The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
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No Cure For The Arab Curse?
Discussion Board on this DLS topic
by James Dunnigan
July 16, 2008
In East Baghdad, and Shia cities throughout the south, the Mahdi Army is no more. The Iran supported group was taken apart by government security forces during the last two months. All that's left of radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr's private army are a few hundred die hard members who are, for the moment, keeping their heads down. And for good reason. While appreciated in 2006 -7 for keeping Sunni Arab terrorists out of Shia neighborhoods, the Mahdi Army quickly evolved into a collection of self-serving thugs. Once civilians realized that the army and police were stronger, and moving in to stay, the cell phones came out and the police were buried in tips about Mahdi Army safe houses and arms caches. Sadr has been hiding out in Iran through all this.
Sunni Arab terrorist diehards are undergoing the same experience up north, but with more violence. Around Mosul, U.S. Special Forces teams, which have been chasing al Qaeda leaders for years, are having enormous success. The surge offensive drove many al Qaeda, and Iraqi Sunni Arab terrorist leaders to the Mosul area, where a spectacular last stand was supposed to give the terrorists a badly needed victory. Didn't work out that way, and now the terrorist leaders are either hunkering down, or running for the border. Either way, they are getting caught. The combination of wide spread cell phone availability, and anti-terrorist Iraqis, is giving the police and Special Forces the tips they need.
The downside of all this is that U.S. troops are now regularly travelling to areas, long been labeled "extremely hostile", they have never been in before. While those Sunni Arab towns are generally considered safe and well policed for Iraqis, there are still scattered groups of terrorists about, capable of pulling off an impromptu ambush or suicide bombing against foreigners. The terrorists are also using more women as bombers, there having been an outbreak of Islamic feminism on the Internet, where the women demanded that they be allowed to participate and die for the cause. Since women suicide bombers have been, and still are, quite rare, their chances of evading security are better. The overall result of this new freedom-of-movement is a near doubling of American combat deaths (from the record low last month of 19).
Several terrorist groups are trying to negotiate some kind of amnesty deal, using kidnapping victims as trade bait. These hostages have, in some cases, been held for a long time. The most prominent of these, five British citizens, have been captives for a year (as terrorists demanded the release of nine pro-Iran killers). This has put the government in a difficult position, as hundreds of Iraqis are being held (some may actually be dead, but even getting "proof-of-life" requires giving the kidnappers something.) While most Iraqis want the hostages released, they also do not want to reward the terrorists.
The defeat of the major terrorist organizations is bringing the spotlight back to Iraq (and the Arab worlds) primary problem; corruption. With reconstruction money and police pouring into Sunni Arab towns for the first time in seven years, there's been some culture shock. The Sunni Arabs have long been accustomed to the old rules (which Saddam Hussein exploited artfully) whereby local strongmen were paid off, and then these tough guys did whatever it took (murder, kidnapping, mutilation, etc) to keep the locals quiet. The new Shia government is trying (with mixed success) to get away from the old ways. It isn't easy. Centuries of tradition don't willingly change overnight. There will be more violence, as corrupt locals decide old school customs are worth killing for. Actually, they always have been, which is why most Arab nations are police states, where murder, or the threat of it, is the final arbiter of disputes with the government. Meanwhile, reconstruction efforts are delayed, or derailed, by rampant theft, lies and deception supplied by local officials.
U.S. troops are back to their pre-surge strength of 15 brigades, although troop strength is a little higher (142,000 versus 135,000) because some additional support units are still around. The surge offensive that began in early 2007 has reduced Iraqi civilian casualties by 80 percent and lowered violence against U.S. troops to 2004 levels. But a lot of this security is held together by U.S. troops, who still advise and assist Iraqi troops and police. American commanders believe that it's only a matter of time before all Iraqi units are capable of doing their jobs on their own, but for now only about ten percent of Iraqi police and military units are in that category. It may take 5-10 years to get everyone able to operate on their own. Meanwhile, ten of Iraq's 18 provinces have their security provided by Iraqi security forces, with Iraqis in charge (and U.S. forces just on call.)