Friday, April 3, 2009

Why You Don't Get Involved In Wars You Don't Have To, Part 563

The caption for this picture reads: U.S. Army 1st Lt. Joshua Jones, with the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, talks with a member of the Sons of Iraq in Ameriyah, Iraq, Feb. 9, 2009. There appears to be an Iraqi police officer in the group, as well. Image credit: U.S. Army

There are many reasons that a country should never get involved in a war when it doesn't have to. Spencer Ackerman wrote about one today:

Over the weekend and continuing somewhat during the week, Sons of Iraq militiamen have been battling Iraqi government forces after the government arrested Adil Mashadani, a Sons of Iraq/Awakening leader. Now the U.S. military is firing from the air on the militiamen it has backed since 2007.

We Can’t Be Friends We Can’t Be Enemies

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This is a part of any protracted war - there will inevitably be alliances that are based on the mutual benefit they bring to the parties, not on the shared interests or cultural ties. Such alliances are easily broken, as should be evident from our alliance with the Soviet Union during World War II. In that conflict, after initially aligning itself with Nazi Germany, the Soviets turned to the Allies and the United States after Hitler invaded them in 1941.

That alliance lasted, barely, until the end of the war. The Soviet Union then regained its status as our principal enemy, which ended with the end of communism in the 1980s.

Over at Army of Dude, Alex Horton wrote an article on one such alliance we've had in Iraq, with a militia known as The 1920s:

The 'awakening group' movement first appeared in Anbar in late 2005 (or if you're John McCain, it started in a time warp before and after the surge) and has since grown to a large, lethal force that battles elements of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq. That is usually where the media narrative leaves you, insinuating that these groups are patriotic volunteers casting out the demons of al-Qaeda. What they don't mention is both the original motivations for these groups and their history of battling American soldiers. One of the latest to operate (and propped up by my unit in Diyala Province) is the 1920 Revolution Brigade. I covered their nationalist history a year ago, citing their name was a throwback to the 1920 revolution to oust British influence. So this group in particular didn't start in 2005, 2006 or even 2007, but in 2003 for one reason: to attack and kill Americans.

They got pretty good at it. While in Baghdad in late 2006 and early 2007, any group that we battled that wasn't Sadr's militia was likely the 1920s.

Enemies With Benefits

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Like many such groups in Iraq, they probably found it easy to attract experienced recruits. We disbanded the old Iraqi Army and sent them home. The only thing they needed was weapons and money. We provided the money, and in some cases provided the weapons, as well.

Such groups didn't like Al Qaeda in Iraq any more than we did, but for their own reasons:

We grudingly worked with the 1920s as per our orders. We were moderately successful in tracking down al-Qaeda operatives (or possibly doing in-house cleaning) and caches. But the point isn't the success of turning over a new leaf with insurgents, though. We traded in our values, our self reliance to get things done, for $300 a head. We did not destroy our enemy but rather aided them. We secured not only their future success, but the future instability with the Iraqi government. Maliki and his Shia government adamantly oppose the Sunni groups and have said in the past that they will never become a permanent part of Iraqi forces.

But they don't pay the former insurgents, we do, as taxpayers. That's why they're trying to leverage the American military into giving them more money, the ol' "pay me more or I'm going back to killing you" ruse. And for their part, they'll probably be successful. Commanders know that they're important not for killing al-Qaeda, but for not fighting us. They're not allies, they're enemies with benefits. And they're holding the cards.

Enemies With Benefits

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The 1920s were a different militia, of course, but as Wired observed last year, the reasons for our alliance with the Sons Of Iraq, and the potential dangers, were similar:

The enlistment of Sunni neighborhood militias -- the so-called "Sons of Iraq" groups -- helped turn the tide against extremists in Iraq last year. But now that security is improving and the Iraqi Army is taking charge, what do we do with more than 100,000 armed, empowered, but poorly trained militiamen? (You can tell them by their distinctive reflective belts, pictured.)

What to Do with the 'Sons of Iraq'

In a report on the situation from late last year, the Council on Foreign Relations observed:

In August 2006, tribal sheikhs in Iraq's Anbar Province publicly turned against a chief U.S. threat: al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Their decision to cut ties with AQI, dubbed the "Anbar Awakening" by Iraqi organizers, has been hailed a turning point in the U.S.-led war effort. Gen. David H. Petraeus, then the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told lawmakers in Washington the uprising reduced U.S. casualties, increased security, and even saved U.S. taxpayers money. Yet the future of the Awakening movement--and its associated security forces, the so-called Sons of Iraq (SOI) volunteers--continues to test Iraq's fractious political climate. Internal disputes within the predominantly Sunni groups have threatened the movement, some experts say. Sunni groups have also complained about low pay and a lack of opportunities for employment within Iraq's army and police forces. These concerns reached an apex in late 2008, when the U.S.-led military coalition began handing oversight for the Sons of Iraq--including responsibility for payment and job placement--to the Iraqi government.

Finding a Place for the ‘Sons of Iraq’

As you can see, the story sounds similar to the story of Alex Horton's acquaintances, the 1920s. These groups worked with us when it was in their best interests. Now, it no longer is. As the Army of Dude article indicates, our soldiers were well aware of this potential at the time, so I suspect it's not doing them any more emotional damage to be now fighting these folks than it is for them to be combating anyone else there. But it does show what a hazardous thing such alliances can be.

This is another reason you don't get involved in war when you don't have to. Almost inevitably, you end up doing things like this. It may be one of the lesser reasons, when you consider what other reasons exist, but making things much more complicated and hazardous for your country's future is one of them.

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