Iraq in ’09

Eric Martin over at American Footprints has a good piece on recent goings on in Iraq and the broader question of Maliki and his view of power.

It has been asserted by some of the brighter lights in the progressive foreign policy firmament that, due to this dynamic [ed: unconditional troop presence], the US must begin to remove forces (and threaten, credibly, a complete withdrawal) in order to focus the mind of Iraq’s leadership on addressing grievances of minority groups that it could previously afford to ignore – by virute of the presence of those US forces.  However, Reidar Visser argues that The Surge may have rendered even this bit of hoped-for leverage impotent.  Maliki might not view the threat of withdrawal with the same sense of urgency that he would have at some point in the past…

Indeed I think Visser is quite accurate.  To answer David Petraeus’ question way back when “How does this end?” only one of three ways:

1. A new dictator/strongman (call that The Maliki Option)
2. The Lebanonization of Iraq.
3. Federalization/Full Partition of the Country (The Yugoslavization of Iraq)

#3 is already partially the case with the Kurdistan as a separate country de facto (not de jure at this point).

So any discussion of the future of Iraq is always already a discussion of the non-Kurdish parts of Iraq. i.e. Even if Maliki becomes dictator it’s only of the non-Kurdish parts of Iraq.

Martin (via Visser) is discussing the possibility of number 1.  [Martin quoting Visser discusses some potential manuevers to stop this reality none of which I think would work–but give them a look you might find them possibly effective].

#2 involves the US leaving and the civil war re-ignitng but this time–unlike in #3 or the First Iraqi Civil War from 2004 to 2006–there are cross-ethnic/cross-sectarian alliances a la the Lebanese Civil War.  The Mahdi Army folks could hook up potentially against with the Sunni Tribesmen in an alliance of convenience against the Iraqi Army/Badrists.  Or the Kurds could be fighting Sunnis one day (on the Kirkuk side) while fighting the Shia government the next (potential flashpoints on the more eastern flank of the country).  Alliances woud shift, be temporary, and it would be hard to figure who is fighting who, good guys and bad guys and all the rest.  The net result of which would be a hollowed out state and the proliferation of militias (a la Hezbollah) that become de facto states-within-states with a weak central government, though the country still formally holds together, and is played by the neighboring powers (Iran as Syria in this analogy and the Saudis as well the Saudis in this analogy) in their quest for regional dominance.

Number three would be more like what we saw in the first phase of the Iraqi Civil War prior to the Surge.  Ethinc cleansing of the Sunni from Baghdad, refugees, and the Shia controllling the country.

But I see no way that the proposals of holding the country together as a democratic state make any sense in this regard.  There is no way these populations can be held together under the current circumstances under democratic rule.  Maliki could become a strongman who allows a more open economic situation–if he can get a handle on the violence–bring in foreign investment etc and try to make Iraq a kind of Malaysia/Singapore of the Middle East.

My general sense is that #2 and/or #3 is more likely.  But Maliki got more time with how the Surge has gone than I thought he would.  But the Tribesmen at the end of the day want a Sunni government and it ain’t gonna happen.  Maliki, Sistani, the Iranians their entire plan is based on one aim and one aim only–to keep the Shia in power.  No pressure from the US is going to change those aims.  Those aims are in direct conflict.  Not to mention Sadr and his aims (which are of a different sort still).

At the end of the day, I just don’t see a way in which Maliki’s future is tied to a deal with the Sunni.  Now that the Tribesmen are armed, seems to me he will have to defeat them before any such peace could be gained.

Is the democratic process going to continue after the US leaves?  Interestingly the only one who seems to be putting his chips in that pot is Sadr.  He could run a nationalist, pro-democratic, Hezbollah-like campaign in the event of a Lebanon-like reality in Iraq.

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Published in: on November 7, 2008 at 8:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Draft Iraq-US Security Agreement

Agreed to in principle.  Patrick Cockburn has the details.

Iraq and the United States have finally agreed on a security pact which would mean that US forces would withdraw from Iraq by 2011, American and Iraqi officials said yesterday.

And snuck at the bottom but extremely important:

The US has given ground on crucial issues. On the legal immunity of American troops Mr Dabbagh said: “Inside their bases, they will be under American law. Iraqi judicial law will be implemented in case these forces commit a serious and deliberate felony outside their military bases and when off duty.” Contractors, who have more men in Iraq than the US army, will no longer have immunity.

That last line is huge and I’m imagining the Private Military Contractors (PMCs) are going to start a pullout because their deal of legal immunity from Iraqi prosecution is a huge selling point on their side.  If some PMCs are still going to go, their asking price just went way up.

The US will hold soldiers more and more on bases to prevent prosecution, even the possibility of a scenario where civilians might accidentally be killed/wounded.

Because Iraqi justice is hanging gallows justice.  What this point towards, is what Thomas Ricks said might occur during Act 4 of the 5 Act Iraqi tragedy/drama that is about to unfold (The Surge was Act III).  In Act IV, which is the draw down/pull out of Iraq (which was inevitable, contra whatever “victory” talk McCain is on about) the Iraqis have to be seen to be anti-US, particularly Maliki and Crew, in the coming fight for who is going to control the country.

Maliki (as Cockburn notes) went to see Ayatollah Sistani (the guy who forced the US to have elections remember and ended Bremer’s tenure) and Sistani ok’ed the deal.  So it looks as if it will have no real problem passing through Parliament.

Readers will know that I am quite fearful that the Civil War is only in a kinda slowdown/temporary truce moment and the second the US starts major pull out, it’s bound to re-ignite.  I’m hope I’m wrong, but there is a 2 year window Obama has to try to manage some political arrangement, regional in character, that will prevent bodies in the street.  I just don’t see how the Sunni Tribes do not go after the Shia government/army.   The Sunnis have no chance of winning.  Iraq is now a Shia country essentially forever going forward.  Kurdistan has its more or less independence.  Even the Turks had to recognize it the other day.

But the Sunnis can do a lot of damage and are not going to take minority/out of power/dominance by the Shia lightly.  That is the ones who have left (the millions who have already fled and the hundreds of thousands who are already dead obviously aren’t part of that scenario).

I’ve also said that I think the only thing that might be salvagable is preventing the violence from spilling over into a regional war.  Which is the why the Turkish meeting with the Kurdish regional government is so important.

Published in: on October 16, 2008 at 11:34 am  Leave a Comment  
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Re: Surge Succeeding?

I know this has been decided now because everybody keeps saying the surge has succeeded and I must look like some horrible anti-American left winger to question that assertion….but here goes.

As you may recall, the point of the surge as announced by President Bush was to create “breathing space for national reconciliation.”  So in the technical (sorta literal) sense of that formulation the surge succeeded.  It did create that breathing room.

Of course the reconciliation never happened.  And is never going to happen.  In Bush’s self-declared criterion for the surge, the clear implication being that the breathing room is a means to an end (reconciliation) or at least a means to a bigger means (reconciliation) which is itself a means to an end (peaceful democratic Iraq).

So achieving the means but the means not translating into the ends by most standards would be considered a failure.  I mean really what is the point of achieving the means if the means doesn’t lead to the end desired?

This is however not a knock on Petraeus or the soldiers.  They achieved their end of the deal.  They did so as much if not more through finesse than brute strength (contra many right-wing cheerleaders) but did so nonetheless.  But they were set up for a failed mission for the get go and that is entirely missed in all the discussion about “Are we Winning or Losing?”  Winning and Losing what?  Winning battles? Sure.  But winning battles and even having a better COIN doctrine has not, does not and will not translate into lasting political achievement (losing).  Or rather into a situation where winning/losing as we normally conceive of them doesn’t apply.

The key point to remember in this is that Iraq under Saddam was a police state and the United States destroyed and utterly overthrew the remnants of that state–particularly under Bremer with de-Baathification, army dismemberment, etc.  The US however did not replace that vacuum that inevitably arose in the aftermath of that police state wipeout.

The United States during the Gen. Casey years of Big Superbase Entrenchment (prior to the Anbar Awakening and later the Surge) left the vacuum open and it was filled by the Civil War.  At that point mostly Shia-Sunni (the potential for Kurd-Sunni and even Kurd-Shia Civil War is increasing by the day for Civil War 2.0).

What the Petraeus COIN did was put a seal around the vacuum but did not fill it.  It prevented/hampered others from filling that void and then made side-deals with essentially all available militias outside the sealed vacuum.

But the vacuum remains to be filled.  And that is why no reconciliation will take place.  Because A)there is no legitimate government with which to make deals  B)everybody is simply waiting for their moment to rush the vacuum so why make deals prior to the fight?  Why possibly screw yourself and your militia/ethnic grouping for the future prior to what is actually going to decide that outcome (i.e. violence)?

The surge then failed because it never had a chance to succeed. (edit: relative to the goal) . Petraeus will go so far as to say that the US military can not win the peace.  i.e. It can continue to win military battles but it can not enforce national reconciliation.  On that score he is right (contra McCain) yet there is another piece to add: the presence of the US occupation works as the primary excuse for the lack of a reconciliation.  The political reconciliation desired is not going to hapen anyway in my opinion, but the US army occupation allows everybody to use that as an excuse to not do so anyway.  [And not fight openly at the moment either.]

iow, There will be no reconciliation as long as US troops are there.  The reconciliation won’t happen until there is a new equilibrium reached vis a vis the nation-state vacuum.  That is, until after a new round of fighting I fear.  I generally favor the Biden-Gelb plan for federalization but that looks like a no go from the Iraqi side.  The leadership and the populace it appears both wants to go at each other across ethnic-sectarian lines and yet not devolve either (excepting Kurdistan of course).  That is in my mind a recipe for bloodshed and perhaps the Lebanonization of Iraq where the next civil war cuts across lines with certain Sunni groups perhaps aligning with certain Shia groupings and vice versa.

But the continued policy of the occupation only grows the seal around the vacuum.  It never fills it.  Maliki is doing his best to try and use the occupation (and the training of the Iraqi Army/Shia militia) to allow him to fill the vacuum as a Shia Neo-Dictator (the only the country is held together with a strong government) playing his hand now to push the Americans out.  He both needed them to build up his forces and now needs them out of battle/the streets to gain his legitimacy with the populace.

If violence re-erupts on a much larger scale (as I’m afraid to say I think is inevitable) I wonder whether we will look back on the surge as a kind of timeout before round 2 rather than success.

Update I: This is far from the best analogy, but what I’m trying to get at is something like creating a strategy that is going to create breathing room in my life so that someone can send me a trillion dollar check.  Whatever we decide are the appropriate mechanisms whereby to achieve that strategy, let’s surmise I meet them, i.e. I do create the breathing room for receiving my trillion dollar check—it doesn’t matter.  Because no one is ever going to send me a trillion dollar check (national reconciliation in this analogy and then even further out/by extension democratic stable unified Iraq).  So if I achieve that strategy (“breathing room”) but it is hitched to a completely unrealizable goal (reconciliation/trilliion dollar check receipt) what is the point of having the strategy?  And what sense does it make or even matter if the strategy (breathing room) is achieved or not?  Why focus on the strategy when the goal is unreachable?

The trillion dollar check example of course is harmless.  All that’s lost is my time (and perhaps some money).  But with the surge of course it comes at the cost of more wounded and dead soldiers and debt.  [The calculation of dead relative to Iraqi civilians is hard to decipher in this context, but the calculation relative to the US is clear].

Update II: What I’m really suggesting is that the question about succeeding or not succeeding is the wrong question.  In some ways it can be said to have succeeded, in other ways I would say not (given that is it’s connected to a failed/unrealizable goal which has to effect the status vis a vis a determination of the tactic like it or not).  But ultimately the question is about the goal of the democratic unified Iraq and the primary means of trynig achieve that goal being through a national reconciliation (so-called) political deal.  The surge is simply a tactic to give space for the strategy (reconciliation) which is the way to achieve the goal (democractic unified Iraq).  Each layer (tactic-strategy-goal) can be thought of as kind of emergent (not defined solely by the addition of its simpler parts) and hence judgment regarding effectiveness or not depends on which layer we are discussing.  My assertion is that only looking at the tactical level is the simplest (in the bad sense, aka simplistic) form of evaluation.

The flaw of the McCain position has always been that victory at the lowest level of complexity (tactical-military) will automatically bubble up into more complex layers (political).  This is why he still uses the frame of a war–because then the way to win is through military battles.  But if as I’m suggesting each layer has emergent properties then this entire view is stopped short right there.

Published in: on September 17, 2008 at 9:20 am  Comments (2)  
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Response to Reihan Re: Iraq

Andrew Sullivan highlights this (concluding) graf from Reihan’s new Current piece on Iraq:

Advocates of a continued American presence have much to answer for as well. Why is it that Maliki hasn’t made the necessary concessions? What can the U.S. do to encourage reconciliation that hasn’t been done? Has the economic strategy of the Iraqi government been adequate to the task of rebuilding the country? It was fair and reasonable to neglect these considerations during the struggle to bring Iraq back from the brink. But that neglect has proved very costly indeed.

Let’s go one at a time on this:

1)Why hasn’t Maliki made the necessary concessions?

–Because in his world, there are no concessions to be made.  The notion that he has to make “necessary concessions” is predicated on a certain view dictated by the United States as to what Iraq should look like.  This is the central flaw of the entire war, surge or no surge.  Maliki spent years in hiding from Saddam’s assassination forces and by all accounts is a quasi-paranoid individual (as would be normal under those circumstances I imagine).  He is a member of the Dawa Party who sees it role as defending the Shia in Iraq.  That is his job.  And he is doing it.  In Maliki’s world, either the Shia will run Iraq or the Sunni will take back over and return the Shia to the position of the powerless.

2)What can the US do to encourage reconciliation?

–Nothing. Neither staying (Salam) nor half-drawing down (Colin Kahl).  Nothing in my opinion.  See #1.  There is no encouragement because there is no desire for a deal.  If the US abandons the Shia in Iraq, they know Iran will have their back and Iran isn’t supporting some mass integration of the Sunni militias into the Iraqi security forces.

3)Has the economic strategy been adequate to the task of rebuilding the country?

–Again this assumes our understanding of what the country should be.  The economic policy, such as it is, has been correctly predicated on lining the pockets of the Shia elites to buy leverage so they can control power.  Because the Tribesmen want to fight the Shia gov’t.  The Shia mass underclass tends more to support Sadr.  In other words, they aren’t thinking about rebuilding the country.  They are thinking about ruling what’s left of it.

Reihan almost answers his own questions here, but I think backs away from the edge at the last second:

The trouble with Maliki’s vision is that it leaves no room for the Sunni Awakening. One increasingly gets the sense that Maliki sees the Sons of Iraq, one of many names for the various Sunni militias that have turned against the insurgency, as a threat. Which is entirely understandable — a proper state possesses a monopoly on legitimate force, and it makes perfect sense that he would eventually disband irregular militias. But the Sons of Iraq have no confidence that there will be adequate representation of Sunni interests in the new Iraqi state, and Maliki hasn’t exactly helped in this regard.

I don’t think it’s correct to say the Sons of Iraq turned against the insurgency.  They are the insurgency.  This has big implications.  Because what happened of course then was the US paid off these guys to stop fighting us and paid them to kill some jihadis, mostly foreign.  This necessary act undermined however the goal and strategy of the entire operation:  namely the creation of a centralized pan-ethnic government.  The fact that they were paid off by the US (against Maliki’s wishes) means that underneath they are still the insurgency against the Shia.  Against the government.  Just waiting for their moment.

Maliki knows this and that is why he is trying to preemptively neuter them.

While it’s true as Reihan states that Maliki distrusts the Sons of Iraq because any legitimate state in a Weberian sense wants a monopoly on force. But Reihan is missing a key point here.  The specific reason he distrusts this specific non-state militia is that leaders within the movement have professed that once they finish off al-Qaeda their next target is the Shia government.

In sum, the only (given the history, culture, ethno-religious makeup) way Iraq stays together with a strong central government is under a dictatorship–see Maliki’s recent heavy handedness not only with the Sunni but now with the Kurds.  The notion of a national reconciliation/strong central gov’t, constitutional democracy is not in the cards.  And still too many are thinking in terms of the US imposing its will–either through force or persuasion.  It ain’t happenin’.  It hasn’t happened in nigh on six years.  And it ain’t startin’ anytime soon.

Published in: on September 11, 2008 at 9:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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Air Strikes Afghanistan

Per the last post, a new UN report out states that the US airstrikes in Afghanistan have killed 90 civilians.

Now a HUGE CAVEAT: The UN based the number on interviews–no photographic evidence apparently (I would quote the passage but its AP–see the link for the reference to my paraphrase). As a good guess it usually always turns out to be more than the US army officially reports and less than UN type groups say.

But whatever the exact number it has been clear that Karzai has repeatedly called out NATO/US for the use of air strikes in the country killing civilians. He wants the US to use planes to bomb Pakistani targets–yikes.

Again, I have deep reservations (a la Juan Cole, Rory Stewart, and possibly even Jim Webb) about a ground force increase in Afghanistan. The alternative however is either A)continued use of air power which will mean more civilian deaths only increasing the hatred of the presence of foreign troops and/or B)the Taliban taking over and destroying the Karzai government. Unless they can massively train up an Afghan Army double quick time that could actually fight which doesn’t seem particularly likely then they are serious problems in this part of the world.

It is not just as China Hand said, that Pakistan is not Iran to Afghanistan’s Iraq (true) but also the Taliban are not the Sunni tribes of Iraq. They deal with al-Qaeda are not going to turn on them and can’t be bought off.

Iraq, since I obliquely am on the subject, is gearing up for Civil War 2.0, so even Iraq itself is headed back towards chaos so maybe there is no hope for any of them.

Iraq Update: Sons Not Welcome Into The Family

[Photo of Iraqi Local Security Force from Flickr poster onekingdown27 via Creative Commons License]

Following up on the reporting from the always excellent Leila Fadel in McClatchy, Richard Oppel Jr in the NyTimes points out the Shia goverment in Baghdad is going after the Sunni Awakening movement.

This is really dangerous stuff. Maliki is feeling his oats against both the Sadrists and now wants to take down the Awakening in an attempt–Weberian style–to gain a monopoly on all forms of violence in Iraq. Reconciliation, smeconciliation. Remember of all the possible outcomes of Iraq one of them is a returned dictator (the others being a Lebanon-ization, a Bosnia-ization, or a total slaughter of the Sunni). Maliki is pushing for the latter.

The American military is worried but unfortunately (as per the usual) translates that worry into fear of Salafi jihadism:

“If it is not handled properly, we could have a security issue,” said Brig. Gen. David Perkins, the senior military spokesman in Iraq. “You don’t want to give anybody a reason to turn back to Al Qaeda.” Many Sunni insurgents had previously been allied with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other extremist groups.

Now certainly the Sunni insurgency could return to a temporary alliance of convenience with the Salafi movement as was the case in 2004-2006. They could of course just as easily align with the Mahdi Army (again: Lebanon-ization of Iraq where militias cross ethnic and religious lines in terms of alliances and fights).

But even if they did reunite with al-Qaeda, the reason they would do so would be to fight their real enemy: The Shia government. Not because they care about some ludicrous never gonna happen Caliphate vision.

Exhibit A:

“Some people from the government encouraged us to fight against Al Qaeda, but it seems that now that Al Qaeda is finished they don’t want us anymore,” said Abu Marouf, who, according to American officials, was a powerful guerrilla leader in the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade west of Baghdad. “So how can you say I am not betrayed?”

This was inevitable. The Shia were and are never going to accept the Awakening. They are never going to see them as anything other than a rogue force with the potential of reinstating the Sunni. Remember Maliki is paranoid by all accounts. He lived in exile ducking assassination attempts and sees himself as the defender of the Shia (The Shia Dawa) in a sea of Sunni-ism to his West.

While I can understand the position of the US army and having to de facto accept the militia-ization of Iraq, this game of trying to prop up a government and pretend there was some reconciliation to be had was always a fraud and Maliki is calling the bluff–telling the US to get out and let them him deal as he wants to with the Awakening/Sons of Iraq.

Whatever Obama’s plans for regional dialog and such (which I think are valid), events are conspiring from within on Iraqi terms to suggest that it might not really matter. There may be nothing that can be done except prevent other countries from joining in in the next round of bloodshed.

Published in: on August 22, 2008 at 6:44 am  Comments (2)  
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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.

Iraq’s Wars

This piece by Patrick Cockburn in The Independent is getting play in the b-sphere. Particularly this ending:

When the US and Britain invaded Iraq, they started three wars. The first is the insurgency in the Sunni community against the American occupation; the second the struggle by the Iraqi Shia, sixty per cent of the population, allied to the Kurds, to take control of the Iraqi state, previously controlled by the Sunni; and the third a proxy war between the US and Iran about which of them is to have predominant influence in Iraq.

With all due respect to Cockburn (he is along with Nir Rosen the best reporter on Iraq in the Western language press) he’s forgetting some wars in Iraq.

–The Kurdish War.
An actual sorta side-war (or bombing campaign) by Turkey in Kurdish territory. And the possibility of a a widening Arab/Turkomen vs. Kurd showdown over Kirkuk.

–The intra-Shia Civil War
Sadr vs. Hakim/Maliki (Mahdi Army vs. Badr Corps/Iraqi Army). This is part of what Cockburn is calling the Third War but more than simply an Iranian/American proxy fight. Because whose America’s proxy in this fight (the Sadrists are for American withdrawal, the Badrists were created in Iran).

–The intra-Sunni war. The Caliphate-seeking al-Qaeda versus the Awakening Tribes. Another round in that battle today it would appear.

In fact it’s arguable that Cockburn’s first war (the Sunni insurgency) is over which came at the price of US recognition of the Sunni community arming/defending itself, that the Sunnis were using al-Qaeda in Iraq for their own political ends, and could be bought off. At the price of further de-stabilization/fragmentation of the government. That war could re-ignite as America withdraws.

But PC’s War #2 (Shia control over Sunni) is bound to re-start as America withdraws. Both sides are armed and itching for a fight.

War #3 obviously holds the potential for destabilization of the entire Middle East and Southwestern Asia. With the possibility of Iranian backed asymmetrical counterattacks (to say an Israeli or US strike) from Afghanistan to Palestine and everywhere in between (Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria).

VDH at it Again

I really don’t know where to begin with this Victor Davis Hanson piece. It is contains so many errors, breezy unsubstantiated assertions, and relatively minor truths conflated into enormous macro-changing realities as to be almost impossible to criticize. But I’ll see what I can do.

The first thing to say is watch this discussion with Nir Rosen and Michael Ware the two Western journalists with the contact on the ground in Iraq (the third would be Counterpunch’s Patrick Cockburn). Rosen an Arabic speaking American has been the only Western journalist to really break through to the local Iraqi level. Ware has more contacts with the US military.

The picture they paint is one of reduced violence yes but largely due to 1) the American military undertaking a shift in realizing the basic fragmentation of the country and the recognition of the militias (The Awakening for the Sunnis, the freeze with the Mahdi Army, and the Badr Brigade and Peshmerga dominance of the ISF) and 2)the ethnic cleansing essentially completed in 2006/7.

What both make clear–contrary the entire premise of VDH’s piece–is that it is just a matter of time before these guys go at it again after the US leaves. The Awakening Sunnis see their enemy–and tell anyone who asks (e.g. Ware and Rosen)–as the Shia government which for them is an Iranian transplant. (more…)

McCain’s Self-Contradictory Imperialism on Iraq

As Eric Martin (along with others) has pointed out the McCain campaign has officially come out in favor of the neocon/neo-paleocon position of outright colonialism in Iraq.

From Michael Goldfarb, McCain’s blogger/spokesman:

The deputy director of communications for the McCain 2008 campaign, Michael Goldfarb, yesterday said, “John McCain has said he will only support a withdrawal based on conditions on the ground. It is our belief that the Iraqi leaders share that view. The disposition of a sovereign, democratically elected government is one of the conditions that will be taken into account.” [emphasis added]

The term for this setup is satrapy.  It is exactly the same thing that the British tried in Iraq–to smashing success.

But I haven’t seen any bloggers point to an even deeper inconsistency/out-right contradiction in this statement by McCain.  Namely McCain is on record (via the Fred Kagans of the world) as defining victory in Iraq as a “democratically elected trans-ethnic stable strong central government in Iraq that is an American ally/Iranian foe in the war on terror and a beacon of hope to the Middle East.”

Forget for the moment that such a dream is in fact a utopia (i.e. exists nowhere), notice how McCain’s own downgrading of the importance of the Iraqi government can’t work with his goal of a strong Iraqi government. In other words, McCain’s own campaign/policy undercuts his own goal in the region.

At the very least, the definition of the right on victory should be redefined as everything above plus “and agrees with the right-wing US policy stance.”  Even more utopian in nature, but reality won’t stop McCain & Co., because they have a strategy of “victory”.

Yet again the neocon right can not come to grips with the fact that the US can not simply make people do what it wants–especially by writing more op-eds and going on Cable News–that others have their own interests (not always aligned with ours), and will act in a rational manner relative to their own interests.  They will act in ways that they think best help achieve their goals (which are not our goals).  Which yes (horror of horrors) may involve using others (like say the US) and telling them what they want to hear but not actually having the same set of objectives.

The ISCI/Dawa relationship to the US has always been to get training, arm them, have them kill some Sunnis, help with their takeover of Baghdad, force them to install a pro-Shia government (Sistani’s call for elections), so that they can then go about their dominance of the place.  And they want to both stay allied to Iran and yet not become a pure Iranian puppet–and have at times played the US to decrease Iranian influence and Iran to decrease/diminish US influence.  In other words, they have played a fairly smart game.   See how little of their goals line up with Bush/McCain’s goals for Iraq.  And you see why at some point, the house of cards was going to get called by the Shia and that time has come.

Which is why Max Boot’s inanity in today’s Washington Post (as further evidence of the new neocon meme of imperialism) doesn’t get off the ground.

Rather than seeing a pattern of “ambiguous statements” by Maliki and foolish public posturing, you see a guy who has continually wanted the US out and is closer to Iran than the US, always has been, always will. And given that Maliki has always seen himself as the protector of the Shia (not the Prime Minister of Iraq) this would suggest that this has consistently been the view of the majority of Iraqi Shia (i.e. US out).

Published in: on July 23, 2008 at 7:59 am  Comments (2)  
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