I realize we are about to embark on an historic day on Tuesday and that most attention is dedicated to that event, but I think it's important to keep abreast of stories like this as we approach the election. Per the Chicago Tribune, the Sunni insurgents-turned-security forces are about to get a pay cut from the Shi'a-led Iraqi government. And apparently that's just the beginning.
Are the security gains in Iraq about to start unravelling? More below the fold.
It's important to remember that most educated analyses of the decrease in violence in Iraq have ascribed the majority of the improvement in security to the inclusion of former Sunni insurgents into a paid security force. While these militias are not integrated into the Iraqi security forces, they are paid to act as security by the government, with lower level personnel earning the equivalent of about US$300 per month. However, reports in the media over the last 2 to 3 months have reported tension between these Sunni militias and the Iraqi forces, with US troops sometimes having to intervene to prevent violence. Now comes word that the Iraqi government will be making pay cuts down to US$250 per month.
We have all heard Barack Obama quote the Iraqi government's surplus. So money is certainly not the issue. The issue, unfortunately, is a little more insidious...
But the Shiite-led government is deeply skeptical about the existence of what amounts to an armed Sunni militia, many of whose members once fought with the insurgency. It does not intend to keep paying the Awakening forces indefinitely, warned Sheikhly, the government spokesman.
"We want reconciliation, but Iraqis believe in another way than Americans about reconciliation. When Americans try to achieve reconciliation, they buy it," he said.
There are about 100,000 such fighters. The Iraqi government has promised permanent positions in the security forces to only about 20,000. The government claims it will try to find jobs for the other 80,000, but finding jobs in the current environment is easier said than done. So what will become of these men once they are phased out of government support? A renewed insurgency? A turn to criminal gangs? It's all possible, even likely. And what's more, the effect is doubled since these same men will no longer be providing security, and there will not likely be anyone to step into their place, at least not effectively.
One can sympathize with the Iraqi government's position. It wants armed forces under one roof and under its control. Not unreasonable. But phasing out these brokered security deals before political reconciliation and agreements on resource sharing have taken place serves to undue all that has been gained over the last 6 months.
This is why the "surge" has not "worked" to this point, and the whole situation is now in more jeopardy than it already was. I wish Barack had made his argument on this point more clearly. The "surge" was Part I of a two part strategy to move Iraq towards independence. Part I was supposed to decrease violence so that Part II could take place: progress on political reconciliation.
Well, as mentioned above, the "surge" was not the main reason why the security situation improved, but it probably had a contribution, fine. However, the major FAIL by the Bush administration was that it laid NO groundwork beforehand to make sure that Part II actually happened. They just threw more troops in, brokered some agreements with Sunni militias, and just expected the Iraqi government to all of sudden start making progress, something it hasn't done in the (how many?) years since they were elected. We have been hearing for months now about how well the "surge" has worked. Well, where are the fruits? Where? What progress has been made by the Iraqi government? I am unaware of any major breakthroughs. And now we are seeing the beginning of the end of the Iraqi government's partnership with the Sunni militias. I don't know if or when the situation will deteriorate once again, but it doesn't look good. I hope Barack Obama will light a fire under the backsides of the Iraqi government to get this process moving and get us out of there.