The Myth About the Surge and the
Anbar (or Sunni) Awakening

by LithiumCola

September 10, 2007

The obvious interpretation
of the decision, made by Sunni leaders in Anbar province, to fight the most nihlistically violent factions of the insurgency, rather than fight the occupation forces, is that the presense of the occupation forces delayed the decision.  

Further, the fact that this "Anbar Awakening" (or "Sunni Awakening") occured about six months before General Petraeus and "the Surge" arrived on the scene, shows that we really aren't doing any good over there; not even by accident.

·                                 LithiumCola's diary

McClatchy so often provides the not-so-little, overlooked detail:

The tribal rebellion against al Qaida in Iraq began in September 2006, well before the surge was even contemplated. That’s when tribal leaders, fed up with al Qaida in Iraq’s attacks on moderate Sunnis and its efforts to impose strict Islamic fundamentalism, formed the Anbar Salvation Council to battle the group.

Tribal sheik Fassal Gaoud, a former Anbar governor, told McClatchy Newspapers in June that the tribes previously had asked for U.S. help in attacking the group, but had been rebuffed. By the time U.S. troops began working with the tribes, the battle against al Qaida was well under way. Gaoud, however, was killed in a bombing at the Mansour Melia hotel in central Baghdad in July in the midst of the U.S. surge.

"We did in three months what they couldn't do in four years," Ali Hatam Ali al Suleiman, another tribal leader, told McClatchy in June.

While Bush takes credit for what Sunnis did despite his refusal to help them
, the real focus of the escalation, Baghdad, remains a blood-soaked nightmare, in which violence is down, if at all, only because there are fewer people left to kill.

There’s little evidence that Baghdad residents are feeling safer and returning to homes they’d fled, said Dana Graber Ladek of the International Organization for Migration, which tracks refugee movements. Of an estimated 1 million Iraqis who’ve fled their homes since February 2006, 83 percent are from Baghdad, the IOM says.

"There have been very few returns," Ladek said. Those that have come back have done so only briefly to gather belongings. "They are waiting for long-term stability."

Bush focused his forces on
Baghdad.  Anbar province gains a modicum of success.  Bush claims victory in Anbar.  But: if Bush had focused on Anbar, the success might well have been in Baghdad.  Locals get their affairs in order in the absence of occupiers, not with their help.  This ought to be a truism.

Nevermind.  It's been decided: the Sunni Awakening in Anbar province is now a sign of General Petraeus's genius.  According to this fairy tale, the only problem left to be addressed is that it might be hard for Americans to do the same thing in other parts of Iraq as they so clearly did in Anbar.  

LA Times reports:

"It's not exporting this model here that will solve Iraq's problems," [Maj. Jeff Pool, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Anbar] said. "It's local leaders elsewhere finding out what works in their areas."

That requires local leaders to join forces as Anbar's leaders have done, but this will be challenging in areas that are not as homogenous and don't face the singular threat that galvanized Anbar's sheiks: the influence of Islamic militant groups claiming allegiance to Al Qaeda in Iraq.

"It's harder for them to buy into the idea of working with the coalition in other areas because they have other threats: Shiite threats, Kurdish influence," said Maj. Ed Sullivan, who is on his second deployment in Anbar. He was first here in 2004-05.

But at no point did the folks in Anbar "buy into the idea of working with the coalition".  It was their idea in the first place.  The "coalition" rebuffed them for making the first offer, so they did it on their own.  

We have two things which seem, and are, contradictory.  (1) The tacit admission that peace, when it comes, will have nothing to do with American actions ("local leaders elsewhere finding out what works") combined with (2) the myth that what "worked" this time, in Anbar, was "working with the coalition".

The point, to finally come to it
, is that these events are most naturally interpreted as showing that the American occupation of Iraq is slowing down progress.

The Sunnis in Anbar province had to make a tough choice: whether to fight alongside the most indiscriminately violent factions of the insurgency (named "al Qaeda in
Iraq" for those in need of shorthand) against the occupying forces, or to fight against those violent factions instead of the occupying forces.  The upshot, of course, is that in the absence of occupying forces, that choice would in all likelihood have come sooner and more easily.

The Myth of the Anbar Awakening, then, is that the folks in Anbar were ever asleep in the first place.

I will be very happy if someone in Congress points this out to General Petraeus this week, during the hearings.