The Myth About the Anbar Awakening

( – promoted by exmearden)

The obvious interpretation of the decision, made by Sunni leaders in Anbar province, to fight the most nihlistically violent factions of the insurgency, rather than fight the occupation forces, is that the presence of the occupation forces delayed the decision. 

Further, the fact that this “Anbar Awakening” (or “Sunni Awakening”) occured about six months before General Petraeus and “the Surge” arrived on the scene, shows that we really aren’t doing any good over there; not even by accident.

McClatchy so often provides the not-so-little, overlooked detail:

The tribal rebellion against al Qaida in Iraq began in September 2006, well before the surge was even contemplated. That’s when tribal leaders, fed up with al Qaida in Iraq’s attacks on moderate Sunnis and its efforts to impose strict Islamic fundamentalism, formed the Anbar Salvation Council to battle the group.

Tribal sheik Fassal Gaoud, a former Anbar governor, told McClatchy Newspapers in June that the tribes previously had asked for U.S. help in attacking the group, but had been rebuffed. By the time U.S. troops began working with the tribes, the battle against al Qaida was well under way. Gaoud, however, was killed in a bombing at the Mansour Melia hotel in central Baghdad in July in the midst of the U.S. surge.

“We did in three months what they couldn’t do in four years,” Ali Hatam Ali al Suleiman, another tribal leader, told McClatchy in June.

While Bush takes credit for what Sunnis did despite his refusal to help them, the real focus of the escalation, Baghdad, remains a blood-soaked nightmare, in which violence is down, if at all, only because there are fewer people left to kill.

There’s little evidence that Baghdad residents are feeling safer and returning to homes they’d fled, said Dana Graber Ladek of the International Organization for Migration, which tracks refugee movements. Of an estimated 1 million Iraqis who’ve fled their homes since February 2006, 83 percent are from Baghdad, the IOM says.

“There have been very few returns,” Ladek said. Those that have come back have done so only briefly to gather belongings. “They are waiting for long-term stability.”

Bush focused his forces on Baghdad.  Anbar province gains a modicum of success.  Bush claims victory in Anbar.  But: if Bush had focused on Anbar, the success might well have been in Baghdad.  Locals get their affairs in order in the absence of occupiers, not with their help.  This ought to be a truism.

Nevermind.  It’s been decided: the Sunni Awakening in Anbar province is now a sign of General Petraeus’s genius.  According to this fairy tale, the only problem left to be addressed is that it might be hard for Americans to do the same thing in other parts of Iraq as they so clearly did in Anbar. 

LA Times reports:

“It’s not exporting this model here that will solve Iraq’s problems,” [Maj. Jeff Pool, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Anbar] said. “It’s local leaders elsewhere finding out what works in their areas.”

That requires local leaders to join forces as Anbar’s leaders have done, but this will be challenging in areas that are not as homogenous and don’t face the singular threat that galvanized Anbar’s sheiks: the influence of Islamic militant groups claiming allegiance to Al Qaeda in Iraq.

“It’s harder for them to buy into the idea of working with the coalition in other areas because they have other threats: Shiite threats, Kurdish influence,” said Maj. Ed Sullivan, who is on his second deployment in Anbar. He was first here in 2004-05.

But at no point did the folks in Anbar “buy into the idea of working with the coalition”.  It was their idea in the first place.  The “coalition” rebuffed them for making the first offer, so they did it on their own. 

We have two things which seem, and are, contradictory.  (1) The tacit admission that peace, when it comes, will have nothing to do with American actions (“local leaders elsewhere finding out what works”) combined with (2) the myth that what “worked” this time, in Anbar, was “working with the coalition”.

The point, to finally come to it, is that these events are most naturally interpreted as showing that the American occupation of Iraq is slowing down progress.

The Sunnis in Anbar province had to make a tough choice: whether to fight alongside the most indiscrimiately violent factions of the insurgency (named “al Qaeda in Iraq” for those in need of shorthand) against the occupying forces, or to fight against those violent factions instead of the occupying forces.  The upshot, of course, is that in the absence of occupying foreces, that choice would in all likelyhood have come sooner and more easily.

The Myth of the Anbar Awakening, then, is that the folks in Anbar were ever asleep in the first place.

I will be very happy if someone in Congress points this out to General Petraeus this week, during the hearings.

(Crossposted at DailyKos.)


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  1. you can hold the envelope up to your head, and know what’s inside before you open it…

    looking forward to it?  no.  looking forward to the endless media coverage afterward?  no.  hopeful that any of the obvious truths will be acknowledged and addressed?  no.

    im thinking of nicking a couple of my daughter’s ativan just to make it through.

  2. on how good things are in the Anbar:

    From recent interviews in July and August of this year, on Al Alam TV and Al Jazeera:

    “With regard to the elections and the government, and the question who will become governor or prime minister – this has nothing to do with us. If we are asked who represents us, we will send people and say they represent us. We do not believe in democracy. That democracy is fake, to tell the truth, at least as far as our province in concerned – I’m not talking about all of Iraq. This democracy has brought us people nobody has heard of, people who fill their pockets with money, and leave Iraq.”


    Two forces fought a bitter war – the American forces and Al-Qaeda. I’m telling you, it has turned into a competition who will destroy the province first. They’ve finished us off. If the Americans had not entered Al-Ramadi, not a single bullet would have been fired at us. If they had left it up to us from the beginning, like we asked them, we would have dealt with the problem. But they wanted to make a show of strength. They replaced the army with the Marines. At first, we had the army, and they were better. True, they are all Americans, but those Marines are a complete disaster. They destroy everything. If they are shot at from one house on some street – they destroy all the surrounding houses. They destroy us. Let’s be frank, this is an operation intended to destroy Al-Anbar, which was contracted to two “companies” that excel in this field – the American forces and the Al-Qaeda organization. Go to Al-Ramadi, nothing was left of it, as Allah is my witness – not in terms of health, education, food, drink, or work. They have completely destroyed us.
    “Why have they used these cheap methods? What are the raids for? The pride of us Bedouins is symbolized by the ‘uqal head band. Why, when you arrest someone, do you knock the ‘uqal off his head? What do you expect from us? A gift? No, we will give them a punch in the face. They may destroy a home or a street, but not a man’s honor.”

    Note: I’m not using a direct reference source link for excerpts of this interview; this portion of the interview transcript is on the aliraqi site, and I’m linking with an indirect source, primarily due to the comments attached in the forum.

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