August 04, 2008

Name: Alex Horton
Posting date: 8/4/08
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Frisco, Texas
: Army of Dude
Email: [email protected]

Don't tell the pathetic non-serving members of the old media (and new media), but the surge wasn't wholly responsible for the drop in violence seen in Iraq over the last year. I have outlined the three main reasons violence has subsided, but one of the more important aspects is still largely misunderstood and mischaracterized by the punditry across the country.

The "awakening group" movement first appeared in Anbar in late 2005 (or if you're John McCain, it started in a time warp before and after the surge) and has since grown to a large, lethal force that battles elements of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq. That is usually where the media narrative leaves you, insinuating that these groups are patriotic volunteers casting out the demons of al-Qaeda.

What they don't mention is both the original motivations for these groups and their history of battling American soldiers. One of the latest to operate (and propped up by my unit in Diyala Province) is the 1920 Revolution Brigade. I covered their nationalist history a year ago, noting that their name was a throwback to the 1920 revolution to oust British influence. So this group in particular didn't start in 2005, 2006 or even 2007, but in 2003 for one reason: to attack and kill Americans. They got pretty good at it. While in Baghdad in late 2006 and early 2007, any group that we battled that wasn't Sadr's militia was likely the 1920s. Their most dramatic act?



Above is the crash site of a Blackwater Security helicopter, downed by the 1920s Brigade. My platoon responded to the crash, found the crew members executed, and were caught up in a firefight started by anti-aircraft guns in high rise buildings.

The insurgent group met us head on in Baqubah, being present in the attack that killed my friend, and an IED ambush that resulted in four explosions on three Strykers in just seconds. Yet somehow it was deemed not only acceptable but advantageous to work with these killers. Two months later, we began our first patrols with them.

Without any remorse on our part, many of the 1920s (called "concerned local nationals" at this point) were killed accidentally by our hands at the start of that shaky alliance. American rifle and helicopter fire was the biggest "concern" of these local nationals until they began wearing reflective belts and brown t-shirts.

Some even brought up the notion of killing them once they outpaced their usefulness. Our battalion surgeon, a well respected medical doctor in the civilian world, had the best idea: "Kick the Stryker up to sixty and throw them out the open door."


Insurgent "Concerned local national" checkpoint stops a deadly kid on a bike as an old man looks on.

Unfortunately, we couldn't take out the trash that easily. We grudgingly worked with the 1920s as per our orders. We were moderately successful in tracking down al-Qaeda operatives (or possibly doing in-house cleaning) and caches. But the point isn't the success of turning over a new leaf with insurgents. We traded in our values, our self reliance to get things done, for $300 a head. We did not destroy our enemy but rather aided them. We secured not only their future success, but the future instability with the Iraqi government. Maliki and his Shia government adamantly oppose the Sunni groups and have said in the past that they will never become a permanent part of Iraqi forces.

But they don't pay the former insurgents, we do, as taxpayers. That's why they're trying to leverage the American military into giving them more money -- the ol' "pay me more or I'm going back to killing you" ruse. And for their part, they'll probably be successful. Commanders know that they're important not for killing al-Qaeda, but for not fighting us. They're not allies, they're enemies with benefits. And they're holding the cards.

Why isn't there an outcry from the media and citizenry about these people? Quite simply, the military led the media by its nose when they characterized insurgents as "concerned" and proudly spoke of them as volunteers. To further confuse people, they were renamed "Baqubah Guardians" and then finally "Sons of Iraq," each name a brighter shade of lipstick for the same dirty pig. They're only growing stronger and more experienced as time goes on, watching coalition forces close up, looking for every weakness.They've already discovered a big one: our over-reliance on their dirty, sectarian work.


A 1920s member who likely lifted a bullet-proof vest off a dead Iraqi policeman.

You can only pay someone not to fight you for so long before they ask for more and more. We're past that point now, and approaching another tough reality on the horizon. If we're as successful at defeating al-Qaeda as the media says we are, who will our new friends fight, if not us?


The very definition of "a friendship of convenience."


Being a vet of VN, I forecasted what would happen in Iraq and I could easily foresee what would happen as we made treaties with our "enemies". These sort of arrangements have gone on for thousands of years and for that long have frustrated the grunts. they are recorded as history for us to learn in school - nation A invaded B and was in power for x years before nation B kicked them out or was in turn taken over by nation C. Or nation B collapsed from within - greed, sloth, etc. by-products of power - and the vultures collected the booty.

Can you be more specific? In other words, what is the alternative? Instead of buying them, should we be using kinetic, hard-power military means to bring down the violence (attrition)? That wasn't working too well, as I recall.

If we're going to say soft power is now the wave of the future, how's that going to work if money and mutually self-serving alliances aren't part of it. I don't think these people are going to be moved just by patriotism and the seductive charisma of the American soldier. We know they all hate us. We got that part. Check. Given that, what's the best way to proceed. Immediate withdrawal? Scorched earth policy?

I wish the exigencies of this war didn't put our people in this terrible position of having to now work with people who were killing them just weeks before. But is there a less destructive alternative way to ratchet down Sunni violence, and get sufficient quietude to start some reconstruction and reconciliation?

If you have a strong sense that partnering with the Sunnis is absolutely the wrong way to go, and will lead to ruin, what should we do?

Well I think my husband has the greatest answer of what to do with them. He has voiced it since 2003.
'Drop the A bomb on them"! We will soon run out of money with our economy and it would use up a lot of 'A' weapons that are surplus!


I'm not a COIN expert so I don't have all the answers for you. This dispatch comes from a perspective of a soldier who viewed the dawn of a particular awakening group. As a group that is responsible for the death of one member of my platoon and possibly another, they have no business working with us. You might not get that sentiment from a unit there now because they don't share the same experience with the group.

They're past the realm of incorrigible. If you've played Risk, you know that fighting a two front war is frowned upon. They were put into a position to either join us and fight al-Qaeda, or fight us both at the same time. They chose to join us. As it seems, they were lucky that commanders were under political pressure to capitalize on the surge. I have a feeling under different conditions, there would have been no truce. Nevertheless, we put ourselves in a curious position of reducing violence by paying people not to shoot us. That gave them legitimacy and leverage against us. Now that we're trying to limit their reach by having them sit out the offensive in Diyala, they're trying to blackmail us into giving them more money. With friends like these...

What is the better alternative? To have neighborhood watch programs, but with law abiding Iraqis, not killers of American soldiers. All we did was buy ourselves a temporary window of safety that can't go on forever. There will come a time when we, as their bankroll, along with the Iraqi government, will tell them to disband. It's coming soon, and obviously they're not going to let go very easily (especially since around 15% have gone to the IA/IP, as opposed to the target number of 100%). Now that we've loaded them down with guns, cash and experience, the only place to go is back to fighting us. In the end, it won't be worth it.

The neighborhood watch should work if what I've been hearing from the punditry is any indication (Iraqis are sick of extremist violence etc etc).

Immediate withdrawal would be great. I think it's time for ISF to sink or swim. Afghanistan demands our attention, not our lip service.

Now in regards to righteousness of our decisions, I think we did what was easy rather than what was right. Dropping an atom bomb (as someone scarily suggested above) is obviously an easier method of killing insurgents, but it's not the right thing to do. The same principles apply to just about everything. The Army taught me to do the right thing, not the easy thing. The right thing would be to either fight our enemy or call a truce and be done with it. No money, no guns, no nothing. If they want to kill al-Qaeda, that's fine. But they didn't form their group to fight extremists like AQ, they formed to fight us. Sadly, the easy path is the path we took, which was to reduce the burden of fighting by way coughing up hundreds of millions of dollars to insurgents. The easy way out doesn't look so great now with members threatening to join al-Qaeda if we don't give them a raise.

Like you said, kinetic military means wasn't working out great. The strategy to put us in forward outposts worked. But working with insurgents should have been the line. We cannot sacrifice our principles for small gains, not even for a second. We end up losing a lot more. We showed the world that nearly everything has a price when it comes to war, and in my eyes that was a big mistake.

Thanks, A of D. The small outposts idea made alot of parents very nervous, but it did seem to have an effect. Hats off to all of you. You no less than pulled your country's n*ts out of the fire, and I hope that's understood and acknowledged by the whole country.

By being a great soldier, and a wary warrior you make it easy for the people that want to buy their way out of trouble. A time out while former enemies get to ponder the wickedness of their ways is a good thing - if they become model Iraqi citizens instead of thugs like the folks in Zimbabwe it will be a good thing. You remain strong, focused and vigilant and come home safe, we are proud of all that you do well.

Looks to me like we've bought a slew of mercenaries. Time honored, that, even if not particularly honorable. But it is a way to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

What is a fair price to pay to save a soldier's life? That is the question this experimental buying of favor will show in the end.

Were I given to crystal ball gazing, I'd say we are looking at a long term of payout to keep tribal hate/rage under control at least until until we leave. Then, I fear, it will be back to the old ways of intertribal strife until the next Saddam arises. We can only hope whoever he is can keep things calm, and I'd bet otherwise.

Thanks for an articulate post. I agree that we shouldn't be doing business with the nationals. It's crazy to give these guys guns, money, and credibilty. I agree that Afghanistan is more critically in need of what we can offer; but I don't see it happening. We are in Iraq to secure oil; we won't back out until we do secure it. Civil unrest and civil war in Afghanistan will take a back seat with American policy. Meanwhile, Pakistan will get hotter and hotter. We are focused on oil to our long term detriment.

You know, Alex, I grew up in the sixties, right n the middle of it. I was born and raised in San Francisco and my high school was a ten minute walk from the Haight Ashbury and I turned 18 years old in 1968 and I am soooo glad it's over. Alot of good was accomplished, but, as in most situations, the people with the stupidest things to say had the biggest mouths and got the most attention. I never felt angry toward the guys that had to go to Viet Nam. Some choice: Viet Nam, prison or Canada. Joan Baez' husband David Harris, spent two years in prison for not going to Viet Nam, and when he came out his marriage was broken and his sum total of his experience was:"Yeah, I'm a convict now, just a con".
I still hold onto my political beliefs, but I can't beleive some of the dumb, arrogant things people my age said back then.We were very young.
I felt that way then as well as now. The sixties, which really happened in the seventies is not all black and white.Nothing is. Keep writing. I love everything you write.

It's all coming back to me now. We got our guys killed going in. They (whoever was left over, pissed-off, and well armed), tried to finish the job. We took our turn hitting back. We called that Intel, counter-insurgency, and hearts and minds.

Who knew they were all related to someone in a country that was pretty good at kicking anybody out. Whao, that sounds like Azkrakastan, don't it?

So how in the Hell did we wind up in this mess? Leadership. How do we keep it from happening again? Different Leadership. Oh, yeah, whoever it is, don't trust 'em very much.

DeJa Vue all over again.

Great post. I appreciate how your blog goes on not being censored.

Paying and arming guys for them not to kill you is a short term, and selfish, solution.

The day Americans leave Iraq, which will happen quite soon because your nation can't afford this war any longer, the awakened sunni Iraqis and the Sadrists, among others, will be at each other's throats for the control of the oil.

However who gives a sh*t about the Iraqis in America, as long as there's cheap chinese crap to buy in the mall ?

ARE WE DOING any thing to help them help themselves?
is this- a kind of extortion the best adn maybe only good occupation ?

IS THE US DOiNG ANYTHING ABOUT IRRIGATION AND FARMING. boring stuff like.. insuring survival needs so they can get past this..
TEACHING and helping TO FISH AGAIN or throwing them fish?

or happens when everyone runs out of fish.?

icame across this blog as i am a 'doonesbury' fan....i am not a military person ,i can't say i 'enjoy' reading the blog...but i do read a lot of it...i've read about paying the iraqis 'not to kill' soldiers...total madness..but it works?anyway,'here's to you' and your comrades....stay safe...

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