A Tragic Misreading

Email from a Colonel in Iraq to Instapundit:

The unclassified, open-source, bottom line is this: The insurgent attacks did not happen “in spite of” the surge. Insurgents attacked in Basrah where foreign military influence is fanning the flames of discontent over the lack of essential services. People in Basrah are upset because they don’t have access to clean water, sewage, trash removal, or fuel for cooking and transportation. They know who to blame, but they don’t know who to turn to to fix the problems. They lashed out, Maliki’s government moved to squelch it, and the Coalition stayed largely on the sidelines. OK, we provided targets. And maybe we helped a little, if you count helicopter gunships and Predator UAVs. But essentially, this was an internal Iraqi affair.

I wish you could have heard General Petraeus’ steady response as the situation unfolded: very deliberate, yet calming. It was quite dramatic here, and a lesser leader might have over-reacted. I anticipate that some members of our own society will use this spate of violence to claim the surge failed and call for our immediate withdrawal. That would be a terrible decision based on a tragic misreading of what just happened.

He makes the point that support for the violence is based largely on the lack of basic services. I continue to believe that this area is probably the biggest problem the new Iraqi government has. I don’t expect Sunni and Shiite blocs to come to terms overnight, and tribal differences will take decades to be sorted out (if they ever are). But the inability to provide basic serices to large parts of the country is really killing (literally) us and the Iraqi population. The Colonel points out that corruption within the Iraqi ministries is major problem (but not major surprise).

More than reconciliation, electricity and water need to flow. Poverty and low standards of living do not create terrorism or insurgencies, but they give them a breeding ground to multiply and hide.

The “surge” and the relative security that has followed have provided an opening. It needs to be exploited.

UPDATE: Fred Kagan on what we know and what we don’t know.

UPDATE 2: How Moqtada al-Sadr Won in Basra

Whoops! Someone’s telling stories!