One thing that has annoyed me over the past year or so has been the persistent and perhaps willful misunderstanding of why violence is down in Iraq. There’s no question that the presence of more US soldiers has the effect of diminishing violence to a certain degree, but the real key has been co-opting the insurgents through a number of means. John Robb explains how this has worked:
What did happen with the Awakening, and the speed of the transition should be a clue to this, is that the US military opportunistically embraced the insurgency (in a move akin to IBMs embrace of open source development in the 90’s). This embrace showered autonomy, weapons, money ($300 per month x 60,000 participants), protection (from Shiite militias and the Iraqi government), and training on insurgent groups. By doing so, it replaced the ISI (Islamic State of Iraq, an al Qaeda affiliate) as the leading participant in the insurgency. The only “cost” to these insurgent groups, which were under extreme pressure from Shiite militias due to overreaching by the ISI, was to sacrifice the ISI. They rapidly complied.
I’m not saying this was a bad plan or the wrong thing to do, but I do think that the implications of paying off as many insurgents as possible so they won’t fight us are much different than the implications of defeating the insurgency militarily and imposing quietude on the country. The insurgents we’re got on the payroll are only going to be on our side until they get a better offer or until we quit paying them.