The Anbar Awakening

Over the course of a well-needed break for the Easter weekend, I actually got around to reading some printed news, which is how I ran across this interview in the Nouvel Observateur with Iraq specialist Pierre-Jean Luizard. In it he expresses some of the broader strategic flaws of the Anbar Awakening which have been ignored due to the tactical success the strategy has had in terms of reducing Sunni violence directed at American forces.

Like most criticisms of the Awakening, Luizard’s analysis begins with the vacuum that passes for the Iraqi state. But Luizard suggests that the dynamic has become a vicious circle rather than a project that can be advanced, with the American occupation now preventing the stabilization of the Iraqi state instead of providing the necessary conditions for it to incubate (all citations translated from the French):

Without a state to protect them, the Iraqis are in effect reduced to the lowest common denominator: the tribe, the clan, the neighborhood. It’s a vicious circle: the foreign occupation prevents any stabilization of the State, and the absence of a State prevents any realistic plan to end the occupation.

As for the threat posed by al-Qaida Iraq, Luizard presents a thesis that I’ve yet to see elsewhere, namely that while the Anbar Awakening has indeed driven a wedge between the Sunnis and their former AQI “allies”, it has also fractured the Sunni community into tribal rivalries that in fact benefit AQI:

The current situation offers [AQI] infinite possibilities to maintain the chaos. Until now al-Qaida was reined in by its posture as defender of the Iraqi Sunni community. Today, the Americans freed them from that “mission.” In desperation, [the Americans] armed their former enemies, with an unexpected consequence: the division of the Sunnis into a thousand rival allegiances. . . Al-Qaida prospers amidst these rivalries. . .acting from now on not in the name of the Sunnis, but to apply the law of retribution after a husband, a brother, or a son is killed by the new militias armed by the Americans.

Like Marc Lynch over at Abu Aardvaark, Luizard is pessimistic about what happens after we stop paying the Sunnis $300 a month to aim their weapons at someone other than us, especially since even Gen. Petraeus (cited by Lynch) concedes that only 25% of the 80,000 can be integrated into the Iraqi security apparatus. The solution he foresees, though, is worth keeping an eye on, especially in light of the campaign promises by Obama and Clinton to withdraw American troops from Iraq “responsibly”, and by McCain to continue until an “honorable” withdrawal is possible:

Today, there can no longer be anything but a simulated retreat from Iraq. . . What we’ll see isa false retreat, like the Surge was a false victory destined for American public opinion. The Americans are betting heavily on the private security contractors. . . who are called on to play a larger role in the conflict. . . But this privatisation has its limits, because without the presence of a massive foreign army, the entire fragile system, so laboriously constructed, is at risk of going under.

As Lynch put it in his post (well worth reading for the detail it adds):

. . .this isn’t just an unfortunate development in an otherwise sound approach. It’s structural, and gets to the essence of the strategic failure of the surge.

The story of the Awakening, like that of the Surge and the Iraq War in general, can be boiled down to the way in which tactics got in the way of strategy. More specifically, it’s the story of how tactics meant to reduce our engagement in Iraq ended up having the opposite effect.

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