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December 15, 2006

Evaluating Iraq Policy through Two Lenses
Posted by Jordan Tama

In debating Iraq policy, I'm struck that we often view Iraq through either a strategic or a humanitarian lens. The strategic lens centers our attention on how to pursue the goals of stabilizing the country, weakening Al Qaeda, minimizing Iranian and Syrian influence, and protecting other U.S. interests in the Middle East. The humanitarian lens brings into focus the huge human costs of our intervention in Iraq: the 2900 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis who've been killed, and the 2 million Iraqis who've become refugees.

Each of these lenses is very important. But the strategic lens tends to dominate discussions among foreign policy experts of how to proceed in Iraq, while the humanitarian lens usually frames the arguments of antiwar activists. In this post I'll try to evaluate some key Iraq policy choices through both lenses. (To simplify, I'll use the term “humanitarians” to refer to people using a humanitarian lens and the word “strategists” to describe people employing a strategic lens.)

I start with the premise that humanitarians share the general goal of minimizing the loss of life and other human costs of political violence. This goal can't tell us precisely what to do in Iraq, but, in combination with the strategic lens, it can help us rule out several choices and thereby narrow the range of options we should seriously consider:

1) Continue present policy. Since sectarian violence in Iraq is escalating under current U.S. policy, continuing that policy should clearly be unacceptable to strategists and humanitarians.

2) Adopt the "80% solution." Dick Cheney is reportedly advocating an 80% solution in which the U.S. would throw its support behind Iraqi Shiites and Kurds, enabling those groups to cement their dominance of Iraq. Strategists should reject this proposal because it would infuriate Sunnis throughout the Middle East, potentially doing long-term damage to our relationships with key Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Humanitarians should reject this morally reprehensible option because it would have America look the other way as Iraqi death squads slaughter Sunnis on a massive scale.

3) Withdraw immediately. Many opponents of the war call for a complete and rapid American pullout because they believe the American presence in Iraq fuels the conflict. If total withdrawal would indeed reduce the sectarian violence, it would be desirable from a humanitarian standpoint. But withdrawal would more likely exacerbate the civil war in Iraq and would probably be followed by armed intervention by Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Saudi Arabia. The outbreak of even a limited regional war would almost surely produce huge numbers of casualties and trigger genocidal killing. Humanitarians should therefore reject the quick withdrawal option.

(Advocates of more forceful intervention to stop genocide in Darfur should be particularly staunch opponents of an immediate pullout from Iraq, as Lawrence Kaplan has argued. If we have a moral obligation to stop genocide in Darfur, our obligation to prevent genocidal violence in Iraq is at least as great since our own invasion led to the current conflict.)

Strategists should reject the option of immediate withdrawal too, since greater violence and a regional war would undermine every important U.S. interest in the Middle East. Some commentators have argued that we should leave Iraq now because we've lost the war. This argument is misguided. We're certainly losing the war, but whether we've already lost it or not depends on our goals. Even if we have lost, that doesn't logically lead to the conclusion that we should withdraw all of our troops. If complete withdrawal would lead to worse strategic consequences than would maintaining a presence—such as greater instability in Iraq and the region and an emboldened Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan—strategists shouldn't favor a rapid pullout.

4) Flood Iraq with at least 30,000 more troops. Humanitarians could support this option if it would enable us to stabilize Iraq. But a major influx of new troops—even tens of thousands of troops—is unlikely to create stability because the war is at its root a sectarian political conflict without a military solution. Strategists should also reject this option because the only way to free up the number of troops necessary for it would be to withdraw U.S. troops from strategically important locations, such as Afghanistan and East Asia, or to further erode military readiness for other contingencies. By contrast, a temporary surge of 10-20,000 more troops could probably be pulled off without incurring those strategic costs. But additional troops might do more good in Afghanistan than Iraq because each additional troop is likely to have a greater impact in Afghanistan, where our current troop presence totals only about 20,000.

5) Partition Iraq. Joseph Biden and Les Gelb argue we should decentralize Iraqi governance along sectarian lines (they say their proposal doesn't constitute partition), and Michael O'Hanlon and Edward Joseph call for a “soft partition” involving the controlled resettlement of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. These proposals might be justifiable and beneficial from a humanitarian perspective. O'Hanlon and Joseph argue that soft partition would dampen violence and facilitate a political solution to the war. But even if soft partition saved Iraqi lives, the U.S. would experience serious strategic costs if it advocated any kind of partition as national policy. Muslims throughout the Middle East would view the policy as confirmation of their long-held suspicion that we invaded Iraq to divide and weaken the country, providing a great recruiting pitch to groups like Al Qaeda. If Sunnis, Kurds, and Shiites decide through the political process to divide their country or realign populations, they have every right to do so. But America shouldn't advocate those steps.

So I've ruled out several options—current policy, the 80% solution, immediate withdrawal, a massive surge of troops, and partition. What does that leave in?

1) Promote political reconciliation. We have strategic and humanitarian interests in doing all we can to encourage and prod Iraqi factions to make the compromises necessary to stop the war, as the Iraq Study Group recommends. We're now the closest thing there is in Iraq to an honest broker—because unlike Iraq's neighbors and most political parties and armed groups within Iraq, we don't have a sectarian agenda and don't care very much about the details of a negotiated settlement. For the most part, we just want a peaceful settlement to take hold.

2) Step up military training. We have strategic and humanitarian interests in training the Iraqi army to be a more effective fighting force. The Army is one of the more respected and nonsectarian Iraqi institutions. Unlike the national police, it hasn't been massively infiltrated by militias, and it has the potential to hold the country together and prevent large-scale atrocities when it becomes stronger.

3) Build capacity and increase economic assistance. We have strategic and humanitarian interests in strengthening the capacity of Iraqi government institutions to provide essential services, and in providing economic aid to regions of Iraq that are secure enough for development projects. The Iraq Study Group recommends $5 billion per year in aid. That's more than we give to any other country, but it's a modest and smart investment considering that we're spending $100 billion per year on the war. We must distribute the aid in a way that minimizes the waste, corruption, and mismanagement that have hamstrung reconstruction efforts so far.

4) Protect Iraqis who've helped us. Many Iraqis have risked their lives to assist us as translators, as informants, and in other ways. If those Iraqis want to flee Iraq out of fear for their lives, humanitarians should favor giving them safe passage out of the country and making them candidates for U.S. citizenship. Some strategists might not care much about the safety of these Iraqis, but protecting them is important strategically because it would reassure other Iraqis and people in other countries that America stands by its friends.

5) Establish a red line on genocide. As sectarian violence escalates in Iraq, the risk of large-scale genocide is growing. Even if we decide to scale down our military presence, we should make clear through public statements and private messages that we will not allow genocide to occur. (By genocide, I mean systematic efforts to eliminate an ethnic or religious group in Iraq. While sectarian killings are widespread in Iraq today, genocide would consist of a different level of violence, involving the wholesale liquidation of communities of a certain sect—most likely, Sunnis.) The humanitarian motivation of this policy should be clear. It also makes strategic sense because the attempted extermination of a sectarian population in Iraq would further damage our already poor reputation throughout the Muslim world and might lead to violent reactions from nearby Arab states.

These policies that humanitarians and strategists should support—reconciliation, military training, capacity building and economic aid, protecting our Iraqi friends, and preventing genocide—don't represent a comprehensive policy on Iraq. We must also decide on the level of our troop presence in Iraq, the types of missions those troops should engage in, and our diplomatic strategy for the region.

But ruling out and ruling in some policies should narrow the debate about what to do in Iraq. Humanitarians and strategists can reasonably differ on some of the details of these policies, but the humanitarian and strategic lenses lead to the same conclusion on most of them. Let's agree that these policies should be taken off the table or adopted, and focus our debate on the tougher choices and on the details of implementing them.


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Very good post and good arguments. I would add that there will be no single solution, that we will have to balance and synchronize multiple courses of action in order to satisfy both the strategists and the humanitarians.

I would add the importance of not just offering economic assistance, but dedicating more security and technical effort towards the oil industry. Instead of spending $100s of billions of US tax payer money, it would be good for everyone if Iraq can pay their own way. That oil money going back to the Iraqi people should satisfy the strategist because it is a long term solution towards stability and self-reliance, and the humanitarians should love to see so much money pouring in to help those who need it.

Jordan, you have presented by far the best argument I've ever seen for continued bloody occupation of iraq by the US military. However, I have some deep concerns.

1, you argue that we must not continue the present policy because it is allowing sectarian strife. But we have never had any coherent explanation of the purpose for the present policy. What if the current purpose is precisely to create sectarian strife that will spread across the middle east? If you believe that islamofascism is the major threat the USA is facing, then that would be the best outcome. Islamofascists cannot unify muslims against the USA while sunnis and shias are busy slaughtering each other everywhere they live. I personally think that's a stupid goal, but if it *is* the goal, you aren't going to influence the US government by saying it's unacceptable. If that's what we're trying to do, it will take a big effort to change it -- starting with impeachment.

2. The 80% solution is what we've been unofficially doing all along. We decided that sunnis were the enemy back in 2003, and we've behaved that way ever since. We've talked about playing divide-and-conquer, about making friends with sunnis on our terms since their alternative is for us to let the shias kill them, but we apparently haven't done much along those lines. Maybe because there's no obvious way for us to protect sunnis from shias. If we could stop death squads we could stop terrorists, and we can't. The most we could do would be to stop funding and training shia death squads, but it's too late for that to have much effect -- they're training themselves and they have no trouble getting funding and arms.

3. You say we shouldn't withdraw because if we do the violence might increase and it might spread. But before we accept that argument we need some idea how the US military could slow the increase in violence and discourage it from spreading, rather than the reverse. If you have a plan for changing things around so the US military stops spreading violence, let's hear it.

5. Officiallyk partitioning iraq isn't our choice to make. The official iraqi government (OIG) gets to make that choice. If we keep talking about whether to do it, we'll look like we think the OIG is just our puppet. While of course that's true, still we shouldn't admit it in public. Don't talk about partitioning iraq. Just do it, or don't do it. Or if we can't stop it, then live with it. Anyway, there's no particular reason to think partition would save lives in the long run. When people can't get along as neighbors in next door houses, chances are they won't get along as neighboring countries either. Hindus and muslims didn't get along in india so they partitioned with great hardship, and not so long ago they were threatening to nuke each other. There may have been no better choice but that one didn't turn out so well.

Now, about your suggestions --

1. Promote political reconciliation. That's fine. But what does it have to do with the occupation army? What can we do to promote reconciliation that works better with the US military in place than without it?

All I can think of is that without the army there, they're likely to ignore our good advice. But they're doing that anyway -- everybody in iraq knows we're on the way out. So how does the army help us do this?

2. Training. This looks mostly harmless and the money we pay trainees helps hundreds of thousands of iraqi families survive. But wherever did you get the idea the iraqi army isn't heavily infiltrated by militias? Why do you think it will ever get stronger? Is there some reason to think the training we provide is what they need to create security? At this point the best we can say for the iraqi army and for additional training for the iraqi army is -- mostly harmless.

3. Economic aid. You're going with $5 billion. But if we pulled out the military and reassigned the money that the military wouldn't need because they weren't occupying iraq, we could give them $5 billion a *month*. If we wanted to.

4. Protect our collaborators. I agree with this, but note that there's no reason to think we have many real collaborators left. Everybody in iraq knows we're leaving soon. And we never did that much to protect our iraqi friends, they've been getting killed since 2003. Why haven't the ones who're still with us gotten killed? The obvious answer is because most of them are spies. But no matter, we should do what we can for them anyway. But do it at the last minute, and don't tell them ahead of time. If they thought they could go to the USA today and be candidates for citizenship, a lot of them would do just that and leave us without their services.

5. Preventing genocide. It's a little late to decide that now, what with the Salvador option and all. Whatever we say we want, there's a good chance that the Bush administration's intention is to promote a genocidal war all across the middle east. And I haven't noticed anybody talking up the idea like it's a good thing, we've mostly been either good-hearted or hypocritical about it. Are there people who are publicly admitting they think genocide is in our best interest? Bad puppies. We should make it clear that they are lunatic-fringe and that nobody agrees with them, whether our policies do just what they say or not.

So, what's your proposal? Beyond what we should say we want. If we catch iraqis doing genocide, should we -- do airstrikes? Stage a massive raid and bring in lots of helicopters to rescue the victims from the concentration camps? Impose economic sanctions? Ask other countries to donate troops to fight the bad guys? Send in ground troops to shoot the bad guys one by one? With heavy artillery support? Cut off food supplies to areas where genocide is going on? Everybody but the lunatic fringe officially agrees with you that genocide is bad and should be discouraged. So what?

Good post. Unfortunately, as Atrios points out, the chances of this administration pursuing a sensible combination of your preferred options is almost nil. And in the end, they call the shots. That said, contra Atrios, it makes sense to put non-crazy suggestions on the table in the hope that they'll become part of the national conversation after those in charge exhaust all other options.

I tend to think public pressure in the U.S. to leave will reach a breaking point and then we will desert the country--maybe not until Bush leaves office. I am afraid for Iraqis after that happens. We have never (as far as I know) intervened with troops on the ground for the purpose of stopping a genocide. We have, however, triggered (Cambodia) or enabled (Kurdish Iraq) genocide and then completely ignored it. I don't say this to argue that we should stay, but once we leave, we will certainly not return. There are no good outcomes now for Iraqis. I think the chance of your option #5 happening is exactly zero.


Although I think your analysis of the drawbacks of the proposals on the table is generally accurate, your own proposals just seem to embody wishful thinking, and a continuation of the same fond hopes for Iraq that have driven Iraq policy since the war began, and are responsible for the futile and melancholy inertia of the US course in Iraq. Strengthen the government; train the security forces; promote political reconciliation; eliminate waste, fraud and abuse: we have heard calls for these moves since the war began. In the end they are not much different from the Bush plan. But the US has tried to promote political reconciliation; it has been talking incessantly about training troops since the war began. It’s not happening.

The government is pathetically weak, and barely deserves to be called a “government” at all; it is a vipers’ den of separate interests angling for sectarian and ethnic advantage in the post-government future that all know will come. The military forces are uncommitted to the government and no amount of “training” will rectify that fact. The country is run by networks of local leaders, their militias and criminal gangs among whom I sense little will for a reconciliation effort of any kind.

Face it: the central government in Baghdad is a lost cause, and Iraq is facing some sort of divided future, whether we like it or not. It’s time to face this fact and work with others inside and outside Iraq on managing the dissolution and minimizing its most harmful consequences. I’m well aware of “how this will look” to people in the region. It will look like American’s came to Iraq to divide it, and the conspiracy theorists in the region will say this was the plan all along. That’s too bad. It’s too late.

The Saudis and our other Gulf friends don’t like the writing on the wall, and have lately mounted a major propaganda push, with high-profile stories in the Washington Post and New York Times, including threats to intervene in Iraq if we leave or allow the Sunni to Shiite power shift to stand. Well, I’m unsure about how much weight to give to the “infuriating” of our Sunni friends in the region. It is mainly the Sunni Arabs in Iraq who have been killing American soldiers, and have been blowing up Shiites and Kurds with reckless abandon since the beginning of the war. Under the guise of fighting to liberate Iraq from US occupation for alleged “nationalistic” reasons, the Sunni community has been fighting rather to hang on to some semblance of their former privileged position in Iraq, when they ruled as a minority, and suckled from the largesse of the Tikriti mob that ran the country. The tables have turned, and it sucks to be them. But we can hardly go about putting them back in power, at least with anything close to the only level of power which will satisfy them: national domination. Even if we wanted to do this, we couldn’t. And the Saudis can’t either. The Sunni Arabs in Iraq are just going to have to get used to ruling only over their own limited chunk of Iraq.

If our Sunni Arab allies in the Gulf were so concerned about their co-sectarian brothers in Iraq, perhaps they should have done more over the past few years to reign in their suicide-bombing savagery.

The Biden/Gelb approach and the Cheney approach just seem to be two ultimately convergent ways of coming to grips with the same fact: the US has in effect spent 15 years encouraging Shiite and Kurdish autonomy and separatism, and as a result of the war, these communities have largely succeeded in breaking free of their former overlords and have taken the first steps toward establishing secure home rule over the territories in which they dominate. It is too late to reverse this process. US policy has for too long been dedicated to weakening, decentralizing and rupturing the Iraqi state. That was the goal following the Gulf war in ’91. It was the Clinton goal in the 90’s. That process is now essentially complete. The state is effectively gone, and only a few wrangling politicians are left in the Green Zone to remind us of its existence. It’s time to end the myth.

There is no need to look the other way on death squad activity. Just as you say: we should have a zero tolerance policy toward genocide, and all death squad activity short of genocide. We can tie our financial and military support for Kurdish and Shiite autonomy to commitments by Shiite and Kurdish groups to restrain militias and prevent death squad activity.

The final key here is that we must engage with Iran. Instead of falling in line with the latest propaganda push from the prices of the Gulf coast, and regarding Iranian influence in Iraq as something dreadful and inherently threatening, let’s recognize that the threat is mainly to the interests of these kings and princes – particularly their economic interests and their prestige interests – and is not necessarily a problem for American interests at all. It is a problem only if we let it be a problem. But if we simply recognize that Iran is a rising power, and that we have much to offer them in trade for which we can get quite a lot in return, this might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Let’s use some imagination here.

Bad post.
As regards the strategic lens, your premises are mostly wrong. Obviously Bush's goals in Iraq are to destabilize the country, strengthen Al Qaeda, and maximize Iranian influence.

Paul Joseph Watson: It is now clearer than ever before that the blueprint for Iraq from the very start was to deliberately allow the country to descend into chaos and encourage Muslim to kill Muslim as the Neo-Con juggernaut of ethnic cleansing roars on to steamroll its next victim.//In brief, the Iraq civil war essentially started on February 22, 2006 with the bombing of the Askariya mosque in Samarra which was done in an American-controlled city under American auspices. Witnesses reporting military movement around the mosque during a dusk-to-dawn curfew. The bombing required extensive drilling in stone pillars and was done by demolition experts. The SCIRI death squads operating mainly in Baghdad were trained by US agents. This is the "Salvadoran Option" mentioned by Cheney in his debate with Edwards. From Asia Times: The Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group implemented by the Pentagon is regarded by Sunnis and quite a few Shi'ites as being the mastermind of some of the car bombings, assassinations, sabotage, kidnappings and attacks on mosques fueling the civil war. The "Salvador option" has developed into the "Iraqification option". US-trained death squads in Iraq are not much different from the death squads in El Salvador during the 1980s - subordinated to the same "divide and rule" tactics. This is the "civil war" dirty secret: let the Arabs kill one another with the US posing as "victims".

As regards al Qaeda it is a well-known fact that the Bushes are tight with the Saudis and the influence of the bin Laden family has been a political godsend to Bush, who has stated that he is really not interested in capturing Osama bin Laden. The failure to capture bin Laden and the shifting of focus from Afghanistan to Iraq speak for themselves. There were no al Qaeda in Iraq when we invaded. Our continuing unpopular (with Iraqis) occupation is serving to build and strengthen an al Qaeda-Sunni connection.

Our present efforts in Iraq are oriented on defending the Iran-allied Islamic fundamentalist Iraqi government, maximizing Iranian influence in a country formerly alienated from Iran.

I don't buy this view of Iraq Don.

The neoconservatives were as daft as they seem. They expected the could brush aside Saddam, put it place a government dominated by Chalabi and other Western-leaning "secular Shiites", normalize Iraqi relations with Israel, and that the ignorant and hapless Iraqi dolts would all settle down and go along with it. It is satisfying to attribute cleverly diabolical conspiracies to them aimed at dividing up Iraq, but I don't think they are that swift.

Bush himself is strongly committed to the success of the government he has tried to build, and has resisted all calls for division, partition etc. since then. He is stubborn, prideful and ignorant, and that's why he won't adapt. He's not a Machiavellian genius executing a subtle plan to divide what was once a unified country. He's a fool who didn't realize the country he invaded was already disunified and poised for rupture.

Perhaps the civil war accelerated into turbo-drive earlier this year, but the civil war began back in 2003. The US is responsible, despite itself, for the rupture of Iraq because it spent years weakening the Iraqi state, and then threw a big Molotov cocktail into the country in March of 2003. But once the cocktail was thrown, the die was cast. I don't buy the theory that since Iraq has fallen apart, that must have been the plan all along. That's the sort of thinking that is perpetually popular in the Middle East, because they tend to believe Americans are both smarter and more powerful than we actually are. They can't believe that we created this mess accidentally. But we did. We're brutish fools and bunglers.

Iraq is not going to fly back together again after the US leaves.

Dan, you are of course free to disagree, but the facts are on the other side. I just brushed some of them, I could go into greater detail. There is also the Iraqi constitution which we drafted that guarantees sectarian strife.

There is this conventional wisdom that the US seeks stability with its war-making. Think about it. Given our hegemonic (I just coined that sucker) focus, what enhances US national power more than instability in the world? Or in any nation that we occupy?

Instability, with high military spending, is what results in high corporate profits and a high stock market, and is what bought Richard Cheney his $2.9 million house paid for with blood-money Halliburton dividends.


I understand you point about the general benefits to the US and US war profiteers of a certain amount of conflict and instability in the world. But I continue to think that in Iraq the plans have gone badly awry.

I don't think the Americans were thrilled about the constitution, and its provisions for regional autonomy, and would have prefered a stronger central state. But allowing those constitutional provisions was the only way they could get support of major parties - particularly in the Kurdish camp.

The US government also hoped to pay for the war with oil revenue from a privatized Iraqi oil industry. But the continuing insecurity and sabotage has required them to keep it that industry in state hands and has also cancelled the windfall. I understand that US oil companies are profiting from the high prices. But Bush himself is on the run politically, and the failed and costly war has wrecked his administration and the political fortunes of his party. So I don't think oil profiteering explains the mess.

I also think the US defense industry hoped to have a stable Iraqi government/client to which it could sell arms. But the absense of a reliably stable buyer who could be trusted not to turn weapons against US interests in the very near future has meant that nobody in Iraq is getting heavy weaponry.

And then of course there is the issue of the bases and their purpose. The Bushco plan was to use Iraq as a base from which to carry forward the regional transformation project. But those plans are in the toilet, since there is no way that Iraq now constitutes a reliable military platform for further attacks. In fact, US soldiers,supply lines, bases and equipment in Iraq would be placed at great risk if hostilities break out between the US and Iran.

So I'm still inclined to think that they just genuinely f***ed up the whole thing.

I am sorry Don, I just don't think Bush is an evil mastermind. Earlier you argued that he was incompetent and only elected because of the good ole boy network, now you are saying he had the foresight to destroy Iraq's economy, institute a piece of strategy from the 80s for a year in preparation to blow up a mosque to start a civil war.

Maybe you are right, maybe that is why in Oct 04, these special commandos you are talking about, were ordered to protect the mosque from an insurgent attack while coalition and Iraqi forces reentered Samarra. Maybe they were just recon'ing it for future demolition. Maybe you can add that to your list of facts.

I asked you before, and I ask again, do you have any actual facts other than just conspiracy theories? You said you could go into greater detail, please do so.

Curious, the Paul Joseph Watson you are quoting, would that be this 24 year old British kid? He seems like a good kid, has some interesting theories on who killed Princes Di.

Bush himself is strongly committed to the success of the government he has tried to build, and has resisted all calls for division, partition etc. since then. -- Dan K

But Bush isn't resisting division. He's backing Hakim against Sadr. Hakim essentially wants partition, and what's more he has closer ties to Iran. So why is Bush supporting him? (One possible reason is that SCIRI is also much more in favor of privatization.)

The fact is that the US is trying to divide and conquer throughout the Middle East. We're arming Fatah against Hamas, probing tensions among Iran's minorities, and some are even talking about how we can benefit from civil war in Syria:

Advocates of political engagement believe a war with Syria could unleash Islamic fundamentalist terror in what has hitherto been a stable dictatorship. Some voices in the Pentagon are not impressed by that argument. "If Syria spirals into chaos, at least they’ll be taking on each other rather than heading for Jerusalem," said one insider.

This is my main objection to Jordan's post. We're not an honest broker in Iraq. We have interests in permanent bases, oil, and an American gov't that's friendly to us (as Suzanne pointed out the other day, despite the fact the Iraqis overwhelmingly hate us and want us to leave). We have a hundred competing priorities in the country besides peace and stability. And some in the administration -- like Cheney -- clearly support genocide.

Anyone who favors continuing the occupation is making the same mistake the liberal hawks made in 2002. They thought the war was going to be done their way, but instead it's Bush's war. Now they think they can influence how the occupation will be handled, but it's still Bush's occupation -- and he may very well favor genocide so he can "win."

Your post depends a lot on what people "hoped" but the facts are that the U.S. has actively promoted dissension in Iraq.

In his debate with John Edwards, Dick Cheney said: "Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador."

Part of a secret $3 billion in new funds tucked away in the $87 billion Iraq appropriation that Congress approved went toward the creation of a paramilitary unit manned by militiamen associated with former Iraqi exile groups. "They're clearly cooking up joint teams to do Phoenix-like things, like they did in Vietnam," says Vincent Cannistraro, former CIA chief of counterterrorism. Ironically, he says, the U.S. forces in Iraq are working with key members of Saddam Hussein's now-defunct intelligence agency to set the program in motion. "They're setting up little teams of Seals and Special Forces with teams of Iraqis, working with people who were former senior Iraqi intelligence people, to do these things," Cannistraro says. The hidden $3 billion will fund covert ("black") operations disguised as an Air Force classified program.

The New York Times Magazine, in May, 2005, reported on the Salvadorization of Iraq. The template for Iraq today is not Vietnam, with which it has often been compared, but El Salvador, where a right-wing government backed by the United States fought a leftist insurgency in a 12-year war beginning in 1980. U.S. soldiers are increasingly moving to a Salvador-style advisory role. In the process, they are backing up local forces that, like the military in El Salvador, do not shy away from violence.

February, 2006: Samarra is an ancient city now surrounded by a five foot berm and acessible only through several manned checkpoints. The US Army 1st Infantry Division protects the city, which is under tight military control including an 8pm to 6am curfew when nothing but the military moves. There is a police torture operation now in the city library. Samarra has only half of its former 200,000 inhabitants. In the city is the usually heavily protected Askariya shrine (mosque), one of the country's most famous Shiite religious shrines with a huge gold-plated dome and adjacent minarets.

The curfew in Samarra started at 8pm. On February 21st, at 8:30pm, according to a witness, joint forces of the Iraq National Guard and the American Army appeared, then left at 9, then reappeared at 11pm. At 6am on the morning of the 22nd the ING left the area, and at 6:30 the Americans left. The first explosion occurred at 6:40, the second at

A witness: Just when it’s getting dark there was unusual activities by the ING in the area around the mosque, I heard their cars the whole night until next day in the morning. At least two witnesses saw "unusual activities by the ING [Iraqi National Guard] in the area around the mosque." Two mosque guards reported four men in ING uniforms had blindfolded them and planted explosives.

The bombing was the work of specialists, Construction Minister Jassem Mohammed Jaafar said Friday, adding that the placing of the explosives must have taken at least 12 hours. "According to initial reports, the bombing was technically well conceived and could only have been carried out by specialists," the minister told Iraqia state television. Jaafar, who toured the devastated thousand-year-old shrine on Thursday a day after the bombing which brought down its golden dome, said "holes were dug into the mausoleum's four main pillars and packed with explosives. Then the charges were connected together and linked to another charge placed just under the dome. The wires were then linked to a detonator which was triggered at a distance," the minister added. To drill into the pillars would have taken at least four hours per pillar, he also estimated. Damage to the mausoleum, holding the tombs of the 10th and 11th Shiite Imams, was extensive. "The dome was completely wrecked and collapsed on the tombs which were covered over by debris. The shrine's foundations were also affected as 40 percent of the power of the blast was directed inwards," he added.

As Sunni mosques were burned in reprisal attacks and Sunnis were gunned down in the streets, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of SCIRI and the Badr Organization which has come under so much pressure from the Americans, lashed out against Khalilzad.

"For sure, the statements made by the ambassador were not made in a responsible way and he did not behave like an ambassador," al-Hakim told reporters. "These statements were the reason for more pressure and gave green lights to terrorist groups. And, therefore, he shares in part of the responsibility."

There are yet more agents-provocateurs shenanigans in Iraq, including an American ‘security contractor’ [there are 100,000 unsupervised private contractors in Iraq] caught driving alone in Tikrit during the daytime curfew with explosives in his car. Hit men have used children to carry their guns both to and away from the crime scene, so the shooters aren’t caught ‘holding’ by the police. Having a private contractor deliver the explosives to the place of the provocation avoids the problem faced by the British military who were caught in Basra dressed as Arabs with a vehicle full of explosives. You just have to keep the private explosive delivery service separate from the military explosive planting operations.

In January 2005, Newsweek magazine reported that the “Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the US government funded or supported 'nationalist’ forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers.”

According to the Newsweek report, Pentagon chiefs were considering the recruitment of death squads from among SCIRI’s Badr militia, which had been incorporated into the US-recruited Iraqi security forces, to target Sunni resistance fighters and their sympathisers.

Negroponte would have been the man most qualified to supervise the implementation of such a death-squad program. While US ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, he supervised the recruitment by the CIA of local death squads from the Honduran army and police, and the arming of Nicaragua’s anti-government contras.

Negroponte wasn’t the only veteran of Washington’s “dirty wars” in Central America to be brought into Iraq while the “Salvador option” was being considered. The November 16 New York Newsday reported that the interior ministry’s commando units had been built up “over the past year under guidance from James Steele, a former [US] Army Special Forces officer who led US counterinsurgency efforts in El Salvador in the 1980s. Salvadoran army units trained by Steele’s team were accused of a pattern of atrocities.”

In El Salvador between 1984 and 1986, Colonel Steele commanded the U.S. Military Advisor Group, training Salvadoran forces that conducted a brutal campaign against the civilian population. At other stages in his career, he performed similar duties during U.S. military operations in Cambodia and Panama. After failing a polygraph test, he confessed to Iran-Contra investigators that he had also shipped weapons from El Salvador to Contra terrorists in Nicaragua, leading Senator Tom Harkin to block his promotion to Brigadier General. Until April 2005, Steele was the principal U.S. advisor to the Iraqi Interior Ministry's "Special Police Commandos," the group most frequently linked to torture and summary executions in recent reports.

Steven Casteel worked in Colombia with paramilitaries called Los Pepes that later joined forces to form the A.U.C. in 1997, and have been responsible for most of the violence against civilians in Colombia. Casteel is now credited with founding the Special Police Commandos in his capacity as senior advisor to the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

In August 2002, the first public hints of a new U.S. secret counterintelligence group -- the Proactive Preemptive Operations Group (P2OG) -- emerged from a report of the Defense Science Board (DSB), a Pentagon advisory group, and found its way into daylight.

"One hundred 'highly specialized people with unique technical and intelligence skills such as information operations, PSYOP, network attack, covert activities, SIGINT, HUMINT, SOF, influence warfare/deception operations' could constitute a new, elite Proactive Preemptive Operations Group (P2OG),' reporting to the National Security Council with an annual budget of $100 million.

"The proposal is the latest sign of a new assertiveness by the Defense Department in intelligence matters, and an indication that the cutting edge of intelligence reform is not to be found in Congress but behind closed doors in the Pentagon."

Asia Times: The Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group implemented by the Pentagon is regarded by Sunnis and quite a few Shi'ites as being the mastermind of some of the car bombings, assassinations, sabotage, kidnappings and attacks on mosques fueling the civil war. The "Salvador option" has developed into the "Iraqification option". US-trained death squads in Iraq are not much different from the death squads in El Salvador during the 1980s - subordinated to the same "divide and rule" tactics. This is the "civil war" dirty secret: let the Arabs kill one another with the US posing as "victims".


Just as in El Salvador, these actions were part of a disgusting and criminal covert campaign to win the war by dirty means. In El Salvador, the US was not trying divide the country. It was helping brutal right wing forces, because it wanted those right wing forces to win the war and rule the country in a manner agreeable to the US government and US capital.

Similarly, the "specialists" behind these acts in Iraq are affiliated with the US and the Iraqi government. For a time, the US was attempting to demonstrate its "good faith" to Sunni factions in the government and the countryside by brutally attacking Shiite terrorists and murderers, just as they have attacked Sunni terrorists and guerillas from the beginning of the war. Until perhaps very recently, Bush has seen the conflict as a struggle between the US and its "democratic ally" the Iraqi government, on one side, and the "terr'ists" on the other.

So while I agree that such actions, in addition to being murderous and criminal, only make matters worse, and make any sort of peaceful settlement less likely, I don't belive they show a deliberate policy on the US part to foment division. Rather they were part of an attempt to help the the Iraqi government assert control over the country, through the employment of ruthless means.

I think Bush is a pretty simple guy. He sees only two sides in Iraq - our side and the other side - and only two options - victory and defeat.

There is plenty of dissension all over Iraq. The US doesn't need to foment any. It was there before we came, it got much worse after we invaded and the state collapsed, and it's going to continue after we leave.

This analysis is not taking into account of the sociological realities of Iraq. Iraq is a country of tribes and big religious communities. People identify themselves with their belonging to such big groups. For example for a Kurd, the first and strongest identity is his tie with his tribe. There is now two confederation of among Kurdish tribes and the second strongest identity for a Kurd is his relation with the confederation that his tribe takes part in. But if his tribe leader changes his mind and takes part in the other confederation, the second identity of the member of that tribe is changed automatically. This is valid even his leader makes allies with the groups other than Kurds, and he acts accordingly even in the confrontations with his Kurdish brothers.

For the reasons explained above, an analysis carried on big identities such as Shiite, Sunni or Kurd, as monolithic groups, is misleading. In this sense, there is a problem of the representation of those big groups. All the parties will definitely claim that they are representing the identity and they have to be on the power. In the past, by exertion of power a coalition was governing the country. US has ended that coalition and a new consensus has to be created. This new governing coalition too will exert power on the parties not taken place in the governing coalition. Until reaching to such a consensus, the turmoil will continue. Outside forces such as US can not prevent this turmoil. Since the old consensus ended with the a trauma, recovery will take time and the organism will react to cure it by itself.

There is a saying in this geography. If there is blood to run up, can not stay within the body.

Dan, I am astounded by your ability to know what George Bush hoped, thought, planned and sees. You must be blessed with powerful insight, to give these assessments more credibility than the facts on the ground. Sorry, but it's out of character for you, I must say.

Let me put it a different way. What is the most powerful argument being used by the "stay the course" contingent? Well, it ISN'T the ISG conclusion that the situation in Iraq is "grave and deteriorating" because of our occupation (and so we need to leave). Then what is the over-riding reason that we must stay in Iraq? We stay in Iraq, they say, because there is sectarian strife and there might be a bloodbath if we leave. It'll be on our conscience if we leave. Pottery Shed: We broke it, we fix it. Deja vu. Vietnam 1968-1975. Same-old, same-old. Take it to the bank. Bush is, with a hundred billion more coming along, thank you very much. He's getting a little help from our agents in Iraq who are stirring the pot and keeping it boiling.

Sorry Don. We read many of the same accounts, but I have a somewhat different interpretation of the facts of the ground. The war party's plan was never just to stay in Iraq, but to use Iraq as a base from which to move on and attack other places. Yet the Iraq catastrophe has strained and depleted our military to such an extent that now both hawks and doves agree that the military resources for that next phase simply don't exist. I have to believe this is intensely frustrating to Bush and Cheney.

I believe Bush and Cheney are chomping at the bit to go after Iran and Syria, but their own incompetence and stupidity have tied them to a stone in Iraq. So I would conclude that there is no way in which they simply want to continue to stir the pot of chaos and sectarian strife in Iraq so that our forces will be bogged down there, staying the course, ad infinitum. They are desperate for something closer to victory: an outcome that will allow them to consolidate their basing in Iraq, draw forces down from the fight against the insurgency in Iraq, re-supply and re-dedicate those forces to their grand plans elsewhere.

Dan: You think Bush is "intensely frustrated?" How about me--I can't get you to think like me! Ha ha.

Oh: Do you really think Bush is in charge of a monolithic necon movement all moving in lockstep to a pre-arranged plan that countered no deviation, and has just gone astray on its own thus "frustrating" Bush?

Let me tell you, I spent some time in the military, and more than once I did things the way I wanted (which was the right way, of course) and not the way I was told to do them (the wrong way, of course). It does happen, believe it or not, and we shouldn't rule out that someone, or more than one, has "put one over" on the chimp (thus frustrating him). It's not that difficult.

Who knows? What we do know are the facts on the ground.

"Jordan Tama is a Ph.D. candidate at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University"

Why Jordan, you're not too old to enlist, from the looks of things.

And you're at Princeton. I'm in Philly. Tell you what...I will DRIVE you to the recruiter's office. I will do anything possible to help you enlist. Please reply here. I look forward to hearing from you and helping you help our country out in its time of need.

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