Payment to Concerned Citizens: Strategy of Genius or Shame?

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 4 months ago

Because of the slow progress of reconciliation at the top echelons of government in Iraq, the strategy has had to rely on bottom up efforts.  Maliki has claimed that Iraq is still capable of reconciliation, but it has been suggested that Maliki is himself in need of an awakening before he can lead the nation to reconciliation.

This bottom up strategy has involved groups of “concerned citizens” (and in some cases variants of this concept such as armed neighborhood watches or assistants to the Iraqi Police, such as in Fallujah).  This strategy came under fire today by the French press.

“Tell me what you need and I’ll get it for you.” The US general is opening his proverbial chequebook to leaders of Iraq’s concerned citizens groups.

“Tell me how I can help you,” asks Major General Rick Lynch, commander of US-led forces in central Iraq.

US commanders are unashamedly buying the loyalty (italics mine) of Iraqi tribal leaders and junior officials, a strategy they trumpet as a major success but which critics fear will lead to hidden costs in terms of militia and sectarian strife.

These low-level Iraqi leaders from the Madain area south of Baghdad are meeting top US military brass for the second time in four days.

Their first gathering featured the overall commander of US forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus — proof that concerned citizens are now right at the forefront of the US war effort.

A Sunni sheikh who lost his son to an Al-Qaeda suicide bomber tells Lynch he needs more bodyguards as he has hardly left his house in three months for fear of attack. Others list money, drinkable water, more uniforms, more projects.

One mentions weapons, but the general insists: “I can give you money to work in terms of improving the area. What I cannot do — this is very important — is give you weapons.”

The gravity of the war council in a tent at the US forward operating base at Camp Assasssin is suspended for a few moments as one of the local Iraqi leaders says jokingly but knowingly: “Don’t worry! Weapons are cheap in Iraq.”

“That’s right, that’s exactly right,” laughs Lynch in reply.

But Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would not be laughing. While the US generals view the groups as a bulwark against extremism, Maliki and others steeped in the logic of sectarian conflict fear they are an armed Sunni opposition in the making.

His concern is not surprising — the bulk of US money and support for these groups is going to Sunnis, whose heartlands around the capital the military so desperately needs to turn around.

“Right now I’ve got 34 concerned citizen groups under contract and that is costing me 7.5 million dollars every 60-90 days,” Lynch tells AFP, adding that 25 groups are Sunni, nine Shiite …

“I now have more concerned citizens than coalition troops,” boasts Lynch, who reckons his present cast of more than 21,000 concerned citizens will “exponentially grow.”

Under the scheme, local people are allowed to arm themselves and are paid up to 300 dollars a month to handle their own security by manning checkpoints and patrolling, while the military receives tip offs on insurgents’ activities.

“They know that after you clear out the insurgents, infrastructure projects start coming,” says Lieutenant-Colonel John Kolasheski.

“People start to see the visible improvement then it becomes more difficult for extremists to get back in there because the people realise: ‘right now the coalition is focused on us making things better’.”

Lynch puts it to them more succinctly: “We can clear, then you can hold.”

Concerned citizens groups were born out of the everyday hell created by Al-Qaeda and warring militias and the Americans cleverly offered a positive alternative to fill that vacuum.

In what ends up being a fairly informative article on the strategy (not published here in its entirety), the article lapses into editorializing on the U.S. “unashamedly buying the loyalty of citizens.”  This editorializing lacks any context whatsoever, and has no argument to support the seeming inference that there should be shame in such an approach.

We have gone on record numerous times casting our lot with payment for intelligence and other services, and on one specific occasion suggested that failure might await Operation Iraqi Freedom for refusal to remunerate our allies in Iraq.

The 20-year-old is part of a ragtag collection of former Sunni insurgents – some even from the al-Qaida ranks – who have thrown their support behind U.S.-led security forces under pacts of mutual convenience …

The Sunni militiamen have grown leery of al-Qaida in Iraq and its ambitions, including self-proclaimed aims of establishing an Islamic state. The Pentagon, in turn, has latched onto its most successful strategy in months: partnering with former extremists who have the local know-how to help root out al-Qaida in Iraq.

Abed … does not earn a salary for working with U.S. forces, and the military does not provide him with weapons, equipment or safe haven …

“(Al-Qaida) is trying to get me or my family. I’m constantly changing locations – not staying in one place longer than a few hours – and moving my children,? said Abu Abed, who also refused to comment on his own insurgent past.

American military officials acknowledge that Abed’s group is in danger because of its cooperation with U.S. forces. But – as former insurgents – the fighters are not eligible for services provided to civilians or legitimate Iraqi security forces.

We suggested that these circumstances are a perfect catalyst for the Sunnis to conclude that the deal they struck with the Americans wasn’t so good after all.  But this is, after all, a rather pragmatic way of looking at the issue, and it is appropriate to expand this to cover the justification for the bottom-up approach.

First, this approach is effective.  It was used in Fallujah (a variant of it), and use of this strategy has proven to reduce crime, violence, and increase local control over communities.  Its expansion into Baghdad and surrounding areas has reduced the available terrain in which the insurgency can operate.

Second, this approach is anthropologically sound.  A search of scholarly works pointing to the role of head of house as the income-earner and supporter of the family unit yields so many results that it is utterly impossible to digest it all.  We’ll let the theologians, sociologists and anthropologists debate the genesis for this, but if we can stipulate the premise, we can advance the argument forward and review the data.

In some African refugee camps, women often find that their caregivers, i.e., the United Nations, are better providers than their husbands, which often causes the loss of respect for their husband.  In a Rwandan refugee camp, studies have shown that men become sick from being unable to care for their families and will take on dangerous jobs to remedy the situation.

Living in the refugee camp where only a few jobs were available, many refugee men described having ‘hands and force’ but no jobs.  They described being bored and often feeling sick because they ‘think too much and do too little’ … as a result of unemployment, many men were forced to make difficult choices.  They either accepted dangerous work, or they travelled to Kigali for temporary work, which the men claimed placed them at high risk for being infected with malaria or HIV.

Giveaway programs and inability among men to support their families is dishonorable.  More honorable, however, is the earning of income for services rendered.

Third and finally, it is the right thing to do.  Men and women both are searching for a way to support and provide for their families in the wake of collapse of their civilization.  Payment isn’t about purchasing loyalty.  It is about honoring work that has been accomplished.  The strategy is not shameful, no matter what the French press may infer.  Whether the strategy is genius is for the military strategists and historians to decide.  Our position is that it is simply the right thing to do.

Other sources:

Reconciliation in Iraq Goes Local

Granny in Iraq: Armed and Dangerous

How to Lose in Iraq: Inconsistent and Inequitable Policy

  • Dominique R. Poirier

    You wrote:
    “This bottom up strategy has involved groups of “concerned citizens? (and in some cases variants of this concept such as armed neighborhood watches or assistants to the Iraqi Police, such as in Fallujah). This strategy came under fire today by the French press. (….)
    In what ends up being a fairly informative article on the strategy (not published here in its entirety), the article lapses into editorializing on the U.S. ‘unashamedly buying the loyalty of citizens.’ This editorializing lacks any context whatsoever, and has no argument to support the seeming inference that there should be shame in such an approach.?

    This French criticism you are making allusion to does not surprise me that much and it pinpoints this striking difference one may find between American and French culture whose origin is to be found in their respective religious and historical backgrounds, as Max Weber taught us.
    French persistently keep on a love/hate relationship with the notions of money and profit and so the visible expression of this inhibition inescapably applies to the United States and to its set of values as well.

    For the record, I reside on the French soil at this time and I can tell you that, in this country, the mere fact to get a significant amount of cash—say, up to Euro 200 (about $285), which represents a lot for most French—out of your pocket in a public place such as a supermarket will inescapably stir everyone around you with reactions ranging from embarrassment to envy—coldness and adversity in most instances.

    Regardless who is president and which political party holds the majority the French ruling elite and other actors involved in public opinion-making consistently bred and are still breeding this idea that money = guilt. This message is permanently suggested in media and news, films and other forms of popular entertainment, early at school, and even in commercials and other add and advertising; all this to an overwhelming extent, but informally, always.

    As certain French thinkers and journalists say it then and now the French society is “schizophrenic.? Meaning, it must cope on the one hand with an official narrative whose tenets are based upon the conventional wisdom of most occidental countries such as pursuit of happiness and well-being and consumerism; and on the other hand with an unknown unofficial and unidentified, but ubiquitous, voice coming from nowhere and everywhere at the same time which teaches them that those values and expectations are simply sinful.

    This Gallic culture of double-think and double-talk has been easily visible in the French diplomatic approach and has been best exemplified by the unexplainable French attitude—promises and pro-U.S. policy, then sudden disengagement and denial, then overt anti-U.S. stance—during the vote of armed intervention in Iraq at the UNO Security Council in 2002.
    The coming on the political stage of the pro-U.S. and right-leaning French president who is openly preaching individual freedom, pursuit of happiness and consumerism is matched at this time, however, by a promotion within the French borders of opposite values.
    To say, this set of values which French just began to “learn about? during the two or three last decades encompasses anti-Americanism and respect for Che Guevara, anti-capitalism and harsh criticism toward the notion of personal profit and money, collectivism and an extreme and over hyped form of green activism and other “save-the-planet” slogans used as a providential pretext to urge the French population to stop consuming and to “rediscover? the “authentic? and “healthier” values of growing and eating vegetables, privileging bicycle and public means of transportation over cars and motorbikes, practicing gardening, jogging and any other outdoor forms of leisure inasmuch as it involves the notion of nature. It dosn’t escape to many that those a priori unselfish recommendations share all in common to entail little expenses.
    All these perfectly visible but informal messages are accompanied by a tight, though unofficial, governmental control upon French private economy that steadily extended to small business during the two last decades. As in early 2006 The Economist reported that about 70% of the French media are less or more directly controlled by the ministry of defense; a last fact that makes the French government directly accountable for the nature and tone of voice of the news and opinion published by the French mainstream media.

    In the light of the aforesaid it should come to no surprise to read those comments and to re-discover this usual critical French perception of the U.S. strategy and initiatives in Iraq; didn’t it happen under the presidency of a would-be pro-U.S. president.

    We may understand and acknowledge that Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy cannot get France back on its feet and changes mentality and negative priori of 63 millions of French within a few months or even within a few years, and we should consider this dificulty so as to leave to him the required lapse of time to make the demonstration of its sincerity. But should he be as sincere and honest as he pretends to be, then Mr. Sarkozy still faces the challenge to convince us that the French ruling elite, which still systematically and unanimously condemns and penalizes—and even punishes, as I know it from personal experience—any form of sympathy toward the United States at the level of its domestic policy, has mistakenly let a pro-U.S. person reach the top of the ladder.

  • Herschel Smith

    Thank you for your well crafted comment. You are the best I can think of to comment on French culture and how this colored the article. Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre and Jacques Derrida have had a debilitating effect on France. It is sad, indeed.

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You are currently reading "Payment to Concerned Citizens: Strategy of Genius or Shame?", entry #657 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,Small Wars and was published October 18th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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