Iraq: February 13, 2004

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: The United States is spending about two billion dollars this year to rebuild the Iraqi army. Some 30 percent of this money will go to construction and base repair, another 35 percent for weapons and equipment and the rest for training and operations. The first goal is to recruit, train and equip 27 battalions (35,000 troops, about three divisions worth). Russian equipment will be used, as that is what the Iraqi's have been using for the past thirty years and are familiar with. Second hand Russian gear will be obtained. This won't cost much, as there is still a huge amount of Cold War surplus Russian gear on the market. The new Iraqi officers will be sent to schools in Jordan, the United States and Australia for training. Schools for NCOs will be set up in Iraq. Barracks and bases have fallen apart over the past decade and have to be repaired or rebuilt. U.S. troops are already turning over refurbished bases they don't need any more. When U.S. troops all leave, the bases they have improved will go to the Iraqi army.

February  12, 2004: As the number of Iraqi military and security personnel grow past 200,000, the problem of traitors in the ranks grows. Bribery and corruption has always been very common in Iraq, even during the decades of Saddam and his police state. Every week, Iraqis working for the Sunni Arab resistance are caught, and it's feared that some senior members of the Iraqi security forces have been bought as well. Coalition troops and American civilians have also been approached with bribery offers, especially Arab speaking translators. It's feared that one or more of these have been bought, and are supplying the hostile Iraqis with information on coalition military operations. 

The UN investigation team has told Shia Arab leaders that it is not practical to hold elections before control of Iraq is handed over to Iraqis on July 1st. A caucus method is proposed to select a new legislature, which could draft and pass laws to establish a new voting systems for elections next year. 

Cable TV news networks al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera are under more pressure from the Iraqi government to provide more honest and accurate coverage. The two networks prefer to broadcast outright lies and conspiracy theories. But this kind of coverage is popular with Arab audiences. Iraqis ate it up during Saddam's rule. But now this sort of reporting is aiding the Sunni Arab resistance and al Qaeda terrorists and the Iraqis don't like it.


February  11, 2004: A car bomb went off near an army recruiting center in Baghdad, killing at nearly fifty Iraqis waiting to join the new army. This was the ninth suicide bombing in Iraq this year, and the 27th since Saddam was overthrown last April. Captured al Qaeda and Baath party documents, plus interrogations of captured terrorists, indicate that both al Qaeda and the Sunni Arab resistance see Iraqis working for the new government as their biggest threat. So the strategy is to intimidate the Iraqi police and security forces into not acting against al Qaeda or the Sunni Arabs. So far, 300 Iraqi policemen have been killed by the Sunni resistance and al Qaeda. But there are nearly 200,000 Iraqis in the security forces, and the bombings don't have a noticeable effect on recruiting. But Iraq, like most Arab countries, is a news directors dream because of the large number of people given to outrageous conspiracy theories. After most suicide bombing, a crowd usually gathers and blames the Americans for the explosions. Frequently, members of the crowd will tell any reporters present that they saw or heard a rocket before the explosion, and that it's all an American plot to convince the UN that Iraq is not ready for elections, or to prove that Iraq is not ready to take over governing itself this Summer. 

Most Iraqis know the bombings are done by foreigners and as the Iraqi security forces increase in size, it has become more difficult to operate inside Iraq. So the suicide attacks on Iraqi suicide forces increase. But the security force bases are much better protected now. The two recent car bombs only killed Iraqi civilians lined up outside the bases. 

In addition to suicide bombings, the Baath Party has been threatening, and assassinating, Iraqis who work for the new government or for coalition forces. This low level terrorism has killed several hundred Iraqis and scared away thousands who would otherwise have worked for the new government or coalition forces.

Arab nationalists make a  big thing about Arabs not killing Arabs. But as al Qaeda terrorists kill Saudi Arabians, and other Arabs, in Saudi Arabia, and Iraqis in Iraq, the image of al Qaeda as some kind of Arab savior is fading fast. 

As US forces in Iraq are relieved by fresh troops, the US is redeploying its forces. American bases are being withdrawn from the center of cities and their place is being taken by Iraqi police and security forces. These American bases inside the cities were usually in palaces and compounds belonging to Saddam Hussein and his cronies. The Americans repaired and cleaned up these places and are turning them over to the Iraqis in pretty good shape. Most Iraqis have heard rumors of how opulently the Saddam crowd lived, now more of them get to see for themselves. This creates more anger against the Baath Party, Saddam and (if you are Shia or Kurd) Sunni Arabs.

Since the start of military operations in Iraq, 370 American troops have died from hostile action, and 2,604 have been wounded.

February  10, 2004: A truck bomb went off in front of a police station fifty kilometers south of Baghdad, killing 53 Iraqis (and wounding over a hundred) men waiting to apply for jobs as policemen or in the security forces. 

February  10, 2004: It's long been suspected that Al Qaeda terrorists have been working with Sunni Arabs (20 percent of the population and for several centuries the chief persecutors of the Shia and Kurd majority) to regain control of Iraq. A recently captured document, written by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a known al Qaeda member, puts those suspicions in writing. Al-Zarqawi complains that the Sunni Arabs are not interested in becoming suicide bombers, and the 25 suicide attacks al Qaeda has conducted so far have not been sufficient to get a Shia-Sunni civil war going, or driving coalition forces from the country. Al-Zarqawi also mentions the difficulty of operating in Iraq, with the Shia and Kurd majority hostile to al Qaeda and the Sunnis lukewarm. Al-Zarqawi also points out that, once the coalition puts enough Iraqi security forces into action, it will be very difficult for al Qaeda to operate, because Iraqi police can quickly spot foreign terrorists. Al-Zarqawi  doesn't come right out and say it, but he implies that the Iraqi Sunni Arabs area bunch of wimps. 

This document was apparently released because it made coalition efforts look good, which is useful both among Iraqis, and with critics in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world. 

Al-Zarqawi's theory that al Qaeda could trigger a civil war that would result in the Sunni Arabs getting back in power is pretty far out.  The Iraqi Shia Arabs are well aware that al Qaeda and the Taliban persecuted Afghan Shias and that al Qaeda does not, in general,  see the Shia as "true Moslems."  Al-Zarqawi appears to be aware that the Sunni Arabs are in big trouble once Iraq has a real election. The Shia and Kurds will be in charge and they will not be gentle with any Sunni unrest. A big problem for the U.S. is preventing the Shia and Kurds from undertaking a brutal "payback" campaign against the Sunni Arabs once the Shia and Kurds are in control.

A more troublesome problem are the four militias that have been allowed to exist in Iraq. Most of these armed men are in the two Kurdish militias (each representing one of the two political parties that control northern Iraq) that amount to about 50,000 armed men. The Pentagon has to come up with various "offers you can't refuse" for the militias in order to get them to disband. For the Kurds, the Turks are useful. Last week, the Turks  threatened to invade northern Iraq if the Kurds get too independent. Thus all the U.S. has to do is tell the Kurds that "we can no longer protect you from the Turks." This is a very frightening thing for the Kurds. They do not want to fight the Turks, because they would lose big time. 

The two other militias are Shia. The Badr brigade is an organization that was based in Iran for the last decade and comprise several thousand armed men. The Sadr militia, perhaps a thousand armed men, was formed by the son of a prominent Iraqi Shia religious leader murdered at Saddam's orders in 1999. Moktada al-Sadr, the son of the murdered religious leader,  is a young guy trying to make up for lack of stature by running his mouth. Sort of the Al Sharpton of Iraq. Not a major threat if he has to be confronted with force. But Sadr is apparently crazy enough to fight. His violent, anti-American rhetoric has talked him into a corner. If Sadr backs down, he loses face with his followers. If Sadr follows up on his rabid rhetoric, he runs into resistance from the majority of Shia, as well as superior coalition firepower. 

The militias cannot be allowed to remain, because they are the kind of force that a warlord needs to get started. Iraq does not need warlords. Once Iraq is running itself again this Summer, the first order of business will be to negotiate the disbandment of the militias. The militias will have to go for Iraq to survive as a nation. Either through negotiation or force. The militiamen now have jobs, so it's a matter of money. You could turn the militia fighters into some kind of government security force, but definitely under government control.

The coalition has left the militias alone so far because it's not worth the effort (and casualties) to disarm them. Moreover, the militias do provide some police services. But the militias also collect "taxes" to cover their expenses. Militias, no matter where they are, tend to become governments. And that's why they have to go.

Keep in mind that the coalition allows each household to legally have one AK-47, or other firearm. This means that there are several million such weapons being held legally in Iraq. There could be a lot more militias. There aren't because most Iraqis want a government controlled police, not some warlords gunmen, walking the streets.

February  9, 2004: The war between hostile Iraqis and American troops goes on in ways that are little reported. For example, every attack on American troops is carefully studied and US tactics and procedures modified if it appears that there was a change that could have prevented the attack. For example, when American troops discovered that Iraqis were using radio controlled cars to detonate road side bombs, the lead vehicle in convoys carried a controller for such toys that was continuously broadcasting (all of the these radio controlled toys use the same frequency.) This would detonate any bombs (using this method) when the lead vehicle was still about a hundred meters away. At the same time, specially built electronic gear is being built that will enable the lead vehicle in a convoy to continually transmit all the known frequencies used to detonate bombs remotely.

February  8, 2004: On January 14 of this year Turkey's prime minister said that Iraq's neighbors wont allow Iraq to shatter along ethnic lines. Turkey would act to stop an independent Kurd state in northern Iraq. This is not a new Turkish fear. For almost two decades The Kurd War has flickered in southeastern Turkey. Heres the direct quote of Turkeys Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: "If Iraq moves toward disintegration, neighbors will get involved. Both Syria and Iran think the same way." The Turkish government has made it plain to the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority), to the US, and to the Iraqi Governing Council that Turkey wont permit an independent Kurdistan. That suggests Turkey would send troops into Iraq, and provoke a wider war. Which is why the Baath holdouts and Al Qaeda are trying to provoke the Kurds into opting for independence instead of a federal arrangement in Iraq. The Ansar al-Sunna Army that claimed to have carried out the two suicide bombings February 1 in Iraqs Kurd areas remains a shadowy outfit. However, 109 Kurds died in the terror attacks in Irbil. The US Army said that Ansar al-Sunna is probably a splinter group of Ansar al-Islam, Al Qaedas chief Iraqi connection. The group is also called Jaish Ansar al-Sunna (Army of the Supporters of the Sunna). (Austin Bay)

Iraqi investigators, going through tons of documents captured when Saddam's government fell, are finding detailed evidence of how the Baath Party looted the country's wealth during the 1990s. Hundreds of foreign firms participated in breaking the UN embargo, and paid kickbacks to Saddam and his cronies to make those sales. The kickbacks were paid into foreign bank accounts, where the money was used to buy luxury goods and weapons. Unfortunately, the culture of kickback,  bribery and illegal deals still exists in Iraq. There are too few people willing to do what's best for Iraq as a whole, and too many who put family, clan and tribe first. This attitude produces a disdain for the law and a respect for brute force. The big question is whether elections will produce a government that will be able to overcome the reluctance to act for the common good. 

 

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