The Iraq ‘Surge’: Still a Failure

Posted by Joshua Holland, AlterNet

As U.S. jets blow up some former “Sons of Iraq.”

Let’s review the ever-changing labels we apply to Sunni fighters in Iraq.
They began as “Ba’athist dead-enders.” Soon, they became “terrorists” — the “worst of the worst.” Well after the U.S. occupation began, many joined a domestic insurgency group called “Al Qaeda in Iraq,” which was soon shortened in most media accounts to “Al Qaeda.”
Then, at the same time as the Bush administration sent a number of additional troops to Iraq that was universally regarded as insufficient to the task of establishing security in the war-torn country, we cut deals with several Sunni elders — not all of of whom survived — and started paying 100,000 of their fighters $300 bucks per month. They became “Sunni Awakening Councils,” or the “Sons of Iraq,” and were lauded by the gullible as “heroes who helped bring security and peace to Iraq.” Supposedly, they had had a revelation, and “joined forces” with our occupying troops to “defeat al Qaeda.”

Remember, many were the same people who had been members of al Qaeda in Iraq, and whom we’d called “the worst of the worst.” But $300 multiplied by 100,000 is $30 million per month, and, you know, there’s a recession and the Iraqi government we installed has a budget surplus, so, as the Washington Post reports today, “the U.S. military recently stopped paying the Sons of Iraq, many of whom are former insurgents who were put on the American payroll in 2007 in a high-stakes strategy to quell the insurgency.”
A good idea in theory, perhaps, but problematic in its execution. The relationship between the Iraqi government and the “Awakening” groups has always been fraught, and the former apparently has some problems with HR. WaPo:
Under heavy pressure from the U.S. military, the Shiite-led Iraqi government agreed to assume responsibility for the payments to the predominantly Sunni armed groups and absorb some of them into its security forces.
But in recent weeks, several Sons of Iraq groups have disintegrated and some members have rejoined the insurgency, saying the government has failed to pay them on time and has been slow to admit them into police academies.
The result, I suppose, was predictable.
An American military aircraft opened fire Thursday night on Sons of Iraq members who were allegedly spotted placing a roadside bomb north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said Friday.
Update: I’m bringing this, from AlterNetter “janten,” up from the comments …
In September 2008, UCLA announced the results of a study based on satellite images of the night lighting in Baghdad that indicates that it wasn’t the surge the help settle things down there.
“Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning,” said lead author John Agnew, a UCLA professor of geography and authority on ethnic conflict. “By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left.”
“The surge really seems to have been a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted,” Agnew said.
“The U.S. military was sealing off neighborhoods that were no longer really active ribbons of violence, largely because the Shiites were victorious in killing large numbers of Sunnis or driving them out of the city all together,” Agnew said. “The large portion of the refugees from Iraq who went during this period to Jordan and Syria are from these neighborhoods.”
Here’s a tiny link to a news announcement which also offers a link to download the full report (PDF).
Thanks, Janten. And beneath the fold, a reprise of a post from last year on the failed “surge” ….
The idea that the “surge” — Bush’s troop escalation — is working is almost universally-embraced these days. But it’s not supported by the evidence — it’s a testament to the power of American propaganda. As Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi put it, “You can run any shit up the flag pole, and these reporters will salute it.”
That the troop escalation has been anything but a success is not an ideological claim, as supporters of the occupation charge, but numerical and chronological. The surge began last February, and there was something approaching a consensus at the time that the addition of about 20,000 combat troops — the rest were support personnel — would be a drop in the bucket in a country of 25 million people. Retired four-star General Barry McCaffrey said at the time: “I personally think the surge of five U.S. Army brigades and a few Marine battalions dribbled out over five months is a fool’s errand.” But the troop build-up continued in March, April and May.
The period that followed was a bloodbath — last June and July were the most violent summer months of any year of the occupation. August was one of the bloodiest months, period. Then, that month, the powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mehdi Army to stand down. The number of Iraqi civilian deaths fell by about 50 percent the next month and decreased again in October and November. The militia is estimated to be 100,000 strong and is arguably the most powerful ground force in Iraq after the U.S. military. While the change can’t be wholly ascribed to any single factor — the violence has also decreased as a result of communities that have been fully “cleansed” of one or another ethnic or sectarian group — it’s clear that al-Sadr’s order, not Bush’s “surge,” was responsible for most of whatever “success” there may have been.
Finally, there is the masterpiece of propaganda known as the “Sunni Awakening.” Spun as a sign of success, the reality is that the U.S. military turned over some of the areas where they’d encountered the most violent resistance to local Sunni authorities — many of whom they had condemned as “terrorists” previously — and started paying their fighters to stop shooting at U.S. troops. In other words, the U.S. was defeated and surrendered territory to the “enemy,” effectively paying reparations to local populations and suffering fewer casualties as a result. There are many ways to define success, but defeat and surrender are not among them. Yet, in perfectly Orwellian fashion, after four years of saying that Iraq was mostly stable aside from a few local areas and the Sunni “Triangle of Death,” the administration simply stopped using the phrase and replaced it with talk of a “Sunni Awakening.”
We’ve always been at war with Eurasia.
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(Submitted by Shahabuddin Haji)

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