So says the NY Times in today's lead story, above the fold. Here's the opening paragraph:
Members of United States-allied Awakening Councils have quit or been dismissed from their positions in significant numbers in recent months, prey to an intensive recruitment campaign by the Sunni insurgency, according to government officials, current and former members of the Awakening and insurgents.
Which is followed up a little later with this money shot (emphasis mine):
Although there are no firm figures, security and political officials say hundreds of the well-disciplined fighters — many of whom have gained extensive knowledge about the American military — appear to have rejoined Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Beyond that, officials say that even many of the Awakening fighters still on the Iraqi government payroll, possibly thousands of them, covertly aid the insurgency.
Bottom line: Not only have we done a complete 360 and wound up back to where we started at the start of the invasion and occupation in March of 2003, we taxpayers had once paid al Qaeda in Mesopotamia double agents to attack our troops and some of them are still being paid by our man al-Maliki to use our own troop positions, strength, strategies and tactics against us.
This is a stunning but not unexpected turnaround, stunning in that a mere month and a half (the al Jazeera video was broadcast on September 2 of this year) the Awakening councils went from being fearful of an American withdrawal to walking off the job, some of them still collecting paychecks.
The damnable thing is that al Qaeda, as with the early part of the war, is wooing them with lures of cash, and reports are that they're paying them more than the $300 a month they were getting from the Iraqi government that, 6 months after the last parliamentary elections, may or may not be legitimate. This is plainly an intelligence failure. Despite early gains the Bush administration made in freezing al Qaeda assets, those assets had obviously been diverted to other accounts in "secure, undisclosed locations."
These Sunni insurgents, of course, are originally Iraqi soldiers who'd served under Saddam. When Bremer came in at the start of his Year of Living Dangerously as Viceroy of Iraq, he'd made the colossal blunder of disbanding the Iraqi army, leaving hundreds of thousands of soldiers without work and with families to feed, thereby making a perfect Petri dish for a well-armed and well-trained insurgency with right on their side. It would be easy to miscategorize these Sunnis as mere mercenaries, whores of war who ally themselves with whomever waves the most money in front of their noses.
But when Bremer came in, Iraqi farmers and merchants suddenly had to cope with competition from abroad, making them serfs and immigrants in their own country and playing havoc with the tax structure, and they got priced out of their own jobs. By 2004, at least a quarter of all Iraqis were on some subsistence program not dissimilar to food stamps. We'd smashed their military and economic infrastructure, played havoc with their oil industry and hastily replaced Saddam Hussein's homegrown tyranny with an American made tyranny that left dead Iraqis lying facedown in open sewers.
They're getting far less electricity than they did under Saddam, they now have not only an insanely persistent occupying force to contend with but also a local al Qaeda branch that's gunning for them for being our allies (at least Saddam kept them out of Iraq save for Mosul and Kirkuk in the northern region). Iraq still has far fewer schools and hospitals than they need and we'd built only a quarter of the hospitals we'd promised to build.
And the government's death squads are still killing civilians. The only difference is, it's the Sunnis getting wiped out this time.
So, is it any wonder the beleaguered Sunnis, sick and tired of empty US promises of steady jobs in the Shi'ite government of Nouri al Maliki, have lost patience and gone over the hill where the grass is greener?
This is a comment from Zuhair al-Chalabi (no relation to white collar criminal and pathological liar Ahmad Chalabi), head of the government's "Reconciliation Council" (little more than a religiously partisan organization):
“Fighting the Al Qaeda organization does not mean you are giving service to the government or to the people, and that you deserve gifts, rank, presents or benefits,” said Zuhair al-Chalabi, head of the National Reconciliation Committee, set up to heal the country’s sectarian divides. “It is a national duty.”
Of course, if either al-Chalabi or al-Maliki were truly sincere about reconciliation, they'd bring these soldiers back into the government fold instead of freezing them out and asking them to fight al Qaeda without the support of the government. After all, "Fighting the Al Qaeda organization does not mean you are giving service to the government." In other words, just fight your fellow Sunnis with what you've got because it's your patriotic duty. But putting Saddam's former troops back on the payroll is the only major instance in which Iraq has not done a 360. Going around in circles is our job.
So what will Obama do in light of this information? Will we still stick to our August 2011 timeline and the December 31, 2011 SOFA agreement withdrawal deadline like we did by June 30th 2009?
If you're an Iraqi, few if any auguries are of good fortune. Obama never said even on the campaign trail, that he would withdraw all the troops. That's just what we wanted to hear and preferred to think he was still the 2002 Obama that excoriated the Bush administration's plans for war with Iraq and not the 2008 Obama already fitting himself for the trap that Bush had carelessly laid out for him.
There's no such thing as violating SOFA if you merely redraw the city lines so we can claim with a straight face that we no longer have combat troops in the capital. Besides, SOFA can always be "renegotiated". Plus, we can pronounce combat operations as being over (like they were by May 1, 2003) if we just rebrand our combat troops as "peacekeeping advisors." (This would include, as the Army Times tells us, the 2nd Stryker Brigade out of Fort Lewis. The 5th Stryker Brigade, also out of Fort Lewis, has been rocked this fall by credible allegations that a dozen soldiers either murdered, mutilated or assisted in murdering and mutilating Afghani civilians.)
So, at the risk of oversimplifying a complex situation, there you have it in a nutshell: If you've been unemployed or erstwhile employed for 7 1/2 years and are the target of either American forces who are killing your countrymen or terrorists who are also killing your countrymen, it comes down to making a choice that's the lesser of two evils, which is going to work for the people who at least pay you better. And money cuts through a lot of religious loyalty and ideologies.
We've done a complete 360 in Iraq. And, as Rob Grace said in August of last year, "(A)s far as the Iraq War goes, the 2008 election didn’t matter."