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Thursday, June 16, 2005

11 Core Underlying Assumptions About Iraq

As a member of the Unpaid Punditry Corps I’m blessed by an obligation to read and try to understand my liberal comrades’ posts. When I disagree with something they believe I try to “correct” them. They do the same for me. This can get, er, uncomfortable. But that’s the point of the UPC- we force our heads up out of our respective echo chambers.

The War in Iraq has caused heated debate- we could not agree to disagree, it seemed- and fellow UPC member Fester tried to find the root of our disagreements by creating a list of underlying assumptions he used when thinking about Iraq. He listed 11 assumptions, and, surprise surprise, I disagreed with 10 of them. We went back and forth in the comments section, and I compiled the arguments below. I’d like very much to read other UPCers thoughts on these 11 assumptions, and also, I’m interested in the thoughts of the commentators… Etienne, Richard from NY, Kirk, all of you.... Speaking for myself, I’m really glad you all are here!

The original underlying assumption has been bolded. My reply is in italics. Fester's reply to my reply is not italicized, and my reply to that has been italicized. And you know- we can keep this going... I can update. So please comment.

  • 1. THIS IS A GUERILLA WAR with all of the intricacies that implies
  • 1. Disagree... I'd like to know how you define a guerilla war and how Iraq fits the definition
  • 1) Guerilla War --- a war composed of small unit, hit and run tactics with at least one side able to fade into and out of the civilian population where the aim of the guerillas is not to defeat main force units of their enemy but to inflict sufficient attrition and system destabilization so as to make an occupation too costly and not worthwhile --- can evolve into main force v. main force but does not need to.
  • 1. The traditional model of a guerilla war doesn't work because 1. Iraq is a democracy 2. Most of the effective fighters are foreigners. 3. They aren't trying to recruit the general population. They are pissing them off.

  • 2. The US will win any straight up fight AND EVERYONE KNOWS THIS
  • 2. Disagree... Many of the terrorists are delusional and don't believe this at all
  • 2) Look at the preferred series of tactics --- the smarter guerillas sure as hell seem to know that they have a couple minute engagement window against US forces before the full weight of US firepower can start coming into play. Also look at the development of anti-armor tactics and situations --- strip a US company of its armor, and the fight gets a whole lot more even.
  • 2. Preferred maybe, but there are MANY instances where terrorists are choosing to stand and fight when the Marines come around. And in Fallujah I'd say the majority stayed. The myth was that Americans didn't have the stomach to fight in places where their toys didn't give them easy victory. That myth has proven untrue, but I think a lot of insurgents still believe it.

  • 3. The insurgency is operating with a deep and committed bed of support from the Sunni Arab community within Iraq.
  • 3. Disagree... Define your terms. Deep and committed? Sunnis sell out Sunni terrorists every day.
  • 3) According to internal polling done by Centcom: 45% of the Sunni population believes it is proper for Iraqi's to shoot at US forces while only 15% do not believe this to be true. Historically an insurgency can survive as long as 10%-20% of the population it is operating in has this belief system. So 45% support is deep and embedded, even though there are informers and allies of the US within that community.
  • 3. Deep and imbedded... I believe that, if another poll were done today, those numbers would change. Anyway- the insurgency is not against US forces, but against Iraqis.

  • 4. The Sunni Arab community believes it will receive a much better deal by outlasting the US and imposing either rent against a Shi’ite dominated government for non-violence or a military victory that is far more favorable to them then currently participating in the political process.
  • 4. Disagree... Most of the Sunni Arabs probably wish the fighters would just stop.
  • 4) Look at the behavior of those who theoretically have the power to cut a better political deal --- avoid the elections, make demands that they know the Shi’ites won't meet, refuse power sharing arrangements that are in line with their proportional population etc. This is an assumption by deduction.
  • 4. But you're talking about a tiny minority that's actually fighting. The vast majority would rather make peace now.

  • 5. Sooner or later the US will get out of Iraq in some fashion; the Sunni Arab community will stay in Iraq no matter what.
  • 5. Disagree... We're still in Germany and Japan.
  • 5) But we are not in Vietnam; we are not in Lebanon etc.
  • 5. That assumes we lose. Where we win, we stay.

  • 6. The US is facing significant manpower sustainability concerns at the moment that will only get worse
  • 6. Maybe... The idea that we're at crisis level has not been proved. "Significant" as in we can't stay in Iraq for another year? Or what, exactly?
  • 6) We can stay for about another 12 months before the National Guard hollows out, the Reserves hollow out, and retention starts going to hell in the active duty forces as the question is "3rd tour in Iraq or my marriage" The wives will win most of those debates.
  • 6. If they stayed for a 2nd why not a 3rd? Also, the efficacy of the troops there is the question. And as America becomes better at fighting the insurgents, and shifts more attention to Iraqi security forces, we'll need fewer troops.

  • 7. Public support in the US will continue to go down as the population remembers that in December, 2002 that it was strongly against a war that did not find anything new on WMDs, without UN authorization and with high costs in lives and money to have been worth going to.
  • 7. "Continue to go down?" From where to where? As good news increases the popularity will rise, not lower.
  • 7)I thought we have been inundated with "good news" already --- but seriously, right now 55-60% of the country disapproves of the idea of going to war in Iraq --- and given that the generals are saying that at least another 2 years of 125,000+ deployments, at ~80-90 billion per year in direct costs and another 20 billion or so in deferred capital costs, with a constant drip of casualties I have a hard time seeing support improving.
  • 7. We'll have to see. I think things will improve in Iraq soon. And that popular support will reflect that.

  • 8. The current level of violence has created a systemic breakdown of the modern state, thus depriving the Iraqi government of revenues, political sticks and carrots and most importantly, popular legitimacy or expectation of relevance.
  • 8. Disagree - Do you have any polls etc. that support this? The blogs I read support the opposite.
  • 8.The attacks against the oil infrastructure have led to significant budget shortfalls to the degree that special commando units have not been able to get paid for several months --- and these are the more effective units out there. The Shi’ites in government are liked by the Shi’ites, and the Kurds in government are liked by the Kurds --- however, the government has been able to get very little down in terms of basic services (water, electricity, fuel etc.) so while people may like their sectarian based leaders, they are not delivering on the functions of government.
  • 8. We're starting with different assumptions. My assumption was that Saddam had pretty much destroyed the state already.

  • 9. The Shi’ite and Kurd dominated government does not have anything that vaguely resembles an effective AND numerically sufficient security force in place nor will it have that force in place for at least several years.
  • 9. Disagree- The security forces are growing and getting much better at what they do.
  • 9) 3 battalions out of 107 combat ready --- overwhelming majority of forces are either sect based or looking for a paycheck with units consistently showing 20-30-40% desertion rates (see Samarra for the best example) and every other damn experience shows that standing up a new armed forces from near scratch takes five + yeas.
  • 9. It is growing and growing more effective. As it grows the insurgency does not. Those desertion rates don't apply today, I think, since security forces are no long securing their home areas.

  • 10.The government is thoroughly penetrated and is an information sieve.
  • 10. Agreed
  • 10) No argument

  • 11. Iraqi nationalism is a shared common thread among the Sunni community and the Shi'ite community --- most pronounced in the Sadr movement/Mahdi Army.
  • 11. Not sure what you mean by this. Iraqi nationalism HELPS the US cause.
  • 11) Iraqi nationalism only helps in maintaining a unified Iraq if every other non-actively shooting at the US player decides to continue to not shooting at the US. However, as soon as the Shi’ite government feels that it can withstand a coup attempt, nationalism kicks the US out in a heartbeat--- it is also a probable motive for the penetration of the Iraqi government by Shi’ite informers.
  • 11. Nationalism means the state OVER religion. If Shi’ites are nationalistic that means they want a full Iraqi state, as it is now, as opposed to a 3 part state. They know the US helps them to do that.


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