Iraq Closer to Chaos, Government Demands Looser Security

Michael Gordon reports that senior CENTCOM leaders fear Iraq’s security situation is approaching a point of no return.

A classified briefing prepared two weeks ago by the United States Central Command portrays Iraq as edging toward chaos, in a chart that the military is using as a barometer of civil conflict. A one-page slide shown at the Oct. 18 briefing provides a rare glimpse into how the military command that oversees the war is trying to track its trajectory, particularly in terms of sectarian fighting.

Iraq Chaos CENTCOM PowerPoint (small)

The slide includes a color-coded bar chart that is used to illustrate an “Index of Civil Conflict.” It shows a sharp escalation in sectarian violence since the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February, and tracks a further worsening this month despite a concerted American push to tamp down the violence in Baghdad.

In fashioning the index, the military is weighing factors like the ineffectual Iraqi police and the dwindling influence of moderate religious and political figures, rather than more traditional military measures such as the enemy’s fighting strength and the control of territory.

The conclusions the Central Command has drawn from these trends are not encouraging, according to a copy of the slide that was obtained by The New York Times. The slide shows Iraq as moving sharply away from “peace,” an ideal on the far left side of the chart, to a point much closer to the right side of the spectrum, a red zone marked “chaos.” As depicted in the command’s chart, the needle has been moving steadily toward the far right of the chart.

Of course, it doesn’t take a War College graduate to make that assessment: one only needs follow the news. Still, the pessimism at CENTCOM is telling. Clausewitz taught us that wars are fought to achieve political aims. It is the political, more so than military, indicators that are most troubling:

Other significant factors are in the political realm. The slide notes that Iraq’s political and religious leaders have lost some of their moderating influence over their constituents or adherents.

Notably, the slide also cites difficulties that the new Iraqi administration has experienced in “governance.” That appears to be shorthand for the frustration felt by American military officers about the Iraqi government’s delays in bringing about a genuine political reconciliation between Shiites and Sunnis. It also appears to apply to the lack of reconstruction programs to restore essential services and the dearth of job creation efforts to give young Iraqis an alternative to joining militias, as well as the absence of firm action against militias.

The slide lists other factors that are described as important but less significant. They include efforts by Iran and Syria to enable violence by militias and insurgent groups and the interest by many Kurds in achieving independence. The slide describes violence motivated by sectarian differences as having moved into a “critical” phase.

The chart does note some positive developments. Specifically, it notes that “hostile rhetoric” by political and religious leaders has not increased. It also notes that Iraqi security forces are refusing less often than in the past to take orders from the central government and that there has been a drop-off in mass desertions.

Still, for a military culture that thrives on PowerPoint briefings, the shifting index was seen by some officials as a stark warning about the difficult course of events in Iraq, and mirrored growing concern by some military officers.

Quite so. This is combined with more depressing news along similar lines.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki demanded the removal of American checkpoints from the streets of Baghdad on Tuesday, in what appeared to be his latest and boldest gambit in an increasingly tense struggle for more independence from his American protectors.

Mr. Maliki’s public declaration seemed at first to catch American commanders off guard. But by nightfall, American troops had abandoned all the positions in eastern and central Baghdad that they had set up last week with Iraqi forces as part of a search for a missing American soldier. The checkpoints had snarled traffic and disrupted daily life and commerce throughout the eastern part of the city.

The language of the declaration, which implied that Mr. Maliki had the power to command American forces, seemed to overstep his authority and to be aimed at placating his Shiite constituency.

The withdrawal was greeted with jubilation in the streets of Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite enclave where the Americans have focused their manhunt and where anti-American sentiment runs high. The initial American reaction to the order, which was released by Mr. Maliki’s press office, strongly suggested that the statement had not been issued in concert with the American authorities.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that al-Maliki is an incompetent or a fool, quite likely both.

Establishing security in key sectors is at the very heart of effective counterinsurgency. That task would be made far simpler if an Iraqi face could be put on the effort. Unfortunately, there is zero evidence to date that the Iraqi police forces are capable of doing this on their own.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. legion says:

    It is hard to escape the conclusion that al-Maliki is an incompetent or a fool, quite likely both.

    Not at all. It seems far more likely that al-Maliki feared the ire of the Shiites in his backyard far more than that of the politicians in DC. And that he has no faith in either the US troops or his own security forces to protect him.

    Also, countdown to either Malkin or Dan Riehl demanding Gordon’s execution for treason for yet another classified info release in 3…. 2…. 1….

  2. Triumph says:

    It is hard to escape the conclusion that al-Maliki is an incompetent or a fool, quite likely both.

    Establishing security in key sectors is at the very heart of effective counterinsurgency. That task would be made far simpler if an Iraqi face could be put on the effort. Unfortunately, there is zero evidence to date that the Iraqi police forces are capable of doing this on their own.

    It seems clear what is happening here is that both al-Maliki and CENTCOM are anticipating Democratic victories in next week’s Congressional elections.

    As Bush said two days ago, if you vote for Democrats, you are voting for the terrorists.

    If you vote for Republicans you will see both the situation in Iraq go from the “red” zone near “chaos” on CENTCOM’s little chart to “green” and peace, pretty much overnight. It is inevitable.

    Likewise, if you vote for Republican, Bush will be able to stand up to al-Maliki and do what he needs to do in order to rescue the MIA soldier.

    The ensuing chaos in Iraq and Bush’s inability to control the situation there is further evidence of Democratic incompetence.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Maliki is neither incompetent nor a fool. He is a creature of the militias, specifically a creature of Moqtada al-Sadr’s. There is no likelihood whatever that he will turn against the hand that put him into office and that sustains him.

  4. Anderson says:

    What Legion and Dave said. The Americans are unlikely to put a bullet in Maliki’s skull. Not so his “allies” in the militias. It’s not “counterinsurgency” to him if it’s targeting the guys who are keeping him alive & in “power.”

    The *real* news & conclusion here is that we should Get.The.Hell.Out. Had the bad guys been Maliki’s foes, would he have ordered us to stand down? Not at all. We are becoming hired guns in the Iraqi civil war.

  5. ken says:

    James, I told you years ago that this war was lost the moment it started. Americans will not support a war based upon lies. It looks like the Iraqies also have little tolerance for supporting conservative lies. Perhaps that is a small but telling data point in our common humanity.

    Too bad you guys had to kill so many innocent people for this point to come out.

  6. spencer says:

    Triumph — the American people voted for the republicans 6 years ago, four years ago and two years ago.

    Over that time the terrorists have had many victories and few loses. the chart by CENTOM
    clearly shows the great success of Bush.

    By the way, where is Ben laden?

    There were two World Trade Center attacks.
    One in 1993 under Clinton. The Democratic administration captured and prosecuted the ring leader, Sheik Abdel-Rahman and he is now in federal prison.

    Now 5 years later the Bush administration does not even seem to know where Ben Laden is.
    Moreover, Clinton captured the Sheik with no loss of American lives. But Bush has wasted almost 3,000 good American lives in his pathetic
    attempt to fight –lose — the war on terror.

    Give me one fact that would support your position that voting for a democrat is a vote for
    terrorists. I can give you thousands that shows just the opposite and that is the reason Ben Laden apparently thanks God every day that he has George Bush as an enemy.

  7. spencer says:

    Some people have refered to the pull-out of American troops from Baghdad as George Bush cutting and running.

    But it sure seems strange that the administration is working overtime to distract everyone with the Kerry comments and keep this abject failure in Baghdad out of the news.

    Which should be important factor in your vote, Kerry muffing a joke or Bush pulling US troops out of Baghdad?

  8. legion says:

    The ensuing chaos in Iraq and Bush’s inability to control the situation there is further evidence of Democratic incompetence.

    I’m never sure if Triumph is serious, or just Stephen Colbert posting under an alias. But assuming the former, the quantity of narcotics necessary to actually believe the quoted sentence is truly staggering.

  9. Triumph says:

    Give me one fact that would support your position that voting for a democrat is a vote for
    terrorists.

    Spencer: Bush made plain as day just two days ago. Democratic win= “The terrorists win and America loses”

    But assuming the former, the quantity of narcotics necessary to actually believe the quoted sentence is truly staggering.

    Legion, you obviously missed Cheney’s interview on Fox news the other night. Referring to the terrorists he said, “It’s my belief that they’re very sensitive of the fact that we’ve got an election scheduled…they can break the will of the American people, that’s what they’re trying to do.”

    These assessments are coming from Bush and Cheney. According to their own estimation, these guys are moral standouts and are above board.

  10. I find it interesting that the Bush administration wants to focus on the words of a Senator on the campaign trail in California while virtually every intelligent observer believes that the “stay the course” effort in Iraq is putting our troops in harms way.

    If the President is actually concerned for our troops, why doesn’t he admit his administration’s mistakes and focus his energy on crafting a new war strategy rather than a new political strategy…but that would require him to be less concerned with political power and more concerned with protecting our troops…troops he enjoys waving around like a cheap campaign sign when he thinks that will win him votes…the same troops that died in near record numbers in October in a war the President declared we had won more than two years ago.

    Read more here:

    http://www.thoughttheater.com

  11. legion says:

    Triumph,
    Ummm… that could, if actually swallowed, explain violence and unrest over the last month or two. But “chaos in Iraq and Bush’s inability to control the situation there” has been going on ever since day one. Is every car bomb or beheading there meant to influence the “next” US election, regardless of when that is? Sounds like the only way to stop the violence is to abolish elections here altogether…

    These assessments are coming from Bush and Cheney. According to their own estimation, these guys are moral standouts and are above board.

    Now I _know_ you’re just pulling my leg…

  12. Triumph says:

    Ummm… that could, if actually swallowed, explain violence and unrest over the last month or two.

    Listen, legion, I am only working with the logic that the Commander-in-Chief gives me.

    Sounds like the only way to stop the violence is to abolish elections here altogether…

    This is the logical step for John Yoo and Cheney’s Unitary Executive theory.

  13. Iraq “moving” towards chaos?…

    Does that qualify as understatement of the year… or what? I think the situation in Iraq has BEEN chaos for a LONG time! WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 – A classified briefing prepared two weeks ago by the United States Central Command……

  14. anjin-san says:

    Hey Triumph,

    Did you see this on a documentary on ABC?

  15. […] I’m far too angry, frankly, for calm analysis (I recommend here, here, and here for coherent thought). I just want answers to a few questions: […]

  16. […] OOTB cites an NYT piece that uses US Central Command’s own internal assessments that Iraq is sliding closer to chaos. […]

  17. legion says:

    This is the logical step for John Yoo and Cheney’s Unitary Executive theory.

    Ahhhh… the old “they hate us for our freedom, so let’s abolish all our freedoms” strategy.

    Admit it, triumph – you _are_ Stephen Colbert!

  18. […] If one read Diamond’s book or Woodward, and I presume as well Rick’s book Fiasco, one gets the decided impression that Rumsfeld wholly dismissed the need for a means to deal with the post-invasion situation and now we are in dire straits (see, for example, here for evidence of that fact). Filed under: Iraq, US Politics | |Send TrackBack […]