Fighting Blind in Iraq

Discussion in 'Middle East - General' started by mrsx, Jun 7, 2005.

  1. mrsx
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    This Op-Ed in the NYT of 06/07/05 spells out the challenge of overcoming the insurgents in Iraq. My question: how are we going to turn this thing around?

    INSURGENCIES and counterinsurgencies are, above all, intelligence wars - for both sides. Insurgents are invariably at a disadvantage in terms of troops and firepower. They survive only if they have superior information, which they derive from broad popular support. This support - whether voluntary or coerced - allows them to hit, run and hide; to kill and survive to kill again. Their effort collapses when their opponents possess superior information.

    Thus in Iraq, the American and Iraqi counterinsurgents face two key tasks: they must collect intelligence on the insurgents, and they must prevent the insurgents from collecting intelligence on their own troops. Though there have been a few successes, the weight of evidence suggests that the Americans and Iraqis are failing on both counts.

    The insurgents have very good information. Many reports suggest that they have operatives within the Iraqi security organizations and bureaucracies. They also have a vast network of observers who simply watch what the security forces do everyday and report what they see to insurgent gunmen. Assassinations of Iraqi government officials, including senior security officials, and ambushes of security forces reveal a formidable intelligence apparatus. Car bombs seem to be regularly directed at American convoys; the insurgents must know their routes and their schedules.

    Most American and joint military operations have proved indecisive and costly, as scores of insurgents somehow slip away - often after seeding their hideaways with improvised explosive devices. Sabotage of oil pipelines and electricity plants appears to be carefully aimed at chokepoints - suggesting a knowledge not only of how the energy system was put together but also of just where it is now experiencing problems.

    In terms of collecting intelligence about the insurgents, things are no better. Since the Iraqi election, American officials have treated the news media to stories about how much more information Iraqis are providing. This may be true, but it is not nearly enough. In late March, just before the recent flurry of bombings in and around Baghdad, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told reporters that his "metrics" and "indicators" were improving. It is clear then, that the recent bombing campaign, which has killed more than 700 people, was a surprise.

    Many of the suicide bombers seem to be foreigners, particularly Saudis. Saudi Arabia is ostensibly a regional ally of the United States, a partner in the global war on terrorism. Yet the flow of suicide bombers across the border has not been stopped. This is an intelligence failure.

    Finally, we must ask how it is that the group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - sometimes referred to as Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia - which is ostensibly a small group of foreigners, manages to sustain its operations throughout central Iraq. Local residents must be providing these foreign terrorists with food, shelter and information about American and Iraqi troop movements.

    The main reason that the intelligence campaign is going badly is that the insurgency is more deeply entrenched in Iraqi society than American and Iraqi officials have acknowledged. Perhaps tens of thousands of supporters of the Baath Party, including many security officers from the old regime, live amid their 5 million Sunni Arab kinsmen. These people resent their loss of status and power, and this anger, combined with blood ties, provides plenty of supporters for the insurgents. Newly awakened religious feelings have been a double-edged sword - while faith has provided emotional succor to some Iraqi Sunnis, it has also led to increased support to religious fanatics like Mr. Zarqawi.

    American and Iraqi security officials know full well that they need to solve these intelligence problems. In principle there are three ways to do so - but all three present grave difficulties in Iraq.

    First, one can try to place informers within the resistance, men who can eavesdrop on the terrorists' communications and pass word to the government. Unfortunately, because many Sunnis live in traditional extended families, or served together under Saddam Hussein, they know whom they can and cannot trust and they can police one another very well. In addition, by now they probably know from hard experience how to foil or evade electronic listening devices. It is unlikely that the intelligence campaign can be won through a series of small successes.

    Another approach is to saturate the insurgents' stronghold areas with troops and police officers - mainly to observe every possible insurgent move and protect the citizens who support the government. The problem is that this requires a lot of manpower, and American troop strength has never been remotely sufficient. Moreover, unless the troops are very well trained and kept under tight control, this tactic can backfire, as the locals come to resent the presence of clumsy foreigners.

    SOME hold out hope that Iraqi police and soldiers can take on this task, but this too is improbable. Even if all 160,000 members of these forces were sent to known areas of insurgent activity - which cannot be done, since many are local police officers and militia members from other parts of Iraq - the total would be insufficient. Besides, relatively few Sunni Arabs have enlisted, so these predominantly Shiite and Kurdish security forces are as likely as the Americans to antagonize the populations of the restive areas.

    The third strategy is to win the intelligence campaign wholesale - largely through politics. American officials often remind the Shiites that most of the Sunni population still needs to be drawn into mainstream politics and away from active and passive support of violence. Yes, the Shiites have made some concessions, like giving Sunnis top ministry posts. Yet the cold mathematics of democracy works against further inclusion; Sunnis are outvoted 4 to 1, and their daily interactions with government and the military already enhance their perception that indignities will come of this disparity.

    Those who wish to "stay the course" in Iraq need a plausible strategy of victory in the intelligence campaign. The usual methods either have not worked or are unlikely to work. Unless the American and Iraqi government forces can deprive the terrorists of their local supporters and the intelligence they provide, they are in for a long, indecisive struggle.
     
  2. 5stringJeff
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    5stringJeff Senior Member

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    I put little credence in the editorial board of the NYT.
     
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  3. dmp
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    dmp Senior Member

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    mrsx won't be happy until every last US soldier, marine, airman, or sailor is dead.
     
  4. mrsx
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  5. mrsx
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    I think you deliberately miss my point. I don't want another service person to die needlessly in Iraq. If there is anything to this fellow's points (and he is a poly-sci prof. at MIT, not on the NYT board) then we must win the intelligence war. Simply feeding our young soldiers and Marines into the meat grinder by twos and threes is bad strategy. There is more than one way to "support the troops." When you have made a bad mistake, retreat and regroup. I can just see all you guys drinking beer on a hilltop overlooking the Little Big Horn and cheering on Gen. Custer. I've said it before and I'll say it again: they are all heroes; this old lady prefers live heroes to dead ones.
     
  6. no1tovote4
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    It isn't just to be annoying, it is to make the site compliant with copyright laws. Since Jim makes some money from the site, it is a violation if copyrighted material is posted without the link.
     
  7. no1tovote4
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    If you are saying we should withdraw from Iraq to work solely on Intel, I would disagree vehemently. This would only show that the US is willing to allow another Dictatorship to gain ascendancy and the freedoms of the people we are attempting to help really didn't matter. This would be giving the evidence needed to get even more radicals to join the bin Laden ranks.

    If you are saying we need to spend more on HUMINT, then I would agree just as vehemently.
     
  8. IControlThePast
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    He probably just had Chomsky ghostwrite it for him :rolleyes:
     
  9. dmp
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    Translation: I don't want any other nation to enjoy the freedoms we do, in the USA. No other nation is worth our sons' and daughters' lives. I'm glad people like you are in the minority - You're worthless. :(
     
  10. mrsx
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    You can't give freedom. It has to be taken. The Muslims we are killing don't want our kind of freedom - freedom to do whatever the individual wants. They want the freedom that sets you free - free to follow the Holy Koran. I'm not sure, but I don't think it is the responsibility of our President to sacrifice the lives of our citizens for the presumed welfare of some other country. He takes an oath to protect and defend our Constitution, not to lead others to the light. If Bush had said, "I'm going to get our sons and daughters killed to help our the Arabs," it would have been refreshing and you gung-ho types would have been the first to call for his scalp. You are only singing "Onward, Christian Soldiers" because all the other lies, excuses and rationales for this bloody fantasy have failed. I don't remember hearing you sound so noble over Haiti or Kosovo or Darfur. Could it be that is because they have no oil in those trouble spots?
     

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