Sunday, May 04, 2008

Night patrol

Bill Ardolino, writing in the Long War Journal, provides one of the best closup looks at the campaign in Sadr City. Sifting through the neighborhood buzz from a night patrol, Ardolino describes ebb in the JAM/Special Group influence in the vast slum as first the Sons of Iraq, a predominantly Sunni group, and now the Iraqi Security Forces, are moving into the area.

Part of the JAM's problem is that it is to a large extent a criminal organization that is wearing out its welcome with the population. Like al-Qaeda in Iraq before it, the JAM suffers from the downside of the anonymity and lack of restraint that is extolled by theorists or irregular warfare: the lack of discipline, accountability and steady and pay.  The original impetus behind the evolution of uniformed national armies, with their ranks, ceremonials, discipline and rules was to increase military utility, not to restrain it.

The depredations of the Thirty Years's War, a European conflict more vicious than the Second World War, led to the end of freebooting, poorly disciplined and religiously affiliated armies. Prior to the institution of discipline combatants would descend on towns, friendly and hostile alike, and make off with everything that wasn't nailed out. As one Scottish officer of the period put it, private soldiers needed something to "ballast their lightness". The JAM would understand the Thirty Year's warfare. Again, from Ardolino:

"Right now because of the fighting Sadr City, people have started to despise [the Mahdi Army] because of the situation they created," said "Rammie," an Army interpreter raised and living in Rusafa. "People have started to know the truth of [the Mahdi Army] as kidnappers, killers, carjackers, and agents of the Iranian government. But the recent fighting against the [Iraqi security forces] means they are also against the government. They are not trying to just fight the invasion forces as they claim, but they fight whoever interferes with their mafia activity."

The indiscipline and savagery of terrorists would not be enough for the population to turn against them unless there was a secure alternative. Terrorists can use fear to maintain control over the population long after affection for them has evaporated. Witness Hamas in Gaza. But if a significantly more disciplined and effective local force makes an appearance, the population may switch to the alternative. That alternative may now be in view, if the Iraqi Security Forces can get their act together.

"These guys [the Mahdi Army] are fighting between the houses [among civilians]," said a corporal in the Iraqi Army. "They use the houses as their armor, so that's why many innocent people are killed, because they shoot mortars between the houses and run away. Iran will pay a lot of money for ignorant people to behave crazy. They claim that they belong to Muqtada al Sadr, but they do not belong to Muqtada, they belong to Iran." ...

"We are so close to establishing a fully legitimized ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] structure," said Captain Nathan Hubbard, the commander of the 3-83 Cav's Alpha Troop, which is responsible for a Joint Security Station in the Al Fahdil area of Rusafa. "I would say that with the successful conclusion of Basrah and the continuation of [the offensive in] Sadr City -- the closing off of the criminal elements down there -- you'll see a significant swing in public belief in the ISF. More [Iraqis] would buy into ISF being a legit force. Right now, the citizens are maybe 40 percent pro-government, 40 percent on the fence, and some seriously anti-ISF guys on the side. The people want a force that is willing to go after any terrorists, including AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq], Mahdi Army, the PKK [the Kurdistan Workers' Party]. They just like to see the government doing something."




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19 Comments:

Blogger Teresita said...

I would say that with the successful conclusion of Basrah and the continuation of [the offensive in] Sadr City -- the closing off of the criminal elements down there -- you'll see a significant swing in public belief in the ISF"

This is how you keep the momentum going in the right direction: no second chances for cowards and slackers. That battalion that shed their uniforms and melted away in the early days of the Battle of Basra, they're through. Fingerprint everyone and put the records in the system. They must be rejected when they apply for the security forces in the future, as well as for policeman or dog catcher or any job that taps into funds appropriated from the US taxpayer. In the early days of the insurgency we were told the problem was that Iraqis placed great importance on honor and "saving face", which was offended when we cast out Saddam largely without their help. Well I'm sure that attitude is nowhere near what we encountered when we fought Japan, but let it flower again.

5/04/2008 06:58:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Be nice if, occasionally, "the people" would stand up on their own hindlegs and do something to help the cause, rather than waiting for everything -- electricity, air conditioning, sewage systems, schools -- to be handed to them on a platter.

It really bums me out to realize that for the next 20 years, this country (and those people) are going to be extolled to us as "allies", working with us to defeat terrorism.

I suppose, though, that once there's a modicum of civility brought to Sadr City, we can start recruiting from whatever young men are still alive to build police and military forces, and then they can start helping themselves.

5/04/2008 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Nahncee --

These people are tribal. They are good at fighting, and dying if need be. That's it. They can't do much else. They're no more capable of helping to rebuild Iraq than I am capable of constructing a super-collider.

Nothing in their training, background, socialization, culture, or much of anything else in a deeply tribal culture has led them to value cooperation, hard work in manual labor, and possessing and developing skills.

No Iraqi can do things that you'd see on "Deadliest Catch" because, well they're tribal. Big Men can fight and die, very well. But not operate fishing boats in the Bering Sea or rebuild a power plant.

5/04/2008 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger Steel Wolf said...

whiskey--

Nothing in their training, background, socialization, culture, or much of anything else in a deeply tribal culture has led them to value cooperation, hard work in manual labor, and possessing and developing skills.

The problem is further compounded by our inability to accept that our cultures and values and those of the Iraqis are generally not in sync. By "our", in this case, I mean our senior military and civilian leadership. I'm repeatedly stunned by the tenacious strain of textbook, politically correct, media-averse morality that guides their decision making processes.

I'll give you an example.

Some associates of mine are working on a project with the Iraqi government. If this project was working efficiently, which it is abjectly not, then all of Iraq would benefit tangibly. In addition to the crippling inefficiency, there is "Arab business standard" corruption present, and strong evidence of insurgents being paid protection money to leave the project alone.

One school of thought argued that skimming off the top to buy patronage, favors, and stability is a cultural fixture. We're better off dealing with people who are only padding their retirement funds (and those of their tribe) at the culturally accepted level, rather than those who would directly siphon funds to the insurgency. Since the security situation won't improve enough to prevent shakedowns anytime soon, fixing the efficiency crisis would be the best way to strengthen the hand of the Iraqi government and win the faith of the people. Make Iraq strong and capable, then the vultures will dissipate, and corruption will settle at whatever level Iraqi society wishes to tolerate.

Another school of thought contended that eliminating corruption will fix both problems, as honest officials are naturally efficient, and don't pay protection money to organized crime. On a moral level, we can't associate with persons we know to be corrupt, as it would imply we condone corruption. We also have to reject the idea that Arab businesses can operate with bribery or extortion, or that tribal loyalty and happiness can be bought with embezzled funds.

Care to guess which view prevailed, and which was soundly rejected?

5/04/2008 09:16:00 PM  
Blogger vnjagvet said...

I suspect the "we don't pay boodle" won the day, SW. Keep in mind, though that this is a time-worn problem in the counstruction industry in this country as well. New York, Chicago and other places where mob-influenced trade unions operate also have notoriously crooked municipal bureaucracies. Running a clean project is very difficult in those cities.

It takes experience (and a few hard knocks) to teach people how to navigate these treacherous shoals.

5/04/2008 09:38:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

Steel wolf,

Care to guess which view prevailed, and which was soundly rejected?

On what grounds? Somehow I do not think you are telling the whole tale, or giving the proper context. Oftener it is better to lead by example, but it sounds as though the courage to lead, is lacking in your friends department. There is an easy fix, but it is hard. It requires skill and tact and does not resemble the outline of anything you project to be "the way it is".

I suggest you tell your associates before succumbing to "Arab business as usual" to determine which is the right way. Among coalition forces and politico's there is no excuse for nor should there be any tolerance for such nonsense. It has been shown time and again already, that the business of government, even in Iraq, doesn't have to be done that way. But it isn't easy.

My knee jerk is to question everything you have posed here. Especially since it is third hand, unattributed and vague. Too much stuff has been made up out of whole cloth already, stuff that costs lives and disfigurements, stuff that gets US and Iraqi's killed. I would be very mindful of that in pursuing your story.

5/04/2008 09:54:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

My knee jerk reaction is to accept as gospel everything that Wolf has posted here and, further, to guess that the Americans have plunked for "doing business as usual the Arab way" as the way to go.

In other words, graft and corruption as the accepted norm, and payments to terrorists to leave their precious project alone.

After all, we already know that the Americans are paying off the "Sons of Sunni's" or whatever the hell they call themselves. These are the same sons of Sunni's as who were shooting at American soldiers mere weeks ago, but now their tribal leaders have told them that's a no-no AND the Americans are paying them to shoot at Al-Queda instead, so the highest bidder wins. For now. But a payoff is a payoff, whether it's in a tribal sheikh's tent or in Maliki's office.

Plus which we are still reading about "honor killings" in Iraq which, when reported to the vaunted Iraqi police, are then told that nothing can be done because that's the Arab way of doing business, killing innocent women to cleanse some incredibly stupid man's honor.

I absolutely believe anything awful anyone wants to tell me about the excellence of Iraq, its citizenry, their lifestyles and ways of doing business.

5/04/2008 10:14:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

I wonder how close to Iranian society the Jam behavior is? In various parts of Iran the government's behavior is not much better, in most it areas it is worse. There too there is a large problem with underemployment. A giant resettlement progrom bringing country folks into urban centers has made the intimidation easy, but the ability to buy off or scare through thuggery the population is growing tougher. Basra under those conditions was nearer to hell than heaven, but under the new management Basra may fairly be viewed as that shining city only on the river. A beacon of hope for Iranians (who knows maybe for Saudi's too).

The professionalism of the ISF, needs to be matched by the Police conduct in all of Iraq.

Judicial Misconduct needs to be made a big deal as well. A lot of that is determined like old habits, it takes time to dump the bad and about a month of repetition to develop the desired behavior. That behavior needs to be reinforced and rewarded as bumps and backsliding are not unexpected.

But man oh man how far these men have come, what obstacles they have overcome, how determined they are that their current success be made permanent. Even in Sadr City the thugs are no longer welcome, their lies and deceits falling on ever more wary ears.

5/04/2008 11:28:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

You are sure about that, nahncee?

The Sons of Iraq, are vetted first locally, then eyes and fingers scanned and printed and conduct assessed in multiple layers of review before moving up to civil or military service. It is a slow process. Former insurgents are in the mix. Active insurgents are a different story.

The example of our young officers and enlisted men's conduct on the behavior of tribal elders and members is not to be lightly discounted. The effect is very encouraging to say the least. One of the larger issues with many of these local neighborhood watch groups was that our guys were killing them, even while we are on the same side. Misunderstandings resulting in death, and yet they continue to work with our troops and provide the intel needed to clean out AlQ and spread a little JAM. Iraq has gotten in place the mechanisms necessary to take over the payment for these services. That was a political issue requiring a certain amount of military intervention to occur, because Nothing has a purely military solution.


Finally, I do not believe the protection payment story. It is either not recent (more than two years old) or untrue, and probably both. Our military guys are better, smarter and cleaner than that, and they individually and collectively would not allow that conduct to go unchallenged.

5/04/2008 11:52:00 PM  
Blogger Cutler said...

Sorry for the double post, but from a few posts down:

"Steel Wolf, you wouldn't happen to be the Steel Wolf from Free Republic would you?"

5/05/2008 12:27:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

WAde, I've seen mention made of payment of a small monthly stipend to the Sons of Iraq in a couple of places over the past 6 to 9 months. I don't remember where now.

You can call it a salary being paid by the Americans for helping in the effort, or you can call it blackmail being paid to ex-Al Queda members to not play with the bad guys any more.

I know they've been vetted and fingerprinted and all that, but the fact that both soldiers and Iraqi police walked away from their posts in Basra tells me that, for now, the boots on the ground in Iraq are going to the highest bidder. And if that happens to be Iran or China or Saudi Arabia then they'll go back to shooting at Americans.

I have to believe that trait runs throughout the whole country and that EVERYone in Iraq is for sale. What do you suppose happened to whoever was responsible for the under-the-table deal to buy arms from Serbia? Punishment and removal from office, or high fives of congratulation for thinking outside the box?

5/05/2008 06:05:00 AM  
Blogger Katchoo said...

Iraq may have oil reserves of 350bn barrels, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said yesterday, a massive figure that is triple the country’s proven reserves and which even exceeds the oil in Saudi Arabia.

5/05/2008 06:22:00 AM  
Blogger Teresita said...

Welcome to the BC, Miss Katz.

5/05/2008 06:57:00 AM  
Blogger Steel Wolf said...

wadeusaf, cutler,

Somehow I do not think you are telling the whole tale, or giving the proper context. Oftener it is better to lead by example, but it sounds as though the courage to lead, is lacking in your friends department. There is an easy fix, but it is hard. It requires skill and tact and does not resemble the outline of anything you project to be "the way it is".

Insofar as I'm not telling the whole story, you're correct. It's also hard to provide enough context, which is also fair criticism. I do work in Iraq now, and have on and off since 2004 (it's evening for me now). I don't write much about it anymore, largely for work reasons, but also because it's hard to be objective, and hard to bridge the gap in expectations with State-side Americans.

(I did used to write on FR, cutler, still check in now and then. I won't post anymore; not worth the effort. At least here people disagree with my inane points politely.) ;-)

At any rate, wadeusaf, I'm deeply wary of any dealings with the Iraqis that requires them to be different than how they choose to be. While I appreciate the need to be responsible stewards of Iraq to the greatest extent possible, reflexively trying to hold Iraqis to American standards of moral governance (insert satire here) is often non-productive or outright counter-productive. That's all.

5/05/2008 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger Katchoo said...

The Muslims are about to find ouit they have bigger problems than infidels running around.

It is projected (by the government's own statisticians) that Pakistan will have a wheat deficit of 12 million tonnes per annum by 2012-13 - or 31 per cent of the projected target

5/05/2008 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger Teresita said...

Wadeusaf: Basra under those conditions was nearer to hell than heaven, but under the new management Basra may fairly be viewed as that shining city only on the river.

Beirut, Lebanon was a shining city on the coast, with swanky hotels and casinos, and it turned into hell on earth when three factions parted it out. One suicide truck bomber and 290 Marines bought it, then a Republican president cut and run. A Republican President who ran on a platform of showing some spine after the gutless performance of Jimmy Carter. What do you think is going to happen to Basra when Obama or Clinton get in there?

5/05/2008 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Cutler said...

SW, I used to do the same. a long time ago, and left largely for the same reason, i.e. it wasn't worth it. Even after I left, though, I used to go back every few months or so and see what a few, more grounded members were saying on the given issue of the day. You, ironically, happenened to be one of them. In case you were interested, I think you'd also like the posts/comments at the Elephant Bar.

5/05/2008 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

I am keeping in mind need to limit posts, so I hope you don't mind, W my response here.

"...reflexively trying to hold Iraqis to American standards of moral governance (insert satire here) is often non-productive or outright counter-productive. That's all."

SW, you no doubt know better than I, Iraqis have a rich cultural tradition, much of which has been left in tatters by Saddam and crew. While rebuilding both culture and traditions, adjustments, changes and improvements are not only needed but welcome. Putting the behaviors in perspective places the onus on the Iraqis Sheiks et al to adapt and adopt. However they are all aware that transparency is a requirement for trust to extend beyond any single neighborhood. I do not expect our standards to be adhered, but I know the Iraqis expect some standards of behavior must be determined and enforced, civil, economic, judicial and political. Those who determine to keep on doing things the "old" way, like Sadr, will find their influence marginalized and their power gone. If those fellows are really having the discussions you refer to I suggest your friends may not be talking to the right people, or need to reassess the ground rules. Having someone powerful enough to cut through the nonsense helps immeasurably, and it may be someone not currently involved. I realize that the behaviors even the consideration of these behaviors was not possible until very recently. A work in process it is indeed. Frustrating as they are, revisiting and retracing such steps will ultimately strengthen the realization of the need for certain behaviors as well as the commitment for adopting those behaviors as part of a particular culture.

They will ask it of themselves, when they recognize the advantages of certain behaviors. But that is all basic stuff (Unfortunately for you it is the beat your head against a wall basic, to be repeated as necessary kind of stuff).

I don't envy you your position but I do envy you the vantage you have from which to watch things unfold. Perhaps you might reconsider sharing your experiences.

5/05/2008 04:21:00 PM  
Blogger amr said...

I know that many decry the corruption that plagues the ME and in particular Iraq. Then I remember that not to long ago (and maybe even now) 5% was added into a NYC contract for graft/corruption. And most recently we see Mr. Clinton taking in millions from “speaking engagements” and some nebulous arrangements in the Gulf States and nary a chirp is heard about the impropriety. We can complain but the old glass house story applies also.

5/09/2008 02:37:00 AM  

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