Monday, May 05, 2008

In Iraq, a storm before the calm by Michael Yon

It's too bad our government is so inept in explaining to the American people how events and strategy are playing out in the Mideast. Surely some of what the respected reporter, Michael Yon, tells us here can be explained to us by the Bush Administration without compromising security.

In Iraq, a storm before the calm
By Michael Yon
Monday, May 5th 2008, NY Daily News
April saw 49 U.S. casualties in Iraq, the highest total in seven months. Does this mean, as some insist, that the enormous progress we have made since the start of the military surge is being lost?

As one who has spent nearly two years with American soldiers and Marines and British Army troops in Iraq - having returned from my last trip a month ago - here's my short answer: no.

We are taking more casualties now, just as we did in the first part of 2007, because we have taken up the next crucial challenge of this war: confronting the Shia militias.

In early 2007, under the leadership of Gen. David Petraeus, we began to wage an effective counterinsurgency campaign against the reign of terror Al Qaeda in Iraq had established over much of the midsection of the country. That campaign, which moved many of our troops off of big centralized bases and out into small neighborhood outposts, carried real risks.

In every one of the first eight months of 2007, we lost more soldiers than we had the previous year. Only as the campaign bore fruit - in the form of Iraqi citizens working with American soldiers on a daily basis, helping uncover terrorist hideouts together - did the casualty numbers begin to improve.

Now we are helping the Iraqis deal with a much different problem: the Shia militias, the most well-known of which is "Jaysh al-Mahdi," known as JAM, largely controlled by Moqtada al-Sadr.

To comprehend our strategy here, we need to understand the goals of these militias, which pundits, politicians and the press all too often gloss over. 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.

The great victory of the past year and a half has been the decision of Sunni citizens to turn against Sunni outlaws. Now, neither we nor the Iraqi government can maintain our credibility with the Sunni if the Shia militias are allowed to remain outside the law.

The militias, unlike Al Qaeda, are not insane; we can negotiate with them. But we and the Iraqi government can only capitalize on the shifting sentiments of the Shia neighborhoods if we first demonstrate that we and the government - not the gangs - control the streets.

That means, for the next few months, expect more blood, casualties and grim images of war. This may lead to a shift in the political debate inside the United States and more calls for rapid withdrawal. But on the ground in Iraq, it's a sign of progress.

Yon is an independent reporter and blogger ( His new book is "Moment of Truth in Iraq."By Michael Yon

From Wikipedia about Michael Yon:
Michael Yon is an American author, independent reporter, and blogger. He has been embedded on numerous occasions with American and British troops in Iraq, most prominently with the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment (Deuce Four) of the 25th Infantry Division in Mosul, Iraq, a deployment that ended in September 2005. He continues to blog from Iraqi towns and battlefields.

His writing is marked by fondness and admiration for American service personnel and Iraqis who he sees as engaging bravely in nation-building. It is also marked by candor about what he regards as U.S. and Iraqi failures. Because of this candor, particularly Yon's criticism of U.S. leadership during the early days of the Iraqi insurgency, the U.S. military twice banned Yon from Iraq. Among Yon's targets for criticism are military officials who, in his view, hamper independent reporting from the theater. In particular, Yon has accused LTC Barry A. Johnson of US Central Command of "a subtle but all too real censorship" and "ineptitude in handling the press".

In April, 2008, Yon's book "Moment of Truth in Iraq" was published by Richard Vigilante Books. The book describes how U.S. counterinsurgency methods are creating what Yon sees as a foundation of success in Iraq. Within two weeks of its release date, Moment of Truth entered into's list of Top 10 bestsellers.


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