27 December 2007

Me vs. Juan Cole on Iraq

Juan Cole is a professor at UofM and Army vet that runs a pretty rigorous blog (Informed Comment) on Iraq. While I don't agree with him since he seems to be too negative about what's happening in Iraq, I do try and read his commentary everyday. He recently published the "Top 10 myths about Iraq" and I thought he was way out to lunch IMHO. Here's my counter-retort to his post (note: in the interest of space I truncated Juan Cole's facts, see his post for the full detail).

10) Myth: The US public no longer sees Iraq as a central issue in the 2008 presidential campaign.
JC: In a recent ABC News/ Washington Post poll, Iraq and the economy were virtually tied among voters nationally, with nearly a quarter of voters in each case saying it was their number one issue.
LT Nixon: The American public has lost interest with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and are shifting focus to more mundane issues surrounding the presidential candidates: subliminal crosses, lapel pins, and Soviet-style hand-out programs (er socialized healthcare). This is evidenced by decline in media coverage and decline in blogospohere interest.

9) Myth: There have been steps toward religious and political reconciliation in Iraq in 2007.
JC: The government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has for the moment lost the support of the Sunni Arabs in parliament.
LT Nixon: Dr. Cole doesn't take into account the grass-roots reconciliation taking place between Sunni and Shiite tribal sheikhs in the most troubled provinces of Iraq. Like America, the central government is going to be the last one to pick up on emerging trends.

8)Myth: The US troop surge stopped the civil war that had been raging between Sunni Arabs and Shiites in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
JC: The civil war in Baghdad escalated during the US troop escalation. Between January, 2007, and July, 2007, Baghdad went from 65% Shiite to 75% Shiite.
LT Nixon: There is no civil war in Iraq and there hasn't been since the 2003 invasion. Violence in Iraq is best characterized by gangland-style violence and graft, scattered attacks against coalition forces by the insurgency, and a small but lethal number of foreign jihadists who engage in terrorist activity. If you're looking for the Battle of Gettysburg try somewhere else.

7)Myth: Iran was supplying explosively formed projectiles (a deadly form of roadside bomb) to Salafi Jihadi (radical Sunni) guerrilla groups in Iraq.
JC: Iran has not been proved to have sent weapons to any Iraqi guerrillas at all.
LT Nixon: Agreed. However, I haven't seen any other sources that have said otherwise, not sure why this is a top 10 myth. Iranian Quds force had supplied weapons and training to Shiite militia groups, as to whether or not they have stopped remains unclear...

6)The US overthrow of the Baath regime and military occupation of Iraq has helped liberate Iraqi women.
JC:Iraqi women have suffered significant reversal of status
ability to circulate freely, and economic situation under the Bush administration.
LT Nixon: I'm not an Iraqi woman, so it's hard to say. But the senior officials in the Baath regime used women as sex slaves for their sick hedonistic pleasures. I'd say that's about as bad a violation of women's rights as it gets.

5)Myth: Some progress has been made by the Iraqi government in meeting the "benchmarks" worked out with the Bush administration.
JC: in the words of Democratic Senator Carl Levin, "Those legislative benchmarks include approving a hydrocarbon law, approving a debaathification law, completing the work of a constitutional review committee, and holding provincial elections
LT Nixon: Yes, the government of Iraq has not made much progress on the benchmarks. As a matter of fact it's been pretty abysmal. But following the end of Hajj, when the Iraqi Parliament returns to session will hopefully produce some real results. You have to remember that this government started from the ashes essentially, and our own country took years and years to iron out all the creases following our own revolution.

4)Myth: The Sunni Arab "Awakening Councils," who are on the US payroll, are reconciling with the Shiite government of PM Nuri al-Maliki even as they take on al-Qaeda remnants.
JC: In interviews with the Western press, Awakening Council tribesmen often speak of attacking the Shiites after they have polished off al-Qaeda.
LT Nixon: The Awakening councils and Concerned Local Citizens are not militias wandering Mesopotamia. They are regulated neighborhood watch groups that provide security for their neighborhoods working in conjunction with coalition and Iraqi security forces.

3)Myth: The Iraqi north is relatively quiet and a site of economic growth.
JC:The north is so unstable that the Iraqi north is now undergoing regular bombing raids from Turkey.
LT Nixon: The Kurdish region of northern Iraq is so stable that there is barely a coalition presence up there. The Turkish incursion involved limited air strikes and ground force deployments against the mutual PKK threat. To say that this has de-stabilized the Kurdish government and the cities of Dahuk and Irbil because of a full-scale Ottoman invasion is silly.

2)Myth: Iraq has been "calm" in fall of 2007 and the Iraqi public, despite some grumbling, is not eager for the US to depart.
Fact: in the past 6 weeks, there have been an average of 600 attacks a month, or 20 a day, which has held steady since the beginning of November.
LT Nixon: Sort of Agreed. Iraq is not "calm", but it is certainly calmer than it was. This improved security will provide the opportunity for economic and political progress in 2008. The Iraqi government has asked the coalition to stay through 2008 and has rejected permanent bases. This is a good goal to achieve since we don't want to be in Iraq forever either.

1) Myth:The reduction in violence in Iraq is mostly because of the escalation in the number of US troops, or "surge."
JC: Although violence has been reduced in Iraq, much of the reduction did not take place because of US troop activity. Guerrilla attacks in al-Anbar Province were reduced from 400 a week to 100 a week between July, 2006 and July, 2007. But there was no significant US troop escalation in al-Anbar.
LT Nixon: I agree with Dr. Cole on his analysis of Anbar province, since the coalition forces shifted their strategy in 2006 to work more closely and enable the Sunni sheikhs, but that is just one province. The surge strategy enabled coalition forces to move into troubled areas that boosted the confidence of the locals in Baghdad and in the area surrounding Baghdad. This allowed for Iraqis to take a more active role in their security. The change in strategy that was relevant to the "surge" was more important than the extra personnel.

(H/T McClatchy Watch) Shiite tribal leaders at an Assyrian Orthodox church, no civil war here!


Sean Dustman said...

Hope you guys had a good Christmas. I'm glad I don't touch politics over at my place, it gives me a rash. Stay safe for New Years.

Nixon said...


Politics is ugly business, but these are ugly, ugly times. Thanks for stopping in!

Sean Dustman said...

I get too many "official" readers, so I stay away from the subject. PAO's from the Pentagon always spook me.

Nixon said...

Doc, that's why I keep my anonymity and what can they do with me, send me to Iraq? I've had zero OPSEC violations, just a bunch of crazy opinionated commentary.

Sean Dustman said...

Mine's a cat that I can't put back in the bag, haven't had problems though but I know that I'm watched. But the bad guys would have an easier time getting intel off of tea leaves then my blog or even better read the base paper or CNN.

Sean Dustman said...

I just noticed I didn't have you linked, fixed. We need more squids blogging from the front!

Nixon said...

Cool! Thanks, Doc. While the IZ isn't exactly the front, I do try and provide some sort of clarity mixed in with my own two-bit commentary.

Sergio "The Signore" said...

This entry is fantastic. I particularly liked your responses to Myth 3 and Myth 8. Keep up the great work and stay safe!