I am noticing a disturbing trend in Iraq right now, one that I feel pretty sure will prove to be a major mistake in this war and cause a fair amount of grief to the Iraqi people and most likely beyond. The U.S. Military is arming and funding militias and civil military groups across the country. After a discussion with a soldier about the Sons of Iraq, what is now called a "neighborhood guard" by the US military, the soldier said, "We are basically paying these guys off with money and weapons to not kill us."
So that's how the surge worked. That and the fact that al Sader's Mahdi Army took a break (and they weren't the only ones who decided to lie low during the surge). In addition, the Sunni Shia ethnic cleansing, and relocation, had played itself out, so the numbers of deaths dropped.
Here's a bit more nuanced take from Nir Rosen, considered by many to be one of the best journalists in Iraq:
Well, the Americans like to think that the reason why the Sunni militiamen, the Sunni resistance, has stopped fighting them is because they’re paying them, because from the American point of view, it was always about money. They never understood the importance of ideology or of occupation or of resistance... I met with many of these people. Nobody joined the resistance for money. They joined because they believed there was an occupation that was threatening their lives or their country or their religion, or they didn’t like the way the new government looked, so they joined the resistance to fight the American occupation, not for money.
And now they joined these Awakening groups, again, not for money, but because they have another interest: “We’re not going to fight the Americans now, we’re going to fight the Iranians [Shia]. Let’s get the Americans off of our back.” In a way, the Sunnis have actually bought the Americans, because now they control territory. The same militiamen who were killing Shias, who were blowing up Americans just a few months ago, who were on the run, now control territory inside Baghdad and elsewhere, and it’s become safe for Sunnis to go to those areas, not only Sunnis from those areas, but even Sunnis who have fled Shia militias in other places can now go there. So you have safe Sunni territories. From there, different Sunni groups can join. They can establish a political movement, which they’re trying to do, and eventually try to retake Baghdad or at least re-fight the civil war.
But the story is even more nuanced, or nefarious, if you look at the role played by General Patraeus over the years.
PHOTO Credit: Zoriah Photo Journalist. Commentary:
The above image is of a confiscated weapons cache housed inside of a US/Iraqi army base in Sadr City. Notice that there are no magazines in these weapons. As I was taking these photos, U.S. soldiers filled their pockets with loaded magazines, intending to distribute them to local militias.
Zoriah's Blog entry, IRAQ WAR PHOTOGRAPHER DIARY - MILITIAS, June 26, 2008.