20 April 2007

A lone voice outside the echo chamber, Mr. Burns and the NYT

Mr. Burns for the NY Times is, apparently, not getting much of an airing by his company, even though he is their Bureau Chief in Baghdad. His recent series of interviews offer an interesting contrast on what he sees and what we see as pointed out by Bruce Chapman at Discovery Blog in this article of 16 APR 2007:N. Y. Time Bureau Chief versus N. Y. Times Editorial Page? (ht: PJM) The link at Discovery Blog will take you to the NYT video site and the CBC series featuring this is Battle For Baghdad: No Way Out and has a better linkage to the three different parts of the John Burns interview.

The first part is Chapter 1: Going Underground, Burns discusses the financing behind the insurgency. I offer up my best attempt at transcribing with this as Mr. Burns' view of the insurgency in Iraq. I will then comment after that [all emphasizing mine throughout].

The fundamental facts which we should have realized, those of us who were in Baghdad during the war, was that Saddam saw this coming from a long way off. Saying "Bring it on, Bush, we're ready for you. You can drive all the way to get to Baghdad, but when you get to Baghdad you'll be slaughtered." It was quite a good sucker play, because we actually saw the Saddam Fedayeen, really nasty black balaclava clad thug on the back of pick-up trucks, hundreds of them around Baghdad, and we thought, and I wrote at the time this could be a two or three month battle for the city.

But what happened? The Americans entered Baghdad from the south and the west. They ran a couple of exploratory reconnaissance missions and they discovered there was no resistance. They were in moving out towards the Green Zone, the Republican Palace, within 36 hours of arriving the outskirts of Baghdad. What did that mean?

It didn't mean that Saddam and his people weren't ready to fight, it just meant that they were going to continue to fight underground. That the terror, that had been very overt...

The striking thing about Saddam Hussein's Iraq was, unlike North Korea, and some of the nasty places I've been to, great effort is made to hide the terror. Saddam all along wanted the terror to be accessible and visible. Why? Because it was on that, that that minority government rested its power was on fear.


What did they do?

They took that machinery of fear and terror underground
. In Saddam's case, as we know, literally underground you remember the little...you know, in a spider hole when they found him. The Ba'athists went underground. They drove out of Baghdad the day American troops entered the city with $2 billion in cash. *In cash*. In steel trunks taken from the Iraq Reserve Bank, the Central Bank.

A great deal of that money has gone into financing the insurgency. Some of that money has found its way to al Qaeda. They still work in concert with each other, only very recently, since Bush announced his surge, we've seen the American military command announcing that they've done raids on insurgent, Sunni insurgent, strongholds. In which they have found evidence of this continuing interaction between the Ba'athists and al Qaeda. Its a tactical, of course, alliance on both sides, both sides will eventually have to deal with each other should they prevail.


And how do they finance it?

Part of it is the money they stole from the Central Bank.

Its sustained by corruption in the oil industry. That's theft, literally theft, from pipelines and refineries, of both crude and refined products that re-export to neighboring countries for resale at a much higher price.

Its sustained by counterfeiting. Including counterfeiting of American dollars. Very sophisticated operation.

And its sustained by kidnap. Kidnap for ransom, which is, I would say, next to the oil industry, the biggest industry in Iraq.


We have a secret document from American Agencies, which form their committee on the National Security Council, look into the financing of the insurgency. Which calculated two... two interesting figures. They calculated that the insurgency was probably financing itself, self-financing, on the basis, they estimated, $200 million a year.

I think it's a little low, but lets just take that figure and see 'what it does mean?'

The American military is spending $8 billion a month. 8,000 million dollars a month in Iraq. I did a little bit of arithmetic and it turns out that if the American military civil intelligence agencies are correct in saying that the insurgency is being financed by as little as $200 million a year, and they have the capability to continue that indefinitely, because it is internal and self-sustaining. It means that their operations are costing less for a year than what American military operations are costing for a single day.
That is why it is called 'asymmetrical warfare.'

I do have some quibbles about Saddam's 'saw this coming from a long way off'. His pre-war INTEL was being garnered from a Russian diplomat he had bribed and he had also worked with the Russians behind the scenes and was confident of his ability to stay in power. That was due to the Turks not allowing the US 4th Infantry Division to operate out of Turkey and into Iraq. That removed one-third of the US effective fighting force for months, while it trans-shipped from Turkey to Kuwait. Saddam knew the amount of time that would take and fully expected that a Gulf War, pre-attack bombing scenario would play itself out again. That is not to say that Saddam did not have contingency plans or had been preparing other plans to go forward. Ali Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Commander of the Fedayeen Special Forces, confirms that there were such plans in-place as seen in an interview at Ray Robison's site:

Al-Tikriti says he knows Saddam's weapons are in Syria because of contingency plans established as far back as the late 1980s, in the event either Damascus or Baghdad were taken over.
"Not to mention, I have discussed this in-depth with various contacts of mine who have confirmed what I already knew," he said.
But his knowledge of what the battle plans of the Coalition was is garnered from Gateway Pundit's link to this information on 24 MAR 2006. From alocal Fox affiliate we get this information:

A Russian ambassador may have leaked U.S. war plans to the Saddam Hussein government on the eve of attack, recently released Iraqi documents say.

It is one of five documents dealing with Saddam, Osama bin Laden and others reported by ABC News. One document says Saddam personally approved substantive talks with bin Laden in 1995 that explored a possible operational relationship.

Two reports from March 2003 and addressed to a Saddam secretary, describe details of the U.S.-led invasion, reportedly disclosed by the Russian ambassador. One covered troop size and armament, the other the invasion route.
And from Moscow News comes this:

Two documents dated March 2003, on the eve of the U.S.-led invasion, and summarized by the ABC News Investigative Unit, described details of the U.S. military plan. The first document is a handwritten account of a meeting with the Russian ambassador Vladimir Teterenko and details his description of the composition, size, location and type of U.S. military forces arrayed in the Gulf and Jordan. The document includes the exact numbers of tanks, armored vehicles, different types of aircraft, missiles, helicopters, aircraft carriers, and other forces and also their exact locations. The ambassador also described the positions of two Special Forces units, ABC reported.

The second document is a typed account, signed by Deputy Foreign Minister Hammam Abdel Khaleq, which states that Teterenko told the Iraqis that the United States was planning to deploy its force into Iraq from Basra in the South and up the Euphrates, and would avoid entering major cities on the way to Baghdad, which is, in fact what happened. The documents also state "Americans are also planning on taking control of the oil fields in Kirkuk." The information was obtained by the Russians from "sources at U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar," according to the document.

This document also includes an account of an incident in which several Iraqi Army officers (presumably seeking further elaboration of the U.S. war plans) contacted the Russian Embassy in Baghdad and stated that the ambassador was their source. This caused great embarrassment to Teterenko, and the officers were instructed "not to mention the ambassador again in that context."

Teterenko is mentioned in documents released by the Volker Commission, which investigated the Oil for Food scandal, as receiving allocations of 3 million barrels of oil - worth roughly $1.5 million.
The outlook that Saddam was unprepared for the sudden change-up in Coalition outlook to strike so quickly is garnered from this US Joint Forces Command document that has analysis of the Iraqi view of events (24 MAR 2006). Here are the major findings:

According to USJFCOM officials, the IPP report provides useful lessons learned that can be factored into ongoing and future operational planning against a similar closed regime.
Noteworthy items mentioned in the unclassified IPP report include:
Iraqi regime belief that Russia and France would act on behalf of their own economic interests in Iraq to block any UN Security Council actions to authorize an invasion.

Fedayeen Saddam planned for attacks in Europe (including London) and the Middle East

Saddam was more concerned about internal revolt than a coalition invasion; therefore bridges were not blown, oil fields were not torched, and the south was not flooded - all part of the inadequate and ineffective military planning done prior to the invasion.

Saddam and his inner circle believed their own propaganda

Chemical Ali was convinced Iraq no longer had WMD, but many colleagues never stopped believing in them.

Years of UN sanctions and coalition bombing had reduced the military effectiveness and usefulness of the Iraqi military forces.

Military and ministry leaders lied to Saddam about the true state of their capabilities.

Iraq military capability was also eroded by irrelevant guidance from the political leadership, creation of "popular" militias, prominent placement of Saddam relatives and sycophants in key leadership positions, and an onerous security apparatus.

The regime ordered the distribution of ammunition around the country to support a prolonged war with the coalition, but not to support the insurgency or a guerilla war.
The IPP report is just one example of the work JCOA does on a daily basis.
Notice that Saddam was more concerned about an internal revolt, and needed his infrastructure intact in order to continue the regime on an even keel. So many people wondered 'why didn't he burn the oil wellheads?' That is your answer - he needed the oil and didn't think the Coalition could attack with 4ID in transit. Basically Saddam did not think, even with being handed the *battle plans* that the Coalition would go ahead without one-third of its force on the ground.

So, while I do respect Mr. Burns' view, the fact is that the type of internal damage that would be necessary prior to bollixing up a Coalition attack just was not done. Saddam, if he was that far-sighted, would *not* want to have a Nation without him to have easy access to petrodollars. The means for recovering without him would have been left behind and that is not in keeping with Saddam's outlook given the Iran-Iraq war and his invasion of Kuwait. The man destroyed anything that might help his enemies and was ruthless in that outlook.

What I can envision, however, is Saddam realizing that his forces are so out of place to counter a US attack that he formulated a scheme on the fly to save his skin and that of his closest advisers and contacts. That said, even up to 1 APR 2003 there was an attempt to put together an armored counter-attack by the Republican Guards, but they met up with Marines who coordinated a CBU-105 drop and destroyed the front one-third of that armored attack, causing disorder in the rest of the Guards. This is not to say that Saddam was not just 'buying time', and could well have been, but when a leader puts an entire armored force into motion to stop an invading enemy, one does not think that one-third of that force will be destroyed in 10 minutes.

That said, Saddam's departure, no matter what the reasoning was very, very hasty. In that Mr. Burns is absolutely correct and stands as the #1 problem to any post-war planner and to every single critic who puts forth that the US should have 'not dismissed the government and army'. That begs the question: what was left TO dismiss? I first looked at that in What is the strategy in Iraq? and with Dropping the dime on the oil-drop. Mr. Burns cites the reason why there was no government nor military nor police to dismiss.

They had run away.

The entire power structure of the Saddam regime evaporated leaving nothing behind in its wake. Every single post-war scenario is built upon having *something* left to transition *from*. They were not there. Every single plan, no matter its source, be it CIA, State Dept., DoD... none of them had that as a contingency to look to. Saddam dropped the whole damn country into the laps of the Coalition and ran to make trouble. Do remember this as we go on in the series, as I do not point out faults to just naysay, but to help show why things happened as they did. We do know that the Central Bank was being robbed blind because we ran across a tractor trailer truck full of CASH. As the Sydney Morning Herald points out with this 25 MAY 2003 article from the Sun-Herald, even gold bars were being transported:

US soldiers in Iraq seized a truck believed to be loaded with 2000 gold bars worth as much as $762.8 million during a routine search near the Syrian border.

"The bars may have a total worth of 500 million US dollars, depending on carat weight and purity," the US Central Command said.

Soldiers from the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment stopped the Mercedes-Benz truck and its two occupants yesterday in Al Qaim, finding the 18 kilogram bars, which measured 10 centimetres by 13 centimetres by 25 centimetres.

"The occupants told the soldiers that they had been paid a total of 350,000 dinars ($534) to pick up the truck in Baghdad and drive it to an unnamed individual in Al Qaim," the US Central Command said in a statement.
This and the seizure of funds at palaces and other locations, totaling over $1 billion dollars and the flood of money post-war, before the interim debacle, all point to much in the way of that initial money Saddam took being liberally *lost*. For that amount in paper cash and here $0.762 billion in gold being lost, the Saddam regime was losing money quickly during those first few months after the war. Not something you would expect from an orderly escape that was preplanned. Still to lose that amount through negligence and poor planning indicates that at least an equal amount is available. Otherwise folks would have been defending the cash that *was* found better. Basically, without good accounting by the Central Bank, which Saddam treated as his personal safety deposit box and piggy bank, there is no accounting for exactly how much money there was to start with in Iraq. So exactly how much the Ba'athists were actually able to retain as they scampered off is of question, but $2 billion sounds as good as anything, really. Just remember that it is not a really known, but inferred by later events.

Lastly, on the financial area, there is counterfeiting, which was rife for the Saddam Iraqi Dinar. When the presses weren't running for the regime, that is. Printing money is very easy. Making it worth something is much more difficult. On this front, however, there may be an insight as to *where* Iraq could get counterfeit US dollars from: North Korea. It is not beyond imagination that North Korea had something that Iraq wanted, and would offer supernotes instead of cash in large quantities. This is seen by the trade between Saddam's Iraq and North Korea for missile technology, as cited by the Washington Times in 04 OCT 2003 article interviewing David Kay:

Saddam Hussein's government paid North Korea $10 million for medium-range Nodong missile technology in the months before the Iraq war, but never received any goods because of U.S. pressure, the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq said yesterday.

David Kay, who is leading the Iraq Survey Group, said there is "a lot of evidence" Iraq was rebuilding its banned missile program, which it actively hid from U.N. weapons inspectors.


On North Korea, Mr. Kay said the Iraqis launched negotiations for North Korean missile assistance in 1999 and the cooperation continued through 2002. It was the first time U.S. officials had disclosed a link between Iraq's missile program and North Korea.


Under the terms of the North Korean deal, Iraq was to receive "missile technology for the Nodong, a 1,300-kilometer missile, as well as other nonmissile related but prohibited technologies."

"The Iraqis actually advanced the North Koreans $10 million," he said. "In late 2002, the North Koreans came to the Iraqis as a result of the Iraqis inquiring 'Where is the stuff we paid for?' and the North Koreans said, 'Sorry, there's so much U.S. attention on us that we cannot deliver it.' "

Baghdad then demanded that North Korea return the $10 million. "And when Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced, the North Koreans were still refusing to give the $10 million back," he said.

The information was disclosed in documents obtained by the U.S. survey group that showed "the Iraqis attempting more vigorously every time to recover that $10 million."

Mr. Kay said the bad deal was "a lesson in negotiating with the North Koreans that the Iraqis found out the hard way."

"Money in advance may not come your way if there is nondelivery on a contract," he said.

And there we have paid for missiles not forthcoming and Iraq demanding payment.... why not get into the supernote distribution business and wage economic war on the US at the same time? Easy enough to do, and, considering Iraq did not have the complex paper making, ink making and variable press and ink technologies to make high class forgeries, using North Korean ones would definitely suffice. Forging the old Iraqi Dinar was pretty easy and a lucrative business by many in the Middle East. Forging US $100 bank notes, on the other hand, was and is very difficult and is a specialist's realm.

Of all the things that people do *not* understand about terrorism, the single largest is the cost of it. To put it frankly, it is damned cheap. From my article noted above for supernotes, let me pick out some costs of things on the open market:
Now they may only have a few $10's Million in circulation, but your average AK-47 is $300-$800 with a bit of fanciness to get you up to the high class $1,000 models. And your average RPG-7 launcher costs about $100-$500 each with each anti-tank warhead about $50-$100 each. So even $10,000 is enough to get a few folks started on the road to cheap jihad. This stuff is damned cheap, courtesy of the global armaments and export market, and the fact the AK-47 is so easy to manufacture that village blacksmiths can easily make spare parts and even whole weapons using a single original as a template. Those low-end, hand made in a village ones are on the low end of cost and reliability, but they still get the job done.
Hit a terrorist, get an AK-47 *free*! The AK-47 is the potato chip of the terrorism realm, you can't own just one. For $2 billion you can get a boatload of AK-47s, RPGs with tens of warheads apiece and they are cheaper by the dozen, detonation cord, plastic explosives, and even some high class weapons like the Dragunov Sniper Rifle of which we have seen more than a few in theater. In point of fact there is one thing that actually does translate well from the business world to the terrorist world: the most expensive part of any operation is the people, not the equipment. But beyond that, is the fact that $200 million/year is about what is expected for equipment upkeep on $2 billion's worth. Which makes the coincidence a bit suspect, actually. Be that as it may, even with *just* $200 million you find yourself in the same realm as FARC, Taliban and other organizations making more than that per year, but having limited appeal and lifespan. You find yourself running out of people before you run out of equipment. The huge numbers and size of weapons caches found in Iraq, often including *tons* of explosives and hundreds of AK-47s points to an insurgency that is swimming in cash. But dying for lack of people. This can be seen as early as AUG 2006 when the very *first* start of containing the violence in Baghdad got serious - tons, literal *tons* of weapons and explosives caches were found and continue to BE found by the Multi-National Forces in Iraq.

Ba'athism, for all of its Fascistic roots, has one huge problem in an era when they have been ousted from power. It is a cold, hard fact of life that they have been so used to being in power, that they have forgotten the basics of what it means to build a true insurgency. Funding is helpful, yes, and utilizing cronies, sycophants and those you can intimidate all to the good, but that still gets you no closer to the actual realm of State power than it does the Mafia. Actually, the Mafia by being at it for over a century have that pretty well down pat, and figured their way around those bottlenecks in many societies. Ba'athists turned to terrorism are just thugs with an attitude. Linking up with a known source of good knowledge of running terrorist operations is necessary if you want to succeed. The Ba'athists found that Hezbollah wasn't taking phone calls, the Fatah faction was out of time and power and busy elsewhere, the Muslim Brotherhood was cold-shoulder territory, the Kurds were killing them, and so that left the Saudis and al Qaeda, plus any residual good will with the butcher Zarqawi and the Ba'athist helped Ansar al-Islam, which was just an al Qaeda franchise operation.

One look at al Qaeda and suddenly you know you have problems as they, too, are cash rich and manpower poor. Even worse is that their recruitment hasn't helped them along with losing the the best middle-managers of the entire organization over the last few years. al Qaeda, after trying the Bojinka plot has just about sworn off of old fashioned terrorism and big complex plots. They found their perfect Template of Terror from another organization and now fill that niche in the terror ecosystem. Theirs is the long-range, well researched plot, that is tightly knit and limits its visibility. They are not the PLO or HAMAS sending out the suicide bomber du jour. al Qaeda is the 'big spectacle' group, that goes for the most gain from the least exposure. It has been long decades since they went after the USSR with many another organization in Afghanistan and those fighters have either drifted away from the organization or are dead. The 'corporate knowledge' of how to fight that kind of fight is limited to a few at the very top, and they were never out in the field sort of leaders. They are just about it for the Ba'athists in Iraq, unless they can get *any* help from their 'brothers' in Syria who are just shaking their heads in the 'you have got to be kidding' sort of way. al Qaeda can get that entree into the rest of the Transnational Terrorism internetwork, but they want control. And that is what the Ba'athists and Sunni Arabs are no longer doing.

The only way to end the insurgency is to end the corruption of low level officials and such in the government and industry. That is harder said than done as it is traditional in the Middle East to pay the overhead for corruption to get things done. South America has this exact, same problem going after narcoterrorists, and every Nation on the continent has problems with corruption aiding and abetting terrorists and gangsters of various sorts. Convincing the Iraqi People that this is *killing them* will be a very, very tough sell.

On to the second part at the NYT video site:

The country was held together by force. In the case of Saddam Hussein by extreme terror. And I think those of us who became mesmerized over the years... I went to... I've been going to Iraq since the late 1980's... by the scale of that terror... umm... that we failed to understand the history of Iraq.


That, if you went in there and you toppled Saddam Hussein and you then blew the whistle and said: 'Ok, there's a new set of rules here.' You are inevitably going to liberate passions and hatreds that have been locked up for centuries.


You can argue, and historians will argue about this, but I think, with one brief exception in the 17th century, the Maliki government represents the first time that the Shi'ite, who are in the majority in that part of the Arabian Desert that became known as Iraq, have got their hands on the levers of government.


If you add into this that the Americans have created the political process that brought these Shi'ites to power, and then armed them with the biggest militia of all, thats the New Iraqi Armed Forces which are overwhelmingly Shi'ite.


And all of the sudden they are back there and they ride in on American tanks, they compete in elections, they win a sweeping majority and they inherit a New Iraqi Army which is overwhelmingly Shi'ite. Of course they are going to want to consolidate this moment in history.


They've never believed in this idea of a Unity Government. After all, give them credit where credit is due, they know Iraq much better than we do. They've never believed that the oppressor... and they don't think that it was just Saddam Hussein, they think that oppression was an expression of the will of the Sunni people of Iraq, the 20% minority Sunni people. They believe it is going to come to a civil war. And they believe, too, and who could gainsay them, that the Americans are going to go... if not this month, then next month or perhaps the month after... and so everything they do is calculated on that. They regard these Armed Forces that they've inherited as being a trump card in that coming civil war, as they regard the militias.
The factor that Mr. Burns is glossing over is that the 20% Sunni population he is citing are Arabs another 20% Sunni population are Kurds. That does change the complexion of the overall state of things in Iraq, and does not allow for the simple concept he is putting forth.

One of the misunderstandings of the New Iraqi Army is that while it does, indeed, reflect the demographics of Iraq, it is patently *not* a sectarian Army but a National Army. This factor is something that the political spectrum refuses to digest and incorporate into their thinking. While the Shia political leadership may view the New Iraqi Army this way, the Army itself does not. The pure ignorance of what it takes to actually Create an Army that is reliable and adheres to its National Government is something that is so deeply ingrained in American attitudes that we take it as the *norm*. I devoted an entire article on Creating an Army and look at the history of the US Armed Forces and then look at typical Middle Eastern Armies and their defects. For all the fact that Americans think that a conscript Armed Forces have dominated the entire existence of them, they are, in fact, the minority of time for the Armed Forces of the US. Creating and sustaining an all-Volunteer force is something that has taken over a century for the US to get good at and that knowledge is hard won and interrupted by periods where conscription is necessary.

In the Middle East the exact opposite is true: Armies are from unwilling conscripts, poorly treated, and little effort is put into training such soldiers and they are seen as thoroughly expendable. Regimes use such Armies as bargaining chips amongst their Armed Forces, Secret Police, Regular Police, Paramilitaries, Political Groups and other groups. In a word these Armies are highly Factionalized. The backbone of an Army that can actually adhere to its Nation is *not* the Commissioned Officer Corps, which in the Middle East are plum jobs for favoritism, but the Non-Commissioned Officer Corps which must translate orders from on-high into something that works for their soldiers. In the Middle East graft and corruption are so rampant that the NCO Corps is seen as an opportunity to chisel money out of the conscripts. In the West the NCO Corps is the most highly trusted tier of soldiers as they have the knowledge and background of their soldiers, modern warfare and what it takes to ensure that a job is done well.

In Iraq one of the major things that is not understood is the integration of the Kurdish Militias into the New Iraqi Army. These units are highly dedicated and professional in their outlook and have some of the best soldiers and officers in it. A major problem for any purely religious division is having to deal with the Sunni Kurds and their competence. Many on the Left said that the Kurds would *never* die for Arabs, and yet there are five or more Brigades of Kurds in Baghdad right NOW. This is *not* a hallmark of a Middle Eastern force which just might not show up if such orders were given. It is the hallmark of a professional military establishment that has a level of internal order and discipline to it that is unknown in the Middle East outside of Israel.

Also in that article on Creating an Army article I go through how the New Iraqi Army is constituted and how it looks at its recruits. This may not seem like much, but to get a good NCO Corps in five years, you must treat the new troops *right* now. If that is not done then no precedent is established for future success. This esprit de corps is essential for any modern Armed Forces as history will show tradition of capability and competence to which future generations must live up to. That is easily destroyed by corruption, graft and incompetence on an ongoing basis as this is not only a recognition of modern trust amongst the soldiers and command structure but that this trust goes back in time, as well. Anyone wishing to assert that the Old Iraqi Army, if it could be *found*, was worth having for anything needs to demonstrate how an Army used to casual abuse, torture and killing of civilians is one that would not require more personnel to oversee than would put effective boots on the ground. That was a non-starter even if they *did* stick around which, thankfully, they did not. Soldiers and low-level officers have joined the New Army, but with the understanding that this is NOT the Old Army and that competence is first and foremost.

The Shia political parties are slowly coming to this realization that *other* militias are not being tolerated. In point of fact they are ALL the targets of the New Iraqi Army and this Army is slowly spiraling upwards in competence and capability. Creating a reliable Army takes years if not decades. It cannot be rushed as it requires passage of time to solidify into a cohesive force with history and background and implicit knowledge of how to act and react in any given situation. This is slowly dawning on the relatively thick-headed Shias that run militias and terrorist operations: the New Iraqi Army may be mostly Shia in background, but it is not Shia in outlook. And if the idiotic militias actually could figure out what they were doing to start fighting each other, the Army would not take sides and would let any head of government *know* that. And their backing would be the Kurds, who are the feared group in that region as they have fought and survived through some of the worst of tyrants and have a history of military leadership and competence. If the radical 15% or so of Iraq wanted to fight each other, they would be in the cross-hairs of the Army.

Beyond that the political and ethnic set-up for a civil war is a non-starter in Iraq. In my article Building the Mosaic of Iraq, I look at the necessary problems on the bottom-up side of things, once the top-down problem structure is in place. The hard work is being done on a wide and broad scale to actually create the necessary Civil Institutions that will *not* take sides in conflicts. That is damned hard to do, but to get a reliable government in place it is absolutely vital. You *might* be able to get a civil war started, but it would quickly devolve into tribe on tribe warfare and no longer be sectarian, as that is the most reliable affiliation for the people of Iraq. Government needs to actually win trust there, not kill its way to dominance.

On just the gross side of breakdowns, Iraq is essentially a three-sided Nation inter-divided between religion and ethnicity. Even if the Arab Shia majority tried to go after the Sunni Arab minority, they are effectively ceding power to the Kurds which would be the natural leadership and control of the Army. And if that Army had to step in, they would *not* choose sides amongst children. In a Nation of three sides in which two fight, it is the Third that wins. Like the tripartite Federal Government in the US that self-balances, this inter-division of Iraq can be made to be an interlocking whole. The way to do that is through non-sectarian government and non-aligned Armed Forces. While the Armed Forces are a reflection of society, in this instance it may be seen as the 'civilizing force' inside the Nation, attempting to finally quell fears and show the possibilities of working together and the success it can bring. And it does now hold the military power to assert that, even if it is still limited in depth and breadth.

Civil war is *always* possible in any Nation, even the United States. The likelihood of it however is another thing...

Finally there is part three of this NY Times video series for the CBC:
I think on the one hand that you have to say the war was lost if they didn't do it. As they found themselves at the end of 2006, they were going nowhere but to losing the war. At that point the choice was get out or reinforce and at least try to buy time by controlling Baghdad.


If you want to stabilize Baghdad, you probably need at least as many troops and police as Saddam had. And he had as many as 250,000 men for Baghdad. Even under the surge option, assuming that all the five brigades that Bush has said he wants, you're not going to have more than 30,000 American troops in Baghdad.


An astonishing fact about Baghdad... we learned as the new surge began, as the spring of 2007 approached, that 50% of the American troop presence in Baghdad before this surge, was tied up in what the American military command calls Force Protection, thats soldiers protecting soldiers.


The new troops will come in and most of them will actually be boots on the ground and will be operational as the American command says, the force protection bill is paid already. So you will have a more than doubling of effective American combat power in Baghdad.

My experience among Iraqis is, in both Shi'ite and Sunni communities, that they... whatever they may have felt about the invasion, they now want American troops and they want them in numbers as they see them as the only option for stabilization.


If you want to start dreaming, and who would not wish this to succeed as the cost of failure in Iraq... I'm sure that even the most vehement critics of Bush would understand the cost of failure are horrendous...


Its hard to imagine a situation along this historic fault line, between the Sunni and Shi'ite world, between the Arab and the Persian world, as sitting atop the second or third largest proven oil reserves in the world. Its hard to imagine... a civil war that would not draw in the neighbors. The Sunni Arab minority in Iraq under-armed against a Shi'ite, American equipped Shi'ite Army. The Sunni Arab world wouldn't stand by. They are going to get involved, the Saudi Arabians have already said they would in a situation like that.

The Iranians are not going to see this first Shi'ite government on their western frontier in at least 350 years ... you could argue 1,000 years... they are not going to see it go down... they're going to get involved too. The Turks are not going to see in a civil war a situation in which the Kurds of Iraq in effect create their own Sunni semi-autonomous State.

They're not going to tolerate that. They're going to get involved.

So quite apart from catastrophic levels of violence that civil war presents you really do have... this is not think tank talk... you have the real prospect for a complete implosion in the Middle East with...who knows what consequences?

Just think about oil. The throttling of oil supplies to the world. What would that do to the world economy?

Think about the State of Israel. Could King Abdullah of Jordan, a weak country, a rather civil country but small one on Iraq's western border... could he sustain himself in the face of a population which is overwhelmingly Palestinian and quite radicalized? I think it unlikely. And if he fell and you were in a radical government in Jordan what would that do to the State of Israel? It would certainly, whatever glimmering... small glimmering of a hope there is of a settlement between the Palestinian and Israelis would be gone. And you would have a really catastrophic situation for the State of Israel.

Are these things the American President, Republican or Democrat, and the American Congress, Republican or Democrat, can tolerate?

Before we begin to look, of course, at other intangible issues like whats it do to American prestige and power in the world?

I think there is no choice but to try and make this work.
With this Mr. Burns gives a very interesting view of 'the surge' and what it can do and why it must be done. Controlling the violence in Baghdad was never a major goal for the Coalition Forces. If it was it would have been done *sooner* than now. That is what every counter-insurgency pundit pontificated about for months on end with the 'oil drop' strategy. As I have cited it before, let me point out that with the on-the-ground Forces, lack of *any* internal structure in Iraq and having to continue fighting Ba'athist holdouts and incoming terrorists, that entire concept was a non-starter from the get-go. By changing the overall strategy on how to approach this problem, the Coalition Forces worked very hard to do a very few necessary things.

1) Stabilize the quietest regions. The hinterlands of Iraq and lightly populated areas were little touched by the invasion and the immediate aftermath. The work to ensure that they stayed quiet would guarantee that there would be a foundation for establishing a civil peace inside Iraq, and allow for light troop coverage to maintain that peace. For all the bombings, murder, and mayhem going on, it has been principally in two areas: Cities and roadways. Small towns and villages have been left out because the dispersed population base is not amenable to random thuggery. By doing this and gaining tribal trust the second objective was being worked towards.

2) Involve the population in the quiet areas with the rebuilding effort. Here all of those small contracts to build schools, furnish water and sewage capabilities and restore some semblance of government, no matter how basic, was critical. It would be from these stable areas that the first recruits for the New Iraqi Army would come and they would also have dispersed allegiance across so many tribes as to make factionalizing the New Army very, very difficult. For all the death and destruction going on, it would be these forces that would have the critical time to train and learn their jobs and start testing out their skills. That would take time and they were given that time to slowly work on things and figure out how to fight in this new kind of war. The reason there is a capable New Iraqi Army available *now* is that it was started in 2004. Their first small-scale work was hard and they had to rely greatly upon Coalition forces to leadership and support. That has changed over time so that they now have a competent internal command and control structure that continues to ramp-up in effectiveness. The 'oil drop' would not have afforded this, would have concentrated on less heavily divided urban areas and would have ensured major factional problems inside the New Iraqi Army. Even worse if the 'oil drop' tried to spread they would have encountered the standard urban/rural divide and be seen as outsiders in going after insurgents. That has not worked well anywhere it has been tried and would have failed in spades in Iraq.

3) Continued support, presence and demonstrating that the Coalition was dependable, reliable and non-sectarian has won over large segments of the Iraqi population. This is the outgrowth of the first area as Tribal assent and outlook is necessary to get that trust. That trust took years to build, but by late 2006 the Tribes of al-Anbar province turned heavily against the insurgents and terrorists. Now Sunnis are joining up with the police and army in droves from those tribes as the tribes now see which way the wind is blowing.

That leaves the major urban areas as havens for violence, and telegenic havens at that. What it now allows to have happen is to purge those areas of the militias, thugs and any gangs that get in the way. They are now running to other places but have the unpleasant surprise that the Iraqi Government and New Iraqi Army plus the Security Forces, along with the Coalition are already entrenched there. By eliminating the rural areas for places to run to, the terrorists, Ba'athist redentists and various other killers are finding that they have no safe havens *left*. And when they get to one it is soon identified by the population and is addressed by the Army and Security Forces. More and more 'the surge' is not the US Armed Forces, but is the competent Iraqi Army and Security Forces finally asserting Civil Government in Iraq. The US can *never* control Baghdad - only Iraqis can do that.

That said Baghdad will never be New York City or Los Angeles because of its geographic location. It will always need a higher security presence until the general atmosphere of the Middle East calms down. Baghdad has 5.7 million people in it, while New York has 8.1 million people and Los Angeles about 4 million people. New York City has nearly 38,000 police officers in it for a city 20% larger than Baghdad and it is a thoroughly modern force for a thoroughly modern city. Back in 1960 when NYC only had 7.78 million people, it had a force size of 24,590 officers. What the end-strength of police will be for Baghdad is a guess, but there will be less repression, overall and, with any luck, a lower unemployment rate than it had under Saddam. Violent sectarian groups will look to be a major problem, which Saddam did *not* have, but the countervailing is that more people should be gainfully employed, thus making sectarian militias less attractive. Time will only tell, but something triple the size of NYC's current force might be expected for some time in the way of manpower *if* the major militias can be broken and relative peace established. And that will, of necessity, be a mix of local police, national security forces and national armed forces.

Overall, however, I find Mr. Burns to be a *refreshing* view from Baghdad, as compared to the hotel-bound commentariate that pays for 'news' via unreliable sources. From his being on the ground we get to see some of what the fault lines of the Middle East are and their extent throughout the region. This is a view that I am familiar with and it cuts directly across that of the 'Realists' and those wishing to have perfection in all things post-war, while never getting around to defining what that perfection actually is. The stark reality of the place is the amount and depth of divisions amongst peoples across the Middle East and the extent of all of those fault lines. Beyond the religious, which is not even a primary driving force but secondary enhancing one, are ethnic, tribal, cultural, educational and old civilization viewpoints. These can be given framework to be worked out, but to get that established is the work of a generation.

But that cannot be done if the US tries to pull out of Iraq before the government and people have a chance to set up civil institutions that are effective and capable. Those wishing the US ill do not realize that in this fight, one without easy borders against groups that are not Nations, that any loss to those groups puts the entire world at peril. They are using the means of the modern world to attack it, and vigorously. And, as a people, if we do not come to terms with that, then we will be facing an end to ourselves as there is no easy cure to this cancer in the world, only combating it continuously wherever it shows up.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Burns' skills and talent are going to waste at a no-account news organization like the NY Times. Perhaps he could step up in the world to a paper that is *proud* of its photoshopping skills but still tries to *do* hard journalism... like the National Enquirer, maybe. As it is his outlook stands in stark contrast to that of the editorial board and outlook of the organization he works at. An organization that was founded on doing thorough analysis and backgrounding and listening to voices that were little heard. Now the editorial room doors are closed to that, and the voices heard are the echo chamber. Mr. Burns will be heading up the International Bureau from London for the NYT. Perhaps that will *finally* get him a little bit of clout with the Editorial Board.

I for one, am not holding my breath.

And I salute Mr. Burns as one of the last bastions of journalistic integrity at an organization going under in a sea of partisanship.


IceCold said...

Burns is the real thing. I had the privilege of interacting with him quite a bit in Baghdad - and his integrity and intelligence basically led us to throw open the doors to him whenever we could. He was the only reporter around whom people would speak completely freely when "on background," knowing he had the savvy and integrity to make use of the information fairly, that he was using the info as intended, to better understand an issue. "Gotcha" is not something in Burns' make-up. He's a far more serious and intelligent observer than that.

He actually had some pretty solid younger reporters in the bureau, and I think his influence was clear - they were anxious to get it right, to understand, they shared the passion for explaining an issue and not checking a box in the anti-war or conventional fault-finding agenda. And reporters from other organizations would not show intramural jealousy when the subject of Burns came up - many openly displayed great respect for him as the best in the business.

As little as his excellent work may have shaped the overall media treatment of the Iraq story, his departure from Baghdad will still be a great loss for all concerned, including Iraqis, who were never overlooked or sidelined in his reporting. I'm cautiously hopeful that his London gig will actually be able to influence (i.e., improve and uplift) coverage of a wide variety of stories, providing some compensation for his leaving the Iraq story.

A Jacksonian said...

icecold - I think, along with the bloggers who have been over to Iraq to chronicle the deep and abiding problems of its society and peoples, Mr. Burns will serve as one of the few bastions of ethical, honest reporting for this conflict. He has done the hard work to attempt to integrate all he has seen, recognize his own past faults and then understand how those came about.

I have been attentive to the scantiness of his work, first brought to my attention last year, and wish that the MSM would end its 'snippeting' of him to get little sentences here and there to bolster their anti-everything arguments and actually just *listen to him*.

He is one of the key people to understanding the major problems of the West in Iraq and the other bloggers are giving us the detail of Iraqis to put together a fully and wholly different picture of the Nation than *anything* being given through MSM channels. This is true reporting, not just spouting a fact here and there with a boatload of ideology around it. If you want to understand the key elements of Iraq, he and the bloggers who go over and continue to rotate through there along with the Milblogs are the *only* trustworthy news source available, outside of the dry channels of officialdom.

I may disagree with Mr. Burns here and there, but the overall viewpoint I am wholly in accord with. Not only because I worked to it from the other-way around, but because it makes *sense*. Nasty, cold, hard sense... the best kind because if you don't pay attention to it you can end up dead from ignoring it.

The NYT London Bureau for covering International Affairs is about to get a shock with his arrival. I wish him well in that... with 5 more like him in the MSM, we would not be having the problems we have today with journalism because it would be challenged from the *inside*.

I thank you for dropping by and hope you found my transcribing adequate!

IceCold said...

Pleasure to drop by. Your transcription and analysis were far above adequate, of course. Second your idea about more folks like Burns in the MSM. I ran across one or two others - and you'd be surprised at how reasonable some of the TV guys were, even though they had even less scope to do their jobs well - but sadly they stand out in their seriousness and care for their craft.

Then there's the moral problem - Burns clearly is aware of the epic horror that was Iraq for decades before our arrival, understands the ruthless forces we are up against, and manages to avoid the stupefying moral sympathy with or confusion about the enemy so common in the MSM.

A Jacksonian said...

icecold - Mr. Burns mentioned being 'mesmerized' by the Ba'athist State, and that was even after being in other hell-holes like the Magic Kingdom of Mr. Kim. There was something compelling about so openly brutal a dictator that had brazened his way to power and continued with that throughout his blood soaked reign.

At this point in time I see that there are some very good people in Iraq to examine the state of things there... but the only way they can get that across is through that wonderful 'net concept of: disintermediation.

Getting rid of the 'Middle Man'.

Mr. Burns is firewalled off by the Editorial Board and Ownership of the NYT. Those that do first hand, out-of-hotel experiences can get a good feel for people, events and their movements... which is suddenly put to other, lovely Editorial Boards in the MSM. I have had to drastically and in a draconian fashion just *ignore* a number of news outlets as they have become untrustworthy due to their *not* adhering to their own codes of Journalistic Ethics and Conduct. AP and WaPo are two, in particular, that have blatantly broken with their written codes of ethics and are no longer conducting journalism, but partisan oriented outlets of manufactured news. That does have the benefit of screening out most of the BS. They are joined by Reuters, AFP, and just about all the news 'shows' on any network with three or more letters on television.

What is disturbing, however, is not only the paucity of background on places like Iraq by news organizations, pre-war, but by the the entire INTEL Community. The entire treatment of terrorism as a civil police matter, and not as illegitimate warfare, has cost this Nation dearly. Mr. Burns now helps supply context and ongoing view of the events in Iraq and that will be sorely missed there by me and, I suspect, some number of others. While it is very, very good to have multiple, different bloggers and un-intermediated Citizen Journalists over in Iraq, building up the regional context is something that the populace, in general, is not prepared to do. To get the complexity of the Middle East down and *why* Iraq is important to the entire region is something that television is unprepared to do.

As just a Citizen I have had to work very, very hard to understand the depth of complexities there, the short/medium/long/ancient problems there, how those interplay, the nature of actual social structure, how the various cultural/ethnic/religious/social/political views cross each other, and what happens when a brutal dictator starts to erode society to the point where, in places like Fallujah, the *family* is the highest level of trusted organization... not even the Tribe.

When OIF started I gave it at least 8-15 years to get the majority of the fighting done. It will take at least that long for the US to *understand* the region and address it in the particular of Iraq. Mind you, that is just to get basic, civil peace there. That not only *can* be done it *must* be done, or the nature of the region will tear itself to shreds... and most of the rest of the world along with it, and that is *without* nuclear weapons.

The 20th century caused these problems and had no solutions to them. It is frightening to see so much of the media is still *in* the 20th century. Mr. Burns has stepped into the 21st century and is taken aback, and with good reason. I have been for some time, and I know a few others are, too. Slowly we are seeing the first outlines of what needs to be done... and those wishing to live in the past are not only not helping, they are aiding the destruction which supports their lives. Iraq is vital to getting a place that has not seen good governance for generations (if ever) into a pattern of self-government. And like our own Revolution and aftermath of failure, it must be kept at until something *works* that promotes human liberty and freedom.

I place my trust with the Citizen Soldier who knows both warfare and good, functioning civil society that promotes freedom. Taking a cluebat in my own small way to the power strucuture here is what I can do. And so do it. I hope Mr. Burns will keep that good work going, as it is a small world, and his ability to see it clearly even when it is awful, is necessary. We could all learn from him on how to do that.... if we dare.