Iraq Oil Funds Insurgents

The Times had an article over the weekend on the various ways Iraqi militias and insurgents skim and scam the country’s oil revenues for funding. This morning, in a delayed reaction to the piece, it occurred to me that it might explain why we don’t hear much about insurgents targetting the oil infrastructure anymore. The only dedicated reporting I could come up with was this pretty extensive listing, called Iraq Pipeline Watch, which anecdotally confirms that attacks against infrastructure seemed to taper off in the middle of last year, replaced largely by attacks against infrastructure security forces. There’s a caveat […]

Hamas Backchannels

There have been foreshadowings for the past few weeks at least, but the NY Times now reports that Egypt is serving as an intermediary to mediate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, with the approval of Washington. So for now we’ve managed to maintain the legal fiction that we’re not speaking to Hamas, but the question becomes for how long? Bush administration officials are “not yet admitting to themselves that talking to Hamas is the inevitable path that they are walking on,” Daniel Levy, a former Israeli negotiator, said. “What has changed is that there is now an appreciation that […]

Iran Nuclear Standoff: The Pickering Plan

A few weeks ago I linked to a NYRB article by William Pickering, Jim Walsh and William Luers proposing a multi-national enrichment consortium, operated in Iran, as a solution to the nuclear standoff. Today, the Council on Foreign Relations has an interview with William Luers that’s worth a read. According to Luers, the Iranians have plenty of mistrust of their own, especially as regards suspension of their uranium enrichment program, which they tried before for 18 months while negotiating with the EU, with disappointing (for Iran) results. Luers claims the Iranians are waiting for the U.S. to make the first […]

Iran’s Nuclear Program

Arms Control Wonk’s James Acton gives us a glimpse of a Jane’s International Defense Review article that’s otherwise locked behind a paywall: Documents shown exclusively to Jane’s indicate that Iran is continuingits pursuit of the advanced technologies necessary to develop a nuclearweapon, regardless of Tehran’s claims that its nuclear programme ispurely peaceful. Jane’s was shown the information by a source connectedto a Western intelligence service, and the documents were verified by anumber of reliable independent sources in Vienna. As Acton points out, it’s necessary to attach some caveats, such asthe need for skepticism when dealing with anonymous reports, as well […]

Iran’s Parliamentary Elections

In other election news, Iranians voted for parliament yesterday, although how many actually voted seems to be the first spin battle over the election’s significance. Here’s how the AP saw it: Only a handful of voters showed up at many polling stations in Tehran on Friday in Iran’s parliament elections, a sign of frustration with a vote that hard-liners allied with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are expected to dominate. . . Iran’s reformist movement, which seeks democratic changes at home and better ties with the West, was largely sidelined in the race after most of its candidates were barred from running […]

GOING FISHING IN MALTA AND SPAIN — This item must be prefaced with a reminder that in the 2004 U.S. presidential election 55.3 percent of Americans voted, and thatwas the highest voter turnout in a decade. In Europe, there were two general elections Sunday in which voter turnout was an issue. In Spain, the experts were predicting that the lower the turnout, the worse Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s chances of re-election would be. A low turnout was reckoned as anything below 70 percent. In the event, however, 74 percent of Spaniards did their civic duty, and Zapatero […]

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force is in trouble. The rising cost of high-tech jets and the people to fly and maintain them threatens to put the service “out of business,” in the words of Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne. He said last fall that he was worried the military couldn’t buy enough planes, fast enough, to replace 30-year-old F-15s and 50-year-old tankers before they started falling out of the sky. Wynne’s statement proved eerily prescient: In November an Air Guard F-15 manufactured in 1980 disintegrated in mid-air, nearly killing the pilot and resulting in a prolonged grounding for most […]

Iraq and the War on Terror: Are We Winning?

On the heels of the release of the Pentagon’s definitive study demonstrating that there was no pre-Iraq War link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, comes this WPR feature from Bernard Finel arguing that recent progress in Iraq should not be confused with progress against the global terrorist threat: We are slowly digging ourselves out of the hole of the Iraq war. Al-Qaida has increasingly been marginalized in Iraq, and the success of American counterinsurgency efforts has diminished the perception that we can be defeated quickly or easily. And yet, Iraq remains a net negative in the overall struggle. . . […]

What’s Fallon’s Play?

As Hampton’s previous post demonstrates, a consensus has now emerged that Admiral William Fallon was forced to resign his Centcom command more because of the very public nature of his insubordination than the actual content of it. In other words, the hanging offense wasn’t that the Bush administration wants war with Iran and that Fallon is doing everything in his power to prevent it. It was that Fallon has consistently chosen to publicly frame the situation in those terms. To me that still leaves three unanswered questions. First, is Fallon’s framing true? So far, most of the online murmurings suggest […]

The recent decline in violence in Iraq is not synonymous with progress in the war on terror. Instead, the debate over the success of the Iraq surge strategy is a dangerous distraction from the “long, hard slog” that awaits us in the fight against violent extremism. Four-and-a-half years ago, then-U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used that phrase to refer to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in a notorious 2003 memo titled “Global War on Terror.” In that same internal dispatch, Rumsfeld also stated that “we lack the metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war […]

Fallon’s Gone

Wow. That was quick. The question now is, What just happened? More specifically, what game was ‘Fox’ Fallon playing? He ostensibly quit because of the implication of a disconnect between him and the White House on Iran, which created an untenable situation. At the same time, given Fallon’s past comments and known position on Iran (Bob Gates called the ‘resignation’ “. . .a cumulative kind of thing”), there’s a lot of reason to believe that this was inevitable and that the Esquire article just forced the White House’s hand. Fallon immediately distanced himself from the article, but the article’s author, […]

Talking to Hamas

At his new blog, South Jerusalem, Gorshem Gorenberg writes that including Hamas in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations seems to have reached a tipping point in its progression from radical idea to conventional wisdom: The right, and many generals, would like to solve the problem of Gaza with force. The most obvious hole in that plan, as one very nameless source told me, is called “exit strategy.” There are all sorts of reasons to think talking to Hamas, or to a unity government, won’t work. We know how diplomatically paralyzed Israeli unity governments have been. Reliance on tanks and drones alone is working […]

BEDDAWI, Lebanon — Nael Abu Siam is struggling to keep reality at bay for his children. Ten months ago, his home was destroyed in a conflict between Lebanese soldiers and radical Islamic militants at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon. “First I told them that nothing has changed, just that we change houses to repair the first one,” said the 40-year Palestinian refugee. But as the months have gone by, the pretext has become more difficult to sustain. The members of the Siam family are among 33,000 Palestinian refugees displaced from their homes by the conflict at Nahr […]

Debating the Surge: The Dangers of a Single Narrative

Gian Gentile’s WPR article, Misreading the Surge, has touched off a minor firestorm which, fortunately, is creating more light than heat. Phillip Carter over at Intel Dump has all the relevant links so far, and a brief pro-con summary even made it onto Andrew Sullivan’s site over the weekend. Not bad for what at first glance might seem like arcane COIN tactical debates. The debate is a crucially important one to have, though, because in war, narrative matters. And while that seems obvious when it comes to parsing defeat (the Vietnam War is a prime example), it’s also true in […]

The Surge: Licensing the Monopoly on Violence

If you haven’t yet read Nir Rosen’s Rolling Stone article, The Myth of the Surge, definitely click through and give it a look. It provides anecdotal support, but support nonetheless, for all the caveats being attached to the recent progress in Iraq, especially as concerns the Sunni Awakening. But it also anecdotally supports the image that’s beginning to emerge of a low-intensity, quasi-suspended civil war under way in Iraq, ie. the exact opposite of what the Surge was designed to accomplish. It’s already clear that the American military approach to the complexities of Iraq has been to assemble a network […]

Talabani in Ankara

Call me a cynic, but Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s historic visit to Ankara accompanied by the Iraqi Ministers of Finance, Oil and Industry seems like a tip-off as to why the Turkish incursion into the Qandil Mountains didn’t set off a regional conflagration. The fact that the Iraqi Minister of National Security (talk bout a dead-letter office) went along for the ride does nothing to reduce the suggestion of a modus operandus being put into place. What’s often ignored in the alarmist coverage of the Turkey-PKK conflict is that the Turks and Iraqi Kurds have enormous mutual economic interests, and […]

The Gathering COIN Storm

Via the Small Wars Journal blog comes a Spencer Ackerman piece on the battle raging within the Army officer corps over just what balance to strike between traditional high-intensity warfare capabilities and counterinsurgency (COIN) operations. We’ve had our finger on the pulse of this debate in one form or another for the past week or so, based in part on a WPR opinion piece contributed by one of the protagonists of Ackerman’s article, Gian Gentile. Gentile warns that we’re in the process of over-compensating for past COIN failures, and uses the 2006 Israeli-Hizbollah war as an example of the dangers […]

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