Trust Us

One obvious question surrounding the new policy in Iraq of paying groups of former Sunni Arab insurgents to start calling themselves Concerned Local Citizens and helping us fight al-Qaeda in Iraq is how do we know that the people they're fighting are really AQI? After all, the main thing the CLCs give us is information not firepower, but if we depend on them for our information then we have no way of knowing that it's good. Or maybe we do. Spencer Ackerman asked MNF-Iraq spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith about this and revealed that MNF-Iraq needs to come up with some better spin:

"The sense is, as we partner with tribal chiefs, the chief knows who’s working for him," Smith said when I asked him about the reliability of these bands on a blogger conference call this morning. "You’ve got to put some trust and confidence in these people." That trust, he said, isn’t built overnight, and the U.S. will have a "relationship" with a tribal leader before committing resources to him or including him in a program.

But is that all it amounts to? Trust?

"It boils down to trust," Smith confirmed. "And over time, you can earn it or lose it." In response to a follow-up from Cogitamus’s Nicholas Beaudrot, Smith reminded that in Diyala Province, Colonel David Sutherland, commander of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division, had to fire and even arrest some CLC members. (Sutherland confirmed that to me in an October conference call.) He meant that as a defense of the U.S. military’s vetting process, but it also gives a sense of the trustworthiness of these so-called allies.

But look: If you can't trust the militiaman who was shooting at you a year ago until you started bribing him, then who can you trust? Honestly, it's almost enough to make me nostalgic for the days when we were using The Arab Mind as a guide to understanding Iraq. Sometimes people lie!

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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