Thursday, November 08, 2007

Is an Immediate Withdrawal From Iraq Still the "Adult" Move?

Damien Cave at the NYT writes that Baghdad is now reportedly clear of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

American forces have routed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the Iraqi militant network, from every neighborhood of Baghdad, a top American general said today, allowing American troops involved in the “surge” to depart as planned. General Fil attributed the decline to improvements in the Iraqi security forces, a cease-fire ordered by the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, the disruption of financing for insurgents, and, most significant, Iraqis’ rejection of “the rule of the gun.”

His comments, in a broad interview over egg rolls and lo mein in a Green Zone conference room, were the latest in a series of upbeat assessments he and other commanders have offered in recent months. But his descriptions revealed a city still in transition: tormented by its past, struggling to find a better future.

The Long War Journal has more extensive analysis from Bill Ardolino. His reasons, restated in bullet form are:



  • “The Surge” and counterinsurgency tactics
  • The rise of the Iraqi people and “reconciliation”
  • Strengthened Iraqi Security Forces
  • Declining sectarian cleansing and refugee flight
  • The truce with Muqtada al Sadr and the Mahdi Army
  • Tightened security at the borders

Ardolino's list probably covers most of the ground. My only comment is that it's more fruitful to think of Ardolino's enumeration not as a list but a linked list. A linked list is one in which some items lead to others. Some items precede others. They contain pointers to items further along the list. Thus, the Surge leads to declining sectarian cleansing and refugee flight, and not the other way around. Strengthened Iraqi Security Forces are precursors to the truce with Muqtada al Sadr and the Mahdi Army, and not the other way around. The alternative is to imagine you can start anywhere in the list and go to anyplace from there. But I don't think that describes the structure of what happened.

What's really interesting to consider is whether the rise of the Iraqi people and “reconciliation” was an emergent event. That is to say, an event not caused by the Surge but numerous factors in the environment, of which the Surge was one.

14 Comments:

Blogger Bill said...

Wretchard -

Much thanks for the link. One clarification of a perhaps muddy point: one of the factors isn't so much "Declining sectarian cleansing and refugee flight" as "played out (completed) sectarian cleansing and refugee flight." It's essentially addressing the contention of critics of the surge who say the violence is down because there are less sectarian targets.

While the contention that fewer sectarian targets is the main reason for the drop in violence, is ridiculous, the refugee flight has indeed had some impact on the current level of violence, in my estimation and the estimation of other analysts.

11/08/2007 03:58:00 PM  
Blogger Buckhead said...

Will this all go to heck if we bomb Iranian nuke infrastructure and Mookie goes wild? If Mookie starts up again, would that be (a) fixable and (b) worth it?

11/08/2007 04:13:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

It's essentially addressing the contention of critics of the surge who say the violence is down because there are less sectarian targets.

This kind of reverse causality argument is emerging in several forms. For example, Brandon Friedman at the Daily Kos argues that Mosqtada al-Sadr's magnanimity, not anything the Surge accomplished, has achieved the seemingly better conditions.

The "Shiite militants" described by the New York Times were, in fact, members of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. And, as we all saw this past summer, Muqtada’s fighters were really doing a job on American forces—despite the troop increase which began earlier in the year.

That was on August 7th. And remember, this was during a summer throughout which we were bombarded with news of Iranian/Shia efforts to kill Americans and destabilize the Iraqi government.

Then, barely three weeks after the New York Times article ran, 50 Muslim pilgrims were slaughtered in sectarian fighting in Karbala. In response, Muqtada al-Sadr announced that he had [emphasis theirs] ordered his militia to suspend offensive operations for six months. No one saw this coming.


I did not mean to imply you put the factors on the same level, but felt, as you apparently do, the necessity of putting the horse before the cart.

11/08/2007 04:21:00 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Wretchard -

I totally agree that Sadr's ceasefire was not born from magnanimity, rather political calculation and weakness (see his quick skedaddle to Iran, conveniently as the Surge began). So I think your cart-horse-cart critique about his cease-fire being independent (or not) of the surge is absolutely valid. The reverse causality arguments of this nature are ill informed and politically motivated.

But the sectarian cleansing and refugee point is the only one where I think it might have played out independently of the Surge (no reverse causality), except in the reverse - as in, trends are finally getting better because of the surge, whereas previous awful trends independent of the surge may be partially responsible for the drop in violence related to sectarianism.

That said - the idea that the drop in violence over the last two month is only or primarily due to completed sectarian flight and cleansing (as per Dkos and David Obey arguments) is ridiculous. It plays a part, but certainly not THE part.

BTW - Another argument related to your point where one factor is contingent on another is the claim that the "real reason" the violence is down is because the Iraqi people rose up independently of anything US strategy did.

This is ridiculous, as the Anbar awakening and other movements were absolutely contingent upon US support and COIN strategy. Heck, average folks in Fallujah volunteering for neighborhood watch would say that the police and CLCs would have never taken the powef center back from AQI without US Marines at their back and initially leading the way.

When someone claims that the Iraqis are wholly responsible for taking back security, they are both partially right and enormously wrong, and are ill-informed. The surge was vital.

11/08/2007 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The surge was vital.

And while that point may be self-evident it is often obscured or ignored. For example, Sen McConnell is sending around a message saying that yet another vote has been scheduled to set a firm withdrawal date.


“What unfortunate timing for Democrats, announcing yet another attempt at a withdrawal date on a day when the papers are filled with encouraging news from Iraq. While our troops are quelling violence and defeating terrorists in Baghdad and throughout Iraq, Democrats in Washington are trying to choke off funds for our troops in the field.”

The public premise for such motions to withdraw of course, is that "the Surge doesn't matter". Or "we are the problem" or "Sadr is for peace, let's give him room". Withdrawal will mean the end of the Surge, or course. But if the Surge has nothing to do with recent calm, then what harm in a withdrawal? The arrow of causality has to made to point every which way for the "withdraw now" argument to remain logically viable.

Buckhead's question is: "Will this all go to heck if we bomb the Iranian nuke infrastructure and Mookie goes wild?" My guess is it will go to heck if the security environment isn't set on a really sound basis. And for those who want to grant Mookie freedom of action a really stable security environment must be avoided at all costs.

My belief is that the antiwar crowd know perfectly well that the Surge matters. And whatever they may say in public, they know down deep that Mookie didn't turn on the sunshine. For that precise reason the Surge is perceived as a danger because it might encourage the US to go after Iran once Iraq is consolidated. Therefore withdrawing from Iraq ASAP is equivalent to reducing any military option viz Iran to zero. The antiwar crowd fully understand the potency of the Surge and are anxious, for that very reason, to put paid to it. In this way, America will be "discouraged" from any further foolish moves and the cause of peace will be advanced.

From a certain point of view.

11/08/2007 05:11:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Winds of Change in the Military Approach
Douglas Farah

In recent weeks I have spent time at numerous events with U.S. military personnel across the different services, speaking, listening and watching as the senior officers challenge the assumptions they have help on the war on terrorism, Iraq, Afghanistan and other pressing issues.

One of the most innovative new concepts bubbling to the surface is that a great deal can be accomplished in pushing back against Islamist radicals, transnational criminal groups, warlords and militias by recognizing these issues all affect a nation’s sovereignty.

If one recognizes this, then the need to form coalitions built on U.S. assumptions, pressures and cajoling diminishes considerably. Nations can take actions in their own enlightened self interest to improve or regain their own sovereignty that benefit aspects of U.S. policy, without having to agree on any other policy aspect.

Most nations do not want organized criminal networks corrupting the system. Most do not want their territory to be terrorist enclaves. Most do not want warlords controlling vast swaths of territory.

This concept of helping nations focus on their own national sovereignty issues is liberating from the highly unpopular concepts of “coalitions of the willing” and other policies that have been trotted out in recent times.

One of the realities that much of the military has recognized for many years is that this will not be a military war, at least not the vast bulk of the struggles that arise. The military remains an integral and vital part of the architecture to deal with state and non-state threats, but are not the only part and are often not the lead part.

Given the weakness of the State Department, the generally-recognized inability of Karen Hughes to advance a coherent agenda on outreach, the weakness of the intelligence community and the hodge-podge on strategic thinking that has often prevailed, the military has been called on to do things that it is not qualified to do and should not be asked to do.

I don’t know how Iraq will turn out or if the situation in Pakistan will lead to a strengthening of al Qaeda. I do know that much creative thinking is now going into the short and long term issues this complex mosaic presents. It is refreshing to see.

11/08/2007 05:11:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

A much larger immediate threat than Iran is Pakistan.
Nuclear security in Pakistan

Are you worried about the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons?
This article from today's Los Angeles Times gives a description of the situation.
----
The Real Danger of Pakistan's Chaos
Douglas Farah
...But the most dangerous element of Pakistan’s chaos is its secret nuclear program and unauthorized proliferation, which did not stop with the house arrest of A.Q. Khan in 2004. The ISI and Pakistan’s nuclear agents remain loyal to the highest bidder, with a predisposition toward radical Islamist movements.
---
It even less clear now that it was a few months ago who is really in control in Pakistan and who controls the nuclear arsenal. There is certainly no guarantee that secularists or moderates have any control at all over the arsenal.
---
There is little between the Islamists and the bomb. That has been the case for some time. Now there is even less.

11/08/2007 05:20:00 PM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

If you argue that Iraq was lost with US than it's natural to argue that it was won without US. Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, indeed.

11/08/2007 06:22:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Let us not forget Sadr's visit to Iran. He seemed suddenly to recall pressing business there just about the time that things got hot. How nice for him.

Then he came back and ordered the stand down. Now, did he not like what he saw in Iran and decided that he should not help reinforce Iran's position in Iraq? Or did he receive marching orders to do just what he did?

11/09/2007 07:25:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

11/08/2007 06:22:00 PM

RWE said:

"Let us not forget Sadr's visit to Iran. He seemed suddenly to recall pressing business there just about the time that things got hot... Now, did he not like what he saw in Iran and decided that he should not help reinforce Iran's position in Iraq? Or did he receive marching orders to do just what he did?"

I guess the fundmental question is:

Was Sadr recalled to Iran by his masters or did he flee to Iran because he feared to remain in Iraq?

11/09/2007 08:33:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I guess the fundmental question is:

Was Sadr recalled to Iran by his masters or did he flee to Iran because he feared to remain in Iraq?


And did he return to Iraq of his own volition, or because Iran's mullah's threw him out as being too hot to handle?

11/09/2007 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger chachapoya said...

"While the contention that fewer sectarian targets is the main reason for the drop in violence, is ridiculous, the refugee flight has indeed had some impact on the current level of violence, in my estimation and the estimation of other analysts."

I read in a news report yesterday that refugees are returning to Iraq in great numbers since the violence has abated. If their flight was a major reason for the decrease in violence, then logically it will increase proportionately as they return.... or put the lie to that argument.

11/09/2007 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

chachapoya -

"I read in a news report yesterday that refugees are returning to Iraq in great numbers since the violence has abated."

In my piece, I cite both articles that could be the article you are thinking of. The "great numbers" cited were 3,000 families returning to Baghdad and 46,000 people returning to Iraq from outside the country (according to the Iraqi govt). The trend is encouraging, but it is a small portion of the (possibly) 1.4 million internally displaced baghdad refugees and 2.4 million refugees who fled the country. (according to the Iraqi Red Crescent & UN)

"If their flight was a major reason for the decrease in violence, then logically it will increase proportionately as they return.... or put the lie to that argument."

Not necessarily or logically. If the refugees return and a new level of security has returned to Baghdad, there is an even chance that the penalty for sectarian murder (getting killed by improved security forces) will be too high for sectarian murder to restart to its former degree, not to mention the fact that one of the two major instigators of such violence (AQI) is no longer in Baghdad.

The argument that sectarian flight has played a role in how Iraq is shaking out today is not merely a political talking point (though it is used as one), but also, to some degree, a rational piece of the puzzle.

Most civilians in the middle of a war aren't stupid or crazy - a lot of them get out of the way.

11/09/2007 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

What the Surge did was to allow us to capitalize on situations that presented themselves last year, to quicken the tempo, intensity and broaden the territory. In Al Anbar it was the willingness of US Marines to set up and stay in enemy held territory that allowed the local population to turn on AlQ. In Baghdad and in the government it was the decision to take on the rogue elements in the government.

But the Iraqis first had to be ready and then they had to choose. The choice between AlQ and the US, to believe in our efforts to give Iraq back to the Iraqi people (despite the experience of past and in spite of all the threats of the US Congress to pull the plug on them). The efforts Al Anbar started around or about August of 2006, over a year ago. Recognition of and adjustments to right the government's troubles, were begun haltingly, in fits and starts by the Al Malaki government began a little after. From a few small successes, the new COIN and the surge combined to give momentum to the successful operations demonstrated in Al Anbar, and prior to that in Mosul.

The timing of the graduation and maturing of competent "vetted" Non Commissioned Officers. A growing respect by the IA Officers of US methods of building an effective fighting force is perhaps a large key as well. The development of a very reliable and trustworthy foundation of Iraqi units that are dedicated to Iraq, and not to a cleric (or to a tribe perhaps) means that what has been purchased thus far will not easily be forfeit. I suppose this is what General Fil meant by strengthening of the Iraqi Security forces.

I don't think enough can be said about the willingness of Iraqi soldiers to fight in making the surge successful.

11/10/2007 08:59:00 PM  

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