It looks like we are royally fucked in Iraq.
Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing American troops by training and equipping a national army aren’t gaining traction. Instead, some troops that are formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq’s fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable.
The soldiers said that while they wore Iraqi army uniforms they still considered themselves members of the Peshmerga – the Kurdish militia – and were awaiting orders from Kurdish leaders to break ranks. Many said they wouldn’t hesitate to kill their Iraqi army comrades, especially Arabs, if a fight for an independent Kurdistan erupted.
“It doesn’t matter if we have to fight the Arabs in our own battalion,” said Gabriel Mohammed, a Kurdish soldier in the Iraqi army who was escorting a Knight Ridder reporter through Kirkuk. “Kirkuk will be ours.”
The Kurds have readied their troops not only because they’ve long yearned to establish an independent state but also because their leaders expect Iraq to disintegrate, senior leaders in the Peshmerga – literally, “those who face death” – told Knight Ridder. The Kurds are mostly secular Sunni Muslims, and are ethnically distinct from Arabs.
Their strategy mirrors that of Shiite Muslim parties in southern Iraq, which have stocked Iraqi army and police units with members of their own militias and have maintained a separate militia presence throughout Iraq’s central and southern provinces. The militias now are illegal under Iraqi law but operate openly in many areas. Peshmerga leaders said in interviews that they expected the Shiites to create a semi-autonomous and then independent state in the south as they would do in the north.
The Bush administration – and Iraq’s neighbors – oppose the nation’s fragmentation, fearing that it could lead to regional collapse. To keep Iraq together, U.S. plans to withdraw significant numbers of American troops in 2006 will depend on turning U.S.-trained Kurdish and Shiite militiamen into a national army.
The interviews with Kurdish troops, however, suggested that as the American military transfers more bases and areas of control to Iraqi units, it may be handing the nation to militias that are bent more on advancing ethnic and religious interests than on defeating the insurgency and preserving national unity.
A U.S. military officer in Baghdad with knowledge of Iraqi army operations said he was frustrated to hear of the Iraqi soldiers’ comments but that he had seen no reports suggesting that they would acted improperly in the field.
“There’s talk and there’s acts, and their actions are that they follow the orders of the Iraqi chain of command and they secure their sectors well,” said the officer, who refused to be identified because he’s not authorized to speak on the subject.
The rest of this Knight-Ridder article is even more depressing. Essentially, it gives the lie to the idea that the national elections would tamp down the insurgency and begin the process of bringing stability to Iraq.
In reality it appears the elections have served to eliminate the last obstacle to a wholesale descent into ethnic and sectarian violence.
“All of the Sunnis are facilitating the terrorists. They have little influence compared with the Kurds and Shiites, so they allow the terrorists to operate to create pressure and get political concessions,” Saleem said. “So they should be killed, too … the Sunni political leaders in Baghdad are supporting the insurgency, too, and there will be a day when they are tried for it.”
The Kurds expect us to cut and run, and they are fully prepared to make their move at the appropriate time. They may succeed in crushing the insurgency where we have failed. But don’t expect the Turks, and Sunni Arab world to stand by idly while the Kurds engage in genocide.
To Bush and Cheney: “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive.”