Iraq’s Awakening Re-Awakens Pro-Jihadist. Shocking.

Much has certainly changed in Iraq since the nadir of the brutal civil war, but with increasing insurgent attacks, it’s fascinating to see the actual consequences of the U.S. policies that were widely credited with delivering us a “success” (defined on a progressively debased standard of what counts as success). Take the widely celebrated “Awakening” of U.S.-backed Iraqis who turned against some jihadist groups. In my book I assess that policy and critique it harshly. One problem: it is predicated on appeasement (the bribing of Iraqis to switch sides, so they turn against the jihadsts); another problem: it papers over the nature of conflicts among Iraqi factions and the deep-seated tribal/sectarian enmities. Here’s a flavor.

What happens when the torrent of cash [paid to members of the Awakening, “Sons of Iraq”] dries up? That future problem will sort itself out, we are told, because once stability is achieved, there will be a reconciliation among Iraq’s warring ethnic and sectarian factions. The deadly gangland-style shoot-outs in the streets and ugly wrangling in parliament will cease, or so we have been promised. Washington believed that by arming and empowering the Sunni tribes, who constitute the bulk of the Sons of Iraq, it would pave the road for them to feel included in the nation’s politics—which the majority Shiites now hold in a vise-grip. Ultimately, the idea is to fold these gangs of former (and current) criminals, supposedly former jihadists, and ordinary Iraqis into the nation’s Shiite-dominated police force. Some of that has happened, but the deep-seated, bitter resentment between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq cannot be wished away. Many Sons of Iraq believe that their real enemy is the Shiite-run government in Baghdad, and with their American-provided arms, they await the day of reckoning.

What did that money buy? Allies who pledge their sacred honor to defeat Islamists? Consider this NYT report from Oct. 16

Sunnis in Iraq Allied With U.S. Quitting to Rejoin Rebels.

BAQUBA, Iraq — Members of United States-allied Awakening Councils have quit or been dismissed from their positions in significant numbers in recent months, prey to an intensive recruitment campaign by the Sunni insurgency, according to government officials, current and former members of the Awakening and insurgents.

Although there are no firm figures, security and political officials say hundreds of the well-disciplined fighters — many of whom have gained extensive knowledge about the American military — appear to have rejoined Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Beyond that, officials say that even many of the Awakening fighters still on the Iraqi government payroll, possibly thousands of them, covertly aid the insurgency.

The defections have been driven in part by frustration with the Shiite-led government, which Awakening members say is intent on destroying them, as well as by pressure from Al Qaeda. The exodus has accelerated since Iraq’s inconclusive parliamentary elections in March, which have left Sunnis uncertain of retaining what little political influence they have and which appear to have provided Al Qaeda new opportunities to lure back fighters. [emphasis added]

For my fuller critique of what was (and is) so wrong with America’s “successful” policy in Iraq – and, broadly, what went wrong in Washington’s post-9/11 policy — I encourage you to check out the book.