Adam Ash

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Monday, April 16, 2007

If we want to win in Iraq, it will take 10 to 20 years, and who’s got the stomach for that?

1. Petraeus's Field Manual, a Traveler's Guide to Big Muddy
The Ten Year Occupation
By JORGE MARISCAL/Counterpunch

It is becoming increasingly clear that the U.S. occupation of Iraq will last as least as long as the U.S. war in Southeast Asia.

General David Petraeus, the new military commander in Iraq, told PBS's Jim Lehrer last week, "The Washington clock is moving more rapidly than the Baghdad clock." A former Pentagon official advised the Washington Post, "The time scale to succeed is years" and an anonymous Iraqi official admitted to Thomas Ricks of the Post that "There is no way to defeat this insurgency by summer To defeat it completely is a five- to 10-year project, minimum."

Given the Democrats' refusal to pull the budgetary plug on the war and Bush's commitment to soldier on in a messianic stupor, we can be fairly sure that U.S. troops, now on fifteen-month tours of duty, will not be coming home next year or the year after that. Limited and temporary "success" stories in Iraq will either actually take place or be invented, thereby allowing the current administration and its successors to continue funding the occupation for well into the next decade.

Despite the media babble about the "surge" (a term connoting force and brevity), the shift in strategy announced by Bush in January has always been a long-term proposition. General Petraeus, cast as savior by the politicians, knows this better than most. As the co-author of the new field manual on counterinsurgency (COIN, FM 3-24) published in December of last year, he wrote: "Clear-hold-build objectives require lots of resources and time. U.S. and HN [host-nation] commanders should prepare for a long-term effort."

The joint Army-USMC manual, co-authored with Marine Lt. General James Amos, is an exhaustive exposition of a strategy that purports to win heart and minds yet refers to insurgents as "amoral and often barbaric enemies." Similar ideological tensions cut across the entire manual.

For example, the traditional stereotype of Marines as the ultimate killing machine runs up against their new role carrying out what the manual calls "armed social work": "The environment that fosters insurgency is characterized by violence, immorality, distrust, and deceit; nonetheless, Army and Marine Corps leaders continue to demand and embrace honor, courage, and commitment to the highest standards."

In every chapter of the manual, the military's attempt to cloak itself in a mantle of righteousness is shot through with irony. A short section on why the French were defeated in Algeria is titled "Lose Moral Legitimacy, Lose the War," a particularly awkward word choice in the wake of Abu Ghraib and other U.S. atrocities.

More important, even a cursory reading of the manual confirms that the new campaign will be a protracted one and in the current context is probably too little too late and in all probability doomed to fail.

In order for counterinsurgents to be successful, the manual teaches, "The local populace should be small and constant." In other words, U.S. effectiveness will depend on the small size of the area to be controlled. But Baghdad is a sprawling city of some 6 million people, and the areas that surround the city like Diyala province must be included in any comprehensive security operation. Even with the recently added U.S. troops and Iraqi army and police units, there is no way they can approach the manual's "density recommendation" of "20 to 25 counterinsurgents for every 1000 residents."

And so American forces have begun the process of segmenting the city into smaller sectors with the goal of pacifying one area at a time, a tactic described by Robert Fisk in last Wednesday's The Independent . Large sections of Baghdad will be chopped up into walled enclaves, their inhabitants subjected to extreme policing methods and the latest in 21st-century psychological warfare.

The Generals' Laboratory

The U.S. occupation of Iraq is now many different conflicts (what the field manual calls a "mosaic war"), but current operations in the Iraqi capital are both a military response and a social experiment in which the Iraqi people and American troops will be used to test the validity of the new counterinsurgency doctrine. General Petraeus's field manual calls this process "learning in execution."

The manual's opening analogy is a medical one. In order to defeat the insurgency, the Americans must operate in three stages: "Stop the bleeding. Inpatient care-recovery. Outpatient care-movement to self-sufficiency." After four solid years of occupation, the Iraqi government continues to be a patient in crisis. With its population still bleeding, Iraq has yet to arrive at the hospital.

Recovery will be slow and painful.

The manual's second metaphor suggests an equally drawn out process: "The relationship of logical lines of operation (LLO) to the overall operation is similar to the stands of a rope. Each LLO is a separate string. Operations along it cannot accomplish all objectives required for success in a COIN operation. However, a strong rope is created when strands are woven together." The meticulous weaving together of military, economic, political, and ideological efforts into a solid cord of pacification will take years.

At the heart of the counterinsurgency effort is the propaganda war.

The field manual's recommendations resonate with the language of the Republican National Committee and even some postmodern cultural theory. "Control of the narrative" and "shaping the information environment" are the primary objectives:

Command themes and messages based on policy should be distributed simultaneously or as soon as possible using all available media Polling and analysis should be conducted to determine which media allow the widest dissemination of themes to the desired audiences at the local, regional, national, and international levels.

In recent days, events on the ground have shown that the stated goal of the psychological war--"Discredit insurgent propaganda and provide a more compelling alternative to the insurgent ideology and narrative"-will be difficult to achieve. What exactly is at the core of the "American narrative" for Iraq? In chapter 5 of General Petraeus's manual, we discover it buried in an elaborate flow chart, a large arrow pointing toward the optimal result of COIN operations: "Establish a free market economy."

On the fourth anniversary of Saddam Hussein's collapse, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to reject the U.S. narrative and demand "liberation." As has been the case in every foreign occupation, the occupiers and their puppets cannot and will not win the "war of narratives." This week's prolonged street battle in the Al-Fadhil section of Baghdad in which local residents joined insurgent forces after Iraqi and U.S. soldiers raided a mosque suggests just how unappealing the government's message is to the common Iraqi.

Although the first two months of the COIN campaign has produced small pockets of relative safety in some neighborhoods, the director of the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a statement this week saying that the overall security situation in Baghdad has not improved. Thursday's suicide attack on the Iraqi parliament building was only the most dramatic example of the on-going chaos.

Wherever earlier applications of the counterinsurgency model achieved temporary success-in the cities of Tal Afar under the command of Colonel Herbert R. McMaster and Mosul under General Petraeus himself-conditions now have deteriorated and security is once again a major problem.

If the "democratization" of the Middle East was the neocons' mad theory, the pacification of Baghdad is the U.S. military's clinical trial with innocent Iraqis and the American volunteer military cast in the role of lab mice. As the mayor of Tal Afar told Colonel McMaster shortly before he handed over the city to a new U.S. commander: "What you are doing is an experiment, and it isn't right to experiment on people."

"We were neck deep in the Big Muddy and the big fool said to push on."

The American public is being told, "We will know if the surge is working sometime this summer." What they are not being told is that even if the surge "works" only isolated sectors of Baghdad will be pacified and then only temporarily. The danger is that politicians from both parties will argue that the new counterinsurgency model has been validated and the illusion of "victory in Iraq" will begin to circulate in the media and the Congress.

The ultimate goal of counterinsurgency is nation building, a lengthy and unpredictable endeavor even according to Petraeus's field manual. The daunting tasks of extending a limited and short-term pacification of select Baghdad neighborhoods to the every Iraqi city, constructing an elaborate infrastructure throughout the entire country, and then waiting for the stabilization of a central government in which a majority of Iraqis is willing to invest will take many more years of U.S. occupation. The promise of victory will always be a cruel lie whether it is Bush or his successor who peddle it.

In his study of the early years of the U.S. war in Viet Nam, Dereliction of Duty, Colonel McMaster, the warrior-scholar who helped shape the new counterinsurgency doctrine, argued that rather than tell the truth about the war's progress military leaders simply told the politicians what they wanted to hear.

The question for General Petraeus, Joint Chiefs chairman Pace, and other senior commanders is whether or not they will be guilty of the same dereliction of duty. If they are, McMaster's conclusion will require only minor revisions (Iraq instead of Vietnam; Bush instead of Johnson) for some history book of the future:

The disaster in Vietnam was not the result of impersonal forces but a uniquely human failure, the responsibility for which was shared by President Johnson and his principal military and civilian advisers.

The failings were many and reinforcing: arrogance, weakness, lying in the pursuit of self-interest, and, above all, the abdication of responsibility to the American people.

(Jorge Mariscal is a Vietnam veteran and director of the Chicano-Latino Arts and Humanities Program at the University of California, San Diego. He is a member of Project YANO (San Diego). Visit his blog at: He can be reached at:

Night bus from Baghdad
By Pepe Escobar/Asia Times

ATTANF, on the Syria-Iraq border - The road from Damascus to the border is pure Desolation Row. Scattered nomad shepherds search rare, precious grasslands for their flocks. An incoming rickety Nissan bus from Iraq passes by, loaded with goods but carrying only four people. A pair of rusty Soviet-era missiles are transported by a slow military truck - to be positioned at the border in a face-off with the Americans?

There are three major crossing points from Syria to Iraq: al-Yarubiye in the northeast, al-Bukamal, and Attanf. Attanf, the village, consists of three bombed-out houses. The border itself is just a customs and immigration post. The arrival of a stranger provokes quite a commotion - as in a Sergio Leone western.

In typical police-state style, everyone in the dingy immigration control room is afraid to talk. No one speaks a single word of any foreign language. An Iraqi doctor, a woman, fleeing hell in Baghdad and about to become the newest refugee in Syria, is brought in a hurry to mediate. No one will talk without an express authorization from "Damascus" - this remote, wrathful entity beyond human understanding.

The Iraqi refugees are quite straightforward, though. Yes, there are only American soldiers on the other side, 7 kilometers of no-man's land away, a true measure of Iraq's "sovereignty". Yes, they may hold cars and trucks coming from Syria for many hours, sometimes even a day, before letting them through. Yes, they look for young men who may be potential jihadis. Yes, the road is dangerous, but not as dangerous as Amman-Baghdad and Inch'Allah.

The White House and the State Department insist Syria allows and/or encourages jihadis to cross its border into Iraq - going as far as stating that 90% of the suicide bombers in Iraq have crossed from Syria. They seem to ignore Colonel William Crowe, the Pentagon official in charge of all those Americans on the Iraqi side of the border, who has said, on the record, that there is "no large influx of foreign fighters".

Moreover, "Damascus" has repeatedly confirmed that most of the 724km-long border has been fitted with barbed wire and reinforced sand barriers - and no fewer than 1,500 potential jihadis have been captured or deported.

But the fact is that any enterprising jihadi with geographical positioning and minimal tribal connections could cross this border at will. In theory, "Damascus", from President Bashar al-Assad on down, is interested in combating smuggling and jihadi traffic. The devil is in the details - how the Syrian police/military hierarchy actually deals with the problem.

For starters, Syrian business is in the hands of a powerful Sunni oligarchy. Its members will obviously be tempted to lend a hand to their Sunni muqawama (resistance) brothers in the east. Syrian military forces at wasteland border points - as in Attanf - consist of no more than a few bored men with rifles. Corruption is the norm. Evading surveillance is a matter of walking a few kilometers in the desert.

Historically, Iran, Iraq and Syria were united by the Silk Road. Attanf, for instance, is not very far from fabled Palmyra. The interaction has never ceased. Nowadays we may be seeing a new Silk Road pipeline - not only of men, ideas and commerce but also of weapons. Whatever comes from Iran has to pass through Iraq and Syria to reach Lebanon (Hezbollah) and Palestine (Hamas). Same for Sunni solidarity with Iraq, expressed through men, ideas, commerce or weapons from either Lebanon or Syria.

Accusing Syria of being a suicide-bomber factory is nonsense. The majority of suicide bombers in Iraq are Saudis, and they cross from US ally Saudi Arabia. Syria, since the fall of Baghdad four years ago, may have witnessed an inflation of Islamists, nationalists and former Ba'ath supporters of Saddam Hussein.

For the Syrian government, having its own Islamists crossing the border to fight the Americans in Iraq has always sounded like a good idea: a way of sweeping a problem under someone else's carpet. But to imply that Syria has become a sanctuary of Islamic fundamentalists and radical Ba'athists at the same time is also nonsense.

Those who made it

Not many jihadis take the night bus to Baghdad, but thousands of Iraqi families do take the night bus from Baghdad. Middle-class Iraqi Sunnis who have made it across the Syria-Iraq border tend to establish themselves in such areas as "Little Fallujah". For lower-middle-class Iraqi Shi'ites, the favored area is around the spectacular, Persian-style Sayyida Zaynab shrine, in southeast Damascus, with its turquoise arabesques and glittering geometrical mirrors. Inside, pilgrims from Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia mingle with mullahs and hojjatoleslam , praying for hours or just meditating. There's always a whiff of perfume in the air.

But outside, everything revolves around the war in Iraq. In a small shop owned by the Damistani family from Bahrain, in front of the renamed, derelict Iraqi Square, facing a huge street banner which would be prime Pentagon target practice (both Assads, father Hafez and son Bashar, alongside Hezbollah's Sheikh Nasrallah), a loquacious girl and a burly man come to grips with the Iraqi side of the road.

"Commandos abduct people," she says. "It happens sometimes," he adds. "The Americans can stop our buses for one or two days," she tries to prevail; "No, they stop the bus only at the border, and then in front of Abu Ghraib," he mumbles. They sell bus tickets to Baghdad. A one-way ticket costs 900 Syrian pounds (roughly US$18). In the "busy" season - ie, last summer - it was 1,500 pounds. The lone bus departs at 9pm and, depending on the collective good karma, arrives the next day at 5pm. The same trip in a GMC truck would cost at least $50 per person.

At the end of 2005, well before the "surge", traveling was "safe". Now it's "not safe". A glance at the log says it all: there's only one registered passenger for tonight's bus. Virtually all passengers are Iraqis - unwilling returnees because they ran out of money. There is also the odd Iranian, trying to make his dangerous way to Najaf. Every passenger coming from Baghdad, they say, arrives petrified with fear but thanking Allah for having escaped in one piece.

The neighborhood around Sayyida Zaynab is lower-proletarian poor - far from the dusty glitz of Little Fallujah. As many as 60,000 Iraqis are now residents. At Al Kazimiyah shop, Imad, formerly a math teacher in Baghdad, has practically given up on selling bus tickets. His salary is $100 a month, but he has been spending $300 on his family of four since he arrived six months ago.

He confirms that thousands of families are running out of money, and will have to go back. He is hoping for "Baghdad to get better" so they can go home, but he harbors no illusions. His wife's brother has a British passport. He has entered a visa application for England. But he would be more than happy to relocate anywhere in the world.

Outside on the dusty road a man is wailing. He is actually speaking, but not on camera, to a Syrian TV crew. He thanks President Bashar for his hospitality toward all Iraqis, and he blames all Iraq's problems on " Amrika , Israel and the Mossad" - not before stressing there was never any problem in Iraq between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

Nearby, in an improvised bakery - basically a stone oven - a man with a disconcerting smile is producing sublime bread with capsicum. He arrived in the neighborhood just before the "surge", with his whole family. The baker of Baghdad actually has a degree in "technology studies". But what matters is that he survived Baghdad, and that night bus from Baghdad - so his smiles of joy had to be imprinted in the daily little miracle of baking the perfect bread.

[Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007). He may be reached at]


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