Friday, December 07, 2007


Is the Surge in Iraq Working?

Quite a few reports are coming out of Iraq which suggest that the so-called 'surge' of 30,000 extra US troops is working. General David Petraeus(pictured), commander of US forces in Iraq, is very bullish about the 80% reduction in murders and the halting of increases in military casualties. The Guardian's Gaith Abdul-Ahad in two astonishing recent articles, describes one of the reasons why violence is on the decline: US forces are paying local militia to fight al Qaida forces. These militia commanders,m like Abu-Abed seem to be like out of control psychopaths, ready to shoot anyone whom they might not take a shine to. But, their terrifying manner might well be a factor in their efficacy in sorting out those other psychos in al Qaida. If the surge does indeed work, contrary to expectations of most of us this side of the Atlantic, a number of surprising things might happen:

i) Republican candidates in the US race to the White House might begin to acquire credibility while Democrats falter.
ii) Even Bush and Blair might find their reputations beginning to be rehabilitated. His rejection of the Iraq Study Group's advice to initiate multilateral diplomacy in favour of 'one more heave', was ridiculed at the time but may turn out to have been well judged, brave and prescient.
iii) The US might find its role in Iraq transformed from 'occupier' to 'peace-keeper'.

But to start looking forward to such outcomes overlooks the things that might/probably will go wrong:

i) the militias might just be playing a waiting game: once the surge is over they will continue seeking advantage through terror.
ii) Some reports suggest the murders have merely shifted from the cities to other areas.
iii) Iran, if it wishes, could easily drive up the temperature should it think it worth its while.
iv) the murder and casualty rates are still way too high by any standard.

So it is far too early to say anything is 'working' in Iraq but, with some polls in the US showing nearly half respondents think the war is going well, don't expect that this will deter Bush and his supporters from claiming the corner has been turned.

Think Bin Laden. Think Afghanistan. Think blowback. Arming, paying and guiding these guys to kill overseas fighters is all very well. But when you are overseas as well it's dangerous.

The original war decisions are unlikely to look too clever even if the surge has some effect.
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