Victory in Baghdad II


Now with pretty colors, courtesy of the Washington Post, the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, and the Mahdi Army.



Images of the Pathan” by Dr. Charles Lindholm.

Another superb story from Ghaith Abdul-Ahad about the Sunni militias (“concerned citizens”) who have been the linchpin of American tactical success in Iraq.

A senior Sunni sheikh, whose tribe is joining the new alliance with the Americans against al-Qaida, told me in Beirut that it was a simple equation for him. “It’s just a way to get arms, and to be a legalised security force to be able to stand against Shia militias and to prevent the Iraqi army and police from entering their areas,” he said.

“The Americans lost hope with an Iraqi government that is both sectarian and dominated by militias, so they are paying for locals to fight al-Qaida. It will create a series of warlords.

“It’s like someone who brought cats to fight rats, found himself with too many cats and brought dogs to fight the cats. Now they need elephants.”

The Americans pay him $400 (£200) a month for each fighter he provides, he said, and he had 600 registered. His men are awed by his courage, his piety and his neurotic rages.

Like many other insurgent groups, the Islamic Army had an uneasy alliance with al-Qaida. On one hand they needed financial support; on the other, al-Qaida became a burden, bringing upon the Sunnis the wrath of Shia militias and death squads who started an organised campaign of sectarian cleansing against the Sunnis in retaliation against al-Qaida’s mass killing of Shia.

“We lost our area,” Abu Abed said. “It became a battle zone between al-Qaeda and the Shia militias.”

So when a prominent Iraqi Sunni politician who had lived in the US returned to Iraq last year and started direct talks between the Islamic Army commanders from his tribe and the Americans, Abu Abed was prepared to listen. “A year ago we reached the decision that we needed to fight al-Qaida,” he said. “I knew I couldn’t fight them face to face – they had more men and weapons. So I started gathering intelligence on their commanders. I knew them all very well.”

The turning point came last year, when al-Qaida declared the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq and attempted to impose itself on other insurgent groups. In one instance in west Baghdad, they demanded 25% of all the loot from other insurgent groups’ operations. The Islamic Army refused to pay and direct confrontations ensued.

“The bodies piled up in the streets,” Abu Abed said. “Most of the people had to leave the area and flee.”

The Hajji and his men used the same techniques they mastered as insurgents against their former allies. Sitting on a big sofa in his office, he recounted the events. “When we decided to attack we started with assassinations. We killed six [al-Qaida] commanders in the first week of fighting,” he said. “We would drive in unmarked cars, shoot a commander dead and then flee. At first, no one knew who was killing them.”

Soon an open war started. Of the hundreds who pledged to fight al-Qaida, only 13 actually stuck with Abu Abed. These days, almost all his followers claim to have been one of the 13. “When the Americans intervened, we went out with them on missions, leading them to the Qaida fighters,” he said.

After we had settled again in his office, Abu Abed told me of his grand dreams. “Ameriya is just the beginning. After we finish with al-Qaida here, we will turn toward our main enemy, the Shia militias. I will liberate Jihad [a Sunni area next to Ameriya taken over by the Mahdi army] then Saidiya and the whole of west Baghdad.”

Hours later the Ameriya Knights were on the streets again. There were rumours that Iraq’s Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashemi, was visiting Ameriya for the first time in two years. As we approached the mosque where he was believed to be praying, the street was blocked by his guards.

“Open the road for the Ameriya Knights,” yelled one of Abu Abed’s men.

“I can’t, I don’t have orders,” replied a gunman. “Do you know who I am? I am the commander of Ameriya,” Abu Abed screamed at the vice-president’s commander of guards. “Who are you? Did you dare to show your faces here before I kicked al-Qaida out? Even the Americans with their tanks couldn’t come before I liberated Ameriya.” Bakr pointed his gun at the entourage. Guns were cocked on all sides.

“Abu Abed, we all know who you are, but this is the vice-president of Iraq.”

This is Ameriya, not Iraq! Here I rule, I am the commander, I can make sure that you won’t show your faces here!

“We are all Sunni brothers. The Shia militias will be happy to see us fighting; we have the same enemy,” said the man.

“You are trying to claim my victory. I will show you!” Abu Abed pushed the officer and went back to his car.

The fragmentation of Iraq was going on before General Petraeus, the surge, or any fancy new COIN strategies were implemented. This story could just as well have taken place in Kirkuk in 2004. It just feels a bit odd to be helping it occur, knowing that it is diametrically opposed to our broader strategic goal of a unified Iraqi nation under a single ruling authority.


General Musharraf has gone ahead and ordered a state of emergency in Pakistan, despite the opposition of a Supreme Court,  which must legally ratify it, and his greatest patron, the United States, which has threatened to cut off aid in case of it.

  The Pakistani leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, declared a state of emergency about 6 p.m. local time today, Pakistani television reported.

All members of the Supreme Court were required to sign a new provisional constitutional order mandating the state of emergency, but 8 of the 11 justices signed an order calling the state of emergency illegal and gathered at the Supreme Court building, said Gohar Khan.

The declaration came days before the Supreme Court was expected to rule on the constitutionality of General Musharraf’s re-election as president last month and of his ability to serve as both the country’s president and military leader.

Just after 5 p.m. signs that a state of emergency would be declared started to emerge. All television stations were blocked as news media were reporting a meeting of General Musharraf and his top aides in the president’s office.

A Pakistani intelligence official said that a list had been prepared of prominent Pakistani journalists and opposition politicians who would be detained.

Before transmission was cut off, Pakistani media reported that 1,000 additional police had been deployed in Islamabad, the capital, but as of 5:30 no additional police could be seen. Groups of journalists had gathered in front of the country’s Supreme Court in expectation that judges could be detained.

Government officials have said over the past several days that if a state of emergency were declared, they would not declare martial law …

Those eight justices, including Iftikhar Chaudhry, the Chief Supreme Court Justice and head of the “lawyers’ movement” which crystallized middle-class opposition to Musharraf in the past months, are now under arrest. A new chief justice has been appointed and the constitution suspended — the general is apparently looking to utterly break the lawyers’ movement.

Meanwhile Indian news outlets are reporting that Benazir Bhutto is returning to Pakistan, including one report that had her sitting in a plane already touched down in Karachi. Bhutto and the PPP have already condemned the general’s move and called for resistance against it.

One wonders just what Musharraf is thinking right now. How the general and the politician handle the next few days will be key for Pakistan’s future as both a U.S. ally and as a unified nation. Musharraf is playing a very dangerous game. The military has always been Pakistan’s unifying institution, the bulwark of the nation — due to a large part to its crippling of any other institution that might rival it. Musharraf, for all his probable good intentions, has stripped it of all allies. The political parties, the civil service, the middle class, the Islamists all are now in opposition.  The army now stands alone — will it remain loyal to Musharraf? To what end?

It’s hard to see this ending well.

Obama and Iran


Someone has been reading Flynt Leverett and Ray Takeyh.

Senator Barack Obama says he would “engage in aggressive personal diplomacy” with Iran if elected president and would offer economic inducements and a possible promise not to seek “regime change” if Iran stopped meddling in Iraq and cooperated on terrorism and nuclear issues …

Flynt Leverett’s words of wisdom here:

Diplomatic resolution of the nuclear issue inevitably will require a broad-based restructuring of U.S.-Iranian relations, amounting to an effective rapprochement between Washington and Tehran. As Iranian officials have repeatedly made clear in diplomatic exchanges and private conversations, Iran will not agree to strategically meaningful restraints on the development of its nuclear infrastructure without having its core security concerns addressed.


But, no American administration would be able to provide a security guarantee unless U.S. concerns about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations and its attitude toward Israel were also addressed. And, the Iranian leadership would not be willing or able to address those concerns absent a strategic understanding with Washington about Iran’s place in the region. 

Sure as hell beats reading Norman Podhoretz.

Pakistan and its Army

In the wake of events like this and this and this, then listening to the audio file of this event is definitely worth your time.

Shuja Nawaz and COL David O. Smith, “Pakistan and Its Army: A Changing Relationship.”


Victory in Baghdad

Pic: Iraqi Ministry of the Interior commando stands side-by-side with a member of the Mahdi Army.


Just not exactly how we planned it.

“I don’t think this place is worth another American soldier’s life.” – Washington Post, 27 Oct. Despite the decrease in violence, the cleansing of the Sunnis of Sadiyah has been completed and not reversed, and the area is dead. The victory of the Shi’i in Baghdad, in other words.

“When we first got here, all the shops were open. There were women and children walking out on the street,” Alarcon said this week. “The women were in Western clothing. It was our favorite street to go down because of all the hot chicks.”

American soldiers estimate that since violence intensified this year, half of the families in Sadiyah have fled, leaving approximately 100,000 people. After they left, insurgents and militiamen used their abandoned homes to hold meetings and store weapons. The neighborhood deteriorated so quickly that many residents came to believe neither U.S. nor Iraqi security forces could stop it happening.

The descent of Sadiyah followed a now-familiar pattern in Baghdad. In response to suicide bombings blamed on Sunni insurgent groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Shiite militias, particularly the Mahdi Army, went from house to house killing and intimidating Sunni families. In many formerly mixed neighborhoods of Baghdad, such as al-Amil and Bayaa, Shiites have become the dominant sect, with their militias the most powerful force.

“It’s just a slow, somewhat government-supported sectarian cleansing,” said Maj. Eric Timmerman, the battalion’s operations officer.


Over time, the neighborhood became a battleground that residents fled by the thousands. Hundreds of shops shut down, schools closed, and access to basic services such as electricity, fuel and food deteriorated. “The end state was people left. They felt unsafe,” said Timmerman, the operations officer.

“We were so committed to them as a partner we couldn’t see it for what it was. In retrospect, I’ve got to think it was a coordinated effort,” Timmerman said. “To this day, I don’t think we truly understand how infiltrated or complicit the national police are” with the militias.

The Iraqi army’s arrival and the emergence of the Sunni volunteers have coincided with some positive signs, the soldiers said. Some of the shops along the once-busy commercial district of Tijari Street now open for a few hours a day. The number of violent incidents has dropped, although it rose again over the past two weeks, officers said.

“This is a dangerous place,” said Capt. Lee Showman, 28, a senior officer in the battalion. “People are killed here every day, and you don’t hear about it. People are kidnapped here every day, and you don’t hear about it.”

Red on red

AQI suicide bomber attacks 1920 Revolution Brigades HQ in Muqdadiyah, north of Baghdad.

Islamic Army in Iraq battles AQI in Salahuddin Province, 16 killed.

If anything will eventually end the Sunni insurgency, this is it.

One wonders, however, if there will really be anything left of Iraq once it’s over. We have already seen massive social change since 2003, equivalent to one or more “revolutions” from the old Iraq:

  • Rise of the Shi’i religious parties in the south and center – SCIRI/ISCI/SIIC, the Sadrist Current, regional parties like Fadhila in Basra
  • Fall of the old Ba’athist order and fragmentation in the Sunni areas
  • Sectarian cleansing of Baghdad and the flight of the middle class
  • Kurdish near-independence

However things end for the United States, these broad social changes will continue to play out to unknown ends in Iraq for years to come.

A check of my fearless predictions from May shows that my all-seeing eye wasn’t too cockeyed. Fadhila is still holding on by its fingernails in Basra, though.



On the left: John Cole of Balloon Juice

On the right: Assorted rightwing warbloggers