The Skunk and Tiger

"Ignorance breeds monsters to fill up the vacancies of the soul that are unoccupied by the verities of knowledge."-Horace Mann

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Understanding Iraq, the "Surge" and Al Qaeda.

I read an article in Harpersthat defines the complexity of the situation in Iraq. I am thinking of sending a copy to my elected Michigan representatives in washington, most do not appear to have an understanding of the culture, history, and current dynamics of the region or interested in learning. They are taking advantage that most of their constituents do not have a clue either. This short article puts to rest every argument for staying and not having a withdrawal date.

DEPARTMENT Washington Babylon
BY Ken Silverstein
PUBLISHED May 17, 2007

Marc Lynch is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at George Washington University and the Elliott School of International Affairs. He is the author of Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today, and runs the influential Middle East politics blog Adu Aardvark. We talked by phone yesterday about recent developments in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq.

It’s going about as expected, changing the distribution of violence a bit but not making much difference in the core strategic issues. It would be easy to just look at the trends in violence, but that’s not really the point. When the administration laid out its plan, it said some of the right things, like that success should not be judged on military outcomes and body counts. Their argument was that the surge would create a secure political space that would allow for political reconciliation. So far, the opposite has happened; there’s been little progress towards reaching a new political compromise and if anything the distance between the sides seems to be growing. On the military side, there have been some interesting developments in Anbar province, like you’ve been reading about in the press lately, but that has little to do with the “surge.”

There really is a palpable turn there against Al Qaeda, that isn’t just the usual wishful thinking that so often takes the place of real analysis. A lot of people have interpreted this as a sign of American strength, that the Sunni tribes are shifting to the winning side. It’s actually just the opposite, it’s a defensive reaction by Sunnis to Al Qaeda’s increasing strength and aggressiveness. Sunni resentment of Al Qaeda in Iraq really dates to last October, long before the “surge,” when Al Qaeda declared the Islamic State of Iraq. A lot of us thought at the time that they did this for strictly propaganda purposes, but it developed into an aggressive bid for hegemony over the entire insurgency. The Islamic State of Iraq became very aggressive towards other insurgency groups and local Sunnis, intimidating ordinary people, declaring them to be non-Muslims, and using that as a justification for seizing property and killing leaders of other groups. This created a backlash; we’re seeing an open turn against Al Qaeda not just by local tribal sheiks and ordinary people but also by the leaders of the insurgency.

“The insurgents are very critical of Al Qaeda, its treatment of Sunnis and its extreme interpretation of Islam, but at the same time they are deeply committed to continued resistance to the American occupation.”

The American media has focused on the Anbar Salvation Council, a group of tribal sheikhs that have asked the American military for help against Al Qaeda. But they really aren’t that important – what matters is that the major insurgency groups have turned on the Islamic State of Iraq project. The split really got serious in early April, when the Islamic Army of Iraq, which is one of largest insurgent factions, openly broke with Al Qaeda and issued a scathing denunciation of the Islamic State in Iraq. A number of other factions joined in, and now they’ve formed something called the Reform and Jihad Front. There are two main issues: local grievances and some real strategic differences.

please read the rest at Harpers.