Information operations

Baghdad Ten Years Ago – 04 Nov 07


WEEK 51: The 1st Cavalry Division Headquarters and Brigades have been in Baghdad over a year. The imams are vying for better position in the information space. Meanwhile, I’m contemplating excuses to violate General Order #1 and go boozing. Based on recent military legal outcomes, looks like I might have had a decent excuse.

Holy Wars

“The Sunni will never support a religious government”, The Marxist

Every now and then, I go to church expecting to hear about God and instead hear a pitch to support a political initiative.  Even if I happened to agree with the politics, I prefer not to hear it when I go to church.  I am not so naïve to believe politics and religion won’t cross over in America.  Still, I prefer not to listen to politics in church.  If anything, I may vote the other way just to be a malcontent.

This is what I think about when I hear the recommendation to engage imams so that they’ll carry our messages.

moabm
The Mother of all Battles Mosque in Ghazaliyah serves as the headquarters for the Sunni Endowment and the Association of Muslim Scholars for most of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Shortly before we departed in December 2007, the head of the Sunni Endowment evicted the Association of Muslim Scholars from the mosque for backing Al Qaeda.  This was a sure sign the Sunni had rejected Dr. Harith al Dari’s organization and Al Qaeda.

I’m all for having the imam’s not promoting violence against the government, security forces and us.  Encouraging violence is not exactly peaceful behavior or communications.  If we can convince them to be neutral, we’ve scored a win. Sometimes, the imams or the mosque administrators will carry our messages.

 

A few months ago in Abu Ghraib, we had more than one instance where the locals were happy to see us come and chase out Al Qaeda.  The minarets would broadcast a message very close to our loudspeakers messages and the people will come around for assistance.  When a minaret starts broadcasting your message, give your loudspeaker a rest.  The message means more coming from the minaret.

Events like these occurred in dire times.  With security improving, Baghdad is not so dire.  So, what makes us think the imams would want to carry our messages?  Better still.  What will be the price?  The imams of Abu Ghraib were thanking us for helping provide security against Al Qaeda.  I doubt the angry imam of the Husseiniyah Ja’far Al-Tayer in Zafraniyah will thank us for the same since we are often the topic of his discontent.

I encourage meeting with such imams to find out what ails them and how we might be able to improve relations.  I also recommend a modicum of caution in signing up for anything. We have to be careful in who we empower.  The religious backed politicians have spawned more violence than most of the country.  As one Iraqi leader noted in weeks passed, the religious government has failed.

This comment reminds me of what the Marxist told me in the opening quote.

sadr2
Sadr propaganda billboards in Khadamiya.  The man in the middle is portrayed as a martyr while Moqtada al Sadr and Moqtada’s father flank the martyred young man.  During a PSYOP patrol in Khadimiya I asked an Iraqi gentlemen if he knew who was the individual portrayed on a similar billboard.  He replied, “I don’t know.  Just somebody who died.”  They (sic Jaysh al Mahdi) does this whenever one of thiers dies.”  Sadr uses this cult of personality approach to maintain significance in the poor Shia communities.

This country enjoyed certain freedoms under previous rulers that many Iraqis are not willing to relinquish.  The recent article in the LA Times about liquor stores returning to Baghdad is a sign of progress for us as much as it denotes a retreat of religious extremist influence.  Hard to believe that liquor stores are a good sign to us considering we are not allowed to drink alcohol while deployed.

 

I’d love to give the liquor stores some business.  This, however, might give the thugs a reason to squeeze the liquor stores for more, ahem, taxes.  I also don’t think spreading economic prosperity would be a good alibi for me.

Perhaps I could throw in the excuse of assisting ethic minorities.  I understand the Assyrians used to run the liquor stores and discos during Saddam’s time.

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This is the chapel inside a Chaldean Christian school of East Rashid (also called Doura) in south Baghdad.  The DRAGON Brigade, 4/1 Infantry, occupied the facility as a Combat Outpost to deny Al Qaeda from threatening the Sunni and Christians living in the neighborhood.  Some leaders of the Christian community were not happy about us using the facility, but as you can see, the DRAGONs took great care of the chapel and the archives.  Baghdad and other parts of Iraq were once great examples of Christians, Sunni, Shia, Sunni Kurd, and even Jews living in peace for many years.

Since the next leader of Iraq be a whiskey drinker without a mustache, I should probably throw in the quantifier of not wearing a turban.  This brings us back to engaging imams to have them disseminate our messages.

This is Iraq. Heck, this is politics. You don’t get something for nothing.  Engagement itself can help break through the walls of ignorance.  Dialogue helps all find the common ground to address the issues.  However, engagement is not done at all costs to achieve results.

As we engage imams, we need to encourage cooperation towards a common goal vice empowerment to the religious leader.  While not all imams are extremists, we have the extremists on their heels and don’t need to give them any new venues to maneuver.  If the imams repeat a supportive message, we’ve done very well.  If the message is neutral, we’ve done well enough.  Move on to something more important.

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