Land of Many Wars

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 11 months ago

Iraq today is a land of many small wars, each with different goals, participants and dangers.  Bill Roggio is commenting on the multiple counterinsurgency operations currently taking place, in Kirkuk, Diyala and Diwaniyah.  The nature of these operations (COIN) and the widespread geography of these (and other recent actions) demonstrate the problematic nature of the conflict today in Iraq.  Also at The Fourth Rail, it was pointed out that al Sadr had sent two companies of the Madhi army into Kirkuk over the spring.

This was not a random action by al Sadr; there is a reason that his forces are located near or in the Kurdish north.  Iran has trained as many as 40,000 Iraqis in order to prevent an unlikely rollback of Shiite control, and is likely pulling the strings to effect the policy that is most beneficial to their interests in regional control.  Shiite control is also related to control over oil and refinery infrastructure.  Kurdish leaders have made it clear that they will not relent on their demands to reverse Saddam’s Arabization of the Kirkuk oil fields, which accounted for the bulk of exports before the 2003 invasion.  “We always said we would make no concessions on … the Kurdish identity of Kirkuk,” said leading Kurdish politician Massoud Barzani.

It is likely that al Sadr’s forces (and other factions in Iraq) are positioning for negotiations and decisions that might be determinative for the future of Iraq, namely, the division of Iraq into three autonomous regions: Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni.  In a strategically timed trip to the Middle East, Condoleezza Rice has put political pressure on the Kurds to share the wealth associated with a Kurdish Kirkuk.

Rice visited the region’s powerful president, Massoud Barzani, less than two weeks after the regional government threatened to break away from Iraq in a dispute over oil.

Barzani told reporters after meeting with Rice that Kurdistan, “like any other nation, has the right to self-determination.?

However, he said he is committed to a “federal democratic and pluralistic Iraq.?

When he was asked about the future distribution of oil wealth, Barzani did not repeat recent assertions that Kurdistan alone should control new contracts and business arrangements for oil pumped in the region. But at the same time, he gave no endorsement of proposed national legislation on dividing up income from oil.

The Iraqi central government has also made plans to significantly expand the oil infrastructure of Iraq, which will include the construction of a large number of refineries, none of which will be in Sunni controlled regions.

It has become fairly widely acknowledged that the military brass made a choice partway through the Iraq campaign to reduce U.S. force projection as part of COIN strategy, and this has led to U.S. forces cloistering in highly protected bases rather than patrolling and engaging in offensive operations against the enemy.  In no small part this has led to the proliferation of violence in Iraq in spite of the highly successful operations in which U.S. troops engage.  Again, there are many wars taking place in Iraq.

The fighting in Iraq is not a single conflict, but an overlapping set of conflicts, fought on multiple battlegrounds, with different combatants. Increasingly, American troops are caught between the competing forces.

In western Iraq’s deserts, Sunni Arab insurgent groups, some homegrown and others dominated by foreign fighters, attack Iraqi government forces and the U.S. troops who back them up. In Baghdad and surrounding provinces, Sunni and Shiite fighters attack each other and their rivals’ civilians in a burgeoning civil war that U.S. troops have tried to quell.

In southern Iraq, the Shiites dominate. But they are divided, with rival militias fighting over oil and commerce. And in the north of the country, Arabs and Kurds battle for control.

Often during the last three years, the U.S. military has shifted troops to try to tamp down one of these conflicts, only to see another escalate. Now, many American officials worry that with the proliferation of armed actors in Iraq’s multiple conflicts, the original U.S. counterinsurgency mission has become something else — an operation aimed at quelling civil war, which is a much more ambiguous and politically fraught objective.

American troops find themselves in the crossfire, caught among foreign militants, Sunni Muslim nationalist rebels, Shiite Muslim militiamen and other armed groups — all fighting each other.

“It’s a very complex situation,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Turner, commander of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. “Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out where the violence is coming from.”

As we have pointed out before, the Sunni region has its own problems to deal with, due in part to the knowledge that the Sunnis will probably not be the recipients of the oil revenues or have any significant amount of control over the larger Iraq.  Since it is not the mission of the U.S. forces to win in al Anbar, but rather, to train the Iraqis to win, it is likely that we will face hard decisions about this province (i.e., amnesty for some prominent Sunnis, even those who have participated in the killing of U.S. troops).  The complexity of the situation in al Anbar makes this region restive, causing some Sunni opposition to the current direction of Iraq.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, the best known of the insurgent groups, continues to make inroads in the province, consolidating and expanding its reach. Al Qaeda in Iraq was led by Abu Musab Zarqawi until U.S. forces killed him in June. American officials had hoped Zarqawi’s death would severely disrupt the group, but that does not appear to have happened.

“Al Qaeda has murdered, intimidated, co-opted or paid off all the local national insurgent groups,” said Marine Lt. Col. Bryan Salas, a military spokesman in Fallouja. “They run an organized criminal enterprise that has its tentacles in everything from black-market gasoline sales to extortion of police and government paychecks. Al Qaeda provides the leadership and organization for this loose association of organized criminals.”

In what may be even more distasteful to the U.S., David Frum predicts negotiations with both Iraq and Iran, along with a rapid pullout of troops, in order to effect peace in the region.

The likely reaction to any partial victory in Iraq will be that the sons of America who have given their lives for this cause deserve better than a negotiated settlement.


You are currently reading "Land of Many Wars", entry #328 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,Small Wars and was published October 8th, 2006 by Herschel Smith.

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