Archive for the ‘NOIA’ Category

Vexation about the publication on Wikileaks of some US Army documents with details of the counter-IED radio jammers. Well, you can see why they’re concerned; but I very much doubt this is particularly important.

Recap: the New-Old Iraqi Army was in the habit of using command-detonated IEDs to blow up Coalition and Iraqi government road convoys. To begin with, the command element was often either a GSM device or else some sort of el cheapo radio device like a garage-door opener, RF thermostat, bits and pieces from an industrial process-control rig or the like. After much spending and much fuss, the US Department of Defense deployed “secret” but much hyped jammers on the lead vehicles in the convoys.

Now, there was almost certainly no reason to spend anywhere as much as they did. This is directly linked to the non-fuss about Wikileaks. The devices we have just mentioned have an internationally-standardised frequency band to chatter away in – the so-called Industrial Scientific Medical band, which is unlicensed spectrum – anyone can use it for anything, so long as they don’t use too much power. Among other things, all the world’s WLAN access points work in the ISM 2.4GHz band, as do wireless hi-fi speakers, baby monitors, cheap CCTV cams, etc, etc. So right back in 2003, it was blindingly obvious which frequencies were involved and what an upper bound on the power output would be. Which made the problem of jamming it pretty simple – just hammer away in the ISM with noise at a significantly higher Tx wattage.

Radio waves are electromagnetic radiation, and therefore their intensity changes with the inverse square of the distance from the source. So you could trivially calculate how much power you need to trigger the device a given distance away from the target. All you need is something that will radiate in the ISM band on command, like…a WLAN card, which now costs about five quid (or, perhaps, a door opener with a better antenna…). I have to say, I suspect that Donald Rumsfeld got played terribly over this. And, of course, nothing radio-frequency stays secret once you start transmitting; everyone can hear you.

There are cleverer things you can do; regarding the GSM ones, you could carry a malicious base station around with you, and therefore blackhole all traffic to and from phones in range. Or you could tap the phones and find out whodunnit (we know the other side do it to us). If I was really serious about this, I’d use one of these, which can be programmed to emulate pretty much anything radio.

So, like so much government secrecy, this is much more to do with security from embarrassment (we spent $billions on technology that would have been cutting edge in 1940!) than security from anything else.

Late to the party, I know. But is this the worst example of biometrics as a religion yet? So the Shia-led, pro-Iranian government of Iraq we’re desperately propping up doesn’t like the Sunni, Iraqi chauvinist countergangs we organised to prop them up much. So the plan to reintegrate them, as they say, into society as law-abiding citizens ain’t going so well. (Ah, Sergeant Hussein? You know how we invaded your country, overthrew the dictator, then dissolved the army you spent the last 15 years in and left you to rot on the dole while we conspired with your despised religious and class enemies? And we finally agreed to enrol you and your old mates as an auxiliary police force because we couldn’t catch you? Well, thanks, we’re doing it again. Yes, the first bit. Have you considered becoming a plumber? Please don’t use any metalworking skills you may acquire to make EFPs, that’s all we ask.)

Worse, yer man is now trying to pick a fight with the Kurds, in which case they will no doubt retaliate by grabbing Sgt Hussein’s home town and telling the government in Baghdad it can’t have any more oil. As a lot of the army Maliki counts on for this is actually the Kurdish army, there’s a lot more that can go wrong here. So what’s the plan B?

Apparently it’s biometrics. All those ex-insurgents from the NOIA who signed up on our side were iris-scanned, and the information something or other with Saddam’s old secret police files. Hey, I remember that the secret police files got torched. Except for the bits involving George Galloway and various other people who all by coincidence opposed the war. And the ones the Chalabi Boys nicked and the US Army had to nick back; there’s a lot of different data sets wandering about, no? Of course, there’s absolutely no point in looking for Sunni Arab nationalist ex-army insurgents in Saddam’s old files; it was Sunni Arab nationalist army officers who compiled Saddam’s old files in the first place. Perhaps they mean the Republican Guard payroll, but who knows, eh.

Anyway, the biometrics. How is this meant to help? Specifically, the iris scans. Now, if you make a bomb, your irises don’t leave any traces on it. Iris-scanning implies you’ve caught the guy already and you want to check if he’s on the list. And the point of guerrilla warfare is that the enemy doesn’t know who to lock up, or else they can’t catch up with them, or the people they are after hide out somewhere they’ll need to stage a huge multidivisional onslaught and probably build a railway to get into. I mean, it’s got to be better than having absolutely no information, but it’s no solution, especially if the data is mashed up with the wrong kind of intelligence files. (Ah, Sergeant Al-Hakim. You must be proud of your years of heroic resistance to Baathist tyranny…)

It’s as if they believe that having an MD5 hash of someone’s iris means you can double-click on their photo and they’re delivered to your desk like an Amazon.com package; or that the camera will take your soul. But then, every government thinks this, at least some of the time. Which reminds me:

The immigration minister, Liam Byrne, promised yesterday to start issuing ID cards to foreign nationals within 300 days – by November 2008. The first required to apply will be students and those married to British citizens or involved in civil partnerships or long-term relationships.

Seven weeks to go. No contracts. No requirements document. No specs. No code. Someone’s in for an epic binge-coding session, aren’t they? Or is “Teh Stupid! It’s Byrne’s!” hoping we’ve all forgotten? Maybe NO2ID should put in a bid itself…

I’ve repeatedly suggested that there is an emerging alignment between the Sadrists and political factions close to the NOIA insurgents and ex-insurgents. Here’s some news – a new coalition including Sadr, various mix’n’match factions including the Dialogue (close to NOIA), a chunk of Dawa that has split from SCIRI, and the Allawi fanclub (yes – he’s still going!). The Iraqi Accordance Front – the main NOIA political wing – isn’t there, but it’s falling apart between its commitment to working with the Shia-Kurdish alliance and its base’s desire to get paid for changing sides. This suggests to me, at least, that the political position is crumbling – the link between the Awakenings and the government is going, and at the same time chunks of the (much hyped) secular middle are falling off and moving closer to the Sadrists.

King’s College London’s terribly smart and not at all sinister Insurgency Research Group have some relevant facts about a controversy between Daniel Davies and I. Recap: Dan apparently believes that it’s better to let jihadis advertise on the Internet, on the principle that they will attract lots of idiots, self-dramatising teens, and committee fetishists, who will destroy their effectiveness as a revolutionary movement.

I disagree; this form of terrorism has a special feature, in that it not only has the ability to make use of these people, but in fact it actually wants them. All they need is one self-defeating burst of dramatic childish rage. Stupidity and ego histrionics are actually qualifications, if the job you’re recruiting for is “meat guidance package for our expensive explosives”. Given that the person concerned doesn’t need to live independently or make any decisions – in fact, you want to prevent them doing either, as this has a negative impact on mission success – the people you need are precisely the ones who wouldn’t make acceptable infantrymen in an army of any kind. (Middle-class wankers tend to believe this includes them; history suggests they can hack it.)

No, what you want are the ones the sergeant would break his heart over. From the point of view of a harassed, super-minority movement with a small supply of capable people and resources of every kind – this is actually how Osama sees the world jihad, according to his statement With a Band of Knights – what would you do? You need to preserve bombmakers, recruiters, and competent conspirators; the answer is a cadre system, where they recruit, supply, fit out, and target a steady flow of rubes. In Iraq, recruiting angry young Saudis through this system has the further benefit that, like third-rate Formula One racers, they pay the team for the drive.

The IRG post is about one of India’s many longrunning small-scale insurgencies; they reacted to a government strategy of targeting their leaders by recruiting the poor, or rather the marginal half-bright younger sons of the poor, to do the dirty work. The lads who got the shit job tended to be young, illiterate, and involved at the fringes of criminal gangs. Poverty of every kind is still the motivator. The answer is clear – tack to the left. Counterinsurgency is just the respectable form of Marx.

Az-zaman, via Cole reports that the Iraqi government “honoured” SCIRI…sorry…ISIC militiamen for their role in the Basra fighting, and that some 10,000 of them were officially signed up to the Government’s own forces (I thought they already were). The reason for this step is apparently that large numbers – thousands – of men in the Iraqi Army and other forces deserted rather than take part in the offensive. There is more here; supposedly two regiments did so in Baghdad, but I’d warn that what they call a regiment may just be an example of unit inflation.

Now, over at Kaboom! (officially the Colby Buzzell of 2008), here’s some corroboration.

Day 2: I stand in the streets, looking at a building with a sloping roof and two cannonball-sized holes in the middle of it. We have spent many hours zigzagging through the various Shi’a neighborhood cores in Anu al-Verona, but it is only now, with the light of the morning, that the full scope of JAM’s resurgent spectacle is comprehended. The aforementioned holes are the gift of an Iraqi Army’s BMP (armored personnel carrier) main gun, and the aforementioned building is the local Sawha headquarters. The one Son of Iraq who bothered to show up for work today expresses his displeasure with the situation. I thank him for his devotion to duty and ask him where his coworkers are. He looks at me like I have a dick growing out of my forehead and says, “they are at home, of course. It is not safe here.” I ask him why he isn’t home then. “Because my father kicked me out and told me to go to work and I have nowhere else to go.”

My bold. OK, so not only did some members of the Iraqi Army go over to the other side, but these ones took their BMP with them – and immediately turned its guns on the ex-NOIA guys, with the result that they made themselves scarce (or possibly set off for the nearest concentration of Shia for some revenge). There have been reports scattered around of the Sadrists capturing armoured vehicles from the government, but most have referred to Humvees and such; this is the first heavy armour to be mentioned.

It can be pretty heavy, too; the BMP-3, despite ranking as an infantry fighting vehicle, carries a 100mm gun. I don’t know which version we supplied to the Iraqi government (I think the armour came from Hungarian stocks). Meanwhile, Des Browne says:

At one point, he said, British tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and ground troops were deployed to help extract Iraqi government troops from a firefight with Shiite militiamen in the city.

Extract; as in “cover the retreat of”, “aid in escape of”, or just “save” them. It’s Sadr’s move, it always has been; as far as I can see, the only meaningful exit strategy has always been to recognise the people with actual mass support, so NOIA in the Sunni sector and Sadr in the Shia sector. Half of this has actually been done, although nobody wants to admit it; the problem is that their territories overlap. Lieutenant G’s area of responsibility is exhibit A; he’s far enough north to have 1920 Revolution Brigade NOIA on his side, but this doesn’t mean he doesn’t also have a major Sadrist presence.

Extra points: did anyone else spot Chalabi claiming credit for the ceasefire?

The Times has been doing the best reporting from Iraq by far at the moment. Here’s some evidence.

Now, to substance. Note this:

“We have received a shipment of Strela antiaircraft rockets,” Abu Sajad boasted to a Sunday Times reporter.

“We intend to use them to prove to the world that the Mahdi Army will not allow Basra to be turned into a second Falluja.”

This could get bad, especially if the Sadrists can be as good at shooting down helicopters as that NOIA outfit in early 2007 were. Anyway, the last dispatch is that far from the Iraqi government offering anyone mercy in exchange for surrender, Moqtada al-Sadr has just issued an official Leave It, Daz, He’s Not Worth It order to his army to stop beating them. I can’t see any evidence of this being due to imminent government triumph, so I reckon it’s a mix of an exercise in contemptuous indulgence and a renewed assault on the moral high ground.

Think of that; officially at least, the Sadrists have been on ceasefire, more sinned against than sinning, acting only in self defence, but they’ve also kicked the shit out of the Iraqi government, and now they’re looking to exit the confrontation on their terms. The question about this is of course whether the big red stop button will work; Sadr has historically had only coarse control of his army, basically a choice between STAND BY and BURN SHIT DOWN. It’s quite possible that the political dynamic will get out of hand, though, and there are signs of this round taking on a life of its own.

For example, it is reported that the Mahdi Army in Baghdad has been going after the usually ex-NOIA, Sunni “Awakening Councils”/”Sons of Iraq”, even to the point of attacking Sunni territory; apparently, their outposts are being rolled up into more defensible concentrations, which would mean at least a temporary disruption of the US counter-insurgency strategy, and at worst the enduring loss of territorial control and a major NOIA counteroffensive, probably (if you want a guess) in Diyala. Policemen are deserting in droves of up to battalion strength. It may be that this round of violence, like all the others in Iraq, is breeding its own army; 2004 gave us the original Mahdi Army and the NOIA, 2005 the SCIRI fake policemen, 2006 the ex-NOIA countergangs, 2007-8 the Mahdi Army 2.0?

There’s more evidence of renewed sectarian war here. Brief thought; has anyone else noticed that as well as improving its coverage, the Times has started referring to Moqtada al-Sadr as Hojetoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr? This shows both greater respect, and significantly improved spelling. (So has the US Army.)

Finally, let’s all be thankful the Mahdi Army mortarmen missed Tariq al-Hashemi, this blog’s favourite not-quite-an-insurgent Sunni politico and Iraqi vice president. Because that probably would have been the starting gun for the various Awakenings to turn.

Update: I spoke too soon. Someone tried to assassinate the governor of Diyala earlier today.

Well, it’s not as if we weren’t warned; the Iraqi government had been threatening to move against Fadhila in Umm Qasr, and there had been increasing tension between the Iraqi government and the Sadr movement going back to Christmas. Not so long ago, there were demonstrations in Sadr City against Sadr; they thought the movement wasn’t standing up to increasing provocation from police/SCIRI as was//Badr Corps men feeling braver now they didn’t have to fight NOIA any more.

You can read the violence in a number of ways; the government/ISCI/Dawa probably briefed it to the Americans as an extension of their counter-insurgency plan to the deep south, with the added twist that this was an operation the Iraqi army would throw all by itself, hence good politics. Sadr of course will consider it an outrage by the collaborationist-Iranian bastards, eerily mirroring Petraeus’s response to the Green Zone bombardment; if you adopt Jamie Kenny’s policy of trying to think like Leonardo Sciascia, you’ll see it merely as a fight for oil rake-offs between (as Douglas Adams put it) rival police gangs. As always, SF leads the way into history.

Daniel Davies has apparently finally taken my much repeated advice and read A Bright Shining Lie, which has apparently led him to conclude that the Dawa-Sadr fighting is a good thing on the grounds that it strengthens the government, even if only as the biggest gang. Well, it has led the annoying look-at-me contrarian Daniel Davies to do so; what the real one thinks I don’t know. I don’t agree; the Sadr movement demonstrated its deterrent capability on day one, when it resumed rocketing the Green Zone and seized police stations across the Big Gap in southern Iraq, as well as the road between Amara and Basra, rather as they did in the first and second Shia risings in 2004. Further to its massive popularity, the Sadrists also have had at least a tacit alliance with some currents in NOIA – there’s a risk of the whole shithouse crashing down. Note that the Dawa and Sadrists, and ISIC, are on the opposite sides of one of Iraq’s worst territorial fights.

So inevitably, the US authorities seem to have swallowed the “southern surge” thing, and are now pressing for more British troops to be sent – not just that, but for an advance back into Basra. This is genuinely bugfuck insane and the Prime Minister has no choice but to reject it; there is literally no-one left. Army planners are already looking at calling out at least 2 TA battalions in their entirety to cover routine tasks; a mass of resources is going into Afghanistan; there is some question as to whether there is another brigade in the tubes for the next but one rotation in Iraq. The inter-allied shit just hit the fan.

Of course, nothing would do more for Gordon Brown’s polls than turning the fan right up…it’s worth noting that officially, the only support MNDSE is giving this operation is aerial reconnaissance; that could perfectly well be provided from Kuwait. However, maybe not.

This NYT story is an example, I think, of the way one’s mental models control one’s perception. The report deals with a proposed U.S. policy of providing the Frontier Corps, the paramilitary police of the North-West Frontier Province, with aid directly rather than via the Pakistani military. This is one thing. It is not an obviously stupid policy, nor is it unproblematic; but this isn’t the point.

I come away from the article unsure whether the constant references to “tribes” and activities in Iraq mean that the writer is analogising the Corps to the tribal militias the US Army has been recruiting in Iraq, or whether there is a further policy of recruiting such forces in Pakistan. If the first, it’s a silly analogy – the Frontier Corps is a part of the Pakistani federal government, not a group of ex-insurgents in a tactical alliance with an occupying army. And he’s clearly bought into the superduper surge narrative. If the second, it’s extremely worrying.

Trying to create local countergangs in Pakistan would have a serious downside; what or who would they be fighting for? Better be clear it’s Pakistan, and a version of it that is tolerable both to the wider world and (more importantly) to the majority of Pakistanis outside the NWFP. And who can say, at the moment, what Pakistan is? At least the Corps will fight for whoever runs the Pakistani government, but who knows what US-empowered ex-Taliban (the closest analogy to the various ex-insurgent groups in Iraq) would do with their new weapons?

Similarly, the tactical peace with the NOIA (New-Old Iraqi Army) has been one way to reduce violence in Iraq, at the price of creating new forces that don’t answer to the Iraqi government or for that matter anyone else. And the NOIA are precisely who these “Concerned Citizens” are; all accounts of ‘em seem to mention the Islamic Army and the 1920 Revolution Brigade, always my favourite NOIA outfit. My own analysis, by the way, is that having stepped their operational tempo right up in the spring in response to the abandonment of the Baker-Hamilton commission’s proposals (which they were probably consulted on via Tariq al-Hashemi), they’ve now made an operational choice to crank it down and cooperate in order to buy US concessions – specifically acceptance of their control on the ground and arms, in return for dead Saudi jihadis.

(Anyone else notice that the insurgency has better data management than HMRC? Five terabytes – or should that be TERRORBYTES? – of detailed records on all their foreign recruits. That must surely be a unit error, but 0.5GB would still be plenty. However, it does look like their encryption wasn’t strong enough – but then nothing ever is if the enemy has physical access and infinite leisure.)

You may recall that we’ve followed the career of the Iraqi Special Forces, née Ministry of the Interior Commandos, née 36th ICDC Battalion in some detail. This force is one of the few reasonably capable Iraqi units, made up of a mix of exiles and SCIRI Badr Corps men.

Kazimi has a mildly hagiographic post on its leader, Colonel Ya’arub al-Hashimi, who has been assassinated. Finishes with the line Some commentators on Iraq make a habit of deriding ‘the exiles.’ I would have liked to see them do that to Harbi’s face.

Indeed, because he would have had his boys drive a hammer drill through their balls.

Apparently the alternative to the Baker commission/TYR solution in Iraq – get the fuck out under a negotiated settlement with Iran – that the White House is floating is a “tilt to the Shia and Kurdish 80 per cent. I find it a little hard to work out how we are meant to tilt to them any more-after all, I’ve been saying since 2003 that our presence in Iraq is dependent on the continuance of a Shia-Kurdish alliance, and the Shia have the government of Iraq that is held up by British and American bayonets.

But anyway. In pursuit of this, apparently, urgent talks are underway with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of SCIRI, presumably with a view to throwing the Dawa guys like Maliki and Jaafari overboard. The obvious flaw in this strategy should be, well, obvious. SCIRI is the closest Iraqi actor to Iran. If you want Iranian and Shia power extended, this is just the right way to go about it. I suppose there is an argument that it’s better to talk directly to SCIRI, who are strong, than to talk to Dawa and the Allawi fan club and through them to SCIRI, but the benefits are marginal at best.

Mark Kleiman, and many others, point out that the implication of tilting even further to the Shia is essentially that we are going to take sides in the religious war, which they argue will mean genocide. I’m not so sure. NOIA looks like it can look after itself, and it is being repeatedly made clear that it will have official Saudi support. But there is another concern, even before we get to the mind-buggering prospect of getting the Magic Kingdom involved.

If we align explicitly with the (pro-Iranian) SCIRI in its war with the NOIA, what happens with the Sadrists, who are at least as strong as SCIRI? Moqtada al-Sadr’s movement frequently denounces SCIRI as an Iranian Trojan horse, little better than the Americans, although they have until recently cooperated in government after a fashion. The Sadrists are nationalistic and violently opposed to a) occupation and b) Iran, and they have on occasion cooperated with NOIA in the past. If we tilt the table towards Tehran, we risk bringing the whole thing crashing down on us as the Mehdi Army is called out along the MSRs to help the “besieged Iraqi resistance” fight the “Iranian invaders, American occupiers and their collaborator scum in Baghdad”.

Indeed, if we really must continue to behave as if there was any hope of a non-terrible outcome, we would be much better off tilting towards Moqtada al-Sadr. What his price would be I dare not speculate, but it would certainly involve getting troops off the streets in short order, and an accommodation with NOIA in its stronghold regions. (You say that like it’s a bad thing.) This post of Phil Carter’s on the Sadr movement’s civil-operations activities would argue strongly for it. David Hackworth would have said he’s the G who’s out-G’ing the other G’s. (Phil’s ten lessons from Iraq are highly recommended as well.)

And finally, can we please, please, please not do anything that is likely to get the Saudis involved? They do have some things that could greatly strengthen the NOIA, specifically an endless supply of cash and an equally endless supply of deranged takfiri killers who they are desperate to see explode, well, somewhere else. They also have no shortage of arms. This was, of course, their 1980s strategy of shipping jihadis to other wars so as to prevent revolution at home – call it the Anywhere but Abqaiq Approach. Unfortunately, they were left with an underutilised maniac industry after the Afghan campaign, and rather lost control. Doing it again is likely to have similar consequences, but much closer to home.

After all, as Michael Ledeen puts it in this criminally irresponsible tirade, They know their people hate them, and they know that revolution could erupt if we supported it. He’s talking Iran and Syria. Perhaps. But somehow three little words show up nowhere – “Saudi”, “Arabia”, and “oil.” Listen to this, too. Once we do, we will find that we’ve got many political and economic weapons, most of them inside our enemies’ lands. Indeed, habibi, we call them debt, energy inefficiency and the exhaustion of the US Army’s infantry. If they are fools enough to…where was I? What, this isn’t the head of the Revolutionary Guards Corps speaking?

Ledeen is intellectually dishonest, ignorant, mercenary, mendacious and more. But I ask of you – surely he knows that there are 2 US Navy carriers capable of operations, that practically all US Army and Marine manpower is committed to Iraq? So what is this madness, from an objective point of view? We know his old chum Manuchar Ghorbanifar is almost certainly an Iranian intelligence asset, and his mate Chalabi told them their ciphers were insecure. Has he never wondered if he’s being exploited?





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