Iraq


Newsweek suddenly discovers that Army officers are educated. Well, yes.

The Petraeus Brain Trust isn’t just a collection of officers with PhDs. The Petraeus team has some of the best commanders and counterinsurgents in the US and allied Armed Forces today like LTC Nagl, Col. McMaster, LTC Kilcullen, UK Maj. Gen. Newton. Men like McMaster are legends in their own right.

The previous generation of top officers were stuck in a Cold War mentality. Usually in wars, armies find out that their best peace time generals are better politicians than fighters. Today, our peace-time politician-generals were mediocre, not awful, so they didn’t perform well but didn’t screw up much either. It takes a few years for the true leadership to emerge in any war.

Petraeus and his team are like the Civil War team of Grant, Sheridan, and Sherman, or the WWII team of Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton. Petraeus’ rise signals a more lasting change because this also changes the ‘culture’ of military promotions, so now the real counterinsurgents can rise in rank and responsibility.

Bill Ardolino has a great essay describing the Marine operation in Fallujah. He talks about the operation, reconstruction, and formation of neighborhood watch groups like the the “Fallujah Protectors” who work with the Iraqi Police and Marines.

Grim Beorn’s post Clausewitz and the Sunni Triangle is perhaps one of the best descriptions of the Iraq War.

He takes four ideas Clausewitz – the Trinity, the Culminating Point of Attack, Friction, and the fog of war – to describe the relationship between the Americans, the Sunni Tribes, and the insurgents.

Grim identified the two centers of gravity in this war – The Sunni Tribes and the US Congress. If the Tribes flipped, Al-Qaeda loses. If Congress flips, Al-Qaeda wins. This was a race to see who would lose first.
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The ISG and the US Institute of Peace recommend the US stay in Iraq and hand over power in 5 years. They advise a gradual troop reduction by 50% by 3 years. It also warns the US of Iranian attempts to control Iraqi politics.

That’s about right. The Pentagon is projecting roughly the same figures over the same time period. Partisan rhetoric aside, there is general bipartisan support for this strategy.
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“War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.” -Georges Clemenceau

In my last post, I said that history was actually unpredictable. Hindsight bias makes us declare we could predict what already happened. Since we are so good at predicting the past, we tend to think the future is just an extrapolation of current events. And so the future is always absurd and unpredictable.

An unfortunately timed book, Thomas Rick’s Fiasco, is a good example of this as any. David Adesnik just started reading it and reviews it at Oxblog.
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Jackasses. The Sunni Political Party “boycotted” the Parliament while it was in recess just to grab international headlines. Now the recess is over, they returned to Parliament.

In better news, De-Ba’athification reforms will be addressed this week. Former Ba’athists are already rejoining the government at the local level. This requires the Parliament to recognize the de-facto reality on the ground in the Sunni Triangle.

Here’s what I think will happen in Iraq. Power will be decentralized to the tribal and provincial level. The Kurdish provinces will remain autonomous, while the Arab Sunni and Shia regions will reach a de-facto Federal compromise. Politics is ultimately more tribal than sectarian, so there will be gradual local reconciliation rather than partition or civil war.

Each province and tribe is taking care of security and economic reconstruction. Tribes are more influencial and responsive to popular needs than the national government.

Arming each faction may or may not result in a civil war. There are signs that the three factions have already reached a relative balance of power with the Americans as the peace-brokers. The Sunnis could not destroy the Shia-Kurdish government, nor can the Shia directly impose their will on the Sunni provinces. The national government is stalemated – a reflection of the political stalemate and balance of power. And so politics and security revert to the local level.

Which is just as well, given how corrupt central governments are in the Arab world.

Here is a copy of the General’s letter.

He states that US and Iraqi Forces have the momentum. Insurgent attacks are down to their lowest level in a year. Local reconciliation and reconstruction is proceeding at an unexpectedly good pace, but the national politics remain stagnant and corrupt.

Black Five interviewed Bill Ardolino.
Here’s the podcast (mp3).

Ardolino provides a graph showing the decline in the level of violence in Fallujah.

Capt. Patriquin played an obscure but instrumental role in the Iraq war. He helped pacify Ramadi, which was once the de-facto capital of Al-Qaeda. His plan in 2006 was simple. The US must reach out to the Sunni Tribes and encourage a tribal urprising against the insurgency and Al-Qaeda. The tribes provided intelligence and police officers, while the Americans provided reconstruction and military aid. Because of Patriquin’s efforts, and the efforts of many men like him, the Anbar Awakening transformed the Province.

Ramadi citizens call him a martyr.

Here was his simple power-point explanation of the plan: How to Win in Iraq

Fallujah has been pacified by American and Iraqi forces. There has not been a major insurgent attack since April.

US Forces locked down the city and cut it up into fortified segments. No transports or commerce flowed into or out of the city. Civilian auto travel was prohibited. All civilians had to pass through checkpoints and register with a biometric database to enter or leave the city.

Everything was completely shut down so the Iraqi security apparatus could be constructed and could flush out the remaining insurgent pockets.
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Michael Yon is writing a great 4-part series about Anbar and Counterinsurgency. Part I, Part II, Part III.

The US put together a database of criminal and insurgent leaders in Iraq. The intelligence advantage made the COIN strategy effective. Instead of blindly searching through hostile civilian neighborhoods, US forces can now surgically target individuals with quick raids.

Strategy Page discusses how US Intel built up a database about the “Gangs of Iraq”.
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Back Talk analyzes civilian casualties and Former Spook looks at military casualties. The problem is that both casualty figures get inflated by single terrorist attacks or accidents which do not indicate trends.

Take military casualties. In May, prior to the COIN strategy, 118 were killed by hostile fire. In August, the number dropped to 54. The number of patrols and troops in theater increased, but the number of hostile attacks and the effectiveness of hostile attacks dropped significantly. The casualty rate is so low that it gets artifically inflated (by almost 30%) by a handful of accidents.

There are similar signs with Baghdad civilian casualties, which have dropped by half since the start of the year.

Jim Hanson gives a comprehensive review of the Haditha incident and the rules of engagement.

The charges have been dropped against all but one Marine so far and charges will likely be dropped against him too. There is no evidence that they committed a warcrime or violated the rules of engagement. The incident started when one marine was killed by an IED, followed by a small-arms fight in the town, then house-to-house fighting. The Marines killed a number of military-aged males and civilians. Hanson breaks down the incident step-by-step and considers the RoE and laws in war.

Mike Rentner’s comment sums it up:

But more importantly, strategically, they failed their mission by giving the insurgents more grist for the propaganda mill. Their role in Haditha was not only to kill insurgents, their role was to win the support of the people.

Col. Austin Bay describes Gen. Petraeus’s September as a “pivotal strategic gambit.” Truly we’re in a strange world where media events matter more than the battlefield.

But then, warfare was never very deadly in first place. It was always about perceptions. Can Petraeus win? Or will he be ignored by those who prefer fantasies?
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David Kilcullen describes the “Anatomy of a Tribal Revolt” at Small Wars Journal. The Tribes’ rebellion against al-Qaeda is one of the most unexpected turns of events in this entire war.

Some aspects of the war in Iraq are hard to fit into “classical” models of insurgency. One of these is the growing tribal uprising against al Qa’ida, which could transform the war in ways not factored into neat “benchmarks” developed many months ago and thousands of miles away.

Read the whole thing.
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Al-Sadr called for the Mahdi Militia to cease activities for 6 months so he can reorganize the force. This follows increased conflict between the Madhis and other Shia political parties.

Clashes at Karbala killed 50 during the pilgrimage. Mahdi militiamen attacked SIIC and Dawa political offices in Baghdad recently, escalating tensions even further.

The Jaish al-Mahdi is badly fragmented, with many units acting as local mafias more than a centrally controlled militia. The other Shia political parties, such as SIIC and Dawa, are turning against Sadr’s forces now that al-Qaeda is a declining threat.
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Michael Totten’s journalist tour through Iraq continues. He’s in Mushadah now, and reports on the quality of the Iraqi police in this town. They’re corrupt of course, and there’s a mixture of good news, bad news, and signs of improvement. It’s worth a read.

Iraq’s three factions agreed to major compromises this weekend. Legislation will be drafted and passed next month.

The counterinsurgency operation, the Iraqi Awakening movement, and the reconstruction of provincial governments created the atmosphere to allow a real central government to form. Iraqi Reconstruction is a bottom-up process.
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