Iraqis Pay as the "Surge" Explodes in McCains Face
by Bob Sackamento, Thu Oct 02, 2008 at 04:52:23 AM EDT
McCain's efforts to seize credit for Monday's failed bailout agreement appears to be just one symptom of McCain's chronic reflex to steal credit for doomed efforts. Like Monday's bailout agreement, McCain used his "surge" support to heap credit and praise upon himself for a decrease in Iraqi violence. In reality, the US's Sunni allies are primarily responsible for the descrease in conflict, and, like the bailout, if they fail, McCain looks like a fool. And the news from Iraq indicates that might just happen:
The last time the U.S. was involved in disbanding large Iraqi military units, things didn't go well - the fateful 2003 decision to dissolve the Iraqi army proved to be a key strategic blunder that gave a massive boost to the insurgency. This week the U.S. will try again, transferring control of 54,000 of the 100,000-strong largely Sunni citizen patrols known as the Sons of Iraq (SOI) to a Shi'ite-led government many of them view with suspicion. The rest will remain on the U.S payroll, as part of a phased transfer.
According to a description of the plan:
Some 20% of these anti-al-Qaeda groups - many of whom had been insurgents paid by the U.S to switch sides - will be incorporated into the Iraqi security forces. The rest will be given civilian jobs or training in a bid to help reintegrate them into the general population.
If history is our guide, this planned transfer probably won't go well. Like in the past, the US might not follow through, the unemployed fighters will become embittered, and, of course, they will retain their firearms. Just like during the 2003 "transfer." Not surprisingly, the officer overseeing the transfer thinks things will be different this time. According to U.S. Brigadier General David Perkins:
This time, he says, the U.S. military has exerted "an enormous amount of time and energy" to make sure "this is done properly."
But his distinction is lost on the Iraqis who will bear the brunt of the violence if the transfer goes badly. And it is similarly lost on the Sunni fighters at the crux of McCain's so-called surge:
Al-A'ghayde, 33, commands one-third of the 923 Sunni fighters that patrol Dora, a predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad where al-Qaeda had banned barbershops and outlawed alcohol. He had 422 men, but about 50 fled, fearing arrest by the government. The district, which is hemmed in by high concrete T-walls, was a byword for terror before locals like the sheikh joined with U.S. forces to rout the extremists.
Like many here, al-A'ghayde is wary of the government, and he is quick to draw comparisons between the dissolution of the SOIs and the disbanding of the Iraqi army. "It's the same thing, exactly," he says. "The American forces betrayed us. It's as if they took us down a path and then stopped us halfway."
Two critical problems lie at the heart of the transfer: Sunni fighters will not relinquish their arms, and the Iraqi security forces will only absorb 20% of the Sunni fighters. The US promises they'll keep their $300/month pay, but unemployment is up to 60%. What are they going to do with all that free time and growing disdain?
As one McClatchy reporter notes, there's a frightening correlation between unemployment in Iraq and an increase violence:
Violence has dropped dramatically here in recent months. But to keep it that way, Iraqi and American officials agree, the country's soaring unemployment rate must come down. They say that if more Iraqis don't find work soon, people here will pay the cost in blood.
"Unemployment is a very dangerous thing," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of Iraq's parliament. "When people have no income to live on, they become desperate and can quickly turn to violence."
The link between unemployment and bloodshed is in especially sharp focus right now, as the U.S. military prepares to hand authority over the Sons of Iraq to the Iraqi government.
Also, the possibility exists that the Sunni fighters will return the same loyalty that the US showed them:
But in the Middle East, perception is often more important than reality, and the perception along these once mean streets is that the U.S. has sold out some of its allies. "The Americans considered us like a piece of paper that was useful for a while but now is no longer needed," says the sheikh. He sternly watches a U.S. patrol of several armored Humvees pass the checkpoint. "The Americans made this decision. Believe me, any promises they make, nobody will believe them. They don't keep their word."
The danger is that such rhetoric will be matched by action. Al-A'ghayde says that won't happen because the SOIs "are not armed militias." Still, both the U.S. military and the Iraqi government know they cannot afford to let the SOIs fall through any cracks and feel alienated from either party.
And the Nation throws in this ominous prediction:
In an exclusive interview with The Nation, the commander of the Sunni-led Awakening movement in Baghdad says that attacks by the Iraqi government and government-allied militiamen against Awakening leaders and rank-and-file members are likely to spark a new Sunni resistance movement. That resistance force will conduct attacks against American troops and Iraqi army and police forces, he says. "Look around," he says. "It has already come back. It is getting stronger. Look at what is happening in Baghdad."
The commander, Abu Azzam, spoke to The Nation by telephone from Amman, Jordan, last week, before returning to Baghdad.
He laid out a scenario for a new explosion in Iraq, one that would shatter the complacent American notion that the 2007-08 "surge" of American troops in Iraq has stabilized that war-torn country. Although the greater US force succeeded in putting down some of the most violent sectarian clashes, it was the emergence of the Awakening movement in 2006 that crushed Al Qaeda in Iraq and brought order to Anbar and Baghdad.
Of course, I don't want McCain to be wrong on this issue. G-d forbid he is, violence escalates and our troops are forced to serve longer in a more violent Iraq. But recent headlines do not instill optimism about McCain's precious "surge":
Iraqi police: Bombs kill 17 near Shiite mosques
By VANESSA GERA - 22 minutes ago
BAGHDAD (AP) -- Suicide bombers targeted Shiite worshippers as they left morning prayers Thursday at two Baghdad mosques, killing 17 people and injuring more than 30 others, police said.
In a separate attack, gunmen fatally shot six people as they were traveling in a minibus in Wajihiyah, a town about 60 miles north of Baghdad.
An aside: if you ever find yourself on the wrong side of a McCain Hero-grab, and you're lamenting that he stole your thunder, don't despair. Based on history, whatever McCain stole credit for is probably about to blow up in his face.