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Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Iraq narrative

Influential right-leaning blogger Engram repeatedly provides his readers with a coherent narrative that supports continued war in Iraq. He writes that the violence in Iraq is triggered by AQI's suicide bombers. They attack civilians in an attempt to spark civil war -- convincing the US to leave and thus creating an opportunity for AQI to create a caliphate. In his view, Iraq is not suffering a civil war and the surge was purely about fighting AQI, not about making time for political progress. If the US exits Iraq, Engram is convinced that AQI will escalate its suicide bomber campaign.

It's a powerful narrative and potentially useful for John McCain in the fall. In fact, he often writes as if this is McCain's view of the war.

Allow me to quote from one of Engram's most recent posts. First, he claims that the surge was not designed to allow political progress in Iraq -- and that political progress in Iraq is virtually irrelevant. Rather, he says that the
standard mental maneuver on the to adopt the assumption that all of these gains are temporary unless the Iraqis show some fast political progress...Political progress would "presumably address the tensions underlying the violence"? I don't think so...even if every last political benchmark were achieved, we'd still have a big fight on our hands, and our simple choice is to win that fight (the John McCain option) or to immediately surrender (the Barack Obama option). There is no other choice, unfortunately, and all the political progress in the world is not going to change that fact.
Engram repeatedly denies that Iraq is suffering a civil war.

Indeed, Engram's other much-repeated point is that Al Qaeda of Iraq is responsible for the violence in Iraq:
[AQI is] the terrorist organization that is most responsible for violence in Iraq....the first step towards achieving a better understanding of what is happening in Iraq is to realize that your much-cherished "civil war" scenario is all wrong and always has been. You can appreciate how wrong it is by considering the simple fact that, now, Americans, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds are all working against some un-namable foe in Iraq. Once you finally name that foe, you will then be in a position to rethink the widely accepted notion that its all about political progress in Iraq.
Obviously, this is a remarkably coherent and seemingly persuasive narrative.

What do the American military leaders say about Engram's thesis? Though he frequently quotes them, I'm not so sure they would agree with him.

Commander Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno just returned from Iraq, where he was day-to-day commander of military operations in Iraq. The following material is from his March 4 press briefing at the Pentagon:
I returned about two weeks ago. As you know, we were focused for 15 months in Iraq on improving the security situation, which allowed a window of opportunity for economic development, improved governance and enhancement of the Iraqi security forces...

The situation in Iraq is now largely a communal struggle for power and resources. Both intra-Shi'a, intra-Sunni competition as well as external influences are at the center of issues facing the government of Iraq...

We can likely make some more progress in security, but the focus must shift to jobs and economic opportunity, making strides in governance both nationally and, just as important, locally, and a continued bettering of the Iraqi security forces, bolstering both their capacity and their ability to conduct independent operations.
Hmmm. Odierno's "communal struggle for power and resources" sounds a lot like a civil war, doesn't it? And progress now depends upon economic and political (governance) progress?

What about AQI's role and the source of violence in Iraq?

Here are some additional remarks Odierno made to a reporter in an interview the same week:
"In order to have another significant decline [in violence], it is going to take economic progress, governance progress, and I think that's the next step," the former commander, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, said in an interview Wednesday at his Fort Hood headquarters...

Odierno said that about half of the attacks currently being carried out against American and Iraqi forces and civilians were conducted by Shiite militant groups.
Odierno does attribute the remaining violence to AQI, but Engram's claim is wildly off the mark.

I'm guessing Engram would counter that the "communal" violence merely reflects the success of AQI's strategy. The ethnic groups wouldn't be killing each other if it weren't for AQI's suicide bombers. Actually, however, Odierno blames Iran for the Shiite mischief and says that AQI is fairly weak right now. The Shiite state of Iran is certainly NOT sympathetic to Sunni al Qaeda.

Oh, Odierno also says that it will be impossible to root out AQI completely.
they will always be there at some level. But what you want them to be, you want them to get to a point where they become almost a nonentity
Odierno notes that AQI is already so desperate recruiting suicide bombers in Iraq that they had to use two women with Down's syndrome -- and the bombs were remotely detonated. They weren't even suicide bombers!

I've previously noted research demonstrating that suicide terrorism is motivated by foreign occupation and the evidence from past campaigns suggests that it stops when the occupation ends.

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