Archive for the 'Jaish al Mahdi' Category



The Tangled Web of Allegiances

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 2 months ago

The Captain stumbled across an analysis today that precisely mirrors his own concern, entitled US/Iraq: Tangled Web of Allegiances Leads Back to Tehran.

If politics makes strange bedfellows, then the relationship between Iran, the United States and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq is the strangest ménage à trois in international relations today.

Violent Shia-on-Shia hostilities officially came to an end this week when a formal ceasefire was declared between government forces of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, but sporadic fighting still continues. And questions remain about the role that the U.S. is playing.

In testimony before Congress a month ago, Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, and the U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker characterised the conflict in Iraq as a “proxy war” to stem Iranian influence.

Declarations by both the U.S. and al-Maliki’s government about Iranian sponsorship of Sadrist activities are often used to paint Iran as a destabilising force in Iraq — the meddling neighbour encouraging unrest to boost its own influence. U.S.-backed Iraqi government excursions against Sadr are defended by citing unsubstantiated evidence of Iranian agents’ influence.

But this perspective has yet to be explained in terms of one of Iran’s closest allies in Iraq, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), who, as part of al-Maliki’s ruling coalition, also happen to be one of the U.S.’s closest partners.

The U.S. military says that it killed three militants in Baghdad’s Shia Sadr City slum on Sunday, alleging that the targets were splinter groups of the Mahdi Army who had spun out of Sadr’s control and were receiving training and weapons from Iran.

Last week, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said it was clear that Tehran was supporting “militias that are operating outside the rule of law in Iraq”. Many fear that the rhetoric is part of an effort to ratchet up tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

But the constant barrage of criticism lobbed at Iran and the so-called “special groups” of Sadrists still fighting against the government and U.S. forces tends to overlook the fact that the coalition of parties ruling Iraq are largely indebted to Iran for their very existence and continue to be closely connected with the Islamic Republic.

There seems to be no solid explanation about the double standard of U.S. denunciation of Iranian influence and U.S. support and aid to one of the strongest benefactors and allies of that influence — the government coalition of al-Maliki.

“I’m not confident we know what the hell we’re doing when we’re making these actions,” Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress, a Washington think tank, told IPS.

The two strongest parties in al-Maliki’s coalition, his own Dawa Party and ISCI, have both been based out of Iran and are both Shia religious parties …

ISCI and Iran, for example, support a Shia super-region in the south as part of a loosely federated Iraqi state. The homogenous super-region would likely facilitate Iranian influence. Both Sadr and the U.S. oppose the idea in favour of a strong central government.

The Captain says that the folks with the Multinational Force are far too smart not to have figured this out by now.  It all comes down to a lack of political will.  While spot on concerning the other allegiances (with Dawa and ISCI), the analysis above is far too complimentary of Sadr and his militia, and his criminal elements must be taken down.  Ralph Peters agrees (or more correctly, the Captain agrees with Ralph Peters), in his commentary on Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, our mortal enemy, must be destroyed. But we – Israel, the United States, Europe – lack the will. And will is one thing Hezbollah and its backers in Iran and Syria don’t lack: They’ll kill anyone and destroy anything to win.

We won’t. We still think we can talk our way out of a hit job. Not only are we reluctant to kill those bent on killing us – we don’t even want to offend them.

Hezbollah’s shocking defeat of Israel in 2006 (when will Western leaders learn that you can’t measure out war in teaspoons?) highlighted the key military question of our time: How can humane, law-abiding states defeat merciless postnational organizations that obey only the “laws” of bloodthirsty gods?

The answer, as Iraq and Afghanistan should have taught us, is that you have to gut the organization and kill the hardcore cadres. (Exactly how many al Qaeda members have we converted to secular humanism?).

Entranced by the military vogue of the season, we don’t even get our terminology right. Defeating Hezbollah has nothing to do with counterinsurgency warfare – the situation’s gone far beyond that. We’re facing a new form of “non-state state” built around a fanatical killing machine that rejects all of our constraints.

No one is going to win Hezbollah’s hearts and minds. Its fighters and their families have already shifted into full-speed fanaticism, and there’s no reverse gear. Hezbollah has to be destroyed.

As the more timid among us gasp for air and cry out “get thee to thy fainting couch!” the contrast between the Anbar campaign – about which the Captain should know just a little – and the balance of Operation Iraqi Freedom comes fully into the light once again.  No quarter was given to recalcitrant fighters by the U.S. Marines, whether al Qaeda, Ansar al Sunna, or indigenous Sunnis.  Al Qaeda was killed or captured, and the indigenous Sunnis were killed or battered to the point of exhaustion and surrender.  Not coincidentally, they (they Sunnis who live in Anbar) are now our friends.  This is the way it works.

Badr was co-opted into the ISF without so much as evidence that their loyalties lied with Iraq (and while they still received pension paychecks from Iran), and the Multinational Force has played patty cake with the Sadrists since 2003.  Whether Hezbollah in Lebanon or ISCI or JAM in Iraq, they are all manifestations of the long arm of the Iranian regime.  Ralph’s declarations that Hezbollah must be destroyed – and the Captain’s declarations that Iranian influence must be rooted out of Iraq – will probably go unheeded.  It all comes down to a lack of political will.  And upon this, in our estimation, rests the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Making Peace with Criminals

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 2 months ago

In Ending Iran’s Influence Inside Iraq we outlined a series of actions Maliki could take that would set Iran on its heels in Iraq.  Feigning sensible agreement with the partial crackdown on the Sadrists in Basra, Iran has finally weighed in negatively on the battle in Sadr City.  So much for Iran’s supposed lack of interest in Iraqi Shi’ites.

But not to worry.  A cease fire – one more in the grand ruse – has been inked with the Sadrists.  The U.S. response is fascinating.

The US military said on Sunday it supported a ceasefire in Baghdad’s Sadr City where the militia of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr cut a deal with the Iraqi authorities to end the bloodshed.

“We support political solutions in Sadr City as well as all of Iraq. We would welcome an end to violence by the criminal elements who continue to endanger the lives of innocent Iraqi citizens,” US military spokesman Colonel Jerry O’Hara told AFP.

The Iraqi government and Sadr’s movement said on Saturday they had agreed on a deal to end weeks of fighting which has killed hundreds of people in Baghdad.

In clashes on Saturday afternoon, American troops killed four militiamen, the US military said in a separate statement, adding that a tank was used to return fire after soldiers came under attack in Sadr City.

“If we see illegal activity, rocket or mortar teams, those carrying rocket-propelled grenades or improvised-explosive device emplacers, we will engage them with precision fire,” the statement said.

At least in Anbar, the “criminal elements” (i.e., indigenous Sunni fighters) were battled to a point of exhaustion and then paired up with U.S. forces upon their turning on al Qaeda, then having to prove their intent to rid Anbar of al Qaeda while working peaceably in alliance with U.S. forces.  There is no such evidence required of the Sadrists (i.e.. proving loyalty to the Iraqi regime rather than the Iranian regime).  Further, this has not been required of Badr either.  Imagine the picture of the Sadrists working with the U.S. to hunt down Quds, Iranian weapons and Iranian intelligence assets inside of Iraq.

So these same criminals whom we will engage in precison fire if they continue, we wish fully to incorporate into the government and political process.  At least the Sunnis proved that they weren’t incorrigible.  The Sadrists haven’t even shown that they are interested in rehabilitation.  Criminals.  Sometimes a slip of the tongue can say more than the balance of the speech.

Continuing Operations Against the Sadrists

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 3 months ago

To a significant degree it appears that the Mahdi militia is disappearing from the streets of Basra.  Disappearing from the streets is not the same thing as being identified, disarmed and arrested.  But at least in Baghdad – and most specifically in Sadr City – their are continuing operations against the Sadrists.

US and Iraqi forces have killed at least 45 insurgents in fierce battles with Shiite fighters in eastern Baghdad over the past 24 hours, the US military said on Monday.

Three US soldiers were also killed in east Baghdad on Monday when they were hit by rocket or mortar fire, the military said.

Earlier, the military said seven “criminals” were killed in the flashpoint Sadr City district of the Iraqi capitalwhen US forces called up an aerial weapons team (AWT) and a M1A2 Abrams Tank after soldiers came under attack with small-arms fire.

Another 38 militiamen were killed on Sunday, including 22 in one of the heaviest clashes in weeks, when militiamen blasted Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone with rockets and mortars, taking advantage of a blinding dust storm that grounded US attack helicopters.

The biggest clash in the day-long battles came at dusk on Sunday when “a large group of criminals engaging with small-arms fire” attacked a security forces checkpoint, a US military statement said.

“US soldiers used 120 mm fire from M1A12 Abrams tanks and small-arms fire to kill … 22 criminals, forcing remaining enemy forces present to retreat,” the military said.

One particular statistic that cries out for robust counterinsurgency is that “More than 712 rockets and mortar rounds have been launched in Baghdad in the past month, according to Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, an Iraqi army spokesman.”  This divides to approximately 24 rounds of ordnance per day being launched within the confines of the city.  It isn’t likely that truces and offers of talks will persuade the militia to disarm.  Their disarmament will have to be forcible.

There has been speculation that with attention focused on the Mahdi militia, al Qaeda will have a chance to regroup and conduct an offensive.  Time engaged in such speculation, using as evidence only a few lone bombings.  There has also been speculation that al Qaeda would join forces with the Mahdi militia.  The Captain’s Journal judges both of these speculations to be so unlikely that the chances of obtaining are statistically insignificant.  The Sadrists and al Qaeda will not be able to get along any more than Ansar al Sunna or the 1920s Brigade could get along with al Qaeda.  Furthermore, there is too much history of violence between these two groups, the bombing of the Samarra shrine being one such unforgivable occurrence.

Operations continue against al Qaeda, and on April 28 the Sons of Iraq killed a dozen al qaeda fighters while defending themselves.  There has never been a time in the Iraq campaign in which operations against al Qaeda have ceased.  The Mahdi militia must be seen as the Shi’a equivalent of al Qaeda rather than a disenfranchised segment of the population.  The impoverished in Iraq are not one and the same with the militia.

Concrete Walls for Sadr City

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 3 months ago

Counterinsurgency tactics are finally being applied to Sadr City.

Trying to stem the infiltration of militia fighters, American forces have begun to build a massive concrete wall that will partition Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite neighborhood in the Iraqi capital.

The construction, which began Tuesday night, is intended to turn the southern quarter of Sadr City near the international Green Zone into a protected enclave, secured by Iraqi and American forces, where the Iraqi government can undertake reconstruction efforts.

“You can’t really repair anything that is broken until you establish security,” said Lt. Col. Dan Barnett, commander of the First Squadron, Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment. “A wall that isolates those who would continue to attack the Iraqi Army and coalition forces can create security conditions that they can go in and rebuild.”

The team building the barrier was protected by M-1 tanks, Stryker vehicles and Apache attack helicopters. As the workers labored in silence, there was a burst of fire as an M-1 tank blasted its main gun at a small group of fighters to the west. An Apache helicopter fired a Hellfire missile at a militia team equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, again interrupting the night with a thunderous boom. A cloud of dark smoke was visible in the distance through the Stryker’s night-vision system.

Concrete barriers have been employed in other areas of Baghdad. As the barriers were being erected in other neighborhoods, some residents said they feared being isolated. But walls have often proved to be an effective tool in blunting insurgent attacks.

Many of the Shiite militias that the American and Iraqi forces have been battling in the Tharwa area of Sadr City in the past several weeks have been infiltrating from the north. Al Quds Street has become a porous demarcation line between the American- and Iraqi-protected area to the south and the militia-controlled area to the north.

The avenue has been filled with numerous roadside bombs that American teams in special heavily armored vehicles have sought to clear. The militias have stacked tires on the road and turned them into burning pyres to hamper the American infrared surveillance and targeting systems or to soften the concrete to make it easier to bury bombs.

They are trying to take a page from the hugely successful Operation Alljah in Fallujah (2007), in which concrete barriers separated neighborhoods.  But something is missing from the picture.  Can anyone spot the problem?

Lt. Col. Barnett wants to establish security, and indeed he must.  But in Operation Alljah, concrete barriers were not used to establish security.  They were used to keep and maintain security after it had already been established.  Robust kinetic operations against the insurgents were a prelude to neighborhood security.

Unless Sadr City sees strong U.S. military action against the militias, the concrete barriers will become useless and pricey monuments to failed attempts at counterinsurgency – a laughingstock rather than an actual tool to prevent ingress and egress of insurgents.

In other words, the area has to be rid of insurgents, at least mostly, before ways and means can be effective for keeping insurgents from returning.  This will involve operations such as disarming the militias.  At the very minimum, even if this is accelerated counterinsurgency, kinetic operations must accompany the barriers.

Basra and Iran

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 3 months ago

Michael Ledeen argues (as he has before) that it will be virtually impossible to achieve a durable peace in Iraq without confronting and dealing with the Iranian presence and influence.  The Captain’s Journal agrees and has advocated for some time that an insurgency be fomented inside the borders of Iran.  There is no end to the gushing reports about success in Basra, in spite of the defections, orders not to fire at the Mahdi militia, and premature stand-down in operations.

The Captain’s Journal has been quite a bit less sanguine about the Basra campaign, and continues to be so.  The gushing reports, in addition to ignoring the poor planning and execution of the operation, ignore both its short duration and broader connection to Iran.  The campaign in Basra must not be seen in the aggregate.  It has now been made clear that Iranian fighters and military leadership -Quds and even Hezbollah – were directing the fight in many areas of Iraq, and that Moqtada al Sadr has become a (militarily) irrelevant mouthpiece for Iran.

The top two U.S. officials in Iraq accused Iran, Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah on Tuesday of fueling recent fighting in Baghdad, saying Tehran and Damascus were pursuing a “Lebanization strategy” in Iraq.

“The hand of Iran was very clear in recent weeks,” U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David Petraeus, said at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But Petraeus told lawmakers that Iran’s Qods Force and Hezbollah were funding, training, arming and directing renegade Shi’ite groups he blamed for recent deadly rocket and mortar attacks in the Iraqi capital.

“Unchecked, the special groups pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq,” said the four-star general.

Speaking from Iran, al Sadr said ”the government should “protect the Iraqi people from the booby traps and American militias” and “demand the withdrawal of the occupier or a schedule for its withdrawal from our holy land.”  These are the words of Ayatollah Khamenei, and the Mahdi militia is little more than puppets of Iran.

The beginnings of this current campaign apparently came from Iranian concerns over a great many things, including the strength of the Sunni awakening fighters.

For its part, Tehran was angered by the latest American plan based on a ‘divide and conquer’ approach and fears that Iraq will become a US protectorate after the US has discovered a barrier against the Shia-dominated government in the [predominately] Sunni Sahwa (Awakening) protection forces. Tehran’s apprehension was quite considerable; especially after Bush declared that the Sahwa forces presently number 90,000 strong (members receive monthly salary of US $300).

Through an editorial written by Selig S. Harrison in the ‘Boston Globe’, Tehran was able communicate its point across to the US: “Unless [General David] Petraeus drastically cuts back the Sunni militias, Tehran will unleash the Shia militias against US forces again and step up to help al Maliki’s intelligence service, the Ministry of National Security.” This was followed by al Maliki’s attack on the Mehdi army in Basra.

The article written by the stooge Selig S. Harrison is entitled Working with Iran to Stabilize Iraq, a strategy also endorsed by Senator Jim Webb.  But assisting in the stability of Iraq is the last thing Iran can be expected to do.  The failure of the Basra campaign is simply that it stopped far short of what is needed.  Iran has become masters at starting, stopping, delaying, relocating, withdrawing, calling for a truce, hiding in the shadows, and in general conducting surreptitious warfare against the U.S.  This is exactly what has happened in Basra.

The temporary and fragile peace in Basra was purchased through negotiations with none other than Iran.

The Mehdi militiamen withdrew from the streets after six days of fighting, but they appear to have taken their arms with them, defying Prime Minister Maliki’s initial demand that all militia-held medium and heavy weapons be surrendered.

The political leadership of Iraq is saying that there was no deal with the Mehdi militia to stop the fighting.

On Thursday Mr Maliki insisted he had not ordered negotiations with Moqtada Sadr.

And a source close to the prime minister says that Moqtada Sadr’s order to cease fighting came at the instigation of Iran.

The source said that as the bloodshed in Basra began early last week, Moqtada Sadr tried to telephone Prime Minister Maliki from Qom, in Iran – and the prime minister refused to take his call.

But a delegation from the United Iraqi Alliance, the parliamentary bloc that supports Mr Maliki, flew to Tehran, where they told representatives of the Iranian leadership that Iran’s involvement in stirring up the militia violence was unacceptable and would have to stop, the source said.

They pointed out that Iranian munitions were being used in the fighting.

The Iranian leadership, according to the source, then brought Moqtada Sadr to Tehran.

There, late on Saturday night, he crafted the statement that would order his Mehdi Army militiamen off the streets, the source said.

In this version of events, the Iraqi prime minister retains the ability to deny entering talks with Moqtada Sadr. In effect, it appears to have been done for him, with Iranian influence brought to bear.

In order to obtain a victory in Basra and Sadr City proper, Maliki and the Multinational Force must think regionally.  Several important tactics must be pressed.  First, the Mahdi militia must be completely taken out and disarmed.  They can be seen as nothing more than Iranian proxy fighters.  Second, the SIIC (otherwise ISCI) has a great influence in Shi’ite Iraq, and it must be dealt with.  As Fred Kaplan notes, “the Iranians won because Maliki turned to them to mediate the cease-fire with Sadr, thus confirming their status as a major player in Iraqi politics and a dominant power on Iraq’s southern port. (The Iranians probably would have won no matter what happened, because the rival Shiite militia backing Maliki—the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, 10,000 members of which fought alongside the official army—also has ties to Iran. Maliki afterward admitted those 10,000 into the national armed forces. Does this mean that the ISCI militia has been co-opted into the Iraqi government—or that the government is, even more than before, controlled by the militia?).”

In order to cut ties with Iran, the SIIC “members” of the Iraqi Security Forces – who had to fight only rival miltias in Basra this time around – should be forced to rid Iraq of all Iranian influence, including Quds, Hezbollah, IRG and any other proxy Iranian fighters.  Failure to do so, from leadership down to the lowest ranking soldier, should be addressed as treason.  Until the SIIC is forced to fight for Iraq as opposed to fighting against rival gangs, they too are merely Iranian proxy forces.

At the moment, The Captain’s Journal is unpersuaded that any good has come from Basra and Sadr city fighting.  The campaign isn’t over, but with General David Petraeus, we are disappointed in the results so far.

Bill Lind’s Iranian Nightmare

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 4 months ago

Bad dreams are scary things.  The sweats, the shakes, the bad memories, or whatever.  I don’t know.  I have never actually had a nightmare before so I wouldn’t know (except maybe the one about failing to turn in my last senior exam and failing to graduate college, thus having to start over again – it was indeed a bad, bad night for The Captain’s Journal, very little sleep).  But Bill Lind gives us one to consider.  It begins in Iran, with the pitiful U.S. Army and Marines running for cover and trying to escape the horrible wrath of mechanized divisions of the powerful Iranian guard.

Now, to be clear, we have not advocated all out ground war with Iran, but rather, selected air strikes against insurgent training grounds, enhanced border security, more aggressive tactics against Badr (SIIC) and Sadr (actually, we have advocated the assassination of Sadr) and his so-called Mahdi Army, and the fomenting of a full blown insurgency in Iran.  But Bill Lind sees a nightmare if we launch air strikes into Iran.  Courtesy of a Small Wars Journal discussion thread, here is is.  Gird your loins or run for mommy, for it is a bad situation indeed.

The purpose of this column is not to warn of an imminent assault on Iran, though personally I think it is coming, and soon. Rather, it is to warn of a possible consequence of such an attack. Let me state it here, again, as plainly as I can: an American attack on Iran could cost us the whole army we now have in Iraq.

Here’s roughly how it might play out. In response to American air and missile strikes on military targets inside Iran, Iran moves to cut the supply lines coming up from the south through the Persian Gulf (can anyone in the Pentagon guess why it’s called that?) and Kuwait on which most U.S. Army units in Iraq depend (the Marines get most of their stuff through Jordan). It does so by hitting shipping in the Gulf, mining key choke points, and destroying the port facilities we depend on, mostly through sabotage. It also hits oil production and export facilities in the Gulf region, as a decoy: we focus most of our response on protecting the oil, not guarding our army’s supply lines.

Simultaneously, Iran activates the Shiite militias to cut the roads that lead from Kuwait to Baghdad. Both the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades — the latter now supposedly our allies — enter the war against us with their full strength. Ayatollah Sistani, an Iranian, calls on all Iraqi Shiites to fight the Americans wherever they find them. Instead of fighting the 20% of Iraqis population that is Sunni, we find ourselves battling the 60% that is Shiite. Worse, the Shiites logistics lie directly across those logistics lines coming up from Kuwait.

U.S. Army forces in Iraq begin to run out of supplies, especially POL [petroleum, oil, and lubricants], of which they consume a vast amount. Once they are largely immobilized by lack of fuel, and the region gets some bad weather that keeps our aircraft grounded or at least blind, Iran sends two to four regular army armor and mech divisions across the border. Their objective is to pocket American forces in and around Baghdad.

The U.S. military in Iraq is all spread out in penny packets fighting insurgents. We have no field army there anymore. We cannot reconcentrate because we’re out of gas and Shiite guerrillas control the roads. What units don’t get overrun by Iranian armor or Shiite militia end up in the Baghdad Kessel. General Petraeus calls President Bush and repeats the famous words of Marshal MacMahon at Sedan: “Nous sorrune dans une pot de chambre, and nous y serron emerdee.” Bush thinks he’s overheard Petraeus ordering dinner — as, for Bush, he has.

U.S. Marines in Iraq, who are mostly in Anbar province, are the only force we have left. Their lines of supply and retreat through Jordan are intact. The local Sunnis want to join them in fighting the hated Persians. What do they do at that point? Good question.

As I have warned before, every American ground unit in Iraq needs its own plan to get itself out of the country using only its own resources and whatever it can scrounge locally. Retreat to the north, through Kurdistan into Turkey, will be the only alternative open to most U.S. Army units, other than ending up in an Iranian POW camp.

Even if the probability of the above scenario is low, we still need to take it with the utmost seriousness because the consequences would be so vast. If the United States lost the army it has in Iraq, we would never recover from the defeat. It would be another Adrianople, another Manzikert, another Rocroi. Given the many other ways we now resemble Imperial Spain, the last analogy may be the most telling.

Waking from the cold sweats, we can now evaluate this nightmare.  We re-wrote part of this scenario over the discussion thread something like the following:

“Iran sends two to four mech divisions across the border, and to their surprise are awaited by so many U.S. aircraft monitoring, bombing and firing cannon at their slow, lumbering vehicles that the roads become another “highway of death,” with Iranian dead and vehicles littering roads for miles, great columns of smoke filling the skies, Iranian students protesting in the capital city, and the government in virtual collapse …”

The air power (AF, Navy, and Marines) desperately wants to be unleashed.  They ache for it.  They pant for it.  So, give them the Iranian and Syrian borders.  Tell them that unmitigated war makes trade and population migration unreasonable, and so anything that comes across the border is fair game to be utterly destroyed.  The AF will unleash their fighters, and their A-10Cs with its faster kill chain (please send us the video).  The Navy air craft carriers will be busy.  U.S. air power will have a good day, which is about how long it will take to destroy four mechanized divisions and send them to eternity.  Literally, all hell would be unleashed upon Iranian forces were they to be sent across the border.

Next, to suppose that the Army could not regroup from counterinsurgency into a conventional fighting force quickly enough is preposterous.  From combat outposts they would come from all around, excited with anticipation, and the only question is who could get to the forces of Badr and Sadr the fastest – the Army or Marines in Anbar.  The Marines would make a good show of it, making proud to saddle on backpacks, body armor, hydration system, ammunition, weapon and MREs from all over Anbar and using HMMWVs and foot power to get to the fight before the Army did.  Patton, the architect of the relief of Bastone, would be proud.

The Marines are bored, bored, bored in Anbar.  Any chance to get back into the fray would be met with approval from the rank and file.  Lind’s nightmare is scary indeed, but hopefully he is awake now and things look better than they did before.  The notion of Marines running for the Jordanian border seems far removed from reality now.  It’s better to be awake and in reality than not.  The Marines don’t run, Bill.

Basra Today: The Beheading of Women

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 4 months ago

The Telegraph gives us a glimpse into the state of Basra today.

Five years on from the invasion of Iraq, the apparent success of the American surge and growing stability in Basra are providing cautious grounds for optimism. There has been a palpable change in the atmosphere in Basra since Britain formally handed over control of the province to the Iraqis last December.

After the initial euphoria that greeted British troops when they participated in the campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, things quickly turned sour as they found themselves caught up in a vicious power struggle between militias.

By last summer, the last British battle group found itself under siege at Basra palace, and was obliged to make a tactical withdrawal to the air base on the city outskirts, where it remains.

But the main purpose of the British mission had always been to train the Iraqis to a level where they could take responsibility for their own security, and that is now slowly starting to happen, as I found when I visited Basra.

Now that British forces have withdrawn from the city centre, it is difficult to know precisely what is happening there, but local contacts and British intelligence sources report that the situation is far calmer than last year, with Shia religious parties assuming responsibility for security.

The intent should have been to eradicate the radical elements or subdue them.  Note the wording of this last statement: ” … with Shia religious parties assuming responsibility for security.”  The British didn’t turn over security to the radical Shia militia; nor do the Jaish al Mahdi or the SIIC  care about security.

The main purpose for the 4,000 British troops is to provide back-up for the Iraqi security forces when required.

The overall situation in Basra has been greatly helped by the recent six-month extension to the ceasefire agreed by Moqtada al Sadr’s militias, although one senior British diplomat said there had been “a number of moments when things have been very dodgy”.

And although the mood is calmer, the militias are still intimidating local people. Walls in the city bear graffiti warning: “If we catch women without the veil, we will cut off your head.”

Some security.  The deplorable British strategy in Basra and retreat in the face of radical Islamists has resulted in the targeting of women.

One hundred and thirty-three women were killed last year in Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, either by religious vigilantes or as a result of so-called “honour” killings, a report said on 31 December.

The report, released by Basra Security Committee at a conference on women’s rights in the city, said 79 of the victims were deemed by extremists to be “violating Islamic teachings”, 47 others died in “honour” killings and the remaining seven were targeted for their political affiliations.

“The women of Basra are being horrifically murdered and then dumped in the garbage with notes saying they were killed for violating Islamic teachings,” Bassem al-Moussawi, head of the committee and a member of Basra’s Provincial Council, told the conference.

“Sectarian groups are trying to force a strict interpretation of Islam… They send their vigilantes to roam the city, hunting down those who are deemed to be behaving against their [the extremists’] own interpretations,” al-Moussawi said.

Prior:

Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement

The Rise of the JAM

Basra and Anbar Reverse Roles

Western Anbar Versus the Shi’a South: Pictures of Contrast

British Versus the Americans: War Over Strategy

British Versus the Americans: The War Over Strategy

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Attacks perpetrated against the British in and near Basra are way down, as are attacks perpetrated against the Marines in Anbar.  There is currently a debate at the highest levels of military leadership as to why this has occurred and how these seemingly contradictory metrics are related to strategy.  The British have de-escalated, while the U.S. has escalated – or so the problem is posed.  But before we engage this debate, some background information is necessary to set the stage for the discussion as it applies to Afghanistan where the British are struggling.  Far from a merely academic fancy for military strategists and historians, the answers to this dilemma not only develops the narrative for history, but this narrative also trains future military leadership.  The answers also may literally decide whether the campaign in Afghanistan can be successful.

Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the British narrative of Basra was laced with more than a little bit of denunciation of American tactics, and Basra was hailed as the picture of successful counterinsurgency.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion, this “soft” approach seemed remarkably successful, especially when juxtaposed with the chaos that had engulfed other parts of Iraq. Basra seemed to adapt relatively well to the new order of things, with little in the way of street battles or casualties. Both the British and American media — ever-ready to point out the comparable failures of American arms — energetically hailed the peaceful and stable atmosphere in Basra as a significant indicator of the virtues of the British approach, upholding it as the tactical antithesis to the brutal and aggressive Yanks. The Dallas Morning News reported in 2003 that military experts from Britain were already boasting that U.S. forces in Iraq could “take a cue from the way their British counterparts have taken control of Basra.” Charles Heyman, editor of the highly-respected defense journal Jane’s, asserted: “The main lesson that the Americans can learn from Basra and apply to Baghdad is to use the ’softly-softly’ approach.”

The reporting also featured erudite denunciations of the rigid rules of engagement that governed the United States military, while simultaneously championing British outreach. Ian Kemp, a noted British defense expert, suggested in November 2004 that the “major obstacle” in past U.S. occupations and peacekeeping efforts was their inability to connect with locals due to the doctrinal preeminence of force protection. In other words, had Americans possessed the courage to interface with the Iraqi, they might enjoy greater success.

It did not take long before the English press allowed the great straw man of a violent American society to seep into their explanations for the divergent approaches. The Sunday Times of London proclaimed “armies reflect their societies for better or for worse. In Britain, guns are frowned upon — and British troops faced with demonstrations in Northern Ireland must go through five or six stages, including a verbal warning as the situation gets progressively more nasty, before they are allowed to shoot. In America, guns are second nature.” Such flimsy and anecdotal reasoning — borne solely out of classical European elitist arrogance — tinged much of the reporting out of Basra.

As a result of the effusive media celebration, even some in the British military began believing their own hype, with soldiers suggesting to reporters in May 2003 that the U.S. military should “look to them for a lesson or two.‿ As a British sergeant told the Christian Science Monitor: “We are trained for every inevitability and we do this better than the Americans.‿

While the British took to wearing soft covers and working “softly” with the population, the security situation degraded little by little until the British public was eventually stunned by the capture of their soldiers by the Basra police and eventual rescue by military operations, leading to demonstrations, threats, angry denunciations and general ill-will between both the British and population of Basra.

The situation continued to degrade, and what at one time was seemingly a land of paradise had now become forbidding terrain.

Richard Beeston, diplomatic editor of The Times of London recently returned from a visit to Basra, his first since 2003. He says in 2003, British soldiers were on foot patrol, drove through town in unarmored vehicles and fished in the waters of the Shaat al Arab on their days off. He says the changes he saw four years later are enormous.

“Nowadays all troop movement in and out of the city are conducted at night by helicopter because it’s been deemed too dangerous to go on the road and its dangerous to fly choppers during the day,” he says.

Beeston says during his latest visit, he noticed a map of the city in one of the military briefing rooms. About half of the city was marked as no-go areas.

British headquarters are mortared and rocketed almost everynight.

This is indicative of many parts of southern Iraq, says Wayne White, a former State department middle east intelligence officer. White says the south is riddled with rival Shiite groups vying for power, and roving criminal gangs because there’s nothing to stop them.

Some of the Basrans believe that the British forces are part of the problem rather than the solution.  “The British are very patient — they didn’t know how to deal with the militias,” said a 50-year-old Assyrian Christian who would identify herself only as Mrs. Mansour. “Some people think it would be better if the Americans came instead of the British. They would be harder on the militias.”  Still another perspective is that the Iraqi security forces cannot effectively work the area.  “Soldiers from Basra can’t fight against militias,” said Capt Ali Modar, of the new 14th Iraqi Division, which has taken over responsibility for security in the city. “It is difficult to overcome them. We need people to come from other parts of Iraq. Soldiers from Basra know that if they arrest anyone they will be killed, or their families will be killed.”

This failure, combined with the tendency to study assessments from a year or two ago that don’t reflect the vastly improved security situation in Iraq (other than Basra), has caused Theo Farrell, Professor in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, simply to stop reading literature about Iraq because it is so depressing.  But Michael Yon has stated that “Basra is not in chaos. In fact, crime and violence are way down and there has not been a British combat death in over a month.”  So why the difference in narratives concerning Southern Iraq?  What causes such disparate views?

Metrics can be used to prove a lot of things, some true, others a mixture of truth and falsehood with stipulations and caveats, and still others plainly false.  The mere absence of attacks on British troops does not mean the same thing as the absence of attacks on Marines in Anbar.  The Marines continue to be all over the Anbar Province, patrolling, embedded with the Iraqi Police in combined combat outposts / Iraqi Police precincts, and on neighborhood diplomacy missions.  But it cannot be forgotten that these civil affairs and neighborhood diplomacy missions cannot exist in a vacuum or without pretext.  They are follow-on activities to kinetic operations to rid the area of insurgents (at least for the most part).

But the British have crafted a different narrative.  It is the British themselves who were causing the violence towards them.

Attacks against British and Iraqi forces have plunged by 90 percent in southern Iraq since London withdrew its troops from the main city of Basra, the commander of British forces there said.

The presence of British forces in downtown Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, was the single largest instigator of violence, Maj. Gen. Graham Binns told reporters Thursday on a visit to Baghdad’s Green Zone.

“We thought, ‘If 90 percent of the violence is directed at us, what would happen if we stepped back?’” Binns said.

Britain’s 5,000 troops moved out of a former Saddam Hussein palace at Basra’s heart in early September, setting up a garrison at an airport on the city’s edge. Since that pullback, there’s been a “remarkable and dramatic drop in attacks,” Binns said.

“The motivation for attacking us was gone, because we’re no longer patrolling the streets,” he said.

And in this explanation lies the answer to the questions posed above.  If the U.S. “heavy hand” was to blame for the violence, then the security situation would not be as good as it is today in Anbar.  Further, the Anbaris desire for the U.S. to stay long term.  It might be tempting to assign the Anbari desire for a long term relationship with the U.S. versus the Shi’a desire to be rid of the British to the presence of oil in Basra and a war over its wealth.  But this explanation suffers a quick death when it is recalled that significant oil reserves have been found in Anbar (see also IHT).

The explanation for the decrease in violence against the British in Basra is simply that the British are no longer there (while British headlines wax positive about the “Tide turning in Basra”).  They are at the airport waiting to be relieved and “training” with the Iraqi security forces.  Along with the absence of the British, there are other developments in Basra.  The police chief has recently survived his second assassination attempt, and militant Shi’a gangs and other thugs are still active in the city, engaging in kidnapping and dumping of dead bodies in the streets and at the city square.

It is true that part of the U.S. strategy has been payment to concerned citizens, participants in neighborhood watch programs, and even sheikhs.  We have strongly advocated this approach as anthropologically sound and morally upright.   However, there is a huge difference between turning over authority to a functioning, legitimate government and security apparatus, and leaving an area of operations because of the violence being perpetrated against your troops.  In the example of Anbar, U.S. forces want to leave more thoroughly and quickly that the Anbaris want, and in the example of Basra, the city is a no-go zone for British troops and the Iraqi security forces are powerless because of danger to family members.  Anbar is stable, while Basra is under the control of teenage gangs, religious militia (Jaish al Mahdi), and combatants (Quds and Badr) dispatched directly from Iran.

The British must surely regret their hard work to obtain the release of Moqtada al Sadr, who was in the custody of the 3/2 Marines in 2004 and was held for three days before the Marines were ordered to release him (for the role of the British in the release of Sadr, see Charlie Rose interview of John Burns, approximately 17:20 into the interview).  But it seems that some lessons are learned the hard way, or perhaps not at all.

The British are struggling in Afghanistan, and have pulled back from some engagements.  “Over the past two months British soldiers have come under sustained attack defending a remote mud-walled government outpost in the town of Musa Qala in southern Afghanistan. Eight have been killed there. It has now been agreed the troops will quietly pull out of Musa Qala in return for the Taliban doing the same.”  But Musa Qala has become a central training ground for terrorists (courtesy of Nasim Ferkat, Pajamas Media).  But more “negotiations” of the same kind that caused Musa Qala to become a training ground for terrorists might be on the way.

British officials have concluded that the Taliban is too deep-rooted to be eradicated by military means. Following a wide-ranging policy review accompanying Gordon Brown’s arrival in Downing Street, a decision was taken to put a much greater focus on courting “moderate” Taliban leaders as well as “tier two” footsoldiers, who fight more for money and out of a sense of tribal obligation than for the Taliban’s ideology. Such a shift has put Britain and the Karzai government at odds with hawks in Washington, who are wary of Whitehall’s enthusiasm for talks with what they see as a monolithic terrorist group. But a British official said: “Some Americans are coming around to our way of seeing this.”

New atrocities perpetrated by the Taliban should convince the British that their “moderate Taliban” are more than likely phantoms.  Negotiations with the Taliban is fundamentally a bad idea no matter how it is couched (“moderate leaders”).  At The Captain’s Journal, this is why we have recommended that the U.S. Marines be deployed to Afghanistan.  But as for Basra, along with Mrs. Mansour who desires the U.S. tactics in lieu of the British, there are other voices calling for looking beyond the numbers.  We have watched Al-Zaman for a while now, and while decidedly anti-Maliki (and this has not changed), there has been a shift in the tone of the editorials from this important Iraq daily.  Once virulently anti-American, they now seem to see the landscape more deeply and with a larger field of vision.

On November 10, the Iraqi daily Al-Zaman published an article about the meddling of the Iranian regime in Iraqi affairs and wrote: “In the first 3 months of the occupation of Iraq, the Iranian regime dispatched 32,000 of its proxies who were on their payroll into this country. Most of these people hold Ministerial, Parliamentarian and other high position in various Iraqi offices. Of these people 1500 are placed in very sensitive posts and 490 are spread all over Iraq as the representatives of the Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.

Al-Zaman noted the infiltration of the Qods force in the Iraqi government as well as murder and terror of the Iraqi nationalist forces. It continued: “We ask the political groups to demand from the occupying forces to prosecute the members of the IRGC in Iraq to demonstrate their resolve in terrorist designation. They should detain and prosecute these elements according to the laws. Based on international treaties, maintaining security in Iraq is the responsibility of the occupying forces, therefore eradicating Iraq of terrorism, especially the terrorism by the IRGC is their job.

Pro-Iranian Shi’a militia are in control of Basra and much of Southern Iraq.  Metrics can fool anyone and the data behind the metrics must be analyzed to prevent being duped by numbers.  It is about seeing behind the scenes and understanding the local as well as regional terrain.  Powerpoint overheads and viewgraphs that display decreasing violence perpetrated against the British in Basra are correct and totally misleading and irrelevant.  The narrative for Anbar, written in the sweat, tears and blood of United States Marines (along with some Army and National Guard) well before the surge of troops, is cast in history as a counterinsurgency victory.  The U.S. won in Anbar not because of the surge, but because we were the stronger horse, and the Iraqis opted to side with a winner.  It is critical to get the Basra narrative correct, because the regional strategy is at stake, affecting Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the whole region - and our future.

Other resources:

The Problem of Musa Qala: Afghanistan’s Terror University Town, Nasim Ferkat, Pajamas Media
Western Anbar Versus the Shi’a South: Pictures of Contrast, TCJ
Basra and Anbar Reverse Roles, TCJ
The Rise of the JAM, TCJ
Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement, TCJ
Has the British Strategy in Southern Iraq Failed?, Richard Fernandez, Pajamas Media

Western Anbar Versus the Shi’a South: Pictures of Contrast

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Much discussion has ensued on Eastern Anbar in and around Fallujah, but RCT-2 is seeing steady improvement in Western Anbar Province.

Marines have seen a 75 percent plunge in “enemy incidents? since the beginning of the year, Regimental Combat Team 2 commander Col. Stacy Clardy said Monday.

RCT-2’s area of operations in western Iraq, which encompasses 30,000 square miles of Anbar province, was once considered some of the toughest ground in the battle-torn country. But since January, Marines have tracked the return of urban activities, such as open markets, banks and municipal governments, the commander told reporters via teleconference from Iraq.

The development is “a significant crippling of the al-Qaida in Iraq and the Sunni insurgent capability, and a real opportunity for progress,? said Clardy, who credits the presence of more than 4,000 Iraqi soldiers in the area of operations.

“The [Iraqi] army brigades have grown 200 percent in the last seven months with the support of the sheiks and are now responsible for their own security areas and missions across the province, but particularly around the urban areas,? he said.

The Iraqi police force has grown 40 percent, to 5,200 officers, he said.

This is a meaningful metric, and the 75 percent drop in enemy incidents happens to be exactly the same as the three-fold decrease in enemy attacks in the Fallujah area of operations resulting from Operation Alljah.  Nibras Kazimi, who was touting the victory long ago, weighs in on what he believes to be the end of the insurgency.

Now that the insurgency—the war that Al-Qaeda and the enemies of the New Iraq had launched—is over, we can start dealing with the trauma of what has happened to us over the last four years, in addition to the pain and suffering of the preceding Ba’athist nightmare.

Yet there’s one thing I will never get over: how the anti-Bush crowd and the insurgents have overlapped in rhetoric and fantasy.

So when dilettantes claiming to be Iraq “experts” still obsessively adhere to the “Iraq is a disaster? line, I begin to imagine that their wounded egos—since they’re wrong, so utterly wrong—would secretly cheer whenever the bad guys strike again in Iraq, because that may generate a bad headline with a Baghdad byline thus prolonging the shelf-life of the myths they’ve constructed (bold original).

I have been somewhat more moderate, saying that al Qaeda can still perpetrate spectacular attacks and must be rooted out completely, and also that reconstruction must proceed apace.  Yet there is no denial of the successes in Anbar.  But for all of the success in the West, there are still big questions for the Shi’a South.  In the same spirit as Basra and Anbar Reverse Roles, The Rise of the JAM and Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement, Richard Fernandez wrote a superb article at Pajamas Media entitled Has the British Strategy in Southern Iraq Failed?  In this article he laments the soft British tactics, concluding that hard times may yet be on the horizon for the Iraq South:

The “softly-softly” strategy was a political check backed by the currency of force. The safety of every Iraqi who accepted the check; who cooperated with the Coalition and believed in their promises depended on the full faith and confidence in the British Army. When the British Army could not provide security for those who trusted it the political check bounced.  The new Iraqi Army being formed under American tutelage is the new gold reserve against which checks will be issued after the British have gone. And despite the recent success in Anbar, Diyala and south of Baghdad it may be some time before the residents of Basra find the willingness to trust someone else after the bitter disappointment of the past.

The Sunni and Shi’ite tribal leaders are cooperating to oust al Qaeda in both the Anbar and Qadissiya Provinces, but where the Shi’a militia have had free reign there are deep problems.  Translators are now too afraid to work for the British due to the lack of ability to protect them, so there is no communication between British troops and the people of Basra.  Thus, the British are no longer even patrolling Basra.  The Basra police chief has just survived the second assassination attempt in less than a week, and militia gangs are still active in Basra, engaging in kidnapping and dumping of dead bodies in the streets and at the city square.

These gangs follow in the footsteps of their masters, the Iranian elite.  Iran weighed in on their own Iraq solution, with plans for Iranian and Syrian troops openly patrolling and in charge of security for Iraq.  Of course, it was snubbed by Iraqi authorities.  The Stratfor analysis is correct on the what Iran wanted and why Iraq rejected the plan.

The two land mines in the Iranian proposal are the inclusion of militias in the Iraqi security forces and the exclusion of any group that has cooperated with terrorists. What the Iranians mean by this is that the Sunni insurgents who have cooperated with al Qaeda should be excluded, while Shiite militants who might have engaged in terrorism but not collaborated with al Qaeda should be included. Just as important, implicit in the Iranian proposal is the idea that these fighters would be admitted to the Iraqi military and police forces as distinct units. This would mean they would retain their identities, and that their primary loyalty would be to their former organizations — guaranteeing continuing instability. By putting off the question of regionalism and adding Shiite militia members to the army, the Iranians are attempting to place their Shiite partners in control.

This is exactly right, but later the Stratfor analysis falls off of the wagon.

The Iraqis have said Iran has no place defining the future of Iraq. But the reality is that, given Iran’s influence among the Shia, it will have a role — as will the Americans. Iran and the United States cannot impose a reality on Iraq, but either one could prevent the other from imposing a reality that it doesn’t like. Therefore, as unlikely as it has appeared for a while, U.S.-Iranian negotiations are logical, especially in a war in which logic has not always predominated.

After acknowledging the real intentions of Iran in Iraq, Strafor suggests that negotiations are in order – the same negotiations that have brought us to the brink of a nuclear Iran, the same negotiations that sees Iranian Revolutionary Guard killing Americans in Iraq, and the same negotiations that allows factories in Iran to build EFPs (explosively formed projectiles) to kill Americans.  Negotiations like this have been ongoing for twenty or more years, and yet Iran has become hardened because of the world view of her radical leaders.  Stratfor is confused, as are all proponents of talking to Iran who believe that our conversation with her will change anything.  Regime change remains the only wise option.

The Anbaris have said that they want the U.S. to stay.  The British cannot find translators anymore because they all get killed.  We are left with a very questionable Southern Iraq, with teenage thugs, gangs, militia, and Iranian forces present and involved in a fight for supremacy.

Iraq a World Apart

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

In Al Qaeda’s War on Iraq, we pointed out that senior al Qaeda leader and emir of foreign fighters Abu Osama al-Tunisi was killed along with two other terrorist suspects in a U.S. F-16 strike that dropped two 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a safehouse where they were meeting.  The Islamic State of Iraq confirmed his death today, and subsequently boasted of questionable victories for themselves.

“The war between us and them is a competition; they get us, we get them. Yesterday, we tore their bodies and their parts were scattered everywhere, and we killed them and they are still licking their wounds,” the Islamic State of Iraq said in its statement.

In a separate posting on an extremist Web site Monday, the Islamic State of Iraq issued a video allegedly showing an U.S. Apache helicopter being shot down by an anti-aircraft machine gun.

The short video, which could not be independently verified, shows brief clips of a man holding a machine gun, a helicopter flying and later landing with plumes of smoke rising from it. The video indicated the shooting took place on Sept. 25 in southwest Baghdad suburb of Hor Rajab.

The U.S. military reported last week an Apache helicopter that was fighting off a ground attack on U.S. forces was hit by enemy fire and made a hard landing south Baghdad. There were no casualties in the attack, which the U.S. military said took place on Wednesday.

It is a sign of their further diminution that they would make such a fuss over causing a “hard landing” of a helicopter.  The recent alliance of a few Sunni resistance groups together seems more a publicity stunt than anything with real meaning.  The same tactic is used by American corporate officers: when the company is failing, reorganize.  Al Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency is losing, and badly.  Unlike the Shi’ite militia in the South, the U.S. forces have taken the fight to them and won.  A few days ago and soon after killing al-Tunisi, coalition forcers disrupted another al Qaeda meeting which was being held for the purpose of electing another yet another emir because of the death of his predecessor.

Soldiers from the 2nd Iraqi Army Division, with U.S. Special Forces as advisers, detained 23 suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorists during an intelligence-driven raid in Sharqat Sept. 29.
 
Acting on intelligence, Iraqi Soldiers raided targeted locations in Sharqat to disrupt a meeting between al-Qaeda in Iraq leadership.  The meeting was held to elect a new emir since their previous one, Sabah Abdul-Rahman Abosh, was killed by Iraqi and Coalition Forces in a firefight Sept. 28.  The detainees are suspected of conducting terrorist attacks in the area.

Three hundred candidates appeared for a drive to recruit police in Ameriya.  “Allowing residents to take a stake in providing their own security for their neighborhood will go a long way toward denying Al-Qaeda the ability to move back into Ameriya,? said Maj. Chip Daniels, the operations officer for 1-5 Cavalry. “This is a good move on the part of the Iraqi government.”

Al Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency has no place to call home.  Yet there is the troubling situation of the low grade, slow motion civil war between the Sunnis and Shi’a, along with the involvement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and [subset] Quds forces.  Just as troubling is the coalition failure and refusal to confront the Shi’ite militias competing for unmitigated power in the Iraq South, especially Basra.  The British have been militarily defeated in Basra, and they intend to leave the Basra airport soon.

The Shi’ite militias continue to compete unimpeded for control of the “empire” of the oil rich South, while the mixed Provinces such as Diyala have difficulty with sectarian relations.

A convoy of strangers rumbled into this quiet Sunni village on a riverbed north of Baghdad, their armored vehicles enveloping the town in a cloud of dust. Peeking out from mud brick homes, suspicious residents tried to get a glimpse at the intruders.

It was their governor — a man this poor farming village had never seen in his nearly three years in office.

Under protection of U.S. soldiers, Gov. Raad Rashid al-Tamimi — a Shiite — sat atop a child’s desk in a dilapidated schoolhouse early last week and goaded a dozen of Guba’s tribal elders to join a reconciliation effort that has so far enticed 19 of the province’s 26 major tribes.

A day later, a suicide bomber ravaged another such reconciliation meeting in al-Tamimi’s hometown of Baqouba, killing at least 15 people and lightly wounding the 52-year-old governor, who was believed to be the target. Two U.S. soldiers were wounded in the bombing.

Such is the ebb and flow of reconciliation and violence in Diyala province, a battered landscape of warring tribes, fertile valleys and pockets of al-Qaida fighters. The sectarian and tribal chasms are wide here, and elected officials — who are mostly Shiite — cannot safely travel the province’s sectarian patchwork.

“The governor wouldn’t come here alone, and I wouldn’t let him. This has been a very dangerous place,” said Col. David Sutherland, the top U.S. commander in Diyala, who escorted al-Tamimi on his weekend tour along with about 20 U.S. soldiers.

Al Qaeda is near military defeat, but Iraq is a world apart.  The Sunni Anbar Province is proceeding apace with reconstruction and stabilization without the involvement of the national Iraq government.  The Diyala Province is divided, and the Shi’ite South is a stronghold of militia who the coalition forces apparently have no intention of confronting.  It is truly bottom-up counterinsurgency as Petraeus says, but the bottom has fallen out of the Iraq South.


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