April 12, 2004


There's a nice little DDoS attack going around, that has gotten very little publicity so far, for whatever reason. I wouldn't even be surprised if Atrios' problems today have a little to do with it. It slowed down my office network today, a tad, and I've seen it take a couple major websites down... it's an exploit of known vulnerabilities in Cisco switches. One of them is their switches apparently can be shut down simply by hammering port 80 traffic at them... . There's some more info here if you suspect it might be happening to you. Can't say why it's not getting more play than it has... I'd rate it far more serious if you're a subject of an attack than many of the recent virus alarms that got to the front pages... I suspect people are reticent to admit they've got a vulnerability and prompt still more hacker-poking. If this one hits you during the business day, you might as well send everyone off for an extended lunch, or home, cause it's gonna take a while.

Four out of five switches on the Internet were made by Cisco, by the way. And I've heard very little on criminal investigation of the attackers... nice for the technology press to keep us up to speed and all... I guess even though, with a little more organization and malice on their part, they could have conceivably paralysed electronic communications across a whole continent or two, this one was just too hard to explain, so it didn't warrant public warnings the way, say, "don't open yet another stupid attachment!" does every week or two now.

Posted by BruceR at 10:39 PM


The Poor Man is making fun of me, so I suppose I had better elucidate. Given all the givens in that post below, what would be a means of calming things down and bringing Iraq back to at least semi-independence? And what, if any role, could soldiers for hire have to play? (Long post.)

1) First off, someone's probably got to throw water on the current situation with regard to the Mullah Sadr. Saying the fellow's only options are being "killed or captured" does not encourage a negotiating frame of mind. He's firmly ensconced in Najaf, he's not coming out, and every Shiite in the world is at least moderately alarmed at the thought of replaying Fallujah in their holiest city. Sistani is reportedly even about to issue a fatwa about Americans coming into Najaf in pursuit of the Sadrists... Sadr's down the rabbit hole, and he's only coming out when Sistani gets every last thing he wants from the CPA. That in turn would probably compromise American freedom of movement a little too much for comfort. Contrary to their BIG words, they seem to have a negotiating channel open to Sadr now if they've gotten the police stations back ("Give us back the jails so we can imprison you in one of them later?"); they should just let those talks drag on now, for a while, to let things cool, and tone down the "come out with your hands up" stuff in their public pronouncements.

2) Fallujah's resistance will end when it ends. Even after it ends, it will lock up a brigade of American forces semi-permanently, and there will be a constant sputtering of violence against them. There's no getting around it; the Americans need that highway through the city centre to stay open. It's just going to cost more troops than they have easily to hand in the interim.

3) The June 30 fake date should probably be called off, with or without the consent of the United Nations. It should be immediately replaced with a call for municipal and provincial elections in all 18 provinces, as soon as practicable, and no more than a couple months after the former handover date. National elections and further ratification of the "transitional administrative law" should be postponed indefinitely for now. The CPA/IGC should find a way to handover to itself as the interim body, perhaps with an American president and an Iraqi executive council/cabinet, with a PM chosen by council ballot and accountable by confidence motion.

4) The one thing that should happen on June 30 is a couple key ministries should be handed off to Iraqi ministers, with seats in the executive chamber. One of those should probably be the ministry for internal security.

5) An article cited below mentioned how the soldiers-for-hire in Iraq are banding together to share intelligence, and also that they more or less follow CPA rules already about what kinds of weapons they're allowed to have. This should be encouraged. There should be a internal-security-run registry for all such groups, and clear operating rules promulgated (say, for any group over a dozen strong; Blackwater has over 400 operatives), with regard to conduct around Iraqi civilians, intelligence sharing and cooperation with the U.S. military, and so on. (The biggest unrecognized problem with the Fallujah ambush was that, unlike the ambush of a regular military unit, there's no obligation by private military men to share lessons learned with the broader military... if contractors are successfully attacked with some new tactic, the chances of the military unit down the road finding out about it before they're attacked the same way are apparently rather slim right now.) The new state of Iraq can share its monopoly of force around a little, but it can't abandon it this way. Having armed men answerable to no Iraqi or U.S. law, or civilian/military command, running around is deeply Hobbesian, and threatens to strangle the new Iraq in its crib, sooner or later.

6) Contrary to Barry McCaffrey's argument today, the U.S. military should drop its efforts to train Iraqi internal security troops, and relinquish formal command to the civilian ministry as soon as possible. Having a few adjunct advisors is one thing, but the Iraqi military units assembled need a clear reporting line to their own people. Doing so brings them closer to a proper and lasting Status of Forces Agreement.

7) There's no reason only guerillas should flow into Iraq. As soon as possible after June 30, the Iraqi internal security ministry should announce the creation of an Iraqi Foreign Legion of their own, to recruit Muslims to the cause of promoting an independent Iraqi state. Training should be by private contractor... time to start the hearts and minds war again.

8) The Americans should do Iraqification right... turning their weapons to point toward neighbouring states, and having as their first priority securing the borders against foreign support. Obviously, this is a long-term objective; but the Americans should announce a plan to turn over all 18 provinces, a province at a time, if need be. The internal security ministry should assign the forces it sees fit, as they come on line, incorporating already dominant military forces (such as the Peshmerga) where that's appropriate, and standing up new organizations when it's not. All forces not considered part of the central, nation-wide military structure (the Foreign Legion and a couple Iraq-recruited brigades, the interim President's Blackwater security detail) should agree to be tied for deployment purposes to their own province, alone. America would continue to control its 11 new superbases, have total air and naval control, etc. etc.

9) The Iraqi ministry would have considerable latitude on how security in each province is arrived at. Mercenaries, local Iraqis trained by a merc cadre, side agreements with the non-American occupiers to stay on a while, what have you. Handover of all 18 provinces would likely take two years or more... there's no rush, and lots of money. The point is there has to be a universally understood military handover plan paralleling the concurrent political handover.

Everything doesn't have to happen on the same day, but Iraqis need to see the process in action. The more violent provinces would be handed over last, providing a minor incentive for all parties. Maybe in a hard-to-control province, like Anbar, you could even revive the American militia levee system, with the local district choosing some of their own senior officers, ratified annually: the military organization doesn't have to be optimized for battlefield effectiveness, so much as be a new font of civic self-respect created with an eye to who holds the local power, and who won't surrender that power to insurgents lightly. (It's also good democracy training.) Absent a parallel political process (as in Afghanistan) this could lead to warlordism, true, so accountability mechanisms would have to be built in from the outset, there... in the American militia example, this was generally handled by removing militia leaders from operational command, without revoking their elected title; worked quite well at that. Or in a more peaceful province, a soldier-for-hire cadre organization, hired by the central government, could attract and build up an Iraqi civil defence organization around it... similar to what happened in India in the 1600s. There's obviously ample excess military talent available to serve in Iraq at the moment... that needs to be turned around into a force multiplier, not a group that gets itself into trouble and forces the Americans to react, as in Fallujah. Given a choice between them spending their time escorting officer's mess kitchen stoves, as at Fallujah, and training Iraqi soldiers, the two military agencies, public and private, should probably switch missions. The Kurdish peshmerga you could just ratify in place (their pay's ultimately coming from the centre, so they'd have some reason to accede).

Response to another Fallujah situation would be tiered-response: first the local provincial troops and police, such as they are, or if they're part of the problem, then the central Iraqi military organization, with the ability to appeal for American intervention before they're in real trouble. (The Americans would retain at a minimum the right to defend their own bases, and chase foreign terrorists wherever they roam.)

More than anything right now, the Americans need to be seen as acting in support of nascent Iraqi national stability... right now they seem to be the ones undercutting the local Iraqi authorities (the IGC, the police) they themselves set up by putting them in impossible "us or them" situations. The American military should probably keep training and using a smaller number of Tiger Scouts for its own purposes, but otherwise get out of the game of making people choose between loyalty to the U.S. and loyalty to Iraq.

I realize the military program above sounds a lot like Vietnamization. It's important to remember the differences as well as the similarities with Vietnam, though. The Vietnamese occupation failed because there was no political liberation process to go with the military disengagement. At the end, the South Vietnamese could look forward to the Americans being gone, and their American-appointed dictator still in power. This time around, there's a political plan (of sorts) but no clearly articulated military disengagement plan (there certainly is one, it's just not clearly articulated... otherwise you still wouldn't have people saying the military's pulling out June 30). For this to work, both must happen in parallel. But what's really needed is communication, and explanation. President Bush seems very handy with the platitude, but at this point people want to hear and comprehend a plan. Call that an "exit strategy," if you must; but it's a need that has yet to be met. Either that's because the American leadership doesn't understand that void exists, or, worse, may have nothing to fill it with.

Posted by BruceR at 09:47 PM


Nearly forgot... since Carter has fessed up, I suppose I had better, too. I thought, and said, the Marines' approach to Falluja would be more subtle, and trade off time (which really, let's face it, they have a lot of, once you stop believing June 30 is going to change anything substantial) for intel, or at the very least would wait for a more propitious moment than in the midst of a confrontation with the Sadrists. I even criticized another blogger who thought it would be more of a "terrible swift sword" approach... he's since said it was less extreme than he expected at first, too, so I suppose we're both hedging toward each other. (Still, I'd have to say he was more right than I was.)

So I was wrong on that: that much is clear. Whether the Fallujah operation unfolded in line with the commander's intent, or took a curve when it came in contact with the enemy, is still hard to make out. But they certainly did carry on after things got serious with less concern about the whole thing being perceived as punitive than I had expected.

The manner of death for the four soldiers-for-hire certainly had a larger impact than many non-Americans suspected. Using mercenaries and their ilk only makes sense if they are in some ways less valuable than trained soldiers. Traditionally, that's been in the area of national morale, and the effect soldier deaths will have on it. The British and French have paid for and lost uncountable mercs in Africa over the decades, but so long as no actual national forces were involved, it was possible to engage in all kinds of proxy conflict. That doesn't seem to be possible for American "contractors" in Iraq.

On the other hand, there certainly hasn't been any solid indication of "actionable intelligence" on the Marines' part going in... no perp names leaked to the local press, and so forth... given that finding those behind the attack on the "contractors" is the ostensible reason for this, it's notable that the Americans have yet to identify any of those individuals by name. Yes, it was expected they wouldn't deliberately demonize them, to avoid the creation of new heroes... but contrast it to the situation with the Shias, where a patient newsreader by now could surely have put together their own orgchart of the senior Sadrist leadership. In Fallujah by contrast, nothing, suggesting they really haven't a schmick. They'll probably get one, of course, after they sift through all the intelligence they've picked up in the last week, but there's no indication this was in any way a manhunt with a known target in mind back at the start point.

It's hard therefore to reject the notion that this was in fact, at least in part, meant to be a punitive response... in that the American military leadership had come to believe that not looking forceful now would have led to being seen as weak, and bring more fatalities than being harsh would. It's hardly clear-cut that they'd be wrong on that score, given the country in question, either. As such, it had to happen ahead of the intel, to a degree. Which still rankles: collective punishment and justice rarely intersect to any lasting satisfaction.

UPDATE: I'm waiting for someone to make the first comparison between going into Fallujah, with too few forces at first, and with a real goal hidden behind an ostensible, "for the public" goal, and going into Iraq proper more or less the same way a year ago.

Posted by BruceR at 07:15 PM


Took an Easter Break. Not much has changed in Iraq. Read Henley for the wrapup.

One thing worth noting: there's been roughly 20 Marine fatalities in Fallujah, since the 3rd of April. Current wound-fatality ratios for the American army are around 5:1, suggesting around 120 of the original 1200 Marines sent into Fallujah have been injured or killed. Which is why Phil Carter is right when he says the Marines have suffered "significant" casualties.

I disagree with Carter's analysis that there is still some good "nation-building" going on in Iraq despite this. Perhaps in the Kurdish areas, but that could even be counterproductive to a unified Iraq... we're beginning to see conditions similar to the breakup of Yugoslavia, where Slovenia was ready and able to walk away, and simply did, and there wasn't much anyone could do about it.

For the rest of the country, it's fair to use the working assumption that every cent of Congressionally-sanctioned reconstructional assistance spent before April 1 has been lost, and will have to be ponied up pretty much all over again. If it hasn't physically been looted, at the very least any "hearts and minds" value has essentially zeroed out. I don't have a figure on that, but it has to be in the tens of billions.

Juan Cole comments on British displeasure. You could write this off as typical griping, if the two cities the British control, Basra and Amara, weren't peaceful today, after some initial fighting in Amara that the British resolved without any fatalities to themselves. Those cities are Shiite, too, and, if anything, more susceptible by their proximity to Iranian subversive activity, if that has anything to do with it. As I've noted here before, Americans have historically made poor peacekeepers, but it has nothing to do with their relative abilities, or national character; they're simply higher-value targets. The Sadrists know as well as anybody, and the British surely never hesitate to remind them, that they can kill as many non-American coalition members as they like, but it won't change one darn thing, politically, for Iraq.

Posted by BruceR at 10:06 AM