Underpants Gnomes in Iraq

Jim Henley makes a wry observation that the US strategy for a democracy domino theory for Iraq was planned with the same logic as the Underpants Gnomes business model and therefore it has the same level of success:

You may recall that the next steps in the Grand Strategy were

2) All the other Arab countries (plus Iran) decide they want to be just like Iraq.

3) No more terrorism!

I still think there’s a flaw in the logic somewhere.

The current situation in Iraq is a mess, and that is not because Western reporters are reporting only bad news, it is because that is the fundamental facet of reality at this time. Again as Jim Henley notes Iraq has become a quasi Hobbesian state:

Not quite a war of all against all, but a war of most against most. The native Sunni resistance sometimes fights with and sometimes against the foreign terror element; the Army sometimes fights Sunni insurgents and sometimes Iraqi police; the police sometimes “fight” (in the sense of execution-style killings) Sunnis (insurgents and otherwise) and sometimes the Army; the militias (when not in police or Army uniforms) sometimes fight Sunnis and sometimes, probably, each other; the Americans fight any of the above depending on what this week’s plan is.

Right now there is quite a bit of press about how the Badr Corps and its political wing, SCIRI have infilitrated the the Interior Ministry which is the Iraqi national police and internal security agency. There has also been a lot of reports on the influences of the Mahdi Army death squads. These reports seem to suggest that the problem is solely a policing issue, and that the Iraqi Army, which is under more direct US supervision than the police and has been the recipient of longer and more intensive training is acting as a national unififying force and is accepted as such by most parties.

However there are problems to this story line. The first problem is the decline in the number of fully ready combat battalions in the Iraqi Army, from three last summer, to one last fall, to none this month. The somewhat good news from the Iraqization process is that the US is handing off a significant increase in battlespace responsibility but so far the Iraqi units are not doing a good job of maintaining or increasing whatever minimal level of phyiscal security that pre-existed.

But that problem would theoretically be just a training, logistics, and time problem. As Iraqi units get more experienced they would get better. However life, again is not that simple. The Iraqi Army is still fundamentally a reflagged group of Shi’ite militias, and Kurdish peshmerga units that got new uniforms and better supply lines. It is not a national army, but three seperate forces that only have buy-in from their respective communities. Eric Umansky has more:

For the first time, I can across some actual stats on it, and I suspect you’re not going to be to be hearing them in the president’s progress reports anytime soon. Here’s what strategy guru Anthony Cordesman concluded:

Only two of the 10 divisions as yet have something approaching sectarian and
ethnic balance, and even this is weak. About 60% are Shi’ite dominated, and 20%
are Kurdish influenced.
In other words, 80 percent of Iraq’s army is
dominated by one group or another–and those are the forces we’re optimistic
about.

Background: That quote comes from a “paper” Cordesman sent out via email but hasn’t posted on the Web. And no there weren’t any footnotes or source listed.

This is inline with the reporting by Peter Galbraith that the Iraqi Army was segmented by ethnicity at the battalion level.

“…the army reflects these divisions. Of the 115 army battalions, sixty are made up of Shiites and located in southern Iraq, forty-five are Sunni Arab and stationed in the Sunni governorates, and nine are Kurdish peshmerga, although they are officially described as the part of the Iraqi army stationed in Kurdistan. There is exactly one mixed battalion (with troops contributed from the armed forces of the main political parties) and it is in Baghdad. While the officer corps is a little more heterogeneous, very few Kurds or Shiites are willing to serve as officers of Sunni Arab units fighting Sunni Arab insurgents. There are no Arab officers in the Kurdish battalions, and Kurdistan law prohibits the deployment of the Iraqi army within Kurdistan without permission of the Kurdistan National Assembly.

We are playing a shell game based upon numbers based on fantasies of local legitimacy. The Sunni Arab battalions are not integrated into the greater command structure and are not seen as trustworthy by anyone, including the local Sunni populations and the national government. The Shi’ite battalions are seen as extensions of the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades, much like the police are seen as better paid politically and ethnically connected thugs, and the Kurdish units proudly proclaim their peshmerga status.

The Underpants Gnomes have a superior plan of making money, than the United States has of tamping down on a civil war and leaving Iraq in both one piece and better off.

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