Saturday, March 19, 2005

The political wrangling hopefully will conclude soon with a coalition government. Despite some violence, it seems to me that the progress continues in Iraq. It also seems Iraqis are more optimistic than Americans about their future.

Several coalition partners have announced phased withdrawals bowing to political pressure at home, these include Italy, Ukraine, and Bulgaria. The Netherlands ended their time this past week and most will soon be gone.

It was interesting to watch the spins on the second anniversary of the invasion.

I particularly like the headlines "As Anti-War sentiments mounts, nations drop out of US coalition" and "The incredible crumbling coalition". Some people are still trying to make Iraq out to be an unqualified debacle, despite evidence to the contrary. There were protests around the world today because of the anniversary. The crowd in London was the biggest I heard of at 45000. They had hoped for over 200,000. In the US over 500 protests were planned. The papers commented that there was "less enthusiasm" for participating than in past anti-war rallies. Hey, that's what a reality check does!

I think the recent events in Palestine, Lebanon and the elections have given a few in the rabidly anti-war crowd some pause.

A case in point of progress is Sadr City, a huge mostly Shiite area in Baghdad. In September the 1st Cav was getting over 150 attacks a week. Moqtada's Militia was running rampant. The Cav did a few things that made a difference. First they hunted down and wore down the militia. They would make a lot of noise like an entire brigade was about to come through and the bad guys were on edge for weeks waiting for the big attack. When they did go in it was no contest. After that, there was a large weapons buy-back program. I watched the numbers every day and was amazed by the number and type of weapons, hundreds of mortar tubes, thousands of mortar rounds, 5000 plus anti-personnel mines plus everything else including a US made Dragon anti-tank weapon. I sat in Intel meetings where the buyback was poo-pooed as just a way for the insurgents to turn junk into cash as happened a few times before. In Sadr City the stuff had to be operational to get the big bucks. The commander believed that this would put some much needed cash in the hands of the families of Sadr City. A few weeks later a massive employment program hired over 15,000 people to rebuild roads, sewers and other parts of the infrastructure. The end result is now Sadr City is a completely different place. The weekly attacks are down to between 0 and 5. To put it a different way, the insurgency in Sadr City flatlined, while the citizens came back to life. It is still poor but positive signs of life are all around.

The pullouts really don't cause me any concern, they are reflections more of local politics than things getting too hot in Iraq. The chance of the security situation unraveling because of the pullout of several thousand coalition troops is slim to nil. The improved security is a testament both to coalition and Iraqi troops and security forces. I hope our troops will also be able to draw down a bit in the coming year. The absence of the Italian pizzeria in Tallil is more problematic. The Italians are in a relatively quiet part of the country that is predominately Shiite. Save a few roadside bombs once in a while, the place is stable. One of our doctors in their zone went outside the wire visiting villages and Bedouin camps with the Civil Affairs guys almost every day.

All the coalition troops have done an outstanding job in their respective areas. The leadership of many of the countries often sent troops despite the unpopularity of the enterprise. I always appreciated any coalition troops I came across as comrades in arms whether they were Polish, Ukrainian or Mongolian Infantry, Thai Medics, Japanese engineers, Australian surgeons or British Special Forces. Everyone who was there and those who continue to be have played a very significant role in rebuilding Iraq of which they should be proud.
The Iraqi military and security forces are shouldering larger roles and taking over jobs the coalition once had to perform.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

I've been looking through some very interesting old photographs at the site Iraqipages. In 1914 steamships could travel all the way up the Tigris from the Persian Gulf, a feat not possible today. Also, I love those round asphalt covered baskets used as boats. They called them Quffas and even transported water buffalo in them.

I have found some old itineraries for package tours around Iraq. They give an interesting glimpse of what hopefully will be possible in years to come. Apparently after 1993 this group offered three package tours of Iraq. The first visited the main historic and archeological sites, the other two were specifically geared to Christian and Muslim groups respectively.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

A major story this week was the bombing at a funeral in Mosul.

Its sad that the criminals continue to target so many innocent people. I wonder how much was paid to the bombers family. We observed that a large number of the attacks were funded by the moneymen. Apparently ideology was not a strong enough incentive anymore. Unfortunately the Italians reportedly paying 6 million dollars to free the female journalist doesn't help. Too bad they didn't pay 6 million Lira.

I just came across an abstract of a study that examines the effect of the US invasion on suicide bombings in Israel. The theory was that the removal of Saddam Hussein, who paid handsome rewards to the families of bombers, would decrease the number of attacks. This would indicate that the financial rewards tipped the balance for some people. The study found evidence that attacks were lower on average after the invasion and that perhaps 1100 casualties had been avoided. This assumes a steady state for all other variables, which can't be the case. The security fence has been given quite a bit of credit for the decrease. The paper does, however, provide food for thought about the role of financial incentives in terrorist activities.

For things like setting up IEDs and firing a few mortar rounds at the coalition I think its fairly clear from the evidence we saw that its easy to find a few yahoos to do it if the price is right. On the other hand I would be willing to bet that providing them with a steady peaceful job would be more attractive to them.

On the good news front I'm happy about the Iraqi reality TV show where terrorists give details of their exploits on camera. I think it confirms much of what we knew about the large numbers of criminals involved in the insurgency. Many, if not most, are in it for, shall we say, less than idealistic motives (e.g. You can make a good bit of money kidnapping people and stealing their stuff).

Sunday, March 06, 2005

My apologies, my postings for February were pretty weak. I'll get back into the swing of things now I'm back to my normal schedule at home. Last week I went back to work and caught up with what's been going on since I've left. At home, the kids are very busy little people and take a lot of my energy.

I have definitely felt a bit out of the loop lately in respects to the goings on in Iraq. In Iraq, I spent hours each day reading intelligence summaries and tactical updates. I've gone from feast to famine. I know better than to try to form much of an opinion based on what I see on TV. I'm trying to find some good sources on the ground instead. I have both soldiers and Iraqis that I can correspond with by email, but I haven't done much of that yet. The 3rd rotation military bloggers haven't had time to settle in. There are only a few I've found so far. Many of the larger units just got into position and are learning the ropes. When the initial learning phase is over, some will start blogging. I started about 3 weeks after we arrived in Iraq in March of 2004.

In the meantime, I found I can still read some of the publications I read while I was in Iraq. At LSA Ananconda the Corps Support Command puts out a weekly newspaper called the Anaconda Times, The Stars and Stripes newspaper puts out an insert in Iraq called the Scimitar and other commands also have there own publications. Many of these publications are published on the web and provide a much closer and comprehensive view of what's happening on the ground than the National Papers back at home. Its like reading your local paper, except the neighborhood is Iraq. Multinational Forces Iraq (MNF-I) has a good website that has photos and press releases as well as the MNF-I publications I mention above.

In addition I read blogs by Iraqis which give a different perspective on what's going on. Among my favorites are Iraq the Model, Healing Iraq and Friends of Democracy. I also go to Iraqi Blog Count which has a huge list of links to Iraqi blogs running the gambit from a teenage girl in Mosul to bitter baathists to Iraqi professionals.

Just a little tidbit I picked up from a DoD news briefing from 3March. Apparently the maneuver commanders are saying that the sophistication of the IEDs is decreasing. As a result they are seeing a trend towards larger bombs deployed in an attempt to make up for lack of precision. To me this suggests that the experts are being killed or captured or the environment is such that the insurgents are unable to use the same tactics. Most IEDs are command detonated, meaning that some guy is watching the target and is using either a remote control device like a garage door opener or they have a wire running to the bomb and they blow it manually. I heard a general commenting some days ago on the fact that the US casualty rate in February was the lowest since last July. In part they attribute this to an increase capability to jam remote control devices. Increased actionable intelligence and the participation of Iraqi security forces in counter-insurgency operations also has helped.

The civilian casualties in the last two weeks have been horrible. It seems every other day I hear about 20 or more civilians or Iraqi security forces being killed. The bombing at Hillah proved one more time a lesson the average Iraqi knows too well. The insurgents care nothing about Iraq's future, because they are not a part of it. Each outrage galvanizes the public against them. It was a plan full of folly from the beginning to think that a people who endured the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam's lunacy and years of deprivation would be intimidated into surrender when they can see the way forward now.

My opinion is that the tipping point has been reached. Despite the daily tragedies, they are far outnumbered by the daily triumphs and progress. The elections have appeared to have sent shock waves out that have emboldened people throughout the Arab world. Though full of pain, the rebuilding continues.

"They who sew in tears will reap with songs of joy.
He who goes out weeping carrying seed to sew,
will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him" - Psalm 126