Decreased Violence in Iraq – More to do with Money than the Surge

It is intensely irritating to hear McCain repeat again and again that he supported the “Surge” strategy and that this strategy is responsible for a reduction in violence in Iraq. Furthermore, Obama is now whistling this tune in an effort to endear uninformed Americans and convince them of his competence on national security.

In all this talk of surge success, very little is being mentioned of the immense amount of cash being handed over to many of Iraq’s violent tribes and militias – putting vast amounts of criminals on U.S. payroll to NOT reach for their automatic weapons and plant IEDs. You got it. We’re monetarily bribing down the violence. And we’ll likely continue to do so as we reduce troop numbers.

I’m not saying I oppose this strategy. Whatever works, right? But to continuously claim “The surge is a success” without acknowledging the effect of these payoffs is equivalent to presenting a facade to the American people. Of course, we should expect nothing less. How many lies were told to garner support for the war in the first place?

Yet we hear over and over that the surge’s success has proven McCain right. I know at some point I should develop a callous to the lies, but it seems nearly impossible and we’re all left with high blood pressure and anger over our leaders’ inabilities to prioritize truth over popularity.

Finally, CNN offered an interview with terrorism expert Peter Bergen on 360 last night in which he said,

I actually think both the Democrats and the Republicans have been overemphasizing the surge. If it was just about the surge, the violence would be back up again because the surge is over. There are some underlying factors that are much more important in Iraq in my view.

One — the fact that Al Qaeda in Iraq, they basically scored a series of own goals by its Taliban-style tactics, producing this wave of revulsion against and amongst the Sunnis. Now we put up a 100,000 Sunni militia on the American payroll, people who used to be shooting at the United States who are now on our payroll.

We also see the Prime Minister Maliki, no one could say a good thing about him a year and a half ago in Washington. Turning out to be a somewhat effective leader going into Basra, taking out the Shia militias there, going into Sadr City, taking out the Shia militias there.

We’ve also seen the Iraqi army which, Anderson, is really much larger than the Afghan army and much more effective in a country which is smaller and with a smaller population.

So there were some underlying factors that actually suggest that long- term success in Iraq is plausible. It’s possible the surge, of course, was one aspect of it. But to say that the surge caused all these changes is I think simply very simplistic essentially.

Also, Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films produced a video report entitled Uncovering the Truth Behind the Anbar Success Story showing Sunni leaders who had formerly been associated with Al Qaeda in Iraq and responsible for ethnic cleansing being paid off. In an interview with Katie Halper of Alternet.org last September, Rowley indicated,

There have been a lot of reports about the fact that the people who the U.S. is working with, the supposed “freedom fighters,” the “counter-insurgents” are former insurgents. They were Iraqi al Qaeda before they started working with the Americans. That is troubling because if they were fighting the Americans once, they’ll fight Americans again. And more troubling for the future of Iraq is the fact that many of the tribes that the U.S. is working with are war criminals who are directly responsible for ethnic cleansing and who are using American support to prepare for sectarian civil war. The U.S. is funding Sunni militias. They already funded the Shia militias. They’re now funding all sides of this sectarian war.

Here’s an NPR interview with British journalist Peter Cockburn discussing U.S. payments to Iraqi militiamen.

In an April 2008 report, The Christian Science Monitor stated,

He (Abu Abdullah of the Islamic Army of Iraq) also maintains that while the US has succeeded in driving a wedge between AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) and Sunnis in Anbar Province, many of the tribesmen there who are now on the American payroll are still aiding IAI and other insurgent groups.

Members of these US-backed militias now number almost 91,000 and are paid a total of $16 million a month in salaries by the US. They are often lauded by President Bush in his speeches on Iraq.

The US military now calls these Sunni militias “Sons of Iraq.” Iraqis simply refer to all these groups as sahwas. But the Shiite-led government is resisting US pressure to fold these groups, especially the ones in Baghdad and Diyala provinces, into the Army and police. “Trust me, the sahwas are ultimately with the resistance, heart and mind,” says Abu Abdullah.

There is no debating the fact that the drop in violence in Iraq is largely due in part to the payoffs – right or wrong – the U.S. is giving the militias. I am not squabbling with this strategy. I am merely raising my voice in protest of the campaign of misinformation of the surge’s success by the president, McCain and now Obama.

We cannot judge our approval or disapproval of these candidate’s ideas if they are not straightforward. I have little doubt the empty political rhetoric will continue, but at least those of us with a minute ability to apply research and information to our opinions and decision-making can help proliferate necessary evidence to support or refute the politicians’ shameful mumbo-jumbo.

UPDDATE 09.05.08: The International Herald Tribune gives more detail of the Shia government’s potential targeting of Sunni Awakening leaders.

The Awakening members are currently paid by the American military to operate checkpoints, guard buildings and, in some cases, to refrain from bombing military convoys and shooting at American and Iraqi soldiers.

Earlier in the day, Jabbar, 31, who is known in the neighborhood as Abu Sajad, said angrily that the government was trying to undermine the councils and to make them fail.


24 Responses to “Decreased Violence in Iraq – More to do with Money than the Surge”

  1. 1 Andy
    July 16, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    Perhaps the biggest reason for the drop in violence is that sectarian cleansing on the local level has just about run it’s course.

  2. July 16, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    not likely. while many of the AQI fighters have left for the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, Iraq still has a huge refugee issue. When those Shia decide the violence has ended well enough to return home, it’s likely the Sunni will once again launch death squads unless the U.S. continues to pay their price for peace. Whatever the situation in Iraq is now, it still has one of the largest refugee problems in the world and the Sunni are not loyal to the U.S.

    There is still mass poverty, only a tiny amount of water and electricity infrastructure, no agreement on oil revenue sharing and a government that still operates heavily under a sectarian structure. this means Iraq is still a massive breeding ground for violence.

    the violence being down is only a current snapshot – and most likely not a long-term development.

  3. 3 Marc
    July 16, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Agreed M,
    Though it doesn’t say alot for our prospects for eaving in a humanitarian fashion.

  4. September 6, 2008 at 2:28 am

    There is no explanation for this outrageous viewpoint besides “Eliteism”. Your crazy.

  5. September 8, 2008 at 8:35 am

    That’s right, Jerry. Every time someone has a viewpoint that you disagree with, it’s because of their “elitism.” What a convenient little opinion, which absolves you from the responsibility of actually thinking and having an informed opinion of the issues. At least I have a viewpoint. I would have appreciated an informed disagreement with my opinions – I love a good intellectual debate. But simply labeling my blog “elitist” without any explanation is a weak cop out. I’d much rather be elite.

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