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.

Published in: on November 7, 2008 at 8:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Here’s Hoping: Lebanon Edition

Via Jerusalem Post:

Lebanon’s prime minister formed a national unity Cabinet on Friday after six weeks of wrangling over how to distribute posts among members of the country’s Western-backed parliamentary majority and the Hizbullah-led opposition.

Plans for the 30-member Cabinet were laid out in an Arab League-brokered deal in May, which also gave Hizbullah and its allies veto power over all government decisions.

It gave 16 Cabinet seats to the parliament majority, 11 to the opposition and three to be distributed by the president.

The Cabinet formation is another step toward healing a political divide that left Lebanon without a president for six months until the May 25 election of former army chief Gen. Michel Suleiman.

“We have decided to manage our disputes through democratic institutions and dialogue, and not through force and intimidation,” Prime Minister Fuad Saniora told reporters at the presidential palace in suburban Beirut, minutes after names of the new Cabinet ministers were announced.

Published in: on July 11, 2008 at 12:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hezbollah-Sadr Updates

Hopefully both of these will hold.

From CNN:

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) — Hezbollah militants will leave Beirut’s streets in response to the Lebanese army’s assuming security in the city, an opposition spokesman said Saturday, but “civil disobedience” will continue.

Not exactly clear what civil disobedience means (could be bad). Hezbollah clearly showed it could take over the capital but not hold it–it’s base is in the South and the Army moved towards cutting off their supply lines. But hopefully all out war will be averted.

Sadr City

CNN again:

The Iraqi government and Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement have agreed to a cease-fire to end weeks of fighting in Baghdad’s Sadr City district, spokesmen for both sides said Saturday.

Not entirely clear it will hold. Some elements of the Mahdi Army may not stand down, other militias in the neighborhood are non-Sadrist. The ISF (i.e. Badr Corps) gets to search the city of heavy weapons and make arrests. Not sure if this is another move on Sadr’s part to point out/hand over unruly elements in his group. Aid and evacuations of the wounded and the re-opening of East Baghdad will then occur according to the agreement.

No doubt right-wing American blogs will call this another victory for the Maliki government and they will proclaim the death of Moqtada al Sadr (for only about the twentieth time at this point). All I know is that each of those previous obituaries were, Mark Twain-esque, in their prematureness. He is by far the shrewdest politician in Iraq and has the strongest cred on the street (just like Nasrallah in Lebanon).

It could be just like the Hezbollah situation. They showed they can take down the army in a fight, but they don’t want to bring an all out Shia (Iraq) or country wide (Lebanon) civil war.

Update I: Your WTH moment on this one courtesy Senator Clinton:

I am very concerned about the current situation in Lebanon. Hezbollah-allied militias, using weapons supplied by Iran and Syria, have seized control of West Beirut and are demanding that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora resign and hand over power to a military government. This is both an illegal challenge to a democratically-elected government and an issue of regional stability with international consequences.

The United States must actively support the sovereignty of the Lebanese government and the independence of Lebanon.

The United States needs to engage in vigorous diplomacy with its regional allies to support the Lebanese government. Outside parties, such as Iran and Syria, must immediately stop their interference in Lebanon and allow the election of the President to proceed.

Notice how this whole description (Bush-like) acts as if Hezbollah is some foreign transplant force. Memo to the Senator, they’re Lebanese. The reason Siniora is President has to do with the complications of the Peace Deal signed in the wake of the ending of the Civil War appropriating roles based on ethnic makeup, which in the years since has shifted towards the Shia, who are underrepresented (now) in the scheme. So one could argue I suppose that the system is undemocratic (small d). The President of Lebanon has no power or influence in the South of Lebanon and its not because of Syria or Iran. Those weapons for all we know could have been bought on the black market. And if they are supplied, we were supplying and training the Sunni militias that lost. We just keep backing Sunni militias that are not strong in a fight (e.g. Fatah and now these Lebanese dudes).

The code words are sovereignty, independence, and regional allies–all of which clearly translate into Sunnis.

These groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Mahdi Army are not simply going to go away by the US saying they are pawns of Iran-Syria and by working with Sunni Arab dictators. I guess we’ve learned that Clinton’s plans to both obliterate Iran and extend nuclear deterrence shields to Arab autocrats includes the Sunni Lebanese. If McCain is Bush’s Third Term, foreign policy wise so is Clinton.

Hezbollah-Sadr Updates

Big news out of Lebanon, breaking just now, story here alJazeera English, violence is breaking out between street forces of Hezbollah and the Sunni government of Fouad Sinora.  As of now, it seems, the Lebanese Army is trying to stay out of the fight.  Sheik Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah, gave a speech on TV saying that a recent government initiative to prevent their telephone networks (used for surveillance??) was equivalent to a declaration of war by the pro-Sunni government factions.

More ominously this (from the al-Jazeera piece):

Fears that the political conflict in Lebanon could escalate into sectarian conflict were heightened when Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, Lebanon’s Sunni grand mufti, spoke against Hezbollah for the fist time.

“Sunni Muslims in Lebanon have had enough,” Kabbani said in a televised address from his office.

The Sunni spiritual leader referred to Hezbollah as “armed gangs of outlaws that have carried out the ugliest attacks against the citizens and their safety”.

As Seymour Hersh detailed in the New Yorker more than a year ago, the US was helping to arm/train/supply (mostly through proxies like Saudi Arabia)  Sunni militias to help undermine Hezbollah (which is Shia and allied with Iran).

A great piece here from Andrew Lee Butters, Time’s Lebanon man for the Middle East Blog who lives in Beirut, detailing the creation of Awakening-like Sunni groups in neighborhoods to protect against Shia ethnic cleansing.  Check back to that site as likely he will be a key blogger as this story continues.


Also from al-Jazeera, more gun battles/street fighting in Sadr City, the Shia stronghold of Baghdad.  The US and its (more pro-Iranian) Shia allies in the (so-called) Iraqi Government (really just the Dawa and ISCI militias) are cutting off supplies to neighborhoods seen as pro-Sadr (BBC). Similar to the policy the US and Israel have been employing by cutting of the West Bank (due to its election of Hamas).  The BBC article linked above details the looming humanitarian disaster in Baghdad–the entire country is a humanitarian disaster but that’s a different for another day.  Football stadiums are being prepared for the exodus of civilians who are getting caught in the fight between the Mahdi Army and the US Army.  Expect more disaster to follow (think New Orleans Superdome).

The worse possibility is now a coordinated multi-prong attack on all these fronts, showing up this idea the US has been pushing for, for an anti-Iranian (i.e. anti-Shia) alliance in the Middle East.  Saber rattling with Iran is increasing, John Bolton is openly calling for strikes on Iran, Kuwaiti Sunni is claiming Iran is funding AQI, and the US continue to try to argue that Iran is the main backer of Sadr and attacks on the US military (as opposed to Iran actually being the main source of training/funding for the Iraqi Government which is why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was given a hero’s welcome on his recent trip).  This is all very fishy and scary frankly.

What is unclear would be if the US were to use air strikes on Iran, how would the Supreme Islamic Council Badr Corps (i.e Iraqi security forces) respond–would they turn on the American military?  We know the Sadrists would rise up against the US.  We also know the Iranians would unleash their own Revolutionary Guards/al-Quds elements across the border to attack.  And Hezbollah would likely attack Israel unless of course they are too busy fighting Sunni in Lebanon. I guess they could leave Hamas to do the attacking of Israel.

We are not quite there yet, so I don’t want to be too alarmist, but a lot of chess pieces are moving into position.

What the Hell….

is going on? First Syria, now this.

clipped from

Lebanese troops opened fire Thursday on Israeli warplanes flying low over southern Lebanon, but no hits were reported, Lebanese officials said.

Israeli warplanes frequently fly over Lebanese airspace in what Israel says are reconnaissance missions, but this was the first time the Lebanese army has fired on the aircraft since an Aug. 14, 2006, cease-fire ended a monthlong war between Israeli and Hezbollah guerrillas.

  blog it
Published in: on October 25, 2007 at 9:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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