Thursday, June 12, 2008

What success in Iraq looks like

New York Sun:
In his home province in Iraq, Sheik Ahmad's public addresses are preceded by two bugle players and an announcer proclaiming him as the "conqueror of Al Qaeda," and "friend of General Petraeus," among other formal titles.
In an interview, Sheik Ahmad al-Rishawi told The New York Sun that in April he prepared a 47-page study on Afghanistan and its tribes for the deputy chief of mission at the American embassy in Kabul, Christopher Dell. When asked if he would send military advisers to Afghanistan to assist American troops fighting there, he said: "I have no problem with this; if they ask me, I will do it."
A possible strategy for defeating Al Qaeda [in mountainous tribal areas of Pakistan] would be an effort there along the lines of the Anbar awakening to win over the tribes that offer Osama bin Laden's group protection and safe haven.

"Al Qaeda is an ideology," Sheik Ahmad said. "We can defeat them inside Iraq and we can defeat them in any country."

Sheik Ahmed Fateh Khan al-Rishawi

Greg's Notes:
When he says "ideology", Sheik Ahmad is also referencing the defeat of Al Qaeda's narrative. If the Coalition goes to the people with a superior narrative: the people will side with the good guys, and will turn on Al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda's narrative has to do with optimal life and afterlife via practice of fundamentalist Islam. The reality of living under Al Qaeda's brutal and culturally offensive (i.e. in conflict with tribal customs) leadership left the people searching for something better. America had a better narrative. The problem: America did not have credibility.

In Iraq, we had a credibility problem which lasted for years. Part of the problem was a tribal culture which 1) is naturally, culturally, and obsessively suspicious of outsiders and Westerners, and 2) could not conceive of why we would invade and fight on if we did not wish to conquer and subjugate Iraq. For cultural reasons - based upon everything they had known their entire lives - they could not figure out what we wanted.

The people had to believe our word was good; had to believe our intentions were honorable (i.e. we did not seek to subjugate or exploit); and had to believe we had capability and willfulness to accomplish the task (in this case: to protect the people from Al Qaeda brutality and retribution over the long term).

We had to romance the Sheik Ahmads of Iraq over time. To convince them our word was good, we had to make and keep incremental promises over time. We had to spend many months winning the argument that our intentions were honorable. Once the Sheik Ahmads partnered with us: increased local knowledge increased our capability to protect regular Iraqis in their villages and homes. It increased the confidence that we - interconnected with tribal forces - would support and protect regular Iraqis over the long term (instead of abandoning them to Al Qaeda).

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