Tuesday, July 10, 2007
July 10, 2007: The war in Iraq is notable not because it is against guerillas or terrorists, but because of the large number of armed opposition groups that are, for all intents and purposes, criminal gangs. Such organizations have been around here for thousands of years, but Saddam made them more powerful by incorporating the loyal ones into his security organization. Maybe it was something he learned from the Russians (the KGB loved to work with gangsters), but it left post Saddam Iraq awash in criminal gangs. Sunni Arab gangs grew rich, Kurd and Shia gangs got constant heat. Many quickly discovered that there was money to be made by giving yourself a nationalistic or Islamic name and declaring loyalty to the cause of Sunni Arab supremacy. Al Qaeda and Saddam's old allies had cash and cachet that made the gangs more powerful. All they had to do was support the bombing program and attacks on cops and soldiers (local and foreign). Since many of these attacks were paid for, the gangs treated it like another bit of business, even if 90 percent of the attacks on U.S. troops failed. Their paymasters understood.
American troops, especially reservists whose civilian jobs were as big city cops , noted the gang aspects of the situation over three years ago. Since American combat divisions and brigades were given a lot of freedom to innovate, some U.S. troops began importing gang fighting techniques from back home. Mainly, this consisted of intelligence gathering techniques, and specialized software used by some police organizations. The newly formed Iraqi police got into this as well, but they were not as effective, because of the pervasive corruption. Unfortunately, the Iraqi police had the manpower on the street, that U.S. forces lacked. Iraqi cops spoke the language, and could quickly size up where a neighborhoods loyalties were. But the Iraqi police or army never had enough first rate units to take on the gangs.
The American databases of Iraq's Most Wanted grew year by year. The databases were eventually merged, and the picture of who was who in the Gangs of Iraq became clearer. Then came the idea that, with enough additional American manpower, one could conduct a targeted gangbusters campaign. The key to making this work long term was the desire of ordinary Iraqis to be done with the gangs. Over the last three years, life had become intolerable in many parts of Iraq, as the gangs began spending most of their time getting rich and, worst of all, doing whatever they liked. The stories of gang atrocities began to sound like stuff you'd only encounter in a horror movie. But then, U.S. intel troops knew that the horror stories of Saddam's street level enforcers were true. With that in mind, the new horrors seemed familiar. But now the Sunni Arabs were most often on the receiving end, as the gangs sought to insure the loyalty of those they lived among. The gangs had no trouble recruiting. There was little reconstruction going on in Sunni Arab areas. While Iraq's economy, overall, has been growing quickly in the past four years, it's been unending recession in Sunni Arab areas. The gangs offered young Sunni Arab men a job, and a license to do whatever the hell they wanted. Most Sunni Arabs now wanted the gangs gone, and were in an appreciative mood when American troops came in and took on the outlaws.
The deal was simple. We will run the local bad guys out, killing or arresting those we catch. In return, the local tribe and clan leaders will support recruiting for the local police force, and the tribe will recognize the Shia dominated government. If that happens, then American, or Iraqi, troops will be available if the bad guys try to return and reassert control. Thus peace will return, along with economic growth and a lot less violence in the streets.
The gangs have not taken this new program well. Of the hundreds of gangs in Sunni Arab areas, about half are now banged up and in flight, or essentially destroyed. Still lots of bad guys running around, but without their safe houses, stockpiles of weapons, or piles of cash. When the U.S. troops move it, they start getting lots of anonymous, or not-so-anonymous tips about where the bad guys, and there stuff, is. Even without the tips, the presence of American troops makes other ploys possible. Like the use of many UAVs at night, looking for people moving and burying weapons and other stuff (explosives, radio gear, cash). Raids and car chases follow. Many U.S. troops prefer working the night shift. There's more arrests, the night vision gear is fun to use, and it's not nearly as hot.
The gangs are united by common needs, common enemies, and a desire to see Sunni Arabs running Iraqi again. The chatter among the gangs is that something spectacular needs to be done now, to prevent the gangs from being hammered into a state of marginalized ineffectiveness. That's where the talk of a "Tet Offensive" comes from. This would emulate the suicidal attacks South Vietnamese guerillas and North Vietnamese troops made in 1969. The idea then was that such a broad offensive would encourage the South Vietnamese population to rise up in support of the communists. Most South Vietnamese were anti-communist, but the communists had convinced themselves otherwise. Militarily, the attacks were a major defeat for the Viet Cong (the South Vietnamese guerillas) and a big setback for the communist effort to take over South Vietnam. But the American media declared it a U.S. defeat, and U.S. government support for South Vietnam declined, reached the point where, in 1975, the second North Vietnamese attempt at taking South Vietnam via conventional invasion worked, because the American Congress had halted even ammo shipments to South Vietnam.
Of course, the situation is different this time. While an Iraqi Tet would also result in a great slaughter against the "guerillas," the only neighboring country capable of invading and taking over is Iran. But Iran is the traditional foe of the Sunni Arabs. So what do the Sunni Arabs expect to achieve by attempting a general uprising? Well, it seems that the Sunni Arabs are still very full of themselves and believe that, if they can force American troops to leave Iraq, they will be able to outsmart and outfight the Kurds and Shia Arabs, and regain control. To understand what's going on in Iraq, you have to understand that fantasies like that are taken very seriously.
Liberty or Death Comment.
Most Americans do not hate the war, they hate losing. Our ROEs prevent us using our huge tecnological advantage. Symmetric warfare is attrtional warfare and we can't win that one, even with a 10 to 1 kill ratio. We have no successful strategy against snipers except our snipers. Again symmetric warfare. We have no defense against IEDs and EFPs except jammers that also jam our equipment. IEDs and EFPs used to account for 85% of the casualties. That down to 70-75% with the increase in snipers. Snipers are ideal weapons against Gen Patraeus's "neighborhood strategy". Small size units holding previously swept neighborhoods. Choosing not to be mobile is a snipers dream. When you look at the casualty figures on the news at night, even the hostile press is too stupid to know the real numbers. They understand dead. They understand wounded, but they forget to ask about disease. 18,000 have been sent to back the states because their disease could not be cured in country.
Patraeus's hearts and minds strategy will work, but not in the next 5 years. He has till September, with an interim report in July which will show that the Iraqi government has not met a single goal. Not one. The significant objectives are political, not military. We are losing both. Our troops win every fight, 100%; but are losing the war. We are spending 12B per month in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is unsustainable.
I disagree that Rowling adds any value by identifying the bad guys as gangs. Iraq is suffering from 100s of loosely organized groups, Sunnis, Shia and Kurds; as well as foreign insurgents and Al-Qaeda. Label them what you wish. They are still bands of killers. Labeling them as gangs suggests we know how to effectively deal with gangs. We don't. It is all about money. No money; no gangs, tribes, groups or other bunches of bad guys. Gangs in the US get their money through crime. Is the author implying that the gangs of Iraq get their money through crime like the Afghans?
We have two choices in Iraq; write it off in Sept. or make Draconian changes. Eliminate the Iraqi government. Disband the police. They are participating with the bad guy groups, even leading them. Split the army up along ethnic lines and create 3 separate states with a loose Federal government (start with a dictator) that regulates commerce and oil revenue.
Most importantly stop treating Iraq and Afghanistan as specific objectives. Get back to the big picture of defeating Islamic Jihadis. Forget borders, they do. The key to every organization no matter what its objective is; its money. No money, no organized groups. Money provides salaries, food, weapons and ammo and local citizen indifference. Are we going after the money? No. Most it comes from Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria in that order. Yes Saudi Arabia is by far our biggest long-term enemy. They create the ideologues and supply most of the money, especially Al-Qaeda.
We have our most effective weapon sitting on the sidelines; the US Treasury Department. Unlike State which is worse than useless, Treasury is eager to fight. The US controls 58% of the world currency exchange which is a 3 trillion per day business. The West controls up 90%. The Arabs 0. Want to get anyone's attention, block them from currency exchange. No bullets required.