Sunday, February 20, 2005

Loyalists (2)

Phil Carter's Intel Dump reports on a Wall Street Journal story on a rash of apparently unauthorised irregular forces appearing in Iraq. (Note: original story is locked in a subscription ghetto) It is reported that
The unplanned units -- commanded by friends and relatives of cabinet officers and tribal sheiks -- go by names like the Defenders of Baghdad, the Special Police Commandos, the Defenders of Khadamiya and the Amarah Brigade. The new units generally have the backing of the Iraqi government and receive government funding.

While regular units of the Iraq Army have taken up residence on rehabilitated army bases, the others camp out in places like looted Ministry of Defense buildings, a former women's college, an old Iraqi war monument and an abandoned aircraft hangar. Frequently, U.S. officials don't find out about them until they stumble across them. Some Americans consider them a welcome addition to the fight against the insurgency -- though others worry about the risks.

"We don't call them militias. Militias are...illegal," says Maj. Chris Wales, who spent most of January tracking down and finding these new forces. "I've begun calling them 'Irregular Iraqi ministry-directed brigades.' " The "pop up" label comes from other U.S. military officials in Baghdad."
Well, Phil seems to think this isn't perhaps such a bad idea. He frames the concept as one of identifying the warriors who would naturally make up a real army in Iraq, as laid down in US military assistance doctrine. This is true, up to a point. It seems that some of these outfits are more effective than the official Iraqi army or National Guard, although that wouldn't be difficult.

But that isn't enough. Note the key line that many of these militias - whoops - irregular Iraqi ministry-directed brigades are "commanded by friends and relatives of cabinet officers". This is significant in two ways - if they are carefully selected for their loyalty, then they are less likely to be infiltrated by the rebels, but they are also more likely to be the instruments of civil war. Private armies are not historically a source of stability, and a force built purely on feudal allegiance can be turned on anyone. The second part of trying to seek out a warrior caste in Iraq and to put them to work for the Iraqi government is integrating them into a national army. Feudal militias are unlikely to be amenable to such a move, especially as the Shia politicians who now await power have made clear that they plan to incorporate the various Shia militias into the army in short order. It would be counterproductive for their purposes to break up the Badr Corps, the Sadrists etc and form mixed-manned Shia/Sunni units - so the result will be not an army but a federation of feudal militias.

Encouraging paramilitarism is a time-honoured device, but its record is not great. Generally, it can have impressive short-term results and terrible long-term results. "Collusion" with the Northern Irish loyalists helped to discredit Britain and also to reinforce the rejectionist side of Unionism. The various Israeli-backed paramilitaries in Lebanon either grew into part of the problem, or melted away when push came to shove. It is very hard to see any positives from the activities of the Colombian or Mozambican or Turkish "loyalists". Perhaps the ultimate example of this was the Israeli support for Hamas in the 80s; by helping them undermine the PLO factions, they built up a more intransigent and vicious opponent. The historic record displays a long and grim story of endemic blowback. (Another US blogger who discusses this is John Robb of Global Guerrillas, whose analysis may be found here. Unlike Carter, he gives more consideration to the downside risks, specifically in terms of long-term instability and institutionalised criminality.)

In fact, the extreme case is far worse. These highly personalised irregular groups of old soldiers remind me of nothing more than a Freikorps, one of those groups of political gunmen in post-1918 Germany who formed the supporting scene of fascism. The German Social Democrats who took over in 1918 made a fateful bargain when their defence minister Gustav Noske sent in the Freikorps to suppress the Spartacist rising of January 1919; the short-term aim was achieved at the cost of legitimising the paramilitary scene, some units of which were already beginning to wear the swastika. Once the step of accepting them was taken, the military soon found it progressively more beneficial to incorporate them into defence planning, to save German military capability from the Allied weapons inspectors by transferring arms and organisation to the private armies, to channel secret funds to their accounts. Adolf Hitler was first spotted as a political prospect by one of the intelligence officers who ran this effort - Hauptmann Karl Mayr of Wehrkreis IV's intelligence cell, who later became disillusioned with Nazism, organised the SPD's countermilitia, went into exile in France, but was tracked down by the Gestapo and died in Buchenwald.

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