The joys of imperial management

9 February 2008, 2326 EST

US forces are preparing for operations in Mosul, but can’t rely on the Awakening Councils to provide much help.

Iraqi and American commanders are preparing for a prolonged — and possibly pivotal — fight against al-Qaida in Iraq in this vital northern hub. But they are missing an essential tool used to uproot insurgents elsewhere: groups of local Sunni fighters.

The so-called Awakening Councils remain conspicuously absent in Mosul and efforts to stir a similar movement appear unlikely amid the region’s pecking order of groups. Some military leaders even worry that seeking to enlist local allies could boomerang and bring more unrest.

It could create “the perception that you’re arming one side, which automatically creates tension among the groups and has the potential to escalate violence,” said Lt. Col. Michael Simmering, of the 3rd Armored Cavalry at Forward Operating Base Marez near Mosul.


here are approximately eight Awakening Councils around Qarraya, a predominantly Sunni Arab city about 45 miles south of Mosul. But the rest of the province is so mixed that — if the U.S. military were to support one group — it could upset a perceived balance of power and lead to fighting, Simmering said.

The main friction could be caused by the Kurds and their peshmerga fighting force, believed to have more than 60,000 members, and whose semi-autonomous region borders Nineveh.

“The Kurds are expansionists and they would very much like to annex Mosul and parts of Nineveh to the Kurdistan regional authority,” Cole said. “There is severe tension between the peshmerga and the Sunni Arabs — and Mosul is something like 80 percent Sunni Arab.”

So the risks are clear if U.S. commanders attempt to form Sunni-led Awakening Councils in Iraq’s third-largest city, said Cole.

“You’re setting up for a civil war,” he added.

Meanwhile, the militias are flexing their muscles against (surprise, surprise) the Shiite dominated Iraqi government. As Marc Lynch puts it:

What with this and the Anbar Salvation Council threatening to take up arms against the elected council and refusing to fly the new Iraqi flag and dismissing the entire Parliament as illegitimate and Awakenings leaders declaring that no Iraqi police are allowed in their territory and clashing with them when they do and blaming Shi’ite militias (and not al-Qaeda) for the wave of attacks against them and fighting over territory and threatening to quit if they aren’t paid, it really is hard to see why anybody would think that there might be anything troublesome about the relationship between the Awakenings and the Iraqi “state”. Nothing to see here but great big gobs of victory folks, please move along.

None of this strikes me as particularly good news, but these sorts of problems are pretty par for the course when it comes to comparable cases of imperial control. They’re all manageable given a great deal of political finesse, the occasional iron fist, and sufficient time.