Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Targeted killings: Updated

Nahrainnet publishes this today (Tuesday June 24):
A violent blast at noon Monday [I think they mean Tuesday] shook the municipal council building in Sadr City, where American army officers and employees of the American embassy, thought to be with the American intelligence agency, were holding a meeting with city council members to study problems caused by the closures effected by the American and government forces on the City, which has suffered from blockades and military actions that have caused the fall of hundreds of martyrs and thousands of persons being wounded, many of them seriously.

The American army admitted four Americans were killed, two of them with the Army, without giving their ranks--it is thought that one of them was of the rank of colonel, according to an eyewitness--and the other two were said by the American ambassador to be employees of the embassy. However there is [couple of words missing here] that they are members of the CIA, the American intelligence agency, who regularly work under diplomatic cover to carry out their real work in Iraq.

Six Iraqis also died in the blast, three of them in the Iraqi army, and the others officials in the Sadr City administration.

This comes a day after a member of the municipal council in Mada'in--Salman Pak--opened fire on a group of American soldiers that arrived at the municipal building in Mada'in, killing two of them and wounding four others, some of them seriously. He himself was shot dead by other American soldiers who were on the scene.
As a sidebar, Nahrainnet runs a picture of American soldiers in action, with this thumbnail caption:
The American army decimated Sadr City and caused the death of hundreds of civilians; arrested hundreds of others; and wounded thousands. But in spite of all of that violence, the city still is not a safe place for the American Army. Four of them died in an obscure explosion that shook the office of the president of the council of this afflicted city!!
Update:

AlQuds AlArabi reports this on its front page headed: "Sadr trend starts its war of Special Groups against the occupation", with mostly the same details, except for the explanation why the Americans were to be present at this planned meeting of the municipal council. According to AlQuds AlArabi, a member of the council who preferred not to be named said he was told by the council vice-president that there were to be elections of new council-members to fill vacancies created by the withdrawal of Sadrist members, and the Americans were there to "supervise" those elections. This suggests a direct American "supervision" with respect to questions of shifting local government control away from the Sadrists, but the point isn't elaborated on.

(If you follow as I do the fashions in the Washington-based nimbus of bloviators you will note that the current trend is to sneer at the national resistance, on the basis that everyone is involved in a giant struggle for a piece of the corrupt GreenZone action, just as the trend in the first five years of the occupation was to sneer at the national resistance on the basis that everyone was involved in a giant struggle for sectarian dominance. It is the way the beautifying mind works when you continually have to come up with a new concept of the white man's burden to replace the recently-discredited one. My own view is that this won't end until we have rotated through the entire list of the seven deadly sins being attributed holus-bolus to the Iraqi people. We are still early in the game: We've been through "sectarian idolatry" and we're just starting to work on "greed"; in coming years they will be saying we need to stay in Iraq to protect the people from their "wrath"; and on and on it will go). Meanwhile...

18 Comments:

Anonymous Steve said...

Don't you mean the "dead and pathetic" resistance?

5:08 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Exactly. I saw that. Somewhat of a Shakespearean flavor to that, didn't you think?

5:51 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

I was expecting a somewhat more multi-dimensional analysis from one so "savvy". A very disappointing replay of the same old "poor Americans, altruistically standing between two sides in a civil war" routine. Yes indeed, the white mans burden....

I have said for many a year that Greenes "The Quiet American" should be on the US high school curriculum but no, just ban Greene from entering the country instead.

And from todays FT:
“It would be reckless to withdraw all our combat troops from Iraq before the next Iraqi national election in late 2009,” says Ken ­Pollack, a former official in the administration of Bill Clinton, now at the Brookings Institution. “There can be little doubt that political progress is now taking place on the ground in Iraq. Pulling out too soon would risk those gains and compromise US interests.”

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/292c39c0-4217-11dd-a5e8-0000779fd2ac.html?nclick_check=1

7:18 AM  
Blogger Eric Martin said...

I'm not sure about sneering, or seven deadly sins, but it would be foolish to ignore that Iraqis are, like the rest of us, humans.

That is, they are susceptible to base motivations just as the rest of us are. So even Iraqi movements of national resistance that have valid and legitimate goals sometimes get involved in internal power struggles, and competition for money/resources made available via internal and external sources.

Further, even nationalist movements that claim the mantle of representing the entire population can get seduced by communal thinking such that they perpetrate sectarian/ethnic cleansing and other violence. Conflict has that effect on people - even people that begin with noble intentions.

This is not just theory. Some of these struggles for political and economic power are indeed going on, have gone on over the past five years and have roots that stretch back many decades before that.

Further, Iraqis have actually been killed or have been forced to flee due to sectarian-based violence - some of it perpetrated by those nationalist movements.

However, I don't see these inevitable human tendencies as making us morally superior or placing us in a position of "white man's burden." Quite the opposite.

Similarly, I don't see the likelihood of ongoing and future conflict along these lines as a reason to maintain US troops in Iraq - and such presence is in many respects exacerbating those same trends. Not to mention the fact it was the US military that set the cycle in motion in the first place through the invasion itself and certain subsequent actions that added fuel to fires.

But I would caution against any view that dismisses or downplay these very real events. They were and are predictable, human reactions to a power vacuum created in such a sudden and violent manner as the Iraq invasion. People the world over, and throughout history, will contest for power, money and influence when such a vacuum is created in such a manner.

9:49 AM  
Anonymous Klaus said...

eric, yes. I for one don't particularly see why Iraqis shouldn't act a little like Lebanese. They're not superhuman. But Badger is very fond of the nationalists. Eventually we'll see who's right, I guess.

6:08 PM  
Blogger badger said...

You don't know about the sneering, Eric? Here's what you said in a comment you honored me with on April 10 07 ("Straws in the Wind"): I don't think you need to be drinking any kool-aid to recognize that Sadr is a demagogue, prone to employing vigilante justice that involves summary execution, and, generally speaking, a man with little respect for basic human rights. Add to that, an unhealthy thirst for power, and you have a noxious cocktail.

Klaus, you're right that I have more respect for those trying to get rid of the foreign occupation, than for those willing to use it for sectarian ends. I think you might be attempting some kind of a straw man debate...

7:20 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

Eric,

There are a couple of elements to your post that I would respectfully like to challenge.

First of all I think it’s wrong to assume that all humans have shared values (the kind of homespun thinking that triggered this debacle in the first place). Yes, of course, there are certain wants and needs but they are usually met within a functioning society according to an appropriate social structure. And that’s the important word here; appropriate.

There are certain landmarks to understanding Iraq that are usually disregarded by many American commentators when looking at the current Iraqi political system. On the “human values” front most Americans tend to see the world from their own perspective – one that is full of potentially self-realizing individuals awaiting the removal of the shackles of collectivism that they may savor the fruits of personal growth. That kind of social ideal isn’t even shared in Italy, let alone Iraq. Iraq, generally, is a society that sees strength in groups and weakness in individualism. That’s not at all surprising given its tribal history where the needs and aspirations of one must be subordinate to the good of the group.

There is a general view here that Saddams Iraq was all about being in the Ba’ath but that’s a narrow view of how the country functioned. The tribes were a major player in the social and political hierarchy and the structure through which – among many other things - wealth was distributed. The power grab (there was only a very brief vacuum) turned that on its head and disenfranchised much of the society itself. The Sheikhs were unable to perform their leadership responsibilities leading not only to unemployment and poverty but also to a diminution of their influence. What had been the bailiwick of the tribes had now been handed - lock, stock and barrel – to a few groups of narrowly interested ethnic and sectarian partisans with so little support base that they didn’t have those duties of care, let alone the desire to exercise them.

As the GAO has reported, the institutions of civil society just became religious/ethnic/political party fiefdoms. The whole idea of the nationalists and other non-Green Zone players seeking economic power for its own sake and just in order to have a snout in the trough is, in this context, simply crass. The struggle between the nationalists (the majority) and the three state federalists (a tiny minority) is mostly based in this desire on the part of most Arab Iraqi’s - and even some Kurds – to share what they have for the good of all. For most individualist Americans this may be a hard concept to grasp.

The shared values allegory is then subjected to an about face when it comes to the subject of violence. The “insurgency” (a designation applied to anyone in Iraq with an offensive weapon and a grievance) we are told, is unique in being the only one in the history of warfare that has ever turned its wrath upon its own support base. That may well be so – and there has been exploration of that factoid such as this in the NYT in 2005. “The Mystery of the Insurgency.” http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/15/weekinreview/15bennet.html?ei=5088&en=b9702bb504133395&ex=1273809600&pagewanted=print.
The last time I heard this stuff uttered was by Paul Wolfowitz only a few weeks ago, when he challenged an audience to deny that this phenomenon was not unique. Here’s a bit of human nature: when something is declared unique there’s usually a clamour to prove that some element in the equation is wrong. But not in this case. Iraqi’s – especially of the “insurgent” kind, do not share our values and – or even an ounce of common sense, it seems – and therefore will (for reasons only known to them) turn on the population for whom they depend to support their struggle.

That is not to say that there has been no violence that has taken on a sectarian nature and, for sure, some members of nationalist groups have become involved in this (I believe, usually, as revenge- based killing, highly prevalent in such an honour culture) but I have yet to be convinced that it has become a part of any nationalist group dynamic, as we have been asked to believe. The violence that we have seen in the civil war (and I’m referring here to the really nasty organized stuff like bombs in markets and the widespread use of “death squads") is political in nature and has an agenda of division resulting in the mass movement of groups based on sectarian identity.

So, we are left with an absence of answers because there is such an unwillingness to even ask the questions. With all the resources of the western media that have been deployed in Iraq there has – to my knowledge – been only one substantial investigation that has sought to step beyond this narrative of “the stupid insurgency”. That was carried out by Channel 4 in the UK and found the Iraqi interior ministry heavily involved in the political violence. There was even a point in the story where US troops, attempting to prevent abuses, were ordered to redeploy. Given that American forces, historically, will only accept orders from US authorities, we have yet another unanswered question. Where did those orders come from? (There may be a clue in the New Yorker's Jon Lee Anderson profile of Khalilzad.) As you’ll recall, the Interior Minister, Jabr, was replaced as a result of a few fairly superficial inquiries (punished by a move to head the finance ministry) but the apparatus he’d built remains intact to this day under the protection of the United States occupying forces.

In conclusion I think that, based on the way many Americans view themselves and their country’s involvement in Iraq there are avenues of inquiry most are not willing to broach and it is far easier to apply base motives to “the other” rather than face some uncomfortable realities such as that many of their values are not actually shared.

6:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Cash rules everything around me..." Wu Tang Clan

7:49 AM  
Blogger Eric Martin said...

Badger,

What, exactly, about my comment to that post do you disagree with?

Are you suggesting that Moqtada doesn't demagogue? Really?

Or is it that JAM hasn't employed vigilante justice that has, at times, featured summary execution?

Or is it that you would argue that Sadr respects human rights? Should we ask the women terrorirized by JAM and the various vice and virtue squads? Or those Iraqis that have been "cleansed" because they bear a Sunni first name?

Or is it, alas, that I was wrong to suggest that Moqtada has a thirst for power?

Maybe, on the other hand, you take umbrage with the tone I took in a comment on a blog post. If that's the case, I apologize for what might have appeared as a sneering tone. My bad.

You know, a while back you accused me of adopting a comic book view of good and evil, but that seems more like your malady. You have decided that Sadr = good and thus have a very difficult time accepting any evidence that cuts against the purity of that conception.

Consider this: Sadr, and his movement, might occupy shades of gray, as all political/military/religious movements do.

I respect the Sadrist trend's nationalist rhetoric, and their ability to take care of their community. And I acknowledge the legitimacy of their national resistance and rejection of foreign occupation (a foreign occupation that I opposed since before it began). I carry no water for ISCI or Maliki, and am a staunch and frequent critic of each.

But that doesn't mean I have to put on blinders about some of the actions, beliefs and policies of the Sadrist movement. In doing so, I would be ignoring the legitimate complaints that large swathes of the Iraqi population have about JAM and the Sadrists in general.

It's not a question of black and white.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Eric Martin said...

Steve,

First of all I think it’s wrong to assume that all humans have shared values (the kind of homespun thinking that triggered this debacle in the first place).

I do not now, nor have I ever, assumed this.

Regarding your discussion of people imagining Iraqis to be a bunch of western, liberal democrats in waiting: I was a fierce skeptic of this argument when it was posed in 2002/2003, and I have not changed my position since.

My comment was not about "human values" as such. Your points about Iraq's tendency to view strength in groups, and roots in tribal culture, are well made but not news to me.

Actually, I tend to think they reinforce the point that I was making: there is competition between groups in Iraq for power, money and territory. Conflict, instability and fear tend to reinforce communal modes of thinking, especially in societies in which they have a strong tradition regardless.

Anyone that looks at the evolved map of Baghdad when plotted for sectarian population density would be hard pressed to explain these mass migrations without acknowledging said competition between groups.

Further, it's not merely "crass" to suggest that parties that are out of power are seeking to gain some of that power. They might not want to simply join in the Green Zone government as it currently exists, and they might want to kick out foreign elements as part of their agenda. But that doesn't change the fact that a big part of the motivation is to have a share of the power - political and economic.

And sometimes that's a zero-sum equation. For example, many of the Sunni groups on the outside of the Green Zone do not want to live under a Shiite-dominate government.

Such competition is human nature, not a human value exclusive to the West. If you look at the history of Iraq and the Arab world in general, would you suggest that there is an absence of groups competing for power and wealth?

Is it crass to acknowledge this?

8:46 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Eric, thank you so much for your remarks directed to me, in the form of a jury-address on charges of whitewashing the truth respecting the toxic cocktail Sadr who is neither white nor black, if I have that right. I thought it was quite a good read. Still, having read it carefully, I can find nothing you didn't already say in a similar screed in April 07 (see above). I think if you want to practice this address further, you should get a full-length mirror, and perhaps think about not posting any more of them up on people's blogs.

I have the honor to remind you that I sometimes highlight news-items on Sadrist sites, because they are of interest to readers, and are usually not cited elsewhere in English. Some complain that when I do so, or shortly thereafter, I should be fair and balanced and also say bad things about Sadr and the Sadr trend. I would very much like to do so, but I have noticed in the current climate there doesn't seem to be very much of that kind of thing in Iraqi Arabic language sources. I know that you understand no Arabic, which is why you are comfortable making sweeping assertions about the affairs of this Arabic-speaking country, but still it seems to me contradictory: You want me to say new bad things about the Sadrists but you provide me with no assistance where to look, and in fact you are in principle unable to do so because of your ignorance of Arabic.

Respecting your other remarks, when and if the occupier leaves the country, Iraqi groups will be able to grapple with these questions on their own, and I am sure if they feel it would be useful to have your sociological insights they will get in touch with you.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Eric Martin said...

badger,

As friendly and courteous as ever I see. Charming.

Some complain that when I do so, or shortly thereafter, I should be fair and balanced and also say bad things about Sadr and the Sadr trend.

I have the honor of reminding you that I have never so complained.

You want me to say new bad things about the Sadrists but you provide me with no assistance where to look, and in fact you are in principle unable to do so because of your ignorance of Arabic.

Again, it is my honor to remind you that I asked for no such thing and do not want it of you. I have never indicated otherwise.

Please can you point to an example of me asking you to post "new bad things about the Sadrists" or anything of the sort?

What I have done, on occasion, is make a comment or two where it seems that your are ignoring the reality that the Sadrist movement has very real and serious flaws as well as virtues. That you are suggesting that there are no interests motivating the Sadrists, or outcomes from their actions, other than pure and noble ones.

But yes, I do not speak or read Arabic. And no, this does not disqualify me from addressing matters related to Iraq. As a citizen in a democracy, I am obligated to do my best to inform myself of areas of foreign policy that my country involves itself in, even when I don't speak the native language. Luckily, there have been impressive breakthroughs in translating capacity and information dissemanation to help people like me. Otherwise, the range of citizens that could form an opinion on any given foreign policy matter would be extremely limited.

In that vein, it is incumbent on me (a non-native speaker) to seek out translations and other credible sources and analysis. Which is one of the reasons that I read your site - which I like. But then, I have always complimented your work and promoted it. You see, the animosity between us has mostly flowed one way, though I couldn't tell you what I did to offend you in the first place (was it my offer to give you a spot on AmFoot?).

Anyway, I make a point of reading as much Arab language media as I can (translated of course), think tank reports that are authored (in part) by Arabic speakers and/or based on translated interviews with Iraqis (including Sadrists), Iraqi bloggers that blog in English and Arabic speaking journalists like Nir Rosen and Anthony Shadid.

Those sources are where I derive my understanding of the Sadrist movement.

Anyway, I don't have time to hunt down a bunch of links, but this ICG Report (relying largely on interviews with JAM members and other Sadrists) and the footnotes is a good place to start if you've honestly never read anything bad about JAM from Iraqis. Unless you think that the ICG entirely fabricated those intreviews.

http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=4210&l=1

1:48 PM  
Blogger Eric Martin said...

The URL, it appears, is too long. Here's a working link done the proper way.

1:50 PM  
Anonymous Klaus said...

Because of the state Iraq is in, it is so wickedly hard to get a hold on. There's too much propaganda interference and news blackouts to get a clear, unfiltered picture of what exactly is happening - it's just too chaotic. I believe that, under such conditions, one must propose some future scenarios that individually would validate a separate set of assumptions, such as: no real divide between nationalists, or, no zeal left in the resistance and general war fatigue. And then simply wait and see which assumptions turn out to be correct.

8:21 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

Eric,

First off I’d just like to clarify why we’re having this discussion at all. Badger and I passed comment on the anonymous post on another site by a political scientist returning from Baghdad with what he believed was some sort of eye opening analysis. It was not. In my opinion it epitomized some fundamental problems in American analysis of Iraqi affairs in that it viewed Iraq through a lens that is culturally American and – for whatever reason – refuses to more thoroughly explore what it is about Iraq that is particular to that country and its people. My reply to your comment here is that you seemed to be defending his position (please correct me if that wasn’t the case) and my allegation of crassness – which I still hold to – was directed at that original analysis which is really no different from the average NYT editorial about how less than noble the Iraqi’s have turned out to be. The whole thing smacked of a sense of racial or cultural superiority.

“I do not now, nor have I ever, assumed this.”

I accept that and apologize without reservation.


“Your points about Iraq's tendency to view strength in groups, and roots in tribal culture, are well made but not news to me.”

So why are they so disregarded?

“Actually, I tend to think they reinforce the point that I was making: there is competition between groups in Iraq for power, money and territory. Conflict, instability and fear tend to reinforce communal modes of thinking, especially in societies in which they have a strong tradition regardless.”

In the Pol-Sci’s original this is posited as outside groups shuffling to get to the trough. My reading is somewhat different. The tribes and nationalists are not struggling for involvement in the US imposed system, they are positioning to overthrow it. This is not because they are merely “rejectionist” for its own sake or that they are “sullen” for being left outside the door. These are not Congressmen reaching for another handful of pork from the barrel to shave a percentage point from the unemployment figures prior to an election. These are real Iraqi leaders attempting to ensure the survival of a cultural and social hierarchy that is appropriate to the needs and demands of their followers. These are not base desires.

“Anyone that looks at the evolved map of Baghdad when plotted for sectarian population density would be hard pressed to explain these mass migrations without acknowledging said competition between groups”.

But, as I explained in my previous post, this is not a competition that is simply between groups but one that seeks to define the very existence – or not – of Iraq itself.


“And sometimes that's a zero-sum equation. For example, many of the Sunni groups on the outside of the Green Zone do not want to live under a Shiite-dominate government”

My own experience among Sunni’s in Iraq was not that they didn’t want to live under a Shi’a government (the very terminology was actually considered base) but that they didn’t want to live under a theocracy – of any persuasion. Reservations about the Sadrists were mostly concerned with education, perceived ability and – it must be said – a class based snobbery that is equally shared with the SCIRI supporting Shi’a middle class. This is not about sectarian hatred. The kind of post-Saddam government most dreamed of would be made up of dull technocrats who knew how the country functioned. Unfortunately, the most able were barred from office by the de-Ba’athification process.

All in all, Eric, I do not disagree with your overall assessment of human nature. However, I believe it to be a null point in Iraq at this juncture. If and when the US withdraws, forcing the retreat of the exiles, I think this kind of analysis will become relevant. Until such time as that happens the demand upon leaders from their constituents will be for the establishment of a political system that suits their needs. The leaders will, dutifully, follow.

7:43 AM  
Anonymous Steve said...

Klaus,

I couldn't agree more, which is why the work that Badger is doing- and others like him of course - is of such importance.

The domination of information from Iraq by the US military and administration has infantilized the discussion both here in the US and in Europe.

For myself I find it important to have "landmarks" and use them to plot relative positions. One such is the nationalism of Muqtada al Sadr. Allegations of his personal involvement in sectarian violence (by which I mean the handing out of orders and such like) simply don't fit his worldview and should be treated with skepticism. Iraq is full of such anomalies and we must be very careful to explore them.

8:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Martin said...

Steve,

First of all, thank you for engaging in a civil and intelligent manner. Appreciated. As you said, I think we are mostly in agreement on the big picture items, but there are some areas to clarify.

But, as I explained in my previous post, this is not a competition that is simply between groups but one that seeks to define the very existence – or not – of Iraq itself.

I agree to the extent that you are saying that there are many different competitions, some intertwined and some not.

For example, I agree that there is a nationalist/unitary faction that is competing with a federalist/separatist faction. But there are other competitions and flashpoints as well. I think you would agree that the sectarian cleansing of Baghdad was not necessarily a function of the nationalist vs. federalists conflict.

What I would say is that I think the nationalist v. federalist dynamic has been severely underreported and studied in Western media. I myself was no doubt guilty of ignoring this component until fairly late in the game, regrettably.

On the other hand, the "sectarian" paradigm was adopted early on, and has been used as a a shorthand to describe all manner of conflict - related and not.

But I don't look at it as an "either or," but rather as a "both."

That is, the Sadrists have been engaged in activities that could accurately be described as sectarian cleansing/targeting, whereas they are also involved in a struggle with federalists to, as you put it, determine the very existence – or not – of Iraq itself.

I do not believe that Moqtada's hands are entirely clean in this regard. And neither do many Iraqis.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Eric Martin said...

Follow up:

In the Pol-Sci’s original this is posited as outside groups shuffling to get to the trough. My reading is somewhat different. The tribes and nationalists are not struggling for involvement in the US imposed system, they are positioning to overthrow it. This is not because they are merely “rejectionist” for its own sake or that they are “sullen” for being left outside the door. These are not Congressmen reaching for another handful of pork from the barrel to shave a percentage point from the unemployment figures prior to an election. These are real Iraqi leaders attempting to ensure the survival of a cultural and social hierarchy that is appropriate to the needs and demands of their followers. These are not base desires.

Well, some are and some aren't. Some of the groups you mentioned are, really, just pushing for more inclusion/access/power. Some Sahwa, too, have actually been asking US forces to stay as a bulwark and source of protection/largesse. But generally speaking, I think you are right in your description.

The "base desires" part comes in when those factions turn on each other and compete for economic and political power which has occurred, to varying degrees, throughout the occupation, and might again post-US withdrawal.

The nationalists/tribal elements have had a very hard time forming a united front still, some 5+ years into the invasion. Every few months, we hear rumors of a new nationalist bloc forming, and yet there is little to show for it thus far.

There are good reasons for this, and some of them are what I mentioned: competition for political and economic power amongst groups that see themselves as rivals. At times, outside powers and internal rivals have exacerbated these tensions quite deliberately.

In the end, Sadr might be the best (or at least "a") hope for broaching those divides, but there is still a lot of mistrust and animosity toward him and his followers in influential Sunni circles.

Nevertheless, I do believe that such an alliance is a real possibility in the near future. More likely now than at several junctures in the past when there were similar discussions, rumors and trial balloons.

Time will tell.

12:26 PM  

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