Feeding the counterinsurgency effort

Michael Yon discusses the problem of getting food to the people in Baquba after al Qaeda was chased out of town. It was much more complicated than you would think and the Americans were the only ones that were trusted to help.

He also tells how the Iraqis who lived in the area help not only identify where al Qaeda was hiding but also the locations that had been rigged with IEDs. After al Qaeda was defeated the logistic battle still needed to be resolved.


Al Qaeda, like many serious terrorist organizations, uses food as clout and for pocket money. They had seized the food warehouse in Baqubah. The authorities in Baghdad responded by cutting off food shipments to Baqubah because they would fall into the hands of al Qaeda. This is where al Qaeda’s plan truly was working in the invisible ways—unlike but in addition to the very visible mosque bombings, for instance—because they had effectively cleaved Baqubah off from Baghdad. The mostly Shia government in Baghdad became the bad guy for cutting off the food.

But it gets worse; we are only getting started. As part of its ongoing effort to stoke the civil war, al Qaeda at first allied itself with Sunnis (until they started raping and murdering Sunni and burning down their homes) and tried to increase the hostilities between the Sunnis and the Shia. Civil war is undoubtedly the best method for running the Coalition out of Iraq—one need only follow US media to figure that out—one which would leave al Qaeda with, ahem, a David vs. Goliath glory.

The sectarian divide here was not manufactured by al Qaeda. Most countries have societal fissures that can be exploited, and the Sunni-Shia divide is like a tectonic plate. It’s actually somewhat stable, except for al Qaeda stuffing bombs in the cracks. The new government in Iraq is Shia dominated, and the Food Warehouse is in Sadr City, basically dead-center for Shia-land. Baqubah, on the other hand, is a Ba’athist haven. And so there you have it: Al Qaeda drove a multi-dimensional wedge using the food as one of those quiet bombs that never popped up on the radar, but nonetheless had a real impact on this war.

Because the one thing that definitely can run us out of here is the civil war, it follows that disrupting al Qaeda is like taking the blowtorch off the curtains. And for the beleaguered people of Baqubah, something nearly every family could see instantly as a positive sign would be the renewal of regular food distribution. There are many other shortages and problems for military and civilian leaders to sort through, but a food shortage is something that could be immediately ameliorated. Iraq is a breadbasket: there’s plenty of food here, it only takes trucks to move it around.


There is much more and this is just from part I of his report. Yon is at his best reporting on the micro elements of the war that add up to the macro.


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