Crunch time again
Here are a couple of disturbing reports from Baghdad. Alaa the Mesopotamian says that its unclear which security forces are to be trusted.
March 28 .The situation in Baghdad is deteriorating from day to day. I have warned about this long ago. The "insurrection" is lead by the Baathists, without any doubt, and they are converging on Baghdad and seriously bent on taking over. They are creating havoc in in the capital. Very soon, if this situation continues like this the city is going to be brought to a complete standstill and paralysis. The confusion and conflict between the Americans, the army and the Ministry of interior is producing a situation where the citizens don't know anymore whether the security personel in the street are friends, enemies, terrorists or simply criminals and thieves. Everybody is wearing the same uniforms. Whole sections of the city have virtually fallen to gangs and terrorists, and this is specially true for the "Sunni" dominated neighborhoods. People and businesses are being robbed and the employees kidnapped en mass in broad daylight and with complete ease as though security forces are non-existent, although we see them everwhere.
Baghdad Burning reports a somewhat similar picture. She was watching television when a strange message was broadcast.
“The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area.” ... We switched to another channel, the “Baghdad” channel (allied with Muhsin Abdul Hameed and his group) and they had the same news item, but instead of the general “coalition forces” they had “American coalition forces”. We checked two other channels. Iraqiya (pro-Da’awa) didn’t mention it and Forat (pro-SCIRI) also didn’t have it on their news ticker.
We discussed it today as it was repeated on another channel.
“So what does it mean?” My cousin’s wife asked as we sat gathered at lunch.
“It means if they come at night and want to raid the house, we don’t have to let them in.” I answered.
“They’re not exactly asking your permission,” E. pointed out. “They break the door down and take people away- or have you forgotten?”
“Well according to the Ministry of Defense, we can shoot at them, right? It’s trespassing-they can be considered burglars or abductors…” I replied.
The cousin shook his head, “If your family is inside the house- you’re not going to shoot at them. They come in groups, remember? They come armed and in large groups- shooting at them or resisting them would endanger people inside of the house.”
“Besides that, when they first attack, how can you be sure they DON’T have Americans with them?” E. asked.
We sat drinking tea, mulling over the possibilities. It confirmed what has been obvious to Iraqis since the beginning- the Iraqi security forces are actually militias allied to religious and political parties.
But it also brings to light other worrisome issues. The situation is so bad on the security front that the top two ministries in charge of protecting Iraqi civilians cannot trust each other. The Ministry of Defense can’t even trust its own personnel, unless they are “accompanied by American coalition forces”.
There's confirmation that something is up. The Guardian reports:
March 29 Unidentified gunmen opened fire in a trading company in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood Wednesday, killing eight employees and wounding six, police said. The men, some in police uniform, arrived at the al-Ibtikar Trade Contracting Co. in five black BMWs about 8:15 a.m., police Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razzaq said. Those killed included five men and three women, he said.
The motive of the attack in west Baghdad's Mansour district was not immediately clear. The assailants burned part of the building and didn't appear to have taken any money, Abdul-Razzaq said. Those who survived told police that the gunmen identified themselves as Iraqi Interior Ministry intelligence agents. They first asked for the manager, who was not in, then apparently gathered the victims together and shot each of them before fleeing, police and survivors said.
It's been announced that President Bush is opposing the candidacy of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. The Boston Globe reports a Los Angeles Times story:
March 29 ... the Bush administration has notified the dominant Shi'ite Muslim alliance that it opposes the nomination of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari for another term in office, a US official and Shi'ite politician said yesterday.
The message relayed from the White House by the US ambassador comes amid growing strain on relations between the United States and the Shi'ite bloc that leads Iraq's year-old interim administration. It is the most overt US bid thus far to engineer the choice of a less divisive leader for a four-year government.
Jaafari's nomination six weeks ago aroused fierce opposition from Sunni Arab, Kurdish, and secular parties represented in the parliament elected Dec. 15. US officials say the wrangling has frustrated Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad's efforts to broker the formation of a unity government and has created a power vacuum in which sectarian violence is flourishing.
The long delay in the formation of a unity government suggests that deep and possibly irreconcilable differences separate some Iraqi political factions. There may have been hope that Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad could broker an acceptable compromise. However, the notification by President Bush that he will not support Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari means that the US has decided to take sides in a situation where, formally at least, it should remain absolutely neutral.
However successful the US effort to train Iraqi Army units may be technically and operationally, the political problem of command, control and loyalty has so far remained unresolved. If Iraqi politicians decide to fight each other the splendid instrument that America created -- the Iraqi Army -- will be all the more destructive in an internecine war. Those working for a civil war are striving to create the impression that the Iraqi political institutions have already collapsed. The senseless attack on an upscale Baghdad trading company (no money was taken) by individuals in Iraqi policemen's uniforms was probably a propaganda operation designed to sow total distrust of any Interior Ministry forces.
My guess -- and it's only a hunch -- is that there may be a conflict between the obvious military requirement to keep the Iraqi Army firmly under American command to keep it from drifting away and the political requirement to keep up appearances of Iraqi control. It may be a replay of old debate over whether political or military aspects should have priority that so paralyzed the Fallujah operation in 2004. Bill Roggio noted that the Iraqi Army has mounted ten counterinsurgency operations in a week north of Baghdad. The better to keep them out of mischief. The warnings to beware of Iraqi patrols that Baghdad Burning heard over the TV were either prompted by intelligence that terrorists were going to impersonate troops (as happened in the raid on the trading company) or in recognition of the fact that many Iraqi security personnel were de-facto agents for political factions.
The fundamental problem is that while the logic of security demands keeping indigenous forces under American control, the political logic demands the opposite: taking them away and inexorably pushing them under the wing of a new unity government. Handing over to potential enemies the very thing they require to complete their plans. The Iraqi government has so far failed the test of representing all its constituencies. It is entirely possible that certain Sunni and Shi'ite political parties who hate each other are determined to sabotage the American effort; and to force the US to withdraw so they can fight it out even if it means devastating their own communities. The raids on Moqtada al-Sadr's men and the overt US opposition to Ibrahim al-Jaafari suggests the US is determined to excise what it considers to be hostile political factions by force if necessary, to clear the way for a possible unity government to emerge. Time will soon tell whether it will work or whether Iraq as a unitary nation is hopelessly compromised.
Some readers characterized this is a "gloomy" post, so perhaps there's a couple of things I should clarify. Unlike April 2004 when the insurgency broke out, I think the current problems are largely political rather than military in character. In April 2004, there were no trained security forces to control and hold a battlespace. Today those forces increasingly exist -- physically. But the political process hasn't kept pace with the creation of those security forces. The political process determines who controls those forces. History has shown Iraq can be controlled by a dictatorship, whether a colonial administration or under Saddam. The unresolved question is whether a democratic state can ever be a successor regime to a country with this kind of history. It's a problem, but it's a different problem, though maybe a worse problem than a purely military one. But my guess is that it's gone from battle-time (operating against insurgent forces) to purge-time (cleaning out hostile factions) and the emphasis has gone from facing the weaker enemy (the Sunni insurgency) to the stronger one: Iran.