If anyone is curious what's going on with that, you can get the whole run-down at Defense Industry Daily - just read "Desert Leopards: Germany Selling Heavy Armor to the Saudis?".
As a bonus, DJ Elliott offers "The Missing Links: A Realistic Appraisal of the Iraqi Military."
"Bush had a project in the Middle East," said my friend Raheem, "and the politician who wants to do something, he has to create his justifications, his excuses, to do it."It bothers me that the reactions to the war here - kneejerk on both the right and left - doesn't spend enough time asking the Iraqis themselves.
Raheem, who lost a son to a stray American bullet a few years ago, is a pragmatic and pious Shiite Muslim who argues that while the cost of the invasion was high, Iraqis now have their first opportunity to do what they want--whether that means building a secular democracy or a religious autocracy.
"We feel that Bush has done something good for us, despite all the mistakes," said Raheem, as we made our way through the dusty streets of Baghdad. "It's politics. In politics you look at your interests. OK, many Americans were killed, and many Iraqis were killed. But still, if he hadn't interfered, Saddam would have stayed, and we would have been ruled by his sons, his daughters, and his grandchildren."
If looks killed, there would be far more than 4,000 American ghosts trapped in Babylon's sand spunk.and action...
I had heard it before - the Hawaiians have a term for this visual hate. Da stinkeye, bruddah-man, bettah stay in Waikiki, haole, ya dig? I had seen it before - drunk college boys in pastel polo shirts with fat wallets should be more careful where they venture in the slums of the dirty South. And I had felt it before - scarecrow tourists with cameras and smiles and perfect white teeth didn't penetrate into the seedy backwaters of Dublin unless they wanted trouble. Have you ever knifed another man just to feel his very essence pour out of him in pools of running red and guts of unidentifiable slop onto the sidewalk?
Ummm. yes, we did. And no, no I have not.
Still, though, This was different. The flowers and hugs and cheers from the liberation only lasted a few months before one stare became ten stares, became one hundred stares. Suddenly the stare was the norm, house by house, block by block, and town to town, and all the flower petals dried up, and we suddenly recognized that those cheers of gratitude were actually pleas for salvation. There were thousands of them, and they were everywhere. This pattern of starbursting degeneration, roughly translated from Arabic, meant occupation.
"White 4, this is White I," I said.-
"White 4, this is White I," I repeated.
No fucking answer. Nothing but radio static.
I broke into a profanity-laced tirade, which culminated in my beating my hand mic against my helmet. Despite the tenseness of our situation, my rambling antics cracked a few of the guys up. Still nothing more than a very serious mind doomed with a clown's soul, I thought. Then I remembered Sergeant Spade still had radio communications from the Stryker, and I had him relay our update. Deep breath. We still had commo with the outside world.
"4 copies," Sergeant Spade yelled down from his hatch. "The section in cordon is still in position and reports that the IA are the only ones shooting now. Also, Steel still reports receiving contact in the south."
I looked over at Staff Sergeant Boondock, who just shrugged his shoulders. "Keep moving?" he suggested.
"Roger," I said, signaling to the soldiers to resume their column positions behind my Stryker. No more than twenty meters after we continued our movement, though, my Stryker came to a halt. I heard Sergeant Spade's voice rise in pieces above the engine and other extraneous noise.
"LT ... a bunch of guys ... waving ... civilian clothes ... they might be Sahwa ... armed."
While I didn't have the sights Sergeant Spade did in his hatch, a quick glance around my Stryker confirmed his report. There were definitely Iraqi men to our front who were definitely waving at us and definitely armed to the fangs with foreign rifles. The problem was, we couldn't walk behind the Stryker all the way north until we could confirm that these men were indeed Sons of Iraq. A series of shabby huts canalized the maneuverable terrain ten meters in front of our current position. The civilian world referred to this as a stalemate. The French called it an impasse. American soldiers knew it as a clusterfuck.
I felt compelled to instigate some course of action and remembered the first thing they taught us at the armor officer basic course: It was better to execute a shitty plan quickly than to wait around for the perfect plan. Well, I could do that. To hell with it, I thought, these bastards can't hit anything they shoot at anyway. Stepping around the side of the Stryker, I started walking toward the group of armed, faceless Arab men and told my guys to stay put. I took three steps, then felt a firm hand grab me from behind, at the neck collar, yanking me backward.
"No way, sir. Let me go first," Specialist Haitian Sensation said. He was nice enough to say it like I had a choice in the matter, as he had flung me back with the chiseled ease of someone who regularly benched twice my body weight. I regained my footing, smirked to myself, and followed, waving and loudly yelling all the friendly Arabic I could think of. The rest of the dismounts wedged out behind us.
Reuters: "No boon for U.S. firms in Iraq oil deal auction."
"United States oil majors were largely absent from an Iraqi auction of oil deals snapped up instead by Russian, Chinese and other firms.... The Oil Ministry on Saturday ended its second bidding round after awarding seven of the oilfields offered for development, adding to deals from a first auction in June that could together take Iraq up to a capacity to pump 12 million barrels per day....
So, who won?
"Russia's Lukoil on Saturday clinched a deal to develop Iraq's supergiant West Qurna Phase Two oilfield after having failed to convince Iraq to bypass the auction and revive an old Saddam Hussein-era deal for the field.... No U.S. firms bid for fields offered in the second round, and of the four fields bid on by U.S. firms in the first round, only Exxon Mobil won a major prize, leading a group to clinch a deal for the supergiant West Qurna Phase One field. U.S.-based Occidental came away with a quarter stake in a consortium that won a contract for the giant Zubair field. By contrast, Chinese state oil firms were involved in every first round bid and made a strong showing in the second."
Why were American firms absent? Well, the combination of Iraqi terms and local risks meant that there were profitability questions, something state-owned firms whose mandate is to secure control of resources don't face.
And personally, I'm OK with that.
Iraq's government should try to get the best deal (it should also distribute a chunk of the profits to everyone, a la Alaska, or it's likely to become another weak rentier state). Corporations should evaluate risk and try to make money. If state-owned firms want to pay extra at the auction, it's essentially a form of development aid. Which also draws their interests into Iraq, and its continuing stability.
I'd have been fine if American firms had won, but I'm also fine when they lose here. The net effect and trend is an Iraq that's broadly hostile to al-Qaeda; not a disruptive factor in the region whose threat impedes important regional changes; understands Islamic terrorism in a very broad, painful and personal way; and has the basic resources, infrastructure, and array of foreign stakeholders to make a go of things on its own.
That's pretty good, to me. Can they keep it? That's another set of policy questions, which focus on the next elected government's approach. But unlike the Afghans, they at least have the ability to try on their own.
In November 2004, Winds authored "The Battle of Fallujah: A Comprehensive Briefing (v3.6)" to monitor one of the 2nd Iraq War's decisive battles. Staff Sgt. David Bellavia and the "Ramrods" of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment didn't need to read it. They were there, and among other things, his actions over that period earned him a recommendation for the Congressional Medal of Honor. Not bad for a theater major who joined the army because he was sued by Steven Sondheim.
Bellavia's book "House to House" describes his experiences in detail, and Chicago's Pritzker Military Library recently hosted and videotaped a, well... "one man theater show" isn't a bad way to describe it, actually. He has a very sane and real take on a lot of things, and he describes the visceral and mental reality of that combat in a way that isn't going to come across in the award citations.
There's a lot of talk right now among opinion writers and policy analysts about how Iraq may be slouching toward civil war again. It's understandable. Suicide- and car-bomb attacks make headlines every week. After a recent devastating assault on a Shia village, a woman standing amid rubble looked into a television camera and yelled at Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: "Look Prime Minister," she shouted, "look Minister of Interior, where's the security you're talking about?"
Iraq is still a violent, dysfunctional mess. It probably will be for a long time. But Iraqis aren't necessarily doomed to suffer another round of internal bloodletting like they did during the middle years of this decade.
In the dangerous security vacuum that followed the demolition of Saddam's regime, Abu Musab al Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) ignited a civil war by unleashing ferocious terror attacks against the country's Shia community. Now that American soldiers have withdrawn from urban areas and created another partial security vacuum, the shattered remnants of AQI are trying to ramp up that effort again. It won't be as easy for AQI now as it was last time.
Iraqis suffered terribly at the hands of militias and death squads before General David Petraeus radically transformed American counterinsurgency with his "surge" strategy. Petraeus succeeded, at least temporarily, thanks to overwhelming cooperation and support from traumatized Iraqis who had a bellyful of politics by bullet and car bomb.
Initially, many Iraqi Sunnis welcomed and sheltered al-Qaeda because of its promise to expel American soldiers and protect the Sunni minority from the Shia majority. In the meantime, three legs of al-Qaeda's support have been sawed off. American soldiers aren't a daily irritant anymore. Maliki's Shia-dominated government smashed the Shia militias. And al-Qaeda proved itself the enemy of even the Sunnis with its barbaric head-chopping behavior.
Terrorist attacks against Shias by AQI won't likely reignite a full-blown sectarian war as long as the Sunnis continue to hold fast against the psychotics in their own community and Maliki's government provides at least basic security on the streets.
Iraq's Sunnis have as much incentive as its Shias to fight the AQI killers among them. They suffered terribly at AQI's hands, after all. Out in Anbar Province, they violently turned against "their own" terrorist army even before the Shias turned against "theirs." And Tariq Alhomayed points out in the Arabic-language daily Asharq al-Awsat that Maliki faces the same pressure to provide security on the streets, especially for his own Shia community, that any Western leader would face under similar circumstances -- he wants to be re-elected.
The uptick in violence following America's partial withdrawal shouldn't shock anyone. If you scale back security on the streets, more violence and crime are inevitable. The same thing would happen in the United States if local police departments purged the better half of their officers. That does not mean, however, that Iraq is doomed to revert to war.
Capt. Speicher's F/A-18 Hornet fighter was shot down over Iraq during Operation Desert Storm on Jan 17/91, and was listed as killed. There has been considerable controversy regarding his fate, however, and in January 2001, the Secretary of the Navy took the extremely rare step of changing his status to "missing in action." In 2002, it was changed again, this time to "missing-captured." Many also believe that his aircraft was not shot down by a surface-to-air missile, as claimed at the time, but by an Iraqi fighter that passed American planes who were not allowed to engage it. See also the March 27/01 CIA report.
After Operation Iraqi Freedom, evidence was found that included a flight suit believed to be his, an escape and evade sign located on the desert floor, and what appear to be the initials "MSS" scrawled on a wall of a cell in the Hakmiyah prison in Baghdad. Speicher's name was also found on a document in Iraq, dated January 2003, that had the names of prisoners being held in the country. Despite these efforts and clues, however, Speicher's whereabouts and the exact details of his fate remained unknown until a July 2009 tip from Iraqis led to his burial place:
"One of these Iraqi citizens stated that they were present when Speicher was found dead at the crash site by Bedouins and his remains buried. The Iraqi citizens led U.S. Marines to the site who searched the area.... The recovered remains include bones and multiple skeletal fragments. Positive identification was made by comparing Speicher's dental records with the jawbone recovered at the site. The teeth are a match, both visually and radiographically."
Getting an accurate reading of Iraqi public opinion is hard. It might be impossible. I've seen Iraqis cheer American soldiers, and I've seen some Iraqis hug American soldiers in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Baghdad. A few weeks ago, though, hundreds of thousands celebrated when Americans evacuated Iraqi cities as stipulated by the Status of Forces Agreement.
It's theoretically possible that what we've seen is not contradictory. Some Iraqis are pro-American. Others are not. Those who celebrated when Americans left may very well be, at least for the most part, different Iraqis than those I've seen who greeted Americans warmly.
Iraqi public opinion, though, is famously contradictory. And Iraqi public opinion as stated by Iraqis themselves is notoriously unreliable.
Most Iraqis, like most Arabs everywhere, are extremely polite and hospitable. It's a guidebook cliché, but it's a guidebook cliché for a reason. Their culture requires them to welcome foreigners, and they take that requirement seriously. Most will conceal any negative opinions they may have against a visitor personally or even the visitor's country - and this is true even for visitors from enemy countries. They don't mean to be deceptive. They're just being nice.
There's another problem with picking up the mood of the street - politics. For decades Iraqis have lived either in fear of the state or in fear of militias. They had to learn to keep their opinions to themselves if they wanted to live.
I don't think many Iraqis today are afraid of the state. But everybody was terrified of Saddam Hussein's totalitarian government. Speaking their minds could get them imprisoned or killed. It could get an entire family dragged off to prison, tortured, and painfully executed. Before the Baath Party regime was demolished, it was extremely difficult for journalists who showed up in Baghdad to read the mood of the street. Everybody appeared to be fanatical supporters of Saddam Hussein even though few Iraqis actually were.
That's not true anymore. But habits of mind go down hard. Concealing opinions from the authorities became a survival mechanism, whether the authorities were Saddam Hussein's mukhabarat, militiamen in the neighborhood, or American soldiers.
Before the Status of Forces agreement kicked in, I asked U.S. Army Colonel John Hort if and how he and his men took all this into account. Effective counter-insurgency isn't possible when counter-insurgents have no idea what the general population is thinking.
"How do you measure public opinion?" I said to him. "How do you know what people really think? We all know about this tendency in Iraq where people tell you what they think you want to hear - or what they want you to hear, which isn't necessarily the same thing. If you ask what Iraqis think of the American military while you're standing there with guns in your hands, they might say oh, we love you guys. Then someone from the Guardian newspaper comes along and asks what they think of the imperial occupation forces, and the same people might say we hate them. So what's their real opinion? Do you take this sort of thing into account? Do you have Iraqis feeling out the opinions of people for you?"
"We do," he said.
"And they report back to you?" I said.
"Right," he said. "We have the Iraqi Advisor Task Force. They aren't spies. That's illegal. But they're hired to measure atmospherics. They monitor the mosques. They hit the restaurants, places like that. And we get these reports almost every other day. Over time we've seen the atmospherics and compared them to what you were talking about, the guy on the street talking to the U.S. soldier. Do they match up? And if they don't match up, we have to figure out what we need to change about the way we're presenting ourselves."
Colonel Hort worked at Forward Operating Base (FOB) War Eagle, a medium-sized base in Northern Baghdad. After I left the FOB and moved to a small combat outpost deep in the city, I asked Sergeant Nick Franklin if he could help me arrange an interview with one of the Iraqis the Army trusts to provide real information. I was tired of trying to learn about Iraq through the lens of the United States military, and tired of asking Iraqis what they thought while they were in the presence of American soldiers.
What were Iraqis saying when Americans weren't in the room? That's what I wanted to know. Even if I had disembedded myself from the Army and wandered around Iraq by myself, I still wouldn't be able to figure that out because I'm an American, too.
"You're right," Sergeant Franklin said. "You practically have to beat a straight answer out of people. I'll take you to meet this guy Sayid who works for us and tells it just like it is."
Robert Spencer, founder and lead writer for Jihad Watch, has a bit of trouble telling the difference between friend and foe in Iraq and still thinks, despite everything, that the United States is losing the war.
Instead of referring to me by name, he sarcastically dismisses me as a “learned analyst,” as he does with President Barack Obama and his advisors, while scoffing at a long dispatch I published last week. “No insurgent or terrorist group can declare victory or claim Americans are evacuating Iraq’s cities because they were beaten,” I wrote. Spencer acknowledges that Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki isn’t the leader of an insurgent or terrorist group. But he maintains that my statement is “breathtaking in its disconnect from reality” because Maliki declared the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq’s cities “a great victory.”
We are not, and never have been, at war with Prime Minister Maliki. Everyone with even a pedestrian familiarity with events in Iraq during the last couple of years knows that American soldiers and Marines have fought alongside Maliki’s Iraqi soldiers and police against common enemies – Al Qaeda in Iraq and the various offshoots and branches of Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia.
Not even in an alternate universe have Maliki’s men fought Americans and forced them to withdraw. They fought, bled, and died alongside Americans. The United States military recently withdrew from most of Iraq’s urban areas as stipulated by the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the Bush Administration, but they’re still training and working closely with Iraqi security forces.
Maliki’s “great victory” statement was an attempt to suck up to the anti-Americans in his electoral constituency who are unhappy with his close relationship with the United States. Iraq’s most sectarian Sunni Arabs regularly accuse Maliki of being an Iranian puppet prime minister when they aren’t contradicting themselves by joining radical Shias and saying he’s an American puppet prime minister. Maliki is closer to Iran than Americans and Iraq’s Sunnis would like, but he’s much closer to the United States where it counts most. He has never sent his men into battle against Americans. But he did order his soldiers into battle alongside Americans last year against Iranian-backed Shia militias in Sadr City and Basra. He also put the Sons of Iraq – whom he used to decry as an anti-Shia Sunni militia – on his government’s payroll.
I don’t know if throwing a rhetorical bone to Iraq’s most strident anti-Americans to shore up his nationalist bona fides is a good idea or if it isn’t. Either way, it’s not hard to see that’s what he’s doing. And it’s frankly ridiculous for Spencer to write as though I have no idea what’s going on in Iraq when he thinks a political speech for domestic consumption overrides the fact that for years Maliki has been at war not against us but with us against our mutual enemies.
Does Spencer believe that, all of a sudden and for no apparent reason, Maliki sympathizes with the terrorists and insurgents he recently crushed?
“In any case,” Spencer writes, “any ‘victory’ the Americans won in Iraq was sure to be undone as soon as the troops were gone, and we are already seeing that. Sunni will go after Shi’ite and vice versa, the Iranians will press forward to create a Shi’ite client state, the non-Muslims will be victimized more than ever…”
Iraq has made a fool of just about everyone, including me, who has claimed to know in advance what the future would look like. The entire Middle East makes fools of its prophets. Most of us who work there eventually learn this the hard way. Nobody can know what’s going to happen in Iraq now that the U.S. is pulling back.
Spencer’s view might by chance be correct. Around half the Iraqis and half the Americans I’ve spoken to in Iraq think the country is more likely than not to disintegrate. The other half don’t. And the optimists who live and work over there, just like the pessimists, know more about Iraq than Robert Spencer and I do combined.
On my last trip to Iraq, I asked a number of Americans and Iraqis what they think about the future in that country. Around half were optimistic and half were pessimistic. This is the third installment in a four-part series. Optimists were quoted at length in parts one
and two. I'm giving equal time here to the pessimists.
The United States has basically won the war in Iraq. No insurgent or terrorist group can declare victory or claim Americans are evacuating Iraq’s cities because they were beaten. America's most modest foreign policy objectives there have been largely secured. Saddam Hussein's toxic regime has been replaced with a more or less consensual government. I doubt very much that Iraq will seriously threaten the United States or its neighbors any time soon. It isn't likely to be ruled by terrorists as it probably would have been if the United States left between 2004 and 2007. It’s a relief. A few years ago, I was all but certain the U.S. would withdraw under fire and leave Iraq in the hands of militias. Even so, many have a hard time feeling optimistic about the future. Iraq remains, in some ways, a threat to itself.
The reduction in violence and the winding down of the conflict allowed me to see the country a little more clearly than I could when I first visited Baghdad. I’m sorry to report that the city is still as run-down and dysfunctional as it was when what passed for daily life was punctuated by gunfire and car bombs. Iraq is backward and messy not only by Western standards, but by Arabic standards.
“A lot of people want us to stay or they will leave,” U.S. Army Sergeant Nick Franklin told me. “They don't care where they go. They want to go to America, to Europe, or even to Jordan or some other Arab country. They don't care. They just want out.”
You might want out, too, if you lived there. Violence has been drastically reduced, but sectarian tension remains just as bad, if not worse, as it is in Lebanon – and the possibility of renewed civil strife hangs over Lebanon like the Sword of Damocles. Iraq is still violent compared with most countries, and the entire government and security forces are shot through with corruption. Electricity still doesn’t work half the time. Sewage still runs in the streets. Neighborhoods are still clotted with an appalling amount of garbage. Police officers steal from citizens and often beat suspects up not during but before interrogations.
I asked several American soldiers if it was safe enough for me to walk the streets on my own without armed protection. Few thought that would be wise.
U.S. combat troops, under agreement with the Iraqi government, abandoned the country's cities today amid public celebrations and private concerns over Iraq's future security.I'm worried but hopeful; worried because the impetus for this was political - both in the US and Iraq - more than based on military conditions. I'm hopeful because conflicts end when the political becomes more important than the military.
The government declared today a national holiday and official cars were decorated with streamers and flowers. Revellers took to the streets to toot on trumpets and beat drums while martial music and history documentaries filled television screens. U.S. military officers visited Iraqi bases in several regions to wish their counterparts well.
"We are behind you," Col. Ryan Gonsalves, commander of U.S. troops near the northern city of Kirkuk, assured officers of the Iraqi 12th Army Division. A luncheon and dancing marked the occasion. "It's their day, their sovereignty," he said later in an interview.
In a televised ceremony in Baghdad, Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki guaranteed the government could keep its citizens safe. "Those who think that Iraqis are not able to protect their country and that the withdrawal of foreign forces will create a security vacuum are making a big mistake." The country has been hit by a series of car and suicide bombs that killed about 250 people in the past two weeks.
The first time I visited Baghdad, I only stayed for a week. The place stressed me out. The surge was only just then beginning, and though I never was shot at personally, I often heard the sound of gunfire in the background. One night, shadowy militiamen stalked me and a U.S. Army unit I was out on patrol with. Car bombs exploded miles away, but sounded as though they were detonated just a few blocks away. You have no idea, really, how terrifyingly loud those things are until you hear one yourself.
I left Baghdad and headed out to Anbar Province – which just months earlier was one of the most dangerous places on earth – because I wanted to relax. That part of Iraq had just quieted down for the first time since Fallujah exploded in 2004. The big question on everyone’s mind in 2007 was whether or not it was possible to export the Anbar Awakening – the reconciliation between Iraqi tribes and Americans who forged a united front against terrorism – to a gigantic and hypercomplex city like Baghdad.
Nobody knew the answer, and many had doubts. I had doubts, too. But the doubters were wrong. The Awakening, or something that looks a lot like it, has now swept across every last corner of Iraq’s capital city.