What is the Mission? Or, Russian Roulette
‘ BAGHDAD – The U.S. military said three of its soldiers were killed and two others wounded by insurgents in Baghdad on Sunday.
RAMADI – U.S. forces killed two suspected insurgents on Sunday after observing them loading weapons from a cache into a vehicle in the insurgent stronghold city of Ramadi, 110 km (70 miles) west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. . .
RAMADI – The U.S. military said four Iraqi civilians were wounded, including three boys aged 6, 13 and 16, when mortar bombs fired by U.S. forces against insurgents hit them. The wounds were not life-threatening, a statement said. ‘
Well, something clearly was going on in Ramadi on Sunday, though it isn’t clear from these staccato and desultory items what exactly it was. As I understand it, there are daily battles between US forces and local ones in Ramadi and its environs. This Sunni Arab city of 400,000 west of Baghdad is under continual siege. I want to ask a question here. Why? When and under what conditions will it be lifted?
What are we to think when we see an item like this one, which says that the elected Iraqi PM, Nuri al-Maliki, was pelted by stones by his own constituency in Shiite Sadr City; that 21 villagers were captured by guerrillas in Diyala; or that 25 bodies (7 of them little girls) were found in Baquba, the capital of that province; or that (as al-Zaman reports in Arabic) Sunni Arab guerrillas fought a pitched battle with police in the city of Buhriz near Baquba, defeated them, chased them out of the HQ and set it on fire, and completely took over the city? What about the reports in al-Zaman of car bombings in al-Huswah and in al-Hilla, killing a dozen? When you hear these things, ask yourself ‘What is the mission? When and how could it reasonably be expected to be accomplished?’
The Iraq Study Group or Baker-Hamilton Commission will urge intensive diplomacy with Syria and Iran to help deal with the Iraqi civil conflict but will not urge a phased pull-out of US troops.
If they don’t, they should specify the mission. What is the mission of the US military in Ramadi? I hope my readers will press their representatives in Congress and the executive branch to answer this question. What is the mission? When will it be accomplished?
At what point will the people of Ramadi wake up in the morning and say, ‘We’ve changed our minds. We like the new government dominated by Shiite ayatollahs and Kurdish warlords. We’re happy to host Western Occupation troops on our soil. We don’t care if those troops are allied with the Israeli military, which is daily bombing our brethren in Gaza and killing them and keeping them down. We’re changed persons. We’re not going to bother to set any IEDs tonight and we’ve put away our sniping rifles.’
(You could substitute Tikrit, Samarra’, Baquba, and other Sunni Arab cities for Ramadi).
It is not going to happen. In fall, 2003, 14 percent of Sunni Arabs thought it was legitimate to attack US personnel in Iraq. Now over 70 percent do. Isn’t it going toward 100 percent? How would more or less keeping the people of Ramadi in a cage help things in that regard, especially if they perceive us to be doing it on behalf of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (founded by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran) and the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Israeli army?
(Despite the denials of Bush administration officials such as Condi Rice, the Arab and Islamic opposition to US presence in Iraq has at least something to do with local perceptions that the US invaded Iraq on behalf of Israel, and Iraqis often refer to US troops as “al-Yahud,” “the Jews.” This is conspiracy theory thinking and wrong-headed, but it is the reality on the ground. Even the notorious attack on the four mercenaries in Falluja was done in the name of the murdered Palestinian leader Sheikh Yassin. The deeply unpopular US support for Israel’s depredations against the Palestinians was one of the things that foredoomed a US military occupation of a major Arab country.)
The idea that al-Anbar tribal forces will pull the US fat from the fire is a non-starter. Some of the tribes are openly agitating on behalf of Saddam Hussein. Any who are fighting the Salafis or Muslim fundamentalists are doing it as a grudge match. Tribes are notoriously factionalized among themselves and seldom unite for very long. The rural tribes just aren’t a big center of power in Iraq any more– it is largely urban and the power centers are urban political parties and their paramilitaries. Those urban forces have vast hinterlands of practical and monetary support in the region– Iran for the Shiites, the Oil Gulf and small-town Jordan and Syria for the Sunni Arabs. They are not going to decline in importance.
Syria and Iran are not responsible for the resistance in Ramadi or Baquba and probably can’t do anything about it. Therefore negotiating with them is not a silver bullet, though it might be useful in its own right.
What is the military mission? I can’t see a practical one. And if there is not a military mission that can reasonably be accomplished in a specified period of time, then keeping US troops in al-Anbar is a sort of murder. Because you know when they go out on patrol, a few of them each week are going to get blown up or shot down. Reliably. Each week. Steadily. It is monstrous to force them to play Russian roulette every day unless there is a clear mission that could thereby be accomplished. There is not.
Senator Chuck Hagel’s argument for withdrawal is powerful, but it focuses on the botched character of the American enterprise in Iraq and the monetary expense and cost to our military force structure. Those are important arguments, but could be countered by the White House as insufficiently urgent to require a withdrawal.
That is why I think it is important to keep the focus on the question of the US purpose in occupying the Sunni Arab regions of Iraq. Every time you hear someone say that we have to keep the troops in Iraq, press that person to explain what the mission is exactly and how and when it will be accomplished.