Monday, March 19, 2007

Iraq surge strategy hits a breaking point

Tim Lambon at The New Statesmen is embedded with one of the new surge platoons and adds some new perspective to the "early signs of success" the administration has been touting.

It's hard to describe the noise when a whole cabinet of crockery is emptied on to the floor. Even harder not to shout in indignation when the American soldier who intentionally tipped it forward, until the plates and dishes slid smashing to the floor, says without regret, "Whoops!" and crunches over the shards past the distraught owner. "Cordon and search" they call looking for Sunni insurgents and their arms and explosives. But at what cost to the battle for "hearts and minds"?

The sweep was a co-operative action between Delta Company of the 2nd Battalion 12th Cavalry and the Iraqi Army's 246th Battalion. The plan was for the Iraqis to lead and the Americans to provide security and back-up. With engines throbbing, the force waited for 45 minutes at the start line for the Iraqis to arrive.

"And you think they haven't been calling their buddies in there to tell them to shift their sorry asses?" growled Sgt Penning in disgust. By the time we rolled into the middle section of the Baghdad neighbourhood of Ghazaliya, there wasn't a single shot being fired in our direction. Any insurgents were long gone. But the hapless residents were not. They watched, almost impassively, the random violence of the searching troops, too frightened to object. Some of the houses, whose Christian or Shia owners had fled, were empty. Occupied or not, if no one quickly answered the demands to open up, gates, doors and windows were smashed down or blown open with shotguns.

Inside, damage was done to anything breakable. Living-rooms became a jumble of furniture. Beds were overturned, cabinets thrown down, shelves emptied on to floors and beds: an orgy of destruction and arbitrary searching.

And yet the soldiers sometimes missed the obvious. In one house, no attention was paid to two computers. Just the day before, the platoon had received intelligence that someone in the area was using the internet to co-ordinate insurgent activities.
I'd urge you to read the whole piece. It's not long and it doesn't get any prettier. Neither does it suggest we're winning any hearts and minds. As I recall an important component of the "new" surge strategy is to make friends with the Iraqis. Somehow I don't think this is going to do it.

Meanwhile FireDogLake adds more disturbing details to the story. Violence may be marginally down in the heart of Baghdad but incarcerations are way up.
The population of prisons in Iraq has soared in recent months with tens of thousands of Iraqis currently in U.S. custody without trial. U.S. troops and Iraqi government are investing heavily in the construction of prisons in the country with more than 100,000 Iraqis currently behind bars. A parliamentary investigation commission has found that U.S. troops alone now detain more than 61,000 Iraqis and the figure is expected to swell as the Americans press ahead with their military operations.
And Maliki declared a new "emergency rule" to coincide with the surge. Stop me if this sounds familiar.
The decree grants far-reaching powers to conduct searches and seizures without warrants; to arrest, detain and interrogate people; to monitor, search and confiscate "all mail parcels, letters, cables, and wire and wireless communication devices"; and to restrict all public gatherings, including "centers, clubs, organizations, unions, companies, institutions, and offices."
Kind of sounds exactly like the Patriot Act and other secret domestic surveillance programs here doesn't it? Come to think of it, this surge and the whole occupation of Iraq would be pretty good training for troops that might be called on to enforce martial law at home. Just a thought.

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