The Best Defense

Iraq, the unraveling (VII): tribes vs. Baghdad

Best Defense is in summer re-runs. This item originally ran on May 7, 2009. 

If you haven't yet reviewed the papers from the Midwest Political Science Conference, here's a little gem that will tell you more about Iraqi politics than a dozen Pentagon PowerPoints. It goes by the deceptively sleepy title of "Preliminary Results From Voices Of The Mada'in: A Tribal History and Study of One of Baghdad's Six Rural Districts," and is by Adam Silverman, who was an advisor to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Armored Division in Iraq last year, but who emphasizes that his views, opinions, and conclusions are his, not the brigade's, the division's, the Army's, the Pentagon's, Joe Torre's, or anyone else's.

His findings:

- Shiite sheikhs, as well as Sunni ones, perceived the central government as a subsidiary of the Iranian government. "Even by Shia, ... the members of it are viewed as either Iranian agents or Iranians."

- The central government isn't providing services, and so is disconnected from the tribes. "The lack of tethering ... of governmental structures to the most powerful socio-cultural dynamic in Iraq, the tribal system, is worrying." This lack threatens to undo the political gains of the last couple of years. "The concern is that unless the population layer, which is tribally oriented, is fully activated and brought into the mix, the hard work, grounded in the COIN reality of empowering the lowest levels, ... will fail."

- The two groups with "broad based indigenous support in Iraq are the Sawha/SOI who are tribally oriented and the Sadrists." I am not quite sure what to make of this conclusion, except that certainly isn't where the U.S. government has placed its bets.

via jamesdale10/Flickr

The Best Defense

Iraq, the unraveling (XX): 'Time to declare victory and go home?'

Best Defense is in summer re-runs. This item originally ran on July 30, 2009.

Colonel Timothy Reese's suggestion is appealing, of course. And he is good in listing everything that is going wrong. Reading his lists, you'd almost think the situation in Iraq is unraveling:

1.      The ineffectiveness and corruption of GOI Ministries is the stuff of legend.

2.      The anti-corruption drive is little more than a campaign tool for Maliki.

3.      The GOI is failing to take rational steps to improve its electrical infrastructure and to improve their oil exploration, production and exports.

4.      There is no progress towards resolving the Kirkuk situation.

5.      Sunni Reconciliation is at best at a standstill and probably going backwards.

6.      Sons of Iraq (SOI) or Sahwa transition to ISF and GOI civil service is not happening, and SOI monthly paydays continue to fall further behind.

7.      The Kurdish situation continues to fester.

8.      Political violence and intimidation is rampant in the civilian community as well as military and legal institutions.

9.      The Vice President received a rather cool reception this past weekend and was publicly told that the internal affairs of Iraq are none of the US's business.


1. If there ever was a window where the seeds of a professional military culture could have been implanted, it is now long past. US combat forces will not be here long enough or with sufficient influence to change it.

2. The military culture of the Baathist-Soviet model under Saddam Hussein remains entrenched and will not change. The senior leadership of the ISF is incapable of change in the current environment.

a) Corruption among officers is widespread.

b) Neglect and mistreatment of enlisted men is the norm.

c) The unwillingness to accept a role for the NCO corps continues.

d) Cronyism and nepotism are rampant in the assignment and promotion system.

e) Laziness is endemic.

f) Extreme centralization of C2 is the norm.

g) Lack of initiative is legion.

h) Unwillingness to change, do anything new blocks progress.

i) Near total ineffectiveness of the Iraq Army and National Police institutional organizations and systems prevents the ISF from becoming self-sustaining.

j) For every positive story about a good ISF junior officer with initiative, or an ISF commander who conducts a rehearsal or an after action review or some individual MOS training event, there are ten examples of the most basic lack of military understanding despite the massive partnership efforts by our combat forces and advisory efforts by MiTT and NPTT teams.

The question the colonel's memo begs is just how bad it gets after we leave, and whether Turkey, Iran and more intervene more than they have already. What are the chances of a regional war? Feeling lucky, punk? Well, are you?

What happens after we leave? How do we mitigate the damage done? I really don't see how hanging a "mission accomplished" banner would work any better for the Obama administration than it did for the Bush administration.