Successes in Iraq Hiding Real Problems

Bill Lind, a pioneer of Fourth Generation Warfare theory and conservative critic of the Iraq War, sees clouds in between the silver linings of recent reports of progress on the security front.

To the degree the good news is true, it probably has more to do with the last sentence quoted above [“troops are interacting more with the local people and are protecting them more effectively”] than with troop numbers. It may also reflect a large dose of post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning. Some of the decline in violence in Baghdad is due not to U.S. troops but to the fact that the Shiites have completed the ethnic cleansing of mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods. A good portion of the improvement in Anbar province is a product of Al Qaeda blunders, which have alienated part of its base. While adoption of classic counter-insurgency techniques by U.S. forces is genuine good news, we should not assume events in Iraq are solely or even primarily a result of our actions. We are one player among many, and not always the most important.

He’s right that there are multiple variables at work in Iraq but, surely, if we’re responsible for everything that goes bad, we have some influence on the things that go well. And al Qaeda blunders are likely exacerbated by the increased pressure put on by the Surge and the sense that the game is in a make-or-break phase, at least from the American standpoint.

Lind is rightly concerned by Kim Gamel’s recent AP report that, “73 percent of the attacks that wounded or killed U.S. troops last month in Baghdad were launched by Shiite militiamen, nearly double that figure six months earlier.”

If we replace a war against Iraqis Sunnis with a war against the Shiites, we will not only have suffered a serious, self-inflicted operational defeat, we will endanger our whole position in Iraq, since our supply lines mostly run through Shiite country.

I say such a defeat would be self-inflicted because Shiite attacks on Americans in Baghdad seem to be responses to American actions. In dealing with the Shiites, we appear to be doing what spurred the growth of the Sunni insurgency, i.e., raids, air strikes and a “kill or capture” policy directed against local Shiite leaders. Not only does this lead to retaliation, it also fractures Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army as he tries to avoid fighting us. Such fracturing works against, not for, the potential re-creation of an Iraqi state.

Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the U.S. second-in-command, blames the increased activity on Iranian interference and on “rogue elements” among Iraqi Shiites. Lind thinks American incompetence more likely.

Moreover, it stands to reason that, as the threat from the relatively small but more virulent Baathist and al Qaeda elements diminishes, that posed by the much larger Shiite militia faction would rise in importance. To the extent it’s possible to create a functioning state, taking on the Mahdi Army is going to be necessary. Stupid tactics should, of course, be avoided.

via John Robb

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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. M1EK says:

    He’s right that there are multiple variables at work in Iraq but, surely, if we’re responsible for everything that goes bad, we have some influence on the things that go well.

    That’s an “interesting” way to characterize stuff like “Some of the decline in violence in Baghdad is due not to U.S. troops but to the fact that the Shiites have completed the ethnic cleansing of mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods.”

    I use “interesting” in the sense that “you’re completely crazy”.