The shift in power
There's an interesting article in the Strategy Page about the shift in power in Iraq from Sunni to Shi'a and its consequences.
It's now the Sunni Arabs who are calling for American troops to remain, for the Shia Arab dominated police and army are strong enough to defeat any Sunni Arab militia. Only the Americans are able to protect Sunni Arabs from attacks by vengeful Kurds and Shia Arabs. Such is the disdain for Sunni Arab military force, that much of the current violence is between Shia Arab factions. The Badr and Sadr militias, in particular, are often battling each other for control of territory. The fighting is rarely in the open. The more traditional methods involve intimidation. This takes the form of verbal or written threats, followed up by kidnapping, arson, drive-by shootings or murder. Criminal gangs use the same tactics for their extortion or turf protection operations.
That shift in power was occasioned by two developments: the US defeat of the Sunni insurgency and the buildup of the Iraqi Army. After nearly two years of combat the once formidable Ba'athist apparatus has been worn down, despite any assistance they may have received from sympathizers across the borders. But their place has not yet been filled by a democratic successor government. Instead, it is outfits like the Badr and Sadr militias who want to replace old criminal empires with their own and substitute one domination with another.
Michael Yon, in a much misquoted article entitled "Of Words" tells us when he first noticed the contest for power: "More than a year ago, I wrote from the 'Sunni Triangle' that Iraq was in the midst of a civil war, words that received little attention then." About a dozen paragraphs later he explains that the Iraqi civil war was already under way before OIF.
The Civil War did not start subsequent the invasion; it was already underway. The former Iraqi regime had slaughtered unknown thousands of civilians and buried many of them in mass graves that are still today being discovered and catalogued. If anything, the previous Civil War has merely changed shape, the advantage has clearly shifted, and now that Americans and Europeans are in the combat zone, the war gets more complicated.
The gassing of the Kurds. The destruction of the southern marshes and their inhabitants. Saddam's persecution of the Shi'a. Even the Iraq-Iran war. All the atrocities the George Galloway's buddy is being tried for were to anyone with the wit to see it part of the civil war that Michael Yon found underway. But with the arrival of the US Saddam and his successors finally found an enemy they could not defeat. And their arrival tipped the scales of war to produce this shift in advantage -- the decline of Sunni power and the ascendancy of Shi'ite factions -- many of more or less equal criminality, that is the underlying reason for the fear now gripping Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad. It was probably why soon-to-be ex-Prime Minister Jaafari's clung so grimly to power. Never had his faction been so close to standing over their foes. The Strategy Page describes the resentment among Shi'ite factions over Jaafari's forced departure.
Yaqubi, Jafari, and others, are increasingly open in their opposition to Coalition efforts to "reach out" to Sunni leadership, and some are openly suggesting it's time American forces leave, a call which radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has been making openly for some time.
But as Michael Yon says, America is in Iraq for its own reasons. Saddam was a threat, though we have forgotten that now. To listen to some in the press, everything was better under Saddam. Still, Jafari's interests are not American interests. And since it was American power, not Sadr's pathetic militia that ground down the Sunni forces the way forward must be on American terms, not Jafari's.
When it came to invading Iraq, as persuasive as I found those official statements about WMD, I also knew some things that the average American would not be in a position to know. Every Iraq-experienced Special Forces veteran that I spoke with before the latest invasion of Iraq—every one of those veterans—opined that Iraq would devolve into chaos and civil war. But when I asked those same veterans if they thought the former regime was a threat to world security, they all agreed that it was, for they knew well the evil of the former Iraqi regime. Tough choices.
But what America will do next with that power depends on whether it can count it successes and remaining challenges accurately. And accounting correctly is dependent on seeing things clearly through the spin, which is hurled more or less continuously in the viewers face, where even overoptimism is peddled as an antidote to chronic defeatism.
When people were told a year ago that the insurgency was in its dying embers, or when they were told that the same people who failed to show up for the rose petal parade our troops were expected to receive, would now show up and build a democracy overnight, those statements were retorts to the growing reports of Iraqi on Iraqi violence. The gloss over’s were meant to assure us that what was being reported as a growing threat to the stability of the region was actually a miss-read of the facts.
Our top civilian leaders, the ones with their hands on the cockpit controls, predicted swift and easy victory. The failure of that promise, coupled with the bargain basement reporting that substituted nightly body counts and recycled car bomb footage for insightful coverage, is what has made the statements I made a year ago suddenly reach so many ears with so much controversy. ...
We are not getting the truth through our media, or our civilian leadership. Yes, Iraq is in civil war, but there is no doubt in my mind, not the slightest doubt, that the new Iraqi security forces are becoming stronger all the time. It’s not certain if they are strong enough to hold back the enemy on their own or if we need to increase the efforts of our military in a coordinated measure. But the fact that an American general recently invited me to see that progress is an indicator that our top military leaders are confident. An Army general would not have invited me back to Iraq to see a fiasco, and the mere fact of his invitation is a ray of hope.
On the last day of March I wrote a paragraph in Pretty Pictures which I can't better. And I repeat it here. It expresses in my own klunky way some of the ideas which I think Michael Yon was getting at. Important victories have been won, but there is a long way yet to go. Yet the worst of it is that we've been consciously blinded by the very institutions whose job it is to help us see.
A realistic assessment should include what has already been gained and what is left to gain. Some people think the Belmont Club is guilty of unwonted optimism simply because it is willing to accept what Zarqawi has practically admitted: that the Sunni insurgency is militarily beaten -- and that the struggle for the political outcome is now underway. And some readers may believe that I've gone all "gloomy" because I think the political outcome still hangs in the balance. But that is nothing more than stating a fact. Yet the essential difference is this: it's in context. Those who have done some rock climbing know that while it is important to grope for the next handhold along the line of climb it is equally important to remember the footholds you have already won. Forget where you are standing and you are lost. Unfortunately, much of the regular media coverage is almost designed to conceal where where we are standing and where we have to go. There is no context, as Bill Roggio once put it on a television interview. For most casual listeners of the news the US is trapped in a featureless and starchy soup, with no beginning or end. The War on Terror becomes portrayed as a shapeless shroud from which it is imperative to escape at all costs.
And that's sad because as Baron von Richthofen said, "Those who are afraid to take the next step will have wasted their entire previous journey."
But we will see all the same.