Saturday, April 09, 2005

Gen. Kiszely's view

A few days ago, the Grauniad carried a report from Baghdad quoting a briefing given by the departing UK senior officer in Iraq, Lieutenant-General John Kiszely. Kiszely has the reputation of being a brain, and I was keen to see what he had to say. He argued that the insurgents were on the back foot for the first time and that this was because they had lost their safe havens. Presumably this meant Fallujah. He also admitted that "it appeared to many last October that the insurgents would win". Now, this is at least an unusually realistic statement, as is his remark that "this time the success of the counter-insurgency is backed by political success".

Analysis: Kiszely's remarks are sound enough, but only up to a point. He is right that things are better than they were, but this is partly a reflection of how bad they got. He is also right that if there is success, it is the first time in the war. He is right on the principle that counterinsurgency depends on political success.

But the political success is only up to a point. A sort of Lebanese-oid consociation has been set up, but many of the political problems remain open (Kurdistan, the south, religion). It seems that the emerging political system will be heavily religious and also violent, as everyone involved except the Communists has a militia. The real potential power remains with Sistani and also Muqtada al-Sadr; they retain the capacity to cause the kind of mayhem they did through the middle of 2004. In fact, it should be remembered, the coalition's police presence in many places still hasn't recovered from the spring 2004 Shia uprising.

On the claim that the insurgents have lost safe havens, it's true that their TAZs (temporary autonomous zones) have been reduced. But the months of warning of the Fallujah offensive must have had an impact on its effectiveness. And, in a sense, weak control across all Iraq means that the safe haven is everywhere. Really, in so far as there has been success, it's been in the last two months - January was desperate - and it is interrupted by spectaculars like the massacre of Shia pilgrims, the oddly frequent big firefights, and the Hercules shoot-down. Another point is that the US and allied casualty rate is a factor of our activities as well as the enemy's-the very high casualties last winter were because we staged an offensive. We aren't at the moment, so they are down. So, I give the Kiszely briefing about 6/10 absolutely and maybe 7.5 when you consider that he couldn't say anything too damning.

On a specific, by the way, it's been reported that some Iraqi army recruits were massacred in a bus ambush. They were on their way to their home town to drop off their pay-because the Iraqi army has not thought of a way of paying them at their depot rather than their post of duty, which means that they have to fill the roads with buses of young men of military age (please God not in uniform!), easily identifiable, and carrying large sums of money. The full stupidity of this is beyond belief.

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