August 22, 2007


Juan Cole sums up this morning's important op-ed in the New York Times by Buddhika Jayamaha, Wesley D. Smith, Jeremy Roebuck, Omar Mora, Edward Sandmeier, Yance T. Gray and Jeremy A. Murphy, all enlisted soldiers who have recently served in Iraq.

In a thoughtful, analytically precise, and informed essay, they lament the pie in the sky thinking in Washington, admit that 'hearts and minds' are not being won and are unlikely to be, and decry contradictory US policies trying to please everyone that end up alienating everyone. They point to the massive number of Iraqis displaced abroad and the similar number internally displaced, to the lack of electricity, services, potable water, and above all security. They highlight how unreliable they find the Iraqi military, which they think penetrated at the street level by Shiite militiamen and their supporters.

Juan Cole's Informed Comment is the most consistent source of daily information on Iraq that I have found. Unlike U.S. newspapers, Cole does not forget to watch the continuing, slow-moving issues like electricity, sewage, and kidnapping; these may not seem as urgent on any given day as Bush's latest Rose Garden promises but they obviously have a tremendous influence on the opinions of people in Iraq. And, in the end, their opinion will be decisive.

From the op-ed:

A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.

As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.

Similarly, Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. Sunnis recognize that the best guarantee they may have against Shiite militias and the Shiite-dominated government is to form their own armed bands. We arm them to aid in our fight against Al Qaeda.

However, while creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support. Armed Sunni tribes have indeed become effective surrogates, but the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave.