Iraq: The Importance Of Looking Good

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July 24, 2009: The Iraqi security forces have not, as Americans expected, called on U.S. troops for help, since U.S. forces pulled out of their urban bases by June 30th, and moved to new ones in the countryside. Moreover, the government issued new rules reminding American commanders that they could not run their own patrols or raids in urban areas, and most Iraqi commanders are no longer willing to run joint urban patrols.

The U.S. has anticipated this shift in Iraqi attitudes, and four of the army brigades headed to Iraq this Fall, for the annual rotation, are reorganized for training and advising Iraqi troops and police. The 14,000 American troops in these four Advisory and Assistance Brigades (AABs) will still be able to fight, but are organized to operate in small groups, each helping a larger Iraqi unit. The 130,000 American troops in Iraq will be reduced by 30-50,000 in the next 12 months.

While there was a spike in terror related civilian deaths before the Americans left the cities (437 dead last month), the violence level has declined this month. The Iraqi security forces believe that they can deal with the terrorism, which they expect to remain a problem for several years. But the Iraqis want American support to be less visible, so that Iraqis, and the world, can see that Iraqi security forces are running the show, by themselves. This is a big deal for the Iraqis. The Iraqis are still eager to receive less visible support, like UAVs and intelligence assistance. The intel aid is in the form of access to the enormous American databases, and the use of the search and analysis tools that seem able to find the needle (terrorist) in the haystack (large urban area). Few Iraqis (mainly those who are software engineers) understand how this works, and most, including many police and political leaders, just consider this more American "magic" that can be useful.

American commanders don't like to see their more effective troops put on the sidelines, even though they understand that the less efficient Iraqi security forces can do the job to the satisfaction of the Iraqi public. The great fear is that terrorist groups regain traction and rebuild, greatly increasing their violent activity. But this does not seem to be happening, and the biggest danger to Iraq seems to be the corruption and ethnic, religious and tribal divisiveness that plagues the entire region. Creating enough Iraqis who will side with the national good, versus some factional allegiance, is the key to destroying large scale terrorist or private militia organizations. For the moment, the government has crushed the major terror and militia movements. But the urge to support such organizations remains, and is fading slowly.

In the north, Kurds keep escalating their threats to make Nineveh (where Mosul is located) part of the Kurdish controlled north. The central government, and Sunni Arabs living in Nineveh, oppose this. The Sunni Arab minority thus provides support for Sunni Arab terror groups like al Qaeda, making Nineveh one of the most violent (of the 18) provinces in the country.

One little known military operation, that has an enormous bearing on Iraq's future, is the battle to protect the oil industry. Since 2003, terrorists have launched over 500 attacks on the oil infrastructure, and cost Iraq more than $12 billion in damage and lost sales. But in the last two years, attacks on oil targets has dropped over 80 percent. That is mainly because the  U.S. helped Iraq recruit, and train a 17,000 man oil security force. These troops not only guard the oil fields, and 7,500 kilometers of pipelines, but also choke off the oil theft and smuggling racket, that has made gangsters, and dishonest oil industry employees, rich, while costing the government billions. The Iraqi oil security commanders believe that attacks on oil targets will be even more reduced in three years, and that oil theft and smuggling will become rare.

July 12, 2009: Five Christian churches in Baghdad were hit by bombs, leaving four dead and many more wounded. In southern Iraq there has been an increasing number of attacks on Iraqi Christians since 2003. Islamic fundamentalism has traditionally been stronger in southern Iraq, where the principal Shia holy places are located. Christians make up only about two percent of the Iraqi population and most originally come from villages in northern Iraq, but many have moved south over the years. A century ago there were ten times as many Christians in the region. The Christians have been in Iraq for nearly 2,000 years, but once Islam arrived 1300 years ago, many have  converted or immigrated. The hostility towards non-Moslems has been a constant in Islamic history and, unlike other major religions (Christians, Buddhists, Hindus), this hostility increased, rather than declined, during the 20th century. This has increased the migration of non-Moslems from Moslem nations, and that is what happening in Iraq today, the continuation of a long trend.

 

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