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Iraq Awash In A Multitude Of Warring Groups

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by Lawrence Sellin
Washington (UPI) Dec 29, 2006
If the situation in Iraq can be salvaged, it will not be done with troop surges alone or a single all-inclusive strategy applied uniformly across the country, but through the cumulative effect of a hundreds of tailored efforts, funded and executed bottom-up, city by city and region by region.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense's November 2006 Report to Congress,"Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq", programs for national reconciliation and disarmament are difficult to design and implement due to the presence of numerous illegal armed groups, whose personal loyalties to sub-national groups, such as tribe, sect, or political party, are often stronger than loyalty to Iraq as a nation-state and condone or maintain support for violent means as a source of political leverage.

This should come as a surprise to no one. More than three-quarters of the Iraqi population have ties to one of over a 100 tribes. With the current absence of strong central authority, the importance of local associations is amplified, acting as an alternative government by providing, not just cultural identity, but sometimes security and basic services

Even Saddam Hussein was required to make continuous adjustments in his power base, balancing the often competing interests of state tribalism, selected military and paramilitary organizations and Baath party ideology. The situation, where the United States now finds itself, is not unique, but a consequence of its destruction and not the rapid replacement of central authority.

Yet the influence of Iraqi tribalism and the need to balance or leverage the differences between sub-groups in the ongoing stability and counterinsurgency operations in Iraq may still be underestimated. It is the product of lazy thinking to simply pigeon-hole Iraqis as Shiite, Sunni or Kurd. It may also be dangerous thinking if a troop surge is used to challenge large sectarian armed groups on their own turf, like Mahdi Army. It may be better for the United States, when necessary, to operate along the political fault lines in Iraq or, simply put, divide and conquer.

In the December 2006 report, "Iraq's Sectarian and Ethnic Violence and the Evolving Insurgency", Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies states that there were 23 militias operated in Baghdad in the early fall and by mid-October militias in Baghdad were splintering into smaller, more radicalized cells. Even the large and exclusively Shiite Mahdi Army has a growing number of rogue elements operating outside of Moqtada al-Sadr's control.

Up until now the United States has largely fought the Iraq insurgency from the outside, rather than from the inside-out. That is, to become counterinsurgents inside the insurgency, controlling events rather than reacting to them. The United States needs to disrupt insurgent networks, sow confusion and disorder, and isolate them from the people and any outside basis of support. Doing nothing about locally-generated animosities or even leveraging them may be part of that equation.

Inter-group rivalries that benefit American and Iraqi government goals is not without precedent. The Defense Department report identifies the types of political fault lines the United States needs to exploit. Such as:

"...attempts by al-Qaida in Iraq and affiliated Sunni extremists to intimidate the local population. These efforts provoked a backlash. Some tribal chiefs and Sunni Rejectionist leaders began localized efforts to retake control of their areas.

"In Diyala, and recently in Balad, the conflict between al-Qaida in Iraq and Jaysh al-Mahdi was a sectarian fight for power and influence.

"The conflict in Basrah, Amarah, and the south was characterized by tribal rivalry, increasing intra-Shi'a competition...."

It should be noted that over 75 percent of insurgent attacks occur in only four of Iraq's eighteen provinces with Anbar and Baghdad accounting for half of that total. That means the area of conflict is relatively well-defined.

Although the obstacles to stabilizing Iraq do not yet appear insurmountable, one should not underestimate the difficulties ahead, for the margin of error has significantly narrowed due to previous ineffective policies that have provided opportunities for the insurgents and prolonged the conflict.

Critical reconstruction efforts, the restoration of basic services, and the influx of private capital and economic growth have all been hindered by the lack of security. The resulting unemployment provides a fertile environment for militia recruiting, which is feeding the cycle of violence. A top-down effort is not the answer. Preventing corruption and political patronage and instituting proper managerial procedures at the Iraqi ministry level remains problematic. An alternative is giving primary authority to expert military-civilian interagency teams working with local authorities.

Success is possible only by providing lasting security to the Iraqi people, effective governance and economic development based on local needs and tradition, not imported notions of them. The task ahead will require a long, arduous, neighborhood by neighborhood effort. The question is whether or not the United States now has the political will and financial wherewithal to sustain it.

(Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is an Afghanistan veteran.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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Can A Force Surge In Iraq Succeed
Washington (UPI) Dec 29, 2006
Retired U.S. Army General Jack Keane and American Enterprise Institute scholar Frederic W. Kagan have argued that any "surge" of additional American troops to Iraq should be "large and lasting." In a Washington Post op-ed piece published on Dec. 27, they provide a thoughtful rationale for why the surge is only likely to be successful if it consists of at least 30,000 more combat troops and lasts at least 18 months. They are undoubtedly right that a smaller surge for a shorter period of time would not succeed. Their argument for a "large and lasting" surge, though, is based on an assumption which, if false, would also prevent what they propose from succeeding. Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University.

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