- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
Best Defense is in summer re-runs. This item originally ran on September 30, 2009.
Here is a thoughtful note from an Army officer from the 1st Infantry Division who recently returned from Baghdad and is wondering just what he saw:
Just got back from a year in western Baghdad (by the way, we met briefly back in April at CNAS…). My battalion covered down on Kadamiya, Hurriya, Shulla, Karkh, and Ghazaliyah. Over the last month or so, our trouble spot became the western neighborhood of Ghazaliyah.
Ghaz, as you may know, is mainly Shia in the northern half and Sunni in the southern half. We closed the last JSS in Ghaz on Sept. 7 (it had been allowed to stay open past the 30 June deadline) and the day after it was closed the Iraqi army battalion in south Ghaz raided the South Ghaz (Sunni) SOI headquarters, confiscating weapons and equipment a US unit had supplied them back in 2007-2008. The JSS, which straddled the Shia-Sunni fault line across the middle of Ghaz, was basically the buffer for the Sunni in the south. SOI and local council leaders were reported to have fled the neighborhood, citing Shia militia threats. Keep in mind, directly to Ghaz’s north is the Shia enclave of Shulla, a mini-Sadr City that is basically controlled by JAM remnant groups (and a heavily complicit Iraqi Army battalion). This Shia influence spills into north Ghaz and has been encroaching upon south Ghaz over the past several months.
Which brings me to today’s news from Baghdad [about a spate of bombings]… It is unsurprising and confirms a steady and growing Shia influence throughout Baghdad…
When I was in Iraq, I read a bunch of books to include Robert Baer’s The Devil We Know, which is about Iran’s growing influence in the Mideast. Baer’s first two sentences in Chapter 2, "How Iran Beat America," are: "Iraq is lost. Iran won it." Given what we’ve seen in classified reports and in the revolving door of Iraqi army commanders in select Baghdad neighborhoods, his thesis is spot on. Plus, Shia militiamen have melted into the army and police over the past few years making it much easier for them to create Shia havens throughout the city. It’ll be interesting to see where Baghdad is in about 5 years.
In your book, The Gamble, you cite Ryan Crocker’s comment that the most important events in Iraq have yet to happen. This is quite true and the troubling fact is that these events are going on right now and we don’t even know what to do about them. Probably the better question is if can we do anything about them, especially given the constraints of the Security Agreement. It’s especially tough to influence our ISF and council member counterparts via cell phone from Camp Liberty.
Anyway, forgive my rambling thoughts. Just thought I’d add to your Iraq "the unraveling" series. I must say, though, I am quite conflicted about our unit’s efforts and sacrifices over the past year and the real reality on the ground right now. I mean how much of it is out of our control? How much can Chris Hill really influence Maliki and the Iraqi politicians? Do US interests line up with Iraqi interests? And how much of Iraq’s interests are really Iran’s? Much to think about…
Among other things, his note makes me wonder just how much is going on in Baghdad that we aren’t seeing or noticing right now.