One of the challenges that remains in Iraq on the security side is with the Jaish al Mahdi, which is the extreme Shiia militia group, and they are actually killing more of the U.S. forces and maiming them than any other group to include al Qaeda or Sunni insurgents. That’s number one. And number two is they certainly have some influence in the government, in the ministries, particularly in the ministry of interior, and also among the police, particularly the national police, to a lesser degree, local police, and some of the elements of the Iraqi army as well. But it’s not pervasive in the army, it’s isolated, so that those are clearly issues. I don’t believe it’s a so-called war stopper issue, and many of us who have looked at this, one, we have to do what we are doing, and we’re killing and capturing the leaders that are involved in this aggressive militarism against us, and we’re helping to fragment the Jaish al Mahdi, which it is fragmented, and we’re helping to fragment it even further. And we’re working the OMS, or Sadr’s political organization in a political fashion.
HH: Is it possible that that organization can be turned in the way that the Sunni sheiks have been turned?
JK: Yeah, absolutely. And there is some indication, we’re encouraged by the fact that Sunni sheiks are being…there’s some indication that Shiia sheiks are moving not necessarily in the numbers of the Sunni sheiks, but some Shiia sheiks are starting to be turned. And I think the Sadrist issue, and his political arm is OMS, I think the appropriate lever there is a political one versus a military one, and obviously to exploit Sadr’s lack of leadership. He’s back in Iran again, frustrated with what’s taken place, and the more time he spends out of Iraq, obviously, the more influence he also loses.
On the the number of troops and the duration of their stay:
HH: All right, this is Max Boot writing in a new article in Commentary. “The strain on U.S. forces, especially the Army, is great. Nevertheless, the current force level can be maintained through at least the spring of next year. Thereafter, we could begin to draw down troops at a rate of one brigade a month until August, when we would be down to a pre-surge force of 15 brigade combat teams, or about 140,000 troops. This, assuming we stick with the current schedule of 15 month tours of duty, could then be maintained through 2009 with adjustments up or down at the recommendation of General Petraeus.” Do you agree with that assessment, General Keane?
JK: Yeah, I absolutely do.
HH: Is that what you think is going to happen?
JK: I do believe that’s what’s going to happen.
HH: Fred Kagan, when you were over there, one of the things I’ve noticed is that we haven’t seen much mentioned about the Ayatollah Sistani in the last, well, six months. What’s going on with the Ayatollah?
FK: Well, I’m not sure, specifically, what’s going on with Sistani. There’s a lot of ferment within the Shiia community in Iraq, both religious and political, and it’s driven a lot by power plays within the Shiia political factions, which are mostly moving in the right direction, in my view. We’ve seen that the Sadrist movement, the movement that is loyal to Muqtada al Sadr, seems to me to be losing some steam, and losing some ground politically. It’s being a little bit more fragmented. Militarily, it’s been very much weakened. And we’ve seen competition rising again from the…what used to be the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution In Iraq, SCIRI, headed by the Hakeens. And they seem to be gaining strength. And I think in general terms, that’s a good thing, because the Sadrist movement defines itself as anti-American, and is not extraordinarily heavily infiltrated by Iranian agents and Iranian support. The SCIRI was always suspected of being close to Iran, and certainly is, but the Hakeems are much more statesmanlike. So that’s…the dynamic within the Shiia community is still volatile, it’s not clear to me 100% what role Sistani is playing, but I think I would be, I’m cautiously optimistic about the direction that things are moving in there.
On the question of the number of troops and their length of stay:
HH: Max Boot says we’ve got to be prepared to be there well into 2009 with 140,000 troops. Do you agree with that, Fred Kagan?
FK: I can’t give you a troop number, but we need to be prepared to be there with a very substantial force, certainly through 2009, absolutely.
HH: Have you heard any of the opposition to the war on the Hill to begin to echo the reality that we’ve got to make a statement that we’re going to be staying?
FK: Well, I think you’ve had a lot of people come back, and some surprising people like Senator Durbin, and even, I understand, Congressman Murtha came back and have made comments that the surge is succeeding militarily. And then they focus on the political problems, and I think that’s going to be the nature of the debate in September, but I think it’s a false debate, because the truth of the matter is if you’re improving security, the logic of the surge all along was that political progress follows that. Well, if the surge is working, and the question is should we continue, it seems to me the answer is pretty clear, and I would hope that the Democratic leadership will come to that obvious conclusion as well.
Read the whole thing.
TS: Let’s take Nancy Boyda. You’re going to have Jack Keane on.
TS: She walked out of a hearing because he was saying things she didn’t want to hear. I think what war critics need to do is to try to find out what the facts are. We kind of know what their early position is, but do you not think when it comes to a matter of national and global security, that maybe your opinion ought to reflect a sensible understanding of what is going on based on reporting on the ground from John Burns of the New York Times, and Mike Gordon in the New York Times, and from people at the L.A. Times, and places that you would not expect to be friendly to the Bush administration. There have been some extraordinary breakthroughs in Iraq in the recent months, maybe the most extraordinary of which is this. The Iraqi people have said this is our fight, please help us, let’s go. They’ve gone after al Qaeda in Anbar Province. They’ve gone after it in Diayala Province. They’ve gone after it in portions of Baghdad. They’ve gone after Shiia militias, they’ve gone after insurgents. In other words, they have actually begun to grasp something that probably was unthinkable to them. A foreign country came to their soil. We didn’t come to take them over, we didn’t come to kill them, we didn’t come to steal their oil. We came to set them free. That is something that is so out of the experience of the normal Iraqi that for a long time, it didn’t sink in. But it has begun to sink in. And furthermore, what has begun to sink in that the ultimate goal for American is for the Iraqis to be free, to be the captains of their destiny. So what you’re starting to see now are tribal sheiks, and what you see is a revolution from the ground up. This is not being led by politicians in Baghdad. This is being led by shopkeepers, it’s being led by mothers and fathers and kids who are tired of seeing al Qaeda slaughtering family members in an attempt to intimidate them into following al Qaeda. It is an amazing thing, because it demonstrates that the power of an idea now had percolated into the heart of Iraq in a very serious way. And Anbar Province, which had been written off less than a year ago, is now basically a place where al Qaeda’s persona non grata, where our Ambassador, Ryan Crocker, was running around in Ramadi the other day, with no body armor on. It indicates to me that something very special is taking place right now. So if you want to put together a critique of the war, what you need to do is to assemble some of the facts, rather than your predispositions coming in, because ultimately, success in Iraq or success as a superpower depends not on your wishes and not on your hopes and not on your ideology, but on what’s true.
Again, read the whole thing.
There are a great number of people who know what is happening on the ground in Iraq. MSM seems to go out of its collective way not to bring you their views at length, or at all.