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Monday, May 5, 2008

The Storm Before the Calm

Michael Yon gives his latest dispatch regarding Iraq. While he spent many years there he has been back in the states for more than a month. He puts forth the supposition that we have taken on more casualties because we have confronted the Shia militias and that this is a necessary, if not violent, confrontation that will ultimately lead to a more peaceful nation.

He makes the comparison, and contrast, to the campaign the coalition undertook against the Sunni militias. He points out that we had significant casualties then as well in the beginning.

We are taking more casualties now, just as we did in the first part of 2007, because we have taken up the next crucial challenge of this war: confronting the Shia militias.

In early 2007, under the leadership of Gen. David Petraeus, we began to wage an effective counterinsurgency campaign against the reign of terror Al Qaeda in Iraq
had established over much of the midsection of the country. That campaign, which moved many of our troops off of big centralized bases and out into small neighborhood outposts, carried real risks.

In every one of the first eight months of 2007, we lost more soldiers than we had the previous year. Only as the campaign bore fruit - in the form of Iraqi citizens working with American soldiers on a daily basis, helping uncover terrorist hideouts together - did the casualty numbers begin to improve.

He points out that the same confrontation must be made with the Shia militias (lead by JAM of Al Sadr fame)

To comprehend our strategy here, we need to understand the goals of these militias, which pundits, politicians and the press all too often gloss over. Al Qaeda's aim was to destroy Iraq in civil war. Allegedly devout Muslims, the terrorist savages were willing to rape, murder and pillage their own people just as long as they could catch America in the middle. One reason Al Qaeda in Iraq can regenerate so quickly, despite being hated by most Iraqis, is that, armed with generous funding from outside Iraq, they mostly recruit young men and boys from Iraqi street gangs, giving them money, guns and drugs.

Yon goes on to point out that unlike AQI, which simply wanted death and destruction all over Iraq, JAM has political goals. They want power in Iraq. Yon points out that a school of thought might be that we shouldn't take them on then. Here is why he thinks that school of thought is wrong.

Because the militias are strong, well-organized and long had deep support among the population, and because their goal is political power, not random destruction, some have argued that we should have nothing to do with taking them on. They predict a bloody and futile campaign that would make us once again enemies of the Iraqi people rather than their defenders.

These critics miss a crucial on-the-ground reality: Virtually all insurgencies, however noble their original purpose, eventually degenerate into criminal organizations, classic Mafia-like protection rackets, especially as they achieve their original goals.

With Al Qaeda mostly wiped out of Baghdad, the militias that once defended Shia neighborhoods now prey on them. In Basra to the south, where al Qaeda always feared to tread, the situation is even worse. Practically speaking, that city has been ruled by an uneasy coalition of rival Shia gangs for years.

In Yon's opinion, this is the next major battle inside Iraq, and winning it will go a long way toward lasting peace there.

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