Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
October 10, 2007

Ceding South Iraq (Updated)


An earlier post this week described a new supply line for the U.S. troops in Iraq that allows them to avoid the Shia south of Iraq if needed. It now evolves that the U.S. is systematically abandoning all of south Iraq . Time Magazine asks Has the US Ceded Southern Iraq?. The answer seems to be yes:

Small contingents of U.S. soldiers enter Karbala and Najaf only for brief visits with local officials these days, and much of the rest of southern Iraq has no American troops at all. Focused on saving Baghdad, U.S. forces keep up a regular presence with patrols and combat outposts chiefly around the southern reaches of the capital. Meanwhile, the drawdown of British forces in Basra ... leaves yet another southern city .. unattended by the U.S.-led coalition. That means virtually all of the vast, populous and oil-rich territory stretching from Karbala to Basra is up for grabs.

'Up for grabs' is certainly the wrong expression. Two Shia fractions, al-Sadr and SIIC (former SCIRI) were fighting about the south but with help of Iran have now agreed on some kind of armistice. They rule south Iraq and anyone who wants to grab there will have to fight or agree with them.

The process sketched above amounts to an adjustment of frontlines possibly in preperation of a U.S. attack on Iran. Closure of the Street of Hormuz, attacks on the main supply route from Kuwait to Baghdad and lonely outposts of sparse U.S. troops in South Iraq would have been deadly options for Iran to retaliate against an attack.

With the south ceded by the U.S. and a new supply line from Aqaba, those options are gone.

There are two risks left for the U.S. in Iraq. One is the reliabilty of the Sunni tribes. But as long as the money is flowing to them, they are unlikely to abandon their current friendliness towards U.S. troops. The other problem is Turkey which is currently again shelling north Iraq in retribution for PKK attacks in Turkey.

One more successful attack of the PKK with a high number of casualties and the Turkish premier Erdogan will have to pull out the stops he currently still puts on his military. A new war in the north with Iran possibly joining a Turkish incursion could easily again unbalance the situation.

UPDATE (via an Uncle $cam comment):

Seymour Hersh in a talk (video) at The New Yorker Festival has a different explanation for the U.S. ceding south Iraq (watch at some 80% into the video).

Rough transcript:

"Democrats will lose this election if they do not wake up. Democrats run on reducing troops in Iraq. Bush will act by next summer. Bush will surprise the Democrats by slashing troop numbers to 70-80.000. He will cede the south and say we are winning."

Posted by b on October 10, 2007 at 17:47 UTC | Permalink


I would have one question and one comment. first the comment, it would seem to my untrained eye that the brits have pulled back to the airport in Basra in order to be able to rapidly re-deploy, perhaps even hanging from the skids of helicopters. Gordon Brown is reducing the numbers of british troops again until he has a number which could be pulled out in a day or so with enough airlift.

now the question, why on earth are the Kurds acting all stupid and attacking Turkey? They have a lot already, they are getting money for the oil (at least I think so, perhaps they aren't), they have more autonomy than any other region in Iraq, and the level of violence seems to be low since we hardly ever hear of anything happening there. what would they hope to gain?

Posted by: dan of steele | Oct 10 2007 18:21 utc | 1

now the question, why on earth are the Kurds acting all stupid and attacking Turkey? They have a lot already, they are getting money for the oil (at least I think so, perhaps they aren't), they have more autonomy than any other region in Iraq, and the level of violence seems to be low since we hardly ever hear of anything happening there. what would they hope to gain?

Well - there are Kurds and Kurds they hardly ever agree with each other ... The northern (Turkish) Kurds want a share of Turkey. They will not listen to the others.

As for those others, as soon as the Iraqi north will somehow feel free to act, likely after an inclusion of Kirkuk, the Kurdish Talbani and Barzani fractions will again be at each other throats and fight over control of the loot.

There is a reason why Kurdistan historically was never really united. As soon as there is no danger from the outside, they seem to get into fierce internal fights.

Posted by: b | Oct 10 2007 19:36 utc | 2

dos, there are Kurds in Turkey, to answer that. b, the Kurds in Iraq face a dilema, Iran or USA, what would u choose?

Posted by: Cloned Poster | Oct 10 2007 20:40 utc | 3

If the Time article is correct, and I would guess that it is not far from the truth, the same thing is happening to the US forces in Baghdad, as has happened to the Brits in Basra. The Brits controlled the situation less and less, so they withdrew to the airport. Not a lot of dedication in London to the war. They will withdraw totally soon.

The Time journalists were very probably modelling their idea for their article on the British experience, but there are important differences. The US is much more engaged in Iraq than the Brits, for the reasons we have all discussed a million times. However, the natural slow rejection of the US foreign bodies from Iraq, a people who fundamentally reject any occupation, means if the article is not true today, it will be in the future. Never mind the oil, or Iran, or any of the supposed US national interests. The US has lost the game in this case.

Posted by: Alex | Oct 10 2007 21:24 utc | 4

So are we now backing the Sunnis again to take over Iraq for us? Why did we ever get rid of Saddam Hussein?

Posted by: johnf | Oct 10 2007 21:30 utc | 5

@Cloned Poster picking amerika would be a fairly silly thing to do given the fact that amerika won't always be there and Iran will be. Remembering also amerika's habit of dodging out if there's something better for them on offer. Of course whatever strategy the Kurds have will be governed by far more complex issues than a simple choice of two alternatives. Ideally the Kurds should unite around the base they have already established in Iraq. It has it's own oil resource and a measure of autonomy, but for the Iraqi kurds encouraging the Iranian and Turkish mobs in doesn't look such a good choice once the flush of brotherhood has died down. If they want to get Iran or Turkey or both Kurdish territories they risk losing what they already have. There will be incredible infighting on that issue plus the joggling beteen former warlords, old feuds, politics, loyalty toward the old Iraqi state which is still felt by many. And of course they now have their own minorities to manage. Something they don't appear to be handling any better than Iraq did with them.

No wonder old Shrub is desperate to stop Congress from offending the Turks:

The White House today embarked on a unified effort to head off a vote in Congress to officially recognise as a genocide the forced deportations and massacre of Armenians in the last days of the Ottoman Empire.

In comments on the White House lawn, George Bush led officials in warning of the negative repercussions should Congress use the word "genocide" to describe the persecution that killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians and forced many into exile.

"This resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in Nato and in the global war on terror," Mr Bush said.

Of course the proponents of "there has only ever been on genocide that counts. All others are anti-semitic propaganda" will be pushing this barrow as well.

Well amerika, I seem to remember back in '03, a couple of people mentioned that after 4ooo years of internecine conflict the Middle East is complicated and not easily boiled down into goodies and baddies.

amerika's predicament is an outstanding joke, unfortunately there is nothing funny about being caught in the middle of the nexus between amerikan imperial hubris and amerikan imbecility.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Oct 10 2007 21:44 utc | 6

I don't see much logic in that, if there's an attack on Iran coming soong. Ceding the South will only achieve 2 things: reducing the number of US targets for Iranian retaliation and Iraqi Shiites' anger; securing another supply line that doesn't run through 200+miles of Shia territory. The oil will still be in the South, in Shia area, and will still have to go through Hormuz Straits. Besides, if there ever were to have ground operations, the Iranian oil is South, and US troops would be even farther from it than they are now.
Do they think the regime will collapse just with bombings? Or that they can drive straight from Baghdad to Tehran to get regime change?

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Oct 10 2007 23:04 utc | 7

looks like we are now into the end-game in Iraq

any deal with the Sunni is not worth much without the Baathists buy-in. And the Baathists want reconcilliation with the Shia thru Sadr, once the USUK coalition is out of the way.

and maybe the Kurds know theres going to be a showdown with Turkey eventually. So nows the time to get it on, while the USA is still in the neighborhood.

and the new route thru Jordan, might be its just a prudent military decision given the tensions with Iran & the shrinking British presence in Basra.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Oct 11 2007 1:01 utc | 8

Does any one else wonder at the timing of the resolution on the Armenian massacres?

This Congress, which can only pass resolutions to which no action is attached, proposes a resolution on a subject that can only set off sparks in the already very sensitive US - Turkey relations. On a subject which has languished for nearly a century, the House decides that this is the moment for the US to clarify an historical dispute.

The merits of the case are not at issue here. But what explains the timing?

Posted by: small coke | Oct 11 2007 7:16 utc | 9

Please check my update on the story above.

Marines Press to Remove Their Forces From Iraq

The Marine Corps is pressing to remove its forces from Iraq and to send marines instead to Afghanistan, to take over the leading role in combat there, according to senior military and Pentagon officials.

The idea by the Marine Corps commandant would effectively leave the Iraq war in the hands of the Army while giving the Marines a prominent new role in Afghanistan, under overall NATO command.

That is an interesting move by the marines. The article gives all kinds of reason why they want to, but I suspect one unmentioned reason to be that the marines know a lost war when they see one and don't want to be part of it.

Also kind of weird - the marines are designed as a coast attack force - as their name says. Their equipment is not nessessarily the one you would want in a locked land fight like Afghanistan ... hmmm

Posted by: b | Oct 11 2007 9:00 utc | 10

small coke #9: what explains the timing of the resolution on the Armenian massacres?

The best answer at the Obsidian Wings thread on that question seems to be Nancy Pelosi's strong desire to save face with by appearing to be doing something morally correct and Bush-defying. The thread also contains a cogent mini-history of the district represented by Adam Schiff, the principal sponsor of the resolution.

The resolution is brought up every year, and has never gotten a majority vote on the House floor. Most years it's been denied a floor vote. Its being taken up now after months of inaction by the full Foreign Affairs Committee, rather than working its way through a subcommittee, is almost certainly Pelosi's doing.

Chair Tom Lantos' introductory speech before the committee vote yesterday is a masterpiece of one the one hand/on the other hand. His most important message was at the end: "This is a vote of conscience, and the Committee will work its will." Translation: This won't pass the Senate, and will be vetoed by Bush if it does, so feel free to vote for it despite the current delicate moment at the Turkish-Kurdestan border, or against it because of that.

Posted by: Nell | Oct 11 2007 11:28 utc | 11

Let's see if this comes of the ground. Maybe badger can tell us more about it?

Iraq Insurgent Groups Form One Council

Six main Iraqi insurgent groups announced the formation of a ``political council'' aimed at ``liberating'' Iraq from U.S. occupation in a video aired Thursday on Al-Jazeera television.

The council appeared to be a new attempt to assert the leadership of the groups, which have moved to distance themselves from another coalition of insurgent factions led by al-Qaida in Iraq.
The groups forming the council include the Islamic Army of Iraq, the Mujahideen Army, Ansar al-Sunna, the Fatiheen Army, the Islamic Front for the Iraqi Resistance (Jami) and the Islamic Movement of Hamas-Iraq.

Posted by: b | Oct 11 2007 13:03 utc | 12

Armenian resolution... welll, could it be that some people want to piss off Turkish military now, making it even tougher to wage a sizable if not massive war on Iran? With Erdogan now ready to hit Northern Iraq in retaliation, things look quite "interesting" there around.

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Oct 11 2007 13:40 utc | 13


I wouldn't be surprised if the US military wasn't supplementing its existing logistical chain from Kuwait with some additional capacities from Jordan, but you're definitely overstating this. The US logistics effort is still primarily centred on Kuwait, and this is unlikely to change any time soon ( 2+ years ) without billions of dollars of military investment in Jordanian facilities and the allocation of large tracts of land there to the US military and its adjuncts. I've seen no reporting that any of this is so.

For starters, the US has a massive, installed, functioning logistics support operation in Kuwait, which is predicated on a very large purpose-built port with serious cargo-handling capacities; Aqaba lacks the same facilities, especially for fuel handling - and you can't just switch your logistics support base quite so easily. It's also worth noting that Jordan is a fuel-starved location which is hoping to get subsidised fuel from Iraq!, whilst Kuwait has plenty of oil and plenty of refining capacity - which is why it's a key source for the gasoline, diesel and kerosene that the US military requires to function. The US also operates a major military airport in Kuwait - there is no similar facility in Jordan.

Given the distances from Aqaba to central Iraq, it would require a purpose-built staging post on, or near, the Jordan-Iraq border as a part of the chain ( fuel, water, maintenance, sustenance )- preferably with a military airport attached, as per LSA ADDER ( Tallil ) in Nasariya.

Purely on a cost-basis, the unit-cost for delivering just about anything from Aqaba, as opposed to Kuwait, will double; considering that the USAF moved its B1's from Diego Garcia to Oman/UAE to save on fuel costs for supporting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, I'd be extremely skeptical as to whether this is a serious option.

In addition, there is a long-standing, entrenched network of subcontractors and agents working out of Kuwait, a large area of the country is turned over to the US military for basing, maintenance support and other logistics support functions, that would have to be moved to, or replicated in, Jordan - again, there are no signs that this is actually the case, and there is little evidence that Jordan has the capacity to either host or staff this. There are also far more serious "protection" issues in Jordan ( lots of very anti-US Iraqi refugees and Palestinians ) than in Kuwait - I can't think of any US ships being forced to leave port because of attacks, but this has happened at Aqaba in the past.

It's also highly misleading to describe the US as "ceding" the South - the US military has never had a substantial presence south of Diwaniya in the first place, and LSA Adder was protected by Italian, Romanian and Aussie troops. It is more accurate to assert that the US is incapable of backfilling for the various third-country military contingents that have been dribbling out of Iraq since 2004.

Posted by: dan | Oct 11 2007 17:00 utc | 14

Actually, having re-read the Leila Fadel article, it occurs to me that you've completely mis-read the whole thing - the 202-vehicle US convoy, for example, sounds like a re-supply convoy coming from the South, bypassing Baghdad and heading on to Fallujah or Ramadi - there's nothing in the article that suggests that it came from Jordan at all. If there was substantial logistics traffic coming from Jordan, then why is the border so "empty" in the report?

Given that the security situation in the West of Iraq is calmer, it wouldn't be surprising if there was a resurgence of trade between Iraq and Jordan, and an increase in inter-city trade within Iraq itself. This alone would account for a noticeable increase in truck traffic without any US logistics component to it at all.

From memory, prior to the 2003 invasion Jordan and Iraq were substantial trading partners - I wonder how many trucks per day plied the route then?

Posted by: dan | Oct 11 2007 17:35 utc | 15

The ‘Armenians’ have always fought hard for that recognition. (google will turn up the relevant web sites, and the history of ‘recognition’ is their numbah one issue and they have been lobbying for more than 50 years ...)

The UN has not complied, refused the term genocide. Care of vetos by the usual suspects.

The Turks have opposed, for the obvious reasons. Israel has been a major mover in squashing that recognition, recently in the US there have been violent quarrels - if one wants to be kind, it is because Israel wants to own the brand name ‘genocide’ and no competition in the extermination stakes will be allowed.

Bush spoke along the usual lines.

Congress voted according to US or democrat principles, etc. giving recognition for past (long past) pains. It costs them nothing. No reparations, etc. And doesn’t have startling relevance for the future.

Still it is a symbolic stab in the heart for Turkey, they are outraged, seriously furious, and the jab at Israel is indirect, certainly it will eventually be smoothed over, still it is very bad news for them - one dike broken. Note that the US congress making this vote has no International (eg UN) consequences. Switz. has also vaguely ‘recognized’ the genocide, as genocide, and then what? Nothing.

The timing is not particular, this has been steaming up for years. The Armenians have been very active and efficient, they have taken many leaves out of the Israel victim stance, and very cleverly too.

Posted by: Tangerine | Oct 11 2007 18:01 utc | 16

@dan - thanks for your opinion on this. The "cede the south" comes from Time mag.

On the truck traffic I'll stay suspicious. The U.S. must build an alternative to MSR Tampa. I saw a quote form some former general some month ago who urged to find one. I couldn't find the link when writing the above. It makes sense to have one ready. Aqaba is the only one that makes sense, especialy with the Turkish situation heating up more.

It certainly isn't a full alternative, especially not for fuel. Most the traffic is still on Tampa. But "hundreds of trucks" with Humwees don't make much sense for the few troops that are west of Fallujah.

Posted by: b | Oct 11 2007 19:02 utc | 17

Whichever way they run, the amerikan empire must be confident it has control of it's lines of supply.
Of course it is just possible that the appointment of a political yes-man such as Petraeus, is about to bite the BushCo ass big time.

That is in his eagerness to please massa Bush, Petraeus has ignored one of the basic tenets of successful strategy, keeping secure lines of supply. Although I would have thought if that were the case some up and comer a couple of ass licks down from the General would have leaked that to Hersh or similar.

Trying to predict "what is really happening" or amerika's immediate strategy is a raffle, because not only is everyone fibbing, half the time they have no clear picture of what is happening themselves.

The resistance will have a plan to 'accomodate' these latest amerikan 'victories' and there is nothing tangible to suggest that plan won't include the usual revelation that the BushCo victories were as Pyrrhic as usual.

We do know that the opposition plays to the crowd in amerika with devestating effect, so any temporary halt could be connected with timing issues rather than 'licking wounds' or resupplying.

The real problem the resistance faces is that the background hum of daily violence rarely if ever penetrates amerika's consciousness nowadays. Plenty of people are still dying violently but as predicted by some of us a while back, this has become 'old news' and is rarely reported in great detail or on the front page anymore.
That means whatever the resistance does have in store it will be something as dramatic politically for amerika as it is militarily for the resistance.

Which brings us to the 'truces' between the tribes of the west and the amerikan invaders. Somehow I doubt that the tribal leaders pledged undying fealty to BushCo, amerika, or apple pie. I also seem to remember that pre- the Fallujah war crimes, amerika had extracted similar truces from the very same tribes. The people will not be feeling an obligation to 'honour' any agreement with the low-lifes who massacred the Fallujans, women and children included. That stuff just doesn't wash away with time.

The marriage of convenience may only last so long as to create a feeling of over-confidence amongst the invaders' forces. If so this would be following established practices for dealing with those impudent enough to try and steal Mesopotamia from it's rightful owners.

I also seem to remember that historically the Sunni tribes have been the ruling elite of the area because they snuggled up to seemingly victorious foreign conquerors, lulled them, then led the resistance against that regime which they had been so snug with.

Not that it will neccessarily have to go that far this time. A sudden unexpected offensive from the west in combination with al-Sadr's forces in South and Central Iraq, which reveals the truces to be no longer functional, at a critical time in the 08 amerikan political process, may well create the tipping point required.

A tipping point sufficiently dramatic to tip every last thieving, raping asshole right out of Iraq.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Oct 11 2007 21:30 utc | 18


the question is -- are tipping points always inevitable by nature because this could be a big one.

and its interesting that accounts from many GI's returned from Iraq is that they (the Iraqi's) are not going to change, regardless off what we do. So the higher-up brass must know too, or at least some of them. Its really an impossible situation for Petreaus and one day, he will surely write a book.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Oct 11 2007 23:59 utc | 19

Sunni insurgents form alliance against US

Posted by: Rick | Oct 12 2007 4:02 utc | 20


There are lots of US troops ( 10-15k, if not more ) West of Fallujah - at Ramadi, Al Assad airbase, Haditha, al Qaim, Hit, Rutbah and a number of other towns.

Realistically there is no alternative to Kuwait/MSR Tampa as a supply chain - the US military started developing the Kuwait-based infrastructure for this after the end of the first Gulf War. Switching a mature, efficient, operable and capable installed infrastructure base that was developed over the course of more than 10 years and cost billions is not something that can just be done in a few years.

Building an Aqaba-centred alternative would, in all likelihood, take a decade and cost tens of billions of dollars. And the US would still be trucking in fuel from Kuwait, which is the principal bulk item that has to be transported.

From memory, Kuwait has 21 large docking berths and can handle very large carriers, whilst Aqaba has maybe 9, is much older, has vastly inferior handling capacities, is also used for passenger ferries ( to Jeddah and Egypt ), has serious geographical constraints that make the Straits of Hormuz look wide, and has no spare capacity whatsoever.

Posted by: dan | Oct 12 2007 19:34 utc | 21

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