The real meaning of “surge”

 I have noted from several recent newspaper and TV accounts covering the “surge” in Iraq that a significant percentage of the “Iraqi Army” soldiers engaged in joint operations with the US Army are actually members of Kurdish units — presumably peshmerga militia forces assigned temporarily to Baghdad and the surrounding area as part of the surge campaign.

I believe we can reasonably assume that these Kurdish units are administratively and operationally separate from Arab units of the regular “Iraqi Army” — with their own officers and with command, control and supply systems that are under exclusively Kurdish leadership — (i.e. not under the direct linear authority of the Iraqi central government’s Ministries of Defense or Interior.)  To what extent, if any, they are under direct American command and control is harder to discern.

I have found it noteworthy that in several of the news stories I have seen, American journalists have shown that local Iraqi civilians, in most cases (but not exclusively) inhabitants of Shiite neighborhoods, have welcomed the intervention of Kurdish soldiers as protectors of their lives and property from hostile Arab militias, whether rogue Sunni terrorist gangs or semi-independent Shiite units acting ostensibly on behalf of one or another department of the Iraqi central government. Evidently the more disciplined and efficient Kurds, who are not Arabs and who in many cases do not even speak the Arabic language, are considered by many innocent Arab civilians to be less partisan and hence more trustworthy than either marauding  Arab Sunnis or Shiites have proven to be.  This only strengthens my impression that in practical effect the role being played by Kurdish units supporting  US Army operations in Iraq today is essentially analogous to the role played by Gurkha mercenaries (Nepali Buddhists) serving with British colonial forces in policing Hindu-Muslim sectarian violence during the British Raj. 

What conclusions should we draw, if these impressions of mine are accurate?  (Note:  Can anyone can tell us authoritatively the percentage of Kurdish forces as distinct from official Iraqi central government troops that are being employed in current operations?  I don’t question that there are some Iraqi Arab troops so engaged.  My impression, however,  is that they are in the minority, and that their role is a relatively minor one.  I invite correction on that point.)

Personally, I am tempted to conclude that every Kurdish unit employed in this critical offensive “surge” is in effect a substitute for a unit of the “real” Iraqi Army that has failed to meet the required standards of competency and disciplinary commitment that the combat situation demands.  I am asserting that in every instance where General Petraeus elects to substitute a (borrowed or rented) Kurdish unit in place of one of the Iraqi Arab units that are supposedly ready for full combat duty, he is tacitly acknowledging once again the inaccuracy (dare I say dishonesty?) of Administration  claims to have successfully trained and fielded large numbers of combat-ready Iraqi Arab officers and soldiers. In my view, the command decision to rely primarily on Kurdish substitutes demonstrates, as nothing else could, that the “surge” is an unrealistic and unworkable strategy. I am  also asserting  that General David Petraeus himself knows this better than anyone else. 

Everyone on all sides already understands perfectly well that Americans and Kurds will not remain in Baghdad (or in Diyala Province, or al-Anbar Province) indefinitely — wasting their lives in a futile effort to end senseless internecine fighting between between rival Sunni and Shiite Arabs. If NEITHER Sunni NOR Shiite Arab leaders in Iraq are yet ready to make common cause against a common threat to the security and stability of their society, then the Petraeus strategy has been built on false and unrealistic foundations.  A military campaign that depends so heavily on a temporary combination of Americans and Kurds will, in the end, have provided nothing but a momentary political diversion — of real and lasting significance only in the context of US domestic politics.

The bottom line:  Whatever reduction (if any) in the overall level of violence that General Petraeus and President Bush may claim as a successful result of the current “surge” will prove itself to have been nothing more than an illusion, and a very fleeting  illusion at that.  The present campaign is, in fact, intended not so much to create a “breathing space” during which the Maliki government can get its political act together (past performance does not warrant optimism on that score), but rather is intended simply to buy time. Coach Bush is “playing out the clock”, in sports terminology, so that he can pass on to his successor the problem of extricating America from the Iraqi quagmire — in “overtime”.

Against that background, the selfish and childish squabbling going on now between our partisan politicians in Washington over when and on what timetable to withdraw from Iraq is obviously being carried on with cynical disregard for the interests and welfare of the vast majority of the people of Iraq as well as the interests and welfare of our own service personnel and their loved ones —  all of them equally victims of cynical and morally corrupt political leadership. It’s enough to make a person sick.

Ray Close

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