Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"Brutal Ethnic Cleansing", Not Surge, Brought So-Called "Success" In Iraq

One of John McCain's strategies to win the election has been to play up the so-called "success" of the Surge, and Obama's opposition to it. In doing so, he has had to confirm that one of his many "gaffes" on Iraq was no mistake:

In a conference call Wednesday, McCain foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann told reporters that the Arizona senator had not misspoken — that he had intended to tell Katie Couric that the troop surge, which began in 2007, had enabled the success of the “Anbar awakening” of major Sunni sheikhs against Al Qaeda, which began in 2006.

Juan Cole's powerful article reveals that the Myth of the Successful Surge is only that, a myth, subscribed to, logic and reason be damned, by John McCain in his bid to seal the neocon-numbed protoplasm imagined to be the "Republican electorate" and that all important fantasy "swing vote" (the "naaa, I dunno" crowd?). First off, is it really "success"?

"Most American commentators are so focused on the relative fall in casualties that they do not stop to consider how high the rates of violence remain."

Secondly, what is the real reason for the decrease in violence? Brutal ethnic cleansing, a Sunni-Shi'a civil war.

Although the "Sunni Awakening" has been rightly credited by Obama and others for helping reduce the "surge" in violence before the actual troop surge occurred, McCain's advisors and supporters, among others, are claiming that the surge provided on-the-ground support for that "Awakening" as well as implied "moral support", knowing that the U.S. would "be there" for them... But Juan Cole has another crucial point on this voodoo logic:

Proponents are awfully hard to pin down on what the "surge" consisted of or when it began. It seems to me to refer to the troop escalation that began in February 2007. But now the technique of bribing Sunni Arab former insurgents to fight radical Sunni vigilantes is being rolled into the "surge" by politicians such as McCain. But attempts to pay off the Sunnis to quiet down began months before the troop escalation and had a dramatic effect in al-Anbar Province long before any extra U.S. troops were sent to al-Anbar (nor were very many extra troops ever sent there). I will disallow it. The "surge" is the troop escalation that began in the winter of 2007. The bribing of insurgents to come into the cold could have been pursued without a significant troop escalation, and was.

And we have another issue:

For the first six months of the troop escalation, high rates of violence continued unabated. That is suspicious. What exactly were U.S. troops doing differently from September than they were doing in May, such that there was such a big change? The answer to that question is simply not clear. Note that the troop escalation only brought U.S. force strength up to what it had been in late 2005. In a country of 27 million, 30,000 extra U.S. troops are highly unlikely to have had a really major impact, when they had not before.

What the "Surge" really did was give the civil war away to the Shi'a. I'm sure Iran is shedding no tears over that, although I doubt anyone but the most callous would condone the way it went down.

As best I can piece it together, what actually seems to have happened was that the escalation troops began by disarming the Sunni Arabs in Baghdad. Once these Sunnis were left helpless, the Shiite militias came in at night and ethnically cleansed them. Shaab district near Adhamiya had been a mixed neighborhood. It ended up with almost no Sunnis. Baghdad in the course of 2007 went from 65 percent Shiite to at least 75 percent Shiite and maybe more. My thesis would be that the United States inadvertently allowed the chasing of hundreds of thousands of Sunni Arabs out of Baghdad (and many of them had to go all the way to Syria for refuge). Rates of violence declined once the ethnic cleansing was far advanced, just because there were fewer mixed neighborhoods.

CNN's Michael Ware seems to side with this view.

The sectarian cleansing of Baghdad has been — albeit tragic — one of the key elements to the drop in sectarian violence in the capital. […] It’s a very simple concept: Baghdad has been divided; segregated into Sunni and Shia enclaves. The days of mixed neighborhoods are gone. […] If anyone is telling you that the cleansing of Baghdad has not contributed to the fall in violence, then they either simply do not understand Baghdad or they are lying to you.

Does this contribute to Iraq's stability, one measure of real success?

The Shiitization of Baghdad was thus a significant cause of falling casualty rates. But it is another war waiting to happen, when the Sunnis come back to find Shiite militiamen in their living rooms.

As usual, non-military means could have been more effective had they been used earlier, more evidence that the "Surge" is and was not the path to success:

In al-Anbar Province, among the more violent in Iraq in earlier years, the bribing of former Sunni guerrillas to join U.S.-sponsored Awakening Councils had a big calming effect. This technique could have been used much earlier than 2006; indeed, it could have been deployed from 2003 and might have forestalled large numbers of deaths.

Other factors also contributed to the reduction in violence:

The Mahdi Army militia of Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr concluded a cease-fire with U.S. and Iraqi troops in September 2007. Since the United States had inadvertently enabled the transformation of Baghdad into a largely Shiite city, a prime aim of the Mahdi Army, they could afford to stand down.

This was a huge element in the "success" story. Not to mention economic factors unrelated to the surge.

The vast increase in Iraqi oil revenues in recent years, and the cancellation of much foreign debt, has made the central government more powerful vis-a-vis the society. Al-Maliki can afford to pay, train and equip many more police and soldiers. An Iraq with an unencumbered $75 billion in oil income begins to look more like Kuwait, and to be able to afford to buy off various constituencies. It is a different game than an Iraq with $33 billion in revenues, much of it precommitted to debt servicing.

And by what measure does McCain or anyone else claim that violence is now at "acceptable" levels, enough to be called "success"?

I'd suggest some comparisons. The Sri Lankan civil war between Sinhalese and Tamils has killed an average of 233 persons a month since 1983 and is considered one of the world's major ongoing trouble spots. That is half the average monthly casualties in Iraq recently. In 2007, the conflict in Afghanistan killed an average of 550 persons a month. That is about the rate recently, according to official statistics, for Iraq. The death rate in 2006-2007 in Somalia was probably about 300 a month, or about half this year's average monthly rate in Iraq. Does anybody think Afghanistan or Somalia is calm?

The talk about the Surge is more propaganda exploiting the civil war that the U.S. helped inspire and prosecute, wittingly or unwittingly, than it is anything else, much less a "Success Story". The story of Iraq is a tragedy, and McCain doesn't even get it.


Anonymous said...

other reasons why the surge did not work:it was anounced ahead of time - where, when, how many etc. also the local Sunnis already rejected Al Qaeda because of their ruthless killing of innocents.

Omyma said...

there were other factors leading to the reduction in violence than the ethnic cleansing... but

"the local Sunnis already rejected Al Qaeda because of their ruthless killing of innocents" is in fact, a part of the "ethnic cleansing"... Al Qaeda is notoriously pro-Sunni anti-Shi'a, and willing to kill Muslims who are Shi'a on the basis that they are "non-Muslim", and their methods, of course, are unimaginably ruthless and cruel, plus the locals are majority Shi'a, prompting a reaction of equal cruelty against not alQaeda alone, but the non-Qaeda Sunnis as well.