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Progress in Iraq?

I haven't written about the war in Iraq (or, as I prefer to call it, "the Iraq campaign in the War On Terror") in a while. This hasn't been done out of despair or an attempt to downplay my prior support for it, but because I really haven't had anything original to add to the discussion. It's been my belief that I can not possibly write something others will find interesting unless I find it interesting myself, and I haven't been able to meet that standard.

Yesterday, I read something that gave me ideas.

Go and read it, then come back. I'll wait.

A few observations that Wretchard doesn't make came to mind. This is in no way a criticism of him, but more along the lines of "too simple and basic for him to think merit mentioning." As I am a strict amateur on such matters, "too simple and basic" is not a valid concept to me.

The first is that while the fighting in Iraq is not a conventional war, but as a war certain principles nonetheless apply. One of those principles is that one crucial element of winning the war is determining the goals of the enemy, and denying them those goals.

Our goal is simple, and laid out for all to see: we wish to see an Iraq that is no longer a threat to its neighbors, the region, and our interests. The method we are pursuing is to help Iraq form a stable, democratic government. (On a purely utilitarian basis, a program of genocide would probably also work.) So one of the key goals of our enemies is to prevent that from happening.

The goal of our enemy is a bit more nebulous, and even a bit diverse. Some wish to restore a dictatorship of the minority. Some wish to establish an Islamist tyranny. Many simply don't have a lofty goal, just wish to wreak carnage. The common obstacle, though, is the Allied presence in Iraq -- so their mutual short-term goal is to get the US and our allies out of Iraq.

Another element that Wretchard doesn't touch upon is how geography is not as important as demographics in the fighting in Iraq. The critics of the current "surge" strategy are pointing out that while we focus our attention on Baghdad and its surrounds, the terrorists are expanding into areas they previously had not ventured. Our focus on one area has allowed them to have victories in other areas.

That's one way of looking at it. Another -- and, I think, more important -- way of looking at it is sociological.

Baghdad is home to roughly 25% of the total population of Iraq. By moving their efforts out of Baghdad and into the hinterlands, they are pretty much conceding a full quarter of the battleground.

Here's where another of the "big thinkers" (who, ironically, seems to have a very developed cerebrum and not an overgrown "lizard brain") comes in. Dafydd ab Hugh, who's earned my eternal envy for being both a successful novelist AND an outstanding blogger, has been looking closely at the details and minutiae of the "surge" strategy -- and sees just how it is working so far.

So, is the "surge" the key to victory in Iraq? It's still too early to tell. It seems to be working fairly well, and the changes in tactics by our enemies shows that they are reacting to it -- and an enemy that is reacting, not acting, has given up the initiative.

Another possible complication is that there's an old military truism that "no plan survives first contact with the enemy." Victory is not achieved by simply announcing a plan and carrying it out properly. That doesn't take into account that there are people who deliberately trying to thwart that plan, and those people tend to be intelligent, adaptable, and highly motivated. They will do all they can to prevent that plan from succeeding.

But the essential element here is that currently, we have the initiative. We are acting, and they are reacting. And wars are seldom won by the reactors.

Comments (24)

"the terrorists ar... (Below threshold)
"the terrorists are expanding into areas they previously had not ventured. Our focus on one area has allowed them to have victories in other areas. By moving their efforts out of Baghdad and into the hinterlands, they are pretty much conceding a full quarter of the battleground."

The terrorist are not "expanding" or "moving their efforts" Jay. They are getting thier collective butts kicked out of Baghdad. This is the direct results of the change in the ROE's.

Hopefully, they will not be welcomed in the outlieing areas and the rats will be scattered to the wind. Or meeting with Allah.....

Just for curiosity, how wou... (Below threshold)

Just for curiosity, how would you guys feel about a divided Iraq? They don't really seem to be a country...just a bunch of groups that don't like each other stuck in the same place. What about a Kurdish state (in the north; and separate Shiite and Sunni states?

Wouldn't solve all the problems, but maybe it's more viable than a united Iraq.

India and Pakistan are a dangerous duo (especially the latter!); but they were not viable as a single country.

The Czechoslovakia broke up, voluntarily, and seem okay with that arrangement. (Of course, much less hostility there!)

Whaddya think?

new report out saying Bin L... (Below threshold)

new report out saying Bin Laden is over-seeing Al-qaeda operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. If press was competent and gop got out in front of it, the treasonous left wouldnt' have a leg to stand. they are the "cut and run from osama" crowd, not a popular notion when framed that way.

"how would you guys fee... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

"how would you guys feel about a divided Iraq?"

How us guys would feel is irrelevant. It's up to the Iraqi people and government to decide things like that.

P. Bunyan -Well, a... (Below threshold)

P. Bunyan -

Well, as far as I know, nobody has asked the Iraqi people yet about dividing the country. But they DO seem to be voting with their bombs.

Again, any opinions about a divided Iraq? Good idea or bad?

Publicus,I think i... (Below threshold)


I think it's viable, but not necessarily the best idea.

How would they decide who gets what?

Pub...,whereas an ... (Below threshold)


whereas an Iraq divided along ethnic lines might not be the worst idea in a perfect world, the fact that the oil fields aren't distributed equally, completely undermines any hope for a peaceful division.

That, and an independent "Kurdistan" would freak the Turks (moreso than they are freaked, already); the Western, probably Sunni, side would get squeezed between the eastern Shi'a side and Syria.

Essentially, the eastern side would be absorbed into Iran, and the west would be fighting or its existence the minute any agreement was signed. And Baghdad would be the new post-WWII Berlin(ish).

So, in a practical sense, a divided Iraq is about as bad an idea as one come come up with.

Sunnis don't want it divide... (Below threshold)

Sunnis don't want it divided, as I understand it, because the Sunni areas don't have the oil... or something.

Still... bad idea. The Kurdish north is a defacto separate single-ethnicity region but mostly because it already *was*. From Totten's reporting the ability to exclude terrorists from the North is largely due to the fact that a single Arab on the street stands out.

If the Sunni and Shiite regions were similarly demographically separate then they'd be separate already. The people are more mixed up than that.

So what would be necessary to divide the country? Would it work to leave minority populations on the wrong side of borders? How is that any different than now? There is also the fact to consider that while Sunni and Shiite Arabs are the two major religious divisions, there *are* other groups, Sufis and Marsh Arabs and Christians besides.

Dividing things up *might* solve some problems but it doesn't do anything good for the larger systemic problems that make a pluralistic culture difficult to begin with.

Learning to "play nice with others" is fundamentally important and giving up on it would be a painful and significant loss.

Heralder --Who get... (Below threshold)

Heralder --

Who gets what? I guess that would have to be negotiated. But there are concentrations of each group, which helps. The Kurds are mostly in the mountainous north. I think the Shiites & Sunnis might be tougher to separate. I don't know if this is the best solution...but I find it interesting and worth exploring.

Here in America, where democracy works best, we're pretty bitterly divided right now. I wish democracy could work in Iraq, but I suspect the sectarian differences are too great for the country to hold together. This is true of many countries held together by really tough dictators. Yugoslovia broke up; the Soviet "Union" broke up. Maybe the same is the fate of Iraq.

I think others have mentioned that a revenue-sharing plan over oil would also need to be part of any settlement.

I've been against America's involvement in the war in Iraq...but if Bush shifted to trying to moderate negotiations for a settlement, I might support him on that policy.

"If the Sunni and Shiite re... (Below threshold)

"If the Sunni and Shiite regions were similarly demographically separate then they'd be separate already. The people are more mixed up than that."

Indeed, Synova, this IS a big problem. I'd like to see them try, however, to work something out on dividing land and oil. Even success here would pose problem----I'd worry about violence breaking out between Sunni and Shiite states. (Like Pakistan and India, but without the nukes...I hope!) Maybe the 3 states would pose less a threat to us, and be less hospitable to our enemies.

It's not a perfect solution. But I ask myself, is it an improvement, and is it doable? The answer: I don't know, but I'd like to find out.

Yo --"Essentially,... (Below threshold)

Yo --

"Essentially, the eastern side would be absorbed into Iran"

Would it? You may be right. It depends on a number of things. For example, Iraqis are arabs and Iranians are not. Would arabs want to join with non-arabs? I don't know. Obviously, on religious grounds they identify. Another question: if that happened, would it make Iran any more dangerous than they are now? On balance, would making, say, 2/3 of Iraq more peaceful be worth the possibility of one part of Iraq being absorbed into Iran.

It's a mixed bag, and there are several unknowns.

Pub ..., I'm fairl... (Below threshold)

Pub ...,

I'm fairly certain that if the east went to the Shi'a, it'd get absorbed. Not to say that it would be part of Iran, proper, but would certainly fall under their influence. I get your point about the persian/arab differences, but I'm not sure that would really matter. I'm not sure, but, based on what we're seeing with the "Muq," I'd think that religious issues (who'm I kidding, this has nothing to do with religion, it has everything to do with POWER; religion is just a convenient excuse as well as a recruitment tool) would trump racial ones. Keep in mind, being a muslim is not supposed to be based on racial divides.

If the eastern side were absorbed, I'd say that Iran becomes more dangerous simply based on the fact that Iran wants to be (if it isn't already) the dominant player in the Middle East. Give them a little influence, they'll go for more and with Syria on the other side of the "Sunni Iraq," the vice-like atmosphere would be hard to ignore, and would almost certainly lead to war.

It is a mixed bag, and there are plenty of unknowns, but one look at the history of the region would give even the modest observer a good idea how the scenario of a divided Iraq would play out.

Yo --You may be ri... (Below threshold)

Yo --

You may be right. Of course, from my perspective, the arab vs. Persian thing means nothing...but it may be divisive between them. Centuries ago, we had a whole bunch of people fighting over whether or not a wafer was literally the body of Christ. For me, if even Western culture can be confusing, I assume my understanding of the middle east is even worse!

Thanks for your thoughts!

"but because I really haven... (Below threshold)

"but because I really haven't had anything original to add to the discussion."

I thought you added a lot with your "insurgents can't keep this up" post. Also, that WMDs were found. Keep it up.

In my opinion, the Sunnis a... (Below threshold)

In my opinion, the Sunnis are indeed the "primary" enemy for many of the obviouos reasons Wretchard and those he quoted brought up.
jp2 is implaccable. I guess he didn't get invited to post at WizbangBlue?

Publicus:Althought... (Below threshold)


Althought late to the discussion, I would like to add to a previous comment. The Turks have already had enough of the Kurds within their own territory. An independent Kurd Nation would be too much for the Turks to bear because in their eyes they would see it as just the first step in a greater United Kurdistan.

I believe the result of this would be a general war between Turkey and the Kurds. And this war could dwarf the Armenian Genocide for the blood that would be let.

How will we know when there... (Below threshold)

How will we know when there is progress in Iraq? The idiot, er, the leadership of the democrats won't listen to the General in charge and the antique MSM has been caught in so many lies they will continue down the path of lies. When I say won't listen, that is literally, they won't attend the briefings. Could it be that Botox Pee loshi got her briefing from the terrorists chief in Syria and is following his orders?

No member of Islam that lives in what we call the civilized world, even for a short time by choice, can possibly go to heaven. Living among so many sinners on purpose. Allah won't listen to them or want to see them. Hell is filling up fast with those that practice Islam. That's how they read the Koran or is it a comic book as portrayed in Europe.

"I believe the result of th... (Below threshold)

"I believe the result of this would be a general war between Turkey and the Kurds."

Which is why a Kurdish Iraq that remains part of Iraq is important, no matter how independently it functions. If Kurds can be part of Iraq and be Kurds, then Kurds can be part of Turkey and be Kurds. Separating ethnicities into separate countries doesn't solve the problem of conflict between them.

We're comfortable with hyphenated Americans. The concept may be more valuable in the middle east than we can imagine.

"...from my perspective, the arab vs. Persian thing means nothing.."

Does the Arab vs. Kurd thing mean nothing. Kurds are primarily Sunni. This is one example we've got of same religion, different ethnicity. Why assume that Arab vs. Persian is going to be trivial?

As it is *now* Iran is actively working against peace and stability in Iraq... an Iraq with a Shi'a majority. If they were inclined to be fair to Shi'a Arabs, why not *support* stability in Iraq? In a peaceful democratic Iraq, the Shi'a *win*.

Iran may take what they can get but I can't even imagine that the Iraqi Shi'a (beyond Sadr, who only represents a small "it's our turn to kill everyone we don't like" component of them) would be the least bit happy to find themselves "absorbed" into Iran.

Some wish to establish a... (Below threshold)

Some wish to establish an Islamist tyranny.

Exactly Jay. The problem is that the "some" you refer to are exactly the same people who were elected to positions of power by Iraq's Shiite majority. The Iraqis elected political parties whose platform is virtual indistinguishable from Lebanon's Hezbollah. Their goal is to establish an Islamic state along the lines of Iran, of that I have no doubt.

The Shiites are relatively complacent right now (at Ayatalloh Sistani's direction) because events are working in their favor. The US military is battling the Sunni insurgency for them as they continue to consolidate their grip on power, the government and the Iraqi military. There is no hope for the Sunnis in this "new" Iraq. They will continue to fight.

As for the Kurds, they already have de facto independence and we should not force them kicking and screaming back into a unified Iraq. If we can salvage something from our debacle in Iraq it should be an independent homeland for the Kurds. Screw the Turks if they don't like it.

So what Larkin, we sometime... (Below threshold)
Zelsdorf Ragshaft III:

So what Larkin, we sometimes elect democrats and they are alway against our national interest. That is from the "We can't fight Communist all over the world" to Iraq and terrorism have no connection to "the war is lost". If America has not learned any lessons from the phoney loss in Viet Nam, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes that will cost millions of lives. Just to satisfy the treasonous pursuit of power by the inept Democratic party.

<a href="http://www.time.co... (Below threshold)


I'm posting this because there sems to be divied opinion on the effectiveness of the surge.

SShiell --Thanks f... (Below threshold)

SShiell --

Thanks for reminding me about the tension between the Kurds and Turkey. That is yet another complication. I think one thing remains clear: whatever happens in that area, it's gonna be complicated, because all the factions and relationships are complicated.

Maliki's government reminds... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

Maliki's government reminds me of Lula's minority PT government in Brazil.. To quote Juan Cole since (Malaki's) United Iraqi Alliance only has about 85 members in the 275-member parliament after recent defections. He can only survive by depending heavily on the Kurdistan Alliance, a bloc deeply committed to a weak federal government. He doesn't have much of an army of his own, and cannot independently do much about the guerrilla war. It is not clear who could do better"....Ain't parliamentary democracy great?

"(or, as I prefer to cal... (Below threshold)

"(or, as I prefer to call it, "the Iraq campaign in the War On Terror") "

Pathetic!!! More appropriately, you should call it "the campaign that created the Shia crescent in the Middle East in the inept war that became a pandemic for terrorism.

Jeez Jay, take off your coke-bottle rose-colored glasses. Your Bush baby has turned the GWOT into a conflagration.






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