About this blog...

I am a former leader of a Human Terrain Team in Iraq. My intent with this blog was to identify relevant, open-source materials on Iraqi culture, society, politics, religion and economics - just about anything on or about the Iraqi population in general.

I am continuing the blog now only sporadically, as a means of information distribution in support of efforts to improve a vital program hamstrung by failures in execution.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Arrested Development

There's a new article in Joint Forces Quarterly that has some useful observations on detention policies in a counter-insurgency. Among it's most useful observations: try not to arrest too many innocent people, be careful which confirmed insurgents you release and don't let them use your detention center as a training facility or base of operations. Ok, this should all be stunningly obvious, but it seems like one of the biggest problems with COIN doctrine are "practitioners" that read the manuals, say "duh, of course I would/wouldn't do that..." and then proceed to do the opposite. Too often, COIN seems to come down to having to do the smart thing that you really don't want to do. Hopefully, though, missteps will always be balanced with innovative ideas.

Governance Assessment

I'm a little behind, so this assessment from the Congressional Research Service is from earlier this month. It's a good rundown on the state of governance and security from Saddam forward, including the current state of things and options going forward (from partition to installation of a "strong man"). I'll keep to myself which of those going forward options I believe to be most culturally viable...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

COIN in a Tribal Society

I posted some brief things a few weeks ago about COIN in a tribal society, but this longer monograph just went up on the SWJ blog. It's by William McCallister, the cultural adviser mentioned in a vignette I referred to a few weeks ago...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

DOS Iraq Status Report

Think of this briefing as the national, embassy version of an O & I update. Not a lot of interest or utility for those of us focused on a local level, but still interesting for visibility on the national picture (or at least what's being reported...)

The "Other" Culture

When we talk about the HTTs being here to provide advice on local culture, we're talking about culture as the fabric that binds individual people into a society: religion, politics, power structures, language, organizations, economics, history -- everything. The other type of culture, though -- what you can call the arts, or high culture -- is one small part of that bigger, more important culture. Understanding this other type of culture is not necessarily something that offers immediate utility, but it's another chance to gain an insight on Iraqis - or at least some Iraqis.

You can see from the tags below that this stuff falls squarely into the "shallow news" tag; Some of these stories (the folklore story, the orchestra story) probably don't really reflect life for the majority of Iraqis. But these are all layers of what's going on here that a lot of us can forget about pretty easily...

An Iraqi singer performs Iraqi and Iraq-inspired pieces in Beirut, because "violence and oppression is killing their cultural identity" and "the meaning of tradition... has been lost in Iraq."

Nonetheless, the Iraqi National Folklore Ensemble and Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra continue to practice in hopes of soon performing again. But practicing or not, the singer's point might be driven home by the fact that the Folklore group has to practice in a secret location, and the Orchestra can't seem to keep their best musicians from fleeing the country.

Average Iraqis, though, still turn to the TV. Power may be limited in a lot of places, but the first thing anyone does when it comes on is hit that "on" switch. News is rarely the first choice, though -- favorites are Egyptian soap operas, the latest political satire, or good old escapist cartoons, movies and music videos.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Life during Ramadan

This short article isn't particularly hard-hitting, and doesn't offer any broader observations or insights. It's just a brief vignette about local Iraqi life during Ramadan...

NGOs and the choices they face

This new report from Tufts discusses the choices NGOs in Iraq are faced with -- working with the military vs. being seen as colluding with them (vs. being used by them); the fact that the humanitarian assistance that is often most necessary is usually the assistance that it is most dangerous to provide; trying to remaining neutral in a place where it's impossible to do so vs. the benefits and costs of explicitly or implicitly choosing one side.

Beyond NGOs, these are the dilemmas most Iraqis face in their daily lives -- particularly those that want to take an active role in their society by being involved with CF, GoI, SIIC, JAM, etc. These are dilemmas that it's good to understand, and important to be mindful of...