Jihad, the Failed 'Surge,' and the Abandonment of Iraq’s Non-Muslim Minorities

We are now in the middle of a full-blown Jihad, that is to say we have against us the fiercest prejudices of a people in a primeval state of civilization. -- Gertrude Bell, Baghdad, Iraq, September 5, 1920

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General Daniel P. Bolger’s Why We Lost -- A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars is a sobering read. Bolger went from a one- to a three-star general in Iraq and then Afghanistan, and once commanded 20,000 troops in Baghdad. He served eight years in these war zones, between 2005 to 2013. Bolger characterized (on p. 256) the much ballyhooed 2007 Iraq “surge,” at its tactical conclusion, thusly:

The casualty and hostile attack rates went down in the fall of 2007, never again to rise to their previous heights, at least during the remaining years of the American campaign. But the fighting never stopped either. It lingered, a third of the previous rate, but that was no comfort to those who fell, killed or wounded, or to their families. Al-Qaeda in Iraq, unrepentant Sunni rejectionists, surly Sadrists [Shiite followers of Muqtada al-Sadr], and Iranian handlers all kept their pieces on the board. As long as the occupiers remained, there would be attacks. As long as Iraq was Iraq, violence remained part of the picture.

Gen. Bolger elaborated on these sentiments in a November 2014 op-ed, while exploding the standard mythical trope about how the alleged “decisively victorious” troop surge -- with irony, repeatedly dubbed “fragile and reversible” by its putative architect, General Petraeus -- was “squandered” by the Obama administration’s policies:

Here’s a legend that’s going around these days. In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and toppled a dictator. We botched the follow-through, and a vicious insurgency erupted. Four years later, we surged in fresh troops, adopted improved counterinsurgency tactics and won the war. And then dithering American politicians squandered the gains. It’s a compelling story. But it’s just that -- a story.

The surge in Iraq did not “win” anything. It bought time. It allowed us to kill some more bad guys and feel better about ourselves. But in the end, shackled to a corrupt, sectarian government in Baghdad and hobbled by our fellow Americans’ unwillingness to commit to a fight lasting decades, the surge just forestalled today’s stalemate. Like a handful of aspirin gobbled by a fevered patient, the surge cooled the symptoms. But the underlying disease didn’t go away. The remnants of al-Qaida in Iraq and the Sunni insurgents we battled for more than eight years simply re-emerged this year as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

With sad predictability, one never sees General Bolger on Fox News, nor is it likely he will be advising any of the burgeoning group of Republican contestants for the 2016 presidential nomination. But there are a litany of even more important topics for discussion regarding the ongoing sectarian Iraq morass that are never broached by either Fox News or the Republican presidential hopefuls.

When President George W. Bush announced the “surge” in 2007, he maintained the overall objectives for this great expenditure of precious U.S. blood and treasure were to establish a “unified, democratic federal Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself, and sustain itself, and is an ally in the War on Terror.”

Any rational post-mortem indicates none of those goals were achieved, from either an Iraqi or U.S. perspective, even in the near term, let alone chronically. Before the surge wound down in June 2008 -- but at the height of its alleged “success” -- a March 2008 poll from Iraq found that 42% of Iraqis labeled attacks on U.S. forces acceptable, and only 4% believed that U.S. forces were responsible for the transient decline in violence.

The poll also indicated that 63% (total) maintained that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq was actually worsening (26%), or had not improved (37%) the security situation.

In July 2008, both Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and Iraqi National Security Advisor Muwaffaq Al-Rubaie sought a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops. As Gen. Bolger’s lucid account reminds us, the November 17, 2008 Bush administration “Agreement Between the United States and the Republic of Iraq on the Withdrawal of U.S. Forces from Iraq and the Organization of Their Activities During Their Temporary Presence in Iraq” made requisite the full U.S. withdrawal by December 31, 2011, and an interim removal of American units from city and village localities by June 20, 2009.

Furthermore, this same Bush administration-negotiated SOFA (status of forces agreement) with our “Iraqi allies,” per Article 27, paragraph 4 (“Iraqi land, sea and air shall not be used as a launching or transit point for attacks against other countries.”) prohibited the U.S. from attacking, for example, Iranian nuclear production facilities or improvised explosive device factories from Iraqi bases and airspace.

A cursory, incomplete tally of murderous sectarian Sunni-Shiite car bombings in Iraq for the four years after the surge -- June 2008 through June 2012 -- reveals at least 65 attacks leaving 2000 dead and two- to threefold that number injured, many seriously. More importantly, then Iraqi President Talabani attended an Orwellian counter-terrorism conference in Tehran (June 25–26, 2011), just six months before the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Our Iraqi “ally” failed to object to the conference agitprop of their Iranian hosts “defining” the United States and Israel as the primary sources of global terrorism. Further:

In his meeting with Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, [Iran’s Supreme Theocrat Leader] Khamenei said that U.S. power in the Middle East had declined, and that this fact should be taken advantage of against the U.S. Talabani replied that the Iraqis were united in their opposition to the ongoing U.S. pres­ence in their country, and likewise asked for Iranian assistance.

On August 14, 2007, when the surging U.S. had 166,000 troops on the ground in Iraq -- not the mere one-fifth (or one-tenth) residual numbers pined for by those who insist the failure to secure a 2011 status of forces agreement with the al-Maliki regime sealed the undoing of Iraq’s “stability” -- 796 Yazidis were slaughtered and another 1562 wounded in one day during four gruesomely synchronized jihadist bombings. (See here and here, and  here  for U.S. Army confirmation of the death toll.) Veteran Middle East journalist Tom Gross provided this characterization of the events:

[T]wo tons of explosives detonated in four coordinated explosions in the northern Iraqi villages of Qahtaniya and Jazeera on August 14, 2007, the target was Iraq’s Yazidi ethnic and religious minority. 796 people died and over 1,500 were wounded as a fireball led to the collapse of mud and stone buildings on families trapped inside; many were then burned alive.

The endless critiques of Obama administration policy failures in Iraq last summer (see Krauthammer on Fox News; Hegseth in National Review Online) revealed a glaring lacuna in honest, self-critical discourse by omitting all discussion of the “mid-surge” Yazidi catastrophe. Such warped analyses were pathognomonic of a broader, much more disturbing ethical and intellectual travesty: ongoing attempts by mainstream conservatives to rationalize their uninformed, witless adherence to the utopian “(Bernard) Lewis doctrine”-inspired “Islamic democracy” fiasco in Iraq.

The successful post-World War II paradigm of neutralizing Japan’s bellicose, religio-political creed of Shintoism has been turned on its head with regard to Islam and the theocratic Islamic legal code Sharia, which is imbued with jihad and completely antithetical to modern human rights constructs.

Despite the proven, concrete success of the post-World War II reforms in Japan, past intellectual honesty on Shinto was replaced by craven, politically correct ignorance on Islam in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, as championed by a callow American pseudo-scholastic apologist for Islam’s Sharia, who evangelized for “Islamic Democracy,” Sharia-compliant Iraqi and Afghan constitutions were crafted (and of course extolled by this same “scholar,” here and here).

Born of willful ignorance about living Islamic doctrine and history, this deficient mindset begot a corollary dangerous absurdity: embrace of the Petraeus “COIN” theory, a see-no-jihad, see-no-Islam military strategy designed, perversely, to somehow “defeat” the ancient-cum-modern forces of global Islamic jihadism.