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CENTCOM Indications & Warning (I&W) validate Iraqi civil war: Indications without limit but warning politically ignored


An 18 October, 2006, US Central Command (CENTCOM) Indications & Warning (I&W) summary validates an Iraqi civil war. The only good news one can take from this is that the military is not, and apparently has not been, internally lying to itself over the tracking period of the indicators:

The slide shows Iraq as moving sharply away from "peace," an ideal on the far left side of the chart, to a point much closer to the right side of the spectrum, a red zone marked "chaos." As depicted in the command's chart, the needle has been moving steadily toward the far right of the chart.

An intelligence summary at the bottom of the slide reads "urban areas experiencing 'ethnic cleansing' campaigns to consolidate control" and "violence at all-time high, spreading geographically." According to a Central Command official, the index on civil strife has been a staple of internal command briefings for most of this year. The analysis was prepared by the command's intelligence directorate, which is overseen by Brig. Gen. John M. Custer.

From an analyst's viewpoint, I am saddened to see the I&W produced in PowerPoint instead of as an output from online/original intel but that will be a future note. The "key reads" are:

  • Political/religious leaders increase public hostile rhetoric
  • Political/religious leaders lose moderating influence over constituents
  • Provocative sectarian attacks/assassinations
  • Unorganized spontaneous mass civil conflict

Significant factors moving the "Index of Civil Conflict" toward "chaos" are sectarian violence and militia activity, ineffective and/or infiltrated Iraqi security forces (ISF), lapsing moderating influence of political and religious leaders, and Iraqi administration's declining ability to govern and restore infrastructure. Secondary indicators include "activity by militias, problems with ineffective police, the ability of Iraqi officials to govern effectively, the number of civilians who have been forced to move by sectarian violence, the willingness of Iraqi security forces to follow orders, and the degree to which the Iraqi Kurds are pressing for independence from the central government."

These factors are evaluated to create the index of civil strife, which has registered a steady worsening for months. "Ever since the February attack on the Shiite mosque in Samarra, it has been closer to the chaos side than the peace side," said a Central Command official who asked not to be identified because he was talking about classified information.

These findings track closely to the key findings of the Center for American Progress Action Fund's Progress in Iraq: A 2006 Report Card on the Bush Administration's Iraq Policy:

Iraq today stands between civil war and utter chaos, hardly the hope of a bipartisan majority of 79 U.S. Senators who nearly a year ago called on President Bush to put forward a strategy for "the successful completion of the mission in Iraq"... With fewer than three months remaining in 2006, our third quarter assessment [finds] Iraq on the brink of collapse, with growing violence, increased sectarian tensions and divisions in the Iraqi national government, and few significant advances in Iraq's economic reconstruction... Iraq is a weak and failing state, with tens of thousands of innocent civilians killed and at least two million civil war refugees and internally displaced Iraqis... [The US] has not achieved sufficient progress towards [key goals set out in the November 2005 National Strategy for Victory in Iraq]

1. Security: On the Brink of Total Collapse. Iraq's conflict is now worse than civil war; it's on the brink of total collapse. The country suffers from at least four internal conflicts that risk further spiraling out of control - a Shiite-Sunni civil war in the center, intra-Shiite conflicts in the south, a Sunni insurgency in the west, and ethnic tensions between Arabs and Kurds in the north. Violence has increased in 2006, and recent estimates of Iraqis killed over the last three and a half years range from 40,000 to several hundred thousand. At least 2 million Iraqis are refugees or have become internally displaced.

2. Political Transition: Divisions Persist, Extremism Rises. Iraq's political transition hangs by a thread. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki introduced a national reconciliation effort that is ongoing. Ethnic and sectarian tensions persist, human rights abuses are endemic, press freedom has faced new restrictions, and women and religious minorities face new threats.

3. Economic Reconstruction: Iraqis Still Lack Basic Services. After spending more than $30 billion of U.S. taxpayer money on reconstruction efforts, Iraq's basic services and key economic indicators lag below pre-war levels. More than 5.6 million Iraqis live below the poverty line.

4. Iraq War's Impact on U.S. National Security. Sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies found that the Iraq has helped Islamist extremists cultivate support around the world. In addition, the war in Iraq has diverted military and intelligence assets from capturing top al-Qaeda leaders and finishing the mission in Afghanistan. The war in Iraq also has weakened U.S. ground forces and undermined the readiness of our armed forces to respond to other crises.

Many in the analyst community, myself included, saw the NSC's Victory in Iraq as little more than a domestic political instrument. The gap between ground truth and administration policy has been stark and widening since at least 2003 despite the many military and independent analyses that pointed to rising damage of a "stay the course" posture whose rhetoric was only dropped in October 2006 unaccompanied by any significant policy redirection.

Taking my own turn in 2004 at divining the entrails of the Iraqi goat, factored by my own experience in the Middle East, I saw an Iraqi polity and resistance that was squarely at odds with a Neocon vision:

Here are some items that have resonated with me:

I highly recommend a 2004 Iraqi briefing produced by three retired 4GW experts, Wilson (Marines), Wilcox (Army) and Richards (AF), that was built around Boyd's OODA loop in which the warfighter must Observe the environment, Orient to similarities with and differences from past understanding, Decide what to do, then Act. Grossman makes a good intro to this OODA application to Iraq, noting that their presentation rose from a September 2003 talk that one of the authors made to an IW conference. It is galling to see such good analysis and recommendations go wanting.

The briefing recommends the development of "a coherent grand strategy" to "ensure that success in combat does not repel the [local] population, potential allies, the uncommitted or even ourselves." At this level... even agility in orientation is not as important as "adherence to the values we claim to espouse." Examples might include giving increased priority to protecting the local population with police and security officers, cultivating indigenous support for and participation in development and reconstruction projects, and ensuring operations adhere to established international law...

Fallows notes that the trio:

use a broad combination of "hard" and "soft" measures to weaken the insurgents, reduce their propaganda advantage, and turn the population against them. The report... emphasizes that any one approach in isolation is likely to fail. It draws on a concept introduced in 1999 by General Charles Krulak, then the commandant of the Marine Corps, about the need to pursue several different kinds of warfare all-out and all at once. To defeat insurgents, Krulak said, the United States must simultaneously launch ambitious humanitarian and reconstruction efforts; use its advanced weaponry selectively when enemy forces decide to stand and fight; and aggressively deploy small, independent teams of specialized anti-insurgent operators who would constitute a kind of American guerrilla force. The last step would represent the greatest departure from standard hierarchical American practice. Indeed, Krulak called his concept "The Strategic Corporal," with the idea that the war would turn on the skill and cunning of privates and corporals on both sides.

There is a lesson for those who would freely bomb and/or invade Iran in Desert Crossing, a declassified 1999 wargame of an invasion of Iraq which "suggests we would have ended up with a failed state even with 400,000 troops on the ground:

  • A change in regimes does not guarantee stability... A number of factors including aggressive neighbors, fragmentation along religious and/or ethnic lines, and chaos created by rival forces bidding for power could adversely affect regional stability.
  • Even when civil order is restored and borders are secured, the replacement regime could be problematic _ especially if perceived as weak, a puppet, or out-of-step with prevailing regional governments.
  • Iran's anti-Americanism could be enflamed by a U.S.-led intervention in Iraq... The influx of U.S. and other western forces into Iraq would exacerbate worries in Tehran, as would the installation of a pro-western government in Baghdad.
  • The debate on post-Saddam Iraq also reveals the paucity of information about the potential and capabilities of the external Iraqi opposition groups. The lack of intelligence concerning their roles hampers U.S. policy development.
  • Also, some participants believe that no Arab government will welcome the kind of lengthy U.S. presence that would be required to install and sustain a democratic government.
  • A long-term, large-scale military intervention may be at odds with many coalition partners.

Two senior analysts from the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, have accurately forecast the declining Iraqi situation in 2003 and 2005. Prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in 2003, Crane and Terrill warned that an invasion would likely be a military win followed by a political loss, that Debaathification and disbanding of the constituted Iraqi armed forces would be disastrous, US actions would alienate a broad spectrum of Iraqis, armed resistance would grow and political stability would be difficult to achieve.

In 2005, Terrill and Crane stated that it was "unlikely" that the US could "crush the insurgency prior to the beginning of a phased U.S. and coalition withdrawal," that the US would have to accept a modestly stable undemocratic state in preference to civil war (moreover, "U.S. vital interests have never demanded a democratic state in Iraq before 2003"), that it was not at all certain that the US could field viable, self-sustaining Iraqi police and military "no matter how long U.S. forces remain," that sectarian militias were more likely, and that a phased withdrawal timetable will end Iraqi cooperation with the US as Iraqis ally themselves with insurgents, Baathists and militias. The only value proffered in a timetable was a covert US resignation of a dying administration.

Just recently Zbigniew Brzezinski coined "blame and run" in this 28 October, 2006, interview:

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Now, suppose [benchmarks against timetable are] not met. They're not likely to be met in total. So we're going to be in this vague situation a year from now and maybe even 18 months from now. Killings are continuing; Americans are still dying. Some benchmarks are being met; some are not being met. What do we do then? Now, there are two alternatives: either staying the course without saying it, which means more of the same mess; or perhaps blame and run, not cut and run, but blame and run.
JIM LEHRER: Blame the Maliki government and say...
JIM LEHRER: ... he didn't meet the benchmarks, we're out of here?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: You didn't meet the benchmarks, therefore, you leave. And I think we have to start thinking very seriously about alternative strategies, and I think blame and run is not a good strategy. I have serious reservations about the notion of partitioning Iraq, because if you partition Iraq, we are going to be carving up the country and being stuck in it at the same time, because we'll be drawing the boundaries, and then we'll have to enforce these boundaries, because they'll be contended.

While ordinary Iraqis cannot run, and our troops in Iraq cannot run quickly, the Neocon aristocracy is bolting and blaming, denying that their agenda was ever at fault, that it was problems by Condi Rice, the military. Rose's interviews in Neo Culpa make sad reading as does Filkins' Where Plan A Left Ahmad Chalabi.

Writing in 2002, Anthony Cordesman framed the magnitude of effort in successful I&W:

Ever since the beginning of the Cold War, the United States has conducted postcrisis indications-and-warning reviews. Some have produced scapegoats, and some have led to significant improvements in "I&W" capabilities. In general, however, indications and warning analysis has simply kept pace with the evolution of threat techniques. The probability that any post-Afghanistan improvement in indications and warning will be enough to prevent all future attacks from succeeding is probably near zero...

[It] seems highly doubtful that improvements in intelligence can markedly improve the prospect for warnings of future wars or major terrorist attacks over what was possible before 11 September. The United States had long seen al-Qa'ida as an enemy and had blocked several previous attacks. The 11 September attacks succeeded because al-Qa'ida changed its methods, produced an unusually expert group of attackers, and was lucky. As has been noted previously, it seems likely that future attackers will also innovate and that some will be highly professional, or at least lucky.

I predict that the 2007 Who lost Iraq? debate will rival the Who lost China? debate that went on for a decade after the People's Republic was declared on 21 September, 1949, thrashing a Democratic administration, the State Department's China Hands and energizing Joseph McCarthy.

Part 2: Indications & Warning

Where Plan A Left Ahmad Chalabi
New York Times
November 5, 2006

1999 War Games Foresaw Problems in Iraq
The Associated Press
November 5, 2006; 2:45 AM

Post-Saddam Iraq: The War Game
"Desert Crossing" 1999 Assumed 400,000 Troops and Still a Mess
Introduced by Roger Strother
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 207
Posted - November 4, 2006

Neo Culpa
Vanity Fair Exclusive: Now They Tell Us
by David Rose
November 3, 2006

"Iraq War Sapping U.S. Influence in Lebanon," Landis interview with Gwertzman of CFR
Interviewee: Joshua Landis; Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor CFR
Syria Comment
November 3, 2006

Military Charts Movement of Conflict in Iraq Toward Chaos
New York Times
November 1, 2006

Iraqi Realities Undermine the Pentagon's Predictions
New York Times
October 25, 2006

President Bush Calls Iraq Violence a 'Serious Concern'
Jim Lehrer interviews Zbigniew Brzezinski
October 25, 2006

Progress in Iraq: A 2006 Report Card on the Bush Administration's Iraq Policy
Larry Korb and Brian Katulis
Center for American Progress Action Fund
October 24, 2006

Bush Drops 'Stay The Course' Phrase
But White House Rejects Calls For Dramatic Policy Shift In Iraq
CBS News
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2006

Precedents, Variables, and Options in Planning a U.S. Military Disengagement Strategy from Iraq
W. Andrew Terrill, Conrad C. Crane
Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College
ISBN 1-58487-220-9
October 2005

Getting Out Right
Warnings from many experts went unheeded before we entered Iraq. Let's listen as we prepare to "shape the exit"
by James Fallows
Atlantic Monthly
April 2005

Out of the Ordinary: Finding Hidden Threats by Analyzing Unusual Behavior
John Hollywood, Diane Snyder, Kenneth McKay, John Boon
ISBN 0-8330-3520-7

An OODA Loop Writ Large - 4GW and the Iraq War
Comment #534
Defense and the National Interest
December 23, 2004

Fourth Generation Warfare & OODA Loop Implications of The Iraqi Insurgency
G.I. Wilson, Greg Wilcox, Chet Richards
December 2004

The Rush to Invade Iraq: The Ultimate Inside Account
by Bryan Burrough, Evgenia Peretz, David Rose, and David Wise
Vanity Fair
May 2004

Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario
Conrad C. Crane, W. Andrew Terrill
Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College
ISBN 1-58487-112-1
February 2003

Anthony H. Cordesman
Naval War College Review, Summer 2002, Vol. LV, No. 3

Gordon Housworth

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