The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Tag: Sunni Awakening

Iraq’s Papered Over Problems Flare Up As the Iraqi Endgame Starts

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Image by a62a68

The “surge” worked, mainly, not because of more troops, but because of more money and weapons.  The Sunnis needed money and guns to fight their insurgency.   They got those, in part, from Al-Q’aeda in Iraq, but by the time of the surge AQ had overstepped itself and tried to get control.  It started assassinating Sunni leaders and it engaged in very indiscriminate killing, which the Sunnis didn’t like. along with engaging in some violations of the norms of war as the Sunnis saw it.

Into this stepped in the US and says “we can give you money and weapons, and all you have to do is take out the AQ people who are trying to get control of you by assassinating your leaders”.  This then was the “Awakening” – guns and money for dealing with AQ and for peace afterwards.

Since the endgame in Iraq was about who would control Iraq after the US left, which was indicated by the fact that Iraqi government forces were under heavier attack than the Americans (who were attacked just enough to keep the cost high), the Sunnis said “sure.”  By accepting the money and arms they got to build up to be in a better position when the Americans left—either for negotiation, or for war.

But the Shia run central government is aware of this, and in the past few months they’ve started arresting and assassinating Sunni leaders, in preparation for when the Americans leave.  Remember, the Sunni government forces aren’t that impressive.  Their last independent major operation was in Basra against the Sadrists, and until American forces intervened and Iranians played diplomat, they were losing.

So Maliki is trying to get his licks in and weaken or break the Sunnis before the Americans leave.

As a result you’re seeing a spike in attacks, because the Sunni Awakening leaders don’t want to be arrested or killed, strangely enough.  You aren’t seeing all out warfare yet, because the Sunnis know the US will step in, since the US is helping Maliki with his crackdown, and the Sunnis want to save their forces for the real showdown: over who controls Iraq after the US leaves, or perhaps more accurately, who gets how much of the oil revenues.

Iraq is not stable.  The problems in Iraq were papered over with money.  But now that the money is going away, and Maliki is violating the terms of the American brokered truce, the papered over problems are re-emerging.

Endnote: In addition to the Awakening, the Sadrists standing down, the completion of ethnic cleansing in Baghdad, Iranian intervention, and the British withdrawal from Basra all contributed.  But in terms of the Sunnis, money and guns for peace was the primary consideration.

The Iraq Awakening Showdown

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Image by a62a68

Looks like the Iraqi government is moving against the Awakening Councils in Iraq. The councils, as you may recall, were the Sunnis (many of them ex-insurgents) whom the Americans paid and armed to fight al-Qa’eda in Iraq, and to impose some sort of rough peace on their areas.  They aren’t really controlled by the central government, and no central government likes the idea of having independent military forces in its territory, so they’ve been arresting leaders, which has led to some pitched fighting.

From the point of view of the Iraqi central government, they’ve got till the US leaves to get this done with.  As with when they went after al-Sadr is Basra and had to be bailed out by American troops and Iranian diplomacy, it’s not clear that the Iraqi army is capable of independent operations against highly motivated enemy forces.  But as long as the Americans are around, no one wants to call up a large enough force to beat the Iraqi army, because if they do the Americans will swoop down, and no one in Iraq can beat them in open field combat and even if they could, the losses they would take are not worth it.

The “surge” worked less becuase of extra troops than because ethnic cleansing had pretty much completed itself and because Americans paid part of the insurgency (the Awakening Councils) to fight another part (al-Qa’eda in Iraq).

The question now is whether the Iraqi government can get enough of a monopoly on force to survive after the majority of American forces leave.  It’s not clear to me that they can, if only because their own military is pretty awful and thoroughly infiltrated by various other groups.  A lot will depend on the deals they cut with the Sunni opposition, and with al-Sadr.  If Sadr and the Sunnis decide to work together, I don’t think the central government can survive.  Folks forget the nature of militias in Iraq—you put out the call, and they rise up and when they’re not needed large numbers of them appear to be little more than civilians.

And again, when it comes to large scale operations, the Iraq army does not have a record of success unless backed up by US troops.

So this will be a political game as much as a military one.  If the central government doesn’t buy off enough of the opposition, I expect it will lose entire provinces to a new insurgency when they rise after the Americans leave.

Remember, the game has never been primarily about fighting the Americans.  The game has always been about who will be in charge after the Americans leave.

Addendum: The Newshoggers have been covering Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan better than anyone else I’ve seen, and very much in the spirit of the old BOPnews and Agonist.  I suggest keeping an eye on them if you want good analysis about what’s really going on.

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