Thursday, June 08, 2006

Zarqawi Dead. Now, will Bush take the opportunity to get out?

Yesterday, an American airstrike in Baqouba, Iraq, killed al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

And it is a good thing that he is dead. Zarqawi was a murdering monster who won't be mourned by anyone except for a handful of fanatics. It is also a good thing that they captured computer hard drives in the house that contain lists of al-Qaeda members in Iraq including where they are, and maybe including information about how they are getting into Iraq, and about al-Qaeda in other countries (killing all the people in the house without damaging the computer-- now that's precision bombing.) Of course this 'fixes' a mistake that the President made before the war in Iraq even began.

The second news story that heaves more burdens on the president comes from an NBC News broadcast by Jim Miklaszewski on March 2. Apparently, Bush had three opportunities, long before the war, to destroy a terrorist camp in northern Iraq run by Abu Musab Zarqawi, the al-Qaida associate who recently cut off the head of Nicholas Berg. But the White House decided not to carry out the attack because, as the story puts it:

[T]he administration feared [that] destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.

All of which should make it abundantly clear, if it ever was not, that the reason the President wanted to invade Iraq had nothing to do with Zarqawi or al-Qaeda (the terrorist camp noted, as I have pointed out many times, was in fact behind Kurdish lines, a long way from anywhere that Saddam's army controlled.) However, today's news is at least something of an erasure of the big error that the administration committed in not going after Zarqawi when they had the opportunity to do so before the war.

The question becomes whether our President will take the opportunity that this presents and take the opportunity to announce a withdrawal from Iraq. What is left as soon as we (as I'm sure we are doing now) take action on the information contained in the computer drive is essentially a sectarian war between Shias (who pretty much control the government) and Sunnis (who are primarily the insurgents). For us to remain in the middle of that is pointless, so this will be a great opportunity to leave.

Some conservatives have also objected to leaving Iraq because they claim that if we announced a withdrawal, there would be some who claimed we were 'chased' out by terrorists. But if we announced it this week, that claim would ring hollow, if anyone tried to make it. So, this is the ideal time for President Bush to declare victory with the end of Zarqawi, and announce a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

UPDATE: It turns out that Zarqawi was actually barely alive but died shortly after the bombing (not significant). Also, in case any of you encounter a conservative who listened to Rush this morning, he 'took on' this whole argument by creating a couple of straw men, together with at least one outright matter of speculation stated as truth, and one important omission of information. He claims that we on the left are contradicting our position that 'there were no terrorists in Iraq pre-invasion.' No, it has been public knowlege that the Ansar al-Islam camp existed. Rush then said that Saddam's agents were up there working with Zarqawi. In fact, there is no evidence at all that this is true. Rush also omitted the fact that the camp was in Kurdish occupied Iraq, so Saddam had nothing to do with it (couldn't have, even if he wanted to). It was in a part of Iraq that he had no control over whatsoever. Further, the argument that we on the left are contradicting ourselves is a strawman (if you're not familiar with debate terms, it is rephrasing something differently and with a different meaning, in order to set up a rebuttal). What we have pointed out is that unlike pre-invasion Iraq, when al-Qaeda (except for a few individual members like Zarqawi, and their camp in Kurdish occupied Iraq) didn't exist there, since we invaded, they have flooded into the country to fight us. Hopefully this will make a dent in that, but ultimately al-Qaeda entered Iraq in large numbers for one reason: to kill Americans. Clearly Limbaugh is worried that the truth on this will get out, which is why he is so desperate to rebut it that he has resorted to cheap debate tricks (then again, it's not the first time I've heard him resort to them.)


Anonymous said...

The main unanswerable question at this point is whether or not the sectarian tit-for-tat killings that al-Zarqawi encouraged have pulled the Shias and Sunnis so far apart that peaceful coexistence between the two sects is no longer possible. If they haven't, then planning for a turnover and withdrawal can proceed. Otherwise, there's no way Bush would consider such a course, since we'd be one of the few forces keeping the civil unrest from exploding into an all-out civil war.

But even if the killings drop quickly and drastically I don't see the US pulling out anytime soon. One precursor to a withdrawal would be the Iraqi military's becoming able to defend its borders and put down insurgents, and I don't think they'll reach that point for a long time. Also, the ranks of the police forces - especialy the special units - need to be purged of Badrists and other Shia militiamen as well before we could withdraw, and that will also take time. I think even Feingold or Kerry, were either president, would set both of those conditions as necessary for a withdrawal.

Beyond that, however, is the very real question of how serious Bush is about eventually withdrawing. I've always suspected that once a permanent government was in place Bush would negotiate some kind of permanent basing rights for US forces within Iraq with that government, probably for both the Army and the Air Force. If civil unrest decreases in the coming weeks/months look for such negotiations to begin.

Anonymous said...

I find that Rush usually talks at of his... ummm... bottom all of the time...

Eli Blake said...

indy voter:

I tried posting a long reply yesterday but blogger was acting up.

Suffice to say that IMO, the shias and sunnis will fight whether we are there or not, and I don't see how we will be able to prevent it from becoming a civil war if it goes to that point. Our presence there inflames passions, and what we risk is fighting on the side of the government dominated by one group, against an insurgency dominated by another. Some insurgencies last for generations, or even centuries. For example, the Irish insurgency continued, on and off, for over three hundred years, even if you believe that the 1998 peace accord for Ulster is the definitive end of violence there; and Vietnam involved a continued insurgency against the French, Japanese, French again, and Americans over a period of over forty years from the early 1930's until the mid 1970's.

As for clearing the ranks of the Iraqi police and army, the only way to do that would be to virtually fire all of them and start over. And even if you did, they would get in the same way they did this time-- by applying for jobs as police and volunteering for the army. When they do that they generally conceal their association with the militias.

Eli Blake said...


Listening to Rush... it's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.

Anonymous said...

Eli, I only fully agree with a small amount of your comment, which is pretty unusual in our discussions. I do agree that our presence inflames passions, and that if a civil war really breaks out we'll almost certainly wind up having to chooose sides. I also agree that blogger has been acting up this week for a lot of sites.

I partially agree with your comment about the Sunnis and Shias fighting each other, especially about the US at this point being unable to unilaterally prevent a civil war from breaking out. However, what our presence is doing there right now is keeping a lid on the scale of the violence. No groups want to become too overt, e.g. by physically seizing territory, because they know if they do then US troops will come in and blast them to hell (or paradise, I suppose). I believe that if the US wasn't there that post-Samarra Iraq would already be a full-fledged civil war. There's a map over at Healing Iraq which shows where the violence in Baghdad occurred during the days immediately following the Samarra bombing, and one thing which jumps out from that map is that none of the violence in that period occurred adjacent to US military bases (or in the Green Zone, which is always patrolled by US military).

Like it or not, it's our responsibility as the nation which removed the old government and instituted regime change to stay in Iraq and keep a lid on the brewing civil war as long as possible. And imo that means until such a war actually breaks out. To leave now, or while the likelihood of a civil war is still high, would be reckless and irresponsible - on a scale similar to invading a country and removing its government without concrete plans for sealing the borders, policing the streets, or rapidly forming a new native government. Two wrongs don't make a right in this instance.

I don't think your references of Ireland and Vietnam are relevant to either the current situation in Iraq or to my earlier comment. In both of those nations the insurgency was directed directly against the colonial power. In Ireland, particularly, remember that there were no Protestants until the English invaded and subjugated the island; the Protestants were imported by the English to help rule the Catholic Irish. What's happening *now* in Iraq is that the Sunnis and Shias are directing violence heavily against each other on a scale much greater than before Samarra - there are on average 30+ civilian deaths on a daily basis in Baghdad alone (~40 if you use the Baghdad morgue's figures). Previously mixed neighborhoods are rapidly becoming unmixed neighborhoods as members of one sect or the other flee to areas where their sect is in the majority. Until Iraq can get past this crisis and reduce the chances of an all-out Sunni-Shia war the battles between the anti-US insurgents and US forces are of secondary importance. Once (or if) we do reach that point I agree that getting US troops out will reduce passions - but before we leave we have to make sure the Iraqi military is capable of standing on its own, and it's not there yet nor will it be for some time.

Your suggestion about the police is one solution, but you'd be throwing the baby out with the bathwater if you tried that, and you'd probably wind up with the end result you predict. I would approach the problem in a different way, by aggressively removing only those individuals who have ties to the militias, and I'd make sure that no favorites are played in the investigation. Police from *all* militias, whether Shia, Sunni, or Kurd, would be purged from the ranks, and I'd make this a very public process so that the populace knows the purging is happening. I would also aggressively investigate every incident where police are accused of atrocities without giving the police the benefit of the doubt.

Eli Blake said...

Indy voter:

It is true that the violence has not occurred on or adjacent to U.S. military bases. On the other hand, that is also typical of guerrilla wars. I once read Churchill's account of the Boer war. In it, he stated that the British army exerted absolute control, in that it without question controlled the land that it physically occupied, and the Boers could do nothing about that. However, as soon as the army moved on, the land would revert to Boer control, and there were simply not enough Englishmen to physically stand on every inch of South Africa. So I would agree with you that our bases are generally peaceful (we've even cut the number of random mortar attacks on our bases down to near zero, in contrast to the early days of the war when they were an everyday occurrence.) Beyond that though, we exert control only over where our units are. I would agree to an extent that the Irish and Vietnamese models are not a perfect fit (although Vietnam is a better one when we were propping up the Diem and Thieu regimes that were supported primarily by the 10% of the population that was Catholic, together with some groups in the south, while most of the country was against that regime, and by extension, against us.) However, there are many insurgencies that have gone on for generations with no foreign power being involved (for instance, the insurgency that Sandino began in 1916 and which took over Nicaragua in 1979, or the Sumatran insurgency against the Indonesian government that had gone on for 29 years with no sign of ending until the Tsunami, which washed away the many of the supporters of the insurgents and a good part of their army, along with thousands of government troops while killing hundreds of thousands, convinced both sides that there were more important issues than whether northern Sumatra would be independent.

As to purging the police and the army, they are so infiltrated, I don't think it would be possible to find out who all the militia members are. Not only have they concealed their identities very well, but they are infiltrated all the way up to the top. A good analogy would be the Chicago police as they were infiltrated by the Capone organization. Elliott Ness soon figured out that he had to operate completely independently of the Chicago police, and in fact they were never really 'purged,' as the members of Capone's organization who remained and had careers in the police force transferred their loyalty to successive mob bosses and eventually to Mayor Daley's machine. Some of the more notorious episodes aside, ultimately they were purged only by old age and retirements. I really believe that firing them all and starting over would be the equivalent of the type of background check you are suggesting, and since we have no access to any lists of who the militia members actually are, these background checks would be questionable at best.

My solution long term to Iraq is this: recognize that Iraq is an arbitrary nation, with borders drawn by British and French colonialists when they divided up the Ottoman empire after World War I and without regard to ethnic or religious differences. Trying to hold it together by force is like trying to hold the former Yugoslavia together. There, we supported the independent states that sprung from it (and in some cases, although I don't think we should have) abetted the process. Why not recognize that Iraq is really three separate nations and make it so? The only real hangup here is that the Shiite south and the Kurdish north have nearly all the oil reserves, so that the Sunni center, even if it were to include Baghdad, would be impoverished. So perhaps as a price of independence (which the Kurds and Shias have always aspired to anyway) include an arrangement for the sharing of oil revenues over time. I believe this would be much easier to enforce than making people live together when they really don't want to anyway. As for the police and army, place them under the control of the state they are in (which would make the militias somewhat obsolete anyway since their masters would in fact be officially in control).

Anonymous said...

Eli, I don't see your arguments as supporting your earlier argument that the US should withdraw from Iraq now.

If we're facing a generation(s)-long insurgency then we need to make sure that the Iraqi military is capable of dealing with that threat, and we're still a ways from that point - probably a couple of years. I don't know of anyone who disputes that assessment.

We'll have to disagree on solutions to the police problem, but regardless of the solution, but implementing either solution will take time - a lot of time. If the US pulls out while there are still death squads actively operating within the Interior Ministry the result will either be civil war or the rise of a sectarian dictatorship, neither of which should be acceptable results - either to conservatives, moderates, or liberals.

Your proposal to divide Iraq, like Gaul, into three parts would not permit the US to leave soon either. The current Iraqi government is committed to keeping the country unified, and the steps it is taking are towards that end. Reversing course and dividing the country up will mean delaying the point where the individual parts can protect themselves and the US can leave.

Anonymous said...

About two months ago I wrote this article explaining why I thought our military needed to stay in Iraq, and neither the killing of al-Zarqawi nor the completion of the formation of the Iraqi cabinet has changed that assessment. Here's the final paragraph of that piece:

When the US-led coalition invaded Iraq and removed Saddam Hussein and the Baathist regime from power the US assumed responsibility for the governance and security of Iraq until such time as the Iraqis stepped forward to manage both of those tasks. We’ve done an abysmal job with both governing and security, but even the muddling incompetence of the Bush Administration and its appointees is still a far sight better than anything the Iraqis have put forward, or are likely to put forward for some time, perhaps years. So, like it or not, our troops are going to be in Iraq – and on the firing line – for a long time, probably until after the next US presidential election.