Iraq: continued terror belies “success” of surge

At least 31 were killed and 60 wounded in a car bomb attack Sept. 12 in the center of the Shi’ite town of Dujail, north of Baghdad. The bombing occurred at dusk as many residents rushed to make last-minute purchases from the central market before going home to break the Ramadan fast. Dujail is one of the few largely Shiite towns in Salahuddin Province, which had been among the most violent in Iraq before former Sunni insurgents joined Awakening Councils and began cooperating with US forces. Saddam Hussein was sent to the gallows in December 2006 for ordering the execution of 148 Dujail residents after a failed attempt on his life when he visited the town in 1982.

In another attack on Shi’ites that day, two people were killed and 12 were wounded when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vest among residents engaged in Ramadan prayers in the town of Sinjar, Nineveh province. Sinjar lies in an area of the north that is disputed by Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Yazidis. (NYT, Sept. 13)

In a Sept. 14 comment on RealClearWorld, “Learning the Lessons of Iraq,” Joseph Stiglitz sheds light on fault lines underlying the supposed “success” of the surge:

The Iraq war has been replaced by the declining economy as the most important issue in America’s presidential election campaign, in part because Americans have come to believe that the tide has turned in Iraq: the troop “surge” has supposedly cowed the insurgents, bringing a decline in violence. The implications are clear: a show of power wins the day…

To be sure, the reduction in violence is welcome, and the surge in troops may have played some role. Yet the level of violence, were it taking place anywhere else in the world, would make headlines; only in Iraq have we become so inured to violence that it is a good day if only 25 civilians get killed.

And the role of the troop surge in reducing violence in Iraq is not clear. Other factors were probably far more important, including buying off Sunni insurgents so that they fight with the United States against Al Qaeda. But that remains a dangerous strategy. The US should be working to create a strong, unified government, rather than strengthening sectarian militias. Now the Iraqi government has awakened to the dangers, and has begun arresting some of the leaders whom the American government has been supporting. The prospects of a stable future look increasingly dim.

That is the key point: the surge was supposed to provide space for a political settlement, which would provide the foundations of long-term stability. That political settlement has not occurred. So, as with the arguments used to justify the war, and the measures of its success, the rationale behind surge, too, keeps shifting.

See our last posts on Iraq, the surge and the sectarian war.

  1. Another hit on Awakening Councils
    From the New York Times, Sept. 15:

    Sunni Proponent of Reconciliation Is Killed
    BAGHDAD — A Sunni Arab leader of a citizen patrol group in Baghdad who had been a proponent of reconciliation in his neighborhood was assassinated over the weekend.

    The killing of the leader, Fouad Ali Hussein al-Douri, a Sunni mosque imam who directed a group of about 65 guards in the Jihad neighborhood in western Baghdad, is the latest in a string of attacks on members of the so-called Awakening Councils. Relations between the Awakening Councils and the Shiite-led government have become increasingly strained.

    Administration of the Awakening program, which is made up of almost 100,000 mostly Sunni men countrywide on the American military payroll, is expected to be handed over to the government starting Oct. 1.

    About 54,000 Awakening patrol members in Baghdad will start reporting to the government that day. There are serious concerns that many might be arrested for previous links to the insurgency or denied long-promised jobs in the army and the police.

    The Awakening members, whose ranks include many former Sunni insurgents, backed by the Americans to fight militants, are often cited as a crucial factor in the improvement of security in Iraq. But they have long been viewed with deep suspicion by many Shiites in the government.

    Mr. Douri’s death is a double blow, given his efforts to promote Sunni-Shiite coexistence in a section of Baghdad especially riven by sectarian killing and displacement. Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador, specifically mentioned Jihad in October as a place that was “critical” for preserving security gains in Baghdad.

    It was unclear who was responsible for Mr. Douri’s death. Relatives and friends blamed the government. “The Awakenings are being targeted by the government, Iran and Al Qaeda elements linked to Iran and other neighboring countries,” said Nusayef Jassim Muhammad, Mr. Douri’s cousin and neighbor.

    Mr. Douri was killed when a bomb concealed in shrubs was detonated as he drove his car into his driveway on Saturday night.

    At Mr. Douri’s funeral on Sunday, a simple wood coffin was carried out of his home by members of the citizen patrol he commanded, as women in black wailed and slapped their faces in grief.

    Some of Mr. Douri’s men, dressed in tan uniforms with patches reading “JG,” for Jihad Guards, fired their AK-47s skyward as the funeral procession traversed the dusty and unpaved roads of Hay al-Hussein, a section of Jihad…

    An air force colonel during the government of Saddam Hussein, Mr. Douri turned to Islamic studies after the American-led invasion in 2003.

    His wish, subordinates in the Jihad Guards said, was to ensure his men got police and army jobs when the Awakening program was transferred to the government so that he could dedicate himself to completing a mosque he had started building…

    There are now about 850 citizen patrol members in Jihad and neighboring Furat, according to Khaled al-Jouhi, deputy head of a neighborhood support council set up by the American military and backed by the government.

    Their goal is to promote reconciliation and economic revival in the area. Guards are paid a monthly salary of $300, and Jihad Guard leaders $450, by the American military.

    Mr. Jouhi, a Shiite, said Mr. Douri had been instrumental in promoting reconciliation in Jihad. Mr. Jouhi blamed extremists and Qaeda-linked militants who he said had infiltrated the neighborhood patrols for Mr. Douri’s death.

    Mr. Jouhi said Mr. Douri had been warned four months ago to stop delivering Friday Prayer sermons at the Sunni Fakhri Shanshal mosque in Jihad because of his moderate views.

    “Jihad Guard”? “Moderate”? OK, Jihad is the name of the neighborhood, but still… We suppose wanting co-existence with the Shi’ites makes you a “moderate” compared to al-Qaeda. But what were his views on rights for women and secular folks. “Moderate” is a word which is getting rapidly dumbed down. It generally just means “pro-US” in New York Timespeak…