Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Iraq (page 2 / 2)

Enemy Propaganda, from the New Republic

The Weekly Standard: Fact or Fiction

The New Republic runs a piece in this week's issue titled "Shock Troops" (sub. req.) and authored by Scott Thomas -- described by the magazine as a "pseudonym for a soldier currently serving in Baghdad." "Thomas" is the author of two previous dispatches from Iraq for the New Republic, both of which recount deeply disturbing anecdotes (in one, an Iraqi boy who calls himself James Bond has his tongue cut out for talking to Americans; in the other, dogs feast on a corpse in the street). His latest piece is even more disturbing.

But is it true? The milbloggers at Mudville Gazette call it a pile of a horse manure by the second sentence.

Again, this doesn't prove Scott Thomas is a liar, only that if he is who New Republic claims he is, his ignorance exceeds that of any soldier of any rank I've ever met.

Read the whole takedown. Thomas's piece reads like enemy propaganda -- American soldiers are despicable and evil. Is Thomas really a soldier? Or he is a terrorist posing as a soldier? What proof does he have about these claims? Does TNR even know?

If true, these stories should be reported up the chain of command and the sick soldiers involved should be prosecuted. If they're not true -- and they certainly don't seem to be true -- why is TNR reporting them? Who, exactly, are they trying to help?

Our Plan for Iraq

Odds are, if you only watch the mainstream media, you don't really understand what we're doing with the Iraq Surge strategy. Such military geniuses as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have already declared it to be a failure. But is it?

General Petraeus's right hand man, Dave Kilcullen, explains the strategy.

I know some people in the media are already starting to sort of write off the "surge" and say "Hey, hang on: we've been going since January, we haven't seen a massive turnaround; it mustn't be working". What we've been doing to date is putting forces into position. We haven't actually started what I would call the "surge" yet. All we've been doing is building up forces and trying to secure the population. And what I would say to people who say that it's already failed is "watch this space". Because you're going to see, in fairly short order, some changes in the way we're operating that will make what's been happening over the past few months look like what it is -- just a preliminary build up.

The meaning of that comment should be clear by now to anyone tracking what is happening in Iraq. On June 15th we kicked off a major series of division-sized operations in Baghdad and the surrounding provinces. As General Odierno said, we have finished the build-up phase and are now beginning the actual "surge of operations". I have often said that we need to give this time. That is still true. But this is the end of the beginning: we are now starting to put things onto a viable long-term footing.

These operations are qualitatively different from what we have done before. Our concept is to knock over several insurgent safe havens simultaneously, in order to prevent terrorists relocating their infrastructure from one to another... These ops will run over months, and the key activity is to stand up viable local security forces in partnership with Iraqi Army and Police, as well as political and economic programs, to permanently secure them. The really decisive activity will be police work, registration of the population and counterintelligence in these areas, to comb out the insurgent sleeper cells and political cells that have "gone quiet" as we moved in, but which will try to survive through the op and emerge later. This will take operational patience, and it will be intelligence-led, and Iraqi government-led. It will probably not make the news (the really important stuff rarely does) but it will be the truly decisive action.

When we speak of "clearing" an enemy safe haven, we are not talking about destroying the enemy in it; we are talking about rescuing the population in it from enemy intimidation...

The "terrain" we are clearing is human terrain, not physical terrain. It is about marginalizing al Qa'ida, Shi'a extremist militias, and the other terrorist groups from the population they prey on...

Read the whole thing. It's very enlightening and encouraging. Our commanders on the ground do have a plan and it is different from what we've done before. It just might work -- if we're patient enough to give it a chance.

As you wait, you shouldn't necessarily pay attention to any pictures or videos you see on television. They may not show what you think they show. Take Middle East protesters, for example.

I have actually seen some of these demonstrations, most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn't be if there was a big, surging mob involved.


On Friday afternoon in Manar Square, for example, I ran into Ohad Hemo, an acquaintance who covers Palestinian affairs for Israel's Channel 1 news. By then there was finally some media-worthy action. A few dozen Fatah-aligned fighters had shown up in the square, most traveling on the back of pick up trucks. They wore combat-style uniforms, although some wore street shoes instead of army boots. Their faces were covered in ski masks and they brandished weapons in what the Times called a "a show of force by Fatah." That sounds very dramatic, of course, but the reality was not very impressive: again, I felt as though I were watching a parody of machismo that seemed a bit silly, if not comic.

Other than stare into the camera and pose, the fighters didn't do anything at all. It was all pure theatre: I listened and watched as the various foreign television reporters positioned themselves in front of the masked gunmen and spoke seriously to the cameras about the rising tension in Ramallah, trying their best to make it sound as if they were in the middle of a war zone. But if their cameramen had panned out for a wider shot they would have shown crowds of mostly young men hanging around, eating snacks, buying cold drinks from vendors, and taking photos with their mobile phones. There was no sense of fear or menace at all. I even saw one photojournalist, who works for an American newspaper, giggling a bit as she aimed her camera at a masked fighter who was posing as if he were having his portrait painted, his eyes stonily focused on the horizon.

Give the generals a chance. And give the dramatic photos and videos of "protesters" and "freedom fighters" a pass. It's not reality, just theater. And not worth the attention we give it.

Update 4 on the Iraq Surge

The fight in Baqubah continues. Drilling for Justice

American losses include one soldier killed in action, with 21 wounded. One Bradley and one Stryker have been destroyed. The low numbers of friendly casualties have been largely due to the slow, methodical clearing operation where success is not measured against the clock. In meeting after meeting, I have seen Townsend stress to his subordinate commanders the importance of moving deliberately and at their own pace. Given the massive amounts of IEDs that have been found, my guess is that we might have taken dozens more killed by now if the clearing operation had been rushed.

Fortunately, the Iraqi people are eager to help.

Other AQI edicts included beatings for men who refused to grow beards, and corporal punishments for obscene sexual suggestiveness, defined by such "loose" behavior as carrying tomatoes and cucumbers in the same bag. These fatwas were not eagerly embraced by most Iraqis, and the taint traveled back to the Muftis who sat in supreme judgment. Locals, who are increasingly helpful in pointing out and celebrating the downfall of AQI here, said that during the initial Arrowhead Ripper attack the morning of the 19th, AQI murdered five men. Townsend's men found the buried corpses behind an AQI prison, exactly where they'd been told to look for the group grave. Locals also directed Townsend's men to a torture house. Peering through a window, American soldiers saw knives, swords, bindings and drills. AQI is well-known for its macabre eagerness to drill into kneecaps, elbows, ribs, skulls, and other parts of victims.

One local Mufti who was said to have always worn a hood and sunglasses"”and to have somehow disguised his voice"”was pointed out to the Iraqi Army this weekend, who promptly captured him. Iraqi officials said today that although they did not previously know that this man was a Mufti, his name had been on their target list. The Mufti is being questioned and his name has not been released.

Yes, many of AQI's top leaders may have escaped -- but others may not have.

There are conflicting signals about how many of the AQI leadership escaped before Arrowhead Ripper launched. This weekend's capture of a possible high-value target in Baqubah indicates that not all AQI leaders successfully fled the city before the attack.

Media reports indicating that many top leaders escaped before Arrowhead Ripper began appear to be mostly true. But other information suggests some AQI leaders are trapped just down the road from where I write. In addition to the seven men who were caught trying to escape while dressed as women, there is information that some AQI leaders remain trapped in a constricting cordon.

Meanwhile, the battle for Baghdad continues as well. Iraq: We Won?

That's because Baghdad is the home of Saddam's staunchest supporters. These guys are prime candidates for war crimes prosecutions, for the many atrocities committed by Saddams' secret police over the decades. While the government has been willing to offer amnesty to many lower ranking Baath party members, the Baghdad neighborhoods and suburbs are full of people considered too dirty to qualify. This is the no-surrender crowd. But let's face it, these guys are also all over the lists Shia death squads carry. Iran has even offered cash rewards for the deaths of many Saddam lieutenants who were involved in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, or subsequent murders of Shia clergy. The Kurds have their death lists as well. These are desperate and dangerous people.

Saddam's henchmen were no dummies. They were smart enough, and resourceful enough, to build a police state apparatus that kept Saddam in power for over three decades. For the last three years, that talent has been applied to keeping the henchmen alive and out of jail. Three years of fighting has reduced the original 100,000 or so core Saddam thugs, to a few thousand diehards. Three years ago, there were hundreds of thousands of allies and supporters from the Sunni minority (then, about five million people, now, less than half that), who wanted to be back in charge. Now the remaining Sunni Arabs just want to be left in peace. Thus the Sunni nationalists of Baqouba are shooting at, and turning in, their old allies from Saddams Baath party and secret police. This isn't easy for some of these guys, but it's seen as a matter of survival. While the Battle of Baqouba is officially about rooting out al Qaeda, and hard core terrorists, it's also about taking down the Baath party bankers and organizers who have been sustaining the bombers with cash, information and encouragement.

Unfortunately, the media is still unable to report on the true story. Instead, they get caught up in irrelevant details.

Both the terrorists and U.S. troops know that victory has been defined as several weeks with no bombs going off in Baghdad. The media is keeping score, and they use their ears and video cameras. No loud bangs and no bodies equals no news. That's victory.

Not really. The real war is within the Iraqi government. The terrorists lost two years ago, when the relentless slaughter of Moslem civilians turned the Arab world against al Qaeda. Journalists missed that one, but not the historians. The war in Iraq has always been about Arabs demonstrating that they can run a clean government, for the benefit of all the people, not just the tyrants on top. So far, there have lots of victories and defeats in this, and no clear decision overall.

It's very easy to explode a bomb on cue, for the media. It's part of information warfare. As long as the media believes that a suicide bomber represents an effective strategy, Baghdad will continue to be filled with suicide bombers. Why not? Right now terrorists know that strapping a bomb to your waist and blowing yourself up will lead your enemy to decide that he's being defeated.

Let's recognize suicide bombs for what they really are -- a desperate, last-ditch attempt at influence. Let's mock the force that's so weakened that it can only fight us by wiping itself out one fighter at a time. Then let's ignore the bombings as the distraction that they are and focus on the real task -- helping the Iraqis learn how to run a clean government.

Our government is dirtier than it should be -- but it's still better than Iraq's. Let's help their government become at least as clean as ours is.

Iraq's Challenges

Not all of the news out of Iraq is good. Some of it is downright depressing.

But the political situation has deteriorated. The Maliki government may well be on life support. At least eight Cabinet posts are effectively vacant while two key partners in the pro-government bloc, the Fadila (Virtue) Party and Muqtada al-Sadr's group, have walked out. Another key group within the coalition, led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, has effectively switched to the opposition and is emerging as Maliki's most outspoken critic.

Thus, the Maliki government now lacks an effective majority in the National Assembly (parliament) and theoretically could be brought down with a no-confidence motion any day.

Worse still, the Shiite alliance, which provided the core element of political stability, has ceased to exist. Even Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the primus inter pares of Shiite clerics, no longer enjoys the unifying clout he did a year or so ago.

It may be premature to speak of political paralysis. But the fact is that the Maliki government has been unable to pass key items of its program. Crucial bills on the oil industry and the distribution of oil revenues remain bogged down in parliamentary committees. Also unresolved are such explosive problems as the status of Kirkuk (a city disputed between the Kurds and Sunni Arabs) and the creation of new federal entities.

The government's weakness also prevents it from setting a date and rules for the municipal elections needed to create local government units to end de facto control by militias in many parts of the country.

Our troops have been doing a fantastic job of kicking out Al-Qaeda and taking back Iraq. Unfortunately, military force can only take Iraq so far. At some point, the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government need to decide that they want to actually cooperate in making their country a peaceful success. Until they do that, little will change in Iraq.

This entry was tagged. Foreign Policy Iraq

Update 3 on the Iraq Surge

One Week of Operation Phantom Thunder

Al Qaeda prepared for the assault on Baqubah. "Days before the offensive, unmanned U.S. drones recorded video of insurgents digging trenches with back-hoes," the Associated Press reported. "About 30 improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, were planted on Route Coyote, the U.S. code name for a main Baqubah thoroughfare." About 15 percent of the western portion of the city is said to have been cleared, and the operation could take up to 60 days.

As operations in Diyala province are ongoing, Rear Admiral Mark Fox, a spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq, stated Iraqi and Coalition forces are laying a trap for al Qaeda fighters fleeing the hot zones in the belts. "If you've got [the regions] properly cordoned then they're going to flee into somebody's arms. It's a trap," he stated. As we've noted since the beginning of the operation, Iraqi and U.S. forces have been placed in blocking positions along the rivers and key choke points.

Al Qaeda is left with fewer places to hide: Anbar Province no longer a safe haven, pressure has increased Baghdad and the hot operations in the belts, and the Shia south is hostile. Ninewa, Kirkuk, and Salahadin, remain as al Qaeda's fall back positions, but Iraqi and U.S. Forces have prepared for this option. Some of the best Iraqi Army units are stationed in the northwest. These are seasoned units that have recently returned from supporting the Baghdad Security Operation.

... the purpose of the Baghdad Security Plan and Operation Phantom Thunder is to deny al Qaeda Baghdad and the Belts, and to kill as many operatives and leaders as possible in the process. When al Qaeda attempts to regroup, it will be in the hinterlands, and in some cases, in regions less hospitable to its actions.

Militants Said to Flee Before U.S. Offensive

In his news conference, General Odierno offered the broadest assessment yet of the multipronged American offensive around Baghdad that got under way this week, using the additional troops sent to Iraq as part of Mr. Bush's troop buildup. Despite the flight of the Qaeda leaders from Baquba -- a pattern that appears to have been replicated in other areas included in the new offensive, including Qaeda strongholds along the Tigris River south of Baghdad -- he adopted an upbeat tone, saying the offensive held "a good potential" for reducing the Qaeda threat to the point that American force levels in Iraq could be reduced by next spring.

First, he said, American and Iraqi troops would need to sustain their crackdown long enough for Iraqi forces to move into neighborhoods cleared of Qaeda fighters and hold them. This is a pattern American commanders have tried unsuccessfully before, as in a failed attempt to secure wide areas of Baghdad last summer. But General Odierno said Iraqi forces were "getting better," "staying and fighting," "taking casualties" and adding an additional 7,500 soldiers to their overall strength every five weeks.

Addressing the problems facing American troops in Baquba, General Odierno played down the significance of the Qaeda leaders fleeing ahead of the offensive, saying American forces would hunt them down. "I guarantee you, we're going to track down those leaders," he said. "And we're in the process of doing that. We know who they are, and we're coming after them, and we're going to work that extremely hard."

After more than three years of saying publicly that they had all the troops they needed for the war here, American commanders have begun acknowledging in the past year that the ability of the Qaeda groups to establish new strongholds after old ones are destroyed -- and to regenerate their leadership -- has owed much to the fact that American manpower has been severely stretched.

But with all the additional Army brigades ordered into the war by Mr. Bush now in the field, along with additional Marine units, the commanders here now have more firepower than they have had at any time since the American invasion in 2003. With that, the American generals face what they have acknowledged to be the best, and possibly last, chance to persuade critics in Congress and a disillusioned American public that persisting in Iraq is worthwhile.

Arrowhead Ripper: Surrender or Die

The combat in Baqubah should soon reach a peak. Al Qaeda seems to have been effectively isolated. The initial attack on 19 June achieved enough surprise that al Qaeda was caught off guard and trapped. They have been beaten back mostly into pockets and are surrounded and will be dealt with.

LTG Ray Odierno visited Baqubah on the 21st. Odierno clarified that this battle is to be final: we are not going to do this again. Odierno stressed to our commanders that they need to be thinking of an end-state that results in Iraqis taking charge, but that Iraqi commanders should not be given the reins until they are ready, so that the result is we set them up for success. Odierno's timing was remarkable: even before he arrived, the commanders here were talking about end-state daily and, on a more sour note, our commanders have their hands full with the local Iraqi commanders who seem less competent (to be kind) than those I have seen elsewhere, such as in Mosul.

Our guys are winning. Al Qaeda is about to be strangled and pummeled to death in this town, but the local Iraqi leadership is severely wanting. This was most obviously noted in one area in particular, where there were some slight indicators of a possible humanitarian need. "Crisis" certainly is not the correct word, but there are displaced persons numbering at least in the hundreds. LTC Fred Johnson actually took me out there. (The access even to "bad" news is amazing with this Brigade.)

I have been with LTC Fred Johnson for several days. LTC Johnson seems to recharge on sunlight or moonlight and can run a man into the ground. After seeing the humanitarian need building with no action to abate it underway, Johnson was very unhappy. He immediately started jerking choke chains on the people who are supposed to be handling humanitarian need, trying to avert having it build into a crisis.

This is where the inept local Iraqi commanders come in. I've seen them in meeting after meeting, over the past few days, finding ways to be underachievers. The Iraqi commanders have dozens of large trucks and have only to drive to our base to collect the supplies and distribute those supplies to the people displaced in the battle. Our troops are fully engaged in combat, yet the Iraqi leaders were not able to carry that load without LTC Johnson supplying the initiative. The Kurds would have had this fixed yesterday. The Iraqi commanders in Mosul would have fixed this. The local Iraqi command climate is disappointing by comparison.

There are serious technical problems that I have brought up privately to high-ranking PAO officers over the past nearly two years which persist today, despite that any one of them could be easily resolved with better planning on the part of PAO. I've found that communicating with them privately is generally useless. (Obviously, as the problems persist.) A person has got to tell a million people before they are heard. Since it will affect how the news from here gets reported, and since I know the other writers here are often afraid to speak up about this stuff (one senior PAO officer actually threatened to kick me out a few months ago), I'll take the heat on telling the million people:

I could be in combat now, but have been wasting time trying to get a badge to get into the dining facility. Got one. Not a big deal, until you add that up for 20 reporters all wasting part of their very limited time (we are in a war), and soldiers' time (they are fighting it) getting ridiculous paperwork when the Press ID could simply say, "Unescorted access to dining facilities is authorized. Please call DSN 867 5309 with any questions." Simple solution. I have wasted hours on the issue of eating over the past few days. It adds up when your time windows open and close unpredictably and rapidly.

On communications, senior Public Affairs officers knew this battle was unfolding. It would have taken practically zero assets to set up a media shack or tent in advance. The shack or tent only needs to have electrical outlets and an internet dish, along with phone lines. Cots would be nice but I can sleep in the dirt. (Sleeping arrangements here are excellent. I'm in a tent with soldiers and have a cot.) We need a dedicated dish and phone lines because for hours each day our RBGANS are not working, nor are our Thuraya sat-phones. All those reporters flooding out here are about to flood into difficult reporting terrain. Cell phones do not work in Baqubah.

Public Affairs should have known this months ago. Valuable stories about our soldiers and the battle are being lost and will never be filed because reporters, after a long day of being on the battlefield, cannot make a simple phone call, or file a story. Why be here? It's pretty dangerous, and insurance is expensive. I had to skip a mission this morning because I cannot make communications, and am down to filing stories on the fly again without time for editing. There is no other way to keep the flow open, and if you are reading this, it's only after I've wasted hours trying to upload it. Hours I could have been with our soldiers, telling about their days in one of the most important battles of this war.

Otherwise, the battle is going very well. A big fight seems to be brewing. As of about noon in Baqubah on the 22nd, there seems to be a lull in the fighting. A calm. This is about to get wet. At the going rate, al Qaeda in Baqubah will soon have two choices: Surrender, or die.

This entry was tagged. Foreign Policy Iraq

Update 2 on the Iraq Surge

Michael Yon has an update on the operations in and around Baqubah. Operation Arrowhead Ripper: Day One

Our guys are tough. The enemy in Baqubah is as good as any in Iraq, and better than most. That's saying a lot. But our guys have been systematically trapping them, and have foiled some big traps set for our guys. I don't want to say much more about that, but our guys are seriously outsmarting them. Big fights are ahead and we will take serious losses probably, but al Qaeda, unless they find a way to escape, are about to be slaughtered. Nobody is dropping leaflets asking them to surrender. Our guys want to kill them, and that's the plan.

A positive indicator on the 19th and the 20th is that most local people apparently are happy that al Qaeda is being trapped and killed. Civilians are pointing out IEDs and enemy fighters, so that's not working so well for al Qaeda. Clearly, I cannot do a census, but that says something about the locals.

This entry was tagged. Foreign Policy Iraq

Update on the Iraq Surge

The battle for Baqubah continues. Bill Roggio has an update on how it's going.

Operation Arrowhead Ripper, the assault on Baqubah, kicked off with an air assault. Iraqi Army scouts accompanied elements of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division. The operation in Baqubah is modeled after the successful operation to clear Tal Afar in September of 2005, which was designed and executed by Col. H.R. McMaster. The plan is to essentially "seal, kill, hold and rebuild." The city is cordoned, neighborhoods are identified as friendly or enemy territory, the neighborhoods are then segmented and forces move in with the intent to kill or capture the enemy. As both Michael Gordon and Michael Yon reported from Baqubah, the goal isn't just to clear the city of insurgents, but to trap and kill them in place. The combat operations are then immediately followed by humanitarian and reconstruction projects.

At last count, three U.S. combat brigades, two Iraqi Army Brigades and one Iraqi National Police Brigade in direct action at Baqubah. The number of Iraqi brigades inside the city may be growing, however. "Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said about 5,000 Iraqi soldiers and 2,000 paramilitary police were fighting," reported the Associated Press. "Iraqi forces said they took control of neighborhoods in Baqouba and were greeted by cheering people." This would equate to two Iraqi Army brigades (2-5 and probably 3-5). The "paramilitary police" is probably 1st Iraqi National Police Mechanized Brigade from Taji.

And homegrown Iraqi terrorist Muqtada al-Sadr isn't being forgotten either.

While the major offensive operation is occurring in the Baghdad Belts against al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent holdouts, major raids continue against Sadr's forces and the Iranian cells in Baghdad and the south. Two major engagements occurred against Sadr's forces since Monday -- one in Amara and one in Nasariyah. Scores of Mahdi Army fighters were killed during both engagements after Iraqi Special Operations Forces, backed by Coalition support, took on Sadr's forces.

The Iraqi government and Multinational Forces Iraq are sending a clear message to Sadr: when the fighting against al Qaeda is finished, the Iranian backed elements of the Mahdi Army are next on the list if they are not disbanded. Also, the Iraqi military and Multinational Forces Iraq possesses enough forces to take on Sadr's militia if they attempt to interfere with current operations.

Read the whole thing.

This entry was tagged. Foreign Policy Iraq

Surging Forward in Iraq

The entire surge strategy -- to date -- has been a series of preparatory moves. General Petraeus and his staff have been busy positioning all of the pieces on the chessboard. Sure, they've made some changes in the way they patrol Baghad. But most of their plan has remained hidden, unseen, and dormant.

No longer. Yesterday, the plan went into effect. Now we see the strategy that General Petraeus has been waiting to implement. Now we see America's foremost counter-insurgency strategist make his move. Hang on -- this will get interesting.

Be Not Afraid:

Thoughts flow on the eve of a great battle. By the time these words are released, we will be in combat. Few ears have heard even rumors of this battle, and fewer still are the eyes that will see its full scope. Even now -- the battle has already begun for some -- practically no news about it is flowing home. I've known of the secret plans for about a month, but have remained silent.

This campaign is actually a series of carefully orchestrated battalion and brigade sized battles. Collectively, it is probably the largest battle since "major hostilities" ended more than four years ago. Even the media here on the ground do not seem to have sensed its scale.


Today Al Qaeda (AQ) is strong, but their welcome is tenuous in some regions as many Iraqis grow weary enough of the violence that trails them to forcibly evict AQ from some areas they'd begun to feel at home in. Meanwhile, our military, having adapted from eager fire-starting to more measured firefighting, after coming in so ham-fisted early on, has found agility in the new face of this war. Not lost on the locals was the fact that the Coalition wasn't alone in failing to keep the faith of its promises to Iraqis.

Whereas we failed with the restoration of services and government, AQ has raped too many women and boys in Anbar Province, and cut-off too many heads everywhere else for anyone here to believe their claims of moral superiority. And they don't even try to get the power going or keep the markets open or build schools, playgrounds and clinics for the children. In addition to destroying all of these resources, and murdering the Iraqis who work at or patronize them, AQ attacks people in mosques and churches, too. Thus, to those listening into the wind, an otherwise imperceptible tang in the atmosphere signals the time for change is at hand.

But now the AQ cancer is spreading into Diyala Province, straight along the Diyala River into Baghdad and other places. "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia" (AQM) apparently now a subgroup of ISI (the Islamic State of Iraq), has staked Baquba as the capital of their Caliphate. Whatever the nom de jour of their nom de guerre, Baquba has been claimed for their capital. I was in Diyala again this year, where there is a serious state of Civil War, making Baquba an unpopular destination for writers or reporters. (A writer was killed in the area about a month ago, in fact.) News coming from the city and surrounds most often would say things like, "near Baghdad," or "Northeast of Baghdad," and so many people have never even heard of Baquba.

Well, if you read the New York Times this morning, you heard about Baquba as our military strikes insurgents' base east of Baghdad.

The American military began a major attack against Sunni insurgent positions here in the capital of Diyala Province overnight, part of a larger operation aimed at blunting the persistent car and suicide bombings that have terrorized Iraqis and thwarted political reconciliation.

The assault by more than 2,000 American troops is unusual in its scope and ambition, representing a more aggressive strategy of attacking several insurgent strongholds simultaneously to tamp down violence throughout the country.

The fighting is expected to be hard. In recent months, Diyala has emerged as a center of the Sunni Arab insurgency as Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other groups have made it their deadliest base of operations, supplanting Anbar Province. Violence in Anbar dropped after Sunni Arab tribes joined forces with the Americans to drive out Qaeda fighters.

If you want to know what's going down in Iraq and why it marks the biggest moment of the last four years, read both articles.

This entry was tagged. Foreign Policy Iraq

Senator Lieberman on Iraq

Senator Lieberman on Iraq. A few excerpts.

The officials I met in Baghdad said that 90% of suicide bombings in Iraq today are the work of non-Iraqi, al Qaeda terrorists.

[Our commanders in Baghdad] point out that the crux of al Qaeda's strategy is to spark Iraqi civil war.

Al Qaeda is launching spectacular terrorist bombings in Iraq, such as the despicable attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra this week, to try to provoke sectarian violence. Its obvious aim is to use Sunni-Shia bloodshed to collapse the Iraqi government and create a failed state in the heart of the Middle East, radicalizing the region and providing a base from which to launch terrorist attacks against the West.

Facts on the ground also compel us to recognize that Iran is doing everything in its power to drive us out of Iraq, including providing substantive support, training and sophisticated explosive devices to insurgents who are murdering American soldiers.

One Arab leader told me during my trip that he is extremely concerned about Tehran's nuclear ambitions, but that he doubted America's staying power in the region and our political will to protect his country from Iranian retaliation over the long term. Abandoning Iraq now would substantiate precisely these gathering fears across the Middle East that the U.S. is becoming an unreliable ally.

Anbar was one of al Qaeda's major strongholds in Iraq and the region where the majority of American casualties were occurring.

When I returned to Anbar on this trip, however, the security environment had undergone a dramatic reversal. Attacks on U.S. troops there have dropped from an average of 30 to 35 a day a few months ago to less than one a day now. ... One of Ramadi's leading sheikhs told me: "A rifle pointed at an American soldier is a rifle pointed at an Iraqi."

In Anbar, for example, the U.S. military has been essential to the formation and survival of the tribal alliance against al Qaeda, simultaneously holding together an otherwise fractious group of Sunni Arab leaders through deft diplomacy, while establishing a political bridge between them and the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. "This is a continuous effort," Col. Charlton said. "We meet with the sheikhs every single day and at every single level."

In Baghdad, U.S. forces have cut in half the number of Iraqi deaths from sectarian violence since the surge began in February. They have also been making critical improvements in governance, basic services and commercial activity at the grassroots level.

The question now is, do we consolidate and build on the successes that the new strategy has achieved, keeping al Qaeda on the run, or do we abandon them?

Iraq and Gaza

This is a followup to my previous post on Iraq and political resolve. In the last few days, Gaza has exploded into open civil war, with Hamas and Fatah busy wiping each other out. In light of that, do you really think that leaving Iraq will decrease the violence there?

Wonder what Iraq would look like if we left to morrow? Take a look at Gaza today. Then imagine a situation a thousand times worse.

We need to stop making politically correct excuses. Arab civilization is in collapse. Extremes dominate, either through dictatorship or anarchy. Thanks to their dysfunctional values and antique social structures, Arab states can't govern themselves decently.

We gave them a chance in Iraq. Israel "gave back" the Gaza Strip to let the Palestinians build a model state. Arabs seized those opportunities to butcher each other.


Meanwhile, back home, the get-out-now crowd pretends that, if only we pull out our troops, Iraqis will magically settle their internal grievances (presumably, the way the Palestinians have).


We're stuck in Iraq, and it sucks. But were we to leave in haste, far more blood than oil would flow in the Persian Gulf. The disaster in Gaza's just a rehearsal for the Arab-suicide drama awaiting its opening night in Iraq.

This is why we have to stay involved in the Middle East. It's about more than just "stabilizing" Iraq. It's about imposing a new culture in the region. A culture that values life more than death. A civilized culture. Call me a cultural chauvinist, if you must. But I firmly believe that our culture is far superior to their culture. Now that we've destablized their country, the least we can do is to hang around long enough to teach them a better way to live.

How, well the Cato Institute's Project for Middle Eastern Liberty is a good place to start. While that takes root, we can certainly provide some security for those Iraqi's that want to learn.

This entry was tagged. Foreign Policy Iraq

Career Politician Calls Career Soldier "Incompetent"

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid admitted to being a jerk.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid confirmed Thursday that he told liberal bloggers last week that he thinks outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace is "incompetent."

Asked if Reid considered [Army Gen. David Petraeus, head of Multinational Forces in Iraq] competent, Reid responded, "Not as far as I'm concerned."

Reid has worked as a politician for the vast majority of his life. What, exactly, gives him grounds to determine whether or not a soldier is competent? He has zero military experience or background. He has no basis to judge competency. But he shoots off his mouth anyway.

By the way, great way to build moral there, Senator. Tell the troops that you believe their commander is incompetent -- that'll encourage them as they go out on patrol.

Michael Yon is a photographer, blogger -- and former special operations member of the U.S. Army. I trust his judgment about General Petraeus infinitely more than I trust Senator Reid's. Michael Yon has a tremendous respect for General Petraeus.

Petraeus' Values Message

One of the reasons I trust General Petraeus is he just comes right out and says what needs to be said. The letter which he sent to our forces serving in Iraq (posted below) is a case in point. The letter is more important than it might appear on first glance.

We are making progress but the odds are still against us. We cannot take chances or play fast and loose with our own values. In addition to something immoral occurring, it could be the final straw for this war. All it would take is a weak leader behaving immorally, or a tired leader not recognizing the stress level of his soldiers and reacting accordingly, and we might have the proverbial straw that breaks this camel's back.

This letter from General Petraeus deserves the widest possible dissemination. It should be published widely, and posted on every headquarters wall, and read aloud by every troop in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can pummel al Qaeda and other terrorists mercilessly and grind them into the dirt, but we cannot afford to turn local populations against us while we do it.

Has Senator Reid written a PhD dissertation on counter-insurgency warfare? Heck, has he even read General Petraeus' dissertation on counter-insurgency warfare?

I've been reading General David Petraeus' Ph.D. dissertation between missions. The title page looks like this:

THE AMERICAN MILITARY AND THE LESSONS OF VIETNAM A Study of Military Influence and the Use of Force in the Post-Vietnam Era

David Howell Petraeus








October 1987

In his dissertation, General Petraeus (Ph.D.) writes:

The Importance of Perceptions

Perceptions of reality, more so than objective reality, are crucial to the decisions of statesmen. What policy-makers believe to have taken place in any particular case is what matters"”more than what actually occurred. . . .

Here's a view of General Petraeus' surge strategy, from the ground.

If I might insert a personal opinion, I think Petraeus' plan has a serious chance of working despite heavy odds. In fact, within my first three days with 1-4, talking with Iraqi families and police, there were strong indicators that for this little neighborhood, local people and Iraqi police are definitely encouraged. This doesn't extend to the terrorists, however, and 1-4 Cav has been under fire.

Senator Reid, I'm giving you all due respect when I say, "Please, shut up!" You voted to confirm General Petraeus as commander in Iraq. You and all of your Democrat collegues. If he's incompetent, the only verdict that leaves for you is willful idiot.

Thanks for filling the role.

Iraq, D-Day, and Political Resolve

Yesterday, the Guardian took a moment to point out that 3,500 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since the war started. Today, I'd like to point out another number: 29,000. That's the number of U.S. soldiers that died between June 6 and August 25, 1944 in the Battle of Normandy. Otherwise known as D-Day. That's more than 8x as many soldiers, killed in one battle, in a nation that had less than half the population that America now has.

The importance of the Iraq war shouldn't revolve around the number of soldiers killed. Our sense of winning and losing shouldn't be determined by a simple head count. Our verdict on the war should depend on our enemy and our goals. Our enemy is Al-Qaeda in Iraq and a host of other terrorist organizations. Our goal is to stay long enough and provide enough security to enable the Iraqi people to establish a free, democratic state. I believe that our enemy is hideous and our goal is worthy.

It's no use arguing about whether or not we should or shouldn't have gone into Iraq. It's done. That conversation is over. We're there now and we can't change that. The question now is: do we stay long enough to clean up our mess? Do we stay to finish what we started? Or do we pull out now and leave the Iraqi people to be slaughtered in mass, by terrorists. The terrorists will not stop killing just because we leave. If we pull out, the violence will only get worse. If we pull out now, the Iraqi people will lose any chance that they have at peace and prosperity.

The odds are against us and the situation is grim. But I do not believe that a simple body count is sufficient enough argument to dictate our actions. Pulling out now, after the historically small losses that we've received, is not worthy of our heritage. I believe that we must stay and do everything that we can to enable the Iraqi people to succeed where only one other Middle Eastern country has succeeded. Let's give peace and democracy a chance -- let's protect the Iraqi people and support the mission that our troops have volunteered for.

Media Ghouls

It seems that our mainstream media is obsessed with mangled bodies, blood, gore, and death. How else do you explain this article from the New York Times? David Carr spends two pages whining about how unfair it is that the Army makes it hard to take photos of wounded and dead American soldiers.

Since last year, the military's embedding rules require that journalists obtain a signed consent from a wounded soldier before the image can be published. Images that put a face on the dead, that make them identifiable, are simply prohibited.

Ashley Gilbertson, a veteran freelance photographer who has been to Iraq seven times and has worked for The New York Times, (along with Time and Newsweek among others), said the policy, as enforced, is coercive and unworkable.

"They are basically asking me to stand in front of a unit before I go out with them and say that in the event that they are wounded, I would like their consent," he said. "We are already viewed by some as bloodsucking vultures, and making that kind of announcement would make you an immediate bad luck charm."

I think this shows where Mr. Gilbertson's priorities lie. He's far more interested in photos of dead and dying soldiers than he is in photos of combat, photos of soldiers on patrol, photos of Iraqi children, Iraqi marketplaces, Iraqi schools, or anything else. He comes across as a man interested only in portraying the death and destruction in Iraq. There is death and destruction in Iraq. But there is much more as well. Photographers like Michael Yon and Michael Fumento manage to capture that. The mainstream media seems uninterested in the effort.

Journalists are frustrated with the new regulations in part because, as this current surge has progressed, there have been further pinches on information. On May 13, the Iraq Interior Ministry said bombing sites would be off limits for an hour after an event; just days later, Iraqi police forces fired shots over the heads of working press to enforce the decree.

The Iraqi police want time to investigate a bomb scene -- in a war zone -- before reporters trample all over it. That the reporters think this is an egregious violation of their rights says far more about them than it does about the Iraqi police. None of it good.

Meanwhile Peter Collier (at the Wall Street Journal editorial page) laments the way the media has ignored recent Medal of Honor winners.

Once we knew who and what to honor on Memorial Day: those who had given all their tomorrows, as was said of the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy, for our todays. But in a world saturated with selfhood, where every death is by definition a death in vain, the notion of sacrifice today provokes puzzlement more often than admiration. We support the troops, of course, but we also believe that war, being hell, can easily touch them with an evil no cause for engagement can wash away. And in any case we are more comfortable supporting them as victims than as warriors.

Former football star Pat Tillman and Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham were killed on the same day: April 22, 2004. But as details of his death fitfully emerged from Afghanistan, Tillman has become a metaphor for the current conflict--a victim of fratricide, disillusionment, coverup and possibly conspiracy. By comparison, Dunham, who saved several of his comrades in Iraq by falling on an insurgent's grenade, is the unknown soldier. The New York Times, which featured Abu Ghraib on its front page for 32 consecutive days, put the story of Dunham's Medal of Honor on the third page of section B.

Not long ago I was asked to write the biographical sketches for a book featuring formal photographs of all our living Medal of Honor recipients. As I talked with them, I was, of course, chilled by the primal power of their stories. But I also felt pathos: They had become strangers--honored strangers, but strangers nonetheless--in our midst.

As we celebrate Memorial Day today, let us remember -- not the images of broken bodies, but the heroism, purpose, and valor that inspired that sacrifice. Don't reduce Memorial Day to simply a remembrance that the men and women of our Armed Forces have died in combat. Remember what they fought for, why they fought for it, and what they've accomplished in the process.

Many of the men in Iraq and Afghanistan have re-enlisted multiple times since the wars started. They obviously believe that there is a job worth doing. Honor them for that and quit whining about not being allowed to photograph their injuries.

On Information Warfare

Welcome to Information Warfare 101. This is a topic that the American public desperately needs to know about. The war in Iraq is not just a war of bullets and bombs. It is a war of ideas and information. Right now, our enemy is better at fighting this war than we are. We must win this war through information and ideologies, not through strategic bombing campaigns or overwhelming force. While overwhelming force is effective, it is not sufficient to win the war by itself.

What is Information Warfare? According to Kim Taipale, "information warfare is the protection, monitoring, disruption, or manipulation of information and information flows to improve one's own decision-making process or to degrade that of the enemy." It is making the enemy see what you want him to see and hiding what you don't want him to see. Information Warfare is the art of making your enemy react in a way that you want him to react by feeding him information that you have manipulated in some way.

Our terrorist enemies are masters of this type of warfare. They know that they cannot defeat our forces in an open fight. They also know that we have proven vulnerable to information warfare in the past.

We lost our first major information battle during the Vietnam war. In January of 1968, the Communists of North Vietnam launched a surprise attack against American and South Vietnamese forces -- the Tet Offensive. Their main goal was to provide the impression that American forces were not winning (and could not win) a fight in Vietnam.

The actual attack was a disaster. The North Korean forces suffered 35,000 dead, 60,000 wounded, and 6,000 captured. The American and South Korean losses totaled around 3,900. The attack was not judged in military terms, however. It was judged in terms of perception. The American media and the American people perceived it as a devastating American loss, mostly due to the surprise of the attack and the wide-spread nature of the attack. The Tet Offensive marked the beginning of the end of American involvement in Vietnam.

The goal of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and other terrorist groups, is to duplicate the success of the Tet Offensive. They are willing to take large military losses if, in doing so, they can convince the American people that the terrorists are winning.

Judging by the media coverage of the Iraq war, we are losing the information war. That needs to change. We can win in Iraq, but only if the American people are willing and able to look past the misinformation, lies, and distortions of the terrorists.

I'm willing to spend my time pointing out exactly where and when we're being lied to. Are you willing you follow along with me?

Playing Politics with Disaster Recovery

I'm of the opinion that politics should take a back seat to hard work when a natural disaster occurs. A tornado ripped through Greensburg, Kansas almost two weeks ago. The immediate focus of the state government should have been disaster recovery and cleanup. Governor Kathleen Sebelius chose to focus on politics first.

The rebuilding effort in tornado-ravaged Greensburg, Kansas, likely will be hampered because some much-needed equipment is in Iraq, said that state's governor.

Governor Kathleen Sebelius said much of the National Guard equipment usually positioned around the state to respond to emergencies is gone. She said not having immediate access to things like tents, trucks and semitrailers will really handicap the rebuilding effort.

Sadly, not only are her priorities wrong, so are her facts:

That brought an immediate response from Kansas Senator (and presidential hopeful) Sam Brownback, who observed that 88% of guard personnel were at home, and available to respond to the situation. The Pentagon and the National Guard Bureau (the military "headquarters" for Army and Air National Guard units across the nation) also offered clarification; spokesman for both DoD and the Guard Bureau indicated that the Kansas Guard has substantial assets on hand for the Greensburg operation:

The Kansas National Guard has 88 percent of its forces available and is working quickly and aggressively to save lives and reduce suffering, Guard Bureau officials reported. More than 6,800 additional Kansas Guard troops can be tapped, if needed, as well as more than 80,000 Guardsmen from surrounding states, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters today.

Kansas Guardsmen responding to the disaster have 60 percent of their Army Guard dual-use equipment and more than 85 percent of their Air Guard equipment on hand, officials said. Whitman reported a full range of Guard equipment on hand to support the mission. The Kansas Guard has 352 Humvees, 94 Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks, 24 medium and light tactical vehicles, 152 2.5-ton cargo trucks, 76 series 5-ton trucks, 13 M916 tractors, 870 trailers, 52 Heavy Equipment Transport Systems, and 30 Palletized Load System Trucks.

In terms of engineering assets, the Kansas Guard has all -- and in some cases more than, -- its authorized vehicles. This includes five road graders, 15 bulldozers, eight scoop loaders and 72 dump trucks, he said. Whitman said he was unable to report which of these assets is undergoing maintenance and might not be immediately available to provide tornado relief.

Meanwhile, the National Guard Bureau is coordinating requests for additional support through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact. This national partnership agreement paves the way for states to share resources during governor- or federally declared emergencies. "The states are poised to help one another when their own resources are overwhelmed," said Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

This is absolutely shameful behavior from the governor. When a disaster like this hits, let politics be your last concern -- not your first concern. Focus on helping the people in your state, not the advancement of your case.

This entry was tagged. Iraq

Protecting the Troops

For our troops fighting the war in Iraq, the number one threat isn't gun battles with terrorists, it's improved explosive devices left by the roadside. IED's cause fully 70% of American casualties in Iraq. This has been known for a while. What's also been known for a while is that Hummers do little to protect the troopers riding in them.

Unfortunately, most members of Congress have been too busy pointing fingers over the war to spend time figuring out how to help the military actually fight the war. Fortunately, it appears that some members of Congress are finally starting to see the light:

What my amendment will do is allow the military to put 2,500 more mine resistant ambush protected vehicles--known in the military by its acronym, MRAP--in the field by the end of this year. ... MRAP vehicles provide four to five times more protection to our troops than up-armored HMMWVs. That statement, that these MRAPs provide four to five times more protection than up-armored HMMWVs, is not my estimate. That is the judgment of our military leaders. The Commandant of the Marine Corps, GEN James Conway, with whom I spoke as recently as this afternoon, wrote on March 1 to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said:

Multi-National Forces--West, that is, the Marines in Iraq [JK Background: specifically, in Anbar province], estimates that the use of the MRAP could reduce the casualties in vehicles due to IED attack by as much as 80 percent.

Let me explain the specifics of the MRAP. Each vehicle can hold 4 to 12 troops. Like the rhino, these vehicles have raised steel, V-shaped hulls and chassis. The raised hull is valuable because it gives the blast more time to expand, lessening the impact. The V-shape pushes the blast up the sides of the vehicle and away from the occupants. With an up-armored HMMWV or any humvee, the flat bottom sends the blast through the floor right into the occupants. In addition, the vehicles have side armor and bulletproof glass, and they also have tires that can be driven when flat.

Surprisingly, the person leading the charge on this issue is none other than Senator Joe Biden. While he often endures the nickname "Slow Joe", in this case he's faster out of the blocks than far too many of his colleagues. Good for him. Now let's work on getting some MRAP's over to Iraq.

Accuracy in Reporting

Is the reporting out of Afghanistan and Iraq accurate? It's hard to say. Sometimes you need to hear from an independent voice -- someone who's been there, but who isn't associated with the Mainstream Media. Today, Michael Yon fact checked the Wall Street Journal:

I've never posted a rebuttal to a news story. Today is an exception. Last week I participated on a panel at the Marine Command General Staff College in Quantico, Virginia. The dais was stacked with distinguished journalists -- I was the baby in the room -- who addressed a large group of military officers. I traveled from Afghanistan just to speak there after a scheduling conflict with their first choice, Joe Galloway, resulted in his recommendation that I fill his seat. When Joe Galloway talks, people listen. I was honored by his recommendation and privileged to join the panel in a vigorous debate of the symposium theme: "Selling the Truth: Media Portrayal of Insurgents, the Government, and the Military."

As the day opened, a Marine officer was asked to pick a story about current events and comment on it. He held a copy of the Wall Street Journal, a paper I first started reading as a teenager. The WSJ is a reliable source, and so I've stuck with it through the years. The Marine was holding a WSJ in front of this distinguished group of military officers that also included DEA and FBI officials, not to mention the representatives of CBS, CNN, Al Jazeera and others. As the Marine opened the paper, I said something like, "That's yesterday's Wall Street Journal? That's easy. Turn to page A16 and there is a commentary about Afghanistan. It's pure bullshit." There was a microphone in front of me, but luckily, the crowd was mostly military and they laughed off the language.


In fact, the media is not up-playing the danger in Afghanistan but seems to be grossly missing it. Unfortunately, I predict NATO and other forces will lose increasing numbers of soldiers in Afghanistan. The place is bad. Really bad. And it's getting worse. Yesterday an Indian engineer was murdered. They cut off his head. Also, yesterday, the car bomb in the photo above exploded close by some employees of a friend. I was close by two bombings in just six days in Lashkar Gah, a place they used to call "safe."

This entry was tagged. Afghanistan Iraq

Markets in Everything: Terrorism Insurance

Life in Iraq may be dangerous right now. But at least you can be insured against the threat of terrorism:

Last month, Mr. Said, a slim, baby-faced 23-year-old, did what a small but growing number of Iraqis are doing: He walked into the offices of the Iraq Insurance Company and bought a terrorism insurance policy. It looked like an ordinary life insurance policy, but with a one-page rider adding coverage for "the following dangers: 1) explosions caused by weapons of war and car bombs; 2) assassinations; 3) terrorist attacks."

It cost him 125,000 dinars, about $90. Mr. Said paid more than most people because of his risky occupation. The payout, if he dies, is five million dinars, around $3,500, or about what an Iraqi policeman earns in a year.

(Hat tip to Marginal Revolution for the Markets in Everything concept.)

This entry was tagged. Insurance Iraq