So April was a bad month for U.S. troops in Iraq, with 18 fatalities. The worst in over half a year. That number is still low enough that it won’t get much traction here at home, won’t get the panic buttons pressed in the White House, or bring too much attention back on Iraq. It’s still in line with the below 30 U.S. death-a-month-Post-Surge decline. So say we all.
What I’m interested in, though, is the alleged capture of Islamic State of Iraq leader Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi.
The story: the Iraqi government says they’ve captured the notorious terrorist honcho. (They’ve also claimed to have killed him twice in years past, so skepticism is in order.) The Americans won’t/can’t confirm, because, “we have not had any access to him,” says the U.S. military spokesman.
This is an example of the “nascent” and “fledgling democracy” of Iraq asserting itself.
A couple of quick thoughts to begin the week.
1) Assuming that it’s true–that we haven’t had access to him–what does this say about our relationship with the new calm-assertive (to steal a phrase from Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan) Iraqi government when it comes to “fighting the war on terror.” Al Baghdadi’s group has been involved with, or claimed to have been involved with, numerous attacks that have killed Americans, both soldiers and civilians. We still have 100,000 plus Americans there supposedly holding the government together. So shouldn’t we have near immediate access to him?
2) Every time Maliki’s government can stick a thumb in the eye of the U.S., they will. It’s a win-win for him; gets points from his constituents for standing up to the Americans, and the Americans are just going to nod, write another check, and ask for another eye poke.
3) One of the over-arching ideas behind being in Iraq, and staying in Iraq, is to build a democratic and stable country that will be our ally in our war on terror for the long/never ending fight against Islamic extremism. We can’t leave Iraq until it’s stable enough; if we leave too early, it might become a terrorist safe haven. At least that’s the argument.
4) That argument is grounded in a huge assumption: that the Iraqi government will be willing to help us find and fight the terrorists once/if we get out.
5) The Al-Baghdadi capture gives us a flavor of things to come. How much help do we think a pseudo-democratic Iraq is going to give us once we’ve left? Doesn’t seem like they’re helping us out much when we’re there, in force, with plenty of leverage. In fact, once/if we leave, it’s going to be in the Iraqi government’s interest to stand up to the Americans as much as possible so they don’t appear like collaborationist toadies.
6) Perhaps the way to actually get the Iraqi government and other governments to cooperate in our terrorist hunting needs is to keep a much lower profile. Get most of our troops out of the Middle East, play a more behind the scenes role. (This is what Col. David Shin suggested in his recent paper, and what retired Col. Douglas Macgregor would call “hi impact, low footprint.”)