Monday, July 16, 2007

The .7% Doctrine

Juan Cole relieves me of my blogging duties with respect to the recent reports breaking down the nationalities of foreign fighters detained in Iraq by US forces.
Ned Parker of the LA Times reports that of 19,000 "insurgents" held by the US military in Iraq, only 135 are foreigners.

Think about that when you hear Bush say that the US is fighting "al-Qaeda" in Iraq or that "al-Qaeda" would take over Iraq if the US left. The foreigners just are not that important to the guerrilla war. Only .7% of detainees are foreigners, and unless they run faster than Iraqis, that is likely their percentage share in the "insurgency," too.

The US is fighting Iraqis in Iraq, who are nationalists of various stripes, whether religious or secular. They are Sunni. They haven't given fealty to Bin Laden and are not "al-Qaeda."

So you'd think after all the ink spilled on Iranian and Hizbullah contributions to the troubles in Iraq, that they'd be prominent among the foreign fighters, right? Wrong. It is not clear that the US has any Iranians at all in custody. There was a big deal made at the NYT about one Lebanese Hizbullah guy who may have been a freelancer.

So if they aren't from Iran, where are they from? Saudi Arabia--- 45%! Only 15% are from "Syria and Lebanon," and I'll bet you that all but one of those are Sunni. 10% are from North Africa, which is only about 14 guys. North Africa is Sunni. [...]

Foreign "al-Qaeda" is almost irrelevant to [the insurgency]. Iran is entirely trivial to it. The Baathist, Allawi-dominated Syrian government is trivial to it. The Lebanese Hizbullah may not be involved at all, as an organization. Certainly it is not involved in any significant way.

Which country is providing a lot of foreign suicide bombers? US ally Saudi Arabia. Has any general or Bush administration official called a press conference to denounce Saudi Arabia? No. Has Joe Lieberman threatened it with a war? No. Everything is being blamed on Iran because powerful American special interests want to get Iran, regardless of the facts.

There isn't any significant cadre of foreign "al-Qaeda" fighters in Iraq if this is all we could capture. They can't take over the country because they are such a tiny group. Everything Bush and Cheney have said about the nature of the war and the supposed dangers of a US withdrawal is transparent falsehood.

One thing to add, which Cole references today in a follow up post discussing the breakdown of foreign fighters held by the Iraqi Interior of Ministry - not US forces (upshot: there are more Egyptians and Sudanese, less Saudis detained by the Iraqis).

Although [the Iraqis] briefly detained some 461 Iranians, they let all of them go. Presumably these were pilgrims to the Shiite shrines who for one reason or another fell under suspicion.

Perhaps they were pilgrims, but perhaps not. It should matter little in terms of our overall outlook regarding our continued involvement in Iraq (and possible actions vis-a-vis Iran). Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that some or all of those 461 Iranians briefly detained by the Iraqi government were in fact agents of Iran assisting Shiite elements in Iraq. That is by no means an outlandish notion.

Even assuming the validity of that premise, though, the insurgency itself is still a domestic, almost entirely Sunni phenomenon. The Iranians weren't in the country to assist the Sunni insurgents, and if they were, why would the Iraqi government targeted by those same Sunni insurgents release their Iranian adversaries? Which brings me to the second, and perhaps more important point: the Iraqi government let them go! All of them.

Thus, even if we assume that Iran is sending over agents into Iraq (they are), there is very little evidence that these agents are participating in the Sunni insurgency (which has resulted in the vast majority of US casualties). Further, the Iranian presence would be at the behest - or at least with the blessing - of the Iraqi government that our soldiers are fighting and dying to protect and empower.

To the extent that we have an issue with Iran's presence and influence in Iraq, we have an issue with the same Iraqi government whose military we're arming, training and defending at mind-boggling costs across a wide variety of categories.

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