NRO Editors on Iraq

This is some stupid stuff. The whole of it.

The gusher of encouraging developments from Iraq keeps coming: Moqtada al-Sadr promises to disband his militia in what is a de facto declaration of surrender after the beating he’s taken from American and Iraqi forces; the number of American troops killed in action dropped to five in July, the lowest monthly total since the war began; attacks in Baghdad have been averaging four a day, down from ten a day earlier this year and 40 a day last June.

Gusher is a particularly immoral word in the context of a war costing thousands upon thousands of lives. Including 554 Iraqis killed in June alone. Now 554 is better than the macabre levels of 100 bodies/day last year, but notice that the pro-war right never mentions Iraqi civilian and Iraqi security force casualties. The only casualty numbers that count are US troops. [As will be clear in a second that is because Iraqis and their opinions matter not]. 554 people violently murdered in a month is not my definition of “encouraging news” gushing or otherwise.

The reference to Sadr is classically dumb as well. They refer to him as Iran “cat’s paw” when anyone with a brain who has studied Iraq-Iran and the Shia know that Iran created the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (and their militia the Badr Corps, er I mean Organization).

Here’s Patrick Cockburn on this exact point (my emphasis):

The turning point in the fighting was not only American military intervention but al-Sadr calling his men off the streets and Iran backing the Maliki government. This is a point made by Ahmed Chalabi, the much maligned but highly astute opponent of Saddam Hussein, in his well-defended headquarters in Baghdad. “People fail to realize that the success of the ‘surge’ was the result of a tacit agreement between the US and Iran,” he says. This was true when Muqtada, who would need Iranian support if he was to fight a real war with the Iraqi government backed by the US, declared a truce at the start of the surge last year. Iran does not want to do anything to weaken or destroy the first Shia government in the Arab world since the Saladin overthrew the Fatimids in Cairo 800 years ago.

Sadr since 2004 has consistently not wanted to get in a fight with the US military. He will rather have his army stand down under ceasefires than directly attack. Each time this happens–and I’ve lost track what number we are at but at least 5 by my count–the pro-war right wing (like in this NRO piece) says that he is surrendering. No, he’s just being smart and telling his militia guys to hide their guns in their homes, hang out, and then when the proper time comes, bring those weapons back out and go back to fighting. When every male in the country is weaponized how hard is this to figure out?

So the right-wing meme the NRO editors have gotten is that Iran and al-Qaeda are the new enemies in Iraq. The absurdity of which would be laughable if it didn’t entail people getting killed. Iran is uh, next door, to Iraq and has as stated earlier, trained and built the government in Baghdad. They share a common religion, pilgrimage routes, business contacts, the history of the Iraqi exiles backing Iran against Saddam–so their connections run far deeper than a temporary alliance of convenience the Shia made with the US in order for the US to kick out Saddam and the Baath and force the US to hold elections so they (The Shia) could gain power. Which as Cockburn correctly notes, they have been planning for about 800 years. Not since I don’t know 2003.

As to al-Qaeda of course they weren’t there before the war and only a Paul Bremer-lead failed mission could be have been so careless and clueless as to allow the Sunni insurgency to make a temporary devil’s bargain with al-Qaeda. That was never going to last–al Qaeda is hated by the Kurds, the Shia, and the Sunni in Iraq. Exactly why does the US army need to be there to kill off some dudes that the entire 99.9% of the rest of the country would like to anyway?

Ok, so none of that works, but our intrepid editors are undeterred, they soldier on with the following:

Provincial elections remain crucial to empower Sunnis who boycotted previous elections and Shia forces in the south who are not aligned with the religious parties. The Iraqi parliament failed to pass a law to hold the elections this fall; they are likely to be put off until the beginning of next year. American forces are widely — and understandably — seen as the best guarantor of the legitimacy of the elections, which we want to be accepted as free and fair as another step toward Iraqis solving their disputes through politics rather than force.

The current government of Iraq consists of the Shia exiles parties (Dawa and SIIC), the Kurdish quasi-mafia parties, and the non-tribesman Sunni parties. All three of those have vested interest in not holding elections. The Kurds because they want Kirkuk. The Shia exile parties because they know that unless they work to undermine the Sadr organization (which is what the latest military events were really about not decreasing Iranian influence contra the NRO bozoos) the Shia exiles parties would likely lose in elections to the more popular Sadrist movement (esp. in Southern Iraq), and the Sunni political parties because they would be beaten by the Awakening Crew at the polls. Surprise, said groups kicked the elections down the road. Who would have ever guessed. They can’t agree on anything other than saving their own asses. Victory achieved–they have learned democracy and parliamentary governance….the results are in.

Not that it really matters if the Awakening Guys get into the government anyway, as Maliki is completely (and correctly from the Shia pov) unwilling to have them enter the Iraqi Army. Because the Awakening members see their primary enemy as: The Shia government.

So finally their fantastic conclusion (my emphasis):

In light of all this, the drift of U.S.-Iraqi negotiations over a status-of-force agreement to keep American troops in the country is troubling. News reports say the Iraqis want to set a goal of removing American combat troops from Iraqi cities by June 2009 and all combat troops from the country by October 2010. Iraq is a sovereign country, and impatience with the presence of a foreign army is natural. But trying to hand over security to Iraqi forces too quickly is exactly the mistake that created the near-catastrophe from which the surge saved us.

The Bush administration has to do all it can in the negotiations to push off the dates and make them aspirational and conditional.

Nice political-ese. News reports say the people want America to leave–but can we really trust news reports or better yet the people themselves? Got that Iraqis–keep quiet, whatever you say doesn’t matter.

Cockburn again (m.e.):

A poll by ABC News, the BBC and other television networks in February 2008 showed that 61 per cent of Iraqis say that the presence of US forces makes security worse in Iraq and 27 per cent say they improve it. The only large pocket of support for the US occupation is among the Kurds who are about a fifth of the population. Among the Iraqi Arabs, the other four fifths, some 96 per cent of the Sunni and 82 per cent of the Shia says they have no confidence in the US occupation forces.

Uh, they don’t want to set a goal for US troops to leave, they want the US troops to leave. Everybody but the Kurds that is.

Plus you gotta love words like making our timelines “aspirational”. Keep Hope Alive Iraq!!! And conditional on what exactly? The end of Iranian influence (oops–there went that one)?

In sum, you knew all along the real point of this was just to keep up with an occupation. As always with this crowd, I can’t tell if they have drunk their own kool-aid or they are purely cynical and they know they are lying through their teeth. I also still don’t know which would be worse. But to hear them attack Bush for going all soft shows what they have been reduced to over there at the “flagship” of the right.

Let me present a different forecast:

The Iraqi Civil War always hid this underlying symmetry between the Shia and Sunni and that if an Iraqi nationalist force rose up, the US would have to leave. That was always clear from the beginning as was the real of Sadr’s uprising in 2004—that his insurgency would line up with the Sunni insurgency and Good Night Gracie on the US Occupation.

Given that the ethnic cleansing and the Sunni flip put the Civil War a little bit on the back burner, the nationalist anti-Americanism has revved up–with (contra the NRO editors) Sadr as per his usual ahead of the game.

The US however by arming and training a militia outside the control of the state (i.e. The Awakening) has simply re-set the battle lines for Iraqi Civil War 2.0 once the US leaves. The yo-yo going as follows: The Civil War ignites tamping down Iraqi pan-sectarian anti-Americanism; the Civil War decreases with the Iraqi nationalist protest increases (as they are inversely related); The Americans as a result pushed out which re-ignites the Civil War.

What is victory and defeat relative to an Iraqi civil war fighting over the carcass of a totalitarian police state? The Iraqi actors are taking their own steps to prepare for their own fights and their own reality and the US is at best simply a by-stander to this process and at worst stupidly getting itself involved and arming all sides in the coming battle.


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