'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, November 08, 2004

Who's in the New Iraqi Army? 

IPS's Jim Lobe concludes his most recent article with the following paragraph that touches on a subject that I've been interested in lately, the ethnic make-up of the new Iraqi army:

The weekend's desertions reportedly left only one fully intact Iraqi unit deployed with the Marines on the outskirts of Fallujah -- the 36th Battalion, whose troops were recruited mostly from Kurdish and Shi'a militia. ''If the 36th turns out to be the 'Iraqi face' of the new government in Fallujah'', noted one worried administration official, ''it'll be seen as another occupation force''.

Supporting this characterization of the demographics of the Iraqi forces, William R. Polk, a former member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Council, recently wrote in a guest post on Informed Comment:

And the idea that America can fashion a local militia to accomplish what its powerful army cannot do is not policy but fantasy. It is true that in the days of their Iraqi empire, the British used such a force – composed of an ethnic minority, the Assyrians. But the British wisely used them only as auxiliaries to their army and air force. The Iraqi “Interim Government” has similarly used Kurds as auxiliaries to American forces. An Iraqi army is unlikely to fight insurgents with whom soldiers sympathize and among whom they have relatives. The best America might gain from this option is a fig leaf to hide defeat; the worst, in a rapid collapse, would be humiliating evacuation, as in Vietnam.

and AFP reports

US officers said Iraqi forces, who include former Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and former members of Saddam’s Iraqi army, were among Iraqi troops training with US marines preparing to storm Fallujah. Kurds were allies of the US in last year’s war that ousted Saddam.

So my question is ... What percentage of the Iraqis who are helping out the US with the assault on Fallujah, and who are poised to become the occupiers of Fallujah, are Kurdish?

Early on Rumsfeld and company used to like to describe the insurgents as foreign trouble-makers, dead-enders, former Baathists, and Saddam loyalists. The point was to portray the insurgents as anything except ordinary Iraqis who are attempting to defend their country from a foreign invader. The point was to paint the insurgency as unpopular with the majority of Iraq. One way of achieving this portrayal was the creation of an Iraqi proxy army to combat the insurgents. The use of a proxy army sends the message that the insurgency must be very unpopular if other Iraqis are willing to take up arms against it. Such a message only rings true if the members of the proxy army do not have their own agenda. If the Iraqis attacking Fallujah are predominantly Shia and Kurds, this message doesn't ring true at all.

The Kurds, in particular, are an ethnic minority without strong feelings of nationalism for Iraq -- Kurds have strong feelings of nationalism towards a future independent Kurdistan -- and an ethnic minority with a history of being persecuted by Iraq's arab majority. Kirkuk, the Iraqi city Kurds consider their capital, after years of Hussein's barbaric "Arabization" campaign -- in which Kurdish families were forcefully evicted from their homes and supplanted with arabs -- is plagued with ethnic strife.

One wonders if the US is cleverly exploiting Iraq's ethnic fault lines, pitting group against group, in order to paint a picture of an Iraq that is unified against the insurgency.

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