Thursday, December 29, 2005

Waiting For A Deus Ex Machina

Following up on some of my prior posts on the topic, I wonder if you can detect a pattern in Iraq with respect to the nascent Iraqi security forces.

Muqtada In Samarra

This article courtesy of Swopa:

Fighters loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have set up a base in Samarra, a Sunni-dominated city 60 miles north of Baghdad and home to a powerful insurgent movement.

The troops are part of an Interior Ministry special commando unit, based in Baghdad. But while they wear the camouflage fatigues of a government security force and receive a government salary, many of the SWAT-style team members have pledged their allegiance to al-Sadr and are adamant they are part of the Mahdi Army, his private militia.

At an outpost in Samarra, dozens of officers from the 1st Brigade Special Police Commando -- the Lion Brigade -- told The Chronicle that they followed al-Sadr. One, who identified himself only as Saif, said the men answered to the cleric and would do as he ordered. Like his colleagues, he wore a badge bearing the commando motto: "Loyal to country."

"There are almost 70 commandos here, and 57 of us are Mahdi Army," he explained. "Although we are in commando uniforms, we are still Mahdi Army. We have soldiers all over Iraq now, and every place in the south has Muqtada's men. Sadr is a hero."

All militias were supposed to have been disbanded and absorbed into a combined Iraqi security apparatus, sworn to uphold state rules. The reality is that various private armies continue to exist unofficially.

Mohammad Auoba, from the Shiite district of Iraq's capital where al-Sadr has drawn support from unemployed young men, insisted the commandos had enforced order in Samarra since their arrival last month.

"I'm from Sadr City -- we are in control there and security is very good. There are no problems," he said. "Samarra is bad -- there are terrorists here. I have already been shot at. We will make things better here."

He also claimed the troops did not respect their brigade commander, Col. Bashar Hussein, an ethnic Turkoman from the northern city of Kirkuk. "He is corrupt and no good," Auoba said. Al-Sadr, he added, is a great leader.
Peshmerga In Kirkuk/Mosul

This article comes via reader CW (discussed by praktike as well):

Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan.

Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing American troops by training and equipping a national army aren't gaining traction. Instead, some troops that are formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq's fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable.

The soldiers said that while they wore Iraqi army uniforms they still considered themselves members of the Peshmerga - the Kurdish militia - and were awaiting orders from Kurdish leaders to break ranks. Many said they wouldn't hesitate to kill their Iraqi army comrades, especially Arabs, if a fight for an independent Kurdistan erupted.

"It doesn't matter if we have to fight the Arabs in our own battalion," said Gabriel Mohammed, a Kurdish soldier in the Iraqi army who was escorting a Knight Ridder reporter through Kirkuk. "Kirkuk will be ours."

The Kurds have readied their troops not only because they've long yearned to establish an independent state but also because their leaders expect Iraq to disintegrate, senior leaders in the Peshmerga - literally, "those who face death" - told Knight Ridder. The Kurds are mostly secular Sunni Muslims, and are ethnically distinct from Arabs.

Their strategy mirrors that of Shiite Muslim parties in southern Iraq, which have stocked Iraqi army and police units with members of their own militias and have maintained a separate militia presence throughout Iraq's central and southern provinces. The militias now are illegal under Iraqi law but operate openly in many areas. Peshmerga leaders said in interviews that they expected the Shiites to create a semi-autonomous and then independent state in the south as they would do in the north. [...]

"Kirkuk is Kurdistan; it does not belong to the Arabs," Hamid Afandi, the minister of Peshmerga for the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of the two major Kurdish groups, said in an interview at his office in the Kurdish city of Irbil. "If we can resolve this by talking, fine, but if not, then we will resolve it by fighting."

In addition to putting former Peshmerga in the Iraqi army, the Kurds have deployed small Peshmerga units in buildings and compounds throughout northern Iraq, according to militia leaders. While it's hard to calculate the number of these active Peshmerga fighters, interviews with militia members suggest that it's well in excess of 10,000.

Afandi said his group had sent at least 10,000 Peshmerga to the Iraqi army in northern Iraq, a figure substantiated in interviews with officers in two Iraqi army divisions in the region.

"All of them belong to the central government, but inside they are Kurds ... all Peshmerga are under the orders of our leadership," Afandi said.

Jafar Mustafir, a close adviser to Iraq's Kurdish interim president, Jalal Talabani, and the deputy head of Peshmerga for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a longtime rival of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, echoed that.

"We will do our best diplomatically, and if that fails we will use force" to secure borders for an independent Kurdistan, Mustafir said. "The government in Baghdad will be too weak to use force against the will of the Kurdish people."

Mustafir said his party had sent at least 4,000 Peshmerga of its own into the Iraqi army in the area.
Sistani-loyal Forces In And Around Baghdad

This article from an earlier post:

The Iraqi troops consult with American advisers daily. On big raids in dangerous areas, the Americans often take the lead with their superior firepower.

But day to day, the Iraqi officers mostly run their own show, carrying out most of the patrols and running checkpoints without help. Increasingly, however, they look and operate less like an Iraqi national army unit and more like a Shiite militia.

Shwail, the 1st brigade's top officer, regularly reviews important decisions, including troop distribution, with a prominent local Shiite cleric who's closely aligned with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top Shiite religious figure in Iraq.

The brigade and its sectarian leanings has alarmed not only Sunnis in the area but also other Iraqi military commanders.

They said they worry that a mostly Shiite military unit will follow religious clerics before national leaders, risking a breakdown in the army along sectarian lines.

"It is a mistake," said Col. Fadhil al-Barawary, the Kurdish commander of the Iraqi army's commando battalion, housed on the same base with the 1st Brigade. "The danger is that when there is strife between Sunnis and Shiites in the neighborhoods it creates problems" with loyalties.

Barawary continued: "It's a total mistake to have soldiers taking orders from the marja'iya. It puts us all in danger." Barawary was referring to the ruling council of Shiite clerics, whose word is law for most Shiites in Iraq.[...]

Some Iraqi troops went a step further, saying they were only awaiting word from the marja'iya before turning on American forces. Although many Shiites are grateful for the overthrow of Saddam, they also are suspicious of U.S. motives. Those suspicions partly stem from the failure of the first Bush administration to support a U.S.-encouraged Shiite uprising against Saddam in 1991. Saddam suppressed it and slaughtered thousands.

"In Amariyah last week, a car bomb hit a U.S. Humvee and their soldiers began to shoot randomly. They killed a lot of innocent civilians. I was there; I saw it," said Sgt. Fadhal Yahan. "This happens all the time. If they keep doing this, the people will attack them. And we are part of the people."

Sgt. Jawad Majid chimed in: "We have our marja'iya and we are waiting for them to decide when the time to fight (the Americans) is, when it is no longer time to be silent."
Sunni Militants

See: the insurgencies.


What do all these stories have in common? Each of the big three groups in Iraq is maintaining and nurturing distinctly ethnic/sectarian fighting forces (with the Shiites even separating along internecine fault lines). In the case of the Shiites and Kurds, militia members and other partisans are infiltrating the official Iraqi security forces but such soldiers remain fairly outspoken as to where their primary allegiance remains. I can't imagine that the Sunnis in the Iraqi military are able to transcend this dynamic en masse - and would almost definitely fall in with their sectarian brethren should the groups turn on each other in a larger sense.

All groups have shown a willingness to regard the other as the enemy despite common nationality, and if the situation calls, none is likely to hesitate to use violence and intimidation to defeat the other and/or secure their respective objectives. On top of that, for the most part, all three groups have distinctly separate goals, often in direct conflict with the other (see, eg, Kirkuk) - and there are even opposing objectives within the Shiite split (with the al-Sadr's group favoring a stable central government, while Hakim and others are pushing for an autonomous Shiite south).

What's missing? A sense of national unity. A belief in serving the larger Iraq rather than a sub-sect or ethnic group. Something to hold the nation together. The schisms run deep, but the glue is weak. praktike applies the hammer to the head of the nail:

[E]ven if you do get the sectarian mix right, as long as primary loyalties are to the peshmerga, the Badr Brigade, the Mahdi Army, or what have you, the military will disintegrate just as the Lebanese army did during the civil war there. The US can train these folks to shoot straight, but it's unlikely that we can realign their primary loyalties from their various militias to the nation as a whole. In Iraq's unsteady environment, belonging to a militia represents quite rational behavior.
What does this mean? I don't know, and nobody does for sure, but unless something happens soon to defuse the underlying political tensions, things could get very ugly. Hence my prayer for a deus ex machina moment. Now more than ever. I'm not saying that full blown civil war is inevitable, but I'm also not overly optimistic that there is a solution on the horizon. And I do know that such a fragmented military - rife with ulterior loyalties - in such a fragile new state is a recipe for tragedy. Whatever political solutions are possible must be pursued with the utmost determination.

As usual, Nadezhda provides a more nuanced and detailed analysis than my comparatively crude effort. Her piece should be read to color in the details and some of the zoomed-in narrative that I might have elided (especially the potential Baghdad for Kirkuk swap between the Shiites and Kurds).

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