Iraq SitRep

A series of stories today paint a rather bleak picture of progress in Iraq.

US warns Baghdad’s Green Zone is unsafe (James Drummond and Steve Negus, Financial Times)

US military officers in Baghdad have warned they cannot guarantee the security of the perimeter around the Green Zone, the headquarters of the Iraqi government and home to the US and British embassies, according to security company employees. At a briefing earlier this month, a high-ranking US officer in charge of the zone’s perimeter said he had insufficient soldiers to prevent intruders penetrating the compound’s defences. The US major said it was possible weapons or explosives had already been stashed in the zone, and warned people to move in pairs for their own safety.

The Green Zone, in Baghdad’s centre, is one of the most fortified US installations in Iraq. Until now, militants have not been able to penetrate it. But insurgency has escalated this week, spreading to the centre of Baghdad. The zone on Sunday came under the heaviest attack since it was established. Up to 60 unexploded rockets were found inside its perimeters after a five-hour barrage. On Tuesday, a car bomb outside a Baghdad police station killed 47 people. The violence in Iraq continued unabated yesterday when 10 Iraqis were killed in clashes with US troops in Ramadi, west of Baghdad. The decapitated bodies of three men, believed to be Arab kidnap victims, were separately found on a highway north of Baghdad.

Insurgents In Iraq Appear More Powerful Than Ever (Steven Komarow, Csar G. Soriano and Tom Squitieri, USA Today)

Two years ago, the head of the Arab League was scolded by many for predicting that “the gates of hell” would be unleashed if President Bush proceeded with his threat to invade Iraq. But when Amr Moussa reprised his statement to a meeting in Cairo this week, there was no dissent. Instead, the former Egyptian foreign minister, an influential figure in the Middle East, got nods when he said “the gates of hell are open in Iraq, where the situation is becoming more complicated and troubled.”

U.S. plans had called for Iraq’s new government and Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to be gaining respect and organizing for national elections now. Instead insurgents appear more powerful than ever. By some counts, more than three dozen Iraqi cities and towns are in the hands of leaders hostile to the new government and the United States, and apparently able to dispatch gunmen and suicide bombers at will. The resistance that was spotty a year ago now launches an average of more than 50 attacks against U.S. or coalition forces a day. Some of the most horrific attacks have been aimed at those cooperating with the United States and the U.S.-backed government: More than 700 Iraqi police officers have been killed. Increasingly, the U.S. civil and military effort in Iraq appears aimed at keeping the country from sliding into chaos rather than moving ahead. That change was underscored this week when the Bush administration said it was shifting more than $3 billion from its Iraq reconstruction budget to boost security.

***

“I think it’s worse than we had expected and led to believe, and that is the benchmark,” says Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of Defense under President Reagan who is now an analyst at the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning group in Washington, D.C. “If I said to you that Saddam (Hussein) would be out in the spring of 2003, and in September 2004 you would have all this going on, you would say no.” Adds Korb: “In the Sunni Triangle area, I would not want to go out (at) night.” In addition to the violence in the cities, insurgents “are going after people aligning themselves with the new government, and they show they have the ability to disrupt the oil, which is the center of the economic plan, even in the so-called safe south.” “The bottom line is, at this moment we are losing the war,” says Andrew Bacevich, a former Army colonel who teaches international relations at Boston University. “That doesn’t mean it is lost, but we are losing, and as an observer it is difficult for me to see that either the civilian leadership or the military leadership has any plausible idea on how to turn this around.”
While “it is certainly a good thing that Saddam Hussein is gone,” it is difficult to say that Iraq is in better shape, Bacevich says. “Iraq was a lousy place to live when Saddam was in power, and Iraq is a lousy place to live with Saddam Hussein gone and this growing insurgency” in his place, he says.

***

The last time the United States was enmeshed in a larger and more protracted conflict was in Vietnam a generation ago. Comparisons between the two are frequent now. The Iraq war marks the first time since Vietnam that U.S. troops have been involved in sustained combat for more than a few months. And for now, at least, the Iraq war seems to have no obvious end in sight. Part of the problem America faced in Vietnam was the inability to define the end — what President Lyndon Johnson called the “light at the end of the tunnel” — or to measure progress in getting there, says Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who now heads a Washington think tank. North Vietnam’s willingness to sacrifice its sons guaranteed continuation of the fighting, Krepinevich says. The United States was not outfought. It was “out-bled” — the same strategy the jihadists apparently mean to duplicate in a different form today, he says.

***

Retired Marine colonel Thomas Hammes, a contractor who trains foreign fighters allied with the United States, says Iraq will take time. “Insurgencies last 10 to 30 years,” he says. “It took the British 12 years in Malaysia” to end the Communist uprising after World War II, and the British were losing for the first three years, he says. “We certainly have the capacity to get it right” in Iraq, he says. “But it is an incredibly complex situation.” Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism specialist at RAND, agrees that patience is needed. But he says the United States has already “squandered a lot of precious time.” He points to bungled efforts such as poorly training Iraqi police and relying on air power to battle the insurgency, which turns civilians against the coalition. “Helicopter gunships become potent propaganda,” he says. He says Iraqis desire democracy and that as bad as the situation seems now, it could get much worse, especially if the majority Shiite population becomes inflamed with fundamentalist fervor. But a crucial element is giving citizens “the fundamental sense that the government protects its citizens,” and that is not happening in Iraq, he says.

The projections aren’t very promising, either:

U.S. Intelligence Shows Pessimism on Iraq’s Future [RSS] (Douglas Jehl, NYT)

A classified National Intelligence Estimate prepared for President Bush in late July spells out a dark assessment of prospects for Iraq, government officials said Wednesday. The estimate outlines three possibilities for Iraq through the end of 2005, with the worst case being developments that could lead to civil war, the officials said. The most favorable outcome described is an Iraq whose stability would remain tenuous in political, economic and security terms. “There’s a significant amount of pessimism,” said one government official who has read the document, which runs about 50 pages. The officials declined to discuss the key judgments – concise, carefully written statements of intelligence analysts’ conclusions – included in the document.

The intelligence estimate, the first on Iraq since October 2002, was prepared by the National Intelligence Council and was approved by the National Foreign Intelligence Board under John E. McLaughlin, the acting director of central intelligence. Such estimates can be requested by the White House or Congress, but this one was initiated by the intelligence council under George J. Tenet, who stepped down as director of central intelligence on July 9, the government officials said. As described by the officials, the pessimistic tone of the new estimate stands in contrast to recent statements by Bush administration officials, including comments on Wednesday by Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, who asserted that progress was being made.

***

Mr. Bush’s opponent, Senator John Kerry, criticized the administration’s optimistic public position on Iraq on Wednesday and questioned whether it would be possible to hold elections there in January. “I think it is very difficult to see today how you’re going to distribute ballots in places like Falluja, and Ramadi and Najaf and other parts of the country, without having established the security,” Mr. Kerry said in a call-in phone call to Don Imus, the radio talk show host. “I know that the people who are supposed to run that election believe that they need a longer period of time and greater security before they can even begin to do it, and they just can’t do it at this point in time. So I’m not sure the president is being honest with the American people about that situation either at this point.”

The situation in Iraq prompted harsh comments from Republicans and Democrats at a hearing into the shift of spending from reconstruction to security. Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, called it “exasperating for anybody look at this from any vantage point,” and Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, said of the overall lack of spending: “It’s beyond pitiful, it’s beyond embarrassing. It is now in the zone of dangerous.”

Belmont Club’s Wretchard does some statistical analysis of the combat casualties in Iraq, though, and argues that perspective is needed.

American casualties have occurred in a limited number of places. Journalist and blogger Jason van Steenwyk, who served in Iraq, says in his post, Hardly Tet, that we should recognize combat operations in Iraq for what they objectively are, neither minimizing nor inflating the estimate.

***

Based on the pattern of casualties, it is hard to reach the conclusion that Iraq is descending into anarchy or that the resistance is spreading uncontrollably. If that were true we would be seeing a different distribution of casualties. Combat in Iraq is complex politico-military phenomenon.

Take a lot at his numbers; they’re worth a read-through.

Finally, the Ottawa Citizen’s David Warren argues that some hard choices will have to be made if we are to win this thing:

The Americans have made one big mistake since entering Iraq. It was to make local peace deals in Fallujah, and elsewhere, which left the fox in charge of the hens. The idea was not, however, as stupid as it now looks. It was a risk: that if you put a few old Saddamite officers, and tribal leaders with lapsed Saddamite connexions — the ones not currently wanted for war crimes — in charge of a town, they will know how to restore order. They will prevent it from becoming a staging area for terrorist hits elsewhere, because if that happened the Marines would be back. And psychologically, one is likely to earn the gratitude of your erstwhile enemy, if you recruit him when he is expecting to be shot. The risk may have been worth taking, in hindsight, for what the U.S. learned from it. We now know the policy backfired badly. The territories put off-limits to U.S. and allied patrol became terror havens immediately, as the local Jihadis came out of hiding to celebrate an “American defeat” — even as the Marines, who had nearly exterminated them, were in the act of withdrawing, according to agreement.

Being honourable with the honourless seldom pays. This is an enemy that has several times fire-bombed a local Christian church, then run into a mosque to avoid retribution. They know that the Americans and, for the moment, their legitimate Iraqi allies, will not fire on a mosque. They count their enemy’s honour as pure weakness.

The situation doesn’t look good, to be sure. The circumstances on the ground are far worse than I’d have predicted going in; certainly worse than I’d have guessed last March after the phenomenal 21 day campaign that toppled Saddam’s regime with considerably fewer Coalition casualties than I expected. Knowing what we know now, it’s hard to argue that the war as it has been fought has been “worth it.” Certainly, taking Saddam out was worthwhile. I’m less sure that the follow-on nation building excercise was more than a neo-con folly, regardless of Max Boot‘s passionate argument otherwise. Ultimately, that question isn’t answerable until the end game. If we wind up with a relatively stable and democratic Iraq, the answer will be in the affirmative. Otherwise, not.

That said, assessing almost any war during the worst point is a difficult exercise. The American War for Independence looked much more grim than this circa Valley Forge. Lincoln’s bloody quest to preserve the Union was certainly not “worth it” nineteen months in (or, arguably, nineteen years after). Indeed, the “Good War” probably didn’t look that way in mid-1943. War is a nasty business and usually rather discouraging for most of its evolution. Wartime leaders need to be much more optimistic than the rest of us to see it through.

I would also reiterate that comparisons to Vietnam are simply uninformed. We’ve lost slightly more than 1,000 dead in Iraq compared to nearly 59,000 in Vietnam. Win, lose, or draw, we’re not going to see anything approaching that. If we still have American soldiers in Iraq five years from now, it will because the mission turned out successfully and we have a garrison there to support a friendly government, not the result of years of incremental escalation.

Update (1313): Kevin Drum observes, “Nobody’s predictions have been all that great when it comes to Iraq, but in hindsight it turns out that the intelligence community did better than most. October could turn out to be a very grim month.” He’s right on the first part. I hope he’s wrong on the second, although I suspect he isn’t.

Dan Drezner saw the FT piece as well and simply notes that it’s “really bad news.”

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor 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. Brian J. says:

    So, intelligence experts who say Iraq has weapons of mass destruction are negligent, wrong, or liars promoting an agenda, but intelligence experts who say Iraq is a quagmire are unimpeachable and almost omniscient?

    No, thanks. I’ll take Door #3, Monty.




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  2. ken says:

    You can hardly classify the neo-con clowns who said Iraq had WMD as ‘intellegence experts’ If you read what the real experts were saying it was uncertain what Iraq had. Now we know they had nothing.




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  3. bryan says:

    In re: the worst part of war, I recall hearing an NPR report the other day on the war of 1812 with the British, when they burned Washington. The historian said this was “the worst thing” that could happen to the Americans, and if the Brits had pressed their advantage, they would surely have won. But somehow, the fort at Baltimore survived the British naval barrage, and the Brits were forced to withdraw.

    I wonder what our intelligence analysts would have said before F.Scott Key had the opportunity to observe the events that inspired the “Star-Spangled Banner”?




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Iraq Roundup

The terrorists continue to kill people and disrupt the rebuilding of Iraq, but there are nonetheless important milestones being reached daily.

WaPo — Explosion Outside Iraqi Recruiting Station Kills 35

A car bomb steered to its target by a suicide driver exploded in a tremendous blast outside an Iraqi security forces recruiting station in downtown Baghdad Thursday, killing at least 35 people and wounding 138 others who were waiting to sign up or passing by.

A white sport-utility vehicle packed with artillery shells blew up as about 100 recruits were trying to enter the station outside Baghdad’s Muthanna airport, Iraqi officials said. Many of the victims had just gotten off a bus when the suicide car bomb detonated.

Although the base is used by both the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and the U.S. military, no American or Iraqi troops were killed or injured, according to Col. Mike Murray of the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry Division. Murray told reporters that most of the victims were passersby.

Visiting the scene under the protection of Iraqi police and western security guards, Iraq’s interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, described the bombing as a “cowardly attack” aimed at “the stability of Iraq and the Iraqi people,” news agencies reported.

“We are going to face these escalations,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “The Iraqi people are going to prevail, and the government of Iraq is determined to go ahead in confronting the enemies.”

USA Today — Iraqis To Regain Control Of The Renovated Baghdad Airport

raq’s new leadership will take control of a rehabilitated Baghdad International Airport in the next few weeks. The hand-over is expected to open the door for the first normal commercial service since the U.S. invasion 15 months ago.

For the past year, American experts and Iraqi technicians have been working to repair and update the former Saddam International Airport. Although the French-designed airport is only 22 years old, it had fallen into disrepair. United Nations-mandated sanctions, flight restrictions and a battle between invading U.S. troops and Saddam Hussein’s army left their marks.

Now one of three main terminals has been restored, improvements to the main runway and the radars are underway and Iraqi air traffic controllers returned to the tower two weeks ago. They are handling most of the roughly 50 cargo charter flights a day. There also is a daily charter passenger flight from Jordan.

WaPo — U.S. Sets Conditions For Detainee Transfer

The United States will turn over detainees to Iraqi authorities as soon after June 30 as U.S. officials determine that they can be held safely and in compliance with international human rights norms, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Wednesday.

The U.S. position was delivered during the opening round of high-level security consultations between Iraq’s new interim leadership and a delegation led by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and his British counterpart, Kevin Tebbit. The talks are intended to help pave the way for the scheduled transfer of limited sovereignty to Iraq at the end of the month and the arrival in the next few weeks of a new set of top U.S. diplomatic and military authorities, who U.S. officials said plan to pursue more detailed discussions on managing the next phase of U.S.-Iraqi relations.

WSJ — Iraqis May Get More Influence Over U.S. Military Operations [$]

Facing an increasingly violent insurgency and the fast-approaching transfer of sovereignty, U.S. officials are pushing to give the new Iraqi government far more influence over how U.S. military operations in Iraq are conducted and what future Iraqi security forces should look like.

U.S. officials say it is critical that the U.S. military look less like an occupying force in Iraq, where its presence is desperately needed but increasingly unpopular with average Iraqis who blame the U.S. for failing to prevent a recent spike in violence. Iraqi insurgents yesterday assassinated a senior Iraqi security official in the rich northern oil fields near Kirkuk and exploded a second critical pipeline in the south, cutting off the flow of oil and costing Iraqis as much as $60 million a day. In Balad, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, insurgents struck a U.S. base with a rocket killing two soldiers and wounding more than 20.

The attacks yesterday are the latest in a string of assassinations of senior and midlevel Iraqi government officials and car bombings that have rocked Baghdad over the past two weeks and driven home just how fragile the security situation is in the country.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have been increasingly at odds over how to fight the insurgency and how best to conduct sensitive military operations such as the recent U.S. assaults on radical Shiite and Sunni forces in the cities of Najaf and Fallujah, where the Iraqis say U.S. troops have been too heavy-handed. Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi yesterday discussed the need for a consultative body that would allow Iraqis to play a role in shaping large U.S. military operations in Iraq after the sovereignty transfer. Mr. Wolfowitz is in Baghdad to discuss Iraq’s security, economy and political process with interim-government leaders in advance of the June 30 transfer of power.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor 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.

Iraq Roundup

A series of interesting developments in Iraq overnight:

WaPo: U.S. Opts To Delay Fallujah Offensive

U.S. Marines have postponed plans to mount an attack against insurgents holed up here and instead will attempt to regain control of this violence-wracked city without a full-scale offensive, military commanders said Sunday.

Concerned about the repercussions an attack could generate across Iraq and the Arab world, senior U.S. military and civilian officials said they had decided to try to confront a band of hard-core Sunni Muslim insurgents, who have effectively taken over Fallujah, by having Marines conduct patrols in the city alongside Iraqi security forces.

The new strategy, reached in consultation with the White House over the weekend, represents an effort by U.S. officials to avoid a military incursion that could entail urban combat, civilian casualties and a wave of retributive strikes outside Fallujah, further poisoning relations between Iraqis and U.S. occupation forces.

“A military solution is not going to be the solution here unless everything else fails,” said Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, which is responsible for securing Fallujah and other areas of western Iraq. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said efforts to deal with the insurgency in Fallujah had shifted to “a political track.”

The strategy shift is the latest in a series of U.S. policy reversals designed to placate Iraq’s Sunnis, a once-powerful minority whose postwar disenfranchisement has fueled attacks on U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces. Last week, the U.S. occupation authority announced it would hire back some senior military officers and teachers who were dismissed by the authority because they had been members of former president Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated Baath Party.

LA Times: Insurgents Fortify Positions in Najaf

As U.S. troops await orders to enter this Islamic holy city, militant Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr and his militia are strengthening their control here, stockpiling weapons, seizing key religious sites and arresting or detaining those who challenge him.

In the last two weeks, Sadr’s followers — many rushing here from Baghdad, Fallouja and other areas of Iraq — have fortified their positions in the city and the neighboring town of Kufa, including at Najaf’s gold-domed shrine of Imam Ali, one of the most revered mosques in the world.

Sadr’s forces have evicted more than 100 rival Shiite clerics and shrine employees, replacing them with their own armed militiamen, who roam the rooftops and courtyards of the shrine with rifles and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers hung over their shoulders.

The cleric’s followers also were stockpiling weapons in mosques, schools, graveyards and private houses around the city, according to U.S. intelligence reports and local residents.

The open challenge to the U.S.-led administration in a city seen as sacred to Shiite Muslims, who make up 60% of Iraq’s population, has put coalition authorities in a quandary. Two weeks ago, U.S. military officials amassed 2,500 troops on the outskirts of Najaf and declared their intention to restore order to the city and kill or capture Sadr. Last week, they softened their stance, saying they wanted to allow more time to reach a peaceful settlement in Najaf.

ABC News: ‘Weapons inspectors’ hurt in Iraq blast

US troops who were at a chemical storehouse that exploded in Baghdad on Monday appear to have included members of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) hunting for weapons of mass destruction.

Residents have shown a Reuters reporter at the scene identity cards belonging to members of the ISG.

The residents say they found the cards after US soldiers evacuated their casualties.

The reason for the blast is not immediately clear but witnesses say it happened when about 12 US soldiers tried to break into the building.

The structure was destroyed in the explosion and at least one unidentified body and four wounded Iraqis have been evacuated.

It’s unclear why the scare quotes around “WMD inspectors,” since they appear to have been inspecting for WMD. (Last story via Command Post)

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor 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.

IRAQ ROUNDUP

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From StrategyPage:

The Iraqi Governing Council has come up with a plan for a new government. A key dispute is developing over how much autonomy the Kurds will be allowed. For the moment, the Kurds are being allowed to govern themselves as they have for the last 13 years. Everyone agrees there will be a parliament and democracy, with the 18 provinces allowed more autonomy than in the past. The challenge will be to come up with a form of government that will not lead to a coup and another dictator in 5-10 years.

No kidding.

Ambushes, including roadside bombs, have become smaller and less frequent. There were 250 of them in November, 200 in December and the trend continues. The amount of explosives (often several artillery and mortar shells rigged to explode) has declined to the point were many of the bombs do little damage unless a vehicle is right next to it. Raids have seized a lot of bomb making material over the last few months. Better scouting and surveillance by American troops has caused the bombers to place their explosives among civilians, but this usually just hurts more Iraqis than Americans. The supply convoys are only attacked once or twice a day, and usually without much effect. Most of the ambushes are of combat patrols or civil affairs troops going about their business (visiting local Iraqi leaders and aid projects.)

***

About 20 percent of the attacks, and all the suicide bombings, are al Qaeda with the rest coming from Sunni Arabs and those who want the old government back. Al Qaeda is having a hard time operating because they are foreigners and stand out. The coalition offers cash rewards for information on these foreign terrorists and most Iraqis see nothing wrong with making a few bucks to turn in some foreign fanatics. As a result, al Qaeda tries to operate out of mosques run by conservative clerics. A minority of Iraqis want an Islamic republic, and this minority is large enough to provide cover for al Qaeda and Iraqi groups who still want to fight.

I don’t doubt this assessment, but wonder upon what it is based. My guess is that opinion polling in Iraq is largely non-existent, and certainly unreliable in any case.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor 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:

    [snip]
    The Iraqi Governing Council has come up with a
    plan for a new government. A key dispute is
    developing over how much autonomy the Kurds
    will be allowed. For the moment, the Kurds are
    being allowed to govern themselves as they have
    for the last 13 years. Everyone agrees there
    will be a parliament and democracy, with the 18
    provinces allowed more autonomy than in the
    past. The challenge will be to come up with a
    form of government that will not lead to a coup
    and another dictator in 5-10 years.

    No kidding.
    [snip]

    No; actually the real challenge will be finding a way to give the Kurds their autonomy in a way that doesn’t trigger an invasion by Turkey in 2-3 years…




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  2. James Joyner says:

    I don’t deny that threat exists, but it’s far easier to incentivize good behavior on the part of an allied state than the internal actors in a state.




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IRAQ ROUNDUP

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Winds of Change has an excellent roundup of Iraq news this morning. Most notable is Tony Blair’s assertion that David Kay and company have found significant evidence of WMD programs including:

. . . a huge system of clandestine laboratories and plans to develop long-range ballistic missiles in Iraq.

Blair did not go into detail, but a spokesman for the prime minister on Tuesday said the findings were part of an interim report produced several months ago by the Iraq Survey Group, which is hunting for weapons of mass destruction.

“The Iraq Survey Group has already found massive evidence of huge system of clandestine laboratories, workings by scientists, plans to develop long range ballistic missiles”, Blair said in an interview with the British Forces Broadcasting Service.

Also especially noteworthy is this Washington Times report that most of the funding of the insurgency is coming from al Qaeda (something Stephen Metz and others had reported weeks ago with little fanfare) and funds skimmed from the UN Oil for Food program (something I hadn’t heard before).

To choke off the insurgency, Mr. Aufhauser said, Syria has to tighten its border controls and U.S. analysts must locate the billions of dollars the deposed regime is suspected of profiteering from the U.N. oil-for-food program.

“You have to make sure Syria gets serious about transfers of funds,” he said. “Either people are walking boxes of money over the border or transferring it through some kind of electronic means.”

If Damascus does not restrict the cash flow to insurgents, he said, the Bush administration has the right under the Patriot Act and existing presidential directives to unilaterally ban commerce with Syrian banks.

But there might be billions of dollars in stashed in metaphorical mattresses throughout Iraq, including money skimmed by favored businessmen from the U.N. humanitarian program.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor 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.

IRAQ ROUNDUP

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RealClear Politics features a bevy of columnists on Iraq today. Claudia Rosett‘s WSJ column today is entitled, “Is Iraq Like Vietnam? The Vietnamese should be so lucky.”

Vietnam is one place where the great American superpower is entirely unlikely to come clamoring for a rematch in the cause of freedom. For most of the Western world, Vietnam lives on not as a real country inhabited today by 80 million real people, but simply as a sort of eternal shorthand for lost causes, a TV talk show sound bite: “Pick-yer-debacle: The next Vietnam?”

But with all these instant counterinsurgency experts so hot to hold up Vietnam as the yardstick for Iraq, it seems worth a look at what’s actually happening today in Vietnam itself–not the Vietnam of Apocalypse Then, but the Vietnam of tyranny now. It offers some badly needed perspective on Iraq.

***

Even after Hanoi’s communist regime began its doi moi economic reforms in the late 1980s, even after the U.S. lifted the trade embargo in 1994 and normalized relations in 1995, Vietnam remained a political sinkhole. The ruling Communist Party tightly restricts freedom of religion and speech, permits no rival parties or groups, and throws its critics, like Dr. Que, in prison. Out of 192 countries surveyed earlier this year by New York-based Freedom House, Vietnam ranked among the 16 most repressive regimes.

Compare this with today’s Iraq, where, despite the complaints, there has been no stampede for the exits. People are now free to speak as they please, worship as they choose, print independent newspapers, read them, and raise their voices in the debate over the framing of a new constitution.
Ah, but along with their new freedoms, Iraqis are suffering violence, insecurity, and terrorist attacks. True, and horrible. But before defaulting to Iraq-the-next-Vietnam, compare the toll today with what it was under the workaday “stability” of Saddam. Even setting aside Saddam’s wars against Iran and Kuwait, which killed hundreds of thousands, even taking separately the gassing of the Kurds, which killed thousands, even dismissing any terrorist attacks abroad that Saddam may yet prove to have been party to, even if all we blame on Saddam are those 300,000 Iraqis estimated to have been buried in some 260 mass graves, Iraq with Saddam removed from power is still ahead of the game.

For Saddam to have presided over the slaughter of 300,000 during the course of his rule meant killing, on average, about 34 human beings per day, or more than one an hour, every hour, around the clock, for 24 years. To put that in perspective, note that the terrorist bombing in August of the United Nations compound in Baghdad–an atrocity that killed 22 people–would have qualified in the ledgers of Saddam’s regime as a below-average day of murder. Add to this the Iraqis traumatized by state-sanctioned rape, mutilated by torturers, and terrorized for decades into the kind of self-betrayal and submission that sickens the soul.

Getting over that just might need more than eight months. And perhaps the mission of equipping a newly liberated people to defend their own freedoms is not solely a matter of facts and arithmetic. But to whatever extent we are now engaged in a war of passions and ideas, we’d get further on all fronts not by brooding over Iraq-as-the-next-Vietnam, but by looking for ways to telegraph to a Dr. Que, and his countrymen, that we still hope for the day when Vietnam will at last enjoy the freedoms now in reach in Iraq.

The old joke is that the best way to economic recovery is to get into a war with the United States. You apparently also have to lose.

Mort Kondrake says Iraq isn’t Vietnam–he hopes it’s the Philippines!

While President Bush’s critics persistently liken Iraq to Vietnam, it’s possible that Iraq could resemble the Philippines, where the United States waged a successful anti-guerrilla war from 1899 to 1902.

Parallels between Iraq and the Philippines are drawn by American Enterprise Institute military expert Thomas Donnelly, who argues that counter-insurgency struggles “most assuredly can be won.”

Like the latest war in Iraq, the Spanish-American War was waged by a first-term Republican president, William McKinley, allegedly using doctored intelligence and at the instigation of jingoistic ideologues.

It was won swiftly, too, with minimal casualties (379 U.S. troops lost in the Philippines) and with the president declaring that the United States was the “liberator” of the Philippine people.

Unfortunately, as Donnelly wrote in an article on AEI’s Web site, U.S. occupying forces soon were attacked by nationalist guerrillas who killed 4,200 Americans before the United States won in 1902.

Donnelly asserts that in Iraq, the United States has the advantage of fighting not against nationalists who could legitimately argue that they were fighting against imperialists, but against Baathists who offer Iraq only a return to tyranny.

However, to win in Iraq, Donnelly argues, the Bush administration needs to follow the example set by McKinley: provide enough troops and allow local commanders enough autonomy to tailor their tactics to local circumstances.

With several Special Forces “A” teams teaching them how to fight, maybe.

Elliot Cohen warns against the perils of cutting and running (in the famous words of George Aiken, “declare victory and go home”) in Iraq:

The cardinal fact is that no one would be fooled. Everyone — in Iraq, here and abroad — would understand what was going on, as was the case in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia. Adnan Pachachi, the oldest member of the Iraqi Governing Council, put it this way a few days ago: “In the current security crisis, any talk of a withdrawal would swell the ranks of the insurgents.” Of course it would — knowing that the hard men were winning, would you want to be on our side or theirs? The locals have to live there, and people want to side with the winners, particularly brutal winners. The insurgents would have no incentive to make it easy for us — the more humiliating the American exit, the better the chance that the United States would would stay out of that part of the world for good and the more satisfying the revenge.

Let us say, though, that American forces nonetheless got out, accompanied (one would hope) by tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who had put their faith in their American liberators and at least had received asylum in return. What would then happen in Iraq? A return of Hussein to complete power? Not likely: His army is in ruins, and neither Kurds nor Shiites would be as easy victims as in the past. But internecine mayhem? Surely — both within the various confessional communities and certainly between them, there would be ample opportunities for preemptive or retaliatory slaughter, particularly in towns with mixed populations (including Baghdad). It might settle down after a while, with a Kurdish republic in the north boxed in by Turkey, Syria, Iran and the Sunnis (all hostile), a turbulent Shiite south (with a lot of oil but little governance) and a Sunni center including, in all likelihood, control of a divided Baghdad. This would be the playground for all kinds of foreign parties — Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Islamist fanatics of all stripes. If the United States did not like Afghanistan as a home for jihadists, it can expect to like such a base in the heart of the Arab world even less.

Regionally, of course, the losers would be numerous: Jordan, a lonely island of economic and social progress; Israel; and the gulf states, whose alliance with the United States would have reaped a large dividend of instability. Turkey, however, might welcome the opportunity to isolate and subordinate the Kurds; Iran would see opportunities in the south and a salutary warning to its budding domestic reformers, and Saudi Arabia would be mixed — its leadership more fearful of chaos to the north than it was of Hussein’s dictatorship, its Islamist opposition encouraged.

The United States would bury its dead and get back to business. But the lessons for its political leaders, and indeed for everyone else in the world, would be simple: The United States cannot and will not, under any conditions, conduct a counterinsurgency. When it tries, drips and spurts of casualties will cause it to lose its nerve. For all potential opponents of the United States, the ultimate deterrent is not a nuclear weapon but a few dozen suicide bombers and trucks to carry them, augmented by a couple of hundred grenade-launcher-toting irregulars.

All true–a lesson we’ve failed to learn time and again.

In a too-short piece, Dimitri Simes argues that the U.S. is an empire and needs to learn the lessons of its predecessors.

It is understandable why supporters of the Bush administration’s foreign policy balk at any mention of the “e” word. Many past empires were given a bad name not just by their opponents, from national liberation movements to Marxists, but also by their conduct; Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were the ugliest manifestations. The United States, on the other hand, is said to seek benign influence rather than domination. Its political culture and even its institutional design mitigate against its acting as an effective imperial power. These arguments are not without merit. Still, they reflect more a reluctance to associate American foreign policy with negative imperial stereotypes than a reasoned appreciation of how earlier empires emerged and functioned.

Although empires, like democracies, have taken vastly different forms through history, they have several features in common. First, empires exercise great authority over large and varied territories populated by diverse ethnic groups, cultures, and religions. They rely on a broad range of tools and incentives to maintain this dominance: political persuasion, economic advantage, and cultural influence where possible; coercion and force when necessary. Empires generally expect neighboring states and dependencies to accept their power and accommodate to it. This often contributes to a sense that the imperial power itself need not play by the same rules as ordinary states and that it has unique responsibilities and rights.

Second, empires, more often than not, have emerged spontaneously rather than through a master plan. They frequently evolve as if following the laws of physics; an initial success generates momentum, which is subsequently maintained by inertia. Each new advance creates opportunities and challenges that extend the empire’s definition of its interests far beyond its original form.

Ancient Athens, for example, began as the leader of a victorious alliance that defeated the Persians. But it quickly evolved into an empire, against the will of many of its former partners. Thucydides, one of the fathers of realism, describes the Athenian perspective thus: “We did not gain this empire by force. . . . It was the actual course of events which first compelled us to increase our power to its present extent: fear of Persia was our chief motive, though afterwards we thought, too, of our own honor and our own interest.”

Third, empires do not always have sovereignty over their domains. This was certainly the case with Athens. It was also the case in the early period of the Roman Empire, when Rome sought domination rather than direct control over its dependencies. . . .

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor 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.