The intelligence report written by a Marine Colonel in Iraq's Anbar province is a uniquely ominous sign amidst the recent torrent of bad news coming from Iraq. The report essentially says that we've lost Anbar, a Sunni-dominated province about the size of Louisiana, both militarily and politically. The insurgency is strongest in Anbar and Baghdad provinces, but the size and landscape of Anbar makes it an especially attractive and useful base for militant activity and organization. Anbar lacks the oil reserves of the Kurdish north or the Shia south, and without that lucrative resource, and facing a Shia government that seems intent to ignore (at best) the Sunni minority, the Sunni region is descending into a kind of Mad Max environment. They're likely to turn to anyone who can establish a modicum of stability and governance, and so far, that hasn't been the U.S. or the Iraqi government.
For a long time, I thought it unlikely that transnational terrorist groups like al-Qa'ida would be able to set up shop in Iraq because the Islamists in Iraq are usually Shia (whereas al-Qa'ida is overwhelmingly Sunni) and the Sunnis are generally secular and far more nationalist than Islamist. [LSB: Fortunately, Anbar is overwhelmingly Sunni and, without their ‘favored’ status since the fall of Saddam, totally without a connection to the new government in Baghdad.] Through U.S. incompetence and Iraqi neglect, terroristic groups are apparently using the Hamas/Hezbollah strategy of providing basic services to establish themselves within the social structure. Previously comprised of mostly foreign fighters, al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI, a.k.a. al-Qa'ida in the Land of Two Rivers, or QJBR) is gaining indigenous support. This has very little to do with historical disposition and everything to do with desperation and anger from the past few years.
As the situation has deteriorated, insurgent attacks have increased. The report describes Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as an "integral part of the social fabric" of Anbar. The organization, which is predominantly made up of fighters who are native Iraqis, is flush with cash, much of it earned from black market or criminal activity.
Even if we had the manpower, I'm not convinced the U.S. could effectively root out these fighters; this is the kind of issue that Iraqis will have to deal with themselves -- understanding the language and the culture is crucial to that kind of operation. Still, even if we had the expertise, we don't have the troops, despite the Bush administration's continued claim that they respond to commanders in the field.
"What we recommend and what we get is going to be two different things," Colonel Gridley said. "In our perfect world, we could use some more infantrymen to be able to patrol the streets and partner with the Iraqi Army." Since the intelligence assessment was prepared in August, however, no reinforcements have been sent. To the contrary, the strain on the American troops in Anbar has increased. An American Stryker unit, which was under the overall Marine command, has been sent from Rawa to Baghdad to help with the operation there. Also, military police who had been earmarked for training the Iraq police in Anbar have also been sent to Baghdad. The Marines have sought to make up the shortfall by using existing troops.
This is what the Bush administration strategy is in reality: deny, deceive, demagogue… and then clap harder. In November, Americans will have one day, one chance to tell this administration and its backers what we think of their policies and practices, one chance to hold them accountable. Let's do it. Let's change the course.
- AJ in DC, AmericaBlog (AJ is a former Department of Defense civilian Intelligence Officer who was decorated for his recent civilian service in Iraq. He is an Iraq expert, and an authority on Iran, democratization, nation-building, Middle East politics, intelligence, and national security matters. He is a consultant on these and other political subjects, and writes on AMERICAblog about defense issues.)
NOTE THIS CONVERSATION with between CNN Correspondent Michael Ware in Iraq and Wolf Blitzer on Situation Room:
WARE: … I’m quite stunned that people are so surprised by this report. I mean, the situation has not deteriorated. It’s been like this for over a year, perhaps even two… But certainly what the Marine general in charge of Al Anbar said tonight on the conference call is he admitted for the first time that right now, today, through the combination of the U.S. and/or Iraqi forces, he does not have enough troops to win against the al Qaeda insurgency. His mission is to train, he said. If his mission was to change and that to be to win, then his metrics, his troop numbers would have to change. This is not new. Al Qaeda has owned Al Anbar for quite some time. And the soldiers out there are being left out there undermanned just to hold the line. They’ve been screaming for more troops for at least a year and a half — Wolf.
BLITZER: But it seems like the U.S. military has put a priority, as you know, Michael, on getting the job done in Baghdad and the surrounding areas of Baghdad. That’s where they are bringing reinforcements. That’s where they are moving troops. And they are sort of relegating the Anbar Province out in the west, which is a huge part of Iraq, to a lesser priority. Is that accurate?
WARE: That’s certainly what I’m being told by senior military intelligence officials. They are saying that Al Anbar and Ramadi (INAUDIBLE), like a saw, as long as we win Baghdad. But that’s very shortsighted. I mean, if this is the global war on terror, President Bush put Al Anbar in the center of the war on terror. And they are undermanning it. I mean, this is making al Qaeda stronger, not weaker. This is giving them the oxygen they need to breathe — Wolf.
BLITZER: …Give us a little flavor, Michael, of how the U.S. men and women, the military personnel who are deployed to the Anbar Province, how they are dealing with this…
WARE: …[T]hey stand by their resolve to fight where the president needs them. But the toll it has taken on them out there. I mean, Ramadi is referred to as the "Meat Grinder." And that’s really what it’s been… it’s just so hard to express, Wolf, what the — what the battle is like out there. And it’s a false measure. I mean, America, at the end of the day, in terms of fighting al Qaeda here in Iraq, is not committing to the fight. And it’s the same across the country. Al Anbar does not have enough troops. Iraq does not have enough troops. You either do this war, or you don’t. And that’s the feeling of the men on the ground — Wolf.
LSB: Let me make sure I understand this: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bolton and the other GOP chickenhawks have, in effect, “cut and run” from oil-poor Anbar province, leaving vulnerable a small number of U.S troops to train Iraqi security sources in a large territory which is conveniently situated between the weapons and funding sources of Syria and Saudi Arabia and is relatively open to Al Qaeda training camps… AND they want the U.S. to stay with this course of action. What could possible co wrong with this plan? I am, however, a little confused about the message this sends our troops, the fledgling Iraqi government Bush installed, and the families of the U.S. troops killed there. But then again, if you just say "Stay the Course" enough times and call anyone who questions these policies unpatriotic or anti-military you'll get enough people who will believe you.