Monday, July 16, 2007

At least they are consistent about getting it wrong

While the resident grows ever more shrill, while Hadley makes the rounds to all the bobble-head Sunday morning venues; while the administration beats the drum, the hangers-on and true believers chant over and over again “al Qaeda, al Qaeda, al Qaeda

If we cut our losses in Iraq, it will be a victory for al Qaeda. If we don’t fight them there, al Qaeda will follow us home and attack a shopping mall near you. The only possible thing we can do is keep feeding ~30 American kids a week in the meatgrinder sacrificing them to appease the cruel al Qaeda, who will apparently salt our fields, poison our wells, wither our crops and cause our cows to go dry and our chickens to molt. Oh - they will behead us all and make the survivors wear burkas, too. At least that's how it will be if we don't keep up with our sacrificin' until January 2009. (After all, only a Defeat-o-crat would even think such a cowardly cut-and-run thing. Right?)

You see, if you aren’t pissing-down-your-leg terrified of al Qaeda, you are obviously tetched.

Well, fine. Color me tetched.

I have been telling anyone who would listen to just calm down a bit, al Qaeda is not nearly the threat that too many people have been deluded into thinking it is.

There was no al Qaeda in Iraq before this cocked-up invasion was launched. I have also been trying to get people to remember that Iraq is a Shia majority country and al and the boys are fundamentalist Sunnis. Just like there was no al Qaeda in Iraq before the U.S. invaded, there will be no al Qaeda in Iraq after the US forces leave.

They are simply not the threat this resident makes them out to be.

Instead, the gravest threat many American G.I.’s face comes from Jaish al-Mahdi (the Mahdi Army)

In the 10-square-mile district of West Rashid, the Mahdi Army also controls the housing market, the gas stations and the loyalty of many of the residents, according to the soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment. The militia has a structure familiar to U.S. soldiers: brigade and battalion commanders leading legions of foot soldiers. Its fighters are willing and able to attack Americans with armor-piercing bombs, mortars, machine guns and grenades. Meanwhile, the political wing of Sadr's movement plays an outsize role in the national government.

West Rashid confounds the prevailing narrative from top U.S. military officials that the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq is the city's most formidable and disruptive force. While there are signs that the group has been active in the area, over the past several months, the Mahdi Army has transformed the composition of the district's neighborhoods by ruthlessly killing and driving out Sunnis and denying basic services to residents who remain. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, described the area as "one of the three or four most challenging areas in all of Baghdad."

Dominance by Shiite militias is typically associated with places in eastern Baghdad, such as Sadr City, while areas west of the Tigris River and south of the Baghdad airport road are home to large Sunni enclaves. Not long ago the western neighborhoods conformed clearly with this perception. U.S. soldiers estimate that a year ago, Sunnis made up about 80 percent of the population there and Shiites 20 percent. But those numbers have now reversed, after a concerted effort to cleanse Sunnis from the area, according to U.S. military officials. Graffiti marking the walls in these neighborhoods herald the new order: "Every land is Karbala, and every day is Ashura," read one slogan, extolling the Shiite holy city in southern Iraq and a major Shiite religious holiday.

The brazen attacks on U.S. soldiers also appear to challenge the idea that the Mahdi Army has been lying low to avoid confrontations with Americans. Street fighting between the Mahdi Army and U.S. forces has also broken out in other parts of the capital recently, including clashes in the al-Amin neighborhood Thursday in which Apache attack helicopters were called in to quell the gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades targeting U.S. troops. The next day, U.S. soldiers killed six Iraqi policemen during a raid in which they captured a police lieutenant believed to be working with Iranian-backed Shiite militias.

American soldiers who oversee West Rashid -- a district of about 700,000 people that includes the al-Amil, Bayaa and al-Jihad neighborhoods -- described an organized, well-financed Shiite enemy that rules ruthlessly and distributes the spoils of war to the area's impoverished residents.

In recent months, U.S. commanders have contended that the Mahdi Army, also known by its Arabic initials JAM, has splintered into a loosely connected militia in which its leader, Sadr, exerts a tenuous grip over disparate factions.

American commanders attribute much of the current violence to what they are now calling "special groups" or "secret cells" of Iranian-backed militiamen who may be acting independently of, or against, Sadr and his followers. But taken together, they say, militiamen acting as criminal power-brokers seeking profit and the perhaps more moderate Sadr loyalists constitute a formidable challenge for the soldiers who arrived in the capital in March as part of President Bush's troop buildup.

"We have a different fight than the rest of Baghdad," said Capt. Jay Wink, the battalion's intelligence officer. "It's all JAM, really. In one way, shape or form, everybody who lives there is associated with it."

Reading the piece in the Washington Post today, I was immediately drawn back to one of the tenets set forth in the white paper Rethinking Counterinsurgency by Dr. Steven Metz.

In cases where a serious insurgency cannot be managed, the state and its supporters might consider an approach designed to deliberately encourage the insurgency to mutate into something less dangerous such as an organized criminal organization. This is never desirable, but there may be rare instances where organized crime is less of a threat than sustained insurgency. Call this strategic methadone. [p.52]

Even before I got to this part:

"The Mahdi Army kind of shorts them out of power," said Capt. Charles Turner, who oversees reconstruction projects for the battalion. "You drive down the roads, you look over here, it's light. And you look over there, it's dark. From what I've seen, it's kind of a Tony Soprano thing: 'I outnumber you, so I'm going to do what I want.' "

Along certain militia-controlled blocks, "the curbs are painted, the streets are cleaner, they have beautification projects," Turner said. "It would be cool if it was a positive thing, but it's not."

Well, positive thing or not, it represents the current reality. And since that reality was addressed in Dr. Metz’ paper, maybe it is time the Pentagon took their fingers out of their ears, stopped saying "La La La La La! I can't hear you!!!" and stopped trying their level best to ignore it until it goes away.

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