Iraq: War Shifting To Afghanistan


June 18,2008: The war on terror is shifting from Iraq to Afghanistan, as al Qaeda members have been doing for most of this year. Last month, more foreign (U.S. and NATO) troops died in Afghanistan (19) than in Iraq (17, according to the official count, unofficially, 19 troops died). And that's with twice as many foreign troops in Iraq. It's part of a trend. Foreign troops, especially Americans, are operating more as peacekeepers in Iraq this year. This is because Iraqi security forces are completing the process of building a Kurdish and Shia force that can match the abilities of Saddam's Sunni Arab thugs that controlled the country for decades. The new force does not use all the barbaric techniques Saddam's butchers employed. But the new guys can be pretty nasty, and will provide foreign journalists with much breathless copy in the next few years. Actually, the new Iraqi force is not much worse than any other security force in the region. But that's a story that doesn't fly with most editors. Dumping on Iraq does, and will continue to do so for a while.

But there will also be a transition from reporting the news from Iraq, to writing the histories of the war in Iraq. This will cause some stress, because the Internet makes available, simultaneously, the original "news" version of Iraq (with all its distortions and advocacy) and the "history" version (that attempts to simply describe what actually happened.) We strive for the latter, which is unusual for what many people consider a web site devoted to "news." But because of the web, you can easily see how this "news/history" thing works. Many major newspapers have put their archives online. You can now go look at contemporary reporting of past wars, and compare that to the histories later written of those conflicts. Of course, this assumes you have familiarized yourself the historical record. That's a minority activity. Most people just take what the news gives them, but it's becoming more popular to pursue other versions of events via the web. Checking the way wars were reported at the time is one of them. But doing this makes you realize that you cannot trust the news to get it right for wars going on right now. That's because the news has to report exciting "news" events in order to remain competitive (and profitable). Many people in the news business are constantly bitching about this, especially the entertainment techniques that often creep into the presentation of their reporting. But everyone realizes that the audience demands news that excites and entertains. News that simply informs, losses money and cannot survive, except on the web.

Getting back to the history of the Iraq war, another angle that the news misses is the dismantling of the al Qaeda support system. Nations in the West (with large Moslem minorities), as well as Moslem nations themselves, have been cracking down on organizations that recruit suicide bombers for work in Iraq. These groups raised money, and recruited young men willing to die for the cause. Fundraising and recruiting have become more difficult, as al Qaeda became less popular (among Moslems) because of their continuing terror attacks against Moslems. This made it easier for police to identify and arrest the recruiters. Many of these people have been convicted and sent to jail in the last year. That has cut off the supply of recruits, and forced al Qaeda to use whoever they could get. That meant more aborted or poorly executed attacks. But Moslem civilians are still getting killed, continuing the downward spiral of al Qaedas stature in the Islamic world.

In Iraq, al Qaeda has been reduced to one collection of cells in the north, around the city of Mosul. Here, some of the al Qaeda leaders are carrying out a revenge campaign, and have killed three Sunni Arab tribal leaders who used to support the terrorists, but now support the government. As usual, this has had an impact quite the opposite of what al Qaeda was hoping for. The Sunni Arab tribes are becoming more energetic, and brutal, in hunting down the terrorists, and the tribesmen who still support them. This is turning into a war of extermination, which encourages many of the al Qaeda operatives to head for Pakistan, where al Qaeda has established a base for a last stand. But some of the Iraqi terrorists cannot, or will not, go. So they will die, and try to kill a lot of Iraqis in the process.

The government has successfully used an ancient tactic for winning sectarian wars. That is, Kurdish and Shia police and army units were used against Sunni areas, while the recent Battle of Basra was spearheaded by the 1st Infantry Division, which is largely recruited from Sunni Arab western Iraq (Anbar province). Not only were the Sunnis happy to kill Shia, but the Shia militias had a historical fear of armed Sunnis that did not do much for their morale. Once the militia units were broken, Shia Arab police units came in to make peace and settle things down. The Shia militia units belonging to the Mahdi Army are being destroyed this way.


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