Nir Rosen in Rolling Stone magazine:
To engineer a fragile peace, the U.S. military has created and backed dozens of new Sunni militias, which now operate beyond the control of Iraq’s central government. The Americans call the units by a variety of euphemisms: Iraqi Security Volunteers (ISVs), neighborhood watch groups, Concerned Local Citizens, Critical Infrastructure Security. The militias prefer a simpler and more dramatic name: They call themselves Sahwa, or “the Awakening.”
At least 80,000 men across Iraq are now employed by the Americans as ISVs. Nearly all are Sunnis, with the exception of a few thousand Shiites. Operating as a contractor, Osama runs 300 of these new militiamen, former resistance fighters whom the U.S. now counts as allies because they are cashing our checks.
You know, I find all this hand-wringing over paying militiamen to side with us hilarious. Absofreakinglutely hilarious. And here’s why.
Overshadowing almost every moment of our campaign in Iraq have been claims that Americans just don’t “get” the culture in Iraq. Virtually every single thing any one of our people says or does is presented as some offensive insult of Iraqi culture or Islam or Arab common sense.
Also, all sorts of people who claim to have supported the invasion of Afghanistan (never mind that they were against it at the time) wonder why we abandoned that model when we invaded Iraq. What worked so well (never mind that they laughed about it right up until the moment it worked) was cast aside so Bush and Cheney and Rummy and who knows who else could have their big glorious war in the desert.
Meanwhile, once the war with no plan had been won in weeks, the biggest dumb move by the US was the dissolution of the Iraqi Army. Now we had all sorts of unemployed Iraqi soldiers running around with weapons and no way to support themselves save by hiring themselves out to the bad guys.
Now, with a strong, capable, professional Iraqi Army coming into its own, security back under control thanks to a number of strategies including additional US forces deployed to hunt down insurgents and terrorists, and legislation working toward various forms of reconciliation moving in the Iraqi government, the “surge” has failed because we’re hiring Sunni militiamen to fight our enemies instead of us.
Aside: There’s a whole nother school of thought that supposes the “surge” has failed because US and Iraqi troops didn’t restore security, Moqtada al Sadr allowed security by calling a truce with US and Iraqi forces. Security exists at his whim and any peace is illusory (and the illusion is only temporary), they say. It’s interesting that if the failure of the “surge” is so plain and so clear, why do failure proponents offer completely different reasons? Anyway,
Once the pants-wetting dies down, maybe critics will realize that paying Sunni militiamen to side with us against insurgents, terrorists, and criminals is almost exactly what they’ve been advocating we do all along.
They wanted the old Iraqi Army intact? Well, the old Iraqi Army was almost completely Sunni and totally rotted by corruption and graft, with loyalty guaranteed only by payrolls, tribal pressures, and threats of force. Oops. Sounds a lot like the “Awakening” to me. Just more manageable and more likely to play ball.
They wanted an Afghanistan model for the campaign in Iraq? Well, is anyone still pretending that the Northern Alliance sided with us because they support baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet? Or did maybe all of those suitcases of cash affect loyalties and alliances? We convinced enough Afghanis that not only did we want the Taliban out of power, we’d pay them to help us make it happen. Oops. Substitute “Iraqis” for “Afghanis” and “terrorists who are killing your families and generally making life rough for everyone” for “Taliban,” and you could be talking about the Concerned Local Citizens.
Finally, this isn’t being done in ignorance of the culture. It’s being done because of the culture. It’s showing signs of success because of the culture. The culture in Iraq, to a large degree, doesn’t frown on what we consider bribery. It’s profitable and it’s honorable. Oversimplified? Absolutely. But true to a large degree.
Make no mistake, this campaign is far from over. There is a long way to go. Some of the tribes we’ve paid off could (and will) flip back. But the wind is blowing in the right direction. This is the way a counterinsurgency is won.