Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Friday, August 13, 2004

Moq Baby's Bigger Britches

Iraq's government and U.S. forces (sorry to assert such an obviously blurry distinction) are reportedly now in negotiations with Moqtada al Sadr in Najaf. And they are probably negotiating for the same reason there was a stalemate in Fallujah: while it may take only a handful of U.S. casualties to bring Iraq back into the headlines, pursuing significant hostilities in urban areas with U.S. force-protection still the number one priority is likely to result in a lot of Iraqi noncombatant deaths, and massacres always have headline potential unless it's in some blasted backwater where the U.S. is only tangentially involved.

Can Moq Baby squeak through? It's time to do the math again.

In general, uprooting any insurgency takes about 10 times as many troops as the insurgency has. (I've heard that an urban insurgency shifts that weighting against the insurgents, but I've also heard it argued the other way when you consider the political costs of inflicting noncombatant massacres.)

Shi'ites are about 60% of Iraq's 25 million population. Call it 14 million.

For Anglo-American forces plus some hangers-on, you've got a headcount of maybe 150,000. Let's be optimistic and say that Iraqi troop numbers are EFFECTIVELY up to the same level, giving you a nice round 300,000.

So how many armed insurgents does Moqtada need counterbalance that number? About 30,000, or about one Shi'ite Iraqi out of 500.

Is there a natural recruiting base?

In recent polls, only about 2-3% of Shi'ites said that Moq Baby would make a fine leader for Iraq, at least compared to what's currently on offer. 2-3% sounds small, but it's still a recruiting base with at least 250,000 Iraqi Shi'ites for President Moq Baby, among whom there must be at least 50,000-70,000 men of fighting age. And among those men you'll have some seasoned veterans of the Iran-Iraq war and Gulf War I.

If Moq Baby can sign up as many as half that number to actually fight (small-arms supply being no real problem in a country with one gun per household on average), and if he encounters relatively little resistance to his militias from the population centers they control, he's got both the Occupation troops and Iraq's army at a virtual standstill. Will he encounter much domestic resistance? Quite a few Iraqi Shi'ites profess sympathy with his goals, even if they don't see him as a presidential material. They may make that time-honored Old-Boss-New-Boss decision, even if they don't like him much.

At which point I - and everyone else - will not be able to call him Moq Baby anymore.

I haven't check my math carefully, but I think I've mostly made some conservative estimates. Bonus point exercise for the alert reader: on the Sunni resistance side, figure out how many years the resistance can run if it pays 10,000 fighters twice the current average Iraqi man's income from a treasury starting with only 1% of Saddam's former personal wealth, assuming no other sources of income (not even hostage ransom.)


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