Archive for the 'Jaish al Mahdi' Category



Petraeus on Iran

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 2 months ago

In testimony to Congress on Monday, General David Petraeus called out Iran for aspirations of regional hegemony in a way not heretofore heard from him or the Multinational Force.  “It is increasingly apparent to both coalition and Iraqi leaders that Iran, through the use of the Quds force, seeks to turn the Iraqi special groups into a Hezbollah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq.”

This warning isn’t dissimilar to the counsel we gave on March 27, 2007, discussing the return of Moqtada al Sadr from his Iranian vacation:

Sadr will be received back as not just a hero, but as someone almost divine, who stood down the U.S.  Any capture of Sadr and turnover to the courts of Iraq would have the opposite outcome of that intended, because no Iraqi court will convict Sadr of crimes, thus exhonerating and codifying him in his rule of his followers.

Iran will then have their forces deployed in Lebanon, headed by Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, and in Iraq, headed by Moqtada al Sadr.  Only confident actions by the administration – rather than acquiescence by the State Department – will avert such an outcome.

We followed this up with The Rise of the Jam, in which we documented the creation and growth of the Jaish al Mahdi, including the criminal-like behavior of its members.  There is no dearth of evidence concerning the actions and intentions of the JAM, including its support base, Iran and the IRG (Quds).  A quick reading of the introduction to Michael Ledeen’s new book The Iranian Time Bomb will disabuse the naive of the notion that Iran is merely protecting its interests.  Iranian interests have nothing whatsoever to do with Iran, a notion not grasped by those who think of Iran as a nation-state.  As stated by Khomeini:

“We do not worship Iran.  We worship Allah.  For patriotism is is another name for paganism.  I say let this land [Iran] burn.  I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.”  Ledeen comments of its more recent history, “Without exception, their core beliefs are totally contrary to the notion they are a traditional nation-state.”

Yet Ryan Crocker hedged Monday night speaking to Brit Hume on Foxnews, saying that the involvement of Iran in Iraq was “self-limiting” due to historical bitterness over the Iraq-Iran war and the fact that the Iranians are “Persians.”  Crocker is a smart man, and this hedging is inexplicable given the robust statement by General Petraeus.

Baby steps are being made to address the Iranian issue.  A U.S. base is currently being constructed along the Iraq-Iran border to interdict Iranian elements (see also here).

BARDA, Iraq — The Pentagon is preparing to build its first base for U.S. forces near the Iraqi-Iranian border, in a major new effort to curb the flow of advanced Iranian weaponry to Shiite militants across Iraq.

The push also includes construction of fortified checkpoints on the major highways leading from the Iranian border to Baghdad and the installation of X-ray machines and explosives-detecting sensors at the only formal border crossing between Iran and Iraq.

The measures come as the U.S. high command in Iraq has begun to recalibrate the overall American mission in the country to focus less on the Sunni Muslim radicals who were long the primary U.S. targets of pacifying the country and more on the Shiite Muslim militias suspected of maintaining close ties to Iran …

Gen. Petraeus is expected to warn that Iran is expanding its attempts to destabilize Iraq by providing Shiite extremists with lethal weaponry such as advanced roadside bombs capable of breaching even the strongest U.S. armor. U.S. commanders say that Iranian-made weaponry is used in an increasing percentage of attacks on U.S. forces, and that Shiite extremists are now responsible for as many anti-American attacks as Sunni radicals.

Iran denies supplying weapons to Iraqi militants, but the accusation is at the center of escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran that have sparked talk of a possible American military strike on Iran.

“We’ve got a major problem with Iranian munitions streaming into Iraq,” said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the commander of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. “This Iranian interference is troubling and we have to stop it.”

He said advanced roadside bombs — a type the U.S. says are made in the region only in Iran — have been used against his forces in central and southern Iraq, killing nine American soldiers. Gen. Lynch also said the U.S. stopped a planned attack on an American base that would have made use of Iranian-made rockets.

U.S. officials acknowledge the difficulty of stemming the flow of weapons across a border that is unfenced and thinly patrolled in many parts. But they hope that forcing smugglers off the main roads will make it easier to spot the militants through aerial surveillance.

Gen. Lynch says the new effort to curb the flow of Iranian weaponry will have several components: stationing U.S. soldiers at a new base to be built close to the border; building six fortified checkpoints to be manned by troops from the former Soviet republic of Georgia on the highways and major roads leading from the Iranian border to Baghdad; and installing better detection equipment at the Zurbatiya border crossing to make it harder for militants to hide weapons in the hundreds of trucks that pass into Iraq from Iran every day.

The new U.S. base, to be located about four miles from the Iranian border, is meant to be a central component of the expansive American effort to hinder the weapons smuggling. U.S. officers say they plan to use the new base for at least two years, though they say it is unclear whether the outpost will be among the small number of facilities that would remain in Iraq after any future large-scale U.S. withdrawal from the country …

The challenge of preventing Shiite militants from smuggling weaponry and explosives across the largely porous Iraqi-Iranian border was apparent on a recent visit to Wasit, a sparsely populated Iraqi province that abuts the long border between the two countries. There is no fence or wall separating Iran and Iraq, and the border itself is unmarked.

The only Iraqi government presence is a string of primitive border forts, which lack power and running water. The Iraqi officers who command the forts say chronic fuel shortages mean that they and their men don’t have enough gas to drive along the border looking for infiltrators from Iran.

Compounding the challenge, the province is populated by Shiite tribes that have profited for decades by smuggling items to and from Iran. U.S. commanders say the tribes are adept at using the deep gorges and wadis that crisscross the desert to pass into and out of Iran undetected.

“The tribes used to use these same routes to bring in weapons for the Shiite groups fighting Saddam in the 1980s and 1990s,” says Col. Mark Mueller, who commands a military advisory team working with Iraq’s poorly funded border guards. “They’ve been doing this a long, long time.”

Nevertheless, U.S. commanders believe the new checkpoints will boost their interdiction efforts by forcing militants to avoid using the major highways where the checkpoints are situated and instead travel on small dirt roads or across the open desert, where the smugglers’ vehicles stand a better chance of being spotted by American satellites, drones and surveillance airplanes.

“You want to separate the sheep from the wolves, and push the wolves to alternate routes that are easier to interdict,” Col. Mueller says.

Further, regarding the stand-down of the Mahdi army, it should be pointed out that Sadr is using this opportunity to overhaul his armed forces.

Iraq’s most powerful Shiite militia leader is turning to his commanders who distinguished themselves fighting U.S. troops in 2004 to screen fighters, weed out criminals and assume key positions in an effort to build a more disciplined force, two of his key lieutenants say.

That suggests the goal of Muqtada al-Sadr’s temporary freeze of Mahdi Army activities, announced Aug. 29 following deadly Shiite-Shiite clashes in Karbala, is to bolster the militia to intimidate his Shiite rivals as the anti-American cleric pursues his political ambitions.

A stronger and more efficient Mahdi Army could embolden al-Sadr to take on the rival Badr militia, a move that could fragment and weaken the country’s majority Shiites as gunmen battle for control of Shiite towns and cities …

The task of weeding out militiamen with suspect loyalty and screening new recruits already has begun and will take months to complete, according to the two al-Sadr lieutenants, who also are militia leaders who fought the Americans in Najaf in the summer of 2004 and in Sadr City in the fall …

“The (Mahdi) army will be stronger and better organized,” said one of them.

Both said the screening and reorganization process will be supervised nationwide by a 12-man council hand-picked by al-Sadr …

If the reorganization goes according to plan, the new Mahdi Army should emerge as a more disciplined and organized force – similar to its main Shiite rival, the Badr Organization, which is linked to the biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

Tension between Mahdi and Badr has been steadily rising and a showdown between them is widely expected for domination of the Shiite south, which includes most of the oil wealth and major religious shrines. Control of the shrines brings millions of dollars in donations from Shiites worldwide.

Al-Sadr is not likely to risk a head-on confrontation with the U.S. military as in 2004. But a stronger Mahdi Army would enable him to resist Washington’s repeated calls to disband the militias, blamed for the wave of sectarian bloodshed that escalated last year.

A Mahdi Army firmly under al-Sadr’s control could reduce what the U.S. military says are attacks by rogue Shiite militiamen controlled by Iran.

Last June, those rogue militiamen accounted for nearly 75 percent of the attacks against U.S. troops in the Baghdad area that caused casualties.

Both the government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a one-time close ally of al-Sadr, and the U.S. military welcomed the decision to take the Mahdi Army out of action.

However, there are worrying signs that the freeze is only a cover to buy al-Sadr time to overhaul the militia, improving its mobility and combat readiness.

Al-Sadr’s supporters in Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, did not sign a “charter of honor” reached by representatives of 30 groups and militias there to keep the peace after British troops completed their withdrawal from the city last week.

Residents say the Mahdi Army says it is now entitled to Basra, arguing that it was its almost nightly shelling of British bases in the city and other attacks that forced them to leave. Al-Sadr’s representatives in Basra have also warned they would fight U.S. troops if they move into Basra in the case of a security vacuum.

“They say they fought the British, so Basra is theirs,” said Dagher al-Moussawi, a Shiite lawmaker.

In Sadr City, armed Mahdi Army militiamen stayed off the streets soon after al-Sadr made his Aug. 29 announcement but several were seen in the district over the weekend with some carrying what appeared to be U.S.-made M-4 assault rifles, the type used by American troops.

There have been reports in the United States that some of the weapons destined for Iraq’s security forces have disappeared and remain unaccounted for.

Another Shiite lawmaker, who demanded anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the freeze was designed in part to spare the militia the ongoing campaign by U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies against militiamen suspected of involvement in attacks or sectarian violence.

“He wants to save the Mahdi Army by taking it out and use the time to improve it,” he said.

Ryan Crocker, for all of his intelligence, did us no favors on Monday by demurring on Iran’s role in the region.  Iran has a direct role, and the base being constructed for purposes of interdiction points to an attempt to halt that direct effect.  Iran also has an indirect effect, the military forces it has deployed throughout Iraq, Badr and the JAM.  It is irrelevant that they currently fight each other for Basra.  They both belong to Iran.  Petraeus spoke in clearer terms than Crocker, pointing to what will be the most significant obstacle to pacification of Iraq: Iran.

Cessation in Support for Maliki

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 2 months ago

Daniel M. Zucker has a compelling commentary for the cessation of U.S. support for Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki at Global Politician.

Iranian exile dissident Ghazal Omid’s recent Op-Ed of August 16, 2007, “Close the Iraq Chapter Before Opening Iran?, published on Omedia.org, presents a cogent argument for the United States to admit that it committed many errors in its handling of Iraq these last four plus years. As Ms. Omid points out, the U.S. has been remiss in understanding Iraqi culture and customs, part of our general poor knowledge of Islam, the Middle East, and anything beyond the shores of our own nation. Her essay was occasioned, at least in part, by her reaction to photographs of Iraqi Prime Minister Dr. Nouri Kamal al-Maliki in his August 10th meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during his recent visit to Tehran. Like most opponents of the Tehran regime, Ms. Omid was disgusted by these photographs or others that showed Maliki walking hand in hand with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As Ms. Omid indicates, these photographs demonstrate that al-Maliki feels close to the leadership of the Tehran regime.

In his recent commentary in the Chicago Tribune, Dr. Alireza Jafarzadeh points out that when President Bush saw these photographs he is reputed to have said: “if the signal [from al-Maliki] is that Iran is constructive, I will have a heart-to-heart with my friend the prime minister, because I don’t believe they [the Iranian leaders] are constructive.? If we now look at Damien Cave’s report in the August 19, 2007 edition of The New York Times, entitled “Iraqi Premier Stirs Discontent, Yet Hangs On?, we will begin to realize that Nouri al-Maliki’s mismanagement of Iraq due to his allegiance to Tehran has made him and his radical Shi‘ite-dominated coalition government very unpopular with the Iraqi populace. The recent reshuffling of the al-Maliki government now leaves the Sunnis out of the governing cabinet which not only alienates a large and key minority block but also allows al-Maliki to continue to stay close to his Iranian allies. Rather than moving towards reconciliation, al-Maliki has managed to avoid it.

The entire commentary is worth reading, and is similar in sentiment to Charles Krauthammer’s commentary entitled Thinking Beyond Maliki.

The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has had more than 15 months to try to pacify the Sunni insurgency by offering national accords on oil-sharing, provincial elections and de-Baathification. It has done none of these. Instead, Gen. David Petraeus has pacified a considerable number of Sunni tribes with grants of local autonomy, guns and U.S. support in jointly fighting al-Qaeda.

Petraeus’s strategy is not very pretty. It carries risk. But it has been effective.

The Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, however, is not happy with Petraeus’s actions. One top Maliki aide complained that they will leave Iraq ” an armed society and militias.”

What does he think Iraq is now? Except that many Sunni militias that were once shooting at Americans are now shooting at al-Qaeda.

The nature of the war is changing. In July, 73 percent of the attacks that caused U.S. casualties in Baghdad were from Shiite militants, not Sunnis. Maliki is no fool. As more Sunni tribes are pacified, he can see the final military chapter of this war coming into focus: the considerable power of the American military machine slowly turning its face to — and its guns on — Shiite extremists.

Of the many mistakes committed in Iraq, perhaps the most serious was to have failed to destroy Moqtada al-Sadr and the remains of his ragged army when we had him cornered and defeated in Najaf in 2004. As a consequence, we have to face him once again. The troop surge has already begun deadly and significant raids into Mahdi strongholds in Baghdad.

Sadr is hurting. On Wednesday, after many were killed in Shiite-on-Shiite fighting in Karbala, he called for a six-month moratorium on all military operations in order to permit him to ” rehabilitate” his increasingly disorganized forces.

At the same time, however, Maliki is denouncing us for overkill in our raids on Shiite areas. A rift between Washington and Baghdad is opening. It will only widen as long as Maliki is in power.

Now, Maliki is no friend of Sadr or Iran. He knows that if they ultimately prevail, they will swallow him whole. But Maliki is too weak temperamentally and politically to make the decisive move in the other direction — toward Sunni and Shiite moderates — in order to make the necessary national compromises.

So he hedges his bets. He visits Iran and, then, while on a Syrian visit, responds to calls for the Iraqi parliament to bring his government down by saying, ” Those who make such statements are bothered by our visit to Syria” and warning darkly that Iraq “can find friends elsewhere.”

Maliki is not just weak but unreliable. Time is short. We should have long ago — say, when national security adviser Stephen Hadley wrote his leaked memo last November about Maliki’s failure — begun working to have this dysfunctional government replaced.

Krauthammer calls leaving Sadr alive the worst mistake of Operation Iraqi Freedom, just as we did in August of 2006.  This decision has lead in part to the rise of Jaish al-Mahdi.  But asserting that U.S. forces are targeting the Shi’a militias is more than a little wishful thinking.  Because of our backing of the Maliki administration and the failure to dismantle the Shi’a militias, we are only just beginning the process in the South that we started in Anbar three years ago.

Maliki is in the way, and his administration has been so incompetent that it is hard to imagine a more dysfunctional political situation for Iraq.  The longer we back Maliki, the longer we delay the political machinations necessary to repair the sectarian and political rift in Iraq.  It may not be possible anyway, but it certainly won’t happen with Maliki at the helm.

Basra and Anbar Reverse Roles

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 3 months ago

In Operation Alljah and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment, we interviewed Lt. Col. William F. Mullen who gave us a realistic but positive report on the accomplishments of the Marines in Fallujah.  As expected, we received e-mail from detractors (is Fallujah really this much better off?).  There are also reports that take the same facts and turn them into a completely different interpretation than the one we published.

We have also published extensively on the calamity in Basra, the British having essentially lost the military struggle for Basra and surrounding areas.  True to form, this assessment has also been questioned by detractors.  But even the British are finally managing to turn their gaze towards just how bad the situation is in Basra.

Like Donald Rumsfeld, the man British commentators love to hate, we never sent enough troops to Iraq. At first we were pretty condescending to the Americans, insisting that our light touch, learned in Northern Ireland, was far more effective than their alleged heavy-handedness. We were wrong. Basra is not Londonderry. Our ever-lower profile was seen by local militias — and the public — as weakness. As a result the militia grewstronger and stronger, and now Basra is a town of warring gangs. We never committed enough — and we reduced our numbers much too soon. We now have only 5,000 men and women in Basra. That small force must protect itself, must continue training the 10th Iraqi Division.

The U.S. has also begun to divulge the sensitivity of the situation.

“This is less an insurgency issue than it is criminal, a borderline Mafia kind of situation. You’ve got competing criminal interests looking for territory down there,” said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon’s press secretary.

“So that has certainly complicated matters for the Brits down there, and it certainly remains a concern for us,” he told reporters.

Britain has 5,500 troops in Basra but almost all have been pulled back to the airport where they are training Iraqi forces.

This admission may be gratuitous. Beyond criminal activity, three strong, competing Shi’a factions are at war with one another and openly demanding protection money from the population: Jaish al Mahdi, the Fadhila Party, and SIIC (Badr).

So what is the relationship between Basra and Anbar, and is there any acendotal evidence to back up these analyses?  The best on-the-scene evidence comes from Omar Fadhil of Iraq the Model, who assesses the reversal of roles between the Shi’a south and the Sunni West in Crossing Anbar.

We’ve been getting some reports about the improvement in security in Anbar in the last few months but little was said about the highway that runs across the province.

The several hundred kilometer western section of the international highway is technically Iraq’s second “port” in a way as it connects Iraq with Syria and Jordan and was for years the only window to the world when all airports and the southern ports in Basra were closed to traffic in the 1990s.

For most of the time between 2004 and 2007 taking this road was considered suicidal behavior as the chance someone would be robbed or killed was too high.

But with the tribal awakening in Anbar that cleared large parts of the province from al-Qaeda the highway is expected to be safer, but how much safer?

My family returned yesterday from a vacation in Syria and they have used this road twice in six weeks. I had tried hard to convince them not to do that and take a flight instead but now after hearing their story I’m convinced that my fear was not justified; the road is safe…

This is good not only for Iraq’s economy and traveling but also for the American troops who can use this road as an alternative supply route in case the British troops withdraw and leave the strategic southern highway between Kuwait and Baghdad unguarded.

Back to the story; there are two travel plans for passenger SUV’s and buses from Damascus to Baghdad; one includes leaving Damascus between 10 pm and midnight, reaching the Syrian border control before dawn, entering the Iraqi border control at 8 am and arriving in Baghdad around sunset. A total of approximately 20 hours with 6 to 7 hours lost in waiting and passport control.

The second plan includes leaving Damascus at noon and here convoys carrying the passengers continue to move all the way until a short distance northwest of Ramadi. At this point the time would be between midnight and 2 am and since that’s within curfew hours in Baghdad, the drivers park their vehicles and everyone gets to sleep 3 or 4 hours and wait for the sun to rise and then the journey would continue.

Now the first plan sounds predictable, safe and well planned given the distance and necessary stops. But look at the second one carefully and try to picture the scene; dozens of passenger SUV’s (GMC trucks mostly) and buses parking in he middle of nowhere in a zone that was until recently the heart of al-Qaeda’s Islamic state! Obviously the drivers and families feel safe enough that they know they won’t be robbed and slaughtered by cold-blooded terrorists. Even more interesting, this parking and resting zone was not designated nor protected by the Iraqi or American forces but simply an arrangement the drivers managed on their own perhaps with cooperation from the local tribes.

I still laugh every time I think of this incredible change and I honestly wouldn’t have believed it if the story teller wasn’t my father.

This sign of positive progress brings to my mind a sad irony. Back in 2004 when taking the Anbar highway was out of question for me, the Sunni dentist, I made the trip back and fourth between Baghdad and Basra countless times without any fear.

Now, I’m ready to try the trip through the west, but going south through the militia infested land is something I’d never dare do at this stage.

The reports on the pacification of Anbar are indeed correct, and sadly, the British failure in Basra has made Operation Iraqi Freedom much more complicated.

Prior:

Targeting the Insurgency Versus Protecting the Infrastructure

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 3 months ago

In Instructions on How to Repair the Electrical Grid in Iraq, we made the case that the electrical grid was too delicate, complicated and far-flunge to be amenable to protection against insurgents (in this case it was the Jaish al Mahdi who was targeting the electrical grid, destroying parts of it and in other cases hijacking the power for local use).  Another example of this same tactic comes to us from a different region of Iraq; this time the example comes from the Diyala Province, and is likely perpetrated by al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

The US military says its troops have killed 33 insurgents in a joint operation with Iraqi troops 80km (50 miles) north of Baghdad.  It said several hundred US and Iraqi soldiers took part in the operation on Monday to reopen the water supply to the town of Khalis.

Residents say al-Qaeda fighters have a strong presence in the area.

Insurgents cut water supplies to Khalis several days ago by shovelling earth into an irrigation canal.

The US military said a joint assault force of US and Iraqi troops – which landed by helicopter – killed 13 insurgents. It said fire from attack aircraft killed 20 others.

It is not possible to deploy enough troops to protect all infrastructure when making it dysfunctional simply involves shovelling dirt into an irrigation canal (most likely a weir type of structure).  There are too many kilometers of canals to protect.  This isn’t to deny that there is a complex interplay between the availability of goods, services, security and government, and the population informing on insurgent identities and locations.  Counterinsurgency remains a difficult venture.

But it is to say that when the impossible presents itself (i.e., protect all infrastructure, whether electrical grids, water supplies, or other utilities such as sewage, in order to win the population), the stipulations are unacceptable and the game must be reformulated.  Coalition forces implemented the correct tactic to restore basic services.

They targeted those who targeted the infrastructure.

Instructions on How to Repair the Electrical Grid in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 3 months ago

The New York Times brings us a story about the electrical system in Iraq, its unreliability, and the nexus with militias and gang control of the countryside.

Armed groups increasingly control the antiquated switching stations that channel electricity around Iraq, the electricity minister said Wednesday.

That is dividing the national grid into fiefs that, he said, often refuse to share electricity generated locally with Baghdad and other power-starved areas in the center of Iraq.

The development adds to existing electricity problems in Baghdad, which has been struggling to provide power for more than a few hours a day because insurgents regularly blow up the towers that carry power lines into the city.

The government lost the ability to control the grid centrally after the American-led invasion in 2003, when looters destroyed electrical dispatch centers, the minister, Karim Wahid, said in a news briefing attended also by United States military officials.

The briefing had been intended, in part, to highlight successes in the American-financed reconstruction program here.

But it took an unexpected turn when Mr. Wahid, a highly respected technocrat and longtime ministry official, began taking questions from Arab and Western journalists.

Because of the lack of functioning dispatch centers, Mr. Wahid said, ministry officials have been trying to control the flow of electricity from huge power plants in the south, north and west by calling local officials there and ordering them to physically flip switches.

But the officials refuse to follow those orders when the armed groups threaten their lives, he said, and the often isolated stations are abandoned at night and easily manipulated by whatever group controls the area.

This kind of manipulation can cause the entire system to collapse and bring nationwide blackouts, sometimes seriously damaging the generating plants that the United States has paid millions of dollars to repair.

The temptation in response to this is to contemplate ways to make the electrical grid more reliable.  But the story has what lawyers call a misdirect at the very beginning: ” … antiquated switching stations.”  This point is entirely out of context, and in fact not very meaningful or important.  All electrical grids are designed the same way.  They are interconnected, have thousands of miles of unprotected high voltage cable, important switching stations, step up and step down transformers, protective relaying, and breakers to isolate ground faults.  They are by their very nature finicky and touchy things, and while the grid in Iraq may be antiquated, the real problem is not the grid.  It is those who target the grid.

In The Rise of the JAM, we documented the rise of the Jaish al Mahdi to prominence in much of Iraq, detailing incidents where U.S. forces simply refused to engage the Mahdi militia for fear of it creating a “political problem.”  We followed up this article with Danger Signs in Shi’ite Country, where we observed that “the U.S. will choose to deal a blow to the JAM and thereby allow reconciliation among the more peaceful of the population, or it will cower to the arrogant, undisciplined teenagers roaming the streets as thugs and criminals, taking and harming whatever and whomever they wish.  The first choice means stability and security for Iraq.  The second means a complete, chaotic disaster.”

Obviously, we have chosen chaotic disaster rather than security for Iraq.  No amount of money on reconstruction will accomplish anything good as long as rogue elements are left unmolested.  Also, we are proud to bring you the news and analysis here at The Captain’s Journal before others do, and without air brushing it first.  With respect to the issue of the JAM being comprised of “arrogant, undisciplined teenagers roaming the streets as thugs and criminals,” the Washington Post brings us a story about how many in Iraq see the JAM: “They control people’s lives,” said one resident of Hurriyah, a Shiite government employee who would give his name only as Abu Mahdi, 36, because he feared Mahdi militia reprisals. Scornfully calling them uneducated, bullying teenagers, he said: “They are worse than the Baathists” - the party that held total authority under the rule of Saddam Hussein.”

The Iraqi electrical grid problems are unrelated to engineering.  To be sure, as soon as security has been restored to Iraq, we can turn loose the electrical transmission engineers who would love to reconstruct the system.  But this step awaits security.  The moral of the Iraqi story on electrical grids is just this: let’s let the electrical engineers work on the electrical system.  Let’s let the U.S. Army and Marines work on targeting the enemy, which includes the JAM, whether we want to admit it or not.

Sometimes our efforts at counterinsurgency by winning hearts and minds simply have to go through kinetic operations — in this case, combat action — to “close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver.”  There are no easy ways to do this, and we cannot throw enough money at or deploy enough engineers on this problem to make it go away.

The British Flight from Basra

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 3 months ago

In Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement, we pointed out that the British had essentially been militarily defeated in Basra.

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.

In this article we cited Anthony Cordesman (Center for Strategic and International Studies) who began openly discussing the situation by calling it a defeat in a white paper entitled The British Defeat in the South and the Uncertain Bush Strategy in Iraq.  In response to Cordesman there is a row in Britian over the idea that there has been a defeat.  On August 12, the Scotsman published an article containing responses to Cordesman.

STRAINED relations between Washington and London were stretched still further over Iraq last night, as a senior American official condemned Britain’s “failure” in its mission to bring peace to the south of the war-torn country.

Defence chiefs reacted with fury after right-wing commentator and adviser Anthony Cordesman weighed into the row over the UK’s contribution to the post-Saddam operation with a withering claim that Britain had effectively handed control of its zone to local “mafiosi”.

More significantly, Cordesman claimed the British “failure” had allowed Iran to gain a toehold, which it was using to increase its influence over its neighbour. The damning accusations, made after a fact-finding visit to Iraq, increase the pressure over the continuing dilemma confronting coalition leaders, amid expectations that Gordon Brown is poised to pull British troops out within the next few months.

In a report completed following his return from Iraq last week, Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said: “British weakness and failure in the south has both encouraged Shi’ite extremism and partially opened the door to Iran.

“The struggle for each major shrine city has become messy and local in the south, and the British defeat in the four provinces in the south-east – particularly Basra – has created the equivalent of rival Shi’ite mafias, whose religious pretensions in no way mean they are not the equivalent of the kind of rival gangs that dominated many American cities during prohibition. Young street thugs wander much of the area, stealing and bullying in the name of God.”

But the dismal assessment of the security situation in the British-controlled zone was angrily refuted by British officials and military experts.

“This bears no resemblance to what we know to be the case,” a senior source at the Ministry of Defence said last night. “If Mr Cordesman had actually been to Basra during his visit, he would have seen that the British forces have a lot more control than he suggests. We have never suggested that every-thing was perfectly peaceful, but this is terribly unfair on the hard work that our armed forces are doing every day.”

The indignation seems genuine enough and the notion of British success seems to be believed.  But subsequent reports of the calamity in Basra surface, betraying the British claims and re-telling the story of three competing Shi’a militias in Southern Iraq: the Fadhila Party, the SIIC (i.e., Badr organization) and the JAM.

Then in a stark admission of the reality of Basra, senior U.S. and British military analysts and officers weigh in on just how bad the British pullout from Basra could get.

An adviser to the U.S. military said that British troops face an “ugly and embarrassing” withdrawal from southern Iraq in the coming months, a British newspaper reported.

Stephen Biddle, a member of a group that advised U.S. Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq last year, told the Sunday Times that insurgents and militia groups were likely to target British soldiers with ambushes, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades as they leave.

“It will be a hard withdrawal. They want the image of a British defeat,” Biddle told the paper. “It will be ugly and embarrassing.”

The Sunday Times also quoted a senior British officer as saying that British troops have lost control of the main southern city of Basra.

“I regret to say that the Basra experience is set to become a major blunder in terms of military history,” the officer was quoted as saying by the newspaper. “The insurgents are calling the shots … and in a worst-case scenario will chase us out of southern Iraq.”

As we have pointed out before, alignment with the Badr organization simply because they have joined the government is a deal with the devil because it empowers Iran, and failing to confront the JAM leaves arrogant, violent teenagers in charge of the richest city in Iraq.  And the British failure might have left the U.S. in the situation of cleaning up the mess.

The British Flight from Basra

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 3 months ago

In Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement, we pointed out that the British had essentially been militarily defeated in Basra.

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.

In this article we cited Anthony Cordesman (Center for Strategic and International Studies) who began openly discussing the situation by calling it a defeat in a white paper entitled The British Defeat in the South and the Uncertain Bush Strategy in Iraq.  In response to Cordesman there is a row in Britian over the idea that there has been a defeat.  On August 12, the Scotsman published an article containing responses to Cordesman.

STRAINED relations between Washington and London were stretched still further over Iraq last night, as a senior American official condemned Britain’s “failure” in its mission to bring peace to the south of the war-torn country.

Defence chiefs reacted with fury after right-wing commentator and adviser Anthony Cordesman weighed into the row over the UK’s contribution to the post-Saddam operation with a withering claim that Britain had effectively handed control of its zone to local “mafiosi”.

More significantly, Cordesman claimed the British “failure” had allowed Iran to gain a toehold, which it was using to increase its influence over its neighbour. The damning accusations, made after a fact-finding visit to Iraq, increase the pressure over the continuing dilemma confronting coalition leaders, amid expectations that Gordon Brown is poised to pull British troops out within the next few months.

In a report completed following his return from Iraq last week, Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said: “British weakness and failure in the south has both encouraged Shi’ite extremism and partially opened the door to Iran.

“The struggle for each major shrine city has become messy and local in the south, and the British defeat in the four provinces in the south-east – particularly Basra – has created the equivalent of rival Shi’ite mafias, whose religious pretensions in no way mean they are not the equivalent of the kind of rival gangs that dominated many American cities during prohibition. Young street thugs wander much of the area, stealing and bullying in the name of God.”

But the dismal assessment of the security situation in the British-controlled zone was angrily refuted by British officials and military experts.

“This bears no resemblance to what we know to be the case,” a senior source at the Ministry of Defence said last night. “If Mr Cordesman had actually been to Basra during his visit, he would have seen that the British forces have a lot more control than he suggests. We have never suggested that every-thing was perfectly peaceful, but this is terribly unfair on the hard work that our armed forces are doing every day.”

The indignation seems genuine enough and the notion of British success seems to be believed.  But subsequent reports of the calamity in Basra surface, betraying the British claims and re-telling the story of three competing Shi’a militias in Southern Iraq: the Fadhila Party, the SIIC (i.e., Badr organization) and the JAM.

Then in a stark admission of the reality of Basra, senior U.S. and British military analysts and officers weigh in on just how bad the British pullout from Basra could get.

An adviser to the U.S. military said that British troops face an “ugly and embarrassing” withdrawal from southern Iraq in the coming months, a British newspaper reported.

Stephen Biddle, a member of a group that advised U.S. Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq last year, told the Sunday Times that insurgents and militia groups were likely to target British soldiers with ambushes, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades as they leave.

“It will be a hard withdrawal. They want the image of a British defeat,” Biddle told the paper. “It will be ugly and embarrassing.”

The Sunday Times also quoted a senior British officer as saying that British troops have lost control of the main southern city of Basra.

“I regret to say that the Basra experience is set to become a major blunder in terms of military history,” the officer was quoted as saying by the newspaper. “The insurgents are calling the shots … and in a worst-case scenario will chase us out of southern Iraq.”

As we have pointed out before, alignment with the Badr organization simply because they have joined the government is a deal with the devil because it empowers Iran, and failing to confront the JAM leaves arrogant, violent teenagers in charge of the richest city in Iraq.  And the British failure might have left the U.S. in the situation of cleaning up the mess.

How to Lose in Iraq: Inconsistent and Inequitable Policy

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 3 months ago

In Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq, we discussed the two-step process by which the United States Marines have prevailed in the Anbar province.  First, they have substantially militarily defeated both the terrorists and the indigenous insurgency.  Second, upon recognition of this and settling with the enemy, U.S. forces have actually made military use of the erstwhile insurgents for both intelligence and kinetic operations against the remaining terrorist and insurgent elements.  It has been observed that  ”Americans learned a basic lesson of warfare here: that Iraqis, bludgeoned for 24 years by Saddam’s terror, are wary of rising against any force, however brutal, until it is in retreat. In Anbar, Sunni extremists were the dominant force, with near-total popular support or acquiescence, until the offensive broke their power.”

Having militarily lost, and seeking a place in the new government, the tide has turned against the terrorists, as we observed in The Counterinsurgency Campaign in Anbar Expands.  ““This is much less about al-Qaeda overstepping than about them [Sunnis] realizing that they’ve lost,? said Lt. Col. Douglas Ollivant, a planner for the U.S. military command in Baghdad. As a result, Sunni groups are now “desperately trying to cut deals with us,? he said. “This is all about the Sunnis’ ‘rightful’ place to rule? in a future Iraqi government, he said.

But now comes an example of exactly the wrong way to do it, an approach that is almost certain to stop the progress of this model in its tracks; perhaps U.S. forces even risk a turnaround in the all but pacified Anbar province.

BAGHDAD – Wearing a bandanna that hides his face, Omam Abed leads U.S. soldiers on raids in the west Baghdad streets where he grew up – kicking down doors and interrogating neighbors in search of fighters for al-Qaida 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.

But for Abed and others, this new war also brings grave dangers …

Last month, two of Abed’s best friends, both 18-year-old members who also decided to aid U.S. forces, were dragged out of their high school during final exams and beheaded. Their bodies were flung up into a tree with the severed heads displayed on the sidewalk below, according to Abed and U.S. military officers stationed in the area.

There was no claim of responsibility, but the scene didn’t need one. All knew it was a ghastly warning to residents who choose to challenge al-Qaida in Iraq, which takes inspiration from Osama bin Laden but whose direct links to his terror network is unclear.

“They weren’t wearing masks on missions, so al-Qaida recognized who they were. They were my friends – we were always the three of us, like brothers,” Abed told The Associated Press in an interview this week, choking back tears.

He would not give his real name out of fear for his safety, and would not comment on his past insurgent activity. His codename – Omam Abed – means “courageous slave” in Arabic.

Since the murders, Abed wears a mask or scarf to conceal his identity when he accompanies U.S. and Iraqi soldiers on raids. These are the same palm-shaded streets with wide green lawns where he played as a boy. His father was a prominent businessman who owned a textile factory here before fleeing to Syria in 2003. Almost everyone knows Abed and his family.

“I want to stay and help my neighborhood, and the future of my country, but sometimes I’m scared I’ll also be targeted,” he said.

The Amariyah beheadings – and waves of other attacks – suggest a mounting al-Qaida campaign of reprisals against fellow Sunnis who challenge group’s footholds in Iraq.

On Saturday, militants bombed the northern Baghdad home of a moderate and highly regarded Sunni cleric, Sheik Wathiq al-Obeidi, who had recently spoken against al-Qaida. He was seriously wounded and three relatives were killed.

The same day, police said a local tribal leader in Albu Khalifa, a village west of Baghdad, was killed by gunmen who stormed his home. Sheik Fawaq Sadda’ al-Khalifawi had recently joined an anti-al-Qaida alliance in Iraq’s western Anbar province.

[ ... ]

Abed wears a beige bulletproof vest with “Allah Akbar” – `God is great,’ in Arabic – written in permanent marker across the front. He bought it on the black market with his own money. He 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.

“It’s just not something we can do,” said Lt. Col. Dale Kuehl, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment.

At least two members of the group were former allies of al-Qaida, said Kuehl, 41, from Huntsville, Ala. Others, he said, were part of the Islamic Army in Iraq, the 1920s Revolution Brigades and Tawhid and Jihad – all Sunni insurgent groups responsible for past attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.

The U.S. military offers humanitarian aid, but the fighters are denied access to U.S. bases and military hospitals. American medics, however, have treated them on the battlefield.

Kuehl is awaiting approval from his commanders for a 90-day security contract under which the fighters would be paid to man checkpoints and conduct regular patrols through Amariyah. The salaries would be commensurate with the Iraqi police, about $300 a month.

Until the contract wins U.S. approval, the fighters remain unpaid volunteers.

Capt. Dustin Mitchell, with the 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Reconnaissance Troop, said it sometimes creates awkward moments for his soldiers.

“We try to help them out within the guidelines if our commanders approve it,” said the Louisville, Ky., native. “If not, we’re the guys who look them in the eye and have to say, `I’m sorry.’”

The contrary example is given to us with the approach to the Shi’ite in the South of Iraq.  As we observed in The Rise of the JAM, neither (a) has there been a decisive and final military defeat of the Mahdi army (or the Badr organization), nor (b) has there been any interest in reconciliation on their part.  Yet the Mahdi army is allowed to roam freely throughout Iraq, and U.S. forces are said to avoid direct confrontation with them.  They are the military wing of a political bloc in Parliament, and are responsible for the deaths of not only Sunnis but U.S. forces as well.  Further, there is an unwillingbess to excise Badr from the ISF, while Badr, funded and backed directly by Iran, is believed to still carry out targeted assassinations.

The Sadrists are allowed their own political bloc in Parliament, their own militia, and the freedom to behave like mafiosi in the neighborhoods, while U.S. forces steer clear of entanglement with them.  Conversely, former Sunni insurgents are relegated to the sidelines where policy stipulates that they can never be under the permanent employ of the Iraqi government.  Even temporary support for these fighters is subject to a 90-day ‘security’ contract, permission for which likely sits in bureaucratic quick sand, the location of which only God and a few people know.

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.

Danger Signs in Shi’ite Country

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 3 months ago

Courtesy of John Robb’s Global Guerrillas, William Lind tells us why the U.S. forces should not replace a “war with the Iraqi Sunnis with a war against the Shi’ites.”

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.

Notwithstanding whatever contributions William Lind has made to this field of theory, these warnings are not only based on misconception, but they also betray a lack of clear thought on the matters at hand.

As my friend Michael Ledeen is quick to point out (and has so many times to me), air raids and “kill or capture” policy didn’t spur the growth of the insurgency.  Insurgencies are not born, and the Iraqi insurgency didn’t have a birthplace called Fallujah.  They are planned, and the Iraqi insurgency was planned and crafted before the war began in Baghdad, Damascus and Tehran (and possibly Riyadh).

We have covered rules of engagement quite thoroughly at The Captain’s Journal, the most recent of which was an article entitled Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement (which bears re-studying at this point to remind the reader about the situation in Basra after three years of the presence of the British and their ‘soft’ rules of engagement).  For all of those ‘professionals’ who claim that the U.S. ROE have caused halting progress in the pacification of Iraq, it warrants serious, quiet and pensive reflection that Anbar is all but pacified and Basra is currently a calamity, having been utterly lost to the various factions of the Shia militia.

In Rise of the JAM, we covered the the current danger the Jaish al Mahdi pose to the security of Iraq, and cite Omar Fadhil on the danger Moqtada al Sadr poses to the political stability and infrastructure of the country.  This is a clear and present danger, not one that awaits heavy handed U.S. rules of engagement.

Contrary to Lind’s short-sighted and hand-wringing assessment, the U.S. will choose to deal a blow to the JAM and thereby allow reconciliation among the more peaceful of the population, or it will cower to the arrogant, undisciplined teenagers roaming the streets as thugs and criminals, taking and harming whatever and whomever they wish.  The first choice means stability and security for Iraq.  The second means a complete, chaotic disaster.

Danger Signs in Shi’ite Country

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 3 months ago

Courtesy of John Robb’s Global Guerrillas, William Lind tells us why the U.S. forces should not replace a “war with the Iraqi Sunnis with a war against the Shi’ites.”

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.

Notwithstanding whatever contributions William Lind has made to this field of theory, these warnings are not only based on misconception, but they also betray a lack of clear thought on the matters at hand.

As my friend Michael Ledeen is quick to point out (and has so many times to me), air raids and “kill or capture” policy didn’t spur the growth of the insurgency.  Insurgencies are not born, and the Iraqi insurgency didn’t have a birthplace called Fallujah.  They are planned, and the Iraqi insurgency was planned and crafted before the war began in Baghdad, Damascus and Tehran (and possibly Riyadh).

We have covered rules of engagement quite thoroughly at The Captain’s Journal, the most recent of which was an article entitled Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement (which bears re-studying at this point to remind the reader about the situation in Basra after three years of the presence of the British and their ‘soft’ rules of engagement).  For all of those ‘professionals’ who claim that the U.S. ROE have caused halting progress in the pacification of Iraq, it warrants serious, quiet and pensive reflection that Anbar is all but pacified and Basra is currently a calamity, having been utterly lost to the various factions of the Shia militia.

In Rise of the JAM, we covered the the current danger the Jaish al Mahdi pose to the security of Iraq, and cite Omar Fadhil on the danger Moqtada al Sadr poses to the political stability and infrastructure of the country.  This is a clear and present danger, not one that awaits heavy handed U.S. rules of engagement.

Contrary to Lind’s short-sighted and hand-wringing assessment, the U.S. will choose to deal a blow to the JAM and thereby allow reconciliation among the more peaceful of the population, or it will cower to the arrogant, undisciplined teenagers roaming the streets as thugs and criminals, taking and harming whatever and whomever they wish.  The first choice means stability and security for Iraq.  The second means a complete, chaotic disaster.


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