I was challenged by iconoclastic cat to write a diary that would pretty much amount to “war gaming” the Iraqi response to the inevitable escalation of troops and what I would think would be the most likely scenario. As there are a large number of moving parts here, I am going to take a stab at it, and will have to make some assumptions based on recent news and other items that are either general consensus or educated guesses about the events currently in Iraq and the surrounding area.
As there are many out there who are way smarter than I am and much closer to the situation, I welcome comments and criticisms (well, more of the former, of course) to my hypothesis. Right off the bat, I will give you a “well, duh” short answer that this escalation will result in much increased violence, death of tens of thousands and retaliation.
That being said, I will start with a few assumptions and educated guesses on my part in order to provide at least some semblance of a foundation, and will try not to make this too long of a diary. So, here is my first shot at launching my political pundit career....
Initially, the escalation will be around 50,000 troops. This is the high end estimate from what I have seen reported so far (the original article is a Times Select, so the link is the text of the original article from truthout). This will also not be a short term plan but will rather be for at least 18 months, most likely (at least the initial plan) is for “the foreseeable future” but will likely last throughout the remainder of Bush’s term. The escalation will come (at least initially) from extending the deployments of troops already there, rotating other troops into Iraq sooner and possibly sending the National Guard as well.
The escalation will be primarily for fighting al Sadr and his militia but may also be used for “policing” in an attempt to control the genocide from continuing to spiral out of control.
Within the military, some officers favor using a buildup of forces to confront radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr, perhaps by moving forces into Sadr City, the Shiite slum in Baghdad where he has his political base.
Other military leaders say a larger force should be used to improve the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy and take more effective measures to protect Iraqis.
Why taking on al Sadr will be disastrous
For starters, let’s start with the fact that despite what has been said about Maliki and Sistani looking to marginalize al Sadr, the opposite is more likely closer to the truth. In fact, the above link as well as this one seem to indicate that al Sadr and his followers are about to strike a deal to return to the Iraqi parliament.
And regardless of whether he is authorizing or the source of rampant killing and violence against Sunnis, there is the small matter of him being (1) a figure that has a vast loyal following and (2) is a big part of the “democratically elected” Iraqi government – regardless of whether Bush and his minions want it to be so. The ancillary issues with respect to a military operation to take out a member of the Iraqi government – and one whose family has a city named after them would have repercussions that, from a political standpoint, would be a nightmare for the US. If you thought that our reputation in Iraq couldn’t get any worse, just wait until “war is waged” against al Sadr.
There is also the matter of this being a horribly kept secret. Take into account the fact that al Sadr’s militia is estimated to have around 60,000 fighters and they aren’t just a bunch of “dead enders”:
The Iraq Study Group's grim report embraces the most worrisome estimates about Muqtada al-Sadr's private army: He has up to 60,000 fighters, and his followers are planted throughout the security forces protecting the Health Ministry and other Iraqi government institutions.
Making matters worse, the high-level panel believes the cleric himself may not be able to manage the diverse and growing parts of his network known as the Mahdi army.
It should be noted that this translates to 3 al Sadr fighters for every 7 US soldiers – not good odds for our troops. The reaction and “only logical solution” posed by the wingnuts is either to “take out” al Sadr and all of his fighters (read: pull a Fallujah on Sadr City) or to “secure the population” and “clear the neighborhoods”.
The biggest problem here is that there is no thought of what would be done to (1) prepare for this or (2) done to retaliate for this. Not to mention the fact that there are already over 900 attacks per week, and that there is absolutely no support for this here in the US, around the world, within the military and among most of Iraqis. Add to that the fact that there is vast approval of and support among Iraqis for attacks against our troops, and you don’t have a good result.
If we take on al Sadr, then you can expect the attacks by the Shiites increase in number and in severity. Our troops are already sitting ducks and can’t control the violence that is already escalating out of control in Baghdad alone.
The Iran factor
I don’t know too much about this as of yet, but we do know that Ahmadinejad has been poking a stick at Bush for a few years now, and Cheney, Bush and the neocon chickenhawk warmongers are just itching to show Iran who’s boss. Of course, that doesn’t consider the small detail about there not being any feasible way to attack Iran from a practical or logistical manner, even if it were necessary (which it of course isn’t).
But we can say that Iran is at least, somewhat supportive of al Sadr:
Qom-based Iraqi-born cleric Kazim al-Husseini al-Haeri with the administration of eastern Baghdad, according to "The New York Times" on 26 April. Al-Haeri reportedly issued a religious edict in early April that was distributed among Shia clerics in Iraq that calls on them "to seize the first possible opportunity to fill the power vacuum in the administration of Iraqi cities." "We hereby inform you that Mr. Muqtada al-Sadr is our deputy and representative in all fatwa affairs," Haeri's decree adds. "His position is my position." Thousands of people chanted their support for Muqtada al-Sadr as they went to hear him at the Friday prayers at a Najaf mosque.
Al-Haeri once had a close relationship with the Shia Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah party, but split with the group because al-Haeri was excessively pro-Iranian and called for the party to respect the guidance of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Beirut's "Al-Mustaqbal" reported on 24 April. Al-Haeri is an advocate of Vilayat-i Faqih (Guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult), on which Iran's theocracy is based. Al-Haeri's involvement in Iraqi politics could have a profound impact. He is the point at which the Sadriyun (as supporters of al-Sadr are known), SCIRI, and Da'wah converge.
Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani praised al-Sadr's recent actions as "heroic" during his Friday prayer sermon in Tehran on 9 April. "Contrary to these terrorist groups in Iraq, there are powerful bodies which contribute to the security of that nation...among them is the Mahdi Army, made up of enthusiastic, heroic young people," Reuters quoted Rafsanjani as saying. However, Iranian Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri criticized the Al-Mahdi Army in comments faxed to Reuters, saying: "Imam Mahdi would never be content to initiate disunity, division, and factionalism in his name."
And from my diary from a couple of weeks ago (linked above):
While we are at it, we can even look to a hot off the presses report by the conservative-leaning Middle East Media Research Institute, which includes these little nuggets:Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander Yahya Rahim Safavi: "The Americans are sunk in the quagmire of Afghanistan and Iraq, and there is no way for them [to move either] forward or backward. Assuming they attack Iran, [then] their 200,000 troops, in their 33 bases, are highly vulnerable. American politicians and military commanders both know this.
"They can start a war, but [the decision to] end [the war] will not be in their hands.
Iranian Navy Commander: "American Warships Are Heavy... And Easily Sunk": On November 27, 2006, the Iranian news agency Mehr reported that IRGC Navy Commander Admiral Sejad Kouchaki had said, "We are fully monitoring the route taken by the American [warships in the Gulf], and because American warships are heavy, they have no maneuverability, and are easily sunk."
Iranian Suicide Bomber Organization Threatens Suicide Operations Against U.S. Targets in Gulf: On November 20, 2006, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai reported: "An extremist Iranian group is threatening to carry out suicide operations in the Gulf countries that are allies of the U.S., in the event that the U.S. uses its own bases in these countries to attack Iran."
The refugee situation
It has been reported recently that there are 3,000 Iraqis flee the country daily. It was also reported today in the Wall Street Journal that in addition to the “sectarian killings” going on around the country, Sunnis and Shiites are stealing the land and houses from the families of those who have fled and are attempting to return:
Panicked moves -- from mixed Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods to sharply divided ones -- are on the rise across Baghdad as both Sunnis and Shiites flee their homes for safer areas where their sect is in the majority. As this shapes the city's sectarian landscape, it is also fueling a now-common real-estate scam: expropriating the newly vacated property. Shrewd defensive measures against such takeovers, along with the occasional brave act of cross-sectarian kindness, are appearing too.
Most refugees have to leave in a hurry, often after a family member has been murdered, so they have little time to sell or rent the house or even move their belongings. Gen. Jalil Khalaf of the Iraqi army was going over some paperwork one recent morning when an elderly Shiite man in baggy pants was ushered into his office, complaining about assailants trying to take over his house. "They threatened me, I'm scared of going back," the man told the general. "The whole street is empty now." Gunmen shot at his door in the mostly Sunni neighborhood, he continued, and shouted at him to get out. He was now begging for an army escort to accompany him back home so he could fetch some clothes and warm blankets for his children and leave the house for good.
Local strongmen, backed up by sectarian militias, simply take over the empty houses, not allowing the owners to sell or rent them out. This forces the refugees further into poverty. Their old houses are used by militias to provide free or deeply discounted accommodation to militia supporters or to refugees from other neighborhoods.
A recent United Nations report estimates that some 420,000 Iraqis have been displaced from their homes since February. Shops full of merchandise get confiscated too. Owners count their blessings if they simply escape alive. A Sunni computer technician who would only identify himself as Abu Aiman says his brother-in-law was recently murdered and left behind a large grocery store in a mostly Shiite neighborhood. Then a Sunni relative running the shop was abducted together with his son. The kidnappers called other family members with a warning: "You have no right to this shop, go away and leave everything, it belongs to us now," Abu Aiman recalls. The family did as it was told. Sacks of rice, shelves of canned food and row upon row of other groceries along with some cash were all lost. The kidnapped shopkeeper hasn't been heard from again.
Add to this the fact that Syria is pissed, to say the least about Rice’s comments that the US will not open talks with Syria about the next steps in Iraq. We know that Iran actually reached out to us in 2003 and both Saudi Arabia and Jordan are both concerned about the refugees flooding their countries, as well as the potential for the killings to spill over into their countries.
To be brief, the decision to not engage Iran and Syria will likely have much bigger consequences than we may currently know. Not only in the short term, but over the course of years as the potential for rebuilding relationships and trying to work together in stabilizing (sort of) the region is passing us by. And yes, we can say how this is the “grand plan” of Bush and the neocons, but that really isn’t the point here.
With respect to an escalation in Iraq, there is only disaster written all over that. The blowback against our troops in Iraq, troops in the region, and the potential for retaliatory attacks here in the US is enormous (look no further than what is going on in the UK as proof). There could easily be another 50,000 – 100,000 Iraqi civilian casualties in a short period of time if there is a focus on Sadr City and al Sadr’s militia. Attacks would increase against our troops, and our overall military would suffer greatly in the long run as well.
The situation in Iraq (in general) would likely get worse than it is now – if you can think of such a thing. It is almost bordering on complete anarchy as is, but would pass a point where there is nothing that anyone – not the Iraqi government, not even al Sadr or the other countries in the region can do other than to wait this out and hope to contain the violence to within Iraq’s borders.
And of course, the US would suffer economically as nobody in the entire world will want to deal with us, let alone the hundreds of billions more that this will cost.