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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 10, 2105

Our Havanese dog Bandit lost his fight with an autoimmune disease at age 15 this past Tuesday:

DSCN5103

Gonna miss him terribly.

Turning to other news, what does the Dallas attack against police mean for the rest of this American summer? As Mark Shields said on PBS, “events are in the saddle”, and there is a distinct feeling that our leadership is not only not in control, but they have no answers.

No one knows what the reaction will be to New Orleans, Minneapolis and Dallas:

COW Dallas Reaction 2

Despite all we know, we can’t escape our need for Gunz:

Culture of Violence

Some truths demand an explanation:

COW Broken Tail Light

Our satellite in orbit around the giant gas planet Jupiter found something horrifying:

COW Gaseous Titan

The Brits waited seven years for the Chilcot report on Tony Blair’s role in the Iraq War:

COW Chillicot Report.gif

Really, is W. sorry? Maybe he’s sorry he got 4500 American soldiers killed, and another 32,000 wounded. And unknown numbers of American military damaged mentally. Or, that the Middle East is totally destabilized. Or, that our economy crashed. Or, that the country is totally polarized. Maybe he’s sorry, but that’s highly doubtful.

You know, it was OKAY  because a Republican did it.

That’s the mission he accomplished.

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Sectarian Divide Could Destroy Iraq

Yesterday we explained that, although Kurds are Sunnis, they fight ISIS, which is a Sunni movement. Today, we look at an example of how the Sunni-Shia divide elsewhere in Iraq seems deep enough that it might never be resolved.

The Wall Street Journal has a report on the efforts to resettle Sunnis into areas that were held by ISIS and liberated by Shia: (brackets and editing by the Wrongologist)

ISIS was driven out of Mohamad Mutlaq’s hometown in central Iraq six months ago, and since then, he and his family have tried every few days to…go home. But…each time [Sunnis] approach a bridge to cross back into the town of Yathrib, Shiite tribesmen at a checkpoint beat the Sunni refugees, saying: “Don’t even try to come back…”

The WSJ calls Yathrib a failure in Iraq’s efforts to repopulate ISIS-held Sunni areas, and it points to Tikrit as a success. Tikrit was recaptured from ISIS three months ago, and it is now at the center of a government campaign to rebuild and repopulate the area. But, the challenges are huge:

Tikrit and Yathrib, both in Salahudeen province, illustrate the challenges Iraq faces in trying to resettle…nearly three million displaced people in areas recaptured from ISIS.

Most towns and villages retaken from ISIS remain largely unpopulated as the government struggles to build a process that will return residents to their home towns. Security preparations, mine clearing and infrastructure rebuilding contribute to delays. Yathrib has been empty for six months since its 60,000 people fled ISIS. From the WSJ:

Instead, they couldn’t get past the checkpoint run by a Shiite tribe known as Bani Saad. An Iraqi army unit and three Shiite militias are posted inside the town, but there is little sign of any reconstruction.

When WSJ visited, they saw pockmarked walls of empty homes. Acres of grape vineyards have gone unattended for months. The ceilings of most houses leading into Yathrib are completely collapsed, suggesting they were blown up with improvised explosive devices. Yathrib residents and tribal leaders say Shiite militias aided by the town’s Shiite neighbors have blown up some buildings, while members of the Shiite militia stationed in the town say ISIS fighters blew up the buildings before retreating:

Residents of Yathrib and its neighboring Shiite hamlets are descendants of the same tribe, split into Sunni and Shiite branches. Shiite tribal leaders accuse their Sunni brethren of enabling ISIS to stage attacks against them from the town last summer. They have demanded their Sunni neighbors be allowed to return only on certain conditions.

The neighboring Shiite tribes suggest punitive measures for Sunni Yathrib residents. They included blood money payments, buffer zones between the town and its Shiite neighbors, and even a separate water supply. The Sunni and Shiite areas would report to separate local administrations.

Some of Yathrib’s Sunnis acknowledge they supported ISIS but refuse to apologize for it. The Shiite leader whose tribesmen guard one crossing into Yathrib, said his tribe would accept only blood money paid by the Sunni tribes themselves, not the government, saying:

If the government brings back the people of Yathrib without meeting our conditions, we are going to kill them all.

Tikrit is a different story. Last week, there was an orderly return of 1,400 families to Tikrit, a fraction of the 160,000 people originally displaced from the city.

Iraq’s government claims the return of Tikrit residents is an example of Sunni cooperation with the Shiite-majority militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Those forces led battles across Salahudeen province, and now are in charge of the repopulation effort. The plans for the orderly return of the population took months to get established, and local Sunni tribes that joined Shiite militias to fight ISIS have helped those militias and local officials set up an elaborate screening process. From the WSJ:

Other tensions remain. Sunni policemen stationed around Tikrit said some Shiite militiamen have refused to withdraw from the city despite government orders. In the city itself, they remain an intimidating presence, where residents complain their homes have been searched aggressively and some stores have been looted.

The Obama administration knows that the resettlement process is a make or break issue. If there isn’t a broader and successful reconciliation in Iraq, efforts to beat back ISIS will fail.

Yugoslavia went through the same thing after Tito’s death. There the conflicts were between Christians and Christians and Muslims.

The result was the creation of new nation-states organized largely around religion.

If it was ok for Yugoslavia, why not for Iraq?

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A State for the Kurds?

The Kurds are on the verge of creating a homeland of their own, despite Iraq and US efforts to avoid it. If they do, the Middle East may never be the same. The Wall Street Journal had an interesting report about the possibility of an independent Kurdish state:

Amid an imploding Middle East ravaged by religious hatreds, the Kurds are providing a rare bright spot—and their success story is finding fresh support and sympathy in the West. By contrast with the rest of the region, all the main Kurdish movements today are broadly pro-Western and secular.

There are 30 million Kurds in the ME and only 4.5-6 million live in Iraq. Their language, Kurdish, is part of the Indo-European family of languages—close to Persian (Farsi) but unrelated to Arabic or Turkish.

Unlike Iranians, who are mostly Shiite Muslims, most Kurds are Sunnis. Despite that, they are confronting the Sunni ISIS, and the Shiite-supported Syrians.

Here is a map of the potential Kurdish state:

Kurdish Empire

 

In Iraq, the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government, (KRG), was adopted by the new Iraqi constitution after the US invasion. Kurds control their own affairs. This has allowed the Kurds to achieve a boom in investment and construction that has produced new highways, hotels and shopping malls.

The Kurdistan government in northern Iraq maintains its own armed forces, known as the Peshmerga (literally, “those who confront death”), and no Iraqi troops are allowed in the region. The KRG controls its own borders, and Westerners can fly into the region’s capital, Erbil, without a visa. Kurdish is used everywhere as the official language, and few young Iraqi Kurds can speak fluent Arabic.

Yet, political divisions hamper the Kurds’ fight against ISIS, and their prospects for self-rule. Only a minority of Peshmerga brigades on the front lines are under KRG command, while the rest still report directly to one of the two rival political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party or the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

From a regional perspective, Iran has a significant Kurdish minority that it has suppressed in the past. Now, it is strengthening ties with the KRG, since Iran views the KRG as an ally in the fight against ISIS.

In Syria, the civil war has enabled Kurds to set up a wide area of self-administration in the northeast of the country, eliminating the border between Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, who now travel back and forth across it without visas.

And in Turkey, decades of outright denial of the existence of Kurds, (they called Kurds “Mountain Turks”) led to a bloody war between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The fighting ended only after a cease-fire was proclaimed in March 2013. The PKK was once an ally of the Assad regime, and is still classified as a terrorist group by the US and Turkey.

But, in the just-concluded Turkish elections, Kurds voted for the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, which won 13% of the national vote and gained 86 seats in the Turkish parliament. The Kurds demonstrated they can serve as check against the anti-democratic aspirations of Turkey’s President Erdogan.

But neither the Iraqis nor the US want an independent Kurdistan, despite the possibility that Kurdistan as an independent state would be a buffer against the expansion of ISIS. They act as a “Northern Front” in the war against ISIS, and ISIS will be forced to commit resources to the area, as demonstrated by the Kurds seizing the crucial border crossing, Tal Abyad, cutting ISIS supply lines and uniting Kurdish areas that now stretch from Iraq halfway to the Mediterranean Sea.

Yes, an independent Kurdistan would mean the “fragmenting” of Iraq, which Mr. Obama does not support. But Iraq was never a real country; it was cobbled together after WW1 by European bureaucrats drawing arbitrary lines on a map, with no thought to historical or cultural realities. Like Humpty Dumpty, no one knows how to put those historical anomalies “Syria” and “Iraq” back together again. They’re going to be a mess for a while.

The Kurds are different. They have the makings of a state − an area that enjoys the allegiance of its people, has civil order that allows it to raise taxes and create an effective army. It is doubtful that the US will formally recognize a Kurdish state anytime soon, but the ME is a place where that is irrelevant.

No need to recognize the Kurds as a state, just treat them like one. Buy their oil (as Israel does), and give them weapons and humanitarian aid.

They may richly repay the investment.

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More Iraq??

We have solved nothing in 12 years in Iraq. As Tony Wikrent says at Naked Capitalism,

The sheer imbecility of American leaders is brought into glaring light [by] Bush’s attempt at the transformation of Iraq from among the Middle East’s most repressive states to a multiparty democracy.

As Col Lang says, we own it [Iraq], but cannot fix it.

So naturally, we will send more troops there in the next month or so. And to a new location. This will bring American troop levels to 3,500 since we left Iraq in 2011. The air base where the additional US forces are to deploy is al-Taqqadum, which sits about halfway between ISIS positions in Ramadi, about 40 kilometers (24 miles) to the west, and Fallujah, to the east.

Pat Lang reminds us that al-Taqqadum was originally a British air force base called RAF Habbaniya, which later became an Iraqi air force base. It had been abandoned for a long time when US forces occupied it in March, 2003. We initially called it Forward Operating Base (FOB) Ridgway before settling on the more Iraqi-friendly Camp Taqqadum in 2004. Pat Lang on our plans:

Former RAF Habbaniya was the center of the…British presence in Iraq. Look at the pictures of chapels, cemeteries, and swimming pools for the British troops… Habbaniya is the place we will defend and try to make Sunni tribesmen and Shia cowards into fighters? The omens for this are not good.

Think about it: It is an airfield we know well and maintained for years, but it’s only 24 miles from the ISIS lines. We are by design putting our newest effort right where the enemy could take out our planes and our soldiers. Makes you think that it is a trip wire of sorts, leading to a large re-deployment to Iraq when ISIS crosses our wire. We will have to fortify and defend this place very heavily. Otherwise, ISIS will see it as a place to engage us directly in battle.

Da Nang anybody?

The idea behind the new site is to provide greater support for Sunni tribal fighters, who have yet to receive all of the backing and arms promised by the Shiite-led government. But there may be a glitch. The Guardian quotes Mr. Obama at the close of the G7 summit, saying that there were not enough recruits to train:

We’ve got more training capacity than we’ve got recruits…It’s not happening as fast as it needs to.

The Guardian also quoted Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi scholar and expert on ISIS that:

Only 1,100 Sunnis had taken part in the US training program, and none of them have graduated from it. In total, about 9,500 fighters have completed the training.

Washington wants to revive the “Sunni Awakening” strategy that we used in 2007 when large numbers of Sunni tribal fighters joined with US troops to help defeat al Qaeda in Iraq. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promised us that he would incorporate the Sunni fighters into Iraq’s standing security forces and pay them regular salaries, but failed to do so, sparking the sectarian anger across Anbar Province that left some Sunni tribal leaders amenable to working with ISIS.

Mr. Obama originally said that we did not have a strategy, now, a year later, he sends an additional 450 troops to train Iraqi recruits that he himself says don’t exist. The Wrongologist has supported President Obama, however, this has the makings of a fool’s errand.

Why do we keep talking about training Iraqis to fight? The evidence shows that lots of Iraqis already know how to fight, and many of them are fighting very effectively against the very government that America installed.

This is almost like early days in Vietnam. We dribbled in more and more advisers and support. But it’s not what’s in the hands of the soldiers, it’s what’s in their hearts, and we have no control over that.

The NYT says this will cost us $8 million per week, or $47,619.05 per hour, which is more than many people earn in one year. Do the American people want their tax dollars spent in this way? When our infrastructure is falling apart? When our kids have to take out onerous loans to go to college? When Social Security, which we paid for, is under threat from the right side of the aisle?

Thomas P. M. Barnett has advised US leaders on national security since the end of the Cold War, including the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, Central Command and Special Operations Command. Barnett said in a TED talk:

We field a 1st half team in a league that insists on keeping score until the end of the game

Barnett is correct. We have not learned how to play the 2nd half in Iraq.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 22, 2014

Will this be the Military Service Patch for our never-ending involvement in Iraq?

Operation Clusterfuck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Old Lady from South Carolina (OLFSC), on Fox a week ago: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

This is a war we’re fighting! It is not a counterterrorism operation. This is not Somalia. This is not Yemen. This is a turning point in the war on terror. Our strategy will fail yet again. This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home.

He said the same thing a decade ago. Then-freshman Sen. Lindsey Graham (OLFSC) worried that Saddam’s (nonexistent) cache of nerve gas “could kill millions of people”.

 

Some people think Arabs are an existential threat, but climate change is a myth?

COW Climate

 

The Arab Nations really are backing our ISIS effort…Really:

COW Last American

 

We will see if we truly have an exit strategy:

COW Exit Strategy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In other news, independence remains elusive in Scotland:

COW Nessie

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Bigger Threat: ISIS or Congress?

What is behind the fear of ISIS in the West? The ISIS crisis in Iraq and its parallel in Syria challenges both governments as well as the status quo in the Middle East. But why would people believe that this band of fighters is an existential treat to the West? Attorney General Eric Holder shared his alarmism yesterday that the threat from ISIS is:

…more frightening than anything I think I’ve seen as attorney general

ABC News headlined “See the Terrifying ISIS Map Showing Its Five-Year Expansion Plan,” with the black flag of the Caliphate spreading like spilled crude oil across Africa, Central Asia, the Balkans, and Spain.

Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Votel, head of the Joint Special Operations Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week:

There’s risks to allowing things just to try to resolve themselves, particularly when there are interests that could affect our country…

All of this jowl-shaking goes on while the Obama administration is tumbling to the fact that there is no on-the-ground military option for us. According to a classified report leaked to The New York Times, our top brass believe:

That only about half of Iraq’s operational units are capable enough for American commandos to advise them if the White House decides to help roll back the advances made by Sunni militants in northern and western Iraq over the past month

Since Iraq’s political deadlock doesn’t look like it will be broken anytime soon, the US can’t take Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-sectarian side in a war against Iraq’s Sunnis without real repercussions from the billion Sunnis around the world.

But how serious is the ISIS threat? Most estimates say they have a core of perhaps 10,000 soldiers and maybe another 10k of new recruits. They are fighting the Syrian Army, Iranian-backed militias, the YPG, the Peshmerga, Al Nusra Front, the Free Syrian Army, in addition to the “Iraqi army” and Iraqi Shiite militias.

Let’s remember that we couldn’t hold Iraq with 168,000 troops, and the most advanced military equipment on earth. So the chance that ISIS can seize or even temporarily hold portions of Baghdad with some fraction of 10,000 is zero. From Gary Brecher at Pando News:

ISIS is about as scary as your neighbor’s yappy Shih Tzu: all noise and no teeth. Let’s just sober up, for Christ’s sake, and remember we’re talking about a half-assed Sunni militia that couldn’t face up to Assad’s mediocre Syrian Arab Army and still hasn’t found a way to occupy Sunni Iraqi towns that were outright abandoned by the [Iraqi] Army

ISIS is spread quite thin, but the Pentagon’s report says that Iraq’s armed forces and security apparatus are so badly run, so infiltrated with Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen and informers from ISIS, that there isn’t much of an opening for greater US involvement. The report is based on the findings of six teams of American Special Operations forces who were tasked with assessing the Iraqi Army that America trained and equipped at a cost of more than $25 billion.

Yet, in a show of cognitive dissonance, James Dubik, the retired Army Lt. General who oversaw the training of the Iraqi Army in 2007 and 2008, said that Iraq’s security forces could make gains against ISIS even if only half its divisions were effective, but that an advisory effort was very important:

Even if half was whipped into good enough shape, that would be enough to turn the tide

At a July 3rd Pentagon news conference, General Dempsey noted that, while Iraqi security forces were capable of defending Baghdad, they were not capable on their own of launching a counteroffensive and reversing the ISIS gains. So today, the three factions—Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and Shia Arabs—are holding their own, consolidating their turf, not trying very hard to occupy the other groups’ territories.

This is an existential crisis for America?

Did we liberate Iraq, or did we destroy it?  If we destroyed Iraq, are we responsible for restoring the infrastructure to its previous capabilities? Taxing ourselves to restore Iraq might teach us that we shouldn’t attack countries that are not threatening us, but we can’t afford to pay that bill.

We have the most advanced military in the world, there is no real second place to us in military might. Yet as a nation, we are failing ourselves. We are down the global ladder when it comes to healthcare, public education, repairing our infrastructure and providing social services. We can’t get out of our own way on policy because of our divided politics. We are the global leader in incarcerating our own citizens.

Why do we look at ISIS and say that they are our existential threat?

Like Pogo said: “we have met the enemy, and he is us”.

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 29, 2014

Americans prefer not to think about, and rarely allow elections to turn on foreign policy. Events, however, are not cooperating.

No Exit from Iraq:

COW-Exit-Ramp

The cartoon points out a different, subjective “reality.” Objective reality knows that there is always an exit ramp out of that loop. We perceive it doesn’t exist, since we fear the possible consequences. That blinds us to the options of seeing and using the exit.

Dems and Repubs send same message on Iraq:

Our options in Iraq are poor, and none:

However, sending Cheney to help ISIS might work:

In domestic news, Boehner digs in on Executive Orders:

The GOP feels that the primaries vindicated their approach:

Football not anywhere near as confusing as Cricket:

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