February 25, 2008


The Myth of the Surge: Hoping to turn enemies into allies, U.S. forces are arming Iraqis who fought with the insurgents. But it's already starting to backfire. A report from the front lines of the new Iraq (NIR ROSEN, Mar 06, 2008, Rolling Stone)

Having lost the civil war, many Sunnis were suddenly desperate to switch sides — and Gen. David Petraeus was eager to oblige. The U.S. has not only added 30,000 more troops in Iraq — it has essentially bribed the opposition, arming the very Sunni militants who only months ago were waging deadly assaults on American forces. To engineer a fragile peace, the U.S. military has created and backed dozens of new Sunni militias, which now operate beyond the control of Iraq's central government. The Americans call the units by a variety of euphemisms: Iraqi Security Volunteers (ISVs), neighborhood watch groups, Concerned Local Citizens, Critical Infrastructure Security. The militias prefer a simpler and more dramatic name: They call themselves Sahwa, or "the Awakening."

At least 80,000 men across Iraq are now employed by the Americans as ISVs. Nearly all are Sunnis, with the exception of a few thousand Shiites. Operating as a contractor, Osama runs 300 of these new militiamen, former resistance fighters whom the U.S. now counts as allies because they are cashing our checks. The Americans pay Osama once a month; he in turn provides his men with uniforms and pays them ten dollars a day to man checkpoints in the Dora district — a paltry sum even by Iraqi standards. A former contractor for KBR, Osama is now running an armed network on behalf of the United States government. "We use our own guns," he tells me, expressing regret that his units have not been able to obtain the heavy-caliber machine guns brandished by other Sunni militias.

The American forces responsible for overseeing "volunteer" militias like Osama's have no illusions about their loyalty. "The only reason anything works or anybody deals with us is because we give them money," says a young Army intelligence officer. The 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, which patrols Osama's territory, is handing out $32 million to Iraqis in the district, including $6 million to build the towering walls that, in the words of one U.S. officer, serve only to "make Iraqis more divided than they already are." In districts like Dora, the strategy of the surge seems simple: to buy off every Iraqi in sight. All told, the U.S. is now backing more than 600,000 Iraqi men in the security sector — more than half the number Saddam had at the height of his power. With the ISVs in place, the Americans are now arming both sides in the civil war. "Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems," as U.S. strategists like to say. David Kilcullen, the counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. Petraeus, calls it "balancing competing armed interest groups."

But loyalty that can be purchased is by its very nature fickle. Only months ago, members of the Awakening were planting IEDs and ambushing U.S. soldiers. They were snipers and assassins, singing songs in honor of Fallujah and fighting what they viewed as a war of national liberation against the foreign occupiers. These are men the Americans described as terrorists, Saddam loyalists, dead-enders, evildoers, Baathists, insurgents. There is little doubt what will happen when the massive influx of American money stops: Unless the new Iraqi state continues to operate as a vast bribing machine, the insurgent Sunnis who have joined the new militias will likely revert to fighting the ruling Shiites, who still refuse to share power.

And they'd lose the civil war again. The surge has been about consolidating Shi'a power and identifying exactly which Sunni they'll have to kill if the shooting starts again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 25, 2008 7:00 PM

Rolling Stone is still in business? Who knew!

I eagerly await the High Times' critic of the Iraq War.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 25, 2008 9:06 PM

The more I read details, the more I learn how effective the Sadr death squads were. We truly are benefitting from targetted killing of Baathist thugs. We should have done the same thing in 2006 but at least somebody did.

Posted by: JAB at February 25, 2008 9:46 PM

"the Americans are now arming both sides in the civil war"

That is precisely the point: mutually assured destruction.

We can't just disarm the Sunnis and let the Shiites slaughter them when we are gone, can we? They hate each other so much. It's better for them to fear each other's reprisals than to believe the Shiite controlled central govt. would use its power sparingly and wisely. As a matter of fact, Petraeus only armed the Sunnis when Maliki's central govt. could not or would not rein in Sadr's killing squads. Sadr's squads gained support to counter the Sunnis' relentless suicide bombings. Arming both sides of a civil war is the only way to prevent a civil war. Frankly, if they want to kill each other after we left, so be it. If they keep peace, both sides would win; if they they don't, both sides would lose.

Of course, Rolling Stones always loves to unilaterally disarm. They love Vietnam in which only the South was disarmed, by us.

Posted by: ic at February 25, 2008 11:20 PM

Alexander did it. The Romans had their auxiliary cohorts, and after WW2 we couldn't wait to rearm the Germans. The beat goes on and the handwringers wring on as ever. The only fear we have to fear is if the Democrats gain power and lead us into another world war to end all wars ... totally unprepared, as ever.

Posted by: Genecis at February 27, 2008 1:07 AM