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Know Your Enemy


(Photo credit for this heartbreaking shot to Damir Sagolij/Reuters — CHS)

NOTE: Yesterday afternoon, the Judge in the Libby trial received a note from the Jury (likely a question, but we're not sure), and that matter will be taken up some time this morning. Jane and Marcy will be at the courthouse by about 9:30 a.m. EST, and they will post word from there when they know. So while we're all waiting . . .

Tuesday's Boston Globe ran a front page article, "Uneasy start to Baghdad plan," that reports on how the current plan to pacify the Iraqi capital is going. As you'll see from the link, the subtitle is "Identifying insurgents proves difficult," and to prove the point, half way through the article, we find this stunning quote from a US soldier involved in the Baghdad operations:

I don't know who I'm fighting most of the time.

He was not kidding. To understand how serious this problem is, consider just the news we've seen in the last few days. The Administration is telling us that Iranians are supplying money, weapons and training to unnamed people in Iraq, and those weapons are being used to kill Americans. So Iranians are the enemy, right? Well, no, and the Secretary of Defense, who's next to the top in the chain of command, has just assured the American people that we are not planning a war against Iran. Moreover, anyone with any sense who has thought about this at all is warning that starting a war with Iran would be a huge strategic blunder that could inflame the entire Middle East and create uncontrollable conditions that would endanger US troops in Iraq. So we shouldn't be carelessly antagonizing the Iranians, okay? Except we are. Sy Hersh's The New Yorker article, which is starting to resemble The Iliad in its ability to spawn further stories ("feeding off the crumbs from Homer's table"), says this:

The U.S. military also has arrested and interrogated hundreds of Iranians in Iraq. “The word went out last August for the military to snatch as many Iranians in Iraq as they can,” a former senior intelligence official said. “They had five hundred locked up at one time. We’re working these guys and getting information from them. The White House goal is to build a case that the Iranians have been fomenting the insurgency and they’ve been doing it all along—that Iran is, in fact, supporting the killing of Americans.” The Pentagon consultant confirmed that hundreds of Iranians have been captured by American forces in recent months. But he told me that that total includes many Iranian humanitarian and aid workers who “get scooped up and released in a short time,” after they have been interrogated.

As Hersh reports, it seems the Administration has recognized, but not admitted to the public, that it made a huge blunder in invading Iraq and dismantling its Sunni-based but non-sectarian government and army, because that allowed the fundamentalist Shia regime in Iran to gain too much influence in Shia-dominated Iraq and throughout the region. This has alarmed our Sunni friends in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. To curtail that Shia/Iranian influence, US policy has shifted to support anyone who might check the Iranian influence. So a good soldier should be asking: which groups in Iraq are allied with the Iranians and which are independent or opposed?

Well, the central Iraqi government of Prime Minister al-Maliki is closely allied to the Iranians. Two of the government's largest Shia parties, Dawa and SCIRI, are very closely allied with the Iranians. Every time we arrest or kill Iranians in Iraq, the al-Maliki pro-Iranian government and its supporters lodge a strong protest. When we capture Iranians in Iraq, the pro-Iranian Iraq government works to secure their release. But are the Shia in the central government our enemies? Uh, no; our soldier's mission is to help support the Iraqi government against those who oppose it. So the mission is to limit the rising influence of pro-Iranian Shia, unless they are members of the Iraqi government that have close and growing ties with Shia Iran. Got it so far? I'm not done.

We don't like the Shia cleric Moktada al Sadr, and our soldiers have fought his Mahdi Army in fierce battles in several Iraq cities. They don't like us because we are invaders/occupiers in their country. So these Shia must be the enemy, right? Sorta, except al Sadr is not nearly as pro-Iranian as SCIRI Shia, who the neocons like Joe Lieberman keep saying are "moderate." In fact, al Sadr has been a consistent supporter of a strong central Iraq government; he wants a united nation, just like we do, and more independent of its neighbors. He just wants the US troops out of his country. He has tolerated death squads against the Sunnis, but al Sadr is also reported to be cooperating with the latest security plan, though predicting it will fail as long as Americans are in charge; he's telling his supporters to fall back and not engage the Iraqi and US troops, and he's standing back while US troops go after rogue elements of his own militia that are believed engaged in death squads.

So maybe al Sadr and his Madhi Army Shia are not the enemy, except the ones who are. Which are which? Well, you can tell the former from the latter when the latter shoot at us. And don't forget it was the SCIRI compound, not Sadr City, in which US troops captured several Iranians we accused of helping to arm Shia to kill Americans.

But at least the Sunnis are the enemy, except the ones who aren't, and lately that's becoming a little ambiguous, so I'll explain it. Sunnis who are participating in the pro-Iranian central government are okay; Sunnis who are opposing the pro-Iranian central government, because they fear Iran's influence for the same reasons we do, are the enemy. Make sense? And if that's not clear enough, Hersh reports that the US government is supporting militant jihadist Sunnis in Lebanon in order to offset Shia Hezbollah, and some of this support may be used to help train and arm Iraqi insurgents — probably Sunni, but maybe Shia? — to help fight Americans.

So your mission is to fight the bad Shia but not the good Shia, and fight the bad Sunni, but not the good Sunni. And make sure you don't get the good ones confused with the bad ones, because if you do, you can get in trouble with your own military command and be court martialed. Killing innocent civilians is not okay, but under the clear and hold strategy, you're expected to go through every house, not knowing who is innocent and who is not, and you're expected to confiscate weapons, except that civilians are entitled to be armed with one rifle and one clip of ammo for self protection against people who might break down their doors. But when you go in, you have to break down the civilians' doors, so they're going to be upset at you, and armed, even if they're innocent. And they have enough experience with Iraqi security forces to believe they may be in danger from their own army/police; they're the ones who are watching as you are conducting your joint operations.

Also, the Saudis are our friends. The Saudis are Sunnis, and they provide financial and possibly other support to the minority/insurgent Sunnis in Iraq and have said they'll intervene more directly to protect the Sunnis if they're seriously threatened by the Shia government. The Sunnis would be threatened if we focused on the Sunnis. So when you're fighting the Sunnis who are fighting the Shia pro-Iranian government, don't go too far, because that would upset our Saudi Sunni friends and encourage them to support the Sunnis you're fighting. Message: fight, but don't fight too hard.

On Tuesday a suicide bomber attacked the base in Afghanistan where Vice President Cheney had stopped. The bomber never got beyond security at the gate, but the blast killed 23 people, including two Americans. The media reported on the Vice President, that he may have been the target, that the attack was symbolic, and that he was safe and went on with his meetings. There was only a brief mention of the 23 people killed; worse, no report I've seen mentioned what, if anything, the Vice President said about the people whose lives were lost protecting him. I hope he said more than this.

Finally, the White House announced today that they want to talk to the Iranians and Syrians about things those regimes might do to improve security in Iraq, so if you get an order to arrest some Iranians, respectfully ask your commanding officer if he/she got the memo. If he/she didn't, I don't know how to advise you.

I don't know who I'm fighting most of the time.

No kidding buddy, and neither do we.


Dear Congress:

When the Administration described its new escalation plan in January, the President promised, and many of you insisted, that no new plan should go forward unless there was a clear, understandable, finite and feasible mission for our troops. Our highest military officers demanded that the mission be carefully defined before committing more troops. Even those of you who supported sending more troops agreed that a clearly defined mission was the essential condition. You promised the American people that this would be your policy.

Well, there's a soldier in Iraq who's there because you allowed the President to send him there, and he says he doesn't know who the enemy is. He's not alone. You've got 140,000 troops over there, and more on the way, and they all have the same problem. Knowing who the enemy is the absolute prerequisite to having a clearly defined and feasible mission. But he says he doesn't know, and frankly, I don't think you do either.

As far as our troops, their families and the rest of us can tell, we have nothing but a hopelessly muddled "policy" that can't consistently define the enemy or our soldiers' mission, can't explain why they should be risking their lives and has no clue why any of this is in the nation's strategic interests. In place of a rational policy, we have disingenuous, incoherent babble from this Administration and from those of you who still support this war. A growing majority of the American people now realize this emperor has no clothes, and you are embarassing us by not admitting it and by refusing even to debate this reality. We will hold you accountable in 2008.

Congress, you have failed this soldier. You've failed all the "reinforcements" you are sending his way, because they can't help if you can't even explain the mission or help them understand who their enemy is. You authorized this. This is your responsibility. You allowed the President to put this soldier and his buddies in harms way, but you've made it impossible for them to defend themselves because they can't even tell who they're supposed to fight.

You have a Constitutional duty to oversee the conduct of this war. You have a moral obligation to answer this soldier's question. Who is the enemy? Why are they enemy? How does this protect America or anyone else?

Before you allow another soldier to be sent to Iraq, you have a moral obligation to explain to our troops and the American people what the hell we're doing over there. And if you can't do that, you have a duty to get them out of harms way. Failing to do that would be nothing short of criminal. Do your jobs.


The American People


Dear President Bush and Vice President Cheney:

You have lost the confidence and trust of the American people. In order for Congress and the American people to give our troops the support they deserve, it is necessary for the two of you to resign. And take your entire Cabinet with you.


The American People

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley