Morning Report: August 29, 2007

What's changed in Anbar - and why. Plus some thoughts on the Iranian connection.

US arrests, releases eight Iranians in Iraq; IRI regime in a huff. Bloomberg: 'U.S. forces released eight Iranians in Baghdad after searching their hotel rooms and questioning them at a coalition base, the military said. Those detained are officials working on Iraqi electricity projects, Iran said. The Iranians were with seven Iraqis when their four vehicles were stopped at a checkpoint near the capital's Sheraton Hotel yesterday, the U.S. military said today in an e-mailed statement. The military didn't say why the group was detained. An AK-47 rifle and two pistols were taken from the Iraqis, who were ``serving as a protective detail,'' the military said.' CNN: 'Yassin Majid, an aide to Iraq's prime minister, said the Iranians who were detained were employed by Tehran's power ministry and were invited by Iraqi government officials to the capital to sign an electricity supply contract. They were released Wednesday morning, he said. The U.S. military said the delegation was released "to Iraqi officials" following "consultation with the government of Iraq." According to Iran's ambassador in Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, U.S. military forces escorted the Iranians to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office after their release at 7 a.m. (11 p.m. ET Tuesday), Iran's official news agency IRNA reported Wednesday.' AP: ' Iran on Wednesday summoned a Swiss diplomat who represents American interests here to protest the U.S. forces' detention of eight Iranians, including two diplomats, in Baghdad, the Foreign Ministry said.'

ITM: Crossing Anbar. Omar at Iraq the Model:
The several hundred kilometer western section of the international highway is technically Iraq's second "port" in a way as it connects Iraq with Syria and Jordan and was for years the only window to the world when all airports and the southern ports in Basra were closed to traffic in the 1990s.

For most of the time between 2004 and 2007 taking this road was considered suicidal behavior as the chance someone would be robbed or killed was too high. But with the tribal awakening in Anbar that cleared large parts of the province from al-Qaeda the highway is expected to be safer, but how much safer?

My family returned yesterday from a vacation in Syria and they have used this road twice in six weeks. I had tried hard to convince them not to do that and take a flight instead but now after hearing their story I'm convinced that my fear was not justified; the road is safe…

This is good not only for Iraq's economy and traveling but also for the American troops who can use this road as an alternative supply route in case the British troops withdraw and leave the strategic southern highway between Kuwait and Baghdad unguarded.

Taheri on IRGC. Amir Taheri:
... IRGC is more of a franchise chain than a corporation controlled by a board of directors. This is why a more sophisticated approach may be needed in dealing with it.

The IRGC is divided into five commands, each of which has a direct line to the "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenehi, a mid-ranking mullah, himself one of the earliest members of the force in 1980.

To minimise the risk of coup d'etat, IRGC's senior officers of are not allowed to engage in "sustained communication" with one another on "sensitive subjects."

Of the five commands in question, two could be regarded as"terrorist" according to the US State Department's definition that, needless to say, is rejected by the Islamic Republic.

One, which includes the so-called Jerusalem (Quds) Corps, is in charge of exporting the revolution. Apart from Hezballah and Hamas it runs a number of radical groups across the globe.

The second command that could be targeted deals with internal repression. It operates through several auxiliary forces, including the notorious Karbala brigades charged with crushing popular revolts in Tehran. Many Iranians see these as instruments of terror.

The IRGC's officers' corps, including those in retirement, numbers around 55,000 and is as divided on domestic and foreign policies as the rest of the society.

Michael Yon on Anbar. Michael Yon:
... Any premature history of this war will be as simplistic as a woven carpet, but some patterns are clear
even today: crushing Fallujah backfired. If only because the timing assured a near total Sunni boycott of the first and most important national election, the start of nation-building politics, the same process that is now so widely acknowledged as the only path to a secure and self-sufficient Iraq.

... Al Qaeda has a management style—doing drugs, laying up sloppy drunk, raping women and boys, and cutting off heads, all while imposing strict morality laws on the locals—that makes it clear that they have one set of principles for themselves, and another for everyone else.

In that kind of scheme, it didn’t take long before people in Anbar realized that any benefits from al Qaeda having control would not be distributed equally. Once that realization spread, the tribal sheiks—almost all Sunni—had to consider the alternatives.

The sheiks of Anbar turned against al Qaeda because the sheiks are businessmen, and al Qaeda is bad for business. But they didn’t suddenly trust Americans just because they no longer trusted al Qaeda. They are not suddenly blood allies. This is business, and that’s fine, because if there is one thing America is good at, it’s business.

Reframed thus from a position of strength, this stage of the Anbar-war is more a sort of business transaction, where alliances beneficial to all sides—except al Qaeda—are formed. From this perspective, there is now a moment of genuine ground-floor opportunity in Anbar, if the people here can see that by doing business with the Coalition, everyone benefits—except al Qaeda, an exclusion that most can live with.

Go read the whole thing, and pay attention to the captions on the very powerful photo-essay. Key concept: Self-sacrifice or self-interest - which is the more reliable motivator of people?

Commentary. This morning, Omar's post has described just how much Anbar has changed, and Michael Yon has explained how it got that way - however tenuous that progress may still be, at this early stage. But Omar also wrote that while western Iraq has improved, the south has gotten worse:
Back in 2004 when taking the Anbar highway was out of question for me, the Sunni dentist, I made the trip back and fourth between Baghdad and Basra countless times without any fear. Now, I'm ready to try the trip through the west, but going south through the militia infested land is something I'd never dare do at this stage.

We'll need to keep watching.

By the way, you can download that Counterinsurgency Field Manual (pdf) at the link.