War on Drugs

Surge: Not Protecting


The new Rolling Stone (Jack Johnson cover) has a long and ruthless anti-surge feature from Nir Rosen (author of The Triumph of the Martyrs: A Reporter's Journey into Occupied Iraq, a book that was hobbled in hardback with the un-resonant and uninformative title In The Belly of the Green Bird).

Rosen's story contains some anti-conventional wisdom assertions that are sure to make many spit their juice, for example:

"In Saddam's time, nobody knew what is Sunni and what is Shiite," [Iraqi National Police Capt. Arkan Hashim Ali] says. The Bush administration based its strategy in Iraq on the mistaken notion that, under Saddam, the Sunni minority ruled the Shiite majority. In fact, Iraq had no history of serious sectarian violence or civil war between the two groups until the Americans invaded. Most Iraqis viewed themselves as Iraqis first, with their religious sects having only personal importance. Intermarriage was widespread, and many Iraqi tribes included both Sunnis and Shiites….

The story is also belly-up vulnerable to accusations that it's only focusing on the scary side of the complicated reality of Iraq. Still, it's well worth a long look for those trying to collect as much data as possible about what America is facing and might soon be facing in Iraq.

The general arc of Rosen's piece: as Rosen follows various Iraqi and U.S. security forces around on raids, he insists that the Sunni militias known as either "Iraqi Security Volunteers" or Sahwa ("The Awakening") are another civil war waiting to happen, loyal only as long as the Yankee dollars keep flowing; Iraqis smile to our troops' faces but behind our backs they hiss: what are troops like you doing in a nation like this? And contempt for the U.S. occupying force is only matched by contempt for the official Iraq government.

A few key excerpts:

After meeting recently in Baghdad, U.S. officials concluded in an internal report, "Most young Concerned Local Citizens would probably not agree to transition from armed defenders of their communities to the local garbage men or rubble cleanup crew working under the gaze of U.S. soldiers and their own families."


As the soldiers storm into nearby homes, the two men who had tipped off the Americans come up to me, thinking I am a military translator. They look bemused. The Americans, they tell me in Arabic, have got the wrong men. The eleven squatting in the courtyard are all Sunnis, not Shiites; some are even members of the Awakening and had helped identify the Mahdi Army suspects.

I try to tell the soldiers they've made a mistake — it looks like the Iraqis had been trying to connect a house to a generator — but the Americans don't listen. All they see are the wires on the ground: To them, that means the Iraqis must have been trying to lay an improvised explosive device. "If an IED is on the ground," one tells me, "we arrest everybody in a 100-meter radius." As the soldiers blindfold and handcuff the eleven Iraqis, the two tipsters look on, puzzled to see U.S. troops arresting their own allies.


The [Iraqi National Police] were also reporting fake engagements and then transferring to Shiite militias the ammunition they had supposedly fired. "It was funny how they always expended 400 rounds of ammunition," [Maj. Jeffrey] Gottlieb [who trains Iraqi police] says.


The Americans know that the entire raid may have been simply another witch hunt, a way for the Shiite police to intimidate Sunni civilians. The INP, U.S. officers concede, use Al Qaeda as a "scare word" to describe all Sunni suspects.

"Yeah, the moral ambiguity of what we do is not lost on me," Maj. Gottlieb tells me. "We have no way of knowing if those guys did what they say they did."

For more surge-skeptic blogging, see Radley Balko from earlier this week.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention, Rosen did some reporting from Iraq for reason back in 2004. See here and here.