Monday, July 28, 2008

REAL SURGE WAS IN BRIBES, NOT TROOPS

Juan Cole, History News Network - Proponents are awfully hard to pin down on what the "surge" consisted of or when it began. It seems to me to refer to the troop escalation that began in February, 2007. But now the technique of bribing Sunni Arab former insurgents to fight radical Sunni vigilantes is being rolled into the "surge" by politicians such as John McCain. But attempts to pay off the Sunnis to quiet down began months before the troop escalation and had a dramatic effect in al-Anbar Province long before any extra US troops were sent to al-Anbar (nor were very many extra troops ever sent there). . . . The "surge" is the troop escalation beginning winter of 2007. The bribing of insurgents to come into the cold could have been pursued without a significant troop escalation, and was.

Aside from defining what proponents mean by the "surge," all kinds of things are claimed for it that are not in evidence. . . .

For the first six months of the troop escalation, high rates of violence continued unabated. That is suspicious. What exactly were US troops doing differently last September than they were doing in May, such that there was such a big change? The answer to that question is simply not clear. Note that the troop escalation only brought US force strength up to what it had been in late 2005. In a country of 27 million, 30,000 extra US troops are highly unlikely to have had a really major impact, when they had not before.

As best I can piece it together, what actually seems to have happened was that the escalation troops began by disarming the Sunni Arabs in Baghdad. Once these Sunnis were left helpless, the Shiite militias came in at night and ethnically cleansed them. Shaab district near Adhamiya had been a mixed neighborhood. It ended up with almost no Sunnis. Baghdad in the course of 2007 went from 65% Shiite to at least 75% Shiite and maybe more. My thesis would be that the US inadvertently allowed the chasing of hundreds of thousands of Sunni Arabs out of Baghdad (and many of them had to go all the way to Syria for refuge). Rates of violence declined once the ethnic cleansing was far advanced, just because there were fewer mixed neighborhoods. . .

Of course, Gen. Petraeus took courageous and effective steps to try to stop bombings in markets and so forth. But I am skeptical that most of these techniques had macro effects. Big population movements because of militia ethnic cleansing are more likely to account for big changes in social statistics.

The way in which the escalation troops did help establish Awakening Councils is that when they got wise to the Shiite ethnic cleansing program, the US began supporting these Sunni militias, thus forestalling further expulsions.

The Shiitization of Baghdad was thus a significant cause of falling casualty rates. But it is another war waiting to happen, when the Sunnis come back to find Shiite militiamen in their living rooms.

Agence France Presse
- The Iraqi officer leading a U.S.-financed anti-jihadist group is in no mood for small talk -- either the military gives him more money or he will pack his bags and rejoin the ranks of al-Qaeda.

"I'll go back to al-Qaeda if you stop backing the Sahwa (Awakening) groups," Col. Satar tells U.S. Lt. Matthew McKernon, as he tries to secure more funding for his men to help battle the anti-U.S. insurgents.

Most members of the Awakening groups are Sunni Arab former insurgents who themselves fought American troops under the al-Qaeda banner after the fall of the regime of executed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Some, like Satar, had served in Saddam's army before joining Al-Qaeda. Others were members of criminal gangs before deciding to fight the insurgents, with the backing of the U.S. military.

They earn around 300 dollars a month and their presence at checkpoints and on patrol has become an essential component of the U.S.-led coalition's strategy to restore order in the war-wracked country.

"I like my work," said Satar, who is in charge of security south of Baquba in Iraq's eastern Diyala province.

According to McKernon Satar has a contract with the U.S. military to employ 230 men "but he has more than 300" under his command, which is why he wants more money to keep them happy.

The U.S. military knows perfectly well that many people joined Awakening groups simply because it was a good way to make money, and that if the cash flow dries up some would not hesitate to return to al-Qaeda.

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