War on Iraq

The Iraq 'Surge': Still a Failure (Updated)

As U.S. jets blow up some former "Sons of Iraq."

Let's review the ever-changing labels we apply to Sunni fighters in Iraq.

They began as "Ba'athist dead-enders." Soon, they became "terrorists" -- the "worst of the worst." Well after the U.S. occupation began, many joined a domestic insurgency group called "Al Qaeda in Iraq,"  which was soon shortened in most media accounts to "Al Qaeda."

Then, at the same time as the Bush administration sent a number of additional troops to Iraq that was universally regarded as insufficient to the task of establishing security in the war-torn country, we cut deals with several Sunni elders -- not all of of whom survived --  and started paying 100,000 of their fighters $300 bucks per month. They became "Sunni Awakening Councils," or the "Sons of Iraq," and were lauded by the gullible as "heroes who helped bring security and peace to Iraq." Supposedly, they had had a revelation, and "joined forces" with our occupying troops to "defeat al Qaeda."

Remember, many were the same people who had been members of al Qaeda in Iraq, and whom we'd called "the worst of the worst." But $300 multiplied by 100,000 is $30 million per month, and, you know, there's a recession and the Iraqi government we installed has a budget surplus, so, as the Washington Postreports today, "the U.S. military recently stopped paying the Sons of Iraq, many of whom are former insurgents who were put on the American payroll in 2007 in a high-stakes strategy to quell the insurgency."

A good idea in theory, perhaps, but problematic in its execution. The relationship between the Iraqi government and the "Awakening" groups has always been fraught, and the former apparently has some problems with HR. WaPo:

Under heavy pressure from the U.S. military, the Shiite-led Iraqi government agreed to assume responsibility for the payments to the predominantly Sunni armed groups and absorb some of them into its security forces.

But in recent weeks, several Sons of Iraq groups have disintegrated and some members have rejoined the insurgency, saying the government has failed to pay them on time and has been slow to admit them into police academies.

The result, I suppose, was predictable.

An American military aircraft opened fire Thursday night on Sons of Iraq members who were allegedly spotted placing a roadside bomb north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said Friday.

Update: I'm bringing this, from AlterNetter "janten," up from the comments ...

In September 2008, UCLA announced the results of a study based on satellite images of the night lighting in Baghdad that indicates that it wasn't the surge the help settle things down there.

"Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning," said lead author John Agnew, a UCLA professor of geography and authority on ethnic conflict. "By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left."

"The surge really seems to have been a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted," Agnew said.

"The U.S. military was sealing off neighborhoods that were no longer really active ribbons of violence, largely because the Shiites were victorious in killing large numbers of Sunnis or driving them out of the city all together," Agnew said. "The large portion of the refugees from Iraq who went during this period to Jordan and Syria are from these neighborhoods."

Here's a tiny link to a news announcement which also offers a link to download the full report (PDF).

Thanks, Janten. And beneath the fold, a reprise of a post from last year on the failed "surge" ....

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet.