Saturday, May 19, 2007

Pete Moore describes the CPA theories of the 2004 insurgency

This is fascinating. Pete Moore is a political scientist studying the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and he was reviewing a bunch of documents on line when he discovered that he could get into the Word documents and see all the changes that had been made before each document was published. He found an internal CPA document that presented the various theories about why the insurgent attacks were declining in number in late 2003. From Salon, here is what Pete learned:
Presumably, staffers at the CPA's Information Management Unit, which produced the weekly reports, were cutting and pasting large sections of text into the reports and then eliminating all but the few short passages they needed. Much of the material they were cribbing seems to have come from the kind of sensitive, security-related documents that were never meant to be available to the public. In fact, about half of the 20 improperly redacted documents I downloaded, including the March 28 report, contain deleted portions that all seem to come from one single, 1,000-word security memo. The editors kept pulling text from a document titled "Why Are the Attacks Down in Al-Anbar Province -- Several Theories." (The security memo and the last page of the March 28 report can be seen here, along with several other CPA documents that can be downloaded.)

Microsoft Word's "Mark up" feature shows the time and date of the deletion and the identity of the person doing the deleting, but it doesn't give the original author of the passage or when it was written. The title and hints in the text point to a memo written by one person in December 2003 or January 2004, when daily attacks on coalition forces in Anbar, the heavily Sunni province west of Baghdad that is the heartland of the insurgency, were the lowest in many months. These were the CPA's salad days. Prior to the al-Sadr uprising and the Abu Ghraib scandal and the failed siege of Fallujah later in 2004, the CPA believed that it was succeeding in reshaping Iraq. In his book "The Assassins' Gate," George Packer depicts late 2003 and early 2004 as the last phase of quiet isolation for the CPA, before the facts on the ground began to impinge on its Green Zone idyll. "Why Are the Attacks Down" shows the CPA on the cusp, as the author gives a half-dozen different theories for the short-term decline in violence.

One explanation given for the downturn is called "Rounding Up the Bums." It suggests that the U.S. military might have successfully quelled the insurgency. Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack, who commanded the 82nd Airborne in Iraq until May 2004, was well known for using aggressive tactics. The memo describes Swannack and other generals as believing that American raids on suspected insurgents were driving the bad guys "underground." The memo acknowledges collateral damage, but is blithely unaware of the implications. "Most raids also leave in their wake a number of innocents who were either rounded up and detained or had their houses busted up ... But there appears to be sufficient care in how the attacks are carried out, adequate information in the community about the mild reality of detention, and sufficient civil affairs clean up afterwards that this has not been a major factor." By April 2004, the infamous Abu Ghraib pictures had begun to surface, visual evidence of how the military had been alienating the Iraqi civilian population.

A second explanation hinges explicitly on an old ethnic stereotype about how Arabs only understand force. The "Crossed the Line" argument insists that violence is intrinsic to Arab culture: "[It] is a form of political discourse as well as being culturally acceptable for settling disputes and scores." The memo then argues that the violence in Anbar was quelled once the Americans proved they could be more violent. The Americans brought out a bigger stick, namely Gen. Abizaid's threat to "some 70 Sheikhs and community leaders" in Anbar "to unleash hell," twinned with the U.S. Air Force dropping some timely Joint Direct Action Munitions on the province.

A third explanation, "Occupation Ending," says that the insurgents are backing off because they think the U.S. is about to depart. "What they" -- meaning the Iraqis -- "have gotten wrong," says the memo's author, "is the idea that the military will be leaving Iraq in June, which one individual said he was sure was a major factor in the diminishing attacks. Oh well, this is one time it might be best that folks don't fully understand things." Supposedly, the CPA's June 2004 deadline for handing over sovereignty to the Iraqis was misread by some locals as implying the withdrawal of American troops, and thus caused the number of insurgent attacks to decrease. (Four years later, the Bush administration often says any deadline for troop withdrawal would increase attacks.)

A fourth argument, "Project Money Flowing," embraces an enduring pillar of American foreign policy in the Middle East. Economic development and free trade, according to the money theory, would solve political disputes. American cash was coming to Anbar, and violence was abating. "While the amounts of money are still modest, especially in Fallujah, there are a number of visible projects ongoing that have employed some people and given the appearance that help is on the way." If the violence was going down in Iraq, according to this theory, it must have been because the CPA's various development projects were paying off. In 2007, few would argue that there are many signs of economic development anywhere in Iraq, or that billions in U.S. aid has mitigated opposition to the American presence.

A fifth theory, "Engagement," says that Iraqis have begun to have hope thanks to sustained contact with Americans. "We'll take some credit here. We have been engaging widely with ... ex-Baathists, ex-Army. While many are tiring of the refrain that if you stay with us things will get better, for some they actually have improved and that many have given hope to entire groups." The author calls these people "the various groups of losers in the New Iraq."

A final argument for the downturn in attacks offers what briefly looks like a flash of reality. The "Operational Pause" theory surmises that reduced attacks may be a statistical blip. They may increase again as "terrorists" regroup for future fights against the Americans and "other Iraqis." But then the author calls this "a boring theory," and notes, "There are very few persons we have met who subscribe to this."

Nowhere in any of these theories, including the "boring" one, does the author address the dissolution of the Iraqi Army as a major contributor to the violence. Nowhere, in fact, does the author seem to know which "bums" or "losers" are attacking the Americans or why. Indeed, the most remarkable passage in the entire deletion is a simple statement by an Iraqi businessman, whom the writer quotes in passing while explaining why American-induced economic prosperity will end the fighting. "It is nothing personal," the Iraqi says. "I like you and believe you could be bringing us a better future, but I still sympathize with those who attack the coalition because it is not right for Iraq to be occupied by foreign military forces." In the world of the CPA circa 2004, first one American glosses over this Iraqi's prophetic words, and then another tries -- unsuccessfully, as it turns out -- to delete them.

-- By Pete Moore
The Iraqi Army was dissolved by Jerry Bremer, head of the CPA, on May 15, 2003. The Iraqis did not expect to be occupied by American armed forces for an extended period of time, and the senior leaders of the Army generally expected to work with the Americans to create a new government to replace Saddam and then usher the Americans out. Instead Bremer dissolved the military and even stopped paying military pensions to the families of soldiers. That, plus the deBaathification program that refused to allow anyone who had belonged to the Baath Party work for the government in a state where most employment was with the government created a highly trained and disaffected class of unemployable individuals, most with military training and weapons at home.

Then the occupation itself by foreign troops was (and is) seen as an insult to the Iraqi people and nation. The Iraqis are rightly proud of the fact that their society was in fact the source of all human civilization. Writing, numbers, hydraulic engineering, written law, agriculture, the first cities - all of that started along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. They have been conquered by barbarians before, but always got rid of them one way or another.

The Americans are just another bunch of conquering barbarians whose ancestors were northern hunter-gatherers 3,000 years after the ancestors of the Iraqis had invented civilization. And the descendants of these barbarians dare come in an try to teach civilization to the Iraqis? The Iraqis were all of civilization when civilization wasn't cool. And the American parvenus don't even realize how insulting they are being. It doesn't help a bit that George W. Bush is very clearly a great deal more stupid than Gen. Tommy Franks thinks Douglas Feith is.

It is clear that the American (OK - call it Coalition - same difference) occupation of Iraq is a high-level cultural insult to Iraqis. Add to this the utter stupidity of Jerry Bremer in forcing the Iraqi military into unpaid unemployment, and the insurgency is rather easily explained. It should have been anticipated, if the Bush Administration and the CPA personnel had a clue about the nature of Iraqi society and culture. That they had no clue is clearly demonstrated in the above document ressurected by Pete Moore.

The hints have been there, and the level of disaster that Bremer initiated when he disbanded the Iraqi Army has been clear to many of us from the time he did it. This is strong documentation of what set off the Insurrection in Iraq.

Think an understanding of this could lead to a solution? I do. But the solution will have to include the evacuation of the U.S. military from Iraq. There is no way any American military presence in Iraq will be able to do enough positive to offset the strong reason to continue the insurgency as long as they are there.

No comments: