Monday, April 6, 2009

The Awakening of "The Surge"

Iraqi police survey the site of a recent car bombing in Baghdad, part of an upswing of violence in recent weeks.

"The surge worked!" What began as a Bush administration mantra was picked up by mainstream media and forced into the public consciousness through repetition rather than actual evidence. So "accepted" did this idea become that politicians that dared not say it were somehow being ridiculously stubborn and akin to dead-ender anti-war types. Dodging the issue for a long time, then presidential candidate Barack Obama was finally forced to repeat the words "the surge worked"--but offered caveats relating to the lack of a political solution, and a reminder that the war itself was wrong-headed from the jump. Still, despite what was readily availble information regarding the smoke and mirror behind the surge's "success"--ranging from bribed Sunni insurgents to ethnically cleansed neighborhoods that left little reason to continue the violence--the notion that the "surge worked" has hoisted itself into reality...or reality as some would like it. Even comedian/talk show host Bill Mahrer, who has a disturbing propensity for falling for right-wing talking points, declared last week that he's the first liberal that will admit the "surge worked."

Well, whatever the surge was--and wasn't--recent happenings in Iraq show just how tenuously it was weaved together. On Monday some 36 Iraqis died in a set of coordinated bombings, the most recent in a spate of acts that some are calling an unexpected uptick in violence. Worse still, they may be revealing old bribed and buried tensions between Sunnis and Shiites, aggravated to deadly effect by the US invasion, bubbling back to the surface.

More after the fold...

Independent journalist Dahr Jamail tracking just one case of this dissent locates fissures in the "surge" wrought peace, as the US-propped-up Shiite government finds itself at odds with a US-backed (and well-funded) Sunni militia group, The Awakening.

Last weekend, the Iraqi government arrested an Awakening Group leader of a Baghdad neighborhood, then moved into the area. With the help of US occupation forces, they disarmed the militiamen under his control, but only after fighting broke out between US-backed Iraqi government security forces and the US-formed Sunni Awakening Group militia. This disturbing event is the realization of what most Iraqis have long feared - that the relative calm in Iraq today would eventually be broken when fighting erupts between these two entities.

For well over a year now, The Awakening has been praised by supporters of the surge, who have pointed to the success they have had in battling Sunni militias attacking US forces. "Insurgents are now allies" hailed an ABC news headline in December of 2007:
Nearly 80,000-strong, paid by the Pentagon, and independent of the Iraqi government, these Sunni "awakening councils" are largely made up of former insurgents who have turned their guns on al Qaeda....President Bush has called them the hope of the future Iraq. "In Anbar, you're seeing firsthand the dramatic differences that can come when the Iraqis are more secure," Bush said during a visit to Anbar province in September. "You see Sunnis, who once fought side by side with al Qaeda against coalition troops, now fighting side by side with coalition troops against al Qaeda," Bush added.

But as Dahr Jamail notes, this relationship of convenience and money was untenable from the very start. The so-called success of "the surge" was built around paying off one group that during the ethnic violence that reached its height throughout Iraq in 2005-2006, probably engaged in ethnic killings of masses of Shiites. Flare-ups between the two were only averted by money and a continued US presence. As both money and the US military can't possibly stay there indefinitely, the unresolved divisions created by the occupation are forcing their way back to the surface.
The US policy that has led to this recent violence has been long in the making, as it has only been a matter of time before the tenuous truce between the groups came unglued. For it has been a truce built on a deeply corrupt US policy of backing the predominantly Shia Iraqi government forces while paying the Sunni resistance not to fight both government and occupation forces.

Even some who spoke glowingly of "the surge," like Times Online correspondent Martin Fletcher, spoke ominously of this situation as far back as September of 2007:
America’s new Sunni allies still regard the [Shiite] Government with profound suspicion, as a puppet of Iran. Most Sunnis have come to rely – irony of ironies – on US troops for protection. At the same time an increasing number of Shias, especially in Baghdad, look to the al-Mahdi Army militia, not the hapless Mr al-Maliki, to provide security and basic services. ...the overstretched US military cannot sustain the surge much beyond next spring. That poses several questions in a capital and country that has increasingly become a patchwork quilt of deeply antagonistic, ethnically cleansed Sunni and Shia enclaves. Will the violence return as US troops leave? Has their presence merely driven the fighters into other areas? To what extent has al-Qaeda disappeared, or is it merely lying low? Is the slowly improving Iraqi Army anywhere near ready to take the strain? Will the new Sunni police forces and “concerned citizen” groups simply metamorphose into well-armed, well-trained militias?

As the Obama administration makes its move to pull occupation troops from Iraq, these simmering conflicts may begin to center stage. As Dahr Jamial notes:
It was convenient policy to have set up the Awakening groups to temporarily quell overall violence in Iraq. Resistance fighters rushed to join the ranks for the paycheck, as well as US military protection from Shia militias, which now largely comprise the government security apparatus. Now, however, clearly the US has lost some of their interest in continuing to support the Awakening groups, and the Maliki government is ratcheting up its efforts to dismantle them. Predictably, members of the Awakening are fighting back - for without a paycheck, and with yet another broken promise by the occupation forces to spur them on, why should they sit back and allow themselves to be detained, killed or further betrayed?

We can only hope that as many cheer in relief to have US troops return home, if things turn more tragic in Iraq, that everyone will remember just how this nation helped sow the seeds of this turmoil.

For full article by Dahr Jamail, The Growing Storm, go here.

No comments: