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An Intelligence Perspective on Iraq Pt. 1

Tom Ricks, through his series of blog posts titled “Iraq: The Unraveling”, argues that while the US has moved on from Iraq, the situation there remains precarious.

Having just returned from a deployment to Iraq, I agree.

Too often, it seems like Ricks has been the only voice of dissension when it comes to Iraq. Former congressmen Duncan Hunter just released a book called Victory in Iraq: How America Won. Other than that horribly misleading book and title, no one is talking about Iraq.

I will concede that Iraq is less violent today than it was in 2007, which makes it just violent as opposed to being fantastically violent. Two months ago a failed hostage rescue resulted in dozens of deaths and hundred wounded. Last month a series of car bombs killed over a hundred people in Baghdad alone and then another series of car. And two days ago at least a dozen people (maybe more) were killed in the latest spate of bombings, this time aimed at Shiite pilgrims.

In addition to the violence, Iraq’s political situation remains as murky as the bottom of a Dagobah swamp. Iraqi President Talabani recently authorized Prime Minister Maliki to form a government, but he still delayed a month because it is doubtful Maliki can apportion the cabinet positions throughout the government in a way that will please the whole government..

To provide a unique perspective, I am going to give On Violence readers my “military intelligence” perspective. Intel analysts use a process called “Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield” (IPB) to predict the enemy’s behavior. IPB takes all the information available, organizes it, and then determines the enemy’s possible courses of action.

Normally, intelligence sections go through the IPB process for an opposing force, like an enemy battalion or brigade (especially when we faced the Soviets). But we can do the same thing for Iraq as a whole--not just looking at the big five threat groups (Al Qaeda in Iraq/Islamic State in Iraq, Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa Naqshbandi, Promised Day Brigade, Jaysh Al Mahdi, and Asaib Ahl Al Haqq). When you look at all the available information--political, economic, social, tribal, regional, criminal, legal and the insurgent violence--Iraq is not on an automatic path towards peace and democracy.

Instead, Iraq has a range of outcomes for where it could end up. I call it the “Iraqi Spectrum”. It goes from utter chaos to complete order. I don’t want to predict where Iraq is headed--making predictions is incredibly hard, and in Iraq doubly so--but I do want to point out that the future of Iraq is not certain. On Wednesday’s post, I will provide the five worst case scenarios for the future of Iraq. These scenarios aren’t guaranteed to happen, but they all could.

Unfortunately, most politicians, pundits and diplomats are ignoring these very real possibilities.

ten comments

Best surreptitious use of a Star Wars reference in a political post yet!

On a serious note, Iraq is the new Afghanistan. From 2003 to 2009, most Americans simply assumed that Afghanistan was going well because there was little news coming out of it. As much as some soldiers might complain about “liberal, anti-military” reporting, putting a critical eye on the military’s feel-good stories often reveals sobering truths.

Iraq is the new Afghanistan is a great hypothetical post title.

Seriously, we have another article Starbuck right along those lines, could we possibly liberate that title from you?

We had a Rancor mention with photos a few months back, that was probably a little over the top.

Journolists are ignoring Iraq as they are Afghanistan. Funny how coverage changed so much on January 20, 2008. I look forward to the following article on the subject.

What happened on Jan. 20, 2008?

Afghanistan coverage soared in 2009. Also, coverage of Iraq started dipping in 2008, down three quarters from what it was in 2007. Coverage follows the domestic debate.

Here’s an interesting link: http://www.onthemedia.org/transcripts/20..

Regarding Iraq, that link proves my point that coverage basically stopped when Obama became president:

“Even for last year in 2008, coverage of Iraq was down three-quarters from what it was in 2007. It’s down even further from that now in 2009.”

And regarding another study, done in 2010 about 2010:

“With an increase in troops to Afghanistan and a continuing rise in American casualties there, the question remains: Why has there been so little media coverage of the Afghanistan war?

According to a NPR report, ‘Afghanistan has received just 2 percent of all news coverage since Jan. 1.’”


The fact is, journolists can coordinate to push a story into the headlines. With a change in the occupant in the Oval Office, the daily body count headlines have disappeared.

Media bias? Certainly.

Iraq faces three very serious challenges to its young and unstable parliamentary democracy.

1. An ethnic security dilemma forces major sects/ethnic groups to provide for their own security through lightly armed militias, and confers substantial benefit to attacking first.

2. Oil wealth, the bane of democratic development, is concentrated in two of three ethnic groups with no provisions to share it at the national level. This will reinforce the power of Shia and Kurdish elements, particularly a Shia element in control of a national government.

3. A military coup, while unlikely because of the fragmentation of Iraq’s security forces, would probably be successful:
-The civilian leadership has been undermined by its inability to form a government for over 8 months after the election.
-The military’s training at American hands has made it capable of discharging basic security functions, and its COIN-centric training makes it an ideal tool for repression.
-Iraq has a history of military coups going back to the dawn of its independent existence in the 1920s.

No matter how this plays out, it’s unlikely that Iraq will remain a democracy in 5 years’ time.

@ Harrison – Your thesis that the “media” coordinated to push Iraq and Afghanistan out of the headlines just isn’t supported by the evidence.

Obama took office in Jan 20 2009, not 2008. Iraq coverage was already dropping in 2008, a year before he took the presidency.

When Obama took office, Afghanistan coverage soared. Yes, it was only 2 of all news.

Sorry, I meant Jan 2009. My brain is fried.

There are some interesting numbers on Pew’s website. Coverage for 2009 was far below 2) until the Fall of 2009 (probably because of elections). Immediately after that, if fell again. Pew only goes to the 2nd Quarter of 2010 but the earlier link I posted showed coverage was extremely low of Afghanistan. This is even as deaths have increased.

Regarding Iraq, before the surge there were a lot of news people saying how it would fail. Here is a link to some examples from NBC and the other networks:


One example:

Back in December, NBC’s Tim Russert conceded that the media were less interested in covering a successful U.S. mission in Iraq, telling anchor Brian Williams that “with the surge in Iraq and the level of American deaths declining, it is off the front pages.”

One could say that fewer deaths would warrant less coverage because only bad news sells, but as the JournoList revealed, there was a coordinated effort by writers, editors, and producers, to shape the story. Curiously, no JournoList members were Republicans. Also, if there was no incentive to report “good” news and every incentive to report “bad” news why, then, with American deaths soaring in Afghanistan, Obama is not being tarred in the same way Bush was when deaths in Iraq soared?

An example of the coordinated efforts of the JournoList may be found in what the Editor of Wired magazine wrote to his fellow “reporters”:

If the right forces us all to either defend [Rev.] Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they’ve put upon us. Instead, take one of them – Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares – and call them racists.

And so it is with Iraq/Afghanistan.

That’s my 2 cents.

Oh yeah, go ahead and use the title.