May 20, 2008

Sons of Iraq? Or Baghdad's Sopranos?

From the LA Times:

Sons of Iraq? Or Baghdad's Sopranos?

Working with a U.S.-funded Sunni guard force can be a lot like dealing with the mob. Some of the armed men act like the dons of their neighborhood.

By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

May 20, 2008

BAGHDAD -- As Arabic pop songs blared from a cafe and children squealed on rickety rides, men armed with pistols and Kalashnikovs wandered through a crowded Baghdad park one recent evening, checking visitors for weapons and keeping an eye out for suicide bombers.

Eight months ago, some of them may have been planting bombs themselves, or firing rounds at passing American convoys. But on this night, they grabbed hands and stomped their feet in a traditional line dance as a U.S. foot patrol stopped to watch.

Residents credit cooperation between the American soldiers and the dancing gunmen, members of a U.S.-funded Sunni neighborhood guard force, for a turnaround in security in Adhamiya, a Sunni Arab enclave in Shiite-dominated east Baghdad that until recently was on the front line of the Iraqi capital's sectarian war.

But doing business with the gunmen, whom the U.S. military has dubbed Sons of Iraq, is like striking a deal with Tony Soprano, according to the soldiers who walk the battle-blighted streets, where sewage collects in malodorous pools.

"Most of them kind of operate like dons in their areas," said 2nd Lt. Forrest Pierce, a platoon leader with the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment. They shake down local businessmen for protection money, seize rivals for links to the insurgency and are always angling for more men, more territory and more power.

For U.S. soldiers on the beat, it means navigating a complex world of shifting allegiances, half-truths and betrayals. ...

Such attacks were once a near-daily occurrence in Adhamiya. When the 3rd Squadron arrived last summer, its soldiers couldn't drive past Abu Hanifa Mosque without getting shot at. On the day they assumed responsibility for the area, the unit they replaced was struck by a roadside bomb that flipped a Bradley fighting vehicle, killing five soldiers and an interpreter.

But the number of attacks plunged to less than one a week after the military began paying local men $300 a month to protect their areas.

The U.S. military now has 843 gunmen on its payroll in Adhamiya, a once-prosperous neighborhood of retired military officers, teachers and professionals enclosed by a 12-foot-high concrete wall. ...

Last month, the number of attacks started to inch back up, leading soldiers to believe that religious extremists and the criminal gangs that thrive on chaos may be trying to stage a comeback. [More]

The problem in Iraq has always been that we've never had a side in the civil war we started there. I've always advised, from during the 2003 invasion onward, bribing Iraqis to calm down, but it doesn't solve the long term problem which is that everybody knows we're eventually going to leave and then there will be a scramble to grab the oil and whatever else is up for grabs. So, if the U.S. now wants to pay various ambitious men so they can build their power bases for the day of destiny, well, sure, they'll take the money.


Anonymous said...

Actually, we do have a side Steve. It's those, who want general peace and the ability to build a business, share in oil wealth/graft, have basic security and not pay over everything to AQ (who way over played their hand with horrific brutality against the locals) or Iran.

As long as we remain in enough force, we'll be fine since we'll be the guarantors of territorial integrity and against obvious power grabs from either Saudi (AQ) or Iran (Mahdi Army, etc).

These are real advantages. Among them, right next door to put pressure on Iran to make them behave. Even Iran's Mullahs are starting to get worried about Nutjob, since he's taking over their turf and talking too much about the 12th Imam. Possibly too late, as the SD found out. Or not, and if that's the case, we are happily right next door to return 30 years of terrorism right back at Iran.

Just like the USSR provoked good behavior by Germans and Japanese, so too will Iran and Saudi on the behalf of Iraqis. They need us to protect them from players they can't handle on their own. We'd like more cheap oil on the market. Not a bad deal, since we are already there.

Anonymous said...

Christ Almighty. What a grotesque exercise in futility. Us trying to "manage" Iraqi organized crime networks.

We won the War in Iraq Part II a long time ago. We deposed the Baathist regime with great efficiency. All we had to do then was leave. That would have been the pre-matriarchal, pre-liberal action of the old United States of America. Real men, wise men, would have simply gone home.

But, no, us "modern men", we had to stay and rebuild Iraq and then "spread democracy". We had to engage in nation-building because otherwise all of the female voters stateside would've have been worrying about the Iraqi chaos and fallout if had we left? Or something? Was that it? Would the bleeding heart ladies of the U.S.A. have marched on Washington? Would Code Pink have demanded a return to Iraq and then more war?

The answer is NO. I am saying that the entire Colin Powell “you broke it, you bought it” meme was bullshit from the getgo. That was one enormous truckload of bullshit.

I know that not a single red-blooded male American citizen would have worried about how the Iraqi factions would've worked things out had we simply left the country after deposing the Baathist regime. Imagine that. Just leave. We left Vietnam and 99% of Americans didn’t give another thought to that damn place again for the rest of their entire lives! “Vietnam? We tried to do the right thing. Fuck them.”

Think about it. We were heroes just for getting rid of Saddam. He viciously attacked his own citizens and all of his neighbors. He was a menace. We did the entire Middle East region a favor by removing Saddam and afterward we owed them and the rest of the world NOTHING ELSE.

Think about it. Was it French post-war bitching that we were so afraid of? Turkish? Chinese? Israeli? British? Was it long accusatory speeches at the big bad U.N.? Don’t think so. So what if there was a civil war? A civil war was bound to happen anyway. And what is so bad about a civil war in the big scheme of things? What the hell would the United States be today without a civil war? Civil war is sometimes necessary to advance civilization. Patriarchal societies understand that. A totally backward society like Saddam-era Iraq is going to have to experience a civil war in order to advance.

Yes, all we had to do was leave and, of course, guarantee to return and punish any future Iraq regime that tried to pull the same crap the Saddam's regime did. Was that such an impossible a plan of action? For 1/100th the cost of long-term occupation and rebuilding we could've gone back and bombed the crap out of Iraq every 5 years, if necessary. We could've done that like clockwork from now until the end of time.

President Woodrow Wilson was an insane liberal. And his policies never worked. Au contraire, his policies only poisoned the world and set the stage for much worse events. And George W. Bush never learned a damn thing from that history. That highlights the danger of electing an non-curious mind to the office of POTUS.

Now I know what some are thinking. The entire lunatic liberal nation-building exercise was a cover story for making Iraq "safe for Israel by rendering Iraq an occupied zone". But, if you stop and think about it, that ulterior motive type of operation never could have been implemented if the domestic society of the U.S.A. was not already transformed into a liberal matriarchy. And that is the problem.

Liberal matriarchies do insane acts that are not in their own national interests and then they quickly collapse. All of the European nations that are currently being swamped by Muslims are matriarchies. This is why the historical record is a patchwork of competing patriarchies and not competing matriarchies. Matriarchies are illogical and self-destructive. Once established (which is very rare and probably only possible with extreme wealth and affluence) matriarchies flicker briefly and then are consumed by stronger and more stable polities.

Anyway, after absorbing absurd, stranger-than-fiction nonsense about the U.S. Marines "managing" mafia intrigues in the Iraq War theater, Steve Sailer readers might want to consider the imminent collapse of our dysfunctional matriarchy here at home. One thing leads to another.

Luke Lea said...

Jim Webb's new book, "Time to Fight" has some good stuff on his experiences in Beirut in the mid-1980's. Bottom line: don't get involved in a five-way fight.

Bruce Charlton said...

My understanding is that there never has been a 'civil war' in Iraq; but most of the casualties (now much reduced since the 'surge') were a direct consequence of Al Qaeda terrorism (mostly suicide bombing) or the backlash provoked by AQ terrorism (eg. the Al-Sadr executions of Sunnis).

Anonymous said...

I see the Project for a New American Century's website has vanished and the account is suspended.

The new century lasted under eight years, it would seem, with Al Capone gangs in Baghdad as one of its resplendent legacies.

Still, Bill Kristol got his column in the NYT-- which is what really counts when you're fighting World War IV.

Hunsdon said...


We can't stay forever. Take the surge (please). The purpose of the surge was to buy time for indigenous Iraqi political forces to come to terms. I think the agenda included revising the de-baathification law, revenue-sharing agreements on oil, and resolution of status issues for Kirkuk. Have those things happened?

I've read your analogy about the USSR, Germany and Japan several times and cannot make sense of it; perhaps I need more coffee. Are you saying we're the Soviet Union? Umm, and how did that turn out for them?

The Mahdi Army is essentially an Iranian power grab? Umm, odd, given that al-Sadr is an Iraqi nationalist (and, yes, fundamental Shia), while the SCIRI (formerly Supreme Council of the Islamic Revoluion in Iraq) boys, who now constitute the Iraqi Army, sheltered in Iran during Saddam's reign. Maybe that's why Ahmandinejad gets the red carpet treatment when he visits Baghdad, and doesn't have to "unannounced visit" ninja his way in (as our President does).

Part of being a conservative is not simply to look at advantages to a given course of action. It's that whole, "well, there's an upside, yes, if it works out, now what are the downsides, potential or actual?"

Downsides: the US Army is breaking. The surge is coming to an end not because it has worked, and not because the feckless Democrats are voting down troop funding, but rather because of something prosaic called TO&E. Put simply, we're out of combat brigades to rotate into Iraq.

The estimates I've seen of weekly spending run on the order of three to four billion per week. To quote the late Sen. Everett Dirksen, a billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon we're talking about real money.

So we have 160,000 guys playing street cop in Iraq. THAT'S a good use of the American military. Boy howdy.

Is Nutjob Ahmadinejad? Or do you mean al-Sadr? Sorry, the cute nicknames generally fly past me.

As for our ability to pay back Iran for thirty years of terrorism, I have two names you might look up: Van Riper (USMC retired general) and William Lind.

If we attack Iran, expect bad things. Our ground forces are already tied down in Iraq, which means we could hit Iran with air power. Hint: air power has two uses. The first is genocidal, when you roll out the B52s and carpet bomb, maybe with tactical nukes. The other is close air support.

Naval power, you say? Google up Van Riper again, and think about Silkworms and "water technicals" (powerboats with Dashiki 12.7mm machineguns).

Oh yes, and if the Mahdi Army really is an Iranian asset, what do you suppose the Mahdi Army would do if we launched an offensive against Iran? Hmm, chop up all the little outposts we've got in Iraq? Maybe get serious about playing RPG games with our resupply convoys?

It would be nice if Iraq became a functioning republic with a healthy respect for diversity, a strong free market economic system and a generally pro-West foreign policy. As the kids say, "good luck with that."

Your line about cheap oil, why that gave me a laugh like I haven't had in some time.

Anonymous said...

Iraq actually seems to be moving in the right direction, finally. The central government is extending its authority to Basra and now Sadr City; it's also going after Al Qaeda in Iraq in its last major sanctuary in Mosul.

The Sons of Iraq may look like mobsters now, but after the provincial elections in October they'll be local pols -- still corrupt, but at least part of the state's political system.

Meanwhile, tens of billions of dollars are piling up in the Iraqi government's U.S. bank account. As security improves, they will be able to spend this on infrastructure (e.g., indoor plumbing for the slums like Sadr City that don't have it). At some point it will become obvious to the Iraqi politicians that they'll be better off haggling over sharing the oil wealth than blowing each other up.

neil craig said...

"the military began paying local men $300 a month to protect their areas."

I remember a Monty Python sketch along thiose lines. "You got a lot of soldiers here gov - you wouldn't want them to have a n accident would you"

Anonymous said...

"testing99 said...

Actually, we do have a side Steve."

Actually, Evil Neocon, you are a tedious windbag.

I have no side in this fight. Maybe YOU do. Maybe YOU should go police the streets of Baghdad. Maybe YOU should ride up and down the IED infested roads in a humvee, gathering "intel" or whatever it is you armchair militarists gas on about.

Your war is ruining us. Next up on the agenda: look for all of these Iraqi thugs - Tony Sopranos, as the GIs there have dubbed them - to come to this country and find lucrative work in such fields as management consulting, merchandise arbitrage, and entertainment services (i.e., extortion, theft and smuggling, and prostitution).

Anonymous said...

Christ Almighty. What a grotesque exercise in futility. Us trying to "manage" Iraqi organized crime networks. ...


We can't stay forever. Take the surge (please). The purpose of the surge was to buy time for indigenous Iraqi political forces to come to terms. I think the agenda included revising the de-baathification law, revenue-sharing agreements on oil, and resolution of status issues for Kirkuk. Have those things happened? ...


I'm going to buy the PNAC domain and post both these rants there.


Anonymous said...

If the people are just like the Sopranos, how did Sicily (or New Jersey) become more peaceful than Iraq?

Anonymous said...

Because, anony-mous, they were outnumbered by a larger anglo population who dominated.

Anonymous said...

In Sicily?

Anonymous said...

One major difference is that Sicily does not have ethnic/sectarian tensions. The people of Messina abandoned the Greek language and the Orthodox Church in the 17th century, after which the only non-Sicilian-speaking people left on the island were the Arberesh (Albanian-speaking) communities who lived in enclaves in isolated areas.
There was significant conflict in Sicily during the period around the region's incorporation into Italy, and during the decade after World War II (when an insurgent group advocating Sicilian independence emerged.) The Mafia appears to have played a prominent role in both periods of lawlessness and political violence.
After WWII the Sicilian Mafia allied itself with Italy's ruling Christian Democrats (an alliance that lasted into the 1990s). The US looked the other way at this alliance because of the Cold War and the US government's fear of Communist electoral triumph in Italy.
Another major difference is that in Sicily, unlike the Arab world, one does not have tribes or clans as such(with the partial exception of Mafia families) but simply extended families or villages. The pattern of society is intermediate between those of northern and western Europe and that of the Islamic Middle East.