Tuesday, January 04, 2005

So You Say You Want A Fragmentation, and Other Stories From Iraq

In my previous post, I attempted to offer some realistic policy prescriptions that would, hopefully, improve the chances for success in the upcoming January 30th elections in Iraq, and their immediate aftermath - operating under the premise that success in those elections is in everyone's best interest, regardless of your support for the Iraq invasion and subsequent occupation. In staking out this position, I rejected the proposal of neoconservative pundit Charles Krauthammer, who suggested that civil war in Iraq might play out to our advantage, as well as the recent statements by foreign policy experts Leslie Gelb and Peter Galbraith, who seem to be leaning in favor of breaking up Iraq into separate, ethnically delineated, enclaves.

In a post today,
Juan Cole offers a disturbing glimpse at what a fragmented Iraq might look like, and why such an outcome should be avoided if possible and practical. First and foremost, Cole is correct to point out that Iraq's population is not as neatly segmented as the proponents of fragmentation have claimed. There is a good deal of intermingling in major cities and regions, especially the ethnically diverse areas of Baghdad and Kirkuk. In addition, many aspects of Iraqi society are ethnically intertwined, as exemplified by President Ghazi Yawir.

He is from the Sunni Arab branch of the Shamar tribe. But some Shamar are Shiites. One of his wives is Nasrin Barwari, a Kurdish cabinet minister. What would partition do to the Yawirs?
Beyond those logistical concerns, the story takes a turn for the worse, with fragmentation potentially creating the precursors for terrorist proliferation and regional destabilization:

Then, how do you split up the resources? If the Sunni Arabs don't get Kirkuk, then they will be poorer than Jordan. Don't you think they will fight for it? The Kurds would fight to the last man for the oil-rich city of Kirkuk if it was a matter of determining in which country it ended up.

If the Kurds got Kirkuk and the Sunni Arabs became a poor cousin to Jordan, the Sunni Arabs would almost certainly turn to al-Qaeda in large numbers. Some Iraqi guerrillas are already talking about hitting back at the US mainland. And, Fallujah is not that far from Saudi Arabia, which Bin Laden wants to hit, as well, especially at the oil. Fallujah Salafis would hook up with those in Jordan and Gaza to establish a radical Sunni arc that would destabilize the entire region.

Divorced from the Sunnis, the Shiites of the south would no longer have any counterweight to religious currents like al-Dawa, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the Sadrists. The rump Shiite state would be rich, with the Rumayla and other fields, and might well declare a Shiite Islamic republic. It is being coupled with the Sunnis that mainly keeps them from going down that road. A Shiite South Iraq might make a claim on Shiite Eastern Arabia in Saudi Arabia, or stir up trouble there. The Eastern Province can pump as much as 11% of the world's petroleum.

So Americans would like this scenario why? [emphasis added]
In another post, Cole points to a disturbing number being bandied about by the national intelligence chief of Iraq.

General Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani, head of Iraqi intelligence, estimated on Monday that the force strength of the guerrilla insurgency was about 200,000 men. My own estimate had been 100,000. The US military used to say 5,000, then started saying 20,000- 25,000, but frankly I don't think they have any idea. My colleague, military historian Tom Collier, suggested at a panel we were on that you can usually safely triple the US military estimate of the numbers of the enemy in a guerrilla conflict.

But Shahwani's estimate would make a lot of sense. Surely it is obvious that the US is at least evenly matched with the guerrillas for person-power, and maybe outgunned. The US assault on Fallujah may as well not have been mounted for all the dent it has made in the guerrilla war. If you can put 3,000 guerrillas out of commission and capture a major base and that makes no difference, then you are not dealing with a force of 25,000, now are you?
The TurkishPress.com carried an AFP story on the matter:

Shahwani said the number includes at least 40,000 hardcore fighters but rises to more than 200,000 members counting part-time fighters and volunteers who provide rebels everything from intelligence and logistics to shelter....

"I believe General Shahwani's estimation, given that he is referring predominantly to active sympathizers and supporters and to part-time as well as full-time active insurgents, may not be completely out of the ballpark," said defense analyst Bruce Hoffman who served as an advisor to the US occupation in Iraq and now works for US-based think-tank RAND Corporation.

Compared to the coalition's figure, he said: "General Shahwani's -- however possibly high it may be, might well give a more accurate picture of the situation."

Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq analyst with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, put Shahwani's estimates on an equal footing with the American's.

"The Iraqi figures do... recognize the reality that the insurgency in Iraq has broad support in Sunni areas while the US figures down play this to the point of denial."
Perhaps the strength of the insurgency explains the grim assessment of the counter-insurgency operations as recounted in a recent article in the Economist, as discussed by Belgravia Dispatch (note: the article is available by subscription only, but you may be able to obtain a free one day pass. If not, and even if so, I urge you to read Belgravia's post which kindly excerpts key paragraphs from the article). Djerejian notes that despite the inclination by some on the Right to disregard media reports from the region chalking them up to liberal bias, "the Economist, of course, is an Americophile publication of high repute."

The article tells how heavy-handed tactics employed by American forces, who find themselves increasingly under siege from insurgents and reacting accordingly, may be increasing the level of animosity toward the US presence and, conversely, augmenting support, both active and tacit, for the insurgents. It has reached the level that American military leaders on the ground are abandoning the pretense of winning over the Iraqi populace in favor of providing security, assuming, perhaps erroneously, that the two are not mutually exclusive.
Thus harried, American commanders have abandoned the pretence of winning the love of Iraqis ahead of the scheduled vote. "Our broad intent is to keep pressure on the insurgents as we head into elections," says General Casey. "This is not about winning hearts and minds; we're not going to do that here in Iraq. It's about giving Iraqis the opportunity to govern themselves."
The increasingly hostile situation has made it difficult to get a grasp on the size and nature of the insurgency, which, as mentioned above, the Iraqi intelligence chief put at 200,000 strong.
Whether or not the insurgency is fuelled by American clumsiness, it has deepened and spread almost every month since the occupation began. In mid-2003, Donald Rumsfeld, America's defence secretary, felt able to dismiss the insurgents as "a few dead-enders". Shortly after, official estimates put their number at 5,000 men, including many foreign Islamic extremists. That figure has been revised to 20,000, including perhaps 2,000 foreigners, not counting the thousands of hostile fighters American and British troops have killed; these are the crudest of estimates...

American military-intelligence officers admit their assessments are often little better than guesses. They have but a hazy idea of when and by whom the insurgency was planned, how many dedicated fighters and foreign fighters it involves, who they are, or how much support they command. The scores of terrorists who have blown themselves up in Iraq over the past year are invariably said to be foreign fanatics. But this has almost never been proved.

In bold contrast to his masters in Washington, General George W. Casey Jr, the commander-in-chief of coalition forces in Iraq, credits foreigners with a minimal role in the insurgency. Of over 2,000 men detained during the fighting in Fallujah, fewer than 30 turned out to be non-Iraqi.
The rest of the article is well worth the read, if a bit disturbing in its account of the tactics the US military feels compelled to utilize by the exigencies of combating a spirited insurgency. Suffice it to say, that many innocent civilians are being killed in the crossfire, amidst the ambiguity of guerilla warfare in urban settings. There are few easy answers for the military or political leadership at this juncture, and there is no course of action that is not fraught with its own unique dangers and risks.

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