Strategy Page discusses the Real War in Iraq. It’s the rampant corruption and poor leadership of central governments that pervades the entire Arab world. Corruption and poor governance encourage many of the problems the Arab world faces. It increases radicalism and crime. It weakens the economy. Autocrats continue to bribe off their supporters and abandon their people.

US Forces are making gains at reducing corruption and reforming the Iraqi government. They are making a great deal of progress at the lower-levels of government.

Corruption and poor governance prevent nation-building. This makes the states unstable.

It is possible to reduce corruption so that government can operate soundly. The Kurds have done so:

The Kurds still had corruption and a shortage of skills, but they had been able to develop a peacefulness and prosperity that was in sharp contrast to the rest of Iraq. It’s amazing what peace and some honest government will do. Northern Iraq is a striking example of what the rest of Iraq could be like. But you can’t do it in a hurry.

In the Arab part of Iraq, the problem remains.

For most of the last year, the U.S. response to the corruption, incompetence and intransigence has been to attack it head on. This is how things are done in the Middle East. Except for Israel and Turkey, there are no working democracies in the region. It’s all bullies and police state politics. The locals understand a good hit up side the head.

The military does more than just shoot bad guys. It polices the good guys too. Here’s how:

More American troops are now embedded with Iraqi police and military units. Partly they are there to advise, but mostly they are there to spy. When incompetent or corrupt officials are spotted, the American troops can either turn them around or turn them in.

There’s no guarantee that this “war on corruption” will work, but things will remain bad if you do nothing. The Arab world is a mess because of the corruption.

Embedding US Armed Forces with the Iraqi Security Forces has led to a number of improvements. The Iraqis are taking the lead in more and more areas with the Americans in supporting roles. The Americans do more than support – they supervise. They correct and train Iraqis. For instance, Americans supervise interrogates to prevent Iraqis from torturing prisoners. Americans reduce the infiltration of militias into the Iraqi Army. They also prevent rival ISF units from getting into turf wars or ethnic disputes.

Another problem with Arab armies in general are the so-called “ghost soldiers.” Arab generals inflate the number of soldiers under their command. If they have 8,000 soldiers, they file paperwork saying they have 10,000. The central government sends them the pay for 10,000, allowing the general to pocket the pay of 2,000 troops. Not only is this widespread, it is seen as a normal practice. Armies seem stronger on paper than they are in the field. This can help Arab generals get faster promotions while they line their pockets. Corrupt practices like this weaken the military and waste a considerable amount of resources. American embeds quickly notice “Ghost Soldiers” and report on corrupt practices. Iraqi generals are more afraid of getting caught so they don’t inflate their payrolls as much.

A few months ago, Michael Yon witnessed the arrest of Gen. Hamid in Anbar Province. Gen. Hamid was a Colonel under the Ba’ath regime. He joined the coalition forces and led the Iraqi police in the city of Hit against al-Qaeda. Hamid fought well against AQI. He was a hero in the war.

Law and order is slowly being restored to Anbar, including Hit. Yon noticed the markets were open and people moved about freely. US officers did not require large escorts.

The problem was, Hamid was as corrupt as they come. He violated the golden rule – don’t abuse the people.

For several days leading up to 29 May, I accompanied Crissman as he circulated throughout the 4,000-square kilometer piece of Iraq under his watch, meeting with various sheiks, imams, city council members, mayors, and Iraqi policemen throughout the area. Invariably, concerns about General Hamid’s conduct were frequent topics of discussion. Some local officials who had once regarded Hamid as a hero were now beginning to fear him. Allegations claimed he was committing murders (extra-judicial killings), releasing some detainees for money, abusing other detainees, making deals with various insurgent groups (to include selling them weapons and ammunition), and condoning prostitution in Hit… Our side believed many of the charges, because there was growing evidence that General Hamid was engaging in criminal activity that could unravel progress towards stability here that can only be described as astounding.

The local Iraqi leaders asked LTC Crissman to resolve this problem. Crissman met Hamid for normal talks while organizing a brilliant plan to arrest Hamid on the spot. His infantrymen disarmed the Iraqi Police and peacefully took Hamid.

Crissman told the assembled chiefs the truth about what happened, and though they looked nervous at first, they seemed on board. Already, there was information of a possible reprisal attack, and so Crissman asked the chiefs to help him detain a couple of men in particular who might deliver reprisals. The police chiefs conferred among themselves and detained the men within hours. Crissman said he had already ordered the reinforcement of all the Iraqi Police stations in the city as well as the only bridge across the Euphrates in the city. He wanted a curfew to be established for three days. He was transparent with the police. He told them exactly what happened and what the next steps entailed. They responded with cooperation.

After the meeting with the police chiefs, we were already 15 minutes late to an emergency meeting of the Hit City Council. At least one of the Council members thought Hamid was still a hero, but most others agreed that what had happened needed to be done and thanked Crissman.

The Americans and Iraqis worked together to find a new police chief that would fight Al-Qaeda without the burden of corruption.

Back to Strategy Page

Iraq, and most of the countries in the Middle East, are broken. They have been for a long time. We in the West have generally ignored it, because there were no workable solutions that were easily available. Then came the latest wave of Islamic terrorism. This got worse, until September 11, 2001, and the prospect of mass murder in our own backyard became a reality….So here we are in Iraq, confronting the Arab problems up close and personal. It ain’t pretty. But unless the Arab problems are solved, the ugly aftereffects will still be there, and so will the threat of mass murder on the street where you live.

The US invasion revealed how broken Iraq was.

In fact, the level of violence in Iraq may be at the normal level or even below the historical level. The Ba’athists used an aggressive secret police and military to keep the Kurds and Shia in line. We know that hundreds of thousands of Shia and Kurds were periodically mass murdered to keep the Sunnis in power. Now most of the Shia and Kurdish areas are functional and peaceful – with the exception of criminal activity. The violence is reversed and concentrated on the Sunnis.

Yet the same problems remain. The Shia are just as corrupt as the Sunnis. Central governments in the Arab world offer poor leadership. Most people still turn to the family tribes who are a more reliable group.

The great problems of the Middle East will take 100 years or more to resolve. Until then, young radicals will blow things up because they believe in fantasy ideologies.