Monday, May 05, 2008

What's Going on in Iraq?

The Michael Yon perspective. Which I think I will trust more than the perspective of an armchair defeatist already deeply invested in a "the Surge is a Failure" meme.

Al Qaeda's aim was to destroy Iraq in civil war. Allegedly devout Muslims, the terrorist savages were willing to rape, murder and pillage their own people just as long as they could catch America in the middle. One reason Al Qaeda in Iraq can regenerate so quickly, despite being hated by most Iraqis, is that, armed with generous funding from outside Iraq, they mostly recruit young men and boys from Iraqi street gangs, giving them money, guns and drugs.

In contrast, JAM and the other Shia militias do not want to destroy Iraq; they want power in the new Iraq. They did not, for the most part, start out as criminal gangs, but as self-defense organizations protecting Shia neighborhoods from the chaos of post-invasion Iraq, including Al Qaeda.

Because the militias are strong, well-organized and long had deep support among the population, and because their goal is political power, not random destruction, some have argued that we should have nothing to do with taking them on. They predict a bloody and futile campaign that would make us once again enemies of the Iraqi people rather than their defenders.

These critics miss a crucial on-the-ground reality: Virtually all insurgencies, however noble their original purpose, eventually degenerate into criminal organizations, classic Mafia-like protection rackets, especially as they achieve their original goals.

With Al Qaeda mostly wiped out of Baghdad, the militias that once defended Shia neighborhoods now prey on them. In Basra to the south, where al Qaeda always feared to tread, the situation is even worse. Practically speaking, that city has been ruled by an uneasy coalition of rival Shia gangs for years.

Mind you, that is only the military situation. Which, however crucial and deadly, was always only part of the picture of what the U.S. is trying to do there. Still, it's one he knows pretty thoroughly, and in Iraq the military and the political realms are not sharply depicted. They bleed into each other. Literally.