March 24, 2009

You can lead the indigenous political leadership to water ...

I am a big believer in the theory that even the most sophisticated and well-executed COIN campaign cannot, when executed by a third party (such as the United States in Iraq or Afghanistan), guarantee victory. All a good COIN campaign can do is set the conditions for political reconciliation and compromise.

We Americans wonder why the Iraqi government is not eager to bring reconciled Sunni militiamen into the national security apparatus. But as LTC Doug Ollivant told Linda Robinson in her book, "There are twenty-five hundred years of literature on the bad things that democracies tend to do."

Perhaps, as Ollivant noted, the Iraqi leaders "are well and faithfully implementing the policy preferences of their constituents." How else to explain this? (I don't buy that it's about oil prices.)

After months of promises, only 5,000 Awakening members — just over 5 percent — have been given permanent jobs in the Iraqi security forces. Those promises were made last year when Iraq was flush with oil money.

Now with Iraq’s budget battered by falling oil prices, the government is having trouble paying existing employees, much less bringing in Sunni gunmen already regarded with suspicion by the Shiite-led government.

In interviews with leaders from a dozen local Awakening Councils, nearly all complained that full-time jobs were lacking, that pay was in arrears and that members were being arrested despite promises of amnesty.

Perhaps most ominously, many expressed concern this might drive some followers back to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a largely Iraqi group with some foreign leadership, at a time when both Iraqi and American military commanders say that the group seems to be making gains, small but worrisome, around Baghdad.