Monday, November 27, 2006

What is the mission of the US military in Ramadi?

By Juan Cole

"If they don't, they should specify the mission. What is the mission of the US military in Ramadi? I hope my readers will press their representatives in Congress and the executive branch to answer this question. What is the mission? When will it be accomplished?

At what point will the people of Ramadi wake up in the morning and say, 'We've changed our minds. We like the new government dominated by Shiite ayatollahs and Kurdish warlords. We're happy to host Western Occupation troops on our soil. We don't care if those troops are allied with the Israeli military, which is daily bombing our brethren in Gaza and killing them and keeping them down. We're changed persons. We're not going to bother to set any IEDs tonight and we've put away our sniping rifles.'

(You could substitute Tikrit, Samarra', Baquba, and other Sunni Arab cities for Ramadi).

It is not going to happen. In fall, 2003, 14 percent of Sunni Arabs thought it was legitimate to attack US personnel in Iraq. Now over 70 percent do. Isn't it going toward 100 percent? How would more or less keeping the people of Ramadi in a cage help things in that regard, especially if they perceive us to be doing it on behalf of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (founded by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran) and the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Israeli army?

(Despite the denials of Bush administration officials such as Condi Rice, the Arab and Islamic opposition to US presence in Iraq has at least something to do with local perceptions that the US invaded Iraq on behalf of Israel, and Iraqis often refer to US troops as "al-Yahud," "the Jews." This is conspiracy theory thinking and wrong-headed, but it is the reality on the ground. Even the notorious attack on the four mercenaries in Falluja was done in the name of the murdered Palestinian leader Sheikh Yassin. The deeply unpopular US support for Israel's depredations against the Palestinians was one of the things that foredoomed a US military occupation of a major Arab country.)

The idea that al-Anbar tribal forces will pull the US fat from the fire is a non-starter. Some of the tribes are openly agitating on behalf of Saddam Hussein. Any who are fighting the Salafis or Muslim fundamentalists are doing it as a grudge match. Tribes are notoriously factionalized among themselves and seldom unite for very long. The rural tribes just aren't a big center of power in Iraq any more-- it is largely urban and the power centers are urban political parties and their paramilitaries. Those urban forces have vast hinterlands of practical and monetary support in the region-- Iran for the Shiites, the Oil Gulf and small-town Jordan and Syria for the Sunni Arabs. They are not going to decline in importance.

Syria and Iran are not responsible for the resistance in Ramadi or Baquba and probably can't do anything about it. Therefore negotiating with them is not a silver bullet, though it might be useful in its own right.

What is the military mission? I can't see a practical one. And if there is not a military mission that can reasonably be accomplished in a specified period of time, then keeping US troops in al-Anbar is a sort of murder. Because you know when they go out on patrol, a few of them each week are going to get blown up or shot down. Reliably. Each week. Steadily. It is monstrous to force them to play Russian roulette every day unless there is a clear mission that could thereby be accomplished. There is not."

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