Thursday, January 11, 2007

HOW TO DEAL

"I think the Americans are more for Iraq than the Iraqis themselves."

Bill at INDC has been in Iraq a little while and he's been doing some digging. In the few short weeks he's been there, this man has been able to uncover more information and useful data about the death squads and trouble spots than three years of legacy media coverage. Consider the interview he recently posted on INDCJournal. It is between Bill and a fellow he calls Yusef about what's going on:
What makes the insurgency tick? How are they funded? Why is the civil administrative infrastructure in the city so broken? And how can the insurgency be ultimately quelled? These questions are frustratingly complex, but some of them - from a local Fallujan perspective, at least - are answered in this interview. And as interviews go, I think this one is important.
Yusef points out that Fallujah is considered the height of death squad ("insurgent") success and glory, and he believes that these murderers and terrorists are itching to get back into the city and make it ten times worse than it was before. When asked how these men work, he gives an
interesting response:

INDC: Who is the insurgency? Who are the people who plant bombs every day and shoot at Americans, IA and police?

Yusef: "They have some ideology from some of the American prisons, the one in Buca and south, in those two prisons there were extremist religious insurgents. The Americans took those people and put them in the prison too and they (the radicals) worked on the other prisoners, teaching them and feeding them that ideology of fighting and to think that everyone else is a sinner and that they should be killed."

Note: I spoke to a Marine Detention Facility Officer intimately familiar with the mentioned corrections facilities, and he verified this characterization; young Iraqis on the fence are often radicalized there, initially associating with fundamentalists as a survival mechanism.

This enemy of Iraqis and those in the world who want peace and liberty for the country are having their ranks swelled by young people who are trained in prisons by radical leaders and the worst of the lot. How can this succeed? It's a lot like gangs in America or the mafia.

INDC: So the majority of the insurgency here is religious radicals?

Yusef: "People in Iraq fighting, they are kids. They have no knowledge, they are ignorant from both sides, about their religion and education-wise. They (the radicals) buy them with money, so why not? Some guys who work with insurgents and start killing people, when they begin and kill one, they cannot leave."

INDC: What do you mean, they can't stop killing?

The interpreter explains: "It's like when you join a gang in the states. Once you do something, that's it, you cannot leave."

Yusef goes on to explain how these death squads stay in existence. First, they've managed to secure funding:

Yusef: "From Fallujah to the city of Abu Ghraib, the radicals control everything. Gas stations, power, contracts and, believe it or not, contracts with the Americans themselves. The Americans give a contract to someone and the insurgents extort their share. This is how they finance their operations. An oil distribution facility in al-Anbar, believe it or not, half of its production goes to those radicals and to finance insurgency activities. A Fallujah judge doesn't dare to judge someone. He's too scared. He's been threatened and he has no power to protect himself."

INDC: So how did the insurgents take control of these contracts and the city functions?

Yusef: "They don't do the actual work. They come with money. They find the contractor. That contractor is an innocent person, he is not involved with anything and most all of them now, they are from Baghdad. Like there are some Fallujans, they do their contracts in Baghdad because it's too dangerous to be here, so most all contractors (coming to work in Fallujah) come from Baghdad. The contractor gets the contract, he shows up here in Fallujah to do the job. He starts planning, getting equipment. The insurgents find out about him, they show up, and they tell him, 'you know what, either we get a portion of that amount or you are not finishing it.'"

These men are using violence and intimidation to extort the money they need from Iraq. They get a piece of each part of the business and through that can afford to run things, buy what they want, and move in the country - and although it is unsaid, likely buy influence and favors in government and the police. Didn't take them long to work that out, did it? Almost as if some outside force was helping them set all this up, someone who has planned this a long time.

Yusef says that the tribes could fight and end this, but they let everyone down by working with the death squads instead:
"They do work with the insurgents. When they sit with us, they tell us one version of the story, when they sit with the insurgents, there is another version of the same story."
Ultimately, how does Yusef see how to change this, how to turn the Iraqi people from victims of a crime syndicate made up of radical Islamic terrorists?

Yusef: "The tribes will follow, they will be on the side of the powerful person, the powerful group. If we have that power, they're going to be on our side. Right now the insurgents are more powerful, so they are going to be on their side."

INDC: So how do you get that power?

Yusef: "More Iraqi Police. If [Fallujah] recruits more police, it is a good thing, that means we'll get that power, and at that point tribal leaders will be on our side."

When asked what he thought might be doe to change the leaders to the side of the white hats, Yusef had a suggestion:

Yusef: "It's going to depend on an upcoming meeting [with] tribal leaders. This is key, I believe, to use it to get into their mentality and convince them to be on our side. [They need to be told] about Marines leaving, Iraqi Army leaving, if the sons of Fallujah will provide security and work with the police."

"If their answer is yes, start sending tribe members to join the police service and the Iraqi Army in Fallujah. If you want the Marines and the (predominantly Shia) Iraqi Army to stay in the city, that's your choice, but you need to be responsible for it. Let's not waste our time standing here and talking. Either yes, the sons of Fallujah will take over, or if the answer is no, end this meeting."

INDC: What if they say 'no?'

Yusef: "[There will be] one option: [government forces] from Baghdad. And they're not [like local forces], it's really kind of [special forces] from Baghdad. But the local Sunni hate them (as they are predominantly Shia), and the members of that team will treat Fallujans terribly."

Yusef then noted that at first he viewed the Americans as invaders, as an occupying army, as the enemy. Then, after getting to know some Americans, after meeting and working with the American military forces and civilian contractors, he changed his way of thinking. He fights against the death squads now, and the price has been high: the loss of his father, his brother, his whole family. But he fights on, saying he has nothing to lose. He feels the same frustration that we do in America, that we're working so hard, paying so much, and spending the lives and blood of our young men in the country and yet the Iraqis seem to not want what we're dying and bleeding money to give them.

The interview ends with this line:
"I want to ask you for something: a one month vacation in the United States to get away from all of this. And if they give me refugee status, I'm marrying an American woman and not coming back."
And he's welcome here. Read the whole interview and the companion piece that Bill from INDC wrote for the Examiner.

The thing is, without a real effort to end these extortion programs, without rooting out the corruption and showing that the death squads are weak, that the government is against them, and that they are on the losing side, Iraq will tend to side with them. There are some in Iraq who still consider the Americans the enemy, and presumably the members of the dozen or so other countries in the coalition with soldiers on the ground. Most of Iraq probably resents the presence of the coalition because it represents a shame for them: so easily defeated, so unable to do what was needed themselves.

Lieutenant General Patraeus, one of the generals recently returned from Iraq, has written (pdf file) a plan on how to deal with the insurgency. It has a three basic steps:
  1. Stop the bleeding: The goal is to protect the population, break the insurgents’ initiative and momentum, and set the conditions for further engagement. Limited offensive operations may be undertaken, but are complemented by stability operations focused on civil security. During this stage, friendly and enemy information needed to complete the common operational picture is collected and initial running estimates are developed. Counterinsurgents also begin shaping the information environment, including the expectations of the local populace.
  2. Achieve Stability: Counterinsurgents are most active here, working aggressively along all logical lines of operations (LLOs). The desire in this stage is to develop and build resident capability and capacity in the HN government and security forces. As civil security is assured, focus expands to include governance, provision of essential services, and stimulation of economic development. Relationships with HN counterparts in the government and security forces and with the local populace are developed and strengthened.
  3. Iraqi takeover: In this stage, the multinational force works with the host nation in an increasingly supporting role, turning over responsibility wherever and whenever appropriate. Quick reaction forces and fire support capabilities may still be needed in some areas, but more [functions] are performed by [Iraqi] forces with the low-key assistance of multinational advisors. As the security, governing, and economic capacity of the host nation increases, the need for foreign assistance is reduced.
This is basically what the US has been trying to achieve in Iraq so far. However, it's too vague, there's not enough specific and tangible planning there. It's fine to say "work to get them to do things on their own" but how? Killing off or capturing the leaders of these movements is a great step, it definitely makes them look weak and frightens the rank and file. Wiping out their money trail is another good step that needs to be done now, before it becomes too comfortable and accepted. Taking steps to get the tribes to work with the good guys is a good step that is being tried now, but the tribes have to be approached in a way that lets them know they are respected and also takes into account their need to care for their people first and the nation second.

The tribes are like neighborhood associations, they are there to help their own people, protect them, enrich them, and settle their disputes. Soon I'd love to see Iraq get away from this archaic system, but it's what they have in place now. Any approach that doesn't appreciate and take advantage of this fact will insult or disinterest them.

Finally, the young men who are ignorant and gullible enough to be taken in by the radical Muslims need to have a way to get out of the gang they've fallen into. They need to realize there is a way out, and further that the way out is more attractive than the life they now are leading. The best way for this to happen is to have former members publicly pointing out how it is better and for the gangs to lose their ability to retaliate or move. Wiping out their leaders and destroying their income will make a significant step toward that goal.

No plan for Iraq can really be helpful without dealing with Syria and Iran. I'd prefer no military action, I don't thirst for blood and destruction. That said, these nations need to understand they cannot continue to work steadily to destabilize their neighbor, destroy it's dreams, kill its people, and rob its coffers. They need to understand that funding, arming, or sending members to the death squads and terrorists in Iraq will not be tolerated, even if that means military strikes. This effort by both nations must end, and end now.

If these steps are taken I believe the Iraqi people will take the greater burden of their country's future on their shoulders, feel like it is more their effort, more their future, and mean more to them. It is fine to say "we want the Iraqis to take over and make this dream their own" as President Bush and his administration has been saying and working for all along. It's another to have real, tangible, and proper ways to achieve those goals. I'm no military expert, I'm no genius of strategy and Iraqi politics, but I do know how to read and study and think about what I've learned, and I do have a friend who spent a year in the country working on this very kind of effort. The critical thing is that we have to move fast, and achieve goals soon as possible.

Because even if we turn around Iraq this year by more soldiers, proper efforts to deal with the "gangs" in Iraq, building the strength of the Iraqi government and police, and settling the area, the reporting will lag behind at least six months, and in an election year that can be all the difference between "abandon Iraq and everyone associated with it is a failure" and "we're doing good work there, this was no mistake and look at what we've achieved with our Iraqi friends."

Just as George Bush the elder about election year reporting lag. Even though the recession ended in March of 1992, it was being reported on all the way into the fall, and the growth, good economic numbers, and recovery was utterly ignored. President Clinton glided into office on this surge of economic benefit and got all the credit in the press.

Now, just imagine if this kind of information, if this kind of reporting had been done two years ago, one year ago by the legacy media, how much more would we understand about what's going on in Iraq? How much better a grasp of what needs to be done would we have, and how much of the idiot arguments and political posturing could we have avoided? The gatekeepers of information, the "fourth branch" of government is letting us down, continually in this area.
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