As Mark Kleiman says “More Iraqis will probably die of violence just after a U.S. withdrawal than are dying violently now,” but “that’s not a good enough reason to hang around, unless at some point it stops being true: that six months, or a year, or two years, or five years from now we would be able to withdraw and not have civil war and massacre follow. If all we’re spending blood and treasure on is postponing a catastrophe we can’t prevent, the “humanitarian” argument against a fairly rapid withdrawal collapses.” It is, in fact, worse than that. Our continued presence in Iraq is probably making things worse. Take a look at this slice of counterinsurgency in action:
Slowly but deliberately, U.S. forces are enlisting groups of armed men — many probably former insurgents — and paying cash, a strategy they say has dramatically reduced violence in some of Iraq’s most dangerous areas in just weeks. [...]
“People say: ‘But you’re paying the enemy’. I say: ‘You got a better idea?’,” says Balcavage. “It’s a lot easier to recruit them than to detain or kill them.”
But U.S. forces also say the militia — dubbed the Concerned Citizens Programme, or CCP, — is only a temporary measure. If the comparative peace is to hold, the mainly Shi’ite government must offer the fighters real jobs in its army and police force.
As far as Colonel Balcavage’s area of operations is concerned, this is a smart policy. But the jigsaw puzzle doesn’t fit together. The central government has no intention of incorporating these people into its security forces. Under the circumstances, as Greg Djerejian says:
Arming Sunni militias (sorry, Concerned Citizens Programmes) rather than the national army, as nascent and pitable as it is, will almost certainly lead to more intensified Sunni–Shi’a fighting. Meantime, these bolstered Sunni forces (some of them simply ex-Baathists we supposedly went in to topple) will eventually be fighting for primacy against the very Government we’ve been trying to prop up in Baghdad. I find this mind-boggling in its short-sightedness and lack of overarching strategic direction (unless we’ve truly become Machiavellian, and are plotting to return the Sunnis to power to contain Iran!)
And thus goes all the talk of “training” Iraqi troops. The longer we stay, the more guns and training we hand out to multiple sides of the brewing conflict. This stuff matters. There’s a big difference between a civil war fought with sticks and stones and one fought with tanks and aircraft. Iraq is, obviously, somewhere in the middle. But as of now the one saving grace of the situation is that all the parties in Iraq (save the USA) are relatively lightly armed. With each passing month, though, we shift it to a deadlier and deadlier situation with better armed forces on all sides. We need to be doing the reverse — moving our troops out, ceasing the arming and equipping of militias, and acting aggressively on the diplomatic front to try to make sure that other countries don’t step into the armaments-providing breach.