TCS Daily


A Scorecard for the American "Surge" in Iraq

By Robert Haddick - January 23, 2007 12:00 AM

According to this January 14th article from the New York Times, the new U.S. plan for Iraq faces resistance from some quarters of Iraq's government:

First among the American concerns is a Shiite-led government that has been so dogmatic in its attitude that the Americans worry that they will be frustrated in their aim of cracking down equally on Shiite and Sunni extremists, a strategy President Bush has declared central to the plan.

"We are implementing a strategy to embolden a government that is actually part of the problem," said an American military official in Baghdad involved in talks over the plan. "We are being played like a pawn."

Is it possible that officials in the Iraqi government could "play the Americans like a pawn"?

The American generals and diplomats attempting to implement President Bush's plan have to work with officials in the Iraqi government, along with other powerful Iraqis, to achieve the plan's objectives. But these players in the drama have different goals than the Americans. Each hopes to channel America's power in Iraq for his own purposes.

President Bush is sending five more U.S. Army brigades to Baghdad. How does each of the major actors in Iraq hope to use America's beefed-up combat power to achieve his own objectives?

Here is a scorecard for keeping track of the American "surge" in Iraq:

President Bush and his generals

President Bush and his generals want a two-front war against both the Sunni extremists (ex-Baathists and al-Qaeda) and against al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. The Americans believe that an even-handed approach is the best way to allow moderates on all sides of the conflict to come together and establish Iraqi authority in the country. But the Americans want political reconciliation not only out of idealism, but for practical reasons. A unitary Iraq, with Sunnis in the government, provides the best way of countering Iranian expansion. Sunni participation in Iraq's governance will also quiet concerns among the other Sunni governments in the region and (one hopes) prevent the flow of Sunni refugees out of Iraq from getting any worse.

Prime Minister al-Maliki

It is no secret that Mr. al-Maliki objected to the American "surge." The Shi'ite are the overwhelming majority in Iraq and are now organized, trained, equipped, and motivated for battle. They feel that they know how to protect their neighborhoods and that is by expelling the Sunnis from the Baghdad area. From the Shi'ites' perspective, mass ethnic cleansing is necessary because the Sunni extremists compel otherwise uninvolved Sunni residents to allow the use of their neighborhoods as sanctuaries from which to launch attacks into Shi'ite areas. Thus, the use of a chainsaw, instead of a scalpel, is necessary. Mr. al-Maliki and other Shi'ite leaders believe the Americans are preventing them from doing what is necessary to protect their people. For Mr. al-Maliki, more Americans are bad, fewer would be better, and none would be best.

Mr. al-Maliki also owes his position to the political support he receives from Moqtada al-Sadr. Al-Sadr and his militia are highly popular on the Shi'ite street as they are viewed as being the best defense against the Sunni extremists. Mr. al-Maliki considers it wise to be aligned with such a popular figure. Al-Sadr also protects him against his powerful Shi'ite rival, Mr. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. An American campaign against al-Sadr would be very bad for Iraq's prime minister. Thus, Mr. al-Maliki hopes to retain tight control over the campaign and focus its force exclusively on the Sunnis. When the Americans attempt to push back against this policy, expect Mr. al-Maliki to scream "sovereignty!"

Moqtada al-Sadr

The Americans have al-Sadr in their crosshairs but have not been allowed to pull the trigger. The Americans rightly fear the political consequences of killing the popular cleric. The American strategy would be to attack the organization under him as surgically as possible.

Al-Sadr himself has three strategies. First, he hopes Prime Minister al-Maliki can keep control over the Americans and direct them against the Sunnis. Second is to lay low, retreat, and wait for the American "surge" to dissipate after a few months. Third, if combat with the Americans becomes unavoidable, use it to rally the Shi'ite street to al-Sadr's side. This could also sap the internal support for al-Sadr's rival Mr. al-Hakim, leaving Mr. al-Hakim an empty figure inside Iraq.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim

Mr. al-Hakim made a fateful decision early on to work with the Americans. This decision has yet to pay off. While al-Sadr's militia has focused on expanding its base out of Baghdad's sprawling Sadr City neighborhood, Mr. al-Hakim's organization has concentrated on Iraq's south, which it now controls. Mr. al-Hakim has given his support to the new effort in Baghdad. He must hope that the American generals do exactly what they have always wanted to do, which is to enter Sadr City and crush al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. Indeed, the American plan to attack both Sunni and Shi'ite extremists might just as well be the "al-Hakim Plan." He and the Kurds would be the last men standing.

If the Americans can crush al-Sadr's organization and Mr. al-Hakim can rally common Shi'ites in Baghdad to his side (that may not be easy), Mr. al-Hakim and his party would rule the Shi'ites, and thus central and southern Iraq. Prime Minister al-Maliki and al-Sadr obviously want to thwart what appears to them to be a joint American/al-Hakim plan for a takeover.

Kurdish leaders

The Kurds have their peaceful sanctuary in the north and usually get on well with the Americans. The Kurds should be pleased to watch as the Arabs bash each other in Baghdad. Yet the Kurds have volunteered a brigade of skilled soldiers for the upcoming battle in Baghdad. Why? The battle for oil-rich Kirkuk is not yet over. The Kurds still clash with al-Sadr's men in that city, considered vital to Kurdish interests. In alliance with Mr. al-Hakim or not, the Kurds will take advantage of any opportunity, especially if it's officially sanctioned, to reduce al-Sadr's power to influence events in Kirkuk.

Sunni Arab insurgents

The Sunni insurgency is near its end. Far too late, the Sunnis now realize that only the Americans can protect them from the Shi'ite ethnic cleansing campaign. The Sunnis would like to be able to use the American army to protect them against the Shi'ite marauders. Amazingly, the Americans would like to help, as part of their goal of political reconciliation. But even the Americans can't help the Sunni Arabs now. The decentralized, cellular structure of the insurgency protected it, for a time, against American counterattacks. But now that cellular structure, without a central leadership, means there is no one in control and no one to talk to the Americans or the government to negotiate a truce.

Iranian government

The Iranian government is likely in favor of the American "surge" in Iraq. From its perspective, the more American soldiers mired in Iraq, the fewer available to threaten Iran. From a strategic perspective, a chaotic and weakened Iraq removes what could otherwise be a threat to Iran's west. And the smell of possible insurrection among Shi'ite populations elsewhere around the Persian Gulf will keep those countries on the defensive with respect to Iran.

However, Iran needs to be careful. The Americans in Iraq are now openly trying to expose as many Iranian intelligence networks inside Iraq as possible. The Americans have two goals. The first is to cut off Iraq's Shi'ites from Iran and increase their dependence on the U.S for security. Second, the Americans hope to keep reminding the world that the Iranians are trouble-making rogues. The Americans want to increase the diplomatic, economic, and financial isolation of Iran. Iran is having trouble with its oil industry and needs normal commercial relations with the world to keep its oil industry, its economy, and its military-industrial complex afloat. The more the Americans can show Iran to be a rogue, the more the rest of the world will cut Iran off.

Sunni governments in the region

Sunni governments such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf States, etc. also favor a continued American military presence in Iraq. Sunni Arab refugee flows from Iraq are already large but still largely hidden from the global media. The Sunni countries are counting on the American presence in Iraq to stop the refugee problem from getting any bigger. They are also counting on the Americans to prevent a Shi'ite slaughter of the Sunnis and to keep the Iranians back. And, agreeing with the Iranian view, as long as the American army is occupied in Iraq, it is unavailable for another adventure somewhere else in the Middle East.

Will someone actually "play the Americans like a pawn?"

The American intention to simultaneously attack the Sunni extremists and al-Sadr's militia seems to favor Mr. al-Hakim. If the Americans (and Kurds) crush al-Sadr's organization, Prime Minister al-Maliki would seem to no longer have the support necessary to retain his office. The Americans have a replacement in mind: a moderate, cross-sectarian alliance of the Sunni Islamic Party, the Kurdish parties, and Mr. al-Hakim's SCIRI party. Mr. al-Maliki and al-Sadr have thus far convinced Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to refrain from blessing this arrangement on the principle that it would break up Shi'ite unity. It is ironic that the Americans may be determined to do with force what they cannot seem to accomplish through political negotiation and persuasion.

As the American pressure on Mr. al-Maliki mounts, the Iraqi prime minister will be forced to make a decision. If he cannot retain control over military operations in Baghdad, and if the Americans are determined, for the sake of a last-ditch attempt at political reconciliation, to crush the Mahdi Army, Mr. al-Maliki will face two choices. Either he can abandon al-Sadr and attempt to find another political partner in order to retain power. Or he could attempt to persuade the Iraqi parliament to vote the American-led coalition out of Iraq. The current United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the coalition mission in Iraq empowers the Iraqi government to terminate the Coalition mission at any time.

It seems unlikely that Iraq's parliament would actually vote the Americans out. But American pressure on Iraq's political situation will likely cause Shi'ite divisions, now in the background, to explode into the open. The U.S. army in Baghdad could find itself in the middle of not only the three-way civil war among Iraq's Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds. It could find itself among armed clashes between Shi'ite factions, as the British have observed in southern Iraq.

The American "surge" campaign in Baghdad, rather than strengthening Iraq's central government, could instead shatter it. Is this what the U.S. intends? Probably not. But no one should be surprised if Mr. al-Hakim rises to power on the back of the U.S. army in Baghdad.

The author was a U.S. Marine Corps infantry company commander and staff officer. He was the global research director for a large private investment firm and is now a private investor. His blog is Westhawk.


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15 Comments

Scorecard
Score one for the good guys if al-Maliki does in fact not only stop his support for al-Sadr but allows him to be taken down.

In The End, Racist U.S. Will Be Forced Out Of Iraq For It's Illegal Genocidal Racist Occupation
You neocons can blather on about which puppet in Iraq is the best, which will bite us back, etc.

But in the end we will be forced out of Iraq, like we were forced out of Vietnam.

Racist murdering troops who call all Iraqi's, Persians, Arabs and Muslims "Hajiis" a slang term equal to or worse than "******" was used back in old "lynch'em" south.

You neocons are a disgrace to humanity.

Disinformation or psychosis?
Either your a disinformation effort or you need serious help. What make you think were neocons?

left wing anti-American bombers
beatle and co. operate insanely as Bush-Hater conversation spoilers. Best ignored.

Meat Grinder
I have been opposed to going into the middle east for many years because that whole area is nothing but a Hell hole meat grinder.

10's of thousands have shed their blood there for generations.

How in the world are you going to get consensus from a people who will carry a grudge for 1000 years?

And now Iran is on the list for more of our troops to get slaughtered? FOR WHAT?

For self defense, that's what - - -
These "middle east" folks have been doing their level best to kill us, for decades, and have had some bloody successes, with worse to come, if we do nothing as you recommend. They are quite open about their goals. It's not like we have a choice. It's kill or be killed. Given these options, I prefer to do the killing. You should be thanking those who are saving yore sorry ass from the mass-murdering fanatics.

We can well afford the price in blood and treasure to prevail, and survive. That's just the way it is.

Correction: Sunnis did meet to negotiate with US

Though sounding generally well informed, the article author states that the cellular nature of the Sunni insurgency has prevented any negotiations with the US.


While that sounds like it might be a reasonable conjecture, especially for a Marine, even cells are parts of hierarchies.


In fact, the author seems strangely unaware that senior people from the Sunni insurgency met several times to negotiate with US generals and civilian officials. This was reported to occur in Jordan at the estate of (or at least under the sponsorship of) Allawi, the first Iraqi to lead the country after Saddam's defeat.

Plan B, or is it Z ? - - - -
If, (big if) we cannot induce, or force, a true truce, this year, because of the bad, or negligent, behavior of Maliki and/or elSadr; then we should form a 'coalition of the willing of Iraqis' to declare martial law and occupy their Shiite areas of influence. This coalition would include the Iraqi Army, Sunni tribesmen, Kurds and Hakim, if he wants in. The coalition would prosecute and suppress the Shiite militias, while threatening al Quieda, Hizbollah, Iran & Syria, and allying with the external Sunni Axis, including the Saudis & Egypt. We can then rescind martial law and revert to parliamentary rule, with no rush, and in our own good time. We may need another naval battle group in the area to control the air and sea around the strait and to make preparations to blockade Irani ports.

Hate speech
This type of a post is more at home on the AOL message boards.

Best reply
The best answer to your question can be obtained by reading some of the blogs like Michael Yon and Blackfive. Many are written by people who have actually been there and seen the results of evil actions by evil men. They believe in what they are doing from a first hand perspective and that is good enough for me.
The armchair warriors and foreign affairs experts who use the MSM for their information base are not getting all of the facts. I think in some cases that is by design.

you shouldn't insult AOL like that
only a few of their moonbats sink to this level.

that would work
if the residents of the middle east would agree to stay in the middle east and only kill each other.
To date they have been unwilling to make such an agreement.

Oh The Racist's Rationalize Sending Other People's Children To Die For Your Racism
oh the cream of the crop of dumb neocon's reside on TCS. You sick racists can rationalize that "they" did something to us and so we must go THERE to kill their children and wives in retaliation; for something that never happened.

how's the PTSD going folks? You people should look back at your childhood trauma and come to understand where you turned from a sweeet little child into a monster who has brain damage from the trauma inflicted by your "normal upbringing".

The cancer and the heart attacks can't come fast enough for our society to rid itself of all of you.

Praise the hydrogenated fats and lard you all dine on.
It can help America rid itself of the dumbest of beasts: NeoCons and their sick racism.

MarktheUNgreat Is Late For Relevant Information
We invaded the middle east dumbie Mark the ungreat. You would take a raped and murdered muslim child; murdered and raped by American troops; and still somehow you would blame the child, right racist white trash?

Sick Mark, you are just plain stupid and sick.

I find it laughable
that the only one on this site calling people racist and calling for the death of anyone is you.

Hmmm, I wonder who the murdering racists liar really is.

You never served in the U.S. Military, not in any capacity you worm.

You are obviously in some psychological distress and need serious intervention.

Reading my posts I wonder if you have ever even bee to the U.S. Your a Haji aren't you? You are the only one here who has ever brought up that term and I find it interesting you loathe it so.

Careful or your attendants at the assylum are going to catch you in the office using the computer.

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