Monday, February 25, 2008

New Look at The Surge

A devastating account from Iraq has been published in this month’s Rolling Stone magazine. Its entitled “The Myth of The Surge” and depicts the present situation in the country as a disastrous time bomb which will backfire badly. The six page article is a bleak but gripping description of Nir Rosen’s attempt to investigate the current situation there. It begins with a walk through Baghdad’s Dora district, once a thriving neighborhood of high end shops and apartment buildings.

This is what "victory" looks like in a once upscale neighborhood of Iraq: Lakes of mud and sewage fill the streets. Mountains of trash stagnate in the pungent liquid. Most of the windows in the sand-colored homes are broken, and the wind blows through them, whistling eerily. ….. Looming over the homes are twelve-foot-high security walls built by the Americans to separate warring factions and confine people to their own neighborhood. Emptied and destroyed by civil war, walled off by President Bush's much-heralded "surge," Dora feels more like a desolate, post-apocalyptic maze of concrete tunnels than a living, inhabited neighborhood. Apart from our footsteps, there is complete silence.

Rosen’s investigations describe how Petraeus’ attempt to bring some order to the chaos of Iraq has meant arming the very Sunnis that used to fight the Americans. Rosen accompanies one such group of Sunnis, members of the so-called ‘Awakening.’ He also witnesses the confused and befuddled attempts by the American troops to cash in on intelligence supplied by ‘The Awakening.’ In this example, Rosen is describing an arrest made by a relatively fresh platoon of US soldiers:

For most of them, this is as close to combat as they have gotten, and they're eager for action.

"Somebody move!" shouts one soldier. "I'm in the mood to hit somebody!"

Another soldier pushes a suspect against the wall. "You know Abu Ghraib?" he taunts.

The Iraqis do not resist — they are accustomed to such treatment. Raids by U.S. forces have become part of the daily routine in Iraq, a systematic form of violence imposed on an entire nation. A foreign military occupation is, by its very nature, a terrifying and brutal thing, and even the most innocuous American patrols inevitably involve terrorizing innocent Iraqi civilians. Every man in a market is rounded up and searched at gunpoint. Soldiers, their faces barely visible behind helmets and goggles, burst into a home late at night, rip the place apart looking for weapons, blindfold and handcuff the men as the children look on, whimpering and traumatized. ......

As the soldiers storm into nearby homes, the two men who had tipped off the Americans come up to me, thinking I am a military translator. They look bemused. The Americans, they tell me in Arabic, have got the wrong men. The eleven squatting in the courtyard are all Sunnis, not Shiites; some are even members of the Awakening and had helped identify the Mahdi Army suspects.

I try to tell the soldiers they've made a mistake — it looks like the Iraqis had been trying to connect a house to a generator — but the Americans don't listen. All they see are the wires on the ground: To them, that means the Iraqis must have been trying to lay an improvised explosive device. "If an IED is on the ground," one tells me, "we arrest everybody in a 100-meter radius." As the soldiers blindfold and handcuff the eleven Iraqis, the two tipsters look on, puzzled to see U.S. troops arresting their own allies.

The case Rosen makes is that in an effort to stabilize the country, one of the cornerstones of ‘The Surge’ is simply to buy off as many Iraqis as possible. Some estimates put the number of Iraqis under contract to the US army at over half a million men. This has been working in the short term but bodes ill for the future:

With American forces now arming both sides in the civil war, the violence in Iraq has once again started to escalate. In January, some 100 members of the new Sunni militias — whom the Americans have now taken to calling "the Sons of Iraq" — were assassinated in Baghdad and other urban areas.

Rosen’s main contact is a Sunni who openly professes anger at the Shiite policemen manning the roadblocks but he also spends time with Arkan, a member of the Iraqi police force:

"The situation won't get better," he says softly. An officer of the Iraqi National Police, a man charged with bringing peace to his country, he has been reduced to hiding in his van, unable to speak openly in the very neighborhood he patrols. Thanks to the surge, both the Shiites and the Sunnis now have weapons and legitimacy. And what can come of that, Arkan asks, except more fighting?

The article makes a great read and is a testament to the ever deeper hole that the United States is digging itself into in Iraq. The right may scoff at such an article and complain of media bias, but they will do it from the comfort of their living rooms across America, without really knowing and not really wanting to know the truth.

1 comment:

Todd Dugdale said...

Great post.
The surge has failed on everything it was proposed to achieve. The "Awakening" strategy wasn't in the original proposal; it was added on after the original concept failed miserably as it was impractical.

The "Awakening" (or Sahwa) forces are very volatile. They are not loyal to the government, and are in many cases opposed to it. It is the equivalent of turning the Crips into a vigilante force.