Friday, December 28, 2007

Ten Top Myths about Iraq in 2007

By Juan Cole

Juan R. I. Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Distinguished University Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He has written extensively about Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and South Asia. Cole commands Arabic, Persian and Urdu and reads some Turkish, knows both Middle Eastern and South Asian Islam, and lived in a number of places in the Muslim world for extended periods of time.

For three decades, he has sought to put the relationship of the West and the Muslim world in historical context.











Cole's most recent book is Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East (2007). An earlier book was his Sacred Space and Holy War: The Politics, Culture and History of Shi`ite Islam (2002). A complete Cole bibliography can be found here.

Cole's daily blog is the renown Informed Comment and he also writes a column for Salon. His Top Ten Myths about Iraq are taken from Informed Comment:

  • Myth 10: The US public no longer sees Iraq as a central issue in the 2008 presidential campaign.
    Fact: In a recent ABC News/ Washington Post poll, Iraq and the economy were virtually tied among voters nationally, with nearly a quarter of voters in each case saying it was their number one issue. The economy had become more important to them than in previous months (in November only 14% said it was their most pressing concern), but Iraq still rivals it as an issue!
  • Myth 9: There have been steps toward religious and political reconciliation in Iraq in 2007.
    Fact: The government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has for the moment lost the support of the Sunni Arabs in parliament. The Sunnis in his cabinet have resigned. Even some Shiite parties have abandoned the government. Sunni Arabs, who are aware that under his government Sunnis have largely been ethnically cleansed from Baghdad, see al-Maliki as a sectarian politician uninterested in the welfare of Sunnis.
  • Myth 8: The US troop surge stopped the civil war that had been raging between Sunni Arabs and Shiites in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
    Fact: The civil war in Baghdad escalated during the US troop escalation. Between January, 2007, and July, 2007, Baghdad went from 65% Shiite to 75% Shiite. UN polling among Iraqi refugees in Syria suggests that 78% are from Baghdad and that nearly a million refugees relocated to Syria from Iraq in 2007 alone. This data suggests that over 700,000 residents of Baghdad have fled this city of 6 million during the US 'surge,' or more than 10 percent of the capital's population. Among the primary effects of the 'surge' has been to turn Baghdad into an overwhelmingly Shiite city and to displace hundreds of thousands of Iraqis from the capital.
  • Myth 7: Iran was supplying explosively formed projectiles (a deadly form of roadside bomb) to Salafi Jihadi (radical Sunni) guerrilla groups in Iraq.
    Fact: Iran has not been proved to have sent weapons to any Iraqi guerrillas at all. It certainly would not send weapons to those who have a raging hostility toward Shiites. (Iran may have supplied war materiel to its client, the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq (ISCI), which was then sold off from warehouses because of graft, going on the arms market and being bought by guerrillas and militiamen.
  • Myth 6: The US overthrow of the Baath regime and military occupation of Iraq has helped liberate Iraqi women.
    Fact: Iraqi women have suffered significant reversals of status, ability to circulate freely, and economic situation under the Bush administration.
  • Myth 5: Some progress has been made by the Iraqi government in meeting the "benchmarks" worked out with the Bush administration.
    Fact: in the words of Democratic Senator Carl Levin, "Those legislative benchmarks include approving a hydrocarbon law, approving a debaathification law, completing the work of a constitutional review committee, and holding provincial elections. Those commitments, made 1 1/2 years ago, which were to have been completed by January of 2007, have not yet been kept by the Iraqi political leaders despite the breathing space the surge has provided."
  • Myth 4: The Sunni Arab "Awakening Councils," who are on the US payroll, are reconciling with the Shiite government of PM Nuri al-Maliki even as they take on al-Qaeda remnants.
    Fact: In interviews with the Western press, Awakening Council tribesmen often speak of attacking the Shiites after they have polished off al-Qaeda. A major pollster working in Iraq observed, Most of the recent survey results he has seen about political reconciliation, Warshaw said, are ". . . more about [Iraqis] reconciling with the United States within their own particular territory, like in Anbar. . . . But it doesn't say anything about how Sunni groups feel about Shiite groups in Baghdad. . . . In Iraq, I just don't hear statements that come from any of the Sunni, Shiite or Kurdish groups that say 'We recognize that we need to share power with the others, that we can't truly dominate.' The polling shows that "the Iraqi government has still made no significant progress toward its fundamental goal of national reconciliation."
  • Myth 3: The Iraqi north is relatively quiet and a site of economic growth.
    Fact: The subterranean battle among Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs for control of the oil-rich Kirkuk province makes the Iraqi north a political mine field. Kurdistan now also hosts the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas that sneak over the border and kill Turkish troops. The north is so unstable that the Iraqi north is now undergoing regular bombing raids from Turkey.
  • Myth 2: Iraq has been "calm" in fall of 2007 and the Iraqi public, despite some grumbling, is not eager for the US to depart.
    Fact: in the past 6 weeks, there have been an average of 600 attacks a month, or 20 a day, which has held steady since the beginning of November. About 600 civilians are being killed in direct political violence per month, but that number excludes deaths of soldiers and police. Across the board, Iraqis believe that their conflicts are mainly caused by the US military presence and they are eager for it to end.
  • Myth 1: The reduction in violence in Iraq is mostly because of the escalation in the number of US troops, or "surge."
    Fact: Although violence has been reduced in Iraq, much of the reduction did not take place because of US troop activity. Guerrilla attacks in al-Anbar Province were reduced from 400 a week to 100 a week between July, 2006 and July, 2007. But there was no significant US troop escalation in al-Anbar. Likewise, attacks on British troops in Basra have declined precipitously since they were moved out to the airport away from population centers. But this change had nothing to do with US troops.
But, as one of Cole's readers comments, the biggest of all-time myths about Mesopotamia is that Iraq was even partially responsible for the 9-11 attacks.

6 Moderated Comments:

Blogger Vigilante said...

No apologies for reproducing Cole's entire piece here. (A) This is an important and timely contribution on the major issue facing Americans. (B) The presentation here improves its readability. (C) I advertise Cole's bibliography.

12/28/2007 06:41:00 AM  
Blogger the WIZARD, fkap said...

Cole's analysis is educated, informed and important. And vigilante, your condensation made it more readable and enlightening.

However, like all who analyze this current history, Cole brings his own agenda and prejudices to the table. And he has had for a long time a rather pro-Iranian slant that I find curious and occasionally disturbing. His suppossed debunking of Myth 7 is an example. He is parsing his words way too carefully.

Likewise, his criticisms of the United States are not always objective or fair. His extremely curious Myth 10 is a straw man. That myth doesn't even exist.

And I could quibble more, but that's all it would be: quibbling. Cole's analysis is important. Cole should be required reading for all Presidential Candidates (and all voters, too).

12/28/2007 07:55:00 AM  
Blogger Beach Bum said...

From the comment section of Cole's blog: Larry said-But no, the violence didn't diminish solely because we added brigades. We also drastically changed our approach as Petraeus put his new tactics into effect. Those changes have been far more important than the raw numbers. He move our forces out of their mega-bases, colocating them with Iraqi forces, and pulled way back on kinetics in favor of working directly with tribal leaders.

While this tactic may be working now I have yet to hear of any news of the Iraqi army working completely independent beyond guard duty at motor pools. As Bush slowly pulls troops out for the 2008 election there is a very real chance that the whole situation will just blow up again.

12/28/2007 08:47:00 AM  
Blogger M.D. said...

I was over at Audible checking out the Napoleon/Egypt book yesterday.

I check his blog on a regular basis.

He's one of the good people - like you, Vigilante! - who take the longer view.

Thank goodness for that.

12/29/2007 08:40:00 AM  
Blogger TomCat said...

He did a great job. That's refreshing, considering that Faux Noise still claims they had WMD.

12/30/2007 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Myth # 11 by Michael Schwartz and endorsed by Juan Cole:

The surge has led to the pacification of large parts of Anbar province and Baghdad.

Quiescence and pacification are simply not the same thing, and this is definitely a case of quiescence. In fact, the reduction in violence we are witnessing is really a result of the U.S. discontinuing its vicious raids into insurgent territory, which have been - from the beginning of the war - the largest source of violence and civilian casualties in Iraq. These raids, which consist of home invasions in search of suspected insurgents, trigger brutal arrests and assaults by American soldiers who are worried about resistance, gun fights when families resist the intrusions into their homes, and road side bombs set to deter and distract the invasions. Whenever Iraqis fight back against these raids, there is the risk of sustained gun battles that, in turn, produce U.S. artillery and air assaults that, in turn, annihilate buildings and even whole blocks.

The "surge" has reduced this violence, but not because the Iraqis have stopped resisting raids or supporting the insurgency. Violence has decreased in many Anbar towns and Baghdad neighborhoods because the U.S. has agreed to discontinue these raids; that is, the U.S. would no longer seek to capture or kill the Sunni insurgents they have been fighting for four years. In exchange the insurgents agree to police their own neighborhoods (which they had been doing all along, in defiance of the U.S.), and also suppress jihadist car bombs.

The result is that the U.S. troops now stay outside of previously insurgent communities, or march through without invading any houses or attacking any buildings.

So, ironically, this new success has not pacified these communities, but rather acknowledged the insurgents' sovereignty over the communities, and even provided them with pay and equipment to sustain and extend their control over the communities.

1/05/2008 07:04:00 AM  

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