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May 29, 2007

Timing of Iran talks insulting to troops

This article appeared on MSNBC.com

Timing of Iran talks insulting to troops
Why are we meeting with the people responsible for killing Americans?
COMMENTARY
By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst - MSNBC


On May 28 –- Memorial Day –- U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker sat down with his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad for the first official talks between the two countries in over two and a half decades.

Mr. President, what were you thinking? While you are visiting Arlington National Cemetery honoring America’s fallen warriors, your ambassador is sitting down with the representative of a pariah regime that has American blood on its hands – including the blood of those same warriors we remember on that holiday.

An American diplomat meeting with the likes of Hassan Kazemi Qomi on any day is problematic, but to do so on Memorial Day is an insult to anyone who has ever worn a uniform. Kazemi is a former member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force, the Iranian special forces group that is involved in the training and arming of Iraqi Shia militias, particularly the jaysh al-mahdi (Mahdi Army) of radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The Iranian-supplied weapons include the explosively-formed penetrator used in roadside bombs that have killed over 100 U.S. soldiers. Of course, the Iranian ambassador denied any support to the Shia militias – what did you expect him to say?

Why are we meeting with the people responsible for killing our troops? I know why the Iranians want to meet with us. Anytime a pariah nation like Iran can convince the United States – the only remaining superpower – to meet as equals, it bestows legitimacy on that regime and provides a platform for hurling insults veiled as diplomacy. It also sends a chilling message to the moderate, Western-aligned Gulf Arab nations, as well as Jordan and Egypt, that Iran is fast becoming “the” power broker in the Persian Gulf. An American ambassador meeting with an Iranian ambassador seems to underscore that status, something Iran has been seeking for a long time.

During the meeting, Kazemi offered his country’s assistance to train and equip the Iraqi army and police. This is great: the organization responsible for supporting some of the worst violence in Iraq – sectarian fighting between the Sunni and Shia Muslims – is going to come in and solve the problem? To be sure, they just might “solve” the problem, but do we really want that kind of solution? Do we really want Shia-dominated security and military forces imposing Iranian values on the entire country?

Let’s remember who we are talking about – the Iranians. These are the people that created Hezbollah in Lebanon, seized the American embassy in Tehran, took American diplomats hostage, murdered Marine Lt Col Rich Higgins and CIA officer Bill Buckley, continue to support a variety of terrorist organizations – Hamas and Islamic Jihad included –- and are pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Not exactly the best recommendation for potential negotiators.

However, Mr. President, if you absolutely insist on talking to –- and I mean talking “to” not “with” –- the Iranians, start acting like the leader of a superpower instead of treating these thugs as equals. I do agree with your position that any talks should be limited to the security situation in Iraq.

Here are suggested talking points: Stop providing weapons and training to Iraqi militias. You can deny it, but here’s a news flash -- we don’t believe you! You have American blood on your hands and we will no longer tolerate it. Your diplomatically-protected facilities in Iraq are nothing more than operating locations for the Qods Force. That has to stop -– either you stop it or we will.

Say it, mean it, then do it.


May 25, 2007

'On behalf of a grateful nation'

This article appeared on MSNBC.com

'On behalf of a grateful nation'
Let us make sure that we do not forget our fallen men and women
COMMENTARY
By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst - MSNBC


Memorial Day weekend – most people associate that with the start of the “summer driving season.” The constant news coverage of record high gasoline prices tends to overshadow the real meaning of the holiday. It’s not about driving or shopping – it’s about remembering the men and women who died while in military service. It is important that we not forget the reason for this holiday – we are at war and lose some our finest young men and women every day.

Yes, we are at war. No one knows this more than the families of those who have fallen on battlefields far from home with names most of us cannot pronounce. Unlike most of the wars America has fought in the past, we are fighting with an all volunteer force – there has been no draft since 1973. Less than one-half of one percent of our people will serve in uniform (in World War II, it was over 12 percent) at any one time.

In the draft era, a much higher percent of the population entered the service, creating a large pool of veterans. Veterans understand the unique demands of military service, the separation from loved ones, the dangers of combat. With far fewer veterans or a veteran in the family, community and government, it is easy to lose sight of the demands military service requires of our men and women in uniform – all volunteers – and to forget too quickly those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Sometimes one could get the feeling that foreign countries – especially those that have been liberated by American forces – pay more tribute to our fallen troops than we do. I will never forget standing in a church in rural France – not a fancy cathedral, not a tourist spot, nothing architecturally significant, just a village church. I would not have paid much attention until I spotted a well-maintained corner with a small American flag and a plaque.

I walked over and read the simple but powerful words in French and English, “In gratitude to the United States of America and in remembrance of her 56,681 sons that now and forever sleep in French soil.” A elderly parishioner sitting in a pew nearby saw me reading the inscription and asked if I was an American. I said that I was – she slowly rose, nodded at the memorial and said, “You are welcome in France.”

Over the years, over a million Americans have died in military service. Each fallen warrior is afforded a military funeral. Military funerals symbolize respect for the fallen and their families. Anyone who has attended a military funeral will never forget it – the flag on the coffin, the honor guard in full dress uniform, the crack of the rifles firing three volleys as Taps is played on the bugle, the snap of the flag as it is folded into the familiar triangle of blue, the reverence of fellow warriors.

Before his final salute, the officer in charge presents that folded flag to, in most cases, a young widow. He makes that presentation “on behalf of a grateful nation.”

At some point on this day, let us make sure that we do not forget our fallen men and women, and that we are in fact a grateful nation.


© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

May 23, 2007

Quoted about al-Qa'idah




NBC Investigative Producer Bob Windrem has written an excellent article, What's next for refocused al-Qaida 3.0?. It's a well-researched piece, as usual for Bob, and is a good read - not because he quotes me, but because he looks at all sides of the issue.

Recommended reading!

May 22, 2007

Potential for a new civil war in Lebanon?

This article appeared on MSNBC.com

Lt. Col. Rick Francona analyzes the current Lebanese-Palestinian conflict
MILITARY ANALYSIS
By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst
MSNBC


For two days now, Lebanese army troops have been shelling the Nahr al-Barid Palestinian refugee camp north of Tripoli. The government of Fouad Siniora claims that an al-Qaida-inspired group calling itself Fatah al-Islam is holed up inside the camp; elements of the Lebanese Army have been dispatched to take on the group.

Fatah al-Islam is a fundamentalist Muslim breakaway faction of a pro-Syrian group, declaring itself operational in November 2006. Its direct ties to al-Qaida are tenuous at best; the leader of Fatah al-Islam is linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq who was killed last year. Both Fatah al-Islam leader Shakir al-Abbsi and al-Zarqawi were convicted for the 2002 murder of American diplomat in Jordan.

A Syrian connection?
The Lebanese government claims the group has ties to Syrian intelligence. If true, this likely means ties to Syrian military intelligence, long charged with managing Syrian interests in Lebanon. American counterterrorism analysts are not sure of this connection. Of course, Syria denies any connection.

Assuming a Syrian connection, why would Syria want to provoke a fight between the Lebanese Army and a Palestinian Islamist group in northern Lebanon?

Let’s look at Syria’s current situation. A United Nations investigation into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri implicated Syrian and pro-Syrian Lebanese officials. President Siniora has come under increasing Syrian pressure not to approve a tribunal to try the accused perpetrators. Following Syria’s withdrawal of its military force and claimed withdrawal of intelligence officers from Lebanon, there have been a series of assassinations of anti-Syrian political leaders. The Fatah al-Islam group was implicated in one of these attacks earlier this year.

Syria wants to re-establish its previous dominant position in Lebanon. It has always regarded Lebanon as in its sphere of influence and has sought to control events in the country. Increased violence may result in the Lebanese recalling the days of pax Syriana when thousands of Syrian troops kept the peace. A deteriorating situation in Lebanon plays into Syrian interests.

Potential for a civil war?
The Siniora government is under additional pressure from three of Lebanon’s pro-Syrian political parties. Hezbollah, Amal (both Shia groups) and Christian Free Patriotic Movement oppose any tribunal over the al-Hariri assassination. Thus far, they have been successful, to the point that the United States and the United Kingdom are about to introduce a United Nations resolution establishing the tribunal without Lebanese approval. The three parties are also demanding the formation of a new “national unity” government, one that gives them more participation. The power struggle in Beirut has effectively crippled the government.

It is imperative that the Siniora government contain this violence quickly and decisively. They must prevent the escalation of the fighting and prevent the spread of this confrontation in the north to the rest of the country. Up to this point, the Lebanese Army has suffered unusually high casualties. The Fatah al-Islam fighters are well-equipped and willing to die for their cause. The Lebanese Army may be willing to fight for the country, but they are not as committed as the fighters in the camp. That said, President Siniora must commit the military resources to end this now. Although there are reports of a cease-fire, if this group is not disarmed, it will only be a matter of time before it resurfaces.

Should Hezbollah, the only remaining armed militia in Lebanon, decide to take advantage of this situation and present an armed threat to the Lebanese government, the Lebanese Army will be hard pressed to mount an effective defense of the country.

As of now, the situation is between the Lebanese and a Palestinian group (albeit with some foreign fighters). Most of the animosity in the north is Lebanese versus Palestinians –- many Lebanese blame the massive influx of Palestinians after the Palestine Liberation Organization’s failed coup attempt in Jordan in 1970 as the basis for most of the internal problems in the country. These feelings have resurfaced during this confrontation.

There does not seem to be any interest in expanding the fight into a Lebanese on Lebanese civil war. The government has to keep it that way.

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

May 18, 2007

Should Prince Harry even be in the army?

This article appeared on MSNBC.com

Other than tradition, keeping Harry in the British Army makes little sense
COMMENTARY
By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst
MSNBC


The British Chief of General Staff announced on Wednesday that Prince Harry, or in this context more properly Lt. Harry Wales, will not deploy to Iraq with his unit, a squadron of the Blues and Royals Regiment. The prince is a reconnaissance troop commander in charge of four Scimitar armored vehicles and 12 soldiers.

Several months ago, soon after it was announced that the prince’s unit was scheduled for deployment to Iraq, insurgent groups – both Sunni and Shi’a – threatened to kidnap (some threaten to mutilate) the young royal. Harry, to his credit, insisted that he be allowed to serve as any other British officer.

That’s admirable, but naïve. Harry is not “any other British officer;” he is third in line to the throne of the United Kingdom. The ramifications of him being taken hostage far outweigh his desire to serve.

The threats go beyond the prince himself. His presence in Iraq would put at risk anyone around him. His unit would be singled out for increased attacks in an attempt to get at him. British forces in Iraq have come under increased attacks in the recent months, and units that use the Scimitar armored vehicle have been attacked repeatedly. The fact that Harry was to command four of these vehicles has been widely reported. It is no secret that if you want to kill or capture the prince, these are the vehicles to hit.

Given the threats made specifically against the prince and the risk that his presence would be disruptive to the British units in Iraq, removing Prince Harry from the deployment roster was the only decision the Ministry of Defense could make.

This decision raises a whole host of questions about “the royals” and military service. The British monarchy has a rich history of military service. Harry’s uncle, Prince Andrew, served as a Royal Navy helicopter pilot in the Falklands War. His grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, trained as a driver during World War II, and his grandfather, Prince Philip, saw combat while serving in the Royal Navy. Harry’s father, the heir apparent to the throne, served for a total of five years in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.

Prince Harry/Troop Commander Wales was commissioned in 2006 after attending a year-long course at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. After that, he attended British Army training schools to become a troop commander. He was assigned to the Blues and Royals, he trained and bonded with the men he was to lead. Now those men will either not deploy to Iraq, or they will deploy without their commander and have to re-bond with another officer.

The British military is small, considered too small by some to meet Britain’s international commitments. Therefore, the British forces must be used effectively. Having an officer that cannot deploy to certain areas complicates planning for commanders. He trains with his unit, but cannot serve with them when needed.

Another consideration is perception. The British are perceived in the Middle East to have backed down in the face of threats. It sends the wrong message, not only to the insurgents, but possibly to a segment of the British population as well—our sons and daughters can serve, but not Harry? Inside the British forces, he will be regarded as someone who wants to play soldier, but can’t be a soldier.

I applaud the prince for wanting to serve, for insisting that he deploy to a combat zone, that he be treated as any other British officer. The reality is that he is will never be – maybe “cannot be” is a better phrase – treated like any other officer. It is a factor of genealogy, not honor or integrity. That fact places an unfair burden on his commanders and fellow soldiers, now and in the future.

Other than tradition, keeping him in the British Army makes little sense.

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

May 16, 2007

We already have a 'war czar'

This article appeared on MSNBC.com

President Bush has named the Joint Chiefs of Staff Director of Operations to a newly created position innocuously titled the “assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan policy and implementation.” The more popular moniker for this position is the “war czar.”

This is not about Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute; by all accounts, he is a fine officer. This is about the need—or perhaps more importantly the wisdom—of creating such a position. We already have a czar for America’s wars – he’s called the Secretary of Defense. And we already have a war czar for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan – he’s called the Commander, U.S. Central Command (COMCENT).

Okay, I can hear the arguments already. The new position is in charge of not only the military aspects of our operations, but the civilian effort as well – the “hearts and minds” – in both countries. In other words, it spans the purview of both the Defense and State departments and requires a coordinator. Well, that’s part of the problem with the administration’s handling of the wars thus far. They need to realize that these are still wars and wars require a combat commander to run the show, not an “advisor.”

This is exactly how we got into the situation we now face in Iraq. The administration was so anxious to put a civilian face on the invasion of Iraq that it appointed a civilian administrator before the bullets stopped flying. We all know how well that turned out – Ambassador Jerry Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army and botched the security situation so badly that we are still there four years later fighting an insurgency that threatens to erupt into a full-scale civil war. Maybe if we had let the generals prosecute a war instead of letting an administrator manage the “transition” prematurely, it might have been over by now.

So, to continue the failed policy of portraying this as a political effort rather than the war that it is, the president appoints an Army general to the National Security Council to oversee the efforts of the Defense and State departments.

For those of us who served at the Pentagon in the late 1980’s, this is reminiscent of the tyranny of the National Security Council when field-grade military officers assigned to the White House dictated “policy and implementation” to the generals. We all know how that worked out. Anyone remember Iran-Contra?

We are fighting a war and we have a defined chain of command. The Constitution establishes the president as the commander in chief. The Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 establishes the military chain of command from the president (the commander in chief) to the Secretary of Defense, to the combatant commander, in this case COMCENT.

What happens when LTG Lute calls the Secretary of Defense (or State) and directs something be done and the Secretary disagrees? This sets up confusion and confrontation inside the administration. Then it has to go to the president for resolution.

Instead of creating yet another layer of authority between the president and troops in the field, how about some clear unambiguous direction to the Secretary of Defense and the field commander? The commander of the Central Command and the commander of Multinational Forces-Iraq need to hear orders loud and clear directly from the president and the Secretary of Defense, not guidance from an advisor.

May 15, 2007

The real axis of evil

This article appeared on MSNBC.com

In January 2002, President Bush declared that Iraq, Iran and North Korea constituted an “axis of evil.” He was close, but not quite correct – the actual members were, and remain, Syria, Iran and North Korea. Labeling these countries an “axis” implies cooperation between the members. Iraq was not part of any relationship with Iran or North Korea. Granted, Iraq was a problem, but not part of an “axis.” However, there are ongoing relationships between Syria, Iran and North Korea that have been going on for decades which might constitute one.

Syria
Syria and Iran have been allies since 1982. About a year and a half after Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of Iran, Damascus and Tehran signed an economic pact that provided Syria with subsidized Iranian oil. In return, Syria shut down Iraq’s main pipeline to the Mediterranean, squeezing Iraq economically.

It was this Syrian-Iranian alliance that provided Tehran with access to Lebanon. In 1982, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps entered the Bekaa Valley, organized the Shia and created Hezbollah.

The international airport in Damascus continues to be the transshipment point for Iranian weapons into Lebanon. It is about a 30 minute drive from the airport to the Lebanese border and into the Bekaa Valley. When I was the air attaché at the American embassy in Damascus, it was not unusual to see crated cargo from Iranian military aircraft being loaded onto trucks bearing the Hezbollah emblem. Neither the Syrians nor the Iranians seemed concerned doing this at the civilian cargo terminal in direct sight of the passenger terminal.

The supply line, used to supply not only Hezbollah, but Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well, was critical to Hezbollah’s performance during the war with Israel in the summer of 2006. Without Iranian support, these groups would have trouble surviving. Iran’s ability to support them is dependent on its relationship with Syria. The relationship was formalized into a defense pact between the two countries and renewed in 2006. It provides for mutual defense and joint intelligence operations against Israel.

Syria and North Korea have had a relationship since at least the early 1990’s. In northern Syria, North Korean technicians manned a missile development facility and provided Syria with the North Korean produced SCUD-C ballistic missile. The North Korean military attaché was involved in marketing North Korean weapons and training to the Syrian military.

Iran
Iran and North Korea have had a close relationship for years in the field of military weapons sales and development, at least as far back as the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988. Soon after Iraq invaded Iran, Iran realized that it needed to acquire arms from other than their traditional sources. Those sources dried up after the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979 that saw the Iranians take over the American Embassy and hold dozens of diplomats hostage for over a year.

The 1908-1988 Iran-Iraq war, which pitted two oil giants against each other, was too lucrative for weapons producing nations to ignore. In 1983, the United States began Operation Staunch to put pressure on nations whose companies were selling arms to Iran. It was effective with countries that cared about their relationship with the United States.

North Korea was not one of those countries. The United States suspected that North Korea was a long-time supplier of weapons to Iran. Real proof came in 1988 soon after the Iraqis retook their Al-Faw peninsula from the Iranians. In 1988, I was a liaison officer to the Iraqi armed forces. While there, we discovered that the Iraqis had captured a strange self-propelled artillery piece that they could not identify.

What the Iraqis had captured was a North Korean KOKSAN gun. At that time, the KOKSAN was the longest-range field gun made anywhere in the world. It had been used by the Iranians to conduct harassment fire from the Al-Faw Peninsula into Kuwait's northeastern oil fields to punish Kuwait for supporting Iraq.

Following the end of the Iran-Iraq war, Iran embarked on a militarization program across the board. In addition to purchasing North Korean missile systems, they developed their own with North Korean technology and assistance. Such an Iranian missile, supplied to Hezbollah, was used to damage an Israeli naval vessel during the 2006 war in Lebanon.

Iranian surface-to-surface ballistic missile development bears an uncanny resemblance to North Korean systems. Some are almost identical. It is this type of close cooperation that had analysts concerned when reports surfaced of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officers observing the North Korean nuclear weapons test in October 2006.

Three pariah nations, one with oil, one with missile and nuclear weapons expertise, and the third with access to three of Israel’s worst enemies – that’s a formidable axis of evil.

May 13, 2007

Bremer speaks...again

In the May 13 Washington Post, Ambassador Paul Bremer, former administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, wrote an opinion piece again defending his disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi army. He wrote almost an identical piece in the Wall Street Journal in January 2005. I wonder why two years later he feels a need to reiterate the same self-serving statements unless he is reacting to George Tenet’s book or hoping to rehabilitate his legacy. (See my response to that earlier article, Disbanding the Iraqi army - a mistake.)

Since Ambassador Bremer dismisses anyone who dares criticize his disastrous decisions as “usually people who have never visited Iraq,” let me assure him that I have been to Iraq, and over a longer period than him. I served at the American embassy in the late 1980’s, was a liaison officer to the Iraqi armed forces, participated in the CIA’s operations in Iraq in the 1990’s to remove Saddam Husayn.

Some of those operations entailed talking to the very army that Mr. Bremer disbanded, officers who were committed to being the new army of Iraq. That was the deal – don’t fight, work with us and be part of the future of the country. Many agreed - Bremer pulled the rug out from under them, putting 80,000 angry officers out of work. Ever wonder how the insurgency was born?

I don’t fault Mr. Bremer or the Defense Department for the de-Ba’thification order, but the disbanding of the army is probably one of the most damaging blunders in American Middle East policy since we failed to hold Iran accountable for taking over the embassy in Tehran in 1979 and holding American diplomats hostage. Comparing himself to General Eisenhower is a bit much.

He was wrong then, and he’s wrong now.

May 12, 2007

Iran and North Korea to improve relations?

According to recent news reports, Iran would like better relations with North Korea. Both have attained the status of pariah nations and both were sanctioned by the United Nations in 2006 for their nuclear research programs.

Iran and North Korea have had a close relationship for years in the field of military weapons sales and development, at least as far back as the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988. Soon after Iraq invaded Iran, Iran realized that it needed to acquire arms from other than their traditional sources. Those sources dried up after the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979 that saw the Iranians take over the American Embassy and hold dozens of diplomats hostage for over a year.

The Iran-Iraq war which pitted two oil giants against each other was too lucrative for weapons producing nations to ignore. In 1983, the United States began Operation Staunch to put pressure on nations whose companies were selling arms to Iran. It was effective with countries that cared about their relationship with the United States.

North Korea was not one of those countries. The United States suspected that North Korea was a long-time supplier of weapons to Iran. Real proof came in 1988 soon after the Iraqis retook their Al-Faw peninsula from the Iranians. In 1988, I was a liaison officer to the Iraqi armed forces. While there, we discovered that the Iraqis had captured a strange self-propelled artillery piece that they could not identify. The only thing they knew was that it was designed to fire 170mm rounds, an odd caliber.

KOKSAN Gun
What the Iraqis had captured was a North Korean M1978 KOKSAN gun. At that time, the KOKSAN was the longest-range field gun made anywhere in the world, capable of firing a rocket-assisted projectile to a range of almost 60 kilometers. It had been used by the Iranians to conduct harassment fire from the Al-Faw Peninsula into Kuwait's northeastern oil fields to punish Kuwait for supporting Iraq. Its real purpose was to range the South Korean capital of Seoul from north of the Korean demilitarized zone, the DMZ.

Following the end of the Iran-Iraq war, Iranian military development was a low priority, but in the 1990’s that changed. Iran embarked on a militarization program across the board. In addition to purchasing North Korean missile systems, they developed their own with North Korean technology and assistance. Such an Iranian missile supplied to Hizballah was used to damage an Israeli naval vessel during the 2006 war in Lebanon.

Iranian surface-to-surface ballistic missile development bears an uncanny resemblance to North Korean systems. Some are almost identical. It is this type of close cooperation that had analysts concerned when reports surfaced of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officers observing the North Korean nuclear weapons test in October 2006.

The Iranians claim they want better political, economic and cultural ties with North Korea. Sure. Two pariah nations, one with oil, the other with missile and nuclear weapons expertise - I think we know what this is about.

May 11, 2007

Do the Shi'a Iraqis want a civil war?

This is a follow-on to my earlier article, "Another step toward civil war in Iraq?

It almost seems to me that the Iraqi Shi'a want a civil war.

On May 10, a majority of members of the Iraqi parliament signed on to draft legislation that calls for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country. The legislation was crafted by members of the Sadrist bloc, the group loyal to rabid anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. This comes just a few days after Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi threatened to pull his Sunni Arab bloc out of the Iraq coalition government if changes are not made to the Iraqi constitution.

This legislation is just a draft, but the fact that 144 of 275 members (mostly Shi'a) agreed to debate the issue indicates that they believe they can secure the country on their own. What it really says is they think that once the Americans are gone, they can exercise their majority to create whatever laws they wish, or more specifically not pass laws sharing oil revenues with the entire population. This is exactly what the vice president fears - that the Shi'a will create an autonomous region similar to what the Kurds have done in the north, and attempt to reserve control of the oil revenues to that autonomous zone. Since the Sunnis live in areas where there is little if any oil, they stand to lose not only politically, but economically as well.

In the absence of American troops to stop them, the Shi'a-dominated government can unleash the Shi'a-dominated army and security forces to crush Sunni resistance with little regard for human rights. Al-Sadr's jaysh al-mahdi (Mahdi Army) will be able to resume its "death squad" tactics against the Sunnis who dare to remain in Baghdad.

The two threats - withdrawal of the Sunni bloc from the government and the Shi'a legislation calling for a withdrawal of American troops - are a recipe for all-out civil war between the Arab Iraqis, Sunni versus Shi'a. Not only will the Kurds watch and wait from the relative safety of their autonomous region, they will consolidate their hold on Kirkuk, a contested oil-rich city home to Kurds, Turkomans and Sunni Arabs.

Should this degenerate into an all-out civil war, the Sunni Arabs will unite against the Shi'a - they will have no choice if they wish to survive. If they do survive, however, that alliance will be short-lived - it is not a monolithic group. There are the foreigners (mostly in the al-Qa'idah in Iraq group, the Iraqi Wahhabis, Iraqi jihadists, the secular Ba'this, and the tribes. At some point that alliance will fracture. We are seeing some of that now with the Anbar Salvation Front going after the foreign elements in the insurgency.

What about the regional players - Iran, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, etc.?

If the Sunnis are about to be defeated, that may force the Saudis, Jordanians, Egyptians and maybe even the Turks to intervene on behalf of their Sunni brethren. The Syrians won't intervene to support the Sunnis. The al-Asad regime in Damascus is not Sunni (although many do not consider al-Asad's 'Alawi sect to be true Shi'a either), however the main reason they will not help the Sunnis is their alliance with Iran. The Syrians have been close allies of Iran since 1980, and supported Iran in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. The two countries have a defense pact which was renewed in 2006.

A civil war in Iraq will likely drag in the regional players and may lead to the breakup of the country. There may be no way to avoid it. Think Yugoslavia.

May 8, 2007

Another step toward civil war in Iraq?

Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-HashimiIraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi has threatened to pull his Sunni Arab bloc out of the Iraq coalition government, setting the stage for the civil war which many analysts expect to re-ignite and expand once American troops depart Iraq.

Al-Hashimi is demanding changes to the Iraq constitution by May 15, or he will resign and withdraw his 44 Sunni representatives from the Iraqi parliament. The vice president objects to the provision in the constitution which allows for autonomous regions to be created by any two or more of Iraq’s eighteen provinces, following a referendum of the population in the affected provinces. The Kurds in the northern part of the country have already formed such a region.

Al-Hashimi is concerned that the Shi’a majority in the country will attempt to form a similar autonomous zone in the south, the area that contains 80 percent of Iraq’s oil resources – the other 20 percent is in the Kurdish area. In the absence of a national oil law that shares the country’s oil wealth among all the citizens, the Sunnis fear that they will be marginalized even more than they already are.

The Sunnis are in a predicament. They comprise only 20 percent of Iraq’s population and inhabit the most inhospitable parts of the country. More importantly, they live in the area where there are no known oil reserves. The Shi’a Arab majority and the Kurds have resisted the enactment of oil sharing legislation, despite American pressure. Both groups believe that they should control the natural resources in their respective areas. The Kurds have already attempted to sign independent oil deals with European companies, cutting the national government in Baghdad out of the picture.

The situation in Kirkuk is another issue for the Sunni Arabs, this time with the Kurds. Most of the Sunni Arabs and Turkomans have been removed from the city in what some have called ethnic cleansing, similar to the removal of Sunni Arabs from most neighborhoods in Baghdad east of the Tigris River. The Sunnis feel they are being “ghetto-ized” into areas where they have few natural resources and no political impact. They may be right.

Al-Hashimi’s words are disturbing and fairly easy to analyze. "I would like to see the identity of my country, in fact, restored back. If Sunnis are not an equal partner in the government, they should say bye-bye to the political process. I'm not saying that I'm going to war, but Sunnis will be frustrated and people will think on other alternatives."

I see only one way to interpret these remarks: without a constitutional amendment that prevents the Shi’a from forming an autonomous region, and legislation for resource-sharing of oil revenues with all Iraqis, then the Sunnis will withdraw from the government and reignite the civil war to get what they perceive as their fair share.

Neither side appears willing to compromise. The Shi’a believe they finally have the upper hand – they are the majority of the population, have the majority of seats in the government and control most of the security apparatus of the country. They also sit on most of the oil resources.

The Kurds like being autonomous and are not likely to support a change to the constitution. They are in a loose coalition with the Shi’a, have a proportionate amount of oil in their enclave, and have no love lost for the Sunni Arabs, whom they blame for most of their persecution under the Ba’th regimes of Saddam Husayn and his predecessors.

There may be no way to prevent a civil war in Iraq.

National Guard not in Kansas anymore?

This article appeared on MSNBC.com

The governor of Kansas claims that recovery efforts in the tornado-devastated town of Greensburg are being hampered by shortages of Kansas National Guard equipment – Humvees, front loaders, trucks – currently deployed to Iraq and not in her state.

Okay, let’s get the politics out of this up front. I am not sure how much her party affiliation – she is a Democrat – plays into her remarks. It does make a nice sound bite and checks the “attack the administration” block.

That said, she has a point.

When the governor complains that much of the Kansas National Guard’s equipment is in Iraq, including 15 of its 19 Blackhawk helicopters, she is describing a symptom of a larger problem that goes far beyond Kansas, and far beyond the present situation. The problem is lack of serviceable equipment and it is not limited to the National Guard and reserves. On average these units have only 40 percent of their authorized “TO&E” – table of organization and equipment – and it is not in the best of shape. The Guard is supposed to get $21 billion for new equipment over the next five years – basically a band-aid fix. Our regular forces fare only a bit better.

War's toll on military equipment

The five-plus year “global war on terror” has taken its toll on military equipment, especially on the vehicles assigned to the ground forces. The problem is most acute in Iraq, where constant improvised explosive device attacks, combined with a harsh operating environment, have degraded the normally robust Humvees. Modifications to the Humvees to make them fighting vehicles (something they were not designed to be) have added weight and changed the driving characteristics dramatically, and shortened their service life. Many, if not most, need to be replaced. Units rotating back to the States often leave most of their Humvees in Iraq.

Whether you agree or disagree with the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, the fact is that American troops are deployed in a combat zone. Combat operations are tough on equipment, and equipment is expensive. It must be replaced at a much higher rate than during peacetime training rotations. For whatever reason, we have not done that. The administration is reluctant to request the actual funds that are required to keep our forces equipped at the optimum level. Yes, the figure would be shocking, but would you deny an American soldier or Marine the very best hardware, and enough of it? Of course not.

Adequate reserves

As I have noted in the past, our armed forces are too small to protect the worldwide national interests of a superpower. One half of one percent of our population in uniform is not enough if we are to fight essentially two wars, maintain forces in other potential hot spots, support relief efforts, provide forces for United Nations commitments, and still have adequate reserves to respond to emergencies at home.

I chose the words “adequate reserves” carefully. In the final analysis, the National Guard is a reserve component of the United States Army – about half of the Army’s combat units are in the National Guard. While the governor is correct that twenty percent of the Kansas Army National Guard is deployed to Iraq, its primary mission is to provide forces for the United States Army. It is the federal government that funds the National Guard, not the governor.

What is a governor to do when his or her state’s Guardsmen are deployed on federal service? The governor of each state is authorized to organize, train and equip a State Defense Force, not subject to federal service, to be used specifically when the National Guard is away. Kansas has such a force; I assume the governor has mobilized them.

When all is said and done, the United States needs a larger Army. Until we reestablish an adequate force level to meet the requirements levied on our active duty armed forces, we will continue to call up the National Guard and reserves.