Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Iraq—Searching for the Real Story, Volume 3 – Where We Are Now

For better or worse, the next President will inherit the mess of the ongoing occupation of Iraq. In this volume, I provide an overview of post-invasion events, particularly consideration of the so-call "surge" of 2007.

Act 1: Water under the Bridge
That we’re stuck in Iraq is water under the bridge. Though the invasion was ill-conceived and poorly executed, we simply can’t leave precipitously, without re-plunging the nation again into chaos. Like the stabbing victim, quickly removing the knife is not a good remedy.

And we owe some effort to rebuilding the damage to Iraq’s infrastructure, not only of military operations, but from the near civil war that has ensued.

Act 2: The So-Called “Surge” Of 2007 and Why It Appears To Have Worked
The success of the 2007 troupe surge is evidence of the occupation was insufficient in size for the job. For 4 years, chaos approaching near civil war prevailed. A greater force, more multi-national in composition, was needed from day one.

But not only increased troupe strength lead to a reduction of violence. Three other factors were identified by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in The War Within: A Secret White House History (2006-2008).

  1. Targeting key individuals in insurgency groups
  2. Sunni militias switched their target from US troupes to the so-called “al-Qaeda in Iraq”
  3. A cease fire by Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army

These operations diffused the insurgency on three major fronts. This made it not only safer for US troupes, but also for Iraqi civilians. Getting the minority Sunni militias, who were not happy with the Shia-led government in Baghdad, to focus their efforts on the foreign forces of al-Qaeda in Iraq (fellow Sunnis) was a particular coup. But these efforts cannot be underestimated.

Woodward writes as follows:

“Beginning in the late spring of 2007, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies launched a series of top-secret operations that enabled them to locate, target and kill key individuals in groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni insurgency and renegade Shia militias, or so-called special groups. The operations incorporated some of the most highly classified techniques and information in the U.S. government.”

“A second important factor in the lessening of violence was the so-called
Anbar Awakening, in which tens of thousands of Sunnis turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and signed up with U.S. forces. Al-Qaeda in Iraq had made a strategic mistake in the province, overplaying its hand. Its members had performed forced marriages with women from local tribes, taken over hospitals, used mosques for beheading operations, mortared playgrounds and executed citizens, leaving headless bodies with signs that read, "Don't remove this body or the same thing will happen to you." The sheer brutality eroded much of the local support for al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

“A third significant break came Aug. 29, when militant Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his powerful Mahdi Army to suspend operations, including attacks against U.S. troops. Petraeus and others knew it was not an act of charity. The order followed a gunfight between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi forces in the holy city of Karbala, during which more than 50 Shia pilgrims gathering for an annual festival had been killed and another 275 wounded. Sadr's order marked an unexpected stroke of good luck, another in a series for the Americans.”

[All quotes from Woodward’s The War Within: A Secret White House History (2006-2008).]

So What Have I Learned?
To be continued.

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