Sunday, July 26, 2009

Iraq's persisting divisions - and security contractors in Afghanistan?

The NYT's Rod Nordland has an excellent piece on the persistence and volatility of the ethnic divide in Kirkuk, where Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen are vying for control, with no real solution anywhere on the horizon without a proper census - and too many are trying to keep that from happening. Therefore . . . stalemate, and the real chance that some provocation will incite a civil war.

At least the Iraqi Kurds have had a relatively peaceable election, even if the same established, clan-based parties are likely to retain power, and even if there are already accusations of fraud.

No, Iraq ain't over.

And Afghanistan is far from over - and likely not "winnable." The US is facing a huge shortfall in manpower. One recent study noted that using a contemporary counter-insurgency model, more than 600,000 troops would be needed there. No way the US - with the Afghans and Brits - can pony up that many troops. One proposed solution (according to the WaPo's Walter Pincus) = hire lots of mercenaries (pardon me - I mean, "private security contractors") to guard the troops' bases, even the forward operating bases on the front lines. The always helpful Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution chimes in:

"We don't want to waste scarce Afghan army and police, so we must be creative," said Michael E. O'Hanlon, a senior fellow and military expert at the Brookings Institution.

But O'Hanlon also said he is concerned that if contractors were to take over security at forward operating bases, they would be the first to see hostile fire, and they -- not soldiers -- would have to decide whether to employ weapons against an enemy.

Who is he kidding?! We're talking about bringing in the same kind of guys that we brought into Iraq from the get-go, who were prone to shoot first, ask later (if ever), and at time wasted Iraqis just for the fun of it. And the Pentagon knows it.

This, mes amis, speaks of desperation, already, from Obama's people. General Petraeus was brought in to head the Afghanistan operation as the patron saint of modern counter-insurgency tactics = protect the locals from the "bad guys." Bringing in the likes of Eric Prince and Blackwater/Xe is no way to do that. But I sense the Pentagon has decided that it has no better options.

Meanwhile, our Israeli "allies" are still upset with Mr. Obama's insistence that they stop building settlements. The latest to chime in? The Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas party, a ultra-religious, pro-settlement group that belongs to Netanyahu's ruling coalition. You can put him right up there with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as a great pal of the Arabs. As the AFP report notes,

Born in Iraq in 1920, Yosef is a former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel and a controversial figure who has in the past referred to Arabs and Palestinians as "snakes" and "vipers" who were "swarming like ants."

He called on God to strike down then prime minister Ariel Sharon over the 2005 withdrawal of settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip and during the Lebanon war in July-August 2006, implied that Israeli soldiers killed in battle died because they didn't follow Jewish commandments.

In 2000 he sparked outrage when he said that the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust did "not die for nothing," but were the "reincarnation of Jews who had sinned" in previous generations.

Such are the kind souls who rail against Mr. Obama's insistence on a settlement freeze. Of course, the rabbi and Mr. Lieberman have some cover back here in the US, where our own Mr. Lieberman (Joe) and his pals at the CUFI convention (that's "Christians United for Israel," headed up by Pastor John Hagee) are sending warm fuzzies to those rascally hill-top youth at the West Bank outposts.

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