Monday, April 28, 2008

More on how the American forces keep the pot boiling: The view from Baquba

Local civic and tribal leaders in Baquba, capital of Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, accuse the US of trying to promote and revive sectarian and racial divisions in the region, rather than working for stability. They say the main tool the Americans are currently using is the arrest of persons in Shiite areas on charges--often malicious charges--of belonging to the Mahdi Army (one tribal leader complaining that the charge of belonging to the Mahdi Army today is just like the charge of belonging to the Dawa party under Saddam), and then turning the areas over to "popular committees" composed of American-armed fighters formerly loyal to takfiiri organizations. An AlHayat journalist explains:
Civic notables and tribal sheikhs in Baquba accuse the American forces of using a double standard in dealing with the security situation in the city, where a Sunni militia loyal to them [meaning loyal to the American forces] controls most of the areas and neighborhoods, while [in Shiite areas] arrests continue of members of the Mahdi Army loyal to the Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr.

Sheikh Abdullah Salam al-Hamidawi, one of the leaders of the Hamidat tribe in Diyala, told AlHayat: "The arrest operations that are being carried out by the occupation forces in [various parts of the province of Diyala], on charges of belonging to the Mahdi Army, have as their aim the summoning-up [he means the promotion] of new armed formations, and consequently the keeping of the security situation in a state of uncertainty in Baquba, and the stirring up of sectarian and racial differences." He added that "The arrests are not based on the well-known legal basis, but rather are based on malicious accusations by agents of the American forces. And most of the people being arrested are people who have fled to Baldruz (one of the Diyala-province districts in question) to escape the terror of AlQaeda.

Sheikh Asaf al-Saadi [another tribal leader] said: "The charges of belonging to the Mahdi Army have become just like the charges of belonging to the Dawa Party under Saddam Hussein". And he urged the Iraqi forces to follow local and district [leadership] rather than following the American Forces, which are trying to instigate them by every possible way and means, not to mention their ignorance of the concepts and traditions of the Arab tribes.
So the first point has to do with arbitrary arrests of persons on often trumped-up charges of belonging to the Mahdi Army, with Iraqi forces following the lead of the Americans in this, rather than having regard to local requirements and circumstances. This AlHayat piece is headed: "Baquba: Tribal sheikhs accuse the Americans of turning over Shiite areas to "popular committees". So the next question is: What are these "popular committees", and why do these tribal leaders say they are an American instrument for promoting instability?

The final paragraph says this:
[A security source] who asked that his name not e disclosed said: "The security situation in Diyala has ecome fragile since the permission for armed-group members who were formerly loyal to AlQaeda to take over and control certain areas in spite of the existence of the Awakening Councils. He warned that once these militias armed by the Americans are able to control these majority-Shiite areas, the result will be a return to sectarian hatred and assassinations and kidnappings. The security source said there have already been official turnovers of control from the Americans to so-called "Popular Committees" of [some of these majority-Shiite areas], a process facilitated by having popular-committee people hired by the provincial security apparatus.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Popular Committees are former insurgent groups that are now part of the Sons of Iraq. There is quite a bit of info on them although very little is official and it´s spread in many websites.

In spring 2007 a war emerged between the Islamic State of Iraq ("al-Qaida"), which was the single most powerful faction in Diyala, and the other sunni insurgent groups. The ISI was of course infamous for its extremism, its massacres of whole villages and its killing of whoever did not abide by its principles of separating cucumbers from tomatoes.

At least what they is that the mainstream insurgent factions wanted to avoid a protracted atrittion struggle with the ISI, and unable to quickly defeat it they allied with the US and abandoned the insurgency. By late 2007 most of Diyala was free of the ISI although they maintain some strongholds in remote villages and are able to mount attacks.

The mainstream sunni insurgents, now called the Popular Committees, were less extremist than the ISI; but still like any other armed faction they were thuggish and violent. Particularly they threatened those displaced shiites who were relocating againt to sunni areas, imposing strict orders and taking over some of their houses; and they were in constant tension with the provincial police forces. The police are dominated by Badr members, not Mahdi Army; they are accused of serious attacks on sunnis. At least since October 2007 there has been a low-level underground "turf war" between the police and the Popular Committees, involving assassinations and sporadic clashes. Things seemed to be coming to a head with the crisis this February, and it seems that the Government eventually backed down and agreed to some of their demands although police commander Qureyshi, a Badr member, is still in place.

(The police commanders have been left untouched by the recent anti-militia campaign, which means that they are not from Mahdi Army or some other extra-governmental group, but from inside of it; the police abuses have been part of a government strategy).

The Americans seemed to be backing more the police and in fact were in serious tensions with the Popular Committees after some "friendly fire" incidents, although of late they seem to back more the Popular Committees. I think that they are simply clueless about what is going on and all sides try to throw the Americans against each other, thus their presence is raising tensions.

As you see not all of Iraq´s problems can be blamed on "al-Qaeda and the Mahdi Army" as some would want us to believe.

There are at least three very different Sons of Iraq in Diyala. The Awakening councils proper are shiite tribes (one Hamas-Iraq interview described them as "sectarian militias" which is their way of describing whatever shiite that carries a gun). They seem to be mostly concerned with self-defense and some may even be associated with the Mahdi Army; remember that until recently the ISI was mercilessly attacking shiite villagers in Diyala, i think that they just wanted to survive. Last fall in fact they called on the government to disarm the Popular Committees.

The support councils are also from tribes mainly of rural areas, but are sunni. As far as I know they also don´t seem to make much trouble political or factional. They have the backing of the Popular Committees.

And finally the are sunni militant Popular Committees and tend to operate in urban areas and are organized by faction, not tribe. In Baquba there is the Mujahideen Army (in charge of Buhriz), the 1920 Revolution Brigades (the largest group), Hamas-Iraq and Salahuddin Brigades which is from Jaami group. There are also Popular Committees in Muqdadiya and other areas. They are credited with having mostly defeated sunni extremists (most attacks on shia and "un-islamic" people were carried out by the Ansar al-Sunna and specially the ISI which once controlled much of the province) and have the backing of the sunni population.

So as you see there are many sides, and although there isn´t open war, there is a low-level hidden war and all the sides are warlords to a greater or lesser degree. In the middle, the Americans are like a dinousaur in a quagmire.

I hope I was of help.

11:58 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Thanks for that. I recall parts of the Badr-police versus Sunni-Awakenings story earlier this year, but as far as I know your point about the urban Awakenings being organized by faction hasn't been mentioned anywhere (that I've seen anyway). Fascinating.

What these two sheikhs and the "security source" seem to be saying in this AlHayat piece is that the US is utilizing its campaign against the Mahdi Army to also do the following: Encourage some former takfiiri types to point to Shiites on trumped-up charges, and then--and this seems to be their point--to establish new and Sunni popular committees in Shiite areas, with the aim of keeping sectarian fighting on the boil.

That would be different from merely seeing the American forces as clueless in a complex situation.

From where you sit, I wonder if you think that is a plausible allegation?

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don´t think so. The American way of claiming "victory" is to keep things as calm as possible, because basically the only two parameters for success as seen from the US public opinion are:

a)The number of American soldiers killed

b)Wether there are news of seirous turmoil in the country, like the recent fighting with the Mahdi Army, which is seen negatively by most Americans. You know, the American people care first and foremost for their soldiers; but they may see no point in continuing the occupation if the whole place is mired in civil war and insurgency

Earlier in the war it would have been unthinkable that they allowed groups like the Popular Committees to take power, now let´s say they´ve lowered the standard.

On the other hand of course the Americans have an interest in that all the factions of the country keep their gunsights aimed at each other, and not at US soldiers, so they may really be stirring up trouble so as to deflect their views from the occupation. But invading shia areas with sunni militants seems too much of a provocation.

The American military really only want to exterminate the sunni groups like ISI and Ansar al-Sunna, earlier judging by their actions and public statements they were pretty much trying to accomodate the Mahdi Army. The Basra operation, it seems, took them almost completely bu surprise. Everything crumbled because Americans didn´t really know about Iraqis, nor did they care.

3:18 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Okay, can I pick your brain one step further?

(1) In addition to the retail selling points you mention (few US troops killed; no major turmoil) isn't there also what you could call a core "wholesale" aim of the US establishment, which would be to see that Iraq has a subservient and friendly government and political system. Earlier the US somewhat dismantled the Sunni national resistance via the Awakenings and probably other means. Wouldn't it also make sense that now that they understand Sadr and his movement a little better, they would also want to break the back of the Mahdi Army?

(2) In particular, if the Basra operation took them by surprise, and they weren't interested in a frontal attack on them, why not just refuse to provide air-support and end the thing right there?

(3) And more generally, now that they can perhaps see the faint glimmer of a possible of Shia-Sunni cooperation, isn't it logical that they would understand the need to keep the pot boiling, not just to keep the guns pointed away from themselves, but also because without internal sectarian fighting you run the risk of letting a cross-sect alliance take shape, after which it would be game over.

I realize this is an unanswerable discussion, but I'd certainly be interested in your further thoughts along these lines.

4:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in Baqubah and have recently traveled to Kaan Bani Saad,Hembis,Miqtidiyah,Dali Abbas and other locations in Diyala Governate. I think many of you folks write some of this crap just so you can believe it. Today there is another Tribal Reconciliation Council meeting at The Blue Dome.For you experts, thats where the Provincial Council meets on Tuesdays. You dont have a clue how far this government has progressed in the last year. The largest problem is not the mahdi army ...its the drought,and the Americans didnt cause it. You are not here..I am.

10:24 PM  
Blogger badger said...

It's pointless attacking me, anonymous #2. The piece in question is by an AlHayat reporter, who is also in Baquba. Moreover, he doesn't say there hasn't been progress. What he says is that the Americans are doing things to screw it up. Anonymous #1 said he doesn't think that is plausible because it would be "too much of a provocation"! But instead of further discussion from him I get off-topic abuse from you. Interesting.

4:06 AM  
Blogger NonArab-Arab said...

Never trust an American soldier/contractor/USG employee "on the ground" with no prior background on Iraq or the region. They think they are 10 times smarter than they are. They may have a lot of details others don't, but they have no big picture or historical context. US soldiers and bureaucrats in Vietnam were similarly flush with reports of "progress" throughout the war there, but they completely missed the big point.

6:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

badger, how can you tell anon 1 and 2 are different posters? is it just from their tone, or their ip address?


8:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

all sides try to throw the Americans against each other, thus their presence is raising tensions.

raising tensions? that is quite an understatement. absent some descriptive narrative let's review that paragraph again....

The Americans ....are simply clueless .... their presence is raising tensions.

along w/
In the middle, the Americans are like a dinousaur in a quagmire.

hmm, big clueless dinosaur sort of getting in the way, but trying to the middle of a quagmire...

how is this any different than what the psyop guys are pushing??

As you see not all of Iraq´s problems can be blamed on "al-Qaeda and the Mahdi Army" as some would want us to believe.

that 'some' being the maliki government? is this a concession we have 2 themes of disinfo discourse? one from the invader, another from their puppets? because neither the anti war movement, nor the resistance think AQ and mahdi are iraqs main problem. i'd say the elephant in that statement is most people think the invader/occupier is iraqs biggest problem.

here's where things get dicey.

if the Basra operation took them by surprise, and they weren't interested in a frontal attack on them, why not just refuse to provide air-support and end the thing right there?

instead of just answering, you get attacked. needless to say, your next paragraph was completely ignored. the ptb first priority OF COURSE, is to establish a pretense for a long term presence in the middle east. this objective doesn't even need to be disclosed to troops on the ground. a long sustained excuse for our presence as the benign 'helper' between two or more waring factions. instead of addressing 'game over', the tone changes radically. if i am wrong, then where is anon 1 to come back and address these points?

maybe he/she will come back and enlighten us, but i am not holding my breath. the chances someone stationed in iraq is spending there spare time cruising the internet informing the masses? zilch. this is our tax dollar speaking. imho.


9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

badger, i wanted to direct you to this post by layla anwar

This story is based on an interview conducted by Al-Arabiya TV. And this man’s name is “Mullah”, Nadhem Al-Jibbouri, from the God forsaken village “Al Dhulueiya” in the Salahedin province.

was wondering if you could find this interview and give us your take on it? some intriguing allegations in the interview..

He also says that he doesn’t understand why the Americans keep releasing AQ prisoners from the camp, even though the Americans have been told that these prisoners falsify their ID’s and move under these fake ID’s to other areas in Iraq..


9:32 AM  
Blogger Mirandian said...

Anonymous, quite an insight...thanks.

And I would quite agree with what "nonarab-arab" says. Generally speaking, they may come to this part of the world "innocent" but reaching here...they think all are fools except them! If you are no "Amreekan" then at least you have to be a "White"!

11:11 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Annie, thanks for bringing up that interview. I haven't read the whole thing yet. The passage you refer to about AQ people being released by the Americans under false names, comes in the second part (transcribed by Al-Arabiya here)

The interviewer asks him about cases where the Awakenings have arrested AQ members. He says they have arrested some, but he goes on:

The problem we are suffering from brother Majid, is that everyone we arrest from AlQaeda has a really a lot of influence, so that even if they are in custody of the [Iraqi] police [at first], the Americans take custody of them, and this causes problems, because we know that may of the leaders that were in AlQaeda are sending us threats from Bucca [Camp Bucca, the American prison]; the thing is many of them got out under false names , and many of them got out--I mean they were released--in Baghdad and other places, and they came back at us with minds more vengeful and more harmful--death-defying--I mean we have information about many suiciders, of Arab nationalities.

What is interesting is that the concern about takfiiris being released is part of this Baquba story too. VOI reports that three Iraqi army officers have been arrested in connection with the jailbreak of a famous takfiiri killer in Baquba (details in English here), and as a matter of fact, I left it out of this post, but the AlHayat piece summarized above quotes the "security source" as being concerned about hasty and ill-considered release of AQ people (and that, obviously, in connection with the subject of that piece, namely an American plan to keep sectarian strife on the boil).

12:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks badger, another thing i noticed from anwar's transcription was the continuity of a premier mouthpiece for the military long wars journal blog's description last summer of the 'flipping' of anbar( available here, if that isn't straight out of centcom i don't know what else is) being initiated by the infiltration of AQ into the tribes by way of marriage, and the breakdown of one as the starting off point. although the scenarios are different (of course LWJ would never mention the part anwar transcribes of the new wife finding out her husband is not a muslim by way of his circumcision).

lwj's explanation..

AQI killed a sheikh over his refusal to give daughters of his tribe to them in marriage, which created a revenge obligation (tha’r) on his people, who attacked AQI. The terrorists retaliated with immense brutality, killing the children of a prominent sheikh in a particularly gruesome manner, witnesses told us.

anyway i found the interview interesting, and anwar's take on it.

(and that, obviously, in connection with the subject of that piece, namely an American plan to keep sectarian strife on the boil).

yes, of course. i didn't miss this, my point in posting it on this thread in fact. also in regards to what he said about ....

They are now mainly concentrated in Diyala whilst before they controlled 70% of all Sunni areas.

that, along w/the combination of what maliki said regarding 'saddamists' (i posted in your current comment thread) make for some interesting coordination....

there seems to be a blurring of AQ and 'awakening' sheesh.

The security situation in Diyala has become fragile since the permission for armed-group members who were formerly loyal to AlQaeda to take over and control certain areas in spite of the existence of the Awakening Councils.


1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops. i meant lack of circumcision

here is the text via anwar

One of the foreign AQ Emirs in the Al-Tharthar/ Samarra province wanted to marry the daughter of one of his Iraqi fighters. The marriage took place and two days later the daughter returns to her father wanting a divorce. When asked why, she said that her newly wed husband was not circumcised. So the Emir was “interrogated” (Iraqi style presumably) about this, and he finally admitted that he was not a Muslim.

The Deputy then adds that many of the AQ leaders/emirs captured and interrogated, turned out not to be Muslims.


1:24 PM  

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