The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Skeptical about the Surge

with 5 comments

Iraq has become SomaliaGet used to hearing about the Surge. Unless Iraq completely blows up between now and November, it’ll be touted again and again as proof of that a military solution can succeed there. That story needs to be carefully examined.

It’s is convincing on the surface: troops went in, violence went down. Never mind that the purpose of the surge was to buy time for the government to make a political surge, and that didn’t happen. For (as is common in Mr. Bush’s world) the mission was re-defined retroactively—from empowering a government breakthrough, to simply quieting the violence—and then proclaimed a success.

But many now question whether the decrease in violence itself had anything to do with putting extra Americans in harm’s way. It may be that Iraq is simply becoming like Somalia: segregated groups, governed by warlords. Here’s one of the journalists who thinks so.

Nir Rosen is a freelance journalist and a fellow at NYU’s Center for Law and Security. Rosen is the author of The Triumph of the Martyrs: A Reporter’s Journey into Occupied Iraq, which is coming out in its second edition this month. His latest article, “The Myth of the Surge,” was published in Rolling Stone magazine last month. This interview is excerpted from DemocracyNow!

AMY GOODMAN: “The Myth of the Surge”—why is it a myth?

NIR ROSEN: Well, it’s been propagated by the right and accepted by the left in the US that the surge, which is really an escalation of troops—“surge” is just a euphemism—the escalation of troops by 30,000 soldiers, somehow brought peace to Iraq. And this is just an absolute lie. Violence has subsided somewhat in Baghdad, that’s true, but it’s not the result of the increase in American troops directly. It’s the result of a few other factors.

First of all, the violence in Iraq was always goal-oriented, it was logical: remove Sunnis from Shia areas, remove Shias from Sunni areas. That’s been virtually completed. There are almost no Sunnis left in Baghdad, a few pockets and that’s it. And likewise, Shias in Sunni areas have been removed. And militias and warlords have consolidated their control over various fiefdoms in Baghdad and elsewhere. So that’s one reason, that there’s less people to kill. …

And then, there are two other factors for why the violence went down, what we can call the Sunni and Shia ceasefire. The Mahdi Army, Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia, basically imposed a freeze, which has been mistranslated as a ceasefire, in late August 2007. And this coincided exactly with a dramatic decrease in violence, which shows just how responsible they were for much of the violence. … The Americans were going to go after them. So you might as well declare a freeze. … they’re going to lie low and wait the Americans out.

Likewise, the Sunnis imposed a ceasefire, in a way. You had Sunni militias who were fighting the occupation. They were fighting al-Qaeda, because while al-Qaeda had initially come to many Sunni areas to protect them from the Americans and the Shias, they soon got out of control, and even Sunnis were feeling like they were living under a reign of terror by these radicals. They were undermining traditional Sunni authorities. They were disrupting smuggling routes. They were killing Sunnis, as well. So Sunnis were fighting the Americans, they were fighting al-Qaeda, and they were fighting the Shia militias, and they were really losing on every front. They had not succeeded in overthrowing the American occupation and seizing power in Iraq. They had been removed from Baghdad. The majority of the refugees outside of Iraq were Sunni. So they had lost.

And beginning in 2006, you saw them being much more introspective, resistance leaders in Baghdad and Syria and Jordan: “We’ve lost. What do we do now?” And they first went after al-Qaeda in many areas, with the backing of the Americans. This is a great deal for them. They lost, and here they are, now the Americans are off their back, and they now control territory.

So you have this two—the Shia and Sunni ceasefire and the decline in people to kill, the consolidation of control that we saw with various warlords and militiamen throughout Baghdad. … Iraq has really become Somalia: different warlords controlling different areas.

OK, so why be a griper? Why not let well enough alone? Simple: If the American public believes the Surge was successful, politicians will pitch the idea of doing it again, only with more troops, more firepower, and more suffering. Whether it was really successful or not.

I think we’d better not swallow too quickly. Let’s be sure they have to prove their case. This time.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , Monte Asbury

Written by Monte

April 1, 2008 at 8:32 pm

5 Responses

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  1. As always (no surprise there) you can hear further thoughts on the subject here:

    Includes video.

    Monte Says: Thanks rf – your links are always welcome here!


    April 2, 2008 at 7:31 pm

  2. Recent events show something I suspected for sometime. The presence of American forces is irrelevant to the realities on the ground. Both the Awakening Councils and the Sadr cease fire happened for reasons that had nothing to do with the so called “Surge”. The only thing that the continued occupation of Iraq does is to serve as a recruiting poster for al-Qaeda.


    April 2, 2008 at 7:29 pm

  3. Hi Deren – to Opit’s thought-provoking answer, I’d add:
    – Maybe the US’s role could be that of a convener, bringing together the regional nations and beginning a process for shared responsibility. I suspect Mr. Obama could pull this off, but I think all the other Presidential players have hands too deeply into the old, US- mashes- everybody- for- what’s- best- for- corporate- gain mode of foreign policy. It will be new ground if the US takes a role that is actually for the best interest of all the people of the region. There’s a whole lot of trust that needs to be built, involving a) what US intentions are regarding control of Muslim states and b) whether the US will treat Israelis and Palestinians as equally protected under the law.
    – Opit’s right, 70% of Iraqis favor US withdrawal (Mr. Bush used to say we’d leave when they no longer wanted us there)
    – Finally, US bombs have destroyed the country’s infrastructure, caused deaths in nearly every family, and scattered millions of Iraqi refugees around the world. There is PLENTY of costly work that the US should do – but, as with the terrible presence of millions of cluster bomblets that still maim the people of SE Asia, the clean-up of American wars is customarily left for others to deal with.
    – It is time for America to support, but to cease efforts to control, the futures of Arabs and Iranians. Western effort to control is the single largest reason that terrorism exists.


    April 2, 2008 at 4:24 pm

  4. Derin
    Short answer : No.
    You do not set people who have deliberately and methodically caused a situation to curing it. Their interests are best shown by war profiteering and lying from sunup until sundown.
    I recommend the Jarrar/Holland articles at AlterNet. They at least show an Iraqi’s take on the situation. Also treasure of Baghdad if you need more.
    Iraqi sentiment – world opinion – is against trusting the U.S.A. We’re talking about the people who practice torture and ‘pre-emptive’ warfare : read Blitzkreig. Bombs away !


    April 2, 2008 at 1:31 pm

  5. Monte,

    Great post as usual. Knowledge is power.

    OK, so let’s say this guy is right on the money (I have no reason to doubt him-he sounds very informed and intelligent), then I agree that what the American people are being told is crap and spun to favor occupation or Bush’s decisions, or whatever. But, isn’t there still a role that America can play, nay, SHOULD play?

    I guess I look at it this way, you have two groups of folks that refuse to get along, they don’t see eye to eye. They want to kill each other. Mr. policeman steps in. Hells angels step into help one group, that group gets pissed so they are fighting Hated group, Mr. Policeman and now Hells Angels. OK, its all I could think of on the fly…

    Isn’t there a role (opportunity) that the US can play? Peace keeper, food supplier, arbiter? To hold these two groups apart, tell the violent and wild bikers (al-Qaeda) to go home, and to help the two groups sort things out? Divide the country up or something? SOMETHING? Because when we leave, if we leave it like it is it is going to be a bloodbath, a civil war and an opportunity for al-Qaeda to come in and be tyrants. And that would be bad. Very sad.

    I get it, brute military force is not the answer. American occupation may not be the answer (although sometimes you have to put a cop shop in the middle of a bad area). But we are there, and we COULD do some good, we could be the good guys!

    Couldn’t we?


    Monte Says: Theoretically it could be done. But in the history of US interactions with oil-rich nations, the chief of police has always had his hand in the till; placing the cop shop in bad areas has been for the purpose of keeping the cash flowing to the corporatocracy. McCain talks about staying in Iraq for a hundred years not for the purpose of keeping the peace, but for the purpose of protecting access of multinational corporations to Iraqi oil.

    When Iran awoke, in the 1950s, to the fact that the US and Britain had been robbing it blind, it attempted to negotiate a more equitable arrangement, failed, and nationalized the oil industry. The CIA took down its democracy, replaced it with a dictator (with secret police trained by the CIA), the reaction to which eventually resulted in the religious revolution, and the lurch into the theocracy that now plagues Iran and the world.

    This is the old way of foreign policy – protection of US “interests” (called “protecting our freedom” to enlist the support of the masses) – meaning making sure no democracy or revolution can overrule the flow of cash – no matter how corrupt its origins – into corporate America. It happened in nearly every nation of Central and South America. It happened in oil and rubber-rich SE Asia. And it is the outlook in which McCain is steeped. And it is the main reason for terrorism against the US. More war, more “cops” (to continue your metaphor), to the Muslim world means more US control of their lands. And since they can’t drive us out militarily, al Qaeda can pitch the idea that terrorism is their only hope for self-defense. They hate us because we always end up taking their stuff and trying to dominate their world.

    The one thing the US has never found the moral courage to do, is to stand back and aid self-determination. And it’ll take a lot of years of trustworthy behavior before many in the Middle East can imagine the US might possibly be interested in it.

    Derin Beechner

    April 2, 2008 at 12:58 pm

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