Dollars and Diplomacy
By Jerome Grossman
Barack Obama and John McCain dispute the reasons for the decline in violence in Iraq, now at its lowest level in years. McCain emphasizes the effectiveness of the “surge” troops, 30,000 additional American combat soldiers. Obama appreciates the surge but emphasizes the political rapprochement between Iraqi factions. Neither Obama nor McCain give us the whole story and its implications for the future.
Before the 30,000 surge there were about 150,000 coalition forces in Iraq, mostly American and mostly combat soldiers. However, another 150,000 contractors were on the scene working for the US military, not in uniform but armed for self protection, feeding the troops, guarding US installations, repairing damaged sites, etc., doing what American uniformed soldiers have always done in past wars, but this time working for private contractors for high wages and corporate profits. The point is that the total Allied force was 300,000 making the surge increase only ten percent.
The decrease in violence was located in all of Iraq, yet the 30,000 surge was concentrated in Baghdad. In that city the troops concentrated on weakening the Mahdi Army, a militia controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric close to Iran who had already issued a cease-fire order to his minions.
The surge operation in Baghdad was aided by a new program called Sons of Iraq that employed Sunnis who were formerly insurgents, paying them $10 a day and giving them guns for their pseudo police powers. This strategy had already worked in Anbar province well before the start of the surge. There, the US military hired 90,000 Sunnis at $30 a month plus guns to maintain order and to disarm the few Al Qaeda partisans who had infiltrated into the country from foreign lands. Part of the Sunni motivation in accepting the American deal was to prepare themselves for the show-down when the US forces leave Iraq.
Iran may have been included in the arrangements. Neither the US command in Iraq nor their superiors in Washington are now accusing Iran of supporting insurgency in Iraq, quite a change from previous charges. In addition, cleric al-Sadr, still close to Iran, has shut down his militia. And the US does not have an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf for the first time in decades. The whole world has noticed that William Burns, the number three person in the US State Department, participated in a meeting with a representative of Iran, the first such meeting since 1979.
Has a deal been made? If so, the surge may have been the cover story for US home consumption, while the real story was investment in dollars and diplomacy.