NRO Symposium on the New Strategy for Iraq

Iraq. Click map to view.

I was invited to join a National Review Online Symposium on the New Strategy for Iraq. The questions were: Did the president say what needed to be said? Will it help? Also participating in the symposium are: Peter Brookes, Clark Judge, Clifford D. May, James S. Robbins, Joseph Morrison Skelly, and Nicholas J. Xenakis.

I only had 200 words (and used 300), and reprinted my response below. After the NRO segment, I will clarify a few points in case there are any questions. The plans is comprehensive, and properly addresses all three problem areas: military, political and economic.

My major concerns are: is the Maliki government serious about tackling Sadr and the Shia miitias, are we deploying enough forces to do the job, will Syria and Iran be dealt with in a meaningful fashion, and will the civilian arm of the government live up to its commitments to deploy with the Brigade Combat Teams at the provincial level? All of that being said, the plan on paper looks good. I believe General Petraeus is the right commander to execute this policy. As always, our military is up to the task, our success or failure in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere depends on the will of our political leaders and the nation.

From the NRO Symposium:

President Bush articulated a comprehensive and intelligent strategy to turn the tide in Iraq. The new strategy deals with some major shortcomings in the Iraq theater over the past few years: lack of pressure on the Iraqi government to take charge of security and rein in Muqtada al-Sadr and the militias; restrictive rules of engagement; the absence of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program program, which puts cash in the hands of combat commanders; the absence of a public campaign against Iran and Syria; lack of involvement of State, Commerce, and other important U.S. institutions at a provincial level. The new Iraq strategy provides solutions to these problems.

Questions still remain. Are 17,500 U.S. troops enough to secure Baghdad? Are we devoting too few forces to Anbar? Will the Iraqi government follow through on its pledge to deal with Sadr and the militias? Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has balked in the past, but his recent statements have been encouraging. Will Iran, which is rightfully a charter member of the Axis of Evil, be dealt with meaningfully? The strategy towards Iran and Syria appears to be largely defensive, although the public announcement of the deployment of carrier battle groups and Patriot missile batteries sends a strong message. Will the changes in the rules of engagement include ending the dangerous and demoralizing “catch and release” program, where arrested insurgents are freed and allowed to return to the streets, where they continue committing attacks due to an overly generous military justice system? Are State, Commerce, and other civilian agencies truly committed to success in Iraq? Their commitment to date has been paltry, and the U.S. military has shouldered the burden of reconstruction the country.

To clarify:

On Sadr and the Mahdi Army: We’ve created this monster, and now its time to put it down. We failed by not taking the opportunity to kill Sadr after his Mahdi Army was roundly defeated in the Najaf uprising in August of 2004. Sadr was allowed to regenerate and rebuild his militia, now estimated between 10,000 to 60,000 fighters. Sadr’s militia can be defeated on the streets. It will be bloody, but the message will be sent. A legitimate government must maintain a monopoly on force, and Sadr’s Mahdi Army is openly contesting this monopoly. But we can’t stop with the Mahdi Army. If Sadr won’t disband it, he must be removed, lest he pull his phoenix routine yet again.

On the force level, partnering U.S. troops in Baghdad with Iraqi troops is a tried and proven tactic. The 17,500 troops may indeed be enough for the job. But what concerns me is the small surge in Anbar province (read Ramadi.) Only 4,000 Marines will be deployed here, and this is not enough to finish clearing Ramadi as an al Qaeda sanctuary. The rat line from Syria cannot be meaningfully addressed without clearing Ramadi, then maintaining the offensive in the rest of Anbar. The U.S. has been successful in reducing violence when retaining the initiative, and I am not convinced 4,000 Marines are enough to sustain this. And as Baghdad is cleared, al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents will pour back into Anbar, Diyala and Salahidin provinces in an attempt to regroup. Are we prepared for this? It appear the ultimate goal is to drive the insurgency from Baghdad and give the Iraqi government space, but this shouldn’t come at the expense of the provinces.

On Iran and Syria, the President did some serious saber rattling. But will this be followed up with meaningful action? Are we willing to strike at known insurgent training camps and staging areas in Syria? Will we do the same in Iran? How will the borders be sealed? Will we release IRGC and Qods Force leaders and operatives if the Iraqi government demands it? Will we push for regime change in Iran? Is our information campaign up to the task? The current plan appears one of defense, not offense, and in war defense is for losers.

Concerning the civilian arm of the government’s participation in Iraq, as I noted, the Defense Department has carried all of the water in Iraq. In the course of three embeds, two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, I only encountered one member of the State Department in the field. One. I met thousands upon thousands of soldiers and Marines and sailors. Miltary officers and enlisted serve as diplomats on a daily basis, and can use the support from State, USAID, Commerce, Treasury…

On one final note, President Bush called for Congress to increase the size of the military. One of President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld’s greatest failures After 9-11 has been the failure to push to expand the size of the Army and Marines. Our Army was double the size during the Cold War (20 divisions vice 10 today) and we had a volunteer Army at the end of the Cold War. We should have increased the size of the Army by 5 divisions and the Marine Corps by 1 division at a minimum. This would have been an easy pitch for the President after 9-11, but is now difficult under the current, divided political atmosphere in the United States.

It is a national disgrace we have to juggle unit deployments to obtain 20,000 troops for a critical deployment. The scramble to accelerate and extend troop deployments is bad for morale, training, equipment maintenance and is hard on the military families, who have shouldered all of the burdens in this war. But let me say I have seen nothing but professionalism displayed by our servicemen over this. America is the world’s lone superpower, and our enemies are watching as we struggle to find troops to man a critical mission.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • Andrew R. says:

    A legitimate government must maintain a monopoly on force, and Sadr’s Mahdi Army is openly contesting this monopoly.
    The problem is that Sadr is a part of that very government (holding 5 ministries, IIRC). He hangs out in the Green Zone, and when he gives orders, Maliki tends to snap to. That we made Iraq a (more or less functional) democracy means that we have to deal with people in said democracy who control a great deal of popular support.

  • pedestrian says:

    How did someone get an estimate of 60,000 Mahdi Army members? I had that estimate in mind, but only a guess from the number of ballots casted for the party supporting Al Sadr in the last election, which was also around 60,000. I guess the number of Al Sadr’s Mahdi Army from 4,000 to 60,000. If my memory is correct, at one parade by Mahdi Army, there was a news source mentioning 4,000 but only in Basra alone. This will be a tough fight if we are going to face 60,000. Well, actually certain percentage of that in the operation of Baghdad alone, with others in other cities.

  • Drazen Gemic says:

    I am not convinced that Al-Sadr is a “monster we’ve created”. I live in Croatia, one of the countries of what was once known as Yugoslavia. I believe that I know a thing or two about ethnic hatred and ethnic clensing.
    Sadr might be just an instrument of the certain interest of Shiite population. Shiite were oppressed for centuries, and slaghtered recently by Al-Qaeda. They want revenge, and they want Sunni out of Iraq, or dead. We are talking about centuries of accumulated hatred and about ethnic clensing. Sadr is just pragmatic and skilled politician who is aware of that. Remove Sadr, and somebody else will take his place. Iraqi authorities are just more politically correct than Sadr, but they are, more or less, on the same team.
    Iraq is not Bosnia, it is much bigger, and the people are different. I don’t believe that same methods apply there.

  • Gordon says:

    Sorry Andrew: I am not sure what your point is.
    Sadr should have been destroyed a year or so ago. The fact that he is in some sense part of a democratic process or has popular support does not prevent him being an enemy that it is essential to eliminate along with countless thousands of his militants.

  • Artbyruth says:

    DG- I agree with you. This hatred between tribes in Iraq has been in place for centuries. The USA cannot simply make it go away.
    But I do think the President’s plan is a step in the right direction.
    As far as Roggio’s comment about the President’s failure to increase the size of the military after 9-11….we have to remember that our nation was recovering from a huge financial burden of bailing out the airline as well as trying to save our economy. Tax cuts did this. Expanding the military would have costs billions at a time when we needed to secure our economy first. I think 2004 would have been the year to finally increase troop levels in Iraq as well as increase military size. The tax cuts were working by 2004 and our economy was growing stronger.
    I do agree that we needed more troops in Iraq after the fall of Baghdad. 300,000 troops would have been a formidable show of force.
    But hindsight is 20/20. We have to deal with the present and the future now. This plan will help.

  • Mark Buehner says:

    Is there any particular reason we can’t create a barrier between Syria and Iraq equivalent to the DMZ in Korea? Ie, land mines, berms, and razor wire? I know the Dems and the Euroes will have kittens if we plant tens of thousands of mines, but who cares? This is something that should have been done years ago.

  • Cruiser says:

    I suspect we may have conducted airstrikes in Iran. There was a report on Reuters of powerful (building shaking) explosions in southern Iran.
    I can no longer find the report.
    Iran is not saying anything about it. Which means they do not want to openly escalate and do not want to admit they have been it. By not announcing it, we are given them a choice to back down but save face.
    Debka (I know – unreliable) reports the same explosions and some in Baluchistan sayign that they were in areas where iran plans and trains for actions in Iraq.

  • Cruiser says:

    Here is a link to a report on the explosions in Iran on Al Jazeera (again – a questionable source).

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I understand. Just to be clear, I’m not trying to back-bite here. The point I was trying to make was our force is too small, and increasing the size of the force is a much more difficult sell in today’s political climate. We could have eaten the billions needed per division. Everything has a cost, and today we’re seeing the costs of failing to invest in our armed forces.

  • Cruiser says:

    Here is the link to the Reuters article on the explosions in Iran:
    It gives the name of the source for the reports as an Iranian news agency.
    In my initial comment, I should have sprinkled in a lot more “may haves” and “could haves” – my suspicion does not have a lot of support.
    However, with the tough words from the President last night and the move against the Iranian consulate got me thinking when I saw reports of large explosions.
    I can think of no more direct way of conveying to the Iranians that the game has changed than to say it and immediately back it up with substantial action.
    That is exactly how I would do it if I were president.

  • Charlotte says:

    Agree with you on every point, but it’s especially good to hear you stress the (belated) need for more Army and Marine divisions. My husband was involved with Army force generation issues and, while the brass is working miracles and getting innovative, too much burden still rests upon the shoulders of our overdeployed, overworked, fine soldiers and Marines.
    The world is not a safe place and it’s getting too small for us to pretend we can ignore existential and economic threats.
    Also, wonderful to hear reports of explosions in Iran as exclamation points to Bush’s speech. Now, how about Syria?

  • Richard L says:

    “only 4,000 Marines”
    Only 12,000 Marines were able to fight their way out of entrapment surrounded by 60,000 Chinese troops, while the US 8th Army panicked and ran in full retreat.
    Quality is more important than quanity.

  • Andrew R. says:

    The problem is making the distinction between Sadr and the Iraqi government. Ever since Sistani arm-twisted us into elections, one of the big points the U.S. has been making is that we’re in Iraq promoting democracy and defending an elected and democratic government.

    Sadr for good or (mostly) for ill a part of that democratic government. So talking about the government going after Sadr tends to be a bit unrealistic. We could talk about SCIRI and Dawa edging Sadr out of the United Iraqi Accord, but by that point, we’re not really talking about anything representing the people of Iraq–we’re talking about strenthening factions who only have our interest at heart in the very short term.

  • Skeptic says:

    Davy – “There’s really only been three successful occupying armies in modern history: the Red Army, the Nazis, and the Japanese Imperial Army.” – Really? I seem to recall somebody occupying and rebuilding Germany and Japan after WWII. Who could that have been?

  • Justin B says:

    I think part of the problem with increasing the size of the military is that simultaneously, Rummy was trying to sell the BRAC closures and reductions in military forces. The fact is that our military has many outdated functions that need to be eliminated and that entails entire military leadership chains that need to be eliminated. If we were to say we need to expand this or that and at the same time reduce this other area, what would happen is we would shift officers from outdated areas (i.e. artillery, etc.) into critical positions like intel, special forces, etc.
    Our military needs to be growing and shrinking at the same time. We need more special forces, particullarly forces that are trained and specialize in nation building and training foreign military. We need more flexibility and more intel. We need more language specialists, etc. Yet at the same time, we need to streamline a lot of the paperpushing folks and eliminate the inefficiencies of the leadership structure.
    Rummy was brought in to transform the Pentagon when Bush nominated him. He was brought in to rebuild our capabilities for fighting a new type of war. Problem is that the war started before he had finished restructuring. I think his successes at restructuring the military will be overlooked because he has been saddled with the blame for his failures in Iraq, but I don’t think he could sell expanding the military at the same time as he was trying to sell BRAC.

  • The arguments made here about Sadr are similar to the arguments that I heard at I MEF headquarters in Camp Babylon in August 2003. Marine snipers had Sadr in their crosshairs several times but never received the go ahead to shoot. The policy decision at the time was to contain him rather than eliminate him.
    Quite possibly this decision was a mistake, but I agree with the comment from the fellow in Croatia: Sadr represents a discontented portion of the Shia populace and simply eliminating the man does not remove the discontent of the populace. Sadr’s assasination would have created a martyr than some other firebrand would have picked up and used to his advantage. There were no easy choices in Iraq and this was one of them.
    As I have said here before, calls to close the Iranian and Syrian borders are easy to say but we lack the forces to make this strategy work. We can’t even close the U.S. – Mexican border here in the U.S. and we have a lot more resources available to accomplish that task.
    We have to gain and maintain security in the capital. The Florida National Guard has adopted a policy during disasters that is very fitting to this subject: “Presence is a mission.” The fact that our citizens see the Guard in the streets after a disaster is reassuring to the public. The Iraqi citizens need the reassurance that comes with a continuous presence.
    More important than the additional troops is the new strategy to garrison American troops with the Iraqi Army in the different parts of the city. This continued presence may bring us the security that they need.

  • Justin B says:

    On Sadr, he is in power because he tapped a vein of hatred toward Sunnis by the Shiites. Simple consequences of being repressed for 30 years, hostility and anger builds. Anger and hate is the lowest common political denominator. American political leaders use the same resentment (but in our case it is racial of class warfare not religious anger) to keep themselves in power. Shiites want someone to unite them and lead them against the Sunnis. And to some extent, they have a right to some retribution.
    Dealing with Sadr is not what we need to deal with. Dealing with the Shiite sentiment of wanting to retaliate against the Sunnis for 30 years of Saddam is what we need to deal with. And it is naive to think that in 3+ years of being there and creating a democracy, that we have defused this timebomb of anger. And if we do a partial job of dealing with him like we did last time, and then we abandon Iraq, Sadr is going to end up running the country. We have to demonstrate that we are going to be around long enough to stabilize things.

  • Michael says:

    Excellent discussion on all issues. If Maliki is not willing to take on Sadr, then why not have our intel expose expose Sadr’s connections(Iran,Syria)? He did go to Damascus for that infamous meeting of scoundrels.
    Would shining light on all his operations in the public media both in Iraq and Western media not help? He is deeply involved with Iran and has stated publically his support of Syria. And we now have the smoking gun evidence of Iranian documents, numbers, etc., just recently captured.
    Any thoughts?
    We certainly need to make Iran start paying for their subterfuge and destabalization of Iraq. They need to feel the cost of their decisions with instability in their own country.
    I noticed we put the financial squeeze on their 5th largest bank. More operations need to be done like this in every area.
    Regarding strategy surrounding Baghdad. Is it possible to focus cordon and search methods that force the enemy to flee in only one direction? Close all sides of the maze but one, limiting the terrorist exit routes and directing them into waiting traps?
    Regarding the history of hatred, oppression and violence. The Sunni, Shia, Kurds, and other ethnic divisions have been going on for 1000 years. It will take a focused effort to move moderate leadership to the top. It will take a generation or more to remove much of this hatred. But we also must realize that many Iraqi’s are intertwined already thru marriage and tribal relationships. It is only the extreme elements who are pushing the sectarian infighting.
    It may sound silly. But simple things like the soccer makes a difference as all sides come together in a team. Public service announcements repeating team togetherness, even showing the weddings of Sunni and Shia and denouncing the hatred, can marginalize the hate mongers and murderers. It has to be a full blitz effort of public media efforts to lift up what is good in society and condemn what is wrong in society and the enemy on both sides.
    It is one more tool in the war. I’d create commercials which show the hatred being spewed out by both sides and show what fools they are to the ordinary people. And ask questions like, why aren’t these people who call for death, dying themselves???

  • liberalhawk says:

    my thoughts
    re Sadr – yes he resulted from Shia – sunni hatred. But in the last year hes also aggravated it. Not all Shia hate all Sunni despite the Saddam years (and before) and the insurgency – the reaction to the Samarra bombing, by sending out death-torture squads, only reinforced Sunni support for insurgents, esp in parts of Baghdad where the insurgents hadnt been that strong, IIUC. Which in turn reinforced Shia support for the militias. Youve got to break a vicious cycle somewhere.
    Democracy – A UIA made without the Sadrists, but with support from other Iraqi factions, could still command an overwhelming parliamentary majority. Thats still democracy in my book, even if we are manipulating the cabinet. You think Israeli PMs dont (sometimes) look at US desires when putting together cabinets? You think the need for US support didnt have something to do with Sharon inviting Labour into coalition? Thats the reality when you need an outside powers help.
    Whether Maliki will come through I dont know. If he doesnt, wed better figure it out fast, and try to replace him – we dont have much time left.

  • sangell says:

    Enjoyed all the comments. Serious thinking here.
    A few comments er maybe questions.
    What happens if Turkey goes into Iraq to get at the Kurds?
    What happens if the Mehdi ‘army’ goes after the
    British Army in Basra? Blair is more of a lameduck than Bush. He’ll be gone by summer or even sooner if things go south in Basra.
    I’m sorry. Bush may have a plan but we are 3 years and 9 months into this. A little late in the game to say ‘mistakes were made’.
    I agree entirely with Bill Roggio that the failure to increase our armed forces in the aftermath of 9/11 was a mistake. It was beyond a mistake though. You don’t announce that there will be a long war ahead, that you are going to send our armed forces into the heart of the middle east, and not create the forces necessary for such a prolonged struggle.
    I’m sorry, I have no more confidence in George
    W. Bush. He failed and he should resign.

  • I am particularly intrigued by the thought of some kind of action FINALLY being taken against Iran for their continued taking of American life with impunity.
    Condi’s words today and Bush’s last night, coupled with those possible explosions today and the captured Iranians gives me some hope that we haven’t lost all our will on confronting this stuff.
    I think the IED factories in Iran and terror sancturias/camps in Syria need to be hit either directly with air strikes or with special force squads, possibly even Iraqi special forces if they are told why they are doing it. The insurgency will never die if it keeps being fed from those places.

  • Cruiser says:

    I’m sure the explosions were not the US military causing problems in Iran. Gen. Pace said this today:
    “We can take care of the security for our troops by doing the business we need to do inside of Iraq,” Pace told reporters in a briefing with Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. “But with regard to those who are physically present trying to do harm to our troops, regardless of nationality, we will go after them and defend ourselves.”
    Others in the administration also made it clear that we would not take any action in Iran or Syria. Andrew McCarthy wrote the following about a brief heand some other conservatives received form Tony Snow today:
    “Tony made a point of saying that the President’s warning doesn’t mean we are going to be invading Iran or Syria – any military responses against Iranian/Syrian elements inside will, it appears, be inside Iraq. OK. But why tell them that? Wouldn’t whatever in terrorem effect we are hoping to have on these regimes be furthered by at least making them wonder how far we’re willing to go.”
    Apparently not. This is no better then Clinton declaring during the Serbian conflict that we were not going to use ground troops.
    My gut tells me that this “surge” will not succeed if the administration is already backpeddling on the price our foes will pay for killing our soldiers.
    I pray my gut is wrong.

  • Drazen Gemic says:

    In reply to Artbyruth:
    I didn’t say that the plan layed out by Mr. Bush is bad. I just want to say that American effort, so far, reminds me of Bosnian strategy. Intentational force in Bosnia removed extreme nationalists in hope that moderates will take over. I am afraid that it would not be enough in Iraq. What does it mean “moderate” at Middle East ? Is Maliki moderate ? He comes from Dawa party, and one of key founders of Dawa party was Sadr’s father.
    I have another question and I’d like someone to try to answer me. Why is Sadr anti-American ? Could it be changed, somehow ?
    In year 2003 US and British forces were allied with Badr-SCIRI-Hakim faction. They are rival faction to Sadr, a competition for Shiite spiritual leadership. In 80’s Badr faction fled Iraq and moved to Iran, while Sadrists stayed despite the peril under Sadam’s regime. In 2003 and 2004 Sadr was desperately trying to gain control of the Najaf temple. He probably believes that he is entitled to become a Shiite leader more than anybody else.
    What am I trying to say is that, maybe, his primary problem is Badr-SCIRI-Hakim faction, and not the American and British forces. I am not trying to say that I am positive about that. I’d just like someone to comment.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    Since everyone else seems to be throwing there two cents in about Sadr, I might as well join the discussion. The political situation surrounding Sadr is complex. He does have considerable native Shiite support in Iraq and also receives more funding from Iran than any other faction. That being said, I think it would be an oversimplification to call him Iran’s man in Iraq. Sadr and the movement around him often seem to have their own purposes and internal inertia that have a life along with and occasionally in spite of close ties to Iran.
    Let me throw in some of the dynamics that are in play. One dominating dynamic is the historical dominance of the Sunni faction over Shiite. Except for a short time the Sunni’s have always politically dominated and governed the Shiite faction. I believe the only historical time that Shiite dominated was before the rise of Ottoman dominance during a period when a Shiite dominated Iran had risen to political power. This was hundreds of years ago. Because of this the Shiite faction has no history of self governance. What political rights and power they exercised during the Ottoman period was largely through their religious figures. Not only is democratic government alien to them they also lack any historical institutions of governance other than the clerical hierarchy. This has contributed to factional nature of the Shiite parties who seem to have difficulty even conceptualizing the idea of consensus building and compromise necessary to build a functioning representative government.
    The Sunni side has this far totally rejected the prospect of a Shiite dominated government. Much of the population sees a Shiite led government as a disturbance of the natural order of things. This is exploited by different resistance factions both Baath or Sunni Islamist for their own political purposes.
    The emergence of Sadr as a factional leader has many aspects and to say he is a creation of US policy gets most of the picture wrong. The seed of Sadr’s presence is his families historic leadership of one of Iraq’s chief religious factions. Note that the Shiite clergy is much more hierarchical than the Sunni. The Sadr faction already had it’s place in the political scheme of things. Also, large portions of the population already had long historical ties to the Sadr family.
    Since the fall of Baghdade Iran has attempted to influence and forward it’s political favorites within the Shiite factions. Early on it funded multiple factions in order to gain favor and also assassinated opponents. Sadr quickly became a favorite as he openly resisted American troops. Remember also that the Badr organization allied themselves with Sistani’s position to cooperate with the US in order to form a government. For this their leader was assassinated and others threatened.
    Remember also that the Sunni Fallujah uprising and Sadr’s uprising in 2004 were simultaneous. Sadr’s organization claimed that it was the shutting down of their newspaper which precipitated the uprising. It is an open question whether this was really true or just served as pretext for a simultaneous uprising. Did Sadr coordinate his first uprising with AQ. Sadr’s move against the holy sites in Karbala and Najaf were not spontaneous but a preplanned attempt to seize power. Also damning is the level of cooperation in cutting the road between Baghdad and Kabala. This area south of Baghdad in mixed Shiite and Sunni. The Sunni on Shiite bombing wasn’t part of the mix yet Remember that the bombing campaigns against the Iraqi army began in earnest only with the first election and provisional government (Sadr’s faction excluded) in March 2004.
    After grinding down the main trust of his insurrection in Karbala and Najaf, the decision was made to try to buy Sadr off instead of eliminating him. Neither the US or Shiite factions wanted to deal with the possibility of making Sadr a martyr. Much of Sadr’s organization would have remained as a resistance element with the added backing of the Iranians. Sistani’s coalition decided to give Sadr’s organization an equal number of representatives as Badr in the election. In return Sadr would agree to work nominally within the government process. That’s how Sadr’s organization got it’s 30 seats in parliament. In fact it decided to also run as an independent party as well to get 2 additional seats. That’s how they ended up the with the largest representation in parliament. Malaki was a compromise candidate they forced, than proceeded to alienate.
    Why did the US let Sadr get away with it. I think the decision had a lot to do with the weakness of our position after the Fallujah uprising. Anbar province was lost. The US controlled it’s bases and nominally controlled Baghdad but of the western outskirts of Baghdad had been heavily infiltrated. The southern approaches to Western Baghdad had been severed. The first version of the Iraqi army disintegrated. Worst of all, we nearly had a full out Shiite insurrection on our hands as well. The situation was much worse in 2004 than now. The first concern of the US was to pacify the Shiite population and solidify it’s own position. That meant Sadr would have to wait for later while the first order was to clear the approaches to Baghdad. The US would spend the next year and a half taking down the Sunni enclave starting southwest of Baghdad. Sadr and his Iranian backers would rebuild their position and wait.
    I hope that’s a decent outline of the first half of the Sadr story. It’s not meant to be comprehensive but I hope it brings up a number of critical events and issues. It’s quick and dirty so forgive the sloppyness.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    Looks like I already killed the tread, so this addition won’t do any more damage.
    I see one major thing I left out of my outline. That is the political Islamist movement that has swept much of the Muslim world. The various forms of Islamist movement has unfortunately become the dominant movement for change much like various forms of nationalism where in the post colonial 50’s and 60’s. There are two dominant blanches of the Islamist movement reflect the division of Islam into Shia and Sunni and started in Iran and Egypt respectively in the 50’s. While they have grown separately first with the Iranian Revolution. The Sunni version has been bumping around for some time since Nasser through the Islamist out of Egypt and they took refuge in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The first Islamist war was the 1963 Yemen war against Nasser supported socialist Aden. Still the Sunni movement remained in the sidelines as various Arab socialist movements took precedence. The Sunni movement got it’s big push during the Afghanistan war in the 1980’s than spread to North Africa.
    As the various westernized socialist experiments failed more Muslims turned to a rejectionist stance and sought purely Islamic solutions. Islamist movement were only partly revivalist in the sense they wanted to bring back the time when Islam was dominant. They are also thoroughly rejectionist in the western counterculture tradition. They reflect the rejectionist language and ideology that the western left as socialism became less a real viable economic option and more of an social stance against the modern world. I might point out that leftist and Islamist critique of western civilization are identical in many respects. The Islamist seeks a total break with western modernism and an escape into a time of past glory.
    The Islamist movement has lately become characterized by violent total rejection or any semblance of the modern state and society. Iran by contrast is an intermediate stage that places a religious hierarchy atop a Soviet style command economy. Today’s Sunni radicals have become so violent they may have become incompatible with established states. In fact one of the stated goals is the need to lay all semblance of modern society to waste and bring about a religious state in it’s place with Mohammad’s 7th century society as the ideal. The Shiite version is the coming of Mahdi the final prophet.
    Getting back to how this applies to our situation in Iraq. The United States has gone right into the teeth of both the Shiite and Sunni forms of this movement. In part it is a reaction to the US presence but even more so we have come up against the movement of the moment. This movement seems to be suicidal religious fantasy at it’s core and aims to take us down with it. They have stated time and time again that we are the antithesis of what they are about.
    I thought Sadr was a cynical manipulator of all this Mahdi stuff, which still could be true to an extent. I have come to an increasing conclusion that he is a true believer though. That presents a big problem since that means there is absolutely no reasoning with him. He’s a man on a mission. He’s making the way for the prophet.

  • hamidreza says:

    Interesting essay, neo-anderthal, and thank you. In addition to the nationalist legacy of today’s Islamist movement, we should of course add the communist movement of the 50s and 60s, before the discredting of socialism, as a precursor to this movement. What would normally be a leftward ideological moment, back at that time, is now developed into an Islamist moment in Muslim countries and strong sympathy by disaffected youth (leftist or fascist) in non-Muslim countries, for the Islamists.
    It should be added that Sadr rigged the elections to his own benefit to the extent that he found it possible. Reports are rife with his armed thugs taking over polling stations and forcing voters to publicly declare their choice of vote (to Sadr), complete with a koranic vow, punishable by death, prior to being allowed to vote at the station.
    Furthermore, Sadr is beholden to the nationalist-fundamentalist (Ahmadinejad – IRGC) faction of the Iranian ruling establishment. Other Iranian factions (pragmatic-conservative, reformist, moderate-religious) are not supporters of Sadr, and prefer other Shiite players in Iraq such as SCIRI. The rivalry between SCIRI and Sadr in many ways reflects the factional divisions in Tehran.

  • Strategy analysis

    Bill Roggio, over at The Fourth Rail has someimportant things to say about the new strategy for Iraq. President Bush articulated a comprehensive and intelligent strategy to turn the tide in Iraq. The new strategy deals with some major shortcomings…

  • Neo-andertal says:

    Two things:
    First: The Sunni branches of the Islamist movement have adopted the anti western language of the counterculture left. The Islamist movement existed alongside and has mixed with the other nationalist and socialist revolutionary movements and has picked up much from other previously dominant factions. In the end though they have rejected socialism as such as just another western contaminant. The recent trend has been to mix Islamic prayer and pronouncements in their propaganda and rhetoric. You still can pick a lot of leftist rhetoric out of their pronouncements. They’ve put together quite a hodgepodge of inflammatory rhetoric and twisted extremist ideas. I would however be a little careful trying to draw too close of associations between the western left and Muslim extremist groups.
    The Iranian model by contrast is basically the Soviet system with the party replaced by the religious hierarchy.
    Second: I don’t think SCIRI’s position can easily be portrayed as having a really close relationship with any Iranian faction. True the relationships are there and many Iranian factions give money and support to gain favor. As far a Iran is concerned SCIRI’s position has been compromised somewhat by it’s alliance with Sistani and it’s cooperation with the American occupation. SCIRI was also deeply affected by the assassination of their leader Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim older brother of the current leader and attempts against the lives of others among their leadership. It is not known who exactly was responsible but a certain distrust of Iranian parties developed. The Americans and various member of the Shiite coalition make strange bedfellow but have found a working relationship absolutely necessary. So far SCIRI has been the primary supporter of the central government. No mater what our reservations it has been to our mutual advantage to work with each other. There is a dual standard in play. Those parties that play ball and contribute to the government will quite likely have their militias eventually integrated into Iraqi security arrangement. Those that challenge the government and promote sectarian violence will have to be put down. You can’t put together a government without favoring certain factions whose goals are compatible with the survival of that government. The best that can be done for other factions is allow them enough latitude to join the government at some point, or put them down if they persistently oppose the formation of a government.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    I hope you can parse that. It seriously needs a rewrite.

  • sangell says:

    Informative analysis Neo-andertal.
    I have read that much of al Sadr’s financing
    comes, not from Iran, but from the control of
    the sale of propane gas and the like.
    Whatever al Sadr’s motivations maybe it would
    seem a number of his commanders are motivated by
    profit. Might we and the Iraqi government make
    use of this by formalizing and recognizing the
    various militia commanders ‘franchises’ on the
    sale of petro products. Becoming a millionaire
    can make a stable government and social order a
    lot more appealing than risking it all waging
    jihad against American and Iraqi troops.


Islamic state



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