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March 24, 2008


Eric Martin

It's not a terrible idea at all.

If Maliki won't do this now, when US troop levels are high and security is relatively better, with the shadow of a new President who likely will not continue to offer an open-ended commitment, then he never will... and everyone should know this.

I said much the same thing in January when discussing the issue of keeping large forces in Iraq to ensure these payments could be made.

"What about attacks against Iraqi government forces/civilians?," one might ask. "Shouldn't we stick around in large numbers to keep paying for Sunni forbearance along these lines?" I'm not so sure. Blake [Hounshell] himself observes that the Iraqi government shows no interest in paying Sunni forces from government coffers. There are generally two possible reads for this stinginess - each of which, again, points in the direction of a common solution to Blake's conundrum.

First, the Iraqi government values the recent reduction in violence, but knows that it doesn't have to incorporate Sunni militant forces and/or pay them for civilian jobs while the US is around to foot the bill. If this is the case, then fear of a resumption of violence once we leave will force the Iraqi government to divert real assets to Sunni areas upon our exit.

Second, the Iraqi government has no intention of ever paying money to, or incorporating, armed Sunni groups for fear (imagined or real) that those Sunni groups will turn against the Shiite led Iraqi government at some point in the near future. But if that is the case, what does our presence really accomplish?


It's the only real play we have here.


I do not thnk this is a terrible idea, but a fourth objection needs to be dealt with in some way.

This is the objection Maliki (and many other Iraqi Shiites) will make, and probably already have to Crocker and Petraeus -- namely, that state support and integration of Sunni militias would amount to support and integration of groups that have gone out of their way to support large-scale terrorism against Shiites in the past and are likely to do so again.

Is this objection wrong? Probably not. In my view it is monumentally foolish for the Maliki government to rest its whole policy on it; even if fears of renewed sectarian violence were justified, it would make sense for the government to attempt to divide Sunni Arabs, using the resources and tools it has at its disposal and attempting to exploit what must be the desperate weariness of many Iraqis after years of incessant conflict. For the Iraqi government to keep all Sunni Arabs at arm's length is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Having said that, though, I don't think there is much chance to move forward without acknowledging the very great and abundantly well-justified sense of grievance against Iraq's Sunni Arabs by much of the Shiite population. It would be best to do this in the open, in public, partly for the Iraqis' sake but mostly to begin the process of getting our forces out of a position where both sides can blame us for everything that goes wrong.

The fact that American forces have been able to cooperate fruitfully with many Sunni Arab groups since Gen. Petraeus took command may have reinforced the tendency of some observers to look on Iraq's Sunni Arabs as somewhat difficult but still justifiably aggrieved allies making obvious and reasonable demands of a mindlessly sectarian and vindictive government. Even if that picture were 100% right -- it isn't -- the relevant fact is that large numbers of Iraqis do not believe it. We have to deal with that political reality


Ok, but isn't there a political element which you're not discussing here, namely the impact of the Sons of Iraq on the internal politics of the Iraqi Sunni community?

The SoIs broadly, and more specifically the Awakening movement, provides a potentially viable and credible political alternative to the existing Sunni political parties - IIP, Tawafuq, etc.

However, this credibility cannot be asserted - and the Sunni political scene cannot be reestablished on a more representative basis - until Provincial elections this October, and ultimately general elections next year.

When those do come about, the Sunni parties will be in a much better situation to have an impact within the GoI in order to make their case.

Why rush now to push the SoI program into GoI hands, when it has the potential to make such a genuine difference to the dynamics and politics of Iraq through its impact on Sunni political maturization?

Eric Martin

Why rush now to push the SoI program into GoI hands, when it has the potential to make such a genuine difference to the dynamics and politics of Iraq through its impact on Sunni political maturization?

Not a bad point, but it might fall apart before then. Especially with threats of violence between the elected and non-elected Sunni groups percolating already.


Not a bad point, but it might fall apart before then. Especially with threats of violence between the elected and non-elected Sunni groups percolating already.

Ok, but these threats can be contained by sustained US support for the program, whereas they can only be guaranteed to worsen by abdicating responsibility for it.

I'm not saying stick with the SoIs forever - as Marc points out, they represent a group of extrajudicial militias which are inherently incompatible with a stable rule of law.

But if, by taking a medium-term view, we can transition them not only into the ISF and employment sector as individuals, but into the Iraqi polity as an organized body that is committed to working out its differences with the GoI through legitimate government frameworks, it seems worth the short term deadlock.

I'd add that it's possible to further support this view by observing that Sahwa leadership, once elected into office, would become greater stakeholders in the political system that empowered them, rather than outsiders to it, another benefit of waiting for these hierarchical groups to mature rather than rushing their people into the ISF.


The US should simply get out as quickly as it can. Iraq already has a government and a long list of factions that know each other and know how to deal with each other. They don´t have any magic solution for all of their problems, but it´s their country and they know it far, far better than the US.

Things in war are so complex you cannot even think of it. Remember the assassination of a police colonel from Nassiriya, along with three bodyguards recently in Basra?The same day according to Iraq Body Count a Badr member and two bodyguards were killed too (and the Nassiriya police are said to be from Badr); the next day Badrists demonstrated against the Basra police chief; and then the interesting thing is that the previous day some "unknown gunmen" had attacked the house in Nassiriya of a member of Allawi´s party, with a local news agency reporting the province "in chaos after infighting between security agencies" and an immediate security reorganization declared. And this at about the same time that there were rumors of ISCI trying to depose Maliki. So perhaps shia-on-shia violence is something more complex than Badr-vs-Sadr.

Did any pundit notice?Didn´t the antiwar.com guys or some other internet writer make an article about "a possible new front, increasing tensions in southern Iraq which is about to explode" and blablabla?Certainly I didn´t read anything on this, and if truth be told in the end it becomes kind of boring to read everything about the war because just so many different things happen, and they have so many different meanings.

So here we have an instance of government or legal factions fighting between them, perhaps without involvement at all of Sadrists, sunnis or Americans. Iraqi politics is a violent affair (and this is why the dream of turning Iraq into a democracy was always that, a pipedream. The best it can hope for is some power-sharing among undemocratic warlords, perhaps after a civil war like Ivory Coast).

Things have already gone astray. More people have died violently in Iraq than in all other wars in the world combined, during the same period (violent deaths in Darfur are on the tens of thousands, it seems). Iraq has gone through civil war and ethnic cleansing on a gigantic scale, really the chaos we have seen these years is something totally abnormal for the country, the region, and for any part of the world considering our peaceful era (you may not know it but the world is getting calmer and right now it´s perhaps the least violent world in history). Post-withdrawal apocalyptical scenarios rely on the "three nos", three unacceptable, disastrous scenarios: genocide, al-qaeda safehaven and regional war.

But then you notice that these things are indeed quite rare in the world - in fact, the last interstate war so far was the invasion of Iraq itself. As for the Iraqi al-Qaeda, born locally after the invasion, it´s just another faction, a specially extremist one but which like all other groups will not go beyong rethoric - the Islamic Army also talks about carrying the Jihad to Jerusalem. In fact from the you cannot find a single large armed group that set out to conquer the world or destroy some civilization, no matter how extremist their actions or pompous their rethoric (I think the Taliban´s sheltering of al-Qaeda, which wasn´t that decisive anyway for terrorism, is the closest case).

All this chaos would NOT have happened without US invasion and occupation. Their occupation gave sunni extremists the motivation and excuse to launch a brutal campaign of bombings and attacks on shias; the fact this attacks were launched by insurgents who also were fighting Americans made it impossible for years to organize against these extremists (unlike in Pakistan, where the extremists´ "golden age" of violence has lasted a few months and now they have lost all popular support); and of course they created a lot of resentment and desire for vengeance in the shias, who eventually struck back. The truth is, if Americans had withdrawn let´s say in the summer of 2003, well, a lot of self-appointed mini-warlords would have sprung up at first - but would never have killed each other genocidally, and suffering for Iraqis in general would have

That thing is over and now the Mahdi Army is even giving back houses to (some) sunnis expelled by them earlier, without the Americans coordinating everything. In fact i just read that they organized a joint sunni-shia tribal conference in Kadhimiya asking for the departure of US troops.

Now to comment something new, both sunni and shia militias are paying less attention to each other and are now directing their protests and guns at the Iraqi government and US forces. There are really a considerable number of incidents involving either Mahdi Army against Iraqi-US forces, or Awakenings against Iraqi and sometimes US forces too - and also, I think more attacks by sunni insurgents on Americans, although this is always very difficult to know. This is really striking because let´s say 8 months ago sunnis were mad about the Mahdi Army and seemed was a matter of time that clashes would explode between them and the sunni sahwa. The Awakenings may still collapse into violence, but it seems that not with that particular shia faction.

And of course the new curfew and army reinforcements sent to Basra, apparently also US aircraft. No matter who ordered this I consider it a mistake.

So in the end, what i want to say is that Americans are in the end ignorants about Iraq, even if they have the best intentions of the world - which they don´t have. Iraqis are far better informed and much more capable of running their country, although this may never be acknowledged.


Farook Ahmed

I think that it is easy to take the bluster associated with Iraqi negotiating tactics at face value and predict doom and gloom.

Only a few weeks ago, there was a crisis in Diyala province as numerous Sons of Iraq went on strike in response to alleged Shi'a sectarian activities by their local Iraqi Police commander. That made headlines - indeed - it is still on the front page of the Washington Post's Iraq site: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/world/specials/iraq/
(under "Military": "Sunni Forces Losing Patience with US")

What did not make headlines, though -- and did not cause the Washington Post to attach an update to the article, even though it was written a month ago -- is that TWO DAYS after the strike began, those Sunni fighters' outrage was assuaged when they negotiated with the Iraqi government for more slots at the Iraqi Police training academy. Those forces all went back to their posts and have stayed their for the past month (of course, with no reporting in the uS

This really is bottom-up reconciliation.

You can interpret the slow nature of these solutions as failure, but why you have to recognize that these things take time. Despite your The Interior Ministry has been taking steps (albeit with delays and after considerable pressure from Petraeus-Crocker) to integrate the SOI into the Iraqi Security Forces. This is not just in principle - Sons of Iraq have been vetted and are presently entering police academies.

Farook Ahmed

Numerous typos in that last post. I'm not illiterate, I swear. I blame the hour of the day and lack of caffeine.


Farook, this is exactly the kind of thing i´m referring to. There have been countless other crises of every type in these years in Iraq, and of course most are resolved with everybody staying at his home or agreeing on something. A few months earlier there was a huge controvery over the Awakening in Saidiya (in Baghdad) which was almost at war with the government. Things eventually kept calm and as you see most of the trouble in that area of Baghdad has been between US-Iraqi forces and the Mahdi Army. Sunni and shia militias haven´t reignited hostilities.

The Iraqi government guys are not idiots, nor are Iraqi militants, faction leaders, or citizens in general. We may never notice, but right now, in the shadows, they are striking deals and making concessions in order to avoid another round of bloodshed. Americans always focus on how corrupt and incompetent they are, how slow is the government in passing these "crucial" laws (which now seem to have made 0 difference or worse, cause violence is increasing), how bad for everything. Well, we said that Iraqis should step up and stand up, right?

They don´t need Americans pushing them to do so. In the aftermath of the war, in Maysan province, Rory Stewart reported 53 new political parties. Sunnis instead set up insurgent groups at first, and then Awakening militias that are turning into parties or factions.

People want to govern themselves - and indeed, that´s the very problem with Americans. Many Iraqis consider the occupation a crime in itself. US troops don´t need to commit abuses, there is no need of provocation or retaliation as happens with warlord infighting; just to have them hanging around in bases is reason and excuse enough to attack them in the eyes of a significant number of Iraqis. Over time this will be a constant source of friction and has already been the cause of 5 five years of disaster for Iraqis.


"OK, tell me why this is a terrible idea... "

Here goes!!!

In the recent ABC/BBC poll:- http://.www.abcnews.go.com/images/PollingUnit/1060a1IraqWhereThingsStand.pdf :

59% of Shiites, 58% of Sunnis and 64% of Kurds say they believe the Awakening Councils should be incorporated into the mainstream ISF.

In each individual category,over 93% of Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis say they regard attacks on the Awakening Councils as unacceptable.

94% of Sunnis say they find attacks on Iraqi Government forces unacceptable.

63% of Shiites say they support mid/low level Baathists getting government jobs, and a significant 35% would extend this to all ex Baathists.

95% of Sunnis say that Sunnis should participate in future elections.

Provincial elections will be held six months. The next general election in Iraq will be next year. The Shiites have a positive view of the Awakening Councils. The Sunnis overwhelming want to enter the political process.
Reconciliation appears to be proceeding apace.

The % of Sunnis who say they support continued attacks on the coalition forces has dropped a massive 31% in six months (93% to 62)

So ... what value is there for the US to put all this at risk by withdrawing financial support for the Awakening Councils for no other reason than to blatantly coerce the sovereign, elected government of Iraq?

What possibly could be gained by throwing the Sunnis and the Iraqi Government at each others throats again?

And where is the evidence in this poll that Sunni attitudes are turning more hostile either to the Coalition or the Iraqi Government? On the contrary every indicator in the poll is showing that Arab Sunnis and Shiites are moving to accommodation and the Sunnis are well engaged in the political process and looking forward tyo elections?

Finally, if advice on US policy is to be based soley on sensational Arab and Iraqi media reports, then surely the advisor could at least follow through these news stories with "updates" so readers can get a sense of "what really happened" or "what is really happening out there" so they can better evaluate the advice being offered?


The Iraqis have made their position on US presence - an univited intrusion that became interminable with no end in sight - clear. Rejection.
http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5078 seemed awfully realistic.
http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/carnage-and-despair-iraq-20080317 shows the great success of maintaining Iraqi welfare to date.


Abu: "Since all other forms of persuasion seem to have failed, it's time to give Maliki an ultimatum: in two months, payments to the Awakenings will cease. If Maliki gives in, then there may finally be some hope for political accommodation and for overcoming the strategic problems created by the surge - think of it as cashing in the Awakenings chip before it loses its value. "

The obvious reason for the Bush administration to not do this is that it might provoke a crisis this year. Next year, they don't give a f*ck.

The whole point of the surge was to postpone things until the administration left office, not to solve anything else.

Farook Ahmed

I have no problem with the Iraqi government taking on the responsibility for the Sons of Iraq. I also have no problem with the United States eventually ending combat operations. I think that the easiest way to administer this is for the US military to continue dealing with the Sons of Iraq/Awakening Groups and to transition some of them to the Iraqi Security Forces. When they are with the ISF, the Iraqi government will pay them. When they are SOI we should pay them (at least, at the start)

CERP funding gets past a lot of red tape that would make it difficult to bring these groups online immediately. We need to have the ability to do that, because SOI are a short-term fix. The Government of Iraq operates too slowly to get the money to these guys right away. This problem will not go away - the US Government has the same problem. CERP funding is the perfect solution to this.

Of course, you should remember that these groups are not monolithic and that they are in very different phases. The Awakening/SOI groups in Northern Iraq are still very necessary because of the continuing insurgent violence there. This is less the case in Anbar and the Southern Belts of Baghdad. In those places, we are seeing successful transition of SOI to the Iraqi Police.

So what exactly is the problem?

Nur al-Cubicle

I can't imagine Crocker taking back his resignation or the Kurds and the Shi'a won't taking back their Constitution and permitting Sunni Arabs from running the country.

The US cannot even bring about a reconciliation in Somalia, with its client state, Ethiopia, occupying the country and fighting rag tag insurgent militia...this points to how helpless the US is in Iraq, where the insurgents are bigger and nastier. A solution is not possible. I think it is a one-way street to 3-way partition along religious-ethnic lines.


but worked against the strategic goal of creating an effectively sovereign Iraqi state with a security architecture sustainable without US forces.

Why the hack do you believe that this IS the strategic goal of the U.S.?

Why not control the Iraqi state (and oil) via a permanent "peaceful" occupation that "assists" the Iraqi government to stay alive? That would be much more profitable for the relevant praties involved.

Farook Ahmed

I will put it to you again, because I have not heard a real response. This is not a rhetorical question, I really want to hear a cogent counter-argument, because I am totally at a loss to understand why this is even a debatable issue.

If the Sons of Iraq (SoI) are being transitioned to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) -- as they are, right now -- then why is there an overwhelming need to rock the boat and put an ultimatum to the Iraqi government to program?

Keep in mind that the noise regarding the SoI is not uniform and the "crises" that have popped up have been played up by the media while the quick resolutions to those crises have gone unreported.

Also keep in mind that the ISF do not have a need for 80-90,000 new police officers in all of these areas, nor could they absorb those numbers into their ranks immediately. Also, not all SoI want to join. According to Lieutenant General Odierno, approximately 40k would like to join the ISF; of those, 20k or so are expected to be qualified for the jobs.

There may be an issue with those 20k who would like to work for the ISF but are unqualified. I don't see how dumping this cheap (for us) program on the Government of Iraq solves that, though.

nur al-cubicle

Gee, given today's events with mass demonstrations + violence in Kut, Hilla, Baghdad, Basrah, Sadr City and potentially Najaf things don't look too good.

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