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July 30, 2007


Peter Principle

"Sure, some insurgent groups have been willing to take American weapons . . . to beef up their capabilities in advance of an anticipated showdown with the Shia militias (and Iraqi government) when the Americans finally leave."

Considering that the country was awash in weapons even before the invasion, the fact that the Americans are adding MORE now is rather fantastic. This is going to be the most heavily armed civil war in history.

Funny, for all that the Americans talk about wanting to bring freedom and/or stability to the Middle East, all they ever seem to actually bring are more weapons.

Abu Ghayib

Abu A, in general you know your stuff pretty well, but you're getting a few things wrong here.

1) Al-Boraq is not IAI's official forum, despite the prominence of IAI statements. Boraq is its own thing. They even stopped publishing IAI stuff during the April IAI vs. ISI kerfuffle of which you have written so much in protest against the IAI.

2) It's Ali al-Nu'aymi, not Na'imi.

3) You're not giving Petraeus enough credit. He knows that the U.S. occupation has a very short lifespan left to it, due to U.S. domestic political forces. That's why he's taking the admittedly risky position of arming anti-AQ insurgents: without the U.S. there to support the government and combat AQ itself, it's in the U.S.'s interest that whoever does eventually control the situation in Iraq is willing to fight AQ. While we have time, it's in our interest to tip the balance in favor of the insurgents we can live with vs. the ones we can't.

There's no way Petraeus would be doing any of this if he foresaw a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq. It only makes sense in the context of "an American withdrawal and a revision of the current political system." Pay attention to what the U.S. is doing in Iraq, not to what it's saying, and things will make a lot more sense.

In sum, OF COURSE you're right that they'll keep fighting as long as we're there. But you're seriously missing the point: we're not going to be there much longer.


Abu Ghayib - the al-Boraq forum is actually hosted on the IAI site (iaisite.info) right now, which is why I called it official; and both statements the "official seal" at any rate. Sorry about the spelling issue, a constant problem with Arab names as you know..

On the bigger point: I wish I had your confidence that the US is getting out soon... it isn't only Petraeus who's trying to game the contingencies of US withdrawal, all the other Iraqi players and factions are doing it too. But that everyone there expects a US withdrawal relatively soon doesn't mean that it's going to happen. For all the US political pressure, the Bush team shows little evidence of responding. Anyway, I get your point about why Petraeus is doing what he's doing, but I also worry that it's easy to get tunnel vision when you're under pressure to produce evidence of results. Tactics vs strategy, and all that..

Neil Morrison

aardvark, you conclude with -

"...the major insurgency factions remain committed to fighting until the Americans withdraw and the current political system is revised."

In your opinion is there anything positive about what the Sunni insurgency has planned for the Iraqi political system should they get their way? They appear to merely want to re-establish the pre-invasion status quo of Sunni dominance over the Shiites.


Abu Ghayib, you're missing the fact that these exaggerated pronouncements of al-qaida setbacks and of Sunni insurgents joining the American side is a concerted PR campaign to convince Americans that the tide has turned in Iraq and therefore America should stay the course and stay in Iraq.

Bush has known since the war funding "compromise" that if he couldn't spin some sort of progress out of thin air by September, all those Republican senators who have been expressing their dissatisfaction with the war in private will have a public excuse to join the Democrats in voting to begin a pull out. But if the pro-war camp can make it seem like we might just be able to win it, then these wavering Republicans will continue to support him and he will have bought enough time to keep occupying Iraq for the rest of 2008 at least. This PR is already having an effect.

Abu Ghayib

I can’t speak for what Bush himself is planning for Iraq and what he and his advisors think is really going on there. It may be that he believes his own rhetoric, or he may be more shrewd than that, but either way I don’t think it matters that much. If following this war for four plus years has taught me anything, it’s that it’s quite possible that the WH does not have a firm grip on what’s happening on the ground. So putting the WH’s vision aside, if we take a look at what Petraeus is doing on the ground, I think we can discern two parallel strategies: Plan A for public consumption and only remotely possible, Plan B the more pragmatic and much more likely fallback.

Plan A) By getting tribes and some insurgents to join the security services, Petraeus is essentially creating a situation parallel to the Shi’a side of things. In the same way that a Shi’a ISF is loyal first to Badr or JAM, second to the government, so will Sunni ISF be loyal first to the tribe/insurgent group, then to the government. Should a miracle occur and the political process start to gain traction, stability and legitimacy, these forces would gradually slant toward loyalty to the central government. This is probably how Bush himself sees things, and has deluded himself into thinking this outcome is likely.

Plan B) If a miracle doesn’t occur, and the government continues to stagger along or dies with an eventual U.S. withdrawal, the loyalties of these forces fall back to the more immediate militia/tribe. These lines of authority—however corrupt, radical or pre-modern they may be—will endure whatever happens with the government, and have an interest in maintaining local control. Both models are inherently unstable and far from desirable—look at Basra, just for example, to get a sense of what the south may look like if the government collapses—but 1) any port looks good in a storm and 2) the longer we have to prepare for this outcome, the more stable and organized the ultimate leadership on the various sides is likely to be. (The JRF/”Guardian Coalition” is a step in this direction).

On the Sunni side, we can rely on the Saudis and friends to keep the tribes/nationalists well-armed and funded and keeping a rough handle on AQ. We will accept the fact that Iran will intervene on the Shi’a side to maintain its interests and keep the south from totally falling apart. (Maybe we can even engage in some creative diplomacy to hem them in a little, although that’s unlikely with this administration). After more fighting and clearing the decks, at some point in the medium-term future we’ll have a rough détente with the de facto partitioned Iraq (or maybe even de jure, although that’s unlikely and undesirable) being the front line of a new Persian/Arab, Shi’a/Sunni Cold War. Far from ideal, but if what we care about is keeping a handle on AQ and keeping Iran from totally dominating the region, this is probably about as good as we can get.

A couple of remaining points:

1) The process of actually arming paramilitary insurgent groups, i.e. keeping them outside the framework of the ISF, does not fit into Plan A. But a) I’m not sure this going on as much as is widely believed, as everybody took the NYT story about the 1920RB and ran with it, and Filkins or whoever might just have been fed a line and b) if it is going on, it may only be driven by the short term expediency to get results by September or c) it could be a sign that we’re really just headed for Plan B and Plan A is just cover.

2) Baghdad and to a lesser extent the other mixed cities are a huge question mark in this whole thing. I think the issue here is to co-opt as much local control as possible, even on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis, accept a certain amount of violence, hope for a slow and gradual ethnic/sectarian sorting out (I doubt the O’Hanlon/Biden types will have their way and have us go in there and do it ourselves) and end up with another divided capital that will fit in with the whole plan, the west side of the Tigris being Sunni and the east Shi’a. (Athamiya and Kathimiya will likely remain well-garrisoned exceptions to this, and there may be others.)

3) We’re not going to withdraw totally for a very long time, and the withdrawing we do will be slow and gradual, so we have more time than we think to push things in the direction we want.

Plan B isn’t as totally negative as it sounds. Everybody keeps talking about how Iraq needs a “political solution,” which is certainly true as far as it goes. However, the notion that this political solution can happen within a political framework so dominated by certain Shi’a parties and the Kurds and not seen as legitimate by most Iraqis of all stripes is total baloney. For a real political solution to happen, there needs to be parity of organizational structure and a balance of power among the competing sides, which at this point we don’t have at all. The détente situation I’m talking about may be the only way to get some semblance of this in order for Iraqis to start working out a real political solution.

On the other hand, we could have a situation like Palestine or India in which partitions from 60 years ago are still reverberating disastrously today. Moreover, we’ll make the Harith Al-Dhari’s and Muqtada Sadr’s and the Atwan’s of the world look prophetic for saying all along that this sort of divide and conquer via sectarianism was what we planned all along. It will make a big difference on this score if we back into de facto partition rather than force a de jure one.


I do not think Petraeus that smart. There is nothing in his behavior, statements, or performance, that makes me think he is as smart as his press would have him. If I know Bush, and, personally, I think I do, he selected Petraeus because it tickled his fancy and because Petraeus was ambitious enough to agree to do Bush's bidding. I could easily see Bush laughing to himself as he said 'give those snotty, Northeast, Ivy League, shits in the think tanks, university, and media who oppose me, one of their own. They will lap him up. So Bush went and got a PHD from Princeton. And the press fell all over him. The American militrary industrial complex is not getting out of Iraq unless they are forced out. Either at home (unlikely given the relationship between the Dems and the Complex)or forced out in Iraq. More likely. The best the dems will do if they come in is reduce the footprint.

Further, I don't think Bush has to convince the American people that the Sunni forces are banding together to defeat AQ. And that the plan is working. From their perspective that would be nice to be able to state. But it is not the bottom line. The bottom line is to convince the American people that AQ is on the ground and the main enemy. If the Americans believe that they will stay a hell of lot longer than people think. To the extent they become convinced (as they are increasingly so now)they/we are mired in hopeless civil war they will want out. You don't see anybody clamoring to get out of Afghanistan do you? The Americans still have a rather voracious appetite for a battle with AQ. That is why Bush is lying to them/us and pumping up AQ's position in Iraq.


Come to the Table and Sit

I'd like to piggy-back onto what Abu Ghayib said (is Ghayib really a name? the Absent?) in echoing the belief that a withdrawal (even a small-scale reduction) will not begin until the middle of 2008 AT THE EARLIEST. The "surge," is a misnomer, not just a limited push of troops followed by an immediate relaxation, but more of an... I don't know... escalation. With the Iraqi parliament adjourning for the summer today, there is no way Petraeus will be able to say anything other than "We need more time to see if our recent gains are sustainable." He's a smart guy, and he knows how to placate popular opinion without tying his own hands.

He's not the only one adept at employing such a stalling tactic: expect the Islamic Army of Iraq to use a similar one if the American government commits to a pull-out date. Once the Americans have done that, they have lost all of their bargaining chips; IAI will come to the table, sit, hem and haw and stall until the appointed time comes. I know this is a variant of President Bush's patronizing and insulting "Surrender date" argument, but, like it or not, there is some merit here. As it stands, the only thing the United States has that IAI wants is the decision on when to withdraw. Once a decision is announced, the Americans have lost their leverage.

Finally, IAI's consistent claim to be speaking on behalf of the insurgency is reminiscent of that of the FLN in Algeria in the mid-fifties. They had, by no means, absolute authority over the insurrection there (which consisted of Communists and an Islamic party). In fact, though I cannot recall the date, they over-played their hand early on, calling a general strike that was met with limited enthusiasm. Politically, it set back the FLN's attempt at garnishing hegemony a few years, at least until 1957. So far, IAI has doesn't anything so bold or maladroit. As such, we should be wary of anyone that claims to speak on behalf of such a large and disparate group of dedicated individuals.


Nothing is more antecedently plausible than a Grand League of Bushies and Sunnis against Qommies and Safavids!

The only trouble is that the most opportune time for strikin' such an ideal deal has long since passed.

But God knows best.


Swear, I would love to know the origins of Petraeus myth. Was his initial command when the largest military force in the world, or most powerful anyway, steamrolled up to Baghdad? The criticism then was he was moving too fast, not securing what he took. I don't know that that was a valid criticism came true. Army floated away, not disarmed. Or perhaps it was his brilliant performance in Mosul training the Iraqi force? Yeah, that went well. Hell, for that matter is what he has done in the past few months? Yet he is a genius. Why? It's all psy-ops. It's all psy-ops.



I've had friends ask me about the Petraeus myth, and I'll admit that I have problems with him. His performance in Mosul was definitely over-stated, showing that there is a difference between quelling dissent and long-term counter-insurgency. However, the ridiculously too-fast invasion plan should not be laid at his feet. If you've read Fiasco (the best book about the war), you'll see that that was done more at the insistence of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Cheney, intent on eviscerating the Powell Doctrine, proving American might and implementing the project for the New American Century. Gen. Tommy Franks (Centcom), Richard Myers (JCOS) and Peter Pace deserve a large share of the criticism on this one, too.

As for Petraeus, he was just s Major (2-star) general during the invasion. Lt. Gen McKiernan was responsible for the day to day operations of the war.

As for his ascension: you have to consider the alternatives: Lt. Gen Jim Mattis (USMC) helped him write the new manual on counter-insurgency, and comported himself well during the war, earning accolades in Cobra II, and thus had to be considered the other prime candidate. Unfortunately, he also made the remark, "It's fun to kill people," ending his chance at such a politically sensitive post. All of the other Major Generals and Lt. Generals associated with the war (Odierno, Sanchez, et al) have some other black eye based upon their performance in the immediate aftermath of the war.

For lack of a better alternatives, David Petraeus is our guy. (Did I mention he's golfing buddies with Bill Frist? Oh yeah, that too.)



Very kind of you to take the time to respond in such a through and insightful manner. A few minor (and cautious)rebuttal points.

It all gets back to the origins of the myth. Its one thing to say that Petraeus was not responsible for a general strategy gone wrong. And sorta let him off the hook. Its another thing for the myth makers to use this performance as one petard to hoist up the myth.

As to Fiasco...I must admit I am not big on books written that, arguably, contradict the tone, if not the text, of articles the author was writing 3 or 4 years before the event he writes about in the book. Further, I don't like the Woodward style books that have the direct quotes absent citation. I'm old fashion I guess. I like footnotes. Don't even like end notes too much. As to writing the book on CI operations...I must tell you, this is where my sources heap praise on Petraeus. They indicate that unlike so many others in similar positions, he actually let the people who, in fact, wrote the book (his aides)get some minimal credit. In print. This may be vicious gossip but it is what I have heard.


Patrick -- Finally, IAI's consistent claim to be speaking on behalf of the insurgency is reminiscent of that of the FLN in Algeria in the mid-fifties. They had, by no means, absolute authority over the insurrection there (which consisted of Communists and an Islamic party). In fact, though I cannot recall the date, they over-played their hand early on, calling a general strike that was met with limited enthusiasm. Politically, it set back the FLN's attempt at garnishing hegemony a few years, at least until 1957.

I'd say the FLN's role in the Algerian rebellion was a lot stronger than the IAI's in Iraq. They started the war, for one thing, and always made up the largest fighting faction. The Communist resistance was minuscule, and eventually merged into the FLN, while the MNA of Messali Hadj was first marginalized as a fighting force in Algeria, and then routed in France, by the FLN rather than by the French. The general strike you're referring to I'd also say worked pretty well, viewed as a part of the Battle of Algiers: the FLN were crushed militarily, but made a huge imprint psychologically and in the media, through heavily medialized terrorist action and successful popular mobilization.

Probably 99% of Americans don't even know that the IAI exists as an organization, and that says something about their possibility to influence the US public. The FLN at least stood a decent chance of being listened to (and had active support from parts of the French far left), even if people would oppose what they were saying. The IAI, and all other Iraqi factions, are miles from that position. Partly their own fault for being Salafi loons, but mostly because of the situation -- there's no similarity between American ties to Iraq today, and French ties to Algeria, pre-62. Maybe if the US invaded Mexico...

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