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20 October 2010


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What can one say to this, Adam... Thank you? I frankly wish that the facts did not lead you here... and more importantly and tragically, that you, and Pat Lang, and others did not see this as the likely outcome.

I know it's naive to say, Pat, but I just hope the Iraqis can keep it together, so to speak, so that all the blood and treasure was not expended completely in vain. I would agree that at the very least we've largely withdrawn from the day-to-day fight there, but is that any solace if it collapses around our remaining forces...

... and more immediately, if that's possible, I just hope that we are not repeating the same mistakes by sowing a similar if perhaps different minefield in the other theater in the region.

Who will write this piece for them? (that's actually a question for you and Pat, Adam... in your minds, who "knows" AfPak as well as you seem to know Iraq? (outside of FB Ali, of course... and maybe that's an answer in its own right.)


The question remains... We won what?

William R. Cumming

I find Dr. Silverman's analysis somewhat confusing. Are the Iraqis in command of their own fate or not, with or without US assistance? Assuming the answer is YES, then the analysis in the post is flawed. Assuming the answer is NO, then who are the real players in Iraq external to Iraq? Do the Iragi refugees and emigrees have any clout? After all it looks like the Iranian agent Chalabi was able to convince the US to invade almost single handed! I an sure there are flaws in this analytic framework but hoping I can have them corrected by the poster and commentator. Personally, and largely because of Kurdistan issues, I believe Turkey is now much more of a player in Iraq than is discussed. They have no love lost for the Persians if my history is correct. I also put the Turks high on the list of those with knowledge of nuclear issues and policies! Hey I go back always to the notion that Turkey, Iran and Egypt are the big three in the arena of the Eastern Med and the Gulf of A! Am I wrong there? Seems the Saudis while now having almost 30M in population mostly not necessarily loyal to the Royal family, surival of that family is the driver not geopolitics necessarily nor even the price of oil although closely related. I have long predicted the first efforts of Iraq Nationalism will be focused again on Kuwait. At some point that "nation-states" internal conflicts will likely end the kingdom.


and in the other war


The Daily Telegraph has learned that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was released from Pakistani custody

Baradar was the Taliban's overall military commander until he was arrested in Karachi last February by Pakistani security forces in what was seen as a blow to the insurgents. Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, opposes any dialogue until the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) withdraws from Afghanistan, but Baradar was seen to be open to talks that may have excluded the hard-liners.

anna missed

Wonder if you might comment on what seems to have been a by-product of the internal INA negoations - that there seems to have been a move to empower clerical oversight (similar to the Iranian model) and veto power in political matters.
And also, what is to account for the precipitous electoral fall of the ISCI - did this happen as a result of Hakim's death, or a failure of the young Hakim to fill the elders shoes (both in terms of popular and political clout). What could drive them so far as to side with Allawi's , essentially Sunni, party - not to mention going against the wishes of Iran.

And one last thing. A couple days ago it was reported that the Obama administration would withdrawal support from Maliki if he carries through with a SOL/Sadr political alliance and forms a government around that nucleus. What exactly does that mean? Empty threat, coup talk, or a non-empty threat to leave Iraq to its own devices.

Adam L Silverman

Mr. Cumming: I think that what we've seen is that some Iraqis are in command of Iraq going forward, but that those Iraqis are tied to Iran as clients. The parties that under the current, continuing because the elections are hung, Government of Iraq have power are Dawa (Maliki's party initially established in and funded by Iran) ISCI/SIIC (Hakim's party initially established in and funded by Iran), Badr Corps (ISCI's militia, which by all reports makes up a good chunk of the Arab Shi'a members of the Iraqi Army initially established in Iran and trained and funded by the Quds Force), and the Kurdistan Alliance (composed of those Kurdish elements loyal to both Barzani and Talabani who received Iranian financial support as a hedge against Saddam Hussein). While the Sadrists still have some representatives, as do the Awakenings/SOI folks, other than in some provincial and local areas, they are locked out by the alliance of Dawa, ISCI, and the Kurdistan Alliance. The new coalition, as laid out in the Guardian article, would bring the Sadrists into the fold, but continue to lock out the Awakenings/SOI folks at the national level.

As for Turkey - their concern is, of course, with the Kurds. And it deals with whether the Kurds will declare an independent state. How much interest they actually have within Iraq, is something beyond my knowledge, though they do, like Iran, provide a great deal of food and electricity to Iraq on a commercial basis. And the disputes over water in the region include them, so they have some influence that way.

Adam L Silverman

Batandor: You're welcome. In terms of the other theater, Afghanistan, I know a lot of sharp people working that problem set - a number of whom really understand what's going on. From my perspective the issue for Afghanistan, which we've talked about here often, is that trying to replicate any of the things that led to tactical and operational success in Iraq is going to be difficult. Iraq had a history of strong, centralized government, Afghanistan doesn't. Iraq had two major ethno-linguistic and two major ethno-religious groups to reconcile, which we failed to do, Afghanistan has multitudes more. Iraq had a history of education and literacy and infrastructure and oil wealth, Afghanistan has virtually none of these things. The two breaks that preceeded the surge, and that the surge capitalized on - the Awakenings and the ethnic cleansings and reordering of Baghdad and other locations do not currently have counterparts in Afghanistan. As someone who prepped twice in the past year for two potential, and different, Afghan deployments, I wish all of those trying to improve things the best and keep them to mind often, but just don't see how we are going to be able to achieve the progress we need to achieve the end state and for the Afghans.

Adam L Silverman

Jake: we achieved a number of tactical and operational successes, but as I and others here have written about before, we failed to capitalize at the strategic level. As such we have failed, up to this point, to achieve the end state.

Adam L Silverman

Anna Missed: I can't speak to empowering clerical oversight. Dawa, ISCI, and the Sadrists have always been explicitly religious parties and movements, and in the case of the latter two founded and run by Shi'a religious leaders. So unless someone is specifically signaling that they're going to install a supreme religious council to approve everything, I'm not sure that much has changed since before the election with the existing coalition: parts of the majority coalition are explicitly religious parties, tied to Iran, one of which is led by an actual Shi'a cleric.

As for ISCI's fall - I think part of this is the younger Hakim's opposition to Maliki remaining PM, but not having either the clout of his father or the electoral results that had previously solidified their position. Until you start reading that the Badr Corps guys are being purged, ISCI still has a significant power base. Moreover, Maliki's big thing over the past three years has been to try to coup proof himself and play both friends and foes alike off against each other. By empowering the Sadrists as a check on the ISCI folks, Maliki may think he's balancing his coalition and protecting his position.

Finally, I have no idea what the reported signaling means. I can tell you that Sadr has been on everyone's sh*t list for years, but the truth is he's got a substantial following and has to be dealt with. This type of thing does happen all the time, but for some reason when Sadr and the Sadrists come up as part of a discussion of "make them so responsible they don't have time to blow anything up" (and I've had many of those with people ranging from company level to three stars in the past three years), you'd think I was recommending this worst thing every thought up.

FB Ali


As usual, a very good analysis of the developing situation in Iraq. I’d like to make a few comments/queries:

· I cannot foresee a government that does not include the Kurdistan Alliance (they can’t afford to be left out, and the others can’t afford to leave them out). You mention Iran’s financial support to them in the past; my impression is that Iran still carries considerable clout with them. Which means they are likely to join a viable Shi’a government instead of playing spoiler with Allawi. Presently, they’re playing hard to get in order to improve their bargaining position.

· I think the answer to WRC’s question is that Iraq is likely to be run by Iraqis, but with Iran having a lot of influence and say. Unless, of course, Allawi forms a government, which I think is quite unlikely.

· I agree with your answer to Anna about clerical oversight. A big reason for that is the strong stand against it adopted from the beginning by Sistani.

· My impression is that the Badr Corps has been moving away from ISCI/SIIC. Maliki seems to have co-opted much of it that joined the Iraqi army.

· The bottom line is that the US invasion has converted Iraq from a mortal enemy of Iran into its client state. The US will see its influence there continuing to decline.

I think you are being too definite about Ahmadinejad being just “facade”. My impression is that there is a continuing though muted power struggle in Iran between him and the IRGC on one side and the Supreme Leader and his clerical supporters on the other.

Adam L Silverman

Brigadier Ali: several excellent points. I don't disagree that there isn't power politics and control jockeying going on in Iran, and not to appear naive, until Ahmedinijad can come out and do a he wishes and the clerics can't stop him, essentially an internal coup (but only sort of as he was elected, even if it was intended only for show like the parliament), the clerics are in charge. And until someone clearly demonstrates that you can achieve political change in Iran without the three group coalition that forced changed three times in the 20th century (the merchant/business class, the intelligentsia/students, and the clerics), then I'm not sure Ahmedinijad can get the power as he won't have clerical backing. So the real question for me is will the historical pattern hold or are we seeing something really new.

I fully agree with your conceptualization of what the Kurds are going to do short term. Long term I still think they'll make an attempt to break away and form their own state.



“for some reason when Sadr and the Sadrists come up as part of a discussion of "make them so responsible they don't have time to blow anything up" (and I've had many of those with people ranging from company level to three stars in the past three years), you'd think I was recommending this worst thing ever thought up.”

Let me guess, these are the Gentlemen who are now touting Counter-Insurgency?

A tip of the hat to a true practioner of the Art of Counter-Insurgency, Hugh Henry Brackenridge who prevented the torching of Pittsburgh with cleverness and compassion on August 1, 1793.

Adam L Silverman

Thomas: not really. Most were with captains and majors, some with LT. colonels or colonels. I had a chance to brief a LTG and his command team before they went to Iraq and I made politely made the case. I don't know of any of them now touting COIN.


Dr. Silverman,

With all due respect, all we have achieved with some of these tactical successes were lost because the strategy was terrible and still is. Forget about capitalizing on anything. All we have done is a tit for tat with the Taliban. We hit them, they regroup and come back and hit us harder. Terrible circle jerk..

The bottom line here is tactics do not matter if the strategy is not sound. I do not call what we have done in Afghanistan tactical successes. I call it insanity. You know, the definition of insanity? "It is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results". We have already lost some 2167 guys and gals because this insanity or so-called strategy. Big picture wise? We ain't close and its been nine years.

I remind you that the Russians and Brits all had their tactical success and still lost. Ali Jalali and Lester Grau's book say's it all.

Right now we are getting a lesson on how important logistics really is in comparison to strategy and tactics. The old saying, pro's talk logistics and rookies talk strategy".

I believe we need to dump the current policy totally. We need to make this a win win situation for all and get us out as the center of the target. Remember we have won nothing in Afghanistan yet. 2001/2002 was the Northern Alliance with US Support.

So the question stands. What have we really won? To win Afghanistan we have to win Pakistan. To win Pakistan we have also have to deal with the Paki-Indian Cold War which in my opinion is the driver here and the reason why the Paki's are still playing with the Taliban. They just do not want India to access Afghanistan. It's a problem for us. Unless one of our four bangers grows some balls and does the cross boarder gigs using USC 10 and 50 as a initiator without telling the ISI right away we are only kidding ourselves. How many blowbacks are we going to get hammered with before we learn our lessons?

My opinion is that big army needs to get out of the way and we need to get SOCCOM, Special Forces and a real working Combined Forces Command to play the main roles.

Or am I missing something here?


Dr. Silverman....

Let me also clarify my issue on Iraq. Tactical successes also does not mean we have won anything in Iraq either.

History has yet to be written on whether our rash intervention into Iraq has made any true and meaningful difference for the people of Iraq or for the rest of the world. Yes they are experiencing freedom or should I say a temporary state of freedom and the cost to us as a nation was very unjustifiably high and without just cause.

Moreover anything we achieved in Iraq has caused major damage for us and the Afghan people in Afghanistan. So what did we really end up accomplishing besides playing into Iran's card game? Let's face it we played a lousy and deadly poker game here.

How are any of those tactical successes going to help us or the those in both Afghanistan or Iraq in the long run?

If anything we missed the lessons we learned from both Vietnam and especially WWII...

As you have noted here. We have some very bright people working the issue. I hope they are warriors and not just professional military folk. There is a difference. To be honest Dr. Silverman, its time for the end game. I hope these people are up to that challenge and I hope that the Administration and the E-Ring gets its egos out of the way.

Otherwise the hole we dig is going to cost us greatly to refill.

Adam L Silverman

Jake: you do realize this post was about Iraq, right?


Dr. Silverman

Sometimes the neurons and the keyboard are not as coordinated as one wishes...

However Dr. Silverman, what ever our gains in Iraq were lost in Afghanistan where the real war was and is suppose to be.

The point I am making is bad strategy is bad strategy. Winning tactically but losing the end game is just as bad as losing militarily.



It is good that they are true to their convictions and, in fairness to them, one would be thinking "Mahdi Army" and not about the history of the Sadr family's social-political organization prior to deployment. Also, the responsibilty of gaining cooperation belonged with the civil adminstration side of the US.

The future of Iraq depends upon Nouri al-Maliki, acheiving his goal as designated strong man, will he then shift to a win-win situation economically (with a political incentive here and there) with his opponents? If not, while he may be coup-proof, the Sons of Iraq and Sadrists teaming up in a nationalist civil insurgency against the "Iranians" can do him much harm.

And all we can do is watch and wait.

FB Ali


I'm sure you see the nuances, but some of these constructions can create misleading impressions. I don't think anyone in Iran is "in charge" and can do "as he wishes". All the players (Khamanei, Ahmadinejad, Rafsanjani, Larijani, etc) have their own power bases, and thereby limit the freedom of action or decision of the others. I don't think any of them is trying to cut out the others and acquire sole power. (I doubt whether any such attempt could succeed under present circumstances).

In the US it suits the Perpetual Warriors and the compliant MSM to shape the narrative to depict Iran as another evil empire ruled by fanatical mullahs. It would be tragic if this narrative were to dominate US policy-making.

Adam L Silverman

Brigadier Ali: I am in complete agreement about the bad/false narrative regarding Iran that passes for wisdom and/or understanding regarding Iran. Here too, like with Afghanistan, there seems to be little appetite for actual historical events, facts, and the nuance and details that tie it all together. It's why the coverage of last year's Green Revolution was so off base: yes the opposition leadership was less conservative than Ahmedinijad and the clerics, but that didn't make them then or now the second coming of Madison or Jefferson or Franklin.

Adam L Silverman

Thomas: one other clarification - a lot of the folks I pitched this concept with were receptive. Many got the concept. The problem was that there is often only so much leeway to take this course of action. So they got the idea, understood and accepted the logic, but couldn't do anything with it because of existing US policy that Sadr and his movement are terrorists.

Adam L Silverman

Jake: that makes a bit more sense. As for winning, I certainly don't think we've won in Iraq. Moreover, I'm not sure winning is even the right term for COIN as we're currently conceptualizing it. If the point is to reach a point where you've got a functional (centralized) government that is perceived as legitimate by it's citizenry, that is reconciled to that citizenry, and where the elements that comprise that citizenry are reconciled to each other, then winning is the wrong term. It's wrong because the elements that one would suppose we would want to defeat have to be part of the reconciliation process. So you can definitely loose a 3rd party COIN operation, but I'm not really sure you can win one. And this gets to your point about Afghanistan: if you can't achieve what I've described above, which is the endstate, then ordering the mission is a mistake. We haven't achieved it in Iraq, though it was more probable there, and as I've written here before I just don't see this as doable in Afghanistan above the district level.


Dr. Silverman...

I believe to achieve the goals as you stated and to achieve more than just success on the local level, would require retooling our entire civilian and military strategy.

The question is do you think this even possible? If not how do you see the "endstate" playing out under our current policies in both Iraq and Afghanistan and what time frame are we really looking at?



That is understandable, and it shows what I believe we all agree to on this thread that the true problem is the political factions setting and/or influencing US Foreign policy. They have no idea what the endstate would be other than "do it our way".

William R. Cumming

Thanks Dr. Silverman!

Is there any SUNNI equivalent to the SHIA connections to Iran in Iraq? Or am I mistaken that the Iranian/Iraqi connections are not grounded in religion but other factors? And I know my ignorance will blow the minds of PL and other commentators but exactly what is the religion or religions that the 20M Kurds follow? Or is there such or any religious cohesion? And its seems in the past, back to post-WWI the KURDs were ernest, plaintive and did make a case just that the effort failed! Have the learned from their failures and how much of a wild card are the KURDS in this arena? Or do they actually get to play a hand? My guess is this time around whatever the result is the last hurrah for proponents of Kurdish nation-state status, but of course could be wrong and often am.

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