The Success of the Surge


Anthony Shadid has a great story in The Washington Post that offers a microcosm look at the kind of compromises by which we’ve brought down the level of violence in Iraq. Specifically, he takes at Nadhim Khalil, the bossman of a Sunni Arab town called Thuluyah. I would say that these compromises have been worth making, but they really don’t look much like victory:

His zeal soon drew him into the ranks of an incipient insurgency, leading 30 armed men and meeting colleagues in Baghdad, where he sometimes sought shelter at the Um al-Qura mosque. He ventured to the Anbar province capital of Ramadi, towns in Diyala province, and across the border to Syria. The U.S. military jailed him twice: as prisoner No. 159705 when he spent nearly six months in the massive prison at Abu Ghraib in 2004, and as No. 200331 when he was incarcerated for a similar stint at Camp Cropper in Baghdad nearly two years later. By his count, U.S. soldiers searched his house 67 times. They occasionally brought dogs, he said, to inspect his mosque.

By August 2006, after a meeting in Homs, Syria, he had joined al-Qaeda in Iraq, a homegrown Sunni movement that U.S. officials say is led by foreigners and that embraced a radical strain of Islam.

Later, he abandoned that path. But he’s not really repentant about it, he’s practical. He’s a successful case of appeasement. And notwithstanding the extent to which he’s been successfully appeased, he’s not a cuddly pro-Western democrat:

But he still calls himself an Islamist, and to his followers, his words remain harsh.

“Our country is occupied and our bodies are torn apart, but we shouldn’t forget our families in Palestine,” he proclaimed in a sermon recently to an overflow crowd in his austere mosque, its white walls gouged by shrapnel from his assassination attempt.

“Those sons of monkeys, enemies of God and killers of prophets,” he declared, his voice rising in denunciation of Jews, “are killing our brothers and sisters in Palestine.”

The city has a city council. There’s also an organization of tribal elders. But real political power grows from the barrel of a gun, and he has it, the result of his command of a militia that wears “mismatched uniforms or civilian clothes” and is loyal to him rather than to the Iraqi state or the formal city government. The militia’s efficacy stems in part from the fact that the US military collaborates with them. This is all definitely better than what was happening before. But the irony of the conservative celebration of General Petraeus and the past two years’ worth of efforts in Iraq is the extent to which it goes against everything the right normally believes about the conduct of these things. We haven’t defeated an insurgent like Khalik — we’ve barely even co-opted him. Rather, we’ve agreed to help him gain power and in exchange his men don’t try to kill our men.