which I believe in, and one is this:

"Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments."
-- Sidney Hook
Thanks for your wishes regarding my move. I've had to put off getting a place of my own, due to the expense of the move, and inability as yet to get my cash balance up to the point where I could afford more than a single month's rent, so I've been forced to make arrangements to stay with an extremely close friend for at least the next few months, and so, as ever, there are unexpected complications, but that's the way life always is.

Generally speaking, despite some bumps and hazards, and despite the fact that I'm a wreck whenever the temperature goes above 67 degrees, let alone is humid (reasons I moved to Seattle, and Colorado, and swore I'd never live anywhere warm or humid again: the universe jokes with me), things are going very well, thanks. I've already learned to never order NC bbq. :-)

But I do have a lot of other priorities for much of my time than for ObWi, and thus I hope people won't typically take it personally if I don't respond to them, or don't do so for a few days (by which time I probably won't at all, but only through lack of time, rather than lack of interest).

Oh, I see you put me on your blogroll. That's very kind. I hope to start blogging more frequently again in coming months, or even weeks, but I still have a lot of higher priorities for some months to come. But I do have hopes.

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