Juan Cole on Gravely Misunderstood Iraqi Society

Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno is quoted as saying that 80% of Iraq’s militiamen are probably OK and could be put into the Iraqi security forces, while the other 20% may have to be “captured or killed.”

This comment seems to me a welcome evidence of realism, much better than the conviction that the Sadr Movement can be defeated militarily. But I fear that the “more extreme” militiamen are the cousins of the ones who are OK, and if you kill the cousin of an Iraqi, he has to kill you to restore clan honor. So if you kill the 20%, you turn the “moderate” militiamen into your deadly enemies. Americans are so individualistic, they can’t seem to get their minds around clans and clan feuds. This failure of understanding or imagination has underpinned a lot of the failure in Iraq. What you do is to make a deal with the clan leaders and make them responsible for reining in the extremists, setting things up so that they are denied financial rewards if they fail to do so. Of course this plan depends on your ability to guarantee the safety of the clan leaders, which at the moment the US military cannot do.

Read it here.

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