Archive for November 2006

Insurgency or Civil War? When Will It End? How Will It End?

November 26, 2006


Today’s paper discusses at great length the controversy over whether what we have in Iraq is a civil war or something else. The Bush people do not want to say “civil war” because they fear that the American public would be even less likely to back the effort in the long run if it were so designated. The difficulty in deciding this matter is compounded by the fact that violence in Iraq represents several different types of “things” at once. There are revenge killings at every level, from personal to sect to Iraqi versus American. There are planned killings by Sunnis against Shi’as, but also of groups within each of these groups against one another, and occasionally (in Mosul and Kirkuk) against Kurds as well, or Kurdish Islamists against the secular Kurdish majority. There is also a lively “war” of the nationalists and their Islamist and Shi’a allies (temporary or not) against the Coalition forces (a nativist movement if you will). To me, this is the “real war”. To us it is an illegal war against the opponents of a duly established regime; to the insurgents it is a war of national liberation.

Whatever we may call it, today’s paper also brings some of the most discouraging news we have heard for a while. It quotes from a SECRET study by the Pentagon. (We read a lot of SECRET stuff in the papers these days; I wonder what the country would do if it was really in a “serious” war again and it made a critical difference if papers stamped SECRET got out as easily as they seem to today?) The study concludes that the insurgency is able to raise all the funds that it requires for its present level of activity from within Iraq. Funds are obtained primarily by kidnapping and smuggling, especially of petroleum. The importance of the demonstrated ability of the insurgents to support themselves within Iraq is that many observers, including myself, were hoping that the time would come when the millions stolen by Saddam and his people and the weapons caches they had placed around the country would begin to dry up. This evidently is not happening. Indeed, for a while the insurgents did rely in part on these funds and supplies (primarily brought in from Syria). But the report says that such outside sources are no longer necessary. The report also confirms the excellent organization and resiliency of this primary insurgent movement.

Again I will remind readers that because the Sunnis are a minority does not mean they are the inevitable losers in a sectarian war. A much smaller sectarian minority has managed to dominate Syria for many years. A much smaller percentage of the Sri Lanka population has managed to fight off its government for years, and even within its own Tamil minority, it has had to contend with a large, less extremist Tamil group including many in government. Tutsi minorities famously dominate their societies in Rwanda and Burundi. If, then, the real enemy in Iraq remains the Baath-Sunni alliance (and to add confusion, some former Baath are in fact Shi’as), then the result of sectarian violence plays right into their hands. Sectarian violence has confused the Americans, causing them to fight the best organized competitors to the Baath in Iraq, the Mahdi Army. Every member of this Army we kill, the fewer the Baath nationalists will have to kill after the Americans leave. AND by shifting our attention in this way, the Baath is able add to the calls from the American home front to bring the soldiers home. (They know what they are doing; they read our papers.)

As and when we eventually leave, the Baath-Nationalist-al Qaeda forces may be able to fill in behind us.  As they begin to exert control over larger and larger areas, the only group standing in the way of a restoration of a refashioned Baathist tyranny will be the Iranians. At first, they will try to help their co-religionists by increasing support for Shi’a militias. But if this is not enough, they will send in regular army units. These forces will be the best available to save Iraq from itself, preserving, ironically, the constitutional state that we erected. But although they will have much better trained and equipped forces than the locals, their efforts may eventually fail for some of the same reasons ours have been failing. For the more they actively intervene, the more the old Baath will be able to turn nationalist fury against Iran, as Saddam was able to do in spite of atrocities against his own people. Iraqis of all kinds would again be mobilized against foreigners, this time labeled the “Iranian-American alliance”. Or so the story might unfold.

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Understanding Iraqis

November 25, 2006

When I was doing field work in Shiraz in 1958, interviewing a wide variety of people on aspects of Iranian culture, I was often frustrated by the evident unwillingness of my informants to tell me what they really thought. One of my worst experiences was when I set up a meeting between a friend of mine and a Foundation scout looking for likely prospects for a psychology scholarship at an American university. I had spent a lot of time with this thoroughly secularized Persian scholar. He had impressed on me that this was the kind of opportunity he was looking for. But when the meeting took place, he refused to acknowledge that he might be at all interested in such an opportunity. One day I asked the local university librarian why I was having this difficulty. His answer was that i would be hard for me to really understand the centuries that Iranians had suffered under an endless series of oppressors. This national experience had led them to distrust everyone, particularly outsiders who asked questions. One never knew how the answers might be used.

I thought of this exchange when I read NYTimes Op-Eds recounting the experience of Iraqis who had tried to work with Americans, but had been forced to back off. One Iraqi translator concluded: “America did well to liberate Iraq. But Iraqis were used to tyranny and afraid of freedom. The Americans entered Iraq without a psychological program for dealing with this fact. Iraqis had been programmed according to another system of thought and feeling. America should have considered that.”  Another Iraqi who had tried to explain journalistically to the Iraqis what the American were doing wrote: ” The American policy people wanted to give us democracy and liberty the same way you give me a shirt, so I can wear it right away. But a common Iraqi view is that America went into Iraq to terminate Islam and Muslims. Those who aren’t so extreme say that America invaded Iraq only to steal the oil. The American army destroyed everything and thought they could rebuild from scratch.  Maybe this could have worked if people loved Americans or understood what they were doing. But by this time the people already hated America.”

This author goes on to say that we should have removed Hussein and installed another dictatorship, albeit a new dictatorship. It could have imposed martial law and done what the Americans were not able to do by cutting power away from the old leaders and their followers. Four or eight years later there could have been an election and then Iraqi society could “take baby steps down the long road to democracy and liberty”. Now, he concludes, experience with “American democracy” will make the process of attaining real liberty a much longer road.

Effective Reaction?

November 18, 2006

It has recently been announced that the Americans and their NATO allies have greatly increased the scale of their bombing and close air support efforts in Afghanistan. The Taliban challenge has been heating up on the ground recently, and the solution appears to be increased air activity because this is a form of warfare for which the Taliban have no answer. In Iraq after the recent large-scale kidnapping on a road, kidnapping that included several Americans, the Coalition has mounted  a massive effort to kill or capture the perpetrators, and, hopefully, free the captives.

The problem for our forces is the more “effective” our reaction, the more negative the reaction of the people we are supposed to be helping. With more limited efforts, particularly on the ground, it is more easily believed that the foreigners are trying to protect local civilians. Larger, massive efforts, particularly when they are in evident response to attacks on Americans or other coalition forces, can easily be interpreted as violence in defense of outsiders, actions that have little to do with the concerns and lives of the local people. These “effective reactions” are also more likely than more limited face to face encounters to lead to mistakes, to targeting, or at least arresting, persons who turn out to be innocent.  And thereby adding to the  size of the population that simply wants us out.

I read today of a man who joined the Confederate army in Mississippi early in the Civil War. The commentator wrote that this person was not concerned with larger questions such as slavery. He joined up simply because outsiders had attacked his state. Remember that when Shiite Iran fought with Iraq, many, including Saddam, expected that the oppressed Shiites would refuse to fight the Iranians. It turned out not to be so. Even to Shiite Iraqis, the Iranians were outsiders and that made them the enemy. This natural nativist reaction is a heavy burden that our forces must shoulder. It is one that gets heavier the longer we stay and the less our forces on the ground are able to develop direct relations with the people around them. I see little evidence that the extent of this heavy burden has been understood by Washington.

Understanding Iraq’s Neighbors: Our Negotiating Partners?

November 18, 2006

The present discussion of how we might escape unscathed from Iraq centers around two issues: a possible increase in troop strength and negotiating more and more effectively with Iraq’s neighbors.

Let us consider the second possibility. To succeed in the long run in Iraq, it would be helpful to involve all Iraq’s neighboring stakeholders in the emergence of the future state (or group of states). Every neighbor has important interests and every neighbor has ways in which it can assist our efforts. All want a peaceful Iraq and all want (in greater or lesser degree) the Americans to leave. But what the objective and abilities of each neighbor might be have yet to be tested.

As a background to what we might say to leaders of these states as we attempt to involve them in our effort, let us consider the states and their interests serially.

Beginning with Iran, we know that it has been involved with several Shi’a groups both before and during the present conflict. Iran approaches the issue with several presumptions.  The first is that it has a long and ancient history of dominating what is now Iraq. Second, it has a large and restive Kurdish population, and the Kurdish area of Iraq, in particular, has often been under Iranian control. Iran also has a special history of dominance in the Basra region of the south; recent reports suggest  that it has used its control over some militias to establish renewed influence in that area. While Iran has helped several Shiite militias in Iraq, its goals and those of Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army are probably most closely aligned. The more traditional Iraqi Shi’a militias, such as the Badr Brigade are directed by leaders more closely aligned with al-Sistani, who is considered in Iraq, and probably in the Shi’a world as a whole, to be the primer inter pares among Shi’a theologians. Al Sistani has spent his career in opposition to the political mullahs, to leaders such as Khomeini who believed that theologians should directly interfere in polities, a belief that Khomeini tried to enshrine in the Iranian system. Although there are democratic elements in the present Iranian system, Iranian leaders might regard a fully functioning liberal democracy in Iraq to be a bad example for their own dissidents.

Kuwait and the Gulf states want stability in Iraq, but they also want a state that will never again threaten them. Kuwait must always be nervous, because the claims of Iraq to Kuwait were not made of whole cloth. They are also not enamored of the idea of an effective liberal democracy on their door step. Saudi Arabia feels much the same way about democracy. In addition, Saudi Arabia fears a Shi’a dominated Iraq state, whether liberal or not. They have a restless Shi’a province in the north that does not need more outside support. Bahrain’s Shi’a majority is held down by a Sunni royal house; Bahrain has also been a Persian possession several times in the past.

Jordan is likely to have concerns similar to its Arab neighbors. However, its royal house and civilian leadership seems more likely to accept  liberal trends in the near future at home, and thus also more likely to welcome them in Iraq. Jordan is the primary destination for Iraqis wanting to escape the current violence. Both Jordan and Syria are also routes for the entry of Jihadists into Iraq. Certainly the Jordan administration is unlikely to be encouraging this movement.

Syria is an awkward state. Syria and Iraq were the two Baathist states. Thus, they were led in the post-World War II years by the same nationalist and secular revolutionary party. However, this party split up and  Hafez al-Assad and Saddam Hussein achieved absolute rule in their respective countries and became bitter enemies. Hafez has more recently been succeeded by his son. Complicating the picture is the fact that although most Syrians are Sunnis, the government has for many years been in the hands of the Alawites, a secret religious sect comparable to the Druse in Lebanon. They are classed as Muslims, but actually do not pray as Muslims and do not worship in mosques. Their religion contains many Persian elements, both pre-islamic and Shi’a. Other Muslims frequently regard them as heretics, more heretical than the Shi’a themselves. (It is important to note that Syria is ruled by a sect that makes up no more than 13% of the population, a fact that certainly casts doubt on the idea that if the Americans left, the Shi’a would inevitably win out in a struggle for ascendancy in Iraq.) It should also be mentioned that the Kurds dominate a small area in Syria’s northeast and have long been considered a restless minority. We may conclude that the real interests of Syria’s ruling class may be as obscure as their religious beliefs.

Turkey has become a major outlet for what trade there is in and out of Iraq. It is a major avenue to for the export of oil. Turkey also controls the main trade routes into and out of the semi-autonomous Kurdish area. There is a thriving trade along these routes, benefiting both sides. Turks are the leading investors in the growing Kurdish economy. On the other hand, because of the continuing struggle of Kurds for independence within Turkey, the government has opposed talk of an independent Kurdistan. Another reason for this stand is that Turkey sees itself as a guarantor of the rights of the Turkoman people, a minority group in Iraq, particularly numerous in the Mosul area and other areas along the fringes of Kurdish control.

A Nationalist, Strongman Solution for Iraq

November 12, 2006

Under the heading “What Baker Should Tell Bush”, Joe Klein outlines in the most recent Time magazine what he believes the Baker Commission should tell Bush to do to turn around policy in Iraq. Essentially what he asks for is a re-Baathification policy that puts the remnants of Hussein’s old power structure back in power. If this were merely a reestablishment of Sunni control, the Shiites would fight it bitterly. But Klein points out that some of the leaders of the Baath are actually Shi’ites. Allawi, the strongman who was put in charge by the Americans before the elections is a Shiite Baath party member. Klein tells us that we are now negotiating with some Baath leaders in Jordan. Both we and they, and probably most Sunnis, would like to get the insurgency out from under the cloud of cooperation with al-Qaeda.

In a similar vein, John Burns of the New York Times tells us that what Iraqis in the street want more than anything now is a strongman. They do not care if he plays a little rough, as long as he once again can force men with arms of all affiliations into obedience to a government. They are past caring about democracy. They have had elections and have seen little benefit from them. In fact, the elections seem to have driven people apart, reaffirming their sectarian allegiances. The American military on the ground seems to be more disaffected with the current Iraqi administration than the Iraqi public. We have invested so much political capital locally and internationally in the elected government that it would be a blow to both countries if we should take this route. Yet Burns writes that we must bite the bullet. Both believe that the most effective civilian and military leaders are from the old Baathist structure. Many are insurgency leaders, but that they can be turned. .

The problem with this diagnosis, as Burns himself realizes, is that we may not have the capacity now to accomplish this end even if we wanted to. How precisely would we do it? There are no elected or electable leaders that would be more desirable than Maliki. So it would mean that we would have to back a “man or horseback” who could come riding out of the insurgency into the embrace of the Iraq people and the American army. The best solution might start out as a covert operation.

Here are some steps. (1) We develop a nonpublic general understanding with Baath nationalists that we will help them take control of the country if they agree to certain preconditions. (2) Nationalist leaders will make a widely publicized declaration that the elected government has unfortunately failed to serve the needs of the Iraqi people. Nationalist leaders soon announce the formation of a National Resistance Front (NRF) with its own military and police forces. NRF will begin negotiations with militia, government, and other leaders throughout Iraq. The governing NRF council will elect a military leader to be the interim president of the country. (3) We publicly announce a time table for withdrawals, with the first withdrawals from Sunni provinces such as Anbar. (4) As we withdraw, NRF units will move in to take security duties over from the Coalition. This will be an implicit rather than explicit policy. Where they meet opposition from unacceptable Iraqi elements, Coalition forces will assist NRF units on the ground. As the NRF movement gathers strength, armed units of all kinds will be welcomed into its ranks. (5) We hold public meeting with NRF leaders legitimating their control over the country. We announce that at the request of the NRF we are now removing all foreign troops from the country, except for a small unit that the Kurdish government has asked us to maintain. (6) The NRF moves to assert control over all of the country except for the Kurdish enclave, rapidly moving against the remaining government and militia units. (7) Fighting dies down as the new authoritarian regime takes over, promising elections in five years.

The Case for Dividing Iraq

November 11, 2006

In the November 13 Time magazine, Peter Galbraith, long an advocate of Kurdish rights and a supporter of dividing Iraq, develops the argument for division once again. He argues that there never was a unified Iraq. It was created out of several Ottoman Provinces, a process that illegitimately placed the Sunnis in charge of the country. He further argues that as the war has progressed the de facto division of the country has become ever clearer. The Kurds have separated themselves from the rest and 98% of them want a separate state of their own, and, unless crushed by outsiders, they will surely obtain this objective. There is a clause in the Constitution that allows the country to divide into all but autonomous states. Parliament recently advanced the date at which this could occur. Once at this point, the Sunnis and Shi’a might decide for their own reasons to stay together. It would be up to them.

Galbraith makes an interesting point that the former Turkish opposition to the idea of a Kurdish state seems to have eased. Both and the Kurdish enclave are more secular and more democratic than any of their neighbors. Today Turkey accounts for most of the investment in Kurdistan. In a divided country, it would be the major trade outlet for the Kurds to the rest of the world.

As he sees the present situation, the central government is unable to control its own military and police forces and the United States is unable to force it to. So in his mind, accepting the reality that exists on the ground would be a first and necessary step for a “successful” American withdrawal. The Shi’a and Kurds would get nearly all the discovered oil reserves in a division. But the old Baathist elements in the resistance would now be able to turn their attention to recovering control of at least the Sunni area. They are as unhappy with the extreme Islamist groups as we are; our leaving would make possible their reemergence as more than just anti-American terrorists. The Shi’a in the south would be able to turn their attention to controlling al-Sadr and the Mahdi army, or at least developing some way to divide up the power with them.

The Galbraith solution is undoubtedly attractive. But there are several holes in it.  The most important is the mixed nature of the population in many areas. ToGalbraith, Baghdad is divided between Mahdi Army dominated ares and areas dominated by Sunni militia. Actually, the information I have suggests the picture is much more complicated than that. In addition, several provinces to the north and south of the city are intricately divided betwen the two sects. In the Mosul and Kirkuk areas, Kurdish demands for more control have yet to be met. Kurdish leaders are unlikely to back down until they place these cities and their environs under Kurdish control. Our departure could easily be a signal for a bitter campaign of “ethnic cleansing” here, from both sides, attack and counterattack, with no clear end in sight.

As I interpret Galbraith, he is saying that we should make it clear to leaders of all parties that we no longer will oppose their plans to federalize the country. We should then negotiate widely with the parties involved, helping them to stabilize the lines of confrontation between them. Instead of simply saying that the central military and police forces must take over from our forces before we leave, we will be saying that a much wider spectrum of forces will be assisted in an attempt to stabilize their areas of nominal control in preparation for our departure.

One idea to add to Galbraith’s argument is that we should, perhaps clandestinely, offer a Sunni federal region (or later state) an agree upon and substantial subsidy for the next ten years. This would be meant explicitly to take the place of what they would lose in oil revenues through federalization. Sunni leaders will not easily trust either the United States or their partners in a dissolving Iraq, but at least this offer would give them some hope that the state they would be taking over could stand by itself. If we do not make the offer or do not live up to it over time, and if negotiations with the rest of the country fail to give them their share, then Sunni leaders, many of whom represent in many cases the former military and civil service, may well launch a violent effort to create a new Iraq that mirrors the old, with Sunnis in charge. The fact they may make up only 20% of the population is not decisive. Many smaller minorities have managed to rule their states for many years (witness the Tutsi in Rwanda and Burundi).

Galbraith is not making any great claims for his “solution”, only that recognizing reality earlier rather than later will be to everyone’s advantage.

Getting Out: The Alternatives

November 9, 2006

Everyone wants to “get out of Iraq”, but no one has a clue as to how to do it. The situation is very different from that Eisenhower faced when he promised to bring peace to Korea were he elected (incidentally we are still living with the fallout from his “success”). The Korean War had a definite front: behind it we had few enemies, beyond it all were potential enemies. But in Iraq today, the only definite fronts are around the green zone and behind the Peshmerga lines that protect Kurdistan. The rest of the country is divided up into a series of blotches of varying shades of grey, from the darkest that we control only immediately after a military operation to those that are relatively safe most of the time due to our forces or those of forces that for the time being do not pick fights with foreigners (for example, in Najaf).

Even in Vietnam we had more of a front. In the South the South Vietnamese army and the Americans had firm control in many places. Unlike Baghdad, Saigon was a relatively safe place. In the city and its environs people did not move about in fear. Other areas deeper in the interior were definitely under the control of the North Vietnamese army and its southern allies (Viet Cong). The Tet Offensive was a failed attempt by the North to change this situation by establishing a permanent presence in cities such as Hue and Saigon. Our enemies in Iraq would not need to have such an offensive, for to some degree they are nearly everywhere already.

Leaving Iraq is said to require a political and a military solution.

We must to some extent negotiate our way out of Iraq. But with whom and for what?

Sunni militias include al-Qaeda in Iraq and several groups linked together in the Mujahedeen Council. Some of these groups regard Shiites as heretics, targets almost as acceptable as the foreigners. Others may not. The Ansar al Islam is a Sunni extremist group that is generally considered separately from the other Sunni religious militias. The nationalists formed from the former security forces of Saddam Hussein fight not for Islam but for Iraq and a Baathist ideology that has historically been hostile to religion. Although referred to as Sunni, there are Shi’a and probably Kurds among them. One critical Shi’a militia is the Mahdi Army under the more or less effective leadership of Moqtada al-Sadr. In contrast with the Sunni forces, the Mahdi Army is more inclined to occupy and control areas in the open, such as Sadr City within Baghdad. Some of the few pitched battles reminiscent of more conventional warfare have been fought between American forces and this group. Al-Sadr sees the Americans as an occupying force and from time to time has attacked them. Recently, it has seemed more intent on revenge attacks against Sunnis. The other primary Shi’a militia is the Badr Brigade, the military arm of SCIRI, a long established organization that clandestinely fought Hussein and received Iranian training and equipment both before and after our invasion. All militias have to some extent infiltrated the security forces, but the Badr brigade is particularly entrenched in them, particularly the police because of their control of the Interior Ministry. Much of their fighting has been against Sunni civilians. But the leaders of the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army have generations of antagonistic history behind them. In the Basra area the two groups are struggling for control. In addition to these groups, there are many smaller militias. Some are connected to religious leaders. Others are self-defense or neighborhood forces connected to none of the national militias. Others are essentially criminal organizations acting with relative impunity in an “open society”. Much of the rampant kidnapping has been ascribed to such groups.

Few of these groups show any inclination to seriously negotiate with the foreigners, and the foreigners are likely to feel they would have little to give the militias in a negotiation if it came to that.

The temptation, then, will be to try to negotiate with the Iraqi government a means of honorable withdrawal. Its leaders are faced with the problem that while they know their forces cannot really control the militias mentioned above, they have to establish their national credentials by seeming to demand the exit of the foreigners. Many critics of the present strategy believe that we must tell the Iraqis that it is time for them to take on the burden of their own defense. The problem with this argument is that there is no reason to believe that their security forces are failing to be as helpful as we would like because individuals in the Iraqi government aren’t making a sufficient effort. One suspects that Iraqi government forces are neither very effective nor inclined to follow the orders of their nominal leaders. And the leaders know it.

Let us consider some of the alternative military strategies and the political strategies that might accompany them. They might be loosely grouped into the following:

(1) Modified Cut and Run
(2) More of the Same
(3) More of the Same Plus
(4) Refocusing on CAPs and Infrastructure

(1) Cut and Run. This strategy that many advocates, including Congressman Murtha (the probable new chairman of the Subcommittee on Defense of the House Appropriations Committee), would be modified before it was actually carried out. One modification would have two aspects. First, we would ask Kurdish leaders to request that the United States station a small force, say 25,000 troops with good air bases for quick resupply, for the indefinite future in their enclave. Initially, these forces would not do anything. But they would be there to assist the Peshmerga should other Iraqi actors make an effort to overrun the heart of Kurdistan. The U.S. forces would also warn Turkey and Iran off in case they became concerned that Kurdistan was becoming an independent state. It should be made clear to the Kurds that the United States would not take an active part in Kurdish disputes in the Kirkuk or Mosul areas. Secondly, we would tell the Iraqi government that we were leaving in six to ten months. In the interim we would defend the green zone as we do now. We would maintain our principal bases. After six months we would begin to close our bases. Most of our forces would be stationed along the main road to Basra during this evacuation period. At about ten months out, the last troops would leave Baghdad, taking with them those persons or groups that it had been agreed in the interim we would help evacuate.

(2) More of the Same. This is essentially what we are most likely to do. The armed forces will try in the next few months to make greater use of “lessons learned” so far in the war. But what can be expected is that the advocates of offensive action and defensive action would play as large a part as ever in the war councils. We would again end up making offensive sweeps through “enemy territory” and then draw back to repeat the effort someplace else. It may be, of course, that the insurgency is running down, running out of willing recruits and money. It may be that the Iraqi security forces are improving so much that a real difference will soon be observable. If intelligence shows either of these possibilities to be real, many will opt for this solution. I doubt the existence of the preconditions for success with this alternative.

(3) More of the Same Plus. Some have suggested that 50,000 more troops might be brought in for at least a year. It is certainly true that out forces are undermanned: they do not have enough soldiers in the field to both take and hold the real estate that counts in the minds of the people. We have not given the Iraqis security in their daily activities; we have not given them dependable power or sanitation services. More troops would plug some of these holes. But there are many problems with this approach. If we had started our occupation with the larger force, we could have prevented much of the looting that went on initially, especially the looting of weapons stores. With a larger force we could have prevented many of the early victories of the insurgency. But at this point, 50,000 more will be too little and too late. The force we needed initially was twice what we have. Congress and the American people are not going to stand for or pay for such a force. It would require instituting a draft, and selective service in the present situation would be very unpopular. 50,000 more Americans will also not be popular with many Iraqis. The more soldiers we send in now, the more incidents, the more killing of Iraqis by Americans, the more hatred of the foreigner. There are many Iraqi leaders, especially Shi’a like al-Sadr, who would denounce force increase as proof that we were an occupying force and intended to stay forever. The Iranians would both play this note before the world and use it to justify a wider intervention on their part.

(4) Refocusing on CAPs and Infrastructure. There are many other possibilities. One that has been mentioned by the Marines is the reestablishment of the CAPs (Combined Action Platoons) that were used successfully in Vietnam. There are many discussions of this effort on the Internet, for example here. CAPs were a means of protecting peasants by inserting a platoon of Marines in selected hamlets to work with local self-defense forces. Most places these units did remarkably well; it is significant that a high percentage of the Marines involved volunteered to reenlist for the work. They earned the trust of the people by staying for many months in one place and getting to know one another. The CAPs often worked like quasi-insurgents, laying ambushes every night for the Viet Cong. The drain on the main American forces was minimal, with only a few thousand at any one time working in the CAPs. Of course, CAPs would not work on a regular battlefield against massed armies, but insurgent units are small in Iraq. (Remember that the success or failure of village defense had nothing to do with the final end of the war after the Marines were long gone. The North Vietnamese took the country with a massed tank attack that broke through South Vietnamese lines in the Central Highlands and reached Saigon in a few days.) In Baghdad the approach could be adapted to small neighborhoods, starting of course with those that claimed to want this assistance. The second arm of this alternative would be for larger American units to concentrate on defending infrastructure — power plants, electrical transmission lines, sanitation facilities, water supplies, petroleum refineries and distribution lines etc. This approach would turn the securing of most public areas over to the Iraqi forces, thereby reducing the dependence of Iraq on our forces and reducing the popular feeling that we were an occupying army. The defense of infrastructure is a critical task and one the Iraqis have not done well. Improvement in quality of life is impossible until it succeeds.

I am sure all these alternatives have flaws. There will not be a flawless answer. There may be no answer, but we cannot simply throw up our hands. We are responsible for too much tragedy to simply drift away.