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.
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.