Here’s the sort of real information you only get from people on the ground. It is the sort of thing you hear from the soldiers. The good ones are unwilling to generalize about “the war,” they will only talk to you about the specific area(s) in which they fought, and they will always caveat it by saying “of course it could well have changed by now.”
Another reason why the MSM’s failure to embed reporters all over Iraq is a bad thing. I know there’s a blood lust against MSM reporters in general, but years from now fine New York Times reporters like John Burns and Dexter Filkins will be recognized for their hard work and thoughtful reportage. Now for our man on the ground in Anbar Province:
Written by Administrator
Tuesday, 29 May 2007
“In fact, there is a civil war in progress in Iraq, one comparable in important respects to other civil wars that have occurred in postcolonial states with weak institutions. Those cases suggest that the Bush administration’s political objective in Iraq–creating a stable, peaceful, somewhat democratic regime that can survive the departure of U.S. troops–is unrealistic.” Professor James D. Fearon, writing in the March/April edition of Foreign Affairs.
There is one problem with Professor Fearon’s thesis–the facts on the ground that I am seeing right now and that he has not seen in person or not seen recently.
A major part of Fearon’s well reasoned argument is that U.S. support for the Maliki government, “encourages Sunni nationalists to turn to al Qaeda in Iraq for support against Shiite militias and the Iraqi army.”
His argument is logical and would be correct if the Sunnis of Anbar cooperated with his argument–but they are not cooperating with the good professor’s thesis. In fact, they are doing just the opposite. The Sunnis of Anbar are now siding with the coalition and fighting Al Qaeda.
A month ago in this post I wrote about how the Anbar Awakening was moving downstream along the west bank of the Euphrates.
In Khalidiyah, the SAA had taken control of security for their own villages under the supervision of the Habbaniyah police and under the watchful eye of the Marines.
The awakening started in Ramadi and has now spread to Hit, Haditha and points west to the West bank of the Euphrates just north of Fallujah and then to the south near Amariyah/Ferris.
The tribes along the west bank are all tied into each other and some of the sub-tribes who have not joined the awakening are finding themselves in armed intra-tribal conflict.
The awakening has now spontaneously leapt the Euphrates and taken hold in an unlikely area–al Kharmah.
The village of Shiabi, located south-west of Kharmah, below the Kharma river is home to more than a dozen IP officers who work in Fallujah.
In November and December of 2006, as the Iraqi Army let the situation deteriorate in Kharma, AQIZ went on blood spree, kidnapping, torturing and beheading police officers.
It was about this time that General Sadoon, a retired Iraqi Air Force general who lived in Fallujah but whose home village is Shiabi and who is also the grandson of the true Sheik of the Jumayli tribe, organized the men of the village.
The Fallujah IPs gave them rifles, walkie talkies and ammunition.
The General put the men in fighting positions around the village and set up two check points.
Word spread quickly about the village that was standing up to Al Qaeda. Representatives from the Islamic State of Iraq met with the General to try to convince him to change his ways or scare him off.
“I met with them in December,” the General said, his eyes hidden by Ray Ban sunglasses, a duty belt around his waist with radios clipped to it.
Al Qaeda told the police officers of Shihabi and General Sadoon to support Al Qaeda and undermine the IP and the coalition or face the consequences.
The police officers and Sadoon decided to face the consequnces and fortified their village.
“They had no future,” the General said, “All that Al Qaeda has to offer is death. So I told them I will oppse them and from then on, it has been war.”
COP TOWN RUMBLES
The explosion from the semi-tractor-trailer bomb was heard miles away as a pillar of dust and smoke rose over Shiabi on cool February day.
“It rocked OP Delta and Camp Fallujah 5 clicks away,” said Captain Matthew Gregory, Commanding Officer of Able Company of the 3-509 Airborne.
AQIZ had attacked the village of Shiabi.
The men of the village saw the tractor trailer rig as it rumbled down the dirt road. There was no reason for a tractor trailer to come through Shihabi. After it ran a small check point they opened fire and the tanker full of gasoline and HME exploded into a ball of flames.
The awakening survived its first test.
The paratroopers of Able Company went to the village of Shihabi that day. The Company’s main focus was on the east side of the Kharma road near Subayet and were taken by surprise that a neighborhood watch had sprung up on their western flank.
“They were just working Shihabi #1 then,” Gregory explained. “Their fighting positions were small and weak. After looking at what they were trying to do I offered them support to build up their check points and gun positions but they declined then.”
Over the next few months the relationship between Able Company and the leadership of the neighborhood watch grew but the men of Shihabi still declined much of the assisstance Captain Gregory offered–until May 7th.
J.D. with members of the Shihabi PSF at one of their check points
“We received a radio call to be QRF at the Kharmah IP station and OP 3. As we made our way north on the Kharmah road we encountered a set of IEDs. As we cleared the IEDs we saw a half dozen IP pickup trucks heading for us. We couldn’t figure out what was going on,” Gregory said.
The IPs, some of whom have deep tribal ties to Shihabi knew what was going on–AQIZ was executing a complex attack on Shihabi #1 and #3.
The check point at Shihabi #3 was overrun and AQIZ gunmen were executing men and blew up a house.
In Shihabi #1, a full on fire-fight was raging as AQIZ entered the town with two DshKa anti-aircraft machine guns mounted on Bongo trucks.
“They came to kill everyone and destroy my home,” one of the men who fought that day said.
As Able Company and the IPs raced down the Shihabi road they encountered more IEDs.
“We met up with the Regimental QRF from Team Tank and cut across the desert,” Gregory said.
Two suicide bomber on foot raced toward General Sadoon–his standing up to AQIZ was unforgivable to the terrorists.
One blew himself up but failed to kill the General. Another was gunned down.
“We entered the village and spotted the two Bongo trucks. They saw us and tried to get out of town fast.”
The two trucks were cornered near a palm grove when the tanks and the Paratroopers caught up with them and decisively engaged the AQIZ gunmen.
“After that half victory the militiamen were shooting in the air, and driving around in the Bongo truck with this huge anti-aircraft gun in the back. It was…odd to see,” Gregory said.
“After that, they decided they wanted our help in building up stronger fighting positions and push the check points out farther.”
Marine engineers attached to the 3-509 built serpentine out of hesco barries on the Shihabi road less then a kilometer from the paratroopers at OP Delta.
The fighting positions were sandbagged and Able Company started keeping one of the militia’s radios in their command post.
One of the DshKa Bongo trucks is almost always stationed on the check point near OP Delta and the paratroopers and Engineers built a Joint Security Station in Shihabi #1.
“There aren’t any IEDs on the road leading to Shihabi and they are willing to work with the IP and run operations. But mostly they just want to protect their village,” Gregory said.
In the Army’s new counter insurgency manual one of the key techniques is population control–keeping people who don’t live in an area out.
The men of Shihabi are now following the guidelines taught them at the Provisional Security Force academy at Camp Baharia just outside Fallujah.
If a person from the village approaches the check point they are allowed through. If they are not from the village they are stopped and searched and asked what their business is.
If the answer is not suitable, they are told to go away or detained.
If they give an answer like, “visiting my cousin Omar.” The PSF at the check point will call Omar to see check out the story. If the story checks out, the PSF will hold the man’s ID card and vehicle registration while he is in the village and Omar is now responsible for his guest.
“The terrorists used to come here and demand money and steal and threaten us. But they do not come here anymore,” one PSF member said. When asked what he would do if a terrorist came to Shihabi the young man said very matter factly–“shoot him.”
AN UNREALISTIC THESIS
By late May, OP Anchorage in Shihabi was opened by Able Company of the 3-509 Airborne. The Neighborhood watch’s check points and fighting positions were complete.
Villages to the east of Shihabi have now asked if they can set up their own neighborhood watch and send men to the PSF training course at Camp Baharia just outside of Fallujah.
A PSF member mans a fighting position in Shihabi.
What is happening in Kharma has been happening in various parts of the formerly restive Al Anbar and shows the hazards in making bold statements, like Fearon’s, about the situation in Iraq.
A case in point is the classified Marine intelligence report leaked to the Washington Post last summer declaring that Al Anbar had been lost politically. Six months later most of Anbar has moved the opposite direction and is being won politically and on the ground.
Facts change quickly in war and Fearon’s well reasoned argument is built on facts that are not facts.
His statments about U.S. support for the Shia government encouraging “Sunni nationalists to turn to al Qaeda in Iraq for support against Shiite militias and the Iraqi army” is turning out not to be the case.
The tribal leaders I have spoken with, like General Sadoon, were sympathetic to al Qaeda until recently because they saw al Qaeda as a hedge against the Shia and the Persians and because they opposed the U.S. occupation.
“They said it was jihad,” Sadoon said, “but this is not jihad. These men are butchers and thieves.”
After seeing that al Qaeda had nothing to offer but death, violence, extortion and Sharia courts, they flipped to the coalition.
Sheiks have sent levies to join the Army and Police and have used the family ties to bring sub-tribes into the awakening.
The Shieks of Anbar at this time appear to have no designs beyond Anbar and securing their traditional power and commercial base which AQIZ was draining.
Professor Fearon’s thesis does not address the changes on the ground in Anbar. Ethier he was not aware of what was happening on the ground or the article was penned before the awakening took hold.
Given that this writer was the first civillian to personally see the Anbar Awakening make it to Khalidiyah and a village outside Kharmah, the fact that Professor Fearon’s article was outdated by the time it was published shows the hazards of Professors writing articles about Iraq for popular scholarly journals.
THE LOOMING CIVIL WAR?
But as successful as the awakening has been at achieving a reduction in the violence and improving security, it could lead to a situation Professor Fearon has not contemplated.
As noted above the Bush administration’s efforts to support the Maliki regime are not driving the Sunni to Al Qaeda, in fact the opposite has happened as the Sunni of Anbar are cooperating with the Army and Marines against AQIZ.
But the motivation for doing this has multiple facets beyond just a distaste for al Qaeda’s heavy hand with local Iraqis–there is also a strong political component.
Which could lead to an offshoot of Professor Fearon’s theory.
If the Sunni are seen as the sect working closest with the coalition to fight AQIZ and the Shia still allow the JAM to control the police forces and act as proxies for Iran, it is not difficult to see which group will win favor from the coalition.
AQIZ after kicking off the sectarian violence against the Shia have been on the losing end of the violence in Baghdad. Despite being able to wreak havoc and grab headlines through a campaign of terror, AQIZ’s civil war strategy has resulted in Sunni residents of Baghdad being pushed out of their homes by Jaysha Mahdi.
The Sheiks of Anbar may have found a stronger group opposed to JAM and the Persians to allign with–the U.S. Army and Marines.
They may have also seen the need to build an Anbar based security force that can be used–if need be–to wage a real civil war against against the Shia.
This civil war would not be teenaged death squads killing Shia or Sunni at random but the Beirut style civil war Fearon writes about. In other words, it would be a real civil war.
Unlike Professor Fearon I will not make a pronouncement or prediction. Just as his paper in Foreign Affairs was outdated before it hit the newsstands, this blog article could be outdated before I get to an internet connection to post it.
It is important for people, even Professors, to understand how quickly things can change in Iraq.
Professor Fearon’s thesis is well thought out, but the facts have changed on him. It is not his fault, but it shows the speed in which the situation on the ground changes.
Very few people know enough about Iraq to make coherent policy pronouncements.
Most of what people think they know about Iraq is wrong.
When I get home in a few weeks people will ask me, “how’s Iraq?”
I will tell them, “I don’t know, but I can tell you about the areas that I saw first hand and spent a few weeks living in.”
Each area of operation is different. Khalidiyah is only 35 kilometers from Kharma and Kharma is only 33 kilometers from West Rasheed, Baghdad, but they are nothing alike.
Anyone who says they can speak with definitive knowledge about all of Iraq is a fool or a liar or both.
A person with definitive knowledge of Iraq would have to discuss the situation in terms of 4 or more general areas of operation and then break those down even more to Battalion by Battalion areas.
But even if a person was to circulate to every battalion in Iraq, by they time he finished, the situation would have changed at the battalions he visited first.
This is the nature of warfare. But many members of Congress think after a five-day-junket and a few power point presentations they can make sweeping pronouncements that they understand Iraq.
Which makes them fools and possibly liars.