From a reporter who actually is in Iraq and sees many different angles than that of the pre-approved US Army tours given to the US media, a very lucid analysis of the current state of play in Iraq. Much subtler than say this fluff piece by Andrew Sullivan which has got so many holes below the water line tough to know where to begin (did I mention he is supposedly one of the “critical” voices in the blogosphere on the topic?).
On the one hand, Cockburn notes that Maliki’s government is stronger than it has been probably ever. This is leading to claims of “the surge is working” “victory is at hand if only the Democrats don’t cut and run” for the umpteenth trillion time from the right. Strong enough however (contra McCain-Bush) that they have rejected a Security of Forces Agreement for the time being (due to in part Iranian pressure).
The government’s position looks stronger than it is because its opponents are waiting for the Americans to leave or draw down their forces.
The Provincial Elections are a major sticking point and likely won’t take place in October. Kirkuk is outstanding. One of the Sunni Iraqi parties has rejoined the government so that Maliki and crew can help break the (Sunni competitors) Sons of Iraq who likely would knock the older Sunni parties out of power if the elections were actually free. Same with Maliki and the ISCI in relation to Sadr (hence the crackdown on his militia).
And even if it succeeds, what would be “victory”:
Their aim seems to be to be eliminate their domestic Iraqi opponents while they still have the backing of American firepower. It is a brutal plan but it might come off. Maliki could become the Iraqi version of Vladimir Putin in Russia. Like Putin, Maliki controls the state machine, a large if unreliable army and benefits from the high price of oil so he has control of over $40 billion in unspent reserves. Iraqis do not trust their own government but, like Russians when Putin first came to power in 1999, they are desperately war weary. Many people will support anybody who provides peace and security. But the analogy should not be carried too far. Putin’s enemies were fictional or in distant Chechnya, while Maliki’s opponents are real, dangerous and close by.
And even were that to happen, there is the issue of Iran:
An increase in Iranian influence in Iraq has been inevitable since 2003. Once the US had decided to overthrow Saddam Hussein the beneficiaries were always going to be the Shia religious parties, because they represented the majority of Iraqis, and they would be supported by Iran. Many of America’s problems in Iraq over the last five years have happened because Washington believed it could prevent or dilute the triumph of Iran and the Shia in Iraq.
As Joe Biden had said repeatedly there are three ways this ends:
1)Total Slaughter/Exodus of the Sunnis (reduction of their population to complete servitude, minority status)
2)A return of a Dictator. That is the Maliki cum Putin scenario.
3)Break/Federalization of the Country.
The scenario Cockburn outlines where the US follows to the T the history of the British in Iraq and attempts to create permanent bases with a puppet government would certainly end the same way the British occupation of Iraq did–in ignominious defeat, as well as the overthrow of the puppet government and the installation of a new anti-British (i.e. anti-American in this case) regime. In the short term that seems off the table as Maliki seems to have effectively pushed back on the deal. McCain and Bush still want it, Obama doesn’t. And more importantly the vast majority of the Iraqi population doesn’t either.
As Cockburn points out the only reason the American occupation continues is because the Shia and Sunni are fighting a low-grade civil war as well as intra-Shia and intra-Sunni wars. The US policy of arming and training the Iraqi forces, the Sons of Iraq, and the new attempt to create Sons of Iraq Shia-style in former Mahdi Army strongholds, is what allows the occupation to continue but only further weakens the hold of the central government, tenuous at best, and prevents a large scale political endgame. The Surge and attendant tactics works at cross purposes to the stated goal and strategy of Iraq. Even in this best case scenario, the return is to a strongman dictator. In which case why have spent so much time, blood, and money to get another dictator in power? Unless it is so that dictator (like Saddam a la 1985 becomes back to being “our son of a bitch.” And so foreign oil companies can reap the benefits, Disaster Capitalism style, of pillaging the oil in Iraq leaving the country (minus some power elites) destitute and war torn.