Babel: Washington’s Civil War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on June 11, 2007

Right Zionists like Fouad AjamiRight Zionists like Fouad Ajami and Reuel Marc Gerecht have learned to love the Shiite-led Maliki government in Iraq, but the US military brass on the ground in Iraq seems to feel very differently.

Consider, for example, Major General Rick Lynch–commander of the Third Infantry Division responsible, according to a Reuters profile, for three of five extra brigades deployed as part of a four-month-old Baghdad security plan.

On Sunday, June 10, 2007, Maj. Gen. Lynch seems to have had a wide-ranging discussion with reporters.  While there are no signs yet of a full transcript of the briefing, his comments seem to inform several major articles in the news.

The Los Angeles Times report by Tina Susman and Garrett Therolf suggests that Lynch does not share the confidence in Maliki expressed by Right Zionists like Ajami and Gerecht.

More than security, Lynch said, he was concerned about the Iraqi national government, citing its failure to hold provincial elections to ensure fair representation for Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds in different areas of the country.

Lynch said that in one province he commands, Babil, it was common for national government officials to order provincial forces to free detainees because of political or sectarian loyalties. After one recent operation, 42 detainees were ordered freed on direction of the national government, Lynch said.

Indeed, Susman and Therolf report that Maj. Gen. Lynch is at the cutting edge of the effort to cultivate alliances with Sunni Arab forces, even over the objections of Maliki’s Shiite government.

[T]he U.S. military is planning to establish “provisional police forces” that would arm men affiliated with Sunni tribal sheiks and militant groups who are willing to assist American forces, Lynch told journalists. He said that U.S. generals were trying to persuade the Iraqi government to support the plan, but that the American military was determined to pursue it, even without government backing.

And, yet, it appears that some of Lynch’s own preferred allies in Babil have their own “sectarian loyalties.”  A FOXNews story attributed to the Associated Press quotes Lynch:

In Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch… spoke at length about U.S. efforts to draw Sunnis into the security forces.

“There are tribal sheiks out there who say ‘Hey, just allow me to be the local security force. I don’t care what you call me. … You can call me whatever you want. Just give me the right training and equipment and I’ll secure my area.’ And that’s the direction we’re moving out there,” the Third Infantry Division commander said.

In a meeting with reporters, Lynch said contacts with the Sunnis, who make up the bulk of the insurgency, were a matter of pragmatism.

They say: ‘We hate you because you are an occupier, but we hate Al Qaeda worse and we hate the Persians (Iranians) even worse‘ … you can’t ignore that whole population,” Lynch said.

[These must surely be the same “Persians” currently meeting with the Iraqi government’s national security adviser, Mowaffaq Al Rubaie.]

The colorful Maj. Gen. Lynch is also one of the key military figures cited today’s front-page New York Times article–“U.S. Arming Sunnis in Iraq to Battle Old Qaeda Allies“–about US efforts to expand the so-called “Anbar Model” to areas like Babil (even as the Washington Post reports that the “Anbar Model” may be in some trouble in Anbar).

An Iraqi government official who was reached by telephone on Sunday said the government was uncomfortable with the American negotiations with the Sunni groups because they offered no guarantee that the militias would be loyal to anyone other than the American commander in their immediate area. “The government’s aim is to disarm and demobilize the militias in Iraq,” said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to Mr. Maliki. “And we have enough militias in Iraq that we are struggling now to solve the problem. Why are we creating new ones?”

Despite such views, General Lynch said, the Americans believed that Sunni groups offering to fight Al Qaeda and halt attacks on American and Iraqi forces met a basic condition for re-establishing stability in insurgent-hit areas: they had roots in the areas where they operated, and thus held out the prospect of building security from the ground up. He cited areas in Babil Province where there were “no security forces, zero, zilch,” and added: “When you’ve got people who say, ‘I want to protect my neighbors,’ we ought to jump like a duck on a june bug.”

For Maj. Gen. Lynch, however, the “security” effort is linked to the larger political context in Babil where the officer appears eager to transform the political dynamic.

The top diplomat on the US state department “Provincial Reconstruction Team” in the Babil province is Dr. Charles Hunter.  In a March 30, 2007 briefing, Hunter described the contours of political control on Babil:

DR. HUNTER: Well, Hilla is the capital of Babil province, of course, which is a mixed province. The Sunnis are concentrated in the north…

QUESTION: And what is the Iraqi political make up in the province and in the city?

DR. HUNTER: Well, the provincial council, which is composed of 41 members, currently has no Shia — excuse me, no Sunni — member of it. The Sunni there boycotted the elections in 2005. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI, dominates that council and most of the other provincial-level positions, the mayorships and so on….

Accordin to Reuters, Maj. Gen. Lynch doesn’t have much confidence in the SCIRI crowd that is running Babil.

He said of the three tiers which comprise the U.S. strategy in Iraq, governance issues worried him more than security matters and transition work towards handing control back to Iraqi institutions.

“I am concerned about the capacity of government,” Lynch told reporters on Sunday.

“As I deal with the government at a provincial level, I have a concern about whether or not that government is truly a representative government that respects the human rights of all the Iraqis in that province,” he said.

Are these the same provincial government officials who met with President Bush in July 2005?

And/or are these the same provincial government officials discussed in an official province-by-province snapshot of Iraq produced by US officials in April 2006?

Babil Province, an important strategic area abutting Baghdad, also has “strong Iranian influence apparent within council,” the report says.

Maj. Gen. Lynch appears very eager for the Maliki government to move forward on one of the major “benchmarks” set forth by the US: provincial elections.

Iraq’s parliament last month chose an election commission, seen as a big step towards calling local polls, but Washington is still pressing for a date for the elections before parliament rises for its summer break.

Lynch said U.S. commanders believed the elections were crucial if Iraq was to have a truly representative government in which decisions were not made along sectarian lines. Sunni Arabs boycotted the last provincial elections in 2005.

“That has to happen. We’ll facilitate an election, but the government of Iraq has to schedule those elections,” Lynch said.

You do have leaders in very high positions who are making sectarian-based decisions, no doubt about it. I see indications of sectarian decisions and not Iraqi decisions.”

I don’t mean to go way out on a limb here, but I do not think Major General Lynch is a big fan of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or Shiite political dominance in Iraq.

Perhaps it was with figures like Maj. Gen. Lynch in mind that Fouad Ajami spoke hopefully of Prime Minister Maliki:

Mr. Maliki will not do America’s bidding, and we should be grateful for his displays of independence…

The New York Times article on Lynch and his “Anbar Model” for Babil province offers up some words of caution:

[C]ritics of the strategy, including some American officers, say it could amount to the Americans’ arming both sides in a future civil war… The United States has spent more than $15 billion in building up Iraq’s army and police force, whose manpower of 350,000 is heavily Shiite. With an American troop drawdown increasingly likely in the next year, and little sign of a political accommodation between Shiite and Sunni politicians in Baghdad, the critics say, there is a risk that any weapons given to Sunni groups will eventually be used against Shiites. There is also the possibility the weapons could be used against the Americans themselves.

It may be tempting to imagine a unified–if deeply cynical–American strategy to arm both sides in an Iraqi civil war.

There continue to be signs, however, that such a scenario might develop less on the basis of a unified master plan so much as an ongoing civil war in Washington–between Right Zionists like Ajami and Gerecht who favor Iraqi Shiite rule and Right Arabists, like Maj. Gen. Lynch who appear to favor the restoration of Sunni Arab political dominance in Iraq.

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