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Wednesday, October 18, 2006
The Continuing Saga of the Iraqi Security Apparatus
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:06 am

Via the NYT: Iraq Removes Leaders of Special Police

The Iraqi government removed the country’s two most senior police commanders from their posts on Tuesday, in the first broad move against the top leadership of Iraq’s unruly special police forces.


The reordering of the police forces, beginning with the suspension of an entire Iraqi police brigade this month on suspicions that some members may have permitted or even participated in death squad killings, appeared to be one of the first serious attempts to address some of those American concerns.

The two generals, Rasheed Fleyah and Mahdi Sabeh, both Shiites, had been in their posts since the previous government, under which abuses by largely Shiite police forces began. Iraq’s Sunnis deeply fear the police commandos that grew out of control soon after a coalition of Shiite parties came to power last year.

The inability to establish a credible security apparatus makes either civil war or the breakup of the country all the more likely. Sans the ability of the state to create an acceptable level of order, there is no state. One wonders how long after a US withdrawal the disintegration of Iraq would begin, because there is not evidence of cohesive stability apart from that presence.

The piece also details the ongoing problem with the Sadr militia.

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PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Iraqis to Protect Themselves in 12-18 Months? linked with [...] This amid recent problems with the administration of the “established” security forces? [...]
Friday, September 29, 2006
Woodward’s New Book
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 2:42 pm

Via the NYT: Book Says Bush Ignored Urgent Warning on Iraq

Mr. Woodward’s first two books about the Bush administration, “Bush at War” and “Plan of Attack,” portrayed a president firmly in command and a loyal, well-run team responding to a surprise attack and the retaliation that followed. As its title indicates, “State of Denial” follows a very different storyline, of an administration that seemed to have only a foggy notion that early military success in Iraq had given way to resentment of the occupiers.

The fact that Woodward’s first two books were considered basically positive vis-a-vis the administration will give this one more credibility. Further, the fact that Woodward was for the first two books given a great deal of acess to the principals probably means that he was for this one as well. This, too, will enhance the book’s credibility.

I will note that the thesis that the book appears to proffer, that the administration didn’t plan well for the aftermath of the war and that it did not take the difficulty seriously, echoes what Larry Diamond wrote in Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq .

The criticisms of Rumsfeld also mirror some of what Diamond had to say.

The book is already generating a number of headlines. To wit:

  • WaPo: Card Urged Bush to Replace Rumsfeld, Woodward Says
  • Bob Woodward: Bush Misleads On Iraq
  • NY Daily News: Rummy blasted in book
  • Via the AP: Iraqi violence is growing, author says

More, no doubt, to follow.

And sadly, I have not been offered a review copy…

Update: James Joyner points out: Woodward Scooped on Own Book.

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Outside The Beltway | OTB linked with Bob Woodward’s Evolving Portrait of President Bush
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Doubts About Maliki Grow
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:27 am

Via the NYT: Doubts Increase About Strength of Iraq’s Premier

Four months into his tenure, Mr. Maliki has failed to take aggressive steps to end the country’s sectarian strife because they would alienate fundamentalist Shiite leaders inside his fractious government who have large followings and private armies, senior Iraqi politicians and Western officials say. He is also constrained by the need to woo militant Sunni Arabs connected to the insurgency.PatiencePatience among Iraqis is wearing thin. Many complain that they have seen no improvement in security, the economy or basic services like electricity. Some Sunni Arab neighborhoods seem particularly deprived, fueling distrust of the Shiite-led government.

We have reached a stage where is it wholly unclear if anything resembling a state appartus has been construted in Iraq-certainly not one that govern in any real sense of the word
One thing that has baffled me from the beginning (starting with the first few weeks of the occupation) is why there hasn’t a massive effort to improve the infrastructure of the country. Instead, it seems to be too little too late. If the following can be done now, then why wasn’t it part of the plan in the beginning?

American officials here say they do not intend to let Mr. Maliki fail and are helping him in a variety of ways. For example, to bolster Iraqis’ confidence, American generals are spending money on quick reconstruction projects like trash pickup as the military goes through troubled neighborhoods of Baghdad.

I know that work has been done, but it certainly appears to be inadequate-if anything a lot of it, like the trash pick up noted above, seem more ad hoc than coordinated effort to establish confidence in the population from the beginning.
Of course, this is linked to the security problem, which begs the question as to why there wasn’t more effort put into securing the country and establishing as much order as possible in the beginning of the occupation, rather than figuring out later that the country wasn’t going to self-regulate.
The piece also underscores the ongoing unsolved problem of the militias.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006
The Ongoing Problems of State-building in Iraq
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:15 am

Yesterday, it was digging trenches around Baghdad, today (via the NYT: Iraq Stumbling in Bid to Purge Its Rogue Police) it’s the dysfunctional security apparatus:

The new interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani, who oversees the police, lacks the political support to purge many of the worst offenders, including senior managers who tolerated or encouraged the infiltration of Shiite militias into the police under the previous government, according to interviews with more than a dozen officials who work with the ministry and the police.


The ministry recently discovered that more than 1,200 policemen and other employees had been convicted years ago of murder, rape and other violent crimes, said a Western diplomat who has close contact with the ministry. Some were even on death row. Few have been fired.

Despite the importance American commanders place on hiring more Sunni Arabs for the overwhelmingly Shiite police force, the ministry still has no way to screen recruits by sect or for militia allegiance. Such loyalties are the root cause of the ministry’s problems.

A senior American commander said that of the 27 paramilitary police battalions, “we think 5 or 6 battalions probably have leaders that have led that part of the organization in a way that is either criminal or sectarian or both.”

While the article notes a few minor improvements under the new Minister, the overall picture is rather bleak. The entire article is worth a read.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006
And Will There be Alligators in the Moat?
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:39 am

Ok, while the notion of increased security is an important one in this context, one as to admit, this doesn’t sound good: (via the NYT) Iraqis Plan to Ring Baghdad With Trenches

The Iraqi government plans to seal off Baghdad within weeks by ringing it with a series of trenches and setting up dozens of traffic checkpoints to control movement in and out of the violent city of seven million people, an Interior Ministry spokesman said Friday.

When one has to dig trenched around the capital city and funnel traffic through highly controlled checkpoints, then I am afraid one is not engaging in policy innovation, one is engaging in desperation.

And, one has to wonder if Fortress Baghdad will even work:

It is unclear whether Baghdad can really be sealed off, given the city’s circumference of about 60 miles. With so much terrain, guerrillas might find areas that are unconstrained by the trenches and checkpoints. On the main roads, traffic could be snarled for miles, especially in the final days of Ramadan, when people travel to celebrate with their families.

Apparently, and I was unaware of this, the model is one used elsewhere in the country:

Similar perimeters have been set up around troubled cities that are much smaller than the capital.

The most prominent example is Falluja, the insurgent stronghold in western Iraq that had 300,000 residents before a Marine-led siege in November 2004. Since then, the American military and Iraqi security forces have run the city as a mini police state, with people who want to enter required to show identification cards at checkpoints.

The American military built dirt berms with limited entry points around Samarra in the north and Rawah in the western desert.

None of that sounds are extensive as what is planned for Baghdad, however.

In reading all of this, I continue to think back to the chaos that was allowed to reign across the country post-invasion. Had we actually fully secured the country in the first place, and then worked towards erecting a new state, we wouldn’t have to capturing it city-by-city, province-by-province and creating “mini police state[s]” now.

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PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » The Ongoing Problems of State-building in Iraq linked with [...] Yesterday, it was digging trenches around Baghdad, today (via the NYT: Iraq Stumbling in Bid to Purge Its Rogue Police) it’s the dysfunctional security apparatus: The new interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani, who oversees the police, lacks the political support to purge many of the worst offenders, including senior managers who tolerated or encouraged the infiltration of Shiite militias into the police under the previous government, according to interviews with more than a dozen officials who work with the ministry and the police. [...]
Friday, September 15, 2006
Credibility, Iraq and Iran
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 2:44 pm

In the context of my post yesterday about the IAEA and the House Intelligence Committee, and why I am more prone to believe the UN in these matters than was once the case, I would note (from a post by Matthew Yglesias) this quote from Charles Krauthammer at an AEI event held on April 22, 2003:

DR. KRAUTHAMMER: Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We’ve had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven’t found any, we will have a credibility problem.

Krauthammer was wrong about us finding the WMD, but correct about the credibility issue, even if he seems to have forgotten about this statement even as he argues for drastic action against Iran.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006
An Odd Choice
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 3:35 pm

In watching the Veep on MTP this morning, I found the following to be an odd choice by Cheney in defending the administration vis-à-vis Iraq:

MR. RUSSERT: In fact, there is grave doubt, because they did not exist along the lines that you described, the president described, and others described. Based on what you know now, that Saddam did not have the weapons of mass destruction that were described, would you still have gone into Iraq?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Yes, Tim, because what the reports also showed, while he did not have stockpiles—clearly the intelligence that said he did was wrong. That was the intelligence all of us saw, that was the intelligence all of us believed, it was—when, when George Tenet sat in the Oval Office and the president of the United States asked him directly, he said, “George, how good is the case against Saddam on weapons of mass destruction?” the director of the CIA said, “It’s a slam dunk, Mr. President, it’s a slam dunk.” That was the intelligence that was provided to us at the time, and based upon which we made a choice.

Granted, he could be simply trying to pawn off blame onto Tenet, but really, is playing the “slam dunk” card a smart move?

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Monday, September 4, 2006
A Real Civil War on the Horizon?
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:54 am

Via the AP: Kurdish leader threatens Iraq secession

The leader of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq threatened secession Sunday as a dispute over flying the Iraqi flag intensified.Massoud Barzani on Friday ordered the country’s national flag to be replaced with the Kurdish one, sparking harsh words in Baghdad.

“If we want to separate, we will do it, without hesitation or fears,” Barzani, president of the Kurdish region, said during an address to parliament.

He tempered his comments slightly by saying that Kurdish leaders already have voted to remain in a united Iraq.

Yes, I am sure that will put the matter to rest. Isn’t that like threatening divorce and then pointing out how you did, after all, say your vows at the wedding?  That’s not the kind of thing that will quell fears or reassure that this whole flag flap is nothing to worry about.
It has always been obvious that the Kurds would prefer separation (an action that will cause great consternation for the Turks, should it come to pass). The question has been: to what degree do they see themselves as Iraqi? As Sunni-Shia violence continues to their south, it is not surprising that they would start thinking about flying solo (and by that, I don’t just mean flag choices).

If the Kurd do go it alone, what will be the response of the remaining Iraqi provinces? And what about some of the disputed oil-rich territory between the two? Would the threat of an independent Kurdistan unite the Sunni and Shia in an effort to maintain national unity and control of oil-rich real estate? What would the US do? On the one hand, our policies have been invested in the notion of a unified Iraq, yet on the other the Kurds have been our best allies within Iraq.

The scenarios are numerous, fascinating and troubling.

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Sunday, September 3, 2006
Phrase of the Day: “the principal stoker” and Other Pearls of Wisdom
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:29 pm

On MTP this morning, Senator Santorum (in what is, granted, a somewhat convoluted sentence to begin with) used what struck me as both an amusing sounding new phrase, but also a rather strained bit of logic on the international relations front:

And Iran, which is, which is the principal stoker of this, this Shia/Sunni sectarian violence, would love nothing more to see than the Iraqi democracy fail because of that.

You have to watch out for those darn principal stokers.

He went on to argue that the solution to the problems in Iraq and somehow linked to Iran:

This is a tactic of Iran to disrupt the—our, our efforts in Iraq by, in fact, trying to defeat the Sunnis. So there’s, there’s no question, this is a very complex war.But understand, at the, at the heart of this war is Iran. Iran is the, is, is the problem here. Iran is the one that’s causing most of the problems in, in Iraq.

While I would acknowledge that there is Iranian influence in the Iraqi situation, however this has a dangerous ring to it. It seems that Santorum is suggesting that the solution to Iraq runs through Tehran-and all that can do is expand an already troubled war into a broader, more dangerous context. Further, his statements this morning struck me as shifting blame for the war in Iraq away from the fact that we invaded, to somehow being the Iranian’s fault. It had a certain bait and switch quality to it.

He went on later:

I mean, all of those things are things that I think everyone would agree that we are to do. The question is, is you have some, you have, you have sectarian violence you talked about, fomented by Iran, that we are not addressing. So the question is, how do we, how do we cure Iraq, focus on Iran? We need to do something about stopping the Iranians from being the central destabilizer of the Middle East.

MR. RUSSERT: Would you put more troops in Iraq?

SEN. SANTORUM: I don’t know if it’s a question of more troops or less troops. You get—I, I think the focus should not be Iraq, should be Iran.

Again, while acknowledging that Iran is a serious problem, I still have to wonder how a US Senator can say that that main focus should be on Iran when we have roughly 130,000 troops in Iraq and all the immediate problems that that situation presents.

The idea, that seems to be circulating in some circles, that we need to pursue a hot war with Iran whilst we still have unfinished business in Iraq, strikes me as borderline insane. If anything it appears out of sync with reality.

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Good News for this Sunday Morning: al Qaeda in Iraq No. 2 Arrested
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:00 am

Via the AP: No. 2 al-Qaida leader in Iraq arrested

Iraqi forces have arrested the second most senior operative in al-Qaida in Iraq, and the group now suffers from a “serious leadership crisis,” the national security adviser said Sunday.

While such an arrest is undoubtedly good news, I have to wonder about the severity of the leadership crisis in question, given that the death of Zarqawi and several of his lieutenants didn’t seem to accomplish as much as was hoped that it would.There is also the niggling problem that al Qaeda in Iraq isn’t the biggest problem in the country at the moment, significant as it undoubtedly is.

While I like to think that this arrest will mean something substantive on the ground, I have become somewhat jaded as to whether they represent a likely significant improvement on the ground.

Some details on the individual in question from the story:

Hamed Jumaa Farid al-Saeedi, known as Abu Humam or Abu Rana, was arrested a few days ago, Mouwaffak al-Rubaie said, adding that his arrest also led to the capture or death of 11 other top al-Qaida in Iraq figures and nine lower-level members.He

was the second most important al-Qaida in Iraq leader after Abu Ayyub al-Masri, al-Rubaie said. Al-Masri succeeded Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike north of Baghdad on June 7.

This sounds like a very significant event-and hopefully it does represent a substantial degradation of al Qaeda in Iraq’s ability to operate.  However, it seems unlikely at this point that it will have a substantial effect on the overall violence.

Update:  It seems that James Joyner had a similar reaction to the news:

Dead or arrested terrorists are always good news. Still, I would think we’d have learned by now to stop claiming that it will make a huge difference in the group’s ability to wreak mayhem. The level of killing did not drop after Zarqawi’s death and, if al-Saeedi has been in custody “a few days,” it certainly does not seem to have had any effect on the level of violence.

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Thursday, August 31, 2006
“[C]entral government control in many places [is] merely notional”
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:49 am

Via the CSM: Firefights mark further splintering in Iraq

Two days this week of fierce firefights between a Shiite militia and government forces in a usually calm town south of Baghdad left at least 80 dead and an unknown number wounded.

While the top US commander in Iraq said the battle came as a “surprise,” it underscores a proliferation of militia groups throughout the country that is making central government control in many places merely notional, many Iraqis and foreign experts say.


The battle in Diwaniyah, which ended Tuesday when the US Air Force dropped a 500-lb. bomb on what it called a militia position, started just three days after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki led a peace conference among tribal leaders designed mostly to undercut Sunni-Shiite sectarian tensions. But, as Diwaniyah demonstrates, sectarian fighting is far from the central government’s only security challenge.

That isn’t a phrase one wants to here: that “central government control in many places [is] merely notional.”

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Monday, August 21, 2006
There’s a Shock
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:27 am

Via the AP: Defiant Saddam refuses to enter a plea

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Saddam Goes on Trial for Genocide Agains the Kurds
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:33 am

Via Reuters: Saddam goes on trial for genocide against Kurds

Saddam Hussein refused to plead as he and six former army commanders went on trial in Baghdad on Monday for the killing of tens of thousands of Kurdish villagers in northern
Iraq in the 1980s.


One of Saddam’s co-defendants is his cousin, Ali Hassan al- Majid, known as “Chemical Ali” for allegedly ordering poison gas attacks on Kurds in northern Iraq. Looking frail and walking with a cane, he entered the courtroom last.

Majid, wearing traditional Arab robes and red-checkered headdress, introduced himself as “first major general.” Aloosh also entered an innocent plea for Majid after he told the court he would prefer to remain silent.

The seven defendants, including Saddam’s former defense minister, face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their role in Anfal, which Faroon said had left 182,000 people dead or missing.

Saddam and Majid face the additional, graver charge of genocide. All the main charges carry the death penalty.

The basics of the charges are as follows:

A series of eight campaigns between February and August 1988 was aimed at driving Kurds from their homes into “collective villages” where Iraqi authorities could monitor them.

Those who did not die in the military attacks were arrested, displaced, tortured or killed, prosecutors say.

Faroon said the bodies of hundreds of Kurds killed in the campaign had been found in mass graves unearthed after U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam in 2003.


The deaths of 5,000 people in the Kurdish town of Halabja in March 1988 form the basis of a separate trial to be held later.

The NYT has a piece on the attacks and trial as well: As Trial Begins, Poison Attack Haunts Kurds, which starts with this recounting of the attack on Sewsenan:

The attack came at dinnertime on March 22, 1988. Mr. Amin had just sat down with his wife and seven children in their home of mud and stone when Iraqi fighter jets began the bombing.

“I was totally blinded, I couldn’t see anything,” Mr. Amin, 80, said on a recent afternoon as he crouched on a dirt hill near the village mosque, dressed in baggy olive pants and a gray turban. “Everybody tried to escape. People vomited. Their skin burned. Some people lost their minds.”

He clenched his fists. “I’d like to put a rope around the neck of Saddam Hussein myself and drag him through all the Kurdish villages,” he said.

The attack was part of what was called the Anfal campaign.

The NYT provides the following numbers:

In the Anfal case, the defendants are accused of killing at least 50,000 Kurds and destroying 2,000 villages in an eight-stage military campaign from February to September 1988.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006
Snipers in Iraq Kill 20
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 2:58 pm

Via the AP: Snipers kill 20 Shiite pilgrims in Iraq

Snipers lurking on buildings and in a cemetery sprayed bullets into Shiite Muslim religious processions in the capital Sunday, killing at least 20 people in another spasm of sectarian bloodletting that many Iraqis fear is pushing them toward civil war.

This is a new tactic, I think. Like car bombings it is s technique that not only is deadly, but that increases the general level of anxiety in the populace.

The lowness of the insurgents continues to amaze: this is basically shooting people as they peacefully walk to church.

And this is not a good sign:

The snipings occurred despite heavy security imposed in Baghdad by Iraqi and U.S. forces as well as a weekend driving ban designed to prevent car bombings

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More on Treason (Including the Law)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:41 am

Dan Riehl responds to my post from yesterday regarding his statement that Democrats are traitors.

I noted yesterday that the penalty for treason death, Dan disputed that in his post. For the sake of the record, here’s 18 U.S.C. 2381 which defines treason and the legal consequences for its commission (US CODE: Title 18,2381. Treason):

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

So, I suppose it depends on how you want to define the statement. The penalty for treason is, in fact, death, althought it can be a lesser punishment.

If we step back from the rhetorical ledge for a moment and even say that treasonous acts require a jail stay of at least five years, a $10,000+ fine, and the inability to serve in the US government, then there are still some serious problems to be associated with stating that there are Democrats who are guilty of treason.

A main problem here with the logic is the equating of harsh criticism of the administration with giving “aid and comfort” to the enemy. If we are going to say that once hostilities break out that no one is allowed to say anything against the US government that might be construed as useful to the enemy in that conflict, then we have wandered into extremely dangerous territory.

Dan cites, in his post, some outrageous things that were said by Al Gore in his “he betrayed this country” speech. While Gore has every right to state his opinion, I thought at the time that that approach to the situation was counter productive, just I think all this treason talk over the last few days is countrproductive.

Dan also cites statements made by Murtha and Kerry that were, in my mind, irresponsible. He also include Jimmy Carter in his list.

On the other hand, there are still very grave questions that exist regarding Haditha and other incidences in Iraq. As such, it isn’t as if there weren’t reasons for the issues to be raised. Even if the we stipulate for the sake of argument that the statements in question were utter nonsense, I fail to see how they could be consider treasonous by any reasonable definition.

Ultimately, Dan’s argue boils down to this:

Let the individuals who would seek to defend the Democrat’s honor in this regard answer me this - how is it that such statements as displayed above can be seen as anything other than injurious to our nation during a time of war? And as that phrase itself is included in the very definition of treason, why is it so wrong, or dangerous to simply call them what they are? (emphasis his)

If we are going to start branding people as traitors because they make remarks that are hyperbolic and outrageous during a time of conflict abroad, then we had better start expanding Guantanamo.

Really: this is a wholly unproductive path to go down.

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