Saturday, August 04, 2007

It's Official, US Now Arming And Paying Iraqi Insurgents

US-Israel-Sunni Alliance Against Iran Rapidly Takes Shape

We will never negotiate with terrorists, President Bush once thundered. He forgot to add, "until they kill and wound so many of our troops we have no choice but to pay them to stop killing us."

From the Washington Post :
Inside a brightly lit room, the walls adorned with memorials to 23 dead American soldiers, Lt. Col. Robert Balcavage stared at the three Sunni tribal leaders he wanted to recruit.

Their fighters had battled U.S. troops. Balcavage suspected they might have attacked some of his own men. The trio accused another sheik of having links to the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. That sheik, four days earlier, had promised the U.S. military to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq and protect a strategic road.

"Who do you trust? Who do you not trust?" said Balcavage, commander of the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, his voice dipping out of earshot.

An hour later, he signed up some of America's newest allies.

U.S. commanders are offering large sums to enlist, at breakneck pace, their former enemies, handing them broad security powers in a risky effort to tame this fractious area south of Baghdad in Babil province and, literally, buy time for national reconciliation.

American generals insist they are not creating militias. In contracts with the U.S. military, the sheiks are referred to as "security contractors." Each of their "guards" will receive 70 percent of an Iraqi policeman's salary. U.S. commanders call them "concerned citizens," evoking suburban neighborhood watch groups.

But interviews with ground commanders and tribal leaders offer a window into how the United States is financing a new constellation of mostly Sunni armed groups with murky allegiances and shady pasts.

The two-week-old initiative, inspired by similar efforts underway in Baghdad, Anbar and Diyala provinces, has more than halved attacks here against American troops, from 19 a day to seven, U.S. commanders said. But in a land of sectarian fault lines and shifting tribal loyalties, the strategy raises concerns about the long-term implications of empowering groups that steadfastly oppose the Shiite-led government.

Shiite leaders fear that the United States is financing highly trained and well-armed militias that could undermine the government after American troops withdraw. Shiites worry such groups could weaken central authority and challenge democratic institutions that many would like to see take root.

U.S. generals said they vet the backgrounds of every recruit, but ground commanders here said that is all but an impossible task.

"Officially, we will not deal with those who have American blood on their hands," said Balcavage, 42. "But how do you know? You don't. There's a degree of risk involved. A lot of it is gut instinct. That's what I'm going on. They didn't teach me how to do this at West Point."

In this fertile region, divided by the Euphrates River and torn by violence, U.S. soldiers are overstretched and Iraqi troops are in short supply. Isolated Sunni tribal lands have provided extremists with havens that are off-limits to U.S. patrols and Iraq's mostly Shiite security forces.

"We've done nothing in this area, because we could not get in there," said Col. Michael Garrett, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, adding that the tribal strategy will "buy time and access."

The sheiks are promised reconstruction projects in their strongholds and jobs for their fighters in Iraq's security forces. In return, they pledge to patrol their lands, battle al-Qaeda in Iraq and dismantle roadside bombs, the main killer of U.S. soldiers.

The sheiks commit to securing oil pipelines and U.S. military supply routes, taking over some of the duties of Iraq's army and police. The fighters are provided with badges, yellow reflective belts and arrest powers.

"It's like rent-a-cop," said Maj. Rick Williams, a Tulsa native who is a liaison to tribal leaders in the region.

The goal is to mimic the successes unfolding in the Sunni heartland of Anbar, where U.S-backed sheiks have fought al-Qaeda in Iraq for months. There, insurgent attacks have dropped dramatically.

But in this patch of north Babil province, colored in green hues and crisscrossed with irrigation canals, marshes and fish farms, the tribal and sectarian landscape is more complex than in Anbar, which is homogenously Sunni. Babil's battle lines blur easily.

Hundreds of local Sunni tribesmen have aligned themselves with al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic Army or other Sunni insurgent groups. Shiite tribes are weak because loyalties to clerics are stronger than allegiances to sheiks.

Most of the new recruits hail from the Jenabi, the largest and most influential tribe. Under Saddam Hussein, the Jenabi were considered a "golden tribe," filling the ranks of his elite Republican Guard and army. After the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the Jenabi, like so many other Sunni tribes, joined the insurgency.

Ahmed Rasheed Khadr, 38, was among them. He and his fighters fought U.S. forces with a vengeance, he said. But by 2005, Khadr was facing a new threat. Extremists linked to Al-Qaeda in Iraq overran Howija, where his family owned 700 acres, and imposed strict interpretations of Islamic laws. And like Afghanistan's Taliban, they banned smoking, television, even cellphones with video cameras, Khadr said.

The Jenabi splintered. Some sided with the al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters out of fear. Others joined because they wanted to isolate themselves from the region's Shiites and their militias. Those who refused to align were targeted, often by their own tribesmen.

"The Jenabi tribe, the problem they're having is that the al-Qaeda is them," Balcavage said.

The forming of alliances between US troops and Sunni insurgents grows more interesting when you add in the massive arms funding BushCo. is now planning to pour into Sunni dominated Middle East states, including Saudi Arabia, as part of creating a united and heavily armed front against Iran.

Australian defence contractors are salivating over the possibility of ramping up their sales of Bushmaster vehicles, catamarans and assorted weaponry, to the Middle East, as part of a 'payback' from the United States for the Howard government's commitment to spend more than $US28 billion on American war machines in the coming years.

The United States is now easing the pressure off the Sunnis in Iraq, by claiming that three quarters of all attacks against American troops last month were carried out by Shiites, primarily Shiite militias. While this may in fact be true, such a move also helps Dick Cheney's current plan to undermine and eventually depose the Maliki government because they have failed to get the new Oil Law passed.

Presumably, the Sunni factions and the Kurds, who can be expected to take control of the government should the Cheney plan come to fruition, have already agreed to pass the new laws which would see most of the control of Iraq's vast oil riches passed to foreign control, primarily American oil giants, with the Kurds given free rein to get the oil pipeline to the Haifa port, in Israel, under way.

The wider point in all this is that the US now seems to be firming up the Sunni alliance in Iraq, regardless of their American killing tendencies, as part of the wider Sunni-Israel-US alliance against Iran, which also forms a front to control Middle East oil against the Russians and Chinese, now firmly aligned with Iran through hundreds of billions of dollars in oil and natural gas deals.