Friday, September 17, 2004

Iraq, Part 2

While there may be wide disagreement over whether the Iraqi security situation is improving or deteriorating, it is indisputable that the order of battle or military landscape in that country has changed dramatically in the past two years. In January, 2003 Iraq was governed by a powerful state with a ruthless secret service, backed by one of the region's most powerful conventional forces.

January, 2003

Group or Unit Estimated Number Description
Republican Guard, Regular Army, Special Forces 350K powerful, possibly dominant regional armed force
Source: CDI

The Saddam Hussein regime was shattered in the three-week long Operation Iraqi Freedom. The remnants of that regime were ruthlessly hunted down until Hussein and his two sons were either killed or taken into custody. Not only was a great Arab state completely destroyed, the prevailing ethnic balance was also altered when US authorities envisioned a framework that would give the majority Shi'ites probable preponderance in any future unitary state. Political demands to de-Ba'athize Iraq led to the dissolution of the Iraqi Armed Forces and initially, many of the police forces as well.

In the year following OIF, there was no effective Iraqi civil or military authority. Various armed groups, many of them fueled by links to terrorist organizations and Arab Secret Services, sprang up in the vacuum. Nowhere was the vacuum more complete than in the Sunni triangle whose former leaders were the targets of the post OIF dragnet. The success of United States forces in exterminating the former power structure was so complete that provided a clean field for new armed groups to spring up.

By April, 2004 a number of  new armed groups had filled the niches left vacant by the defeated Ba'ath state. Not coincidentally, many of them were in the sprawling northwestern Al-Anbar province which abutted the Syrian and Jordanian borders. They made themselves felt as a separate force in a simultaneous uprisings in Sadr City, Fallujah, Ramadi and Najaf. The Hussein era had passed into history and the new claimants to the vacant throne had arisen.

September, 2004

Group or Unit Estimated Number Description
Madhi Army 6-10 K Shi'ite, Moqtada Al Sadr
Ansar Al Islam ? Sunni Islamic fundamentalist Kurds
Various small groups, including Al Faruk, Black Banner, Harvest of the Iraqi Resistance, etc. Baghdad, Sunni triangle
Islamic Armed Group of al-Qaida, Fallujah branch ? International connections
Jamaat al-Tawhid wa'l-Jihad / Unity and Jihad Group ? led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi with links to Al Qaeda
Former Regime Loyalists, including General Command of the Armed Forces, Resistance and Liberation in Iraq, Feyadeen ? Ex-Baath
5-35K Source: CSIS report page 40
Source of Groups: Global Security Org

Although US Forces could prevail in any particular tactical situation, what they could not do in April 2004 was fill the vacuum they had created by their own success. This became apparent when Marine Forces gearing up to retake Fallujah could find no reliable Iraq units to complement them. And little wonder: the Iraqi police and military forces in April, 2004 were a mere shadow of the Hussein-era colossus. Excluding the pathetic Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and police, the planned Iraqi state  in April 2004 had fewer than 5,000 "trained" men to set against an insurgent strength of from 5 to 35 thousand, many of whom were highly trained ex-Iraqi Army Special Forces or international terrorists.

  Trained Untrained Total
Iraqi police 16151 56448 72599
Border guards 9456 9957 19413
Iraqi Army 3930 0 3930
Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (OJT) 32458 0 32458
Security guards 73992 0 73992

Some areas in the Sunni triangle which were not under the direct control of US forces were taken over by the new armed groups, who drove the small Iraqi "government" forces before them. The situation had improved somewhat half a year later by August, 2004 . In operations against Moqtada Al-Sadr in Najaf a new Iraqi Army declared itself ready to assault the Imam Ali Mosque, though in the event, their mettle was not tested, perhaps because Prime Minister Iyad Allawi did not yet have full confidence they would perform as required. By August 2004, US forces had improved their operational capability to the point where they were killing hundreds of enemy per week. Behind this shield a new Iraqi Army was supposed to take shape. But even the revamped order of battle for the interim Iraqi Government was of doubtful adequacy, totaling only 77,000 lightly armed troops, structurally incapable of making headway against armed gangs and terrorist bands unless complemented by the force multipliers and support weapons of the United States.

Army 27,000
National Guard 41,000
Intervention force 6,581
Special Forces 1,692

America's historical enemies have been well established states. The Global War on Terror is the first time America has pitted itself against a largely dysfunctional and chaotic society held together by what it considered an illegitimate basis. The strategic goal of "bringing freedom to the Middle East" had a deconstructive aspect to which the Armed Forces were well suited, but it also had a constructive dimension with which America had no extensive historical experience. After the encrustations of the Saddam regime had been sanded down to the bare metal of tribal and religious groupings it still remained to create a new Iraqi State to fill the void. But a strong Iraqi state has few apparent friends at court, no particular constituency to support it. Belated Administration requests to divert reconstruction money into security, whose necessity is argued by a glance at the figures above,  received a lukewarm reception in the US Senate. The Associated Press reports:

Senate Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday denounced the Bush administration's slow progress in rebuilding Iraq, saying the risks of failure are great if it doesn't act with greater urgency. ''It's beyond pitiful, it's beyond embarrassing, it's now in the zone of dangerous,'' said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., referring to figures showing only about 6 percent of the reconstruction money approved by Congress last year has been spent. ... Hagel, Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and other committee members have long argued even before the war that administration plans for rebuilding Iraq were inadequate and based on overly optimistic assumptions that Americans would be greeted as liberators.

Nowhere was the determination to pull levers connected to nothing greater than in the aftermath of OIF. Proposals to provide more American "boots on the ground", guards for the Baghdad Museum of Antiquities, resolutions from the United Nations, an "exit strategy" or more reconstruction money were essentially disconnected from the problem of filling the vacuum created by the fall of Saddam Hussein. The irrelevant United Nations was lavishly installed in the Canal Hotel in the same time frame that CERP efforts by units like the 101st Airborne to fill local gaps in power in early 2003 were de-funded. Even after the UN was blown up and the need for Iraqi security organs reasserted  itself, the "insurgency is spreading" meme was still being wired to dummy buttons like "Bush lied" or "no WMDs found" or "war without the United Nations is illegal" while basic questions about the architecture of the new Iraqi state went undebated. 

If the pattern of American casualties shows that most fighting is happening in Al-Anbar it is not because Administration officials are manufacturing the results to camouflage a "widening insurgency". It is because there is no power vacuum among Kurds and Shi'ias as complete as that in the Sunni triangle. Civil war, if it eventuates, will not be result of military failure but from a lack of commitment to create a replacement Iraqi State. If we build it, it will come.