Category Archives: Iraq-2007-q3

“Bending” Iraqi detainees to the US will

The commander of US detention facilities in Iraq, Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, on Tuesday told a group of military bloggers that the US is now holding 25,000 detainees there. He also, more scarily yet, said that the military has activated programs with the detainees designed to “bend them back to our will.”
This language does not make it sound like a program of friendly persuasion. It makes it sound like highly coercive brainwashing. And it seems it is being practised with particular energy on the “about 840-something” detainees who are minors.
That is a shockingly high number of youthful detainees. (We can note that the US and Somalia are the only two countries in the world that have not ratified the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child.)
Stone confirmed reports that some of the detainees are as young as 11 and 12 years old:

    now, the trend is towards the youth. And you know, if they’re 11 years old and 12 years old and 13 years old, we tend to see them, the psychologists tend too see them as, you know, kids that, you know, are — can be told to do anything and they’ll go do it. The older ones, the 15, 16, 17-year-old ones, you know, they’re the harder nuts. And again my numbers are going to be a little bit off, but 50 to 60 of those we’ve been able to actually get criminal court hearings against.

Many, many aspects of what Stone says are truly outrageous. (Indeed, his entire discussion there constitutes a very important document of the US “counter-insurgency” mindset at work in Iraq.) Detaining children… using the fact and conditions of detention to try to brainwash people and/or as hostages in a cynical political game… trying to use coercively applied interpretations of “religion” in this brainwashing effort…
Mainly, I wanted to blog this– despite the horrendous time-crunch on my book deadline– because what Stone describes his units as so hurriedly trying to do in Iraq is all very similar indeed to what the Brits were trying to do with “Operation Pipeline” during their brutal, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to quell the Mau-Mau rebellion in Kenya 50 years ago. As I wrote about here— PDF– about 18 months ago.
Interestingly, Stone presents a large part of his effort as very humane, and almost similar to “social work” (Operation Pipeline was also in its time publicized as having a “rehabilitative” intent.)
Stone also writes about how enthusiastic Iraqi Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi has become about the “educational” (i.e. mostly brainwashing) parts of the detention plan.
Well, maybe running a Pipeline-like detain-and-brainwash operation in Iraq will win the US a few extra months for Washington’s occupation of the country. Maybe not. It will almost certainly, however, sow additional trauma amongst everyone who takes part, both detainees and detainers, so from every point of view it is an extremely tragic episode.
But it won’t materially affect the ultimate fate of the US occupation there. Ending the occupation remains the prime responsibility of all Americans. We need to do it sooner rather than later and in a way that reduces to an absolute minimum both the conflict levels as we withdraw and the conflict levels within the Iraq that we leave behind. With wise diplomacy that is still possible– though of course nothing can bring back to life the many thousands who have died there in the 54 months of this senseless war to date.

Washington-Iraq update

It’s been a very Iraq-focused week here in Washington DC. Herewith, some quick notes.
Note 1.
Yesterday, the Prez made his appeal for support ( = congressional funding) of a plan– let’s not call it a “strategy”– whereby the number of US troops in Iraq would be rolled back to their pre-surge level of around 130,000 by next July.
Bottom line: if Bush gets what he wants, then he would have succeeded in “buying” himself an extra 18 months– between Dec 2006, when he desperately had to come up with some alternative to the Baker-Hamilton plan, and July 2008, when the situation will, he hopes, return to what it was in Dec. 2006.
In US political terms, this would buy him a very valuable period of time on the political calendar. It has also, to some extent, tied the Democrats in knots and revealed splits in the Democratic Party.
In US human terms, 773 US service members have been killed in Iraq so far this year. If that attrition rate continues through next July, then we could estimate that Bush’s time-buying “surge-then-desurge” maneuver would cost a total of 1,550 additional US families their loved ones’ lives.
In Iraqi political and human terms, the first 9 months of the “surge” up until now have been disastrous.
Note 2.
I was only able to watch a few portions of the hearings earlier this week, when Petraeus and Crocker appeared before large sessions of first the House and then the Senate. (Then, they worked the big MSM very intensively for what looked like nearly a full further day.)
The Senate hearings looked much more serious than the House ones. The Senators have a lot more self-confidence, authority, experience, and gravitas when they deal with witnesses– even witnesses as “august” (and cocksure) as David Petraeus.
I did see the great moment when our Senator, John Warner, leaned craggily forward and asked Petraeus whether he could truly say that what he was doing in Iraq was actually serving US national security, and Petraeus notably could not answer with any form of a “Yes.”
(Crocker looked like a scared apparatchik throughout the whole thing.)
Note 3.
As readers are all probably well aware, Bush’s big “buddy” in Anbar province, Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, was killed there yesterday. Abu Aardvark had some interesting background material on Abu Risha on his blog on Tuesday.
Here on JWN, commenter Alex contributed some even deeper historical background about the Abu Risha tribe:

    By the way, if you’re interested, the Abu Rishas are famous in history. This is what I wrote about them 20 years ago. Sorry if it is a rather long quote, but you will not find this on the internet.
    “Abu Risha was the hereditary name of the shaikhs of the Mawali. The family had been founded by the legendary Hamad Abu Nu`air in the 15th century. The Mawali, who traced their descent back to an Umayyad prince, at that time were one of the most powerful tribes. The Abu Rishas founded a state which stretched from Qal`at Ja`bar as far as Haditha, with their capital at `Ana. European travellers from Cesare Frederici (1563) and Tavernier (1638) knew of Abu Risha, Amir of Ana, who called himself King of the Arabs.
    `Ana was then the meeting point of roads from Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, to Aleppo, Tripoli and Homs. The Abu Rishas maintained a customs station at `Ana. According to Teixeira (1604), the customs charge in `Ana was 5 ducats per camel load for high-value goods such as spices or cloth, and 1 ducat per load for goods of lesser value such as dates. A small proportion of this was paid to the Turks. John Eldred (1583) gives the toll as #40 Sterling for a camel load.
    The Ottomans appointed the Abu Risha as Bey of the Sanjaqs of Dair and Rahba (modern-day Deir ez-Zor), Salamiyya, `Ana and Haditha.
    In return the Mawali provided military assistance. For the Georgian campaign of 1578, the Serasker obtained 3-4000 camels, forage for horses and other provisions from the Mawali. The reconquest of Baghdad by the Safavids in 1623 led to the installation of a Persian garrison at `Ana, but within two years it had been expelled by the Abu Risha shaikh, Mutlaq. Philip the Carmelite in 1629 saw the town half-ruined as a result. The Ottoman attempt to retake Baghdad in 1629-30 was supported by Abu Risha, but shortly afterwards Mutlaq changed sides, was removed from his position by Khusrau Pasha of Mosul, and replaced by another Abu Risha, Sa`d b. Fayyad. In the final recapture of Baghdad by the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV in 1048/1638-9, Abu Risha sent Bedouin cavalry and a supply train of 10,000 camels.
    The inscription on the early Ottoman mausoleum at Jami` al-Mashhad contains a reference to Abu Risha, and has been identified as a mausoleum of the dynasty. The Ottoman period of the Islamic palace at Qal`at `Ana, excavated by the State Organisation for Antiquities and Heritage, may also be their work.
    In the second half of the 17th century the Ottomans set up and deposed Abu Risha amirs frequently. When the long-distance trade declined, the Mawali became a robber tribe. In 1720 the Pasha of Raqqa, with help from Karaman and Aleppo, and at the same time the Pasha of Baghdad with support from Diyarbekir, Mosul and Shahrizor, planned to attack the Mawali; but this attack was not undertaken, perhaps because of the Persian war which began in 1723.
    The power of the Mawali was broken by the `Anaza in the second half of the 18th century. A delegation of `Anaza were murdered while guests of the Mawali. It was said, Bait al-Mawali bait al-`aib – “The house of the Mawali is the house of shame”. As a result the Mawali were pushed away from `Ana, and moved into northern Syria, where they are to be found today.”

Note 4.
The buzzword that Petraeus and Crocker were seeking to get into circulation for how the “politics” of their approach in Iraq is supposed to work is that it’s a “bottom-up” approach. This reminds me unavoidably of the long-told story of Andrei Gromyko’s slight mis-stating of the well-known drinker’s toast of “Bottoms Up!” …As told, though not very effectively, in the third paragraph here.
Small update Saturday: That link broke. The short version of the story was that when Dean Rusk was the Secretary of State (early 1960s), there was a big state dinner in Washington for Gromyko. And when Gromyko made his toast, he addressed it to Rusk’s prim and proper wife saying “Up your bottom!”
Anyway, for some reason I have been reminded of this story every time I hear Petraeus on TV earnestly talking about having discovered a “bottom-up” strategy for Iraq.
Note 5.
Meanwhile, in terms of true grassroots organizing in Iraq, this item from the BBC looks to me like excellent news.
It has a picture of Iraqi nationalists standing with their national flags and anti-sectarianism banners atop one of the 20-foot-high concrete blast walls with which the occupation forces have been attempting to “quarter off” many of the neighborhoods of Baghdad.
Here’s the lead of the story:

    Hundreds of Iraqis have staged a protest against the building of a dividing wall between a Shia district of Baghdad and a Sunni area.
    Residents of the Shula and Ghazaliya districts waved Iraqi flags and chanted slogans rejecting both the proposed separation and the US occupation.
    They demanded the government intervene to ensure the barrier is demolished.
    The US military said the wall would reduce sectarian violence and stop the movement of weapons and militants.

What do you see when you see photos of citizens waving banners on top of walls imposed by outsiders and demanding that the walls be brought down? I see something to celebrate. But I’m thinking maybe the people who are running the occupation see it as a big potential threat to their extensive “quadrillage” ( = movement control) plan for Baghdad and potentially the whole of the country.
The word “quadrillage”, of course, comes de la langue francaise, where it was used to describe the counter-insurgency strategy the French used to such destructive but unsuccessful effect in Algeria and Vietnam. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, eh?

Petraeus and Crocker do the House

I did watch a bit of the Petraeus-and-Crocker show on C-SPAN this afternoon. Oh how handy for the administration to have this whole thing happening during the week of September 11, eh?
Today it was a joint hearing of the House Foreign relations and Armed Services Committes. I guess the main thing that struck me was the cock-a-hoop way that Petraeus preened his way around the hearing room, gladhanding everyone like a seasoned politician… Whereas Crocker looked anguished, concerned, and very uncomfortable.
Also, whenever the Congress members asked questions that were not specifically directed to one or other of the two “witnesses”, Petraeus jumped right in and answered them without even seeming to ask Crocker if he wanted to go first. Even when they were on clearly political (as opposed to more military) subjects.
It was alpha-doggist discourse-hogging of the first order. Fairly nauseating, all in all.
A number of the members of Congress who asked “questions” prefaced their orations (that were often light on interrogatory content) with lengthy statements about how they had met Petraeus on trips they’d made Petraeus to Baghdad, or Mosul, or wherever, and how heroic he had seemed to them then.
The US military, of course, has huge budgets for congressional relations, and relatively huge logistical capabilities within Iraq to greet and host visiting Codels (congressional delegations). Whereas the US diplomatic service… ? It’s chronically starved of funds and capabilities by comparison.
The WaPo’s Karen DeYoung had an interesting piece in today’s paper, in which she started off by noting the different way in which the two men had arrived in the US:

    One arrived last week from Baghdad aboard a military aircraft, flanked by a bevy of aides and preceded by a team of advisers assigned a suite of Pentagon offices. The other flew commercial, glad that the flight was long enough to qualify for a business-class government ticket…

Here’s a little excerpt from the current draft of Ch.2 of my in-process book:

    In early 2007, President Bush requested that, in the Financial Year 2008 budget (due to start in October 2007), Congress authorize the spending of $502.2 billion in the regular military budget, along with a “supplemental” sum of $141.7 billion for FY2008 to cover operations in Iraq and Afghanistan– for a stunning total of $643.9 billion. He meantime asked for just $10 billion for the many non-military activities carried out around the world by the State Department. The disproportion was clear.
    The relevant Senate committees did not do any better. The Foreign Relations Committee approved the State Department budget request very quickly. But the Armed Services Committee planned to increase the total FY2008 military spending to $647.5 billion! It also proposed increasing the size of the active-duty Army and Marine Corps to 525,400 and 189,000, respectively—and once again, these increases were higher than those requested by the administration…

Ah! We so, so sadly need a new paradigm here… This militarism thing is just pathetic. (And very harmful, in so many different ways.)

Centcom chain of command losing its integrity?

The WaPo had an interesting big front-page article today, in which a large team of their good reporters was writing about evident differences of opinion on the surge being expressed in intra-administration discussions by Gen. Petraeus and his own immediate superior, Centcom Chief Adm. William Fallon.
Fallon– oh, did I mention that he’s Petraeus’s superior officer?– is reported as favoring a much faster and deeper drawdown of US troops from Iraq than Petraeus has been willing to think of.
The reportorial team, led by Peter Baker, writes this:

    The polite discussion in the White House Situation Room a week ago [it involved these two guys plus that master strategist George W. Bush ~ HC] masked a sharper clash over the U.S. venture in Iraq, one that has been building since Fallon, chief of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees Middle East operations, sent a rear admiral to Baghdad this summer to gather information. Soon afterward, officials said, Fallon began developing plans to redefine the U.S. mission and radically draw down troops.
    One of those plans, according to a Centcom officer, involved slashing U.S. combat forces in Iraq by three-quarters by 2010. In an interview, Fallon disputed that description but declined to offer details. Nonetheless, his efforts offended Petraeus’s team, which saw them as unwelcome intrusion on their own long-term planning. The profoundly different views of the U.S. role in Iraq only exacerbated the schism between the two men.
    “Bad relations?” said a senior civilian official with a laugh. “That’s the understatement of the century. . . . If you think Armageddon was a riot, that’s one way of looking at it.”

Actually, whether the two generals get along well or not is not the central issue. The central issue is surely what on earth has happened to the integrity of the chain of military command?
The answer is, of course, George W. Bush. He has reached down deep inside Centcom, going past Adm. Fallon to establish a direct relationship with Petraeus and having Petraeus report directly to him and to Congress.
Of course, in terms of having a rational military/strategic decisionmaking process, this is a disaster.
Peter Baker and Co. wrote this about Fallon’s position:

    Fallon, who took command of Centcom in March, worried that Iraq was undermining the military’s ability to confront other threats, such as Iran. “When he took over, the reality hit him that he had to deal with Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and a whole bunch of other stuff besides Iraq,” said a top military officer.

That, of course, is the important part of the whole story here. The prolonged and large-scale deployment in Iraq is actively harming Centcom’s ability to “deal with” these other areas. Indeed, it is harming the ability of the Army and Marines to do any sensible long-range force-planning at all… Fallon has responsibility for the whole of Centcom’s area of operations, whereas Petraeus has only to worry about Iraq (and about becoming Tony Blair’s replacement as Presidential Lapdog-in-Chief.)
The WaPo article also had this to say about Fallon:

    Fallon was also derisive of Iraqi leaders’ intentions and competence, and dubious about the surge. “He’s been saying from Day One, ‘This isn’t working,’ ” said a senior administration official. And Fallon signaled his departure from Bush by ordering subordinates to avoid the term “long war” — a phrase the president used to describe the fight against terrorism.

I think that, to do their jobs properly, the Senate and House Armed Services Committees– and the US voters as a whole!– now need to hear from Adm. Fallon directly, and not just from his underling who has already, apparently, been suborned by the President.
It is bad enough that we have this huge, extremely lethal US military apparatus barging around the world taking unilateral offensive actions whenever and wherever the POTUS pleases. But how much more scary of a prospect is it if we cannot even be assured that that military has a single and recognizable chain of command?
Who does Gen. Petraeus report to? We need to know. We also need to hear, and give appropriate weight to, the views of the Centcom head.

Visser on the British exit from Basra

Reidar Visser yesterday sent out an informative email note that
drew on his long and close study of the politics of, in particular,
Basra and the surrounding regions of southern Iraq to assess the
implications of Britain’s  final withdrawal of the remainder of
its forces from downtown  Basra and their  redployment
(concentration) back to the bigger base near Basra airport that is now
the Brits’ only military base inside Iraq.  (Can full British
withdrawal be far behind, I wonder?)

Anyway, I asked Reidar’s permission to publish this on JWN.  He
explained that the note “is part of
an experiment
that was launched in January 2007 featuring occasional e-mail updates
exclusively for
subscribers.”  So if you want to read the whole thing, you have to
go there and subscribe.  The good news: I don’t think you actually
have to pay him anything, or give him any personal details apart from
your email address in order to do so.   So maybe y’all should
head on over and do that….

Meantime, here are the excerpts that he has kindly agreed I can use
here, along with a few of my own comments.  He has also said he
will welcome yours, so chip on in.

Local Reactions to the British
Withdrawal from
Basra: Sadrists Claim Victory

By Reidar Visser (

4 September 2007

Perhaps the most
important aspect of the recent British withdrawal from the urban centre
of Basra to a base near the city’s airport is the reaction from local
political forces. So far, the loudest response has come from the
Sadrists, who publicly claim that their armed campaign led to the
British withdrawal.

…  [T]he
recent pullout itself was a largely symbolic affair:
the British ceased exercising effective control of Basra a long time

Also Western
commentators – particularly in the United States – have suggested that
the Basra pullout represents “British defeat”. However, that judgment
rather exaggerates the differences between “gangland Basra” and what is
construed as the more “pacific” central parts of Iraq. The main
difference between the US and the British approach does not relate to
militia power as such, but rather to the extent to which there has been
an attempt to manipulate the political games in which the militias take

In the south, the
British have largely maintained a neutral
position, with a variety of armed factions coexisting in some kind of
uneasy equilibrium, and with a diverse range of political forces
gaining power…
In the rest of Iraq, US forces have largely allied themselves with
Kurdish and ISCI parties and their militias (technically “integrated”
in the security forces and the Iraqi army), and have supported these
groups in their efforts to suppress internal dissent. Ideologically,
this has been presented as an effort to build a “moderate” base; in
practice it has involved giving consent to much highhandedness by local
authorities. Thus, repression and militia rule are not absent from the
US-controlled parts of Iraq, but they take on a more orderly form than
the far south.

(I would add in here that in the
US-controlled parts of the country the US forces have also found
themselves having to deal with the whole range of Sunni groups, a
factor that has made their task even more complicated than that faced
by the brits in the south.  And of course,it was the over-all
policy pursued by the US in Iraq since 2003 that gave birth to and then
increased those problems…  Actually, I question whether it’s
correct at all to describe any stark contrast between “gangland Basra”
and the more “pacific” environment further north, in general. 
Baghdad, the triangle south of it, Diyala Province, and many other
areas are currently far from pacific.  The only, demographically
relatively small “island” of peaceableness in the US-held,
majority-Arab part of Iraq is a portion of Anbar Province– the only
part of the whole country that was deemed safe enough for Bush’s recent
extremely “flying” visit. And who knows how long the current balance in
that portion of Anbar will even last?  ~HC)

… Over the coming
months, both the position of the Sadrists and the further development
of militia relations in Basra will be crucial. There is some indication
that relations between Fadila (which remains in control of the
governorate despite a vote of no confidence) and Sadrists have improved
slightly during the summer… On the
other hand, ISCI has in the past been skilful in forestalling alliances
between its two main competitors in Basra, and, moreover, could now
benefit from the handover to Iraqi government forces.

analyses of the British withdrawal have pondered whether the timing was
linked to the Labour Party’s upcoming annual conference. (I am shocked! shocked! by this
siuggestion. ~HC)
  The more
important question is who will be Basra’s governor three months from
now. It would be a setback to the image of the Iraqi army as a “neutral
player” if the first thing to happen after the British withdrawal were
the ouster of Fadila and the fall of one of the last bastions of
resistance to ISCI rule in the Shiite parts of Iraq.

— end of Visser text

here’s my (HC) one major remaining
comment on this. I saw a slightly twittish British officer on the BBC
tonight assuring viewers that the redeployment to the airport area was
“not a defeat”.  Of course he had to say that.  They all do
Just like Ronald Reagan, as he pulled the US Marines out of Beirut in
February 1984 under the rubric of a “redeployment offshore”… Or Ehud
Barak pulling the Israeli troops out of Lebanon in 2000…

Well, at least on all those occasions the withdrawal redeployment
was carried out in good order and without casualties.  The British
withdrawal from Basra and, I think, the US Marines’ withdrawal from
Beirut were also both, unlike the Israelis as they slunk out of Lebanon
that time, accompanied by short ceremonies of “handover” of the
relevant area to the relevant governmental forces.  I certainly
saw a short newsclip of a slightly perfunctory-looking handover
ceremony in Basra on yesterday’s TV news: the whole decolonizing thing:
the Union Jack comes down, the national flag goes up, there is a bit of
saluting, and out the colonial forces roll…

Of course all of that– not just the handover ceremony but also the
withdrawal in good order, in general– requires some measure of
pre-negotiation to achieve in any minimally assured way.  That is
what the post-Rabin generation of Israeli leaders have all hated. 
Barak would slink out Lebanon, and Sharon out of Gaza… But they were
darned if they would negotiate, or be seen as negotiating, those troop
withdrawals with anyone.

So how, I wonder will the US approach the question of planning its
upcoming troop pullouts, even if only partial ones, from Iraq? 
Will there be negotiations and little handover ceremonies here and
there?  I do believe they’ve tried that in many places, and the
whole idea has probably lost a lot of its luster by now…

Anyway, Washington– and both political parties therein– will most
likely be eager to avoid any suggestion that this is a “defeat”. 
Will they be able to pull off that feat of legerdemain?  I highly
doubt it.

Also, how the heck will they actually get out of the country? 
Even harder to do so if the Brits are no longer in Basra.

Anyway, big thanks to Reidar for letting  me use so much of his
piece here.  (In the parts I left out, you can learn some really
interesting further details of the political situation in the Basra

Rights situation of Iraqis continues to deteriorate

I almost cannot believe the level of brazen disregard or outright, racist disdain that Bush administration spokespeople and their supporters show towards the situation in which the people of Iraq are forced to live (or die.) Every day we hear crowing from the Bushites about how “the surge is working”, or “Petraeus is succeeding in ‘flipping’ the Sunnis”, or whatever. But what you don’t hear at all from them are the grim facts about the situation of Iraq’s people.
Reporters in the MSM should be actively asking the administration’s spinmeisters how on earth they can claim signs of “progress” in Iraq, in light of developments like those being continually reported by those international agencies that do care what happens to real people in Iraq.
Like this, report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, yesterday:

    an estimated 4.2 million Iraqis are have been uprooted from their homes, with the monthly rate of displacement climbing to over 60,000 people compared to 50,000 previously, according to UNHCR and the Iraqi Red Crescent…
    More than 2 million Iraqis are displaced inside Iraq, with over 1 million displaced since the February 2006 Samarra bombings. While most of the security incidents happen in the centre and south of the country, the displaced are not confined to these regions. In the north, there are more than 780,000 displaced Iraqis, over 650,000 in the centre of the country, and 790,000 in the south. Many are barely surviving in makeshift camps, inaccessible to aid workers for security reasons.
    Syria, which has generously kept its borders open to fleeing Iraqis, estimates that more than 1.4 million Iraqis are now in the country. Jordan estimates that some 500,000-750,000 Iraqis are in the country. The number of Iraqi asylum seekers in Europe in the first half of 2007 rose to nearly 20,000 – the same number received during all of 2006…

Or this, from the ICRC today:

    With the daily violence currently inflicted on the lives of Iraqis, tens of bodies are found every day, while countless persons go missing. While some of the bodies found can be identified, others cannot. According to official sources in Iraq, from 2006 until June 2007 some 20,000 bodies were brought to the Medical-Legal Institute in Baghdad (MLI). Almost 50 per cent of these bodies were unidentified and brought to morgues throughout the country. When unclaimed, they were buried in cemeteries. Since 2003, according to some sources, 4,000 unidentified bodies have been buried in special cemeteries in Najaf and Kerbala.
    For an Iraqi family, the process of looking for a missing person may prove to be extremely complicated or even very dangerous, and sometimes impossible. One of the main factors is the current security situation. Today, it is well known that moving in certain areas in Iraq can be life-threatening. Therefore, families cannot move freely asking for the whereabouts of their missing relatives. They try to go through private channels such as individuals or charity organizations. The second step would be looking in hospitals, before inquiring at the MLI, knowing that Baghdad suffers today from the worst security conditions

And then, there are the swelling numbers of Iraqis who have been detained by the US forces themselves, under the surge. This recent news report says the number has gone up from 16,000 in February to 24,500 today.
The writer there, the NYT’s Thom Shanker, adds these details:

    Nearly 85 percent of the detainees in custody are Sunni Arabs… with the other detainees being Shiite Muslims, the officers say.
    Of the Sunni detainees, about 1,800 claim allegiance to a group that calls itself Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, military officers said. Another 6,000 identify themselves as takfiris [= “excommunicators”], meaning Muslims who believe that some other Muslims are not true believers. Such extremists view Shiite Muslims as heretics.
    Those statistics would seem to indicate that the main inspiration of the hard-core Sunni insurgency is no longer a desire to restore the old order – a movement that drew from former Baath party members and security officials who served under Saddam – and has become religious and ideological.

Actually, I disagree. The figures he gives “indicate” nothing of the kind. They indicate only that some 37.4% of the Sunni detainees are either Qaeda supporters or takfiris. They tell us nothing about the remaining 62.6% of them.
Shanker tells us that of the US-held detainees, “about 800” are juveniles. That is cause for huge concern.
We need to remember that the term “detainee” refers to people who have not been convicted of any crime, but are merely behing held “on suspicion”, or because a jealous neighbor has turned them in, or whatever. Shanker says the average length of time they are held is one year, though the very low figure he gives on releases so far this year seems to contradict that. (Perhaps math is not his strong point?)
He also has this additional detail:

    According to statistics supplied by the headquarters of Task Force 134, the American military unit in command of detention operations in Iraq, there are about 280 detainees from countries other than Iraq. Of those, 55 are identified as Egyptian, 53 as Syrian, 37 as Saudi Arabian, 28 as Jordanian and 24 as Sudanese.

280 foreigners is just over one percent of the total. An interestingly low figure.
Anyway, my main point here is to note that none of the reports I have seen in the humanitarian-affairs media recently gives any indication that the surge has brought any improvement to the lives of ordinary Iraqis. Just the opposite.
Isn’t that the key “metric” that the US electorate and media ought to be focusing on?
Otherwise, what is the surge for? Just the personal vanity of one stubborn and rather ignorant US president?

Planning a thoroughly modern coup

Iraqslogger has a great piece that reproduces the text of a contract signed between Ayad (Iyad) Allawi and Robert Blackwill, in the latter’s capacity as head of a DC lobbying firm.
Allawi undertakes to pay Blackwill’s firm $50,000 a month for, in the first instance, six months starting August 1. In return Blackwill’s firm, BRG, will “provide strategic counsel and representation for an on behalf of Dr. Ayad Allawi before the US Government, Congress, media and others.”
Blackwill was the Bush administration’s envoy to Iraq in 2004, when longtime CIA protege Allawi was briefly PM there.
Last Saturday, BRG scored its first hit for Allawi when it succeeded in placing an anti-Maliki article, allegedly “written” by him, in the WaPo.
The contract featured on Iraqslogger is defined as running from August 1. But it was only signed– by both parties– on Monday (August 20). I guess that Allawi, a canny operator in the Washington scene for a long time, wanted to make sure that BRG would do something concrete for him before he signed it.
I’m still trying to figure out who’s ripping off whom in all this.
Where does Allawi get $300,000 to drop on these “lobbying” services?
(Silly question, Helena. Look at the amount of our US taxpayer “aid” that went missing in Iraq during Allawi’s premiership.)
Why does Bob Blackwill, who had a long career with the US State Department, not have enough retirement funds stashed away that he feels he needs to sleaze around making money doing such underhanded things?
(Answer: Of course he has plenty of retirement $$. But always wanting “more money! more money!” is the all-American way of life! Isn’t it?)
Excuse me while I go and have a bath. Even writing about this stuff makes me feel unclean.

The ‘Seven Soldiers’ wisdom on Iraq

This book-writing business really is pretty intense. But I just wanted to dash over here to the blog to note a couple of important things that have been going on:
1. War critique by seven smart serving soldiers.
This great article came out in last Sunday’s NYT. I know Scott Delicious-ed it. But it needs much more attention. It is a very smart and well-informed criticism of the whole current war effort, signed by seven serving members of the fairly elite, special-ops-y 82d Airborne.
Taking on the hard-spun optimism expressed recently by Washington desk-jockeys Micael O’Hanlon and Ken Pollack, these serving grunts write this:

    VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)
    … it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.
    Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful….
    Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.
    At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably…
    We need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.
    Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.
    We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.

There has been some curiosity regarding the identity of these soldiers. Here’s what I noticed: Four are described as sergeants, two as staff sergeants, and one, Buddhika Jayamaha, as an “Army specialist.” But it is Jayamaha who has his name listed first. Clearly, this must have been by the agreement of the other six– but he is the lowest-ranking one of them all. Clearly, he must have played a leadership role in drafting the text and bringing the other six to agreement around it.
So who is Buddhika Jayamaha?
Was Sourcewatch onto something when they tagged this? It’s the contents page for a hefty, v. expensive two-volume work that was published in March, on “Civil Wars of the World”… and the chapter on Sri Lanka was co-authored by a Buddhika Jayamaha.
So maybe BJ really is quite a bit of a specialist on civil wars and insurgencies. Quite possibly of Sri Lankan origin himself? And then for whatever reason he went and enlisted in the 82nd Airborne where he (1) went to Iraq, (2) survived the tell the tale, (3) developed his own, very well-informed understanding of what was going on there, and (4) was able to persuade six sergeants in the 82nd to sign an article that featured– we might presume– mainly his own analysis?
Anyway, I would like to note that the “Seven soldiers” description of the situation seems to me to have a lot more ground-truth to it than the O’Hanlon-Pollack piece published in the NYT exactly three weeks earlier, under the title “A war we just might win”
Btw, regarding O’Hanlon and Pollack, George Packer blogged this a couple of days after their piece appeared:

    I talked to Pollack yesterday. In answer to some of the questions I raised: he spoke with very few Iraqis and could independently confirm very little of what he heard from American officials. In eight days he travelled to half a dozen cities—that’s not much time in each. The evidence that four or five Iraqi Army divisions, with most of their bad commanders weeded out, are now capable of holding, for example, Mosul and Tal Afar, came from American military sources. Pollack found that U.S. officers sounded much more realistic than on his previous trip, in late 2005. He gauged their reliability in answers they gave to questions that he asked “offline,” after a briefing—there was a minimum of happy talk, but also a minimum of dire gloom. The improvements in security, he said, are “relative,” which is a heavy qualification, given the extreme violence of 2006 and early 2007. And it’s far from clear that progress anywhere is sustainable. Everywhere he went, the line Pollack heard was that the central government in Baghdad is broken and the only solutions that can work are local ones.
    It was a step back from the almost definitive tone of “A War We Just Might Win” (a bad headline, and not the authors’). That tone was misplaced, and it is already being used by an Administration that has always thought tactically and will grasp any shred of support, regardless of the facts, to win the short-term argument…

And the second thing I was going to blog about? I’m afraid y’all are going to have to wait… Back to the book factory for me.

Body blow to Iraq’s Potemkin Government?

I’ve been locking myself down writing my new book. (Two chapters almost finished!) But I couldn’t help noticing the reports (e.g. here) about the (mainly Sunni) Iraqi Accord Front having now left Iraq’s Potemkin Government.
‘Potemkin’, because it doesn’t actually do anything that governments by definition do, such as provide solid basic services to the citizenry– especially public security. This body is, however, occasionally pulled out of hiding to “appear” to be doing something. For example, we were told on NPR today that President Bush had a lengthy discussion with “Prime Minister” Maliki by videolink, in which they discussed affairs of state together.
But the fact that the IAF pulled out of the Potemkin Government at the very same time Sec of State Rice and Sec of Defense Gates have been visiting Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab countries, urging them to give a bit of support to the said “government”, shows the degree of ineffectual chaos into which the US’s Iraq policy has fallen.
It is quite clear that no-one in the Bush administration has the foggiest idea of how to identify and pursue any policy in Iraq that has any chance of “winning”. Actually it is far too late for that now. There is no such policy any more.
But still, the exit from Iraq can be managed with either a greater or lesser degree of intelligence, and therefore of orderliness and predictability for everyone concerned– Americans, Iraqis, and neighbors of Iraq. And the way this administration is lurching around the region these days, it seems less and less likely that they will be able to manage even a drawdown/withdrawal of forces without making major blunders.
I think “lurch” will have to be one of the major ways in which the historians of the future describe the tenor of the Bushites’ whole engagement with Iraq. They lurch like cognitively impaired drunkards from one side to another, with no stable center of understanding, realism, or political principle to steady them or help pull them forward. They arm the Shiites, then they arm the Sunnis. They blame the Iranians, then they blame the Saudis. They publicly scold the Saudis for failures in Iraq– and then within hours of that they say they’ll be relying on them to help give political legitimacy to Maliki’s Potemkin Government.
The one constant through all their lurchings around the Middle East? Their propensity to look at every problem as a military problem, and at every relationship as one that can easily be strengthened or manipulated through arms transfers. Hence, their main legacy in the region thus far is one of distrust, tensions, anti-Americanism– and also, massive arming.
Oh well, I need to get back to my book. But before I do that, I’ll just note that, on reflection, it may well be that, inasmuch as the Maliki government is only a Potemkin Government, not the real thing– and certainly not one that controls any functioning levers of state power!– then whether the IAF leaves it or stays in may not actually make any difference. Not because the IAF isn’t important, but because the Maliki government is not the real thing.

22,000: the Iraqis held by the US in Iraq

Buried deep in this WaPo story today was the news that, oh by the way, “the number of detainees held by the U.S. military in Iraq has increased to almost 22,000, from 15,400 six months ago.”
Think about it. These are nearly all men of bread-winning age, most likely with an average of around five dependents. That makes more than 100,000 people who are directly affected by this mass-detention situation.
In the circumstances faced by the US military (and everyone else) in today’s Iraq, the US military doesn’t even claim to have “probable cause” for the detention of each one of these men; and it certainly doesn’t have the capacity to hold individualized hearings to investigate the nature of any allegations that may have been made against them.
Actually, the vast majority of these detainees are probably not being held because they are judged through any rational process to be personally guilty of having committed a crime. No, they are most likely being held “preventively”, that is, because of a generalized fear that they might commit some action against the US occupation forces in Iraq, someday. (Sort of on a par with the reasoning Bush used to invade their country in the first place– doing this “preventively”, rather than to respond to or even “pre-empt” any evidently threatening Iraqi attack against the US.)
Now, as that WaPo article makes clear, there has arisen another strong incentive to increase the number of detainees, as well: The bulk of the article is about the informal “amnesty” process that many US units are now using toward Iraqi tribal sheikhs, whereby men loyal to these sheikhs who are in detention are released into the sheikhs’ control in return for the sheikhs agreeing to work as allies with the occupation force.
So under this model, if a local US officer wants to win the support of a local sheikh, he has every incentive to capture a few of the sheikhs’ supporters as hostages– an action, I should note that,

    (1) has been pioneered by the Israelis many years ago, and before them by every single other colonial/occupying force in history, and
    (2) is in absolutely clear contravention of international law.

Oh, and here we are, in news from Ramallah, that,

    Family and friends joyously hugged 255 Palestinians freed by Israel on Friday, hoisting them on shoulders for a boisterous heroes’ welcome meant to give President Mahmoud Abbas [= local tribal leader with whom a deal has been done] a political boost in his power struggle with Hamas.

Of course I share the joy of those families. But that’s not the point. The point is that these two occupying powers– the US and Israel– have no darn business at all engaging in the antecedent broad campaigns of hostage-taking, undertaken for purely manipulative political ends rather than through any form of due-process, regulated, criminal justice procedure.
That AP report from Ramallah spells out that “thousands more Palestinians remained in Israeli jails”. 22,000 Iraqis meanwhile languish in US prisons in Iraq– and many further thousands of (mostly Sunni) political hostages languish in terrible conditions in prisons run by the Iraqi ‘government’, as well.
The NYT today carried a stomach-turning series of photos taken inside one of these Iraqi government jails. You have to know that, since the people in charge of this jail let the photographer in, it was evidently among the “most humane” of the prisons they run. (We can probably hardly even imagine the life-threatening squalor and the torture chambers inside some of their other prisons…) But even the scenes in these photos reminded me of the intense overcrowding I glimpsed during the short visit I made to the Central Prison in Kigali, Rwanda, in June 2002.
Yes, post-genocide Rwanda is just another of the many US-supported regimes around the world that have used massive campaigns of “preventive” detentions– i.e., political hostage-taking– as a way of intimidating and coercing whole populations judged too critical of the central government.
If you want to get a bit of historical context on this whole phenomenon of how colonial regimes use mass detentions in an attempt to subjugate whole populations, you should read this article that I published not too long ago, on the ghastly mass incarceration campaigns that Britain used against the Kikuyu of northern Kenya in the 1950s…. Or better still, study the award-winning historical study of the topic by Caroline Elkins that I was reviewing there.
In my own much smaller researches into the effects of the Rwandan government’s more recent mass-detention campaigns against their country’s majority Hutu population I was able to confirm her findings that such campaigns have devastating and long-lasting effects not only on the detainees themselves but also on their families and on the broader fabric of society that is rent asunder by the detentions…
In today’s Iraq, the US government has a lot to answer for. The effects of the ongoing mass-detention campaign should not be forgotten.
Meanwhile, the tide of history is certainly running against the ability of the Bushites to “win” this contest in Iraq. (Whatever “winning” would mean.) So all these detentions, all these campaigns the US military is engaging in to arm this faction or that faction inside Iraq– they will lead to nothing… Nothing, that is, except to deepen the scars of violence that the US occupation has carved deep into the very being of Iraqi society.