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August 29, 2007

Not Sectarian Violence
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

50 people died in clashes in Karbala in the South between the Badr Brigades and the Mahdi Army.  These militias represent the two largest Shi'a political parties in the South, SIIC and the Sadirists.  This will have no impact on the President's measures of violence. As Tony Cordesman explains, the military's numbers don't include what is going on in the South because Shi'a on Shi'a violence is not considered sectarian.

These figures [The military's number] also ignore growing Shi’ite instability in the south, and particularly in the southeast, and a growing threat from Iran

Repeat after me.  Progress.  Progress.  Progress.  Violence is down.....


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Cordesman gives us a partial picture of Iraq in his "Tenuous Case for Strategic Patience" but there are many more variables than the obvious military ones. He indicates that the US does not dominate the events in Iraq, but then rates the odds as 50-50 for success over ten years or so. Will there be any Sunnis left after ten years, or will they become "Palestinians" displaced from their own land? It's a given that the US troops will just keep driving around and getting blown up--will they continue to take it? What about the US main supply route going through Sadrist SE Iraq? And the oncoming attack against Iran? Cordesman mentions the possible supply of shoulder-fired missiles, which could change everything. They drove the Russians out of Afghanistan. Etc.

I think Cordesman, like so many others, has just accepted the inevitability of an ongoing war which, barring outright defeat or a soldier rebellion, nobody can stop without a diplomatic initiative, which Cordesman doesn't even address. Nobody does, since the ISG was washed away by the "surge". Pity, that.

I think Tony Cordesman is a military analyst so that is what he talks about the most. But his papers do address that there is a need for political, diplomatic, and ideological changes as the real way to make progress in Iraq. He is easy to take out of context so its important to see what he is actually trying to say. He was one of the first people to point out that going to war in Iraq was a mistake to begin with. Now one of the points that he and other people are making is that a quick withdrawal from Iraq can lead to genocide in Iraq and leaving without really caring what happens to Iraqis is irresponsible.

Not caring what happens to Iraqis? Where in Cordesman's report does he show any concern for Iraqis--the hundreds that die every day, the four million crisis-of-humanity refugees? The average American think-tanker cares not a whit about Iraqis--it's merely a crutch for continuing the war as if war, and its genocide, is good for Iraqis.

Cordesman writes that any reasonable withdrawal would take a year--plenty of time for diplomacy--do we still have a state department? Barring military defeat or troop rebellion the war will not end without diplomacy. The US has already had its military victory, mission accomplished, now it's time to pack up and leave because the US military occupation has obviously made things worse, and continues to do so.

We need to hear from a conflict-resolution analyst, not a military analyst. The military option is over. I know, the Pentagon rules, so it's hopeless. Give our "peacekeepers" more time. Ten more years.

How to Redeploy: Implementing a Responsible Drawdown of U.S. Forces from Iraq
By Lawrence J. Korb, Max Bergmann, Sean Duggan, Peter Juul
August 27, 2007

It is time to redeploy our forces from Iraq. An overwhelming majority of the American people and a bipartisan majority of Congress believe that the costs and risks of continuing to pursue the Bush administration’s strategy in Iraq outweigh any potential benefits that might be achieved by keeping our military mired in Iraq’s multiple civil conflicts. . .this report will demonstrate that an orderly and safe withdrawal is best achieved over a 10- to 12-month period.

Sounds like the surge is working.

You can read all his reports here:,com_csis_experts/task,view/type,34/id,3/

In this report, The Uncertain Cost of the Global War on Terror, he addresses the cost of human life:

In this report, The Tenuous Case for Strategic Patience in Iraq, he talks about what you may be referring to:

He is easy to take out of context and seems insensitive, but I don't think its the case. I think you can disagree but a person needs to really be armed with a lot of info first, especially before thinking he is evil. I used to be scared of him when I first started working at the same org for a time and I was very passionate about being against the war. But by the time I left I realized he can just be taken as insensitive but he's not bad.

I would also agree that there are people in think tanks who don't care about Iraqi civilians. The conversations don't talk about all of those who suffer. But then there are people who do. For example, we had Anthony Shadid come and present his book on how Iraqis have lived through the war from a first hand perspective.

First of all, it's "Sadrist." A better appellation might be JAM, which is the loose confederation of militiamen loyal, mostly by caste, clan and confession, to Moqtadr al-Sadr.

A different group, now called "SIIC" is the latest iteration of al-Hakim-led forces, many of whom originally came from the Badr Brigade based in, and controlled by, Tehran during the Baath years.

It gets tricky with JAM because after Samarrah a great many of these volunteers, even in the Special Group, splintered from the main movement and often operate away from Sadr's formal control, sometimes with Iranian support.

Second, beyond the larger issue of caste and a divergence over nationalism (Sadr's family famously stayed in Baathist Iraq and were killed, sometimes in front of each other), there are some sectarian issues.

Some Twelver clerics have declared Ali al-Musawi's 15,000 Shaykhi Shia in Basra (and the Baha'i and the Azali elsewhere) to be beyond the pale (part of this involves Saudi Arabia, but it's too complicated to go into).

The ongoing mini-civil war in the south is complicated, too. Sadr (who also is believed responsible for the massacre of Sunnis in Tal Afar some time ago) represents a caste-nationalistic challenge to Badrists, many of whom spent their adult years in Iran. When the British occupied Basra, a key policy was to replace the dead or evicted Baath with Bazaar Class reps, many of whom were Badr Corps (SIIC) veterans recently returned from Iran.

So one sees aspect of clan/tribe, caste (dispossessed versus bazaar class), confession (Twelver versus other sects), nationalism, and criminality (between the amazingly corrupt weak central government and its related Badr militias and the equally corrupt Sadrists and the proudly corrupt guild criminal networks that proliferate in lawless areas and serve various militias which are themselves little better than crime syndicates, having a need for money just like every other protracted insurgency).

If the weasel word to avoid is "sectarian," then by all means do so (although there is some of that in Basra). But it is helpful to explain the ongoing violence on the seams of ethnicity when it is, in fact, based on confessional issues.

Soldier's comment above reminds me of this article by Scott Ritter, in which he basically claimed that anyone who couldn't describe, in detail, the reasons behind the Sunni/Shia schism in the 8th century wasn't competent to comment on Iraq today.

If our goal was to rule over Iraq for, say, the next 50 years, I might agree. Certainly, the British imperialists occupying India had to have intimate knowledge of the petty rivalries of numerous Maharajas, and for good reason: all imperial occupations depend to a great extent on divide-and-conquer, hence the need to know which divisions can be most effectively exploited, hence the need for us, today, to know our Badrists from our Sadrists.

But what if our goal is not to rule Iraq, but to leave Iraq, with a minimum of chaos and civilian suffering? Then, I think, understanding the various doctrinal differences between the groups Soldier is writing about become less important than understanding the one thing that unites them: they (generally speaking) want us the hell out of their country. At this point this may be the only thing worth understanding about Iraqis.

And what's more useful, to understand the things that divide Iraqis, or to understand the things that we have in common with them? Imagine if, before we had ever invaded Iraq, we had asked this simple question: how would we react to such a "liberation"? Asking this one question would have dispensed with the nonsensical happy-talk about our troops being welcomed with candy and flowers, of a "cakewalk", and might, just might, have tipped the balance aganst invasion.

People the world over don't like foreign soldiers kicking down their doors and searching their houses. All else is detail, or as Edward Said would say, Orientalism.

Ahem. That actually was the original plan. One might google "Polo Step" and Franks and see the FOIAd documents available to everyone about the Phase IV planning. Or one could simply call up Gen Zinni and ask him what the initial CENTCOM invasion documents confected in 1998-1999.

But that would require a rudimentary competence in national security issues.

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