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What Went Wrong In Iraq

The American government spent hundreds of millions of dollars on electronic systems and armor to protect U.S. troops, but so far has shared almost none of this with Iraqi government forces.
by Ed O'connell
UPI Outside View Commentator
Washington (UPI) Sep 26, 2006
American military and diplomatic leaders have swung back and forth between various strategies to confront the hostile forces arrayed against them in Iraq. But despite recent U.S. initiatives, the fighting there only continues to intensify, particularly in Baghdad.

Police said Thursday they found the bodies of 40 death squad victims in Baghdad over the past 24 hours. The 40 men had been shot and their hands and feet were bound.

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said Wednesday that murders and executions are now the top cause of civilian deaths in Baghdad.

President George W. Bush acknowledged Sept. 7 that "the fighting in Iraq has been difficult and bloody." Earlier, the president said that "sectarian violence is terrible in Baghdad."

And U.S. Army Gen. John Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee weeks before that "sectarian violence probably is as bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular." He added that "if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war."

In an effort to reduce the violence in the troubled Iraqi capital, U.S. commanders are now redeploying more than 3,000 American troops into Baghdad, including a sizeable contingent of military policemen. This represents a conventional response to a decidedly unconventional war and foregoes the shaping of Iraqi forces into an effective counter-insurgency force.

One reason for the heavy fighting and sectarian strife in Baghdad, which took many military leaders by surprise, was the result of senior military authorities' unwillingness to consider indirect approaches and alternative strategies early on.

Unconventional warfare is another alternative. The precepts of unconventional warfare include: the precise use of force as a deterrent; ensuring the safety of the local population; enabling local security forces; using special police capabilities to infiltrate insurgent forces; the provision of social services to the population in addition to economic aid; preventive information operations; and more rigorous detainee operations.

What went wrong in Baghdad? From the earliest days of the American occupation, U.S military authorities seem to have overlooked a key precept of counterinsurgency: the need to protect the local population.

Hostile forces established a stronghold in Iraq's capital while American commanders concentrated heavily on protecting their own troops and contractors in Iraq, rather than Iraqi citizens. This opened the door for the insurgent forces to fill the security void by offering their own version of law and order.

The American government spent hundreds of millions of dollars on electronic systems and armor to protect U.S. troops, but so far has shared almost none of this with Iraqi government forces. As a result, Iraqi security forces and Baghdad citizens have been exposed to the ravages of a sordid group of bad actors streaming into, and not away from, the capital city.

Perhaps just as important as the inability to protect the Iraqi people has been the failure to break the "social compact of the streets," in which insurgent operations are tolerated by the average citizen and money can be made by Iraqi youths supporting insurgent activities.

Insurgents are paid well to plant roadside bombs and they derive social status from these efforts. Contrast this with the $2 to $3 a day they can earn working for U.S. contractors in far less glamorous activities such as picking up trash.

In many ways in today's Baghdad, economic motivation trumps ideological motivation, particularly among the young. Meanwhile, the U.S. government persists in spending hundreds of millions of dollars on unsuccessful propaganda operations attempting to "out-religion" the enemy. U.S. and Iraqi authorities need to gain a better understanding of the motivations of insurgents to understand how to make joining the insurgency less attractive -- halting enemy recruiting and reconstitution.

If the insurgents are to be stopped, they must come to understand that there is a price to pay for their actions. At the moment, however, insurgents apparently feel they face little danger. Unlike in Afghanistan in 2001, the skies over Baghdad are unusually quiet. Anti-government forces face a threat from coalition ground forces, but insurgents who stage hit and run attacks are often long gone by the time American and other coalition troops can get to the scene along Baghdad's confusing and busy streets. As a result, insurgents are emboldened by what they see as their relative invulnerability.

Insurgents also seem not to fear capture because it is unlikely they will be informed on by their Iraqi neighbors. And even if captured, insurgents will be sent to jail or prison where they can network for a few weeks or months with foreign jihadists, or perhaps recruit those Iraqis swept up innocently beside them. In the end, many of the insurgents are released due to "lack of evidence" and the overtaxed Iraqi justice system -- too many now expect this outcome.

Though two years late, the Iraqi and American authorities have taken the first steps toward better addressing the security issues in Baghdad outlined above. If they can grow and sustain these efforts by applying the precepts of unconventional versus traditional warfare simultaneously, they may be able to get the capital under control. If coalition forces fail to do this, U.S. service members, Iraqi security forces and civilians may be killed in ever-greater numbers and the insurgent cancer centered in Baghdad will likely spread to other troubled areas.

(Ed O'Connell, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, is a senior analyst at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization. He has conducted research in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.)

(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.)

More Opinion and Analysis
Iraq And The Concept Of Realpolitik
by Alon Ben-Meir
UPI Outside View Commentator
New York (UPI) Sep 28 - Try as it may to put the best face on it, the American intelligence agencies' assessment of global terrorism trends damns the Bush administration, whichever way we look at it. In many ways the report stated the obvious: The Iraq war has contributed directly to the rise of Islamic radicalism and the diffusion of the Jihad ideology globally, and made the overall problem of terrorism considerably worse.

What is tragically sad is not the report's findings, but the Bush administration's stubborn refusal to acknowledge that the Iraq war and the occupation have enraged Arabs and Muslims throughout the world. Instead of dealing with the disastrous repercussions of the war and developing a viable exit strategy, the administration continues to link international terrorism to Iraq when in fact Iraq itself was thrown into a civil war.

As the congressional elections heat up, the discussions are refocused on the question whether the United States, especially in the wake of the intelligence assessment, should stay the course in Iraq or seek an exit strategy. The administration's contention that American forces will gradually withdraw once the Iraqi military and security forces can maintain security is misleading. Past experience in training security forces, their questionable loyalty to the state and the conditions on the ground simply do not support the administration's position.

It is clear that the continued occupation in itself has provided the greatest motivation for the Sunni Jihadis, Baathists and Saddamists to violently resist the American presence.

The Shiites want American troops to stay, not to preserve democracy but to consolidate their power base and blunt any political challenge.

Meanwhile, sectarian killing will not end, not only because of a long historical enmity between the Shiites and Sunnis but for the Sunnis, in particular, the struggle is existential.

As a result, the Shiite alliance each keeps its own militia, including Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, to provide physical protection as well as safeguard their national long-term agenda to preserve Shiites dominance by any means and at all cost.

To that end, the militias work closely with the security and military forces that are predominantly Shiites and government officials tacitly promote sectarian cleansing. Although the Bush administration continues to deny the obvious, Iraq is in a civil war.

One might then ask under what conditions American troops can withdraw when the Shiites and the Sunnis deliberately promote a chaotic situation to serve their own, albeit contradictory, agendas.

Iraq will not stay in one piece and the violence will not end regardless of the pretext under which the United States continues to occupy Iraq.

While there is a general public consensus that the United States cannot simply fold its tent in Iraq and leave, a timeframe (up to two years) for withdrawal of American forces must, nevertheless, be established. There is no evidence, as the administration contends, that such a timetable will hand a victory to the insurgents or embolden the terrorist groups to lay in wait or intensify their attacks to accelerate the American departure.

If the intelligence report has any merit, then, it must be clear that ending the occupation will suck out much of the insurgents' wind and greatly mitigate the motivation of many Jihadis to wage a blind war of terror against the United States and its allies. Moreover, as long as the Shiite-led al-Maliki government is allowed to exploit the presence of American forces to promote its own sectarian agenda, the United States is playing into their hand and thereby perpetuating the corruption that has swept most government officials and ministries.

After a couple of national elections and the passage of the constitution, the Iraqi government must understand how high the stakes are and what to do to preserve its nascent democracy. That said, the Iraqi democracy will not be preserved by American forces, regardless of their size and staying power.

In fact, the longer American troops linger, the greater the resistance and the weaker the elected government becomes because such a government is seen as no more than an American tool in the service of Washington's own narrow agenda.

In one way or another, Iraq will eventually be divided into several provinces. The United States can -- indeed should -- assist Iraq in the transition so that the Sunni provinces will end up with equitable share of the nation's oil resources, a critical requirement to ending the violence.

This administration can hardly be forgiven for adopting misguided policy toward Iraq based on neoconservative wishful thinking, but it cannot be forgiven for manipulating the information about the situation in Iraq to mislead the public by insisting on the correctness of its defunct policy.

Neither the war on terror nor the war in Iraq can be won unless the administration abandons its failed "stays the course" policy. A timeframe is needed for withdrawal of American forces that have already made great sacrifices far beyond the call of duty.

Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern Studies. Web:

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.

More Opinion and Analysis
Iraq As The Cause Celebre
by Claude Salhani - UPI International Editor
Washington (UPI) Sep 29 - You can tell when important elections are just around the corner in Washington, D.C. That's when politics suddenly take a turn for the worst, if that's at all imaginable. Example: The latest uproar over the National Intelligence Estimate, a comprehensive and detailed report on the current political and security situation dealing with postwar Iraq and terrorism.

What gives the NIE greater credibility is that it has the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.

Besides shedding light on the state of insecurity in Iraq (which we already knew), the NIE served a different purpose. Even if it was purely unintentional, it revealed the degree to which the country remains divided between the "blue states" and the "red states," just six weeks before the mid-term elections. And as can be expected, both sides are trying to use the findings to their advantage.

It started with sections of the report being leaked to the New York Times, revealing that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has galvanized terrorists across the globe. Did we really need 16 intelligence agencies to tell us that? Ten minutes of watching the newscast of your choice, from Al-Jazeera to Fox News, would be enough to convince most observers.

The NIE states: "We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere."

It goes on to say: "The Iraq conflict has become the "cause celebre" for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement."

John Negroponte, the director of National Intelligence, defended the administration's position by saying that the report -- or at least the sections leaked to the press -- does not paint the full picture of the intelligence estimate.

President George W. Bush, angered by the leaks, ordered that the NIE be declassified and made public. Bush asked Negroponte to release the NIE -- minus the parts deemed too sensitive, which will be redacted before release to the public.

Democrats, meanwhile, have accused the president of trying to portray Iraq as the frontline of defense in the 'war on terror.' They accuse Bush of having squandered billions of dollars on the war in Iraq.

A new congressional analysis quoted by the Boston Globe shows that the conflict in Iraq is costing U.S. taxpayers almost $2 billion a week.

To date, close to 2,800 American service personnel have lost their lives in the Iraq war, almost as many as those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Now contrast what the president said in his speeches during the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11: "We are safer because we are on the offensive against our enemies overseas." And the NIE report: "The war in Iraq has made the terrorist threat worse by providing a focal point for an entire American message that has contributed to the spread and decentralization of Islamic radicalism around the globe. The Iraq war has diverted untold resources from efforts to protect Americans from terrorism and weakened the nation militarily."

Army and Marine recruiters warn that present troop levels will be hard to maintain in Iraq without a significant increase in the number of military personnel.

"Virtually every serious expert looking at the 'war on terrorism' recognizes that the forces at work in the Islamic world will be intense for at least a decade and probably two," writes Anthony H. Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in a commentary on the declassified key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate.

"The United States must live with a clash within a civilization that will not go away, which cannot be defeated through military action or counterterrorism, and where the primary theater of conflict is a battle for the future of Islam and reform within the Arab and Muslim worlds," Cordesman goes on to say.

"Iraq is a catalyst, but it is more a symptom than a cause," says Cordesman. "Islamist extremist terrorist movements would have continued to strengthen with or without it."

Quite possibly so, but nevertheless, the occupation of Iraq and its mismanagement from day one of the post-combat phase has contributed in bringing about the current mess.

Cordesman adds: "Success or failure also depends on Iraqi efforts at political conciliation, not the war on terrorism." If Iraqis are successful at resolving their conflict peacefully, it will "seriously weaken or eliminate Iraq as a major cause celebre."

That is a very big "if."

Iraq is only one of several catalysts in the area, points out Cordesman. The future of each one is closely tied to the others' -- including Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the Taliban is making a comeback while their presidents throw accusations at one another across American television networks.

The bottom line is that the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan remains precarious, with or without a national intelligence estimate finding.

Source: United Press International

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Puffing On Iraq
Washington (UPI) Sep 25, 2006
During World War II, one of Hitler's favorite sayings was, "All generals lie." Today, Washington prefers the word "spin" to lie, although the difference is often difficult to parse. As an 18th century man, I prefer an 18th century word: puffery. If we consider some of the statements coming from our military leaders regarding the war in Iraq, we might think they are all clones of General Puff.

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