Some comments by Bill Roggio, Editor of the Long War Journal
I certainly appreciate the attention you’ve given me for the Basrah reporting. I do think you are drawing the wrong conclusions to my reports.
I am surprised you can say my reporting brims with “certainty and simplicity” and then call the mainstream reports “tentative.” Go reread them, and ask yourself who is declaring a winner and a loser? Is that not the definition of “certainty and simplicity”, to claim to know who won and who lost? I have done no such thing — I have never said the government or Sadr has won. I challenge you to find a statement from me that said I believed the Iraqi government was victorious. You are assuming this from reading the reports. But you would be wrong to think that I declared a winner or loser.
What I have done is assemble the available open source material, largely from the Iraqi press, MNF-I, and wire reports, and from my own network of sources to try to build a picture of the status of the fighting in Baghdad, Basrah, and the South that was a little less hysterical than declaring an operation a failure (as the New York Times did two days after it started). If you carefully read the reports, I state the Mahdi Army took heavy casualties (these casualty reports are in the Iraqi press. You can decide if they are accurate or not, I have found Voices of Iraq to be highly reliable over time), the US fought heavy battles in Baghdad but that outcome was a push, the ISF did pretty well in the South outside of Basrah (Diwaniyah, Hillah, Kut, Karbala, Najaf, Amarah), and Basrah is a push.
I also reported that the Iraqi government, contrary to mainstream accounts, did not agree to Sadr’s terms. Sadr City is still under a curfew, Iraqi troops are still conducting raids and operations in Basrah, and they moved into two major ports in Basrah. None of these actions agree with Sadr’s terms for a cease-fire.
I think there is one place to simplify here: the Iraqi government did indeed launch the operation, using Army and police forces. Now, you can question the motives, as many have, or the composition of said security forces, as many have, but the fact is this operation was launched by the government of Iraq, with the approval of the parties in the ruing bloc, which does include Shia and Kurds.
I do think you oversimplify by implying I only report good news. I don’t think you read closely enough. For example, at the turn of the New Year, the “pro-war” camp wanted to dance on al Qaeda in Iraq’s grave. I warned people that al Qaeda still had a sanctuary in Mosul and Diyala, and there was still fighting and operations ahead to clear these areas, and that it would be challenging with the existing forces. That wasn’t what they wanted to hear. And I reported it days ahead of the media. I can cite examples on the reporting in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, etc. but won’t bore you.
There is a lot here, so I will take it one bit at a time. I think we agree on most of this.
1. “I am surprised you can say my reporting brims with ‘certainty and simplicity’”
The phrase is from Experts’ views about the recent fighting in Basra (2 April 2008): “War blogger reports tend (a broad generalization, not always correct) to display both certainty and simplicity (sometimes approaching cartoon-like).” It did not mention you, whom I consider among the best of the “war bloggers”. Today I cite what I consider a “cartoon” (not meant literally, of course): “Whittling Away at Sadr“, Austin Bay (2 April 2008).
2. “… then call the mainstream reports ‘tentative.’”
The full quote is “Note that expert analysis tends to be more tentative, with emphasis on the limits of the available data, and the complex, fluid nature of the situation.” I believe that does describe 6 of the 7 reports cited (esp. those by Marc Lynch and Chet Richards, not Porter’s). This is a subjective thing. People can read for themselves and decide.
3. “I have never said the government or Sadr has won.”
I agree; this characterization of his article is incorrect. It should say “describes … as generally successful”, as he mentions mostly positive results. I have posted a correction on the post.
4. Roggio notes his sources, and summarizes his analysis of events. It contrasts with the area experts I cited in this series. It is a test; we will wait and see who is right. I am neither there nor an expert on Iraq, hence my comment in the first post about Basra: “Personally I have nothing to say about events in Basra.”
5. “I think there is one place to simplify here: the Iraqi government did indeed launch the operation, using Army and police forces. Now, you can question the motives …
Yes, the motives are the key to understanding the operation. The degree of its success, the perception of it among the key elements of the Iraq people, and its impact on the power structure of Iraq.
6. “this operation was launched by the government of Iraq, with the approval of the parties in the ruing bloc, which does include Shia and Kurds.”
Here we disagree, perhaps for the first time in Roggio’s comment.
Is there a state of Iraq? States are not more than land surrounded by borders. Many puppet states have been recognized in the past by other nations. Having a seat at the UN means nothing (so did the Ukraine, as a colony of the USSR). Iraq may a lingering dream. Benedict Anderson defined a nation as “an imagined political community — imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.” Rooted in peoples’ minds, nations come and go from the world’s stage. I have written about this here (March 2007) and here (September 2007).
Is there an Iraq government? Governments are not binary entities, existing or not existing. Legitimacy comes in degrees, and Iraq’s government has little imo. I have discussed this in several posts, such as here (December 2006) and here(March 2007). The neo-colonial context leaches away its legitimacy: the government largely created by the US, surviving only with its support, with our occupation having no clear ending (as seen in our “enduring bases”).
There is no objective answer. The alternative analytical framework is to see the government as another power center in a multi-polar and fluid situation. Other major power centers are the American forces, al Sadr and the Sunni Arab groups, and the Kurds (de facto independent, as they have most of the attributes of government). The correct answer is the one that proves to have the greatest predictive accuracy and yield the best operational insights.
7. “I do think you oversimplify by implying I only report good news.“
I do not know to what you are referring, as I can find nothing like this. Your reporting is first rate and complete. Sometimes I disagree with the details, such as weight of the evidence. We very often disagree on the framing (e.g. #6) and analysis of events. All pretty standard stuff.
Note Roggio’s new post: “Iraqi military continues operations in Basrah” (3 April 2008).
Again, my thanks to Bill Roggio for sharing with us his insights about Iraq and his comments on this series.
Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
For more information about the War Bloggers and the Iraq War
- Three blind men examine the Iraq Elephant (6 February 2008)
- The oddity of reports about the Iraq War (13 March 2008) — Some theories why after 5 years we still debate basic things about the Iraq War.
- War porn (25 March 2008) – Discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the war-bloggers’ reporting in Iraq.
- More views of the events at Basra (2) — bloggers and war-bloggers (28 March 2008) – Contrast the war bloggers’ reports with those of some experts.
- A rebuttal to “War Porn” (it takes 2 sides to have a discussion) (29 March 2008) — Someone writes a defense of the war bloggers, and my reply.
- A look at the writings of “war blogger” Michael J. Totten (31 March 2008) – extracts of his posts from 2003 – 2005.
- An email discussion with Michael Totten (31 March 2008)
- Evidence of the war bloggers’ growing influence (2 April 2008)
- Basra, a test case: war blogger’s vs. experts (2 April 2008)
- Experts’ views about the recent fighting in Basra (2 April 2008)
- Sources of the Instapundit’s knowledge — analysis or cartoons? (3 April 2008)
- Archive of links to articles about the Iraq War — My articles, and links to several by Niall Ferguson.
- Our Goals and Benchmarks for the Expedition to Iraq