Full Circle in Iraq

Michael Yon, independent public relations flack for the Pentagon, has a piece in the NY Daily News letting us know that “for the next few months” we should “expect more blood, casualties and grim images of war” as American troops in Iraq help the Shiite political faction favored by the Bush administration — the al-Maliki government, which is backed by the Islamic Supreme Council — in its fight for dominance over another Shiite political faction, the Sadr Movement. But don’t worry: The blood and corpses are “a sign of progress.”

April saw 49 U.S. casualties in Iraq, the highest total in seven months. Does this mean, as some insist, that the enormous progress we have made since the start of the military surge is being lost?

As one who has spent nearly two years with American soldiers and Marines and British Army troops in Iraq – having returned from my last trip a month ago – here’s my short answer: no.

We are taking more casualties now, just as we did in the first part of 2007, because we have taken up the next crucial challenge of this war: confronting the Shia militias.

In early 2007, under the leadership of Gen. David Petraeus, we began to wage an effective counterinsurgency campaign against the reign of terror Al Qaeda in Iraq had established over much of the midsection of the country. That campaign, which moved many of our troops off of big centralized bases and out into small neighborhood outposts, carried real risks.

In every one of the first eight months of 2007, we lost more soldiers than we had the previous year. Only as the campaign bore fruit – in the form of Iraqi citizens working with American soldiers on a daily basis, helping uncover terrorist hideouts together – did the casualty numbers begin to improve.

Now we are helping the Iraqis deal with a much different problem: the Shia militias, the most well-known of which is “Jaysh al-Mahdi,” known as JAM, largely controlled by Moqtada al-Sadr.

Of course, Yon can’t very well say that American forces are attempting to implement the Bush administration policy of propping up an Iraqi government that the U.S. put into place and continues to support in exchange for compliance with U.S. wishes — so he spins a tale about Shiite self-defense organizations that went bad and now are preying on their own supporters:

To comprehend our strategy here, we need to understand the goals of these militias, which pundits, politicians and the press all too often gloss over. Al Qaeda’s aim was to destroy Iraq in civil war. Allegedly devout Muslims, the terrorist savages were willing to rape, murder and pillage their own people just as long as they could catch America in the middle. One reason Al Qaeda in Iraq can regenerate so quickly, despite being hated by most Iraqis, is that, armed with generous funding from outside Iraq, they mostly recruit young men and boys from Iraqi street gangs, giving them money, guns and drugs.

In contrast, JAM and the other Shia militias do not want to destroy Iraq; they want power in the new Iraq. They did not, for the most part, start out as criminal gangs, but as self-defense organizations protecting Shia neighborhoods from the chaos of post-invasion Iraq, including Al Qaeda.

Because the militias are strong, well-organized and long had deep support among the population, and because their goal is political power, not random destruction, some have argued that we should have nothing to do with taking them on. They predict a bloody and futile campaign that would make us once again enemies of the Iraqi people rather than their defenders.

These critics miss a crucial on-the-ground reality: Virtually all insurgencies, however noble their original purpose, eventually degenerate into criminal organizations, classic Mafia-like protection rackets, especially as they achieve their original goals.

With Al Qaeda mostly wiped out of Baghdad, the militias that once defended Shia neighborhoods now prey on them. In Basra to the south, where al Qaeda always feared to tread, the situation is even worse. Practically speaking, that city has been ruled by an uneasy coalition of rival Shia gangs for years.

For five years, to be exact. Which brings me to one of the funniest remarks I’ve seen so far on this subject, from Neptunus Lex. In a post titled “Timing Is Everything,” Lex tells us (bolds mine):

We are rooting out the Sadrists now because we must – the Iraqi government’s writ must extend over the whole of a federal Iraq, or else there is no government and chaos follows. And because we can – our own attention is riveted to the domestic political scrum, and both Congress and the people know that no change in strategy can be imposed upon this administration: Lame duck governments have little enough leverage, but what they do have is unassailable, and this one has nothing at all left to lose.

Bush doesn’t give a tinker’s damn what anyone thinks anyway, since he’s on his way out the door (although when did he ever care?), so we might as well enjoy being screwed over. It’s the ‘If you can’t do anything to stop it, sit back and enjoy it’ philosophy applied to war.

But it’s the first argument that I find most chortle-worthy: “The Iraqi government’s writ must extend over the whole of a federal Iraq, or else there is no government and chaos follows.”

Yes, indeed; I do believe that’s where this story began. We have come full circle. And still have learned nothing.

One Response to “Full Circle in Iraq”

  1. Chief says:

    ‘If you can’t do anything to stop it, sit back and enjoy it’

    Apparently I am in the minority, ‘cuz I want them either impeached now or indicted after they leave office. There ain’t nothing about this that I’m enjoying.

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