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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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.

Update on Sadr

In the latest public announcement of Sadr’s call to shift the Mahdi Army, this piece from the Christian Science Monitor.

Key highlights:

During Friday prayers in Sadr City, clerics read instructions from the young anti-American leader ordering his militiamen to join a new religious and cultural wing of the movement that he is calling the Momahidoun, or “those who pave the way.”

Part of the rationale is the following:

Mr. Mohmedawi adds that local residents have become less tolerant of the group’s insurgent activities and have begun reporting them to American and Iraqi security forces with increasing frequency.

A group dominated by a bunch of knucklehead youth–the so-called Sanctions Generation of Iraq–has hurt the movement’s standing.

This graf is the eye-popping (my emphasis):

The new social efforts will center on literacy programs and assistance to those in need, such as orphans or individuals who lost family members during Saddam Hussein’s rule. It will also offer general Islamic education, not just Shiite teachings, and ethics courses to counter the culture of killing that Mr. Obeidi says Al Qaeda brought to Iraq.

Courses and services will be available for everyone, regardless of their religious or political beliefs, say leading Sadrists.

If true that would make clear Sadr–as has long been argued by those in the know–is the only guy who can actually keep Iraq together and lead a broad-based anti-American, anti-Iranian Shia/Sunni Iraq.  He is following the Hezbollah play book:  lead with build up of your own formerly oppressed community (The Shia) but also make huge plays (via anti-occupational/defense of Islam) into Sunni territory via legitimacy gained by keeping close to the street and resisting the West.

Published in: on August 10, 2008 at 10:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sadr’s Pledge

This is very interesting:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Influential Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr would dissolve his Mehdi Army militia if the United States started withdrawing troops according to a set timetable, a spokesman said.

Now there are some obvious caveats here.  One he may be bluffing of course.  Two, he may not have control over a whole mess of elements in the Mehdi Army who won’t disarm even Sadr is serious about doing so.

That said, Sadr’s history is to say what he wants to do in public.  He said he was going to rise up in 2004 if the Americans didn’t leave and he did.  His latest pronouncement is that he wants to make the Mehdi Army into a social organization with only a small military wing.  This would fit with the overall trajectory and history of the Sadrist movement particularly the organization built by his (murdered by Saddam’s henchmen) father Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al Sadr–pictured above with Moqtada.  The Sadr movement is a movement of Shia millernarianism based on bringing justice to the poor, particularly the Shia.

Sadr repeatedly called on the Sunnis, particularly influential Sunni clerics, throughout the early years of the war for a fatwa against al-Qaeda in Iraq.  They didn’t (recall prior to the Awakening, the Sunni insurgency in many cases allied with or even merged into Salafi jihadist movements), Sadr warned them repeatedly, and then finally snapped after the bombing of the Samarra mosque in 2006 and unleashed his killers on the Sunni cleansing Baghdad essentially of all Sunni.

Sadr had always predicated himself on nationalism so his movement becoming involved heavily and brutally in the Iraqi Civil War hurt the reputation of his followers.  He is seeking to restore legitimacy to the movement by returning to social aid/religious education and resistance to the Americans (not the Civil War against the Sunnis).  Depending on how things shake down (i.e. whether the Civil War reignites) as the Americans draw down, Sadr may not have much of a choice except to be drawn back into Shia-Sunni violence.

He wants to position his movement as for the people against the corrupt non-service rendering Iraqi central government (while still holding seats within the Parliament, playing a both in and out game).

All of which is to say, this proclamation should not simply be dismissed by the Americans or by pro-war right-wing blogosophere as further proof of Sadr’s defeat (which they have been claiming roughly every six months for the last 6 years).

Published in: on August 8, 2008 at 8:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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Huh Quote of the Day

Courtesy Sabrina Tavernise in the NyTimes (my emphasis):

The shift, if it holds, would solidify a transfer of power from Mr. Sadr, who had lorded his once broad political support over the government, to Mr. Maliki, who is increasingly seen as a true national leader.

Huh? The rest of the article outlines how the recent putsch against the Mahdi Army has made Maliki more popular among the Shia and has clearly been a move to undercut the political power of the Sadrist movement. But no mention of either the Kurds (who are cheesed off over the election law) and the Sunnis who either still participating in an insurgency against the government or via the Awakening Councils arming themselves for a future second round against the Shia. How national is that?

Update I: It also occurs to me that in a sorta Hegelian fashion if Sadr has died, Sadr has lived through the new Maliki. iow, Sadr’s movement has been the one to push Maliki-Hakim to push the US for withdrawal. Whether or not Maliki secretly believes what John McCain says he does (which is he wants the US troops in there longer) now that he has publicly stated his opposition, his own timetable, in a foreign press, he (Maliki) can not go back on it domestically or his precarious new found pseudo-support will erode faster than you can say inshallah. Sadr has quasi-died and risen as Maliki 2.0. [Of course I still think Sadr is the cagiest of them all and I wouldn’t underestimate his ability to have 16 lives and come back from the dead as himself yet again].

SOFA=DOA

The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) the Bush administration was pushing hard to get signed by the end of this month to leave in a place a military-diplomatic framework amenable to their view of a longer term US occupation (er “presence”) in Iraq is now officially done. Must read article from Karen DeYoung in WAPO on the subject here.

The same new resolve (so argued) by the US pro-occupation right in the Iraqi Army’s recent operations in Basra, Sadr City, Amara, Mosul is the same resolve that is causing him to call for an end to the US presence and refusing to sign a SOFA without a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops (and no permanent bases) both of which both the President and John McCain oppose.

[Extra Credit: Look for McCain to begin parroting the new right-wing talking point that this turn of event proves that we have won–the government is standing up!!! While likely continuing to send signals that he will take his own counsel on troops numbers–i.e doesn’t matter what the Iraqis think on the subject.]

While the US post-Baathist/Saddam war in Iraq failed on numerous fronts–failing to predict and/or deal with for 3 years the insurgency, jerry-rigged and failed electoral process, failing to prevent ethnic cleansing & civil war, the humanitarian disaster/refugee problem–this is the first major attack at the nerve center of the occupation by a more united Iraqi resistance.

While Bush, almost alone in his cocoon, continued to believe that a long term occupation would lead Iraq to become the beacon of democracy to the Middle East/world thereby securing his future standing in history as a late-redeemed figure (a la his hero Truman), the Iraqi government’s stance puts an end to his vision for Iraq.

It is the opening scene of Act IV of the Iraq Drama. [I=the Invasion II=The Insurgency/Gov’t III=Surge IV=Post-US draw down, i.e. “the training wheels coming off.”]

For the inside story on who was behind this new pressure, look to none other than (one of the best in the business) Gareth Porter.

And if there is any doubt who holds the power in Iraq, read this:

The statement by Rubaie came immediately after he had met with Sistani, thus confirming earlier reports that Sistani was opposed to any continuing US military presence.

The government takes its orders from the moral authority (and political power) of a cleric. I.e. Clearly it is a theocracy definitionallly (predicted by the value memetics of the country prior to invasion)

And this–Silly Bush Tricks are for Kids:

The Bush administration has had doubts in the past about the loyalties of those two Shi’ite groups and of the SIIC’s Badr Corps paramilitary organization, and it maneuvered in 2005 and early 2006 to try to weaken their grip on the Interior Ministry and the police.

By 2007, however, the Bush administration hoped that it had forged a new level of cooperation with Maliki aimed at weakening their common enemy, Muqtada al-Sadr’s anti-occupation Mahdi Army. SIIC leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim was invited to the White House in December 2006 and met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in November 2007.

As has been argued on the pages of this blog (and elsewhere) the US army was always in a militia on militia fight and was being used by the other militias for their own internal fights and never had anything to do with the US objectives for the region or ideas concerning governance/alliances. With the possible October parliamentary elections, Maliki and SIIC needed the US to help them defeat Sadr. The US having learned in the Gaza Elections that the “bad guys” would win (i.e. Sadrists) decided to ditch the pretense to fair elections and use the interim period to undercut the Sadrist movement, politically under the guise of a military-only operation.

Though even in this round of intra-Shia fighting, Maliki went with the Iranian brokered “ceasefires” with Sadr. (Ceasefires in quotes because fighting continued during the peace time). This was, as Porter demonstrates, against Gen. Petraeus’ plan to link publicly the Iranians to funding for Sadr and a larger full scale assault on the Sadrist movement.

Maliki knowing the terrain better knew I bet that such a full out attack on Sadr would only have further undermined his own parties (and his allies) chances. Their plan seems to have been some deals to gain security in some strongholds, open up some markets, and try to pull a “win the hearts and minds” strategy for electoral success. As well as undermine the capacity for Sadr and his movement to run their campaign unencumbered.

Nevertheless though Moqtada’s party may be suffering some setbacks, he is achieving his goal–ending the US occupation. His cagey embrace of the street and politics–weekly rally protests against the US occupation–and playing the role of persecuted minority for religio-political truth (in the tradition of the great Shia martyr Husayn) has put the pressure on both Sistani and Maliki to take this hard line. Even in (partial) defeat, Sadr is winning.

So now the Bush administration has been double-crossed by the other Shia parties and surprise–the two political parties funded by and started in Iran side with Iran over the US. What are the odds? Who would have seen that coming?  This is why Obama shrewdly got both Petraeus and Crocker to admit in their last Senate testimony that Iran would always have influence in Iraq and any attempt to eradicate it as a definitional plank for victory in Iraq is/was self-defeating lunacy.

All of which all of course would make for the thinking person a laughingstock of the new right wing meme that this is a sign of victory–given the cost of US dead and killed, the perfect outcome this entails for Iran and its ascendancy to regional hegemon, the massive debt the US has now bankrolled to install an Iranian-puppet regime, and the loss of international support over the mission, as well as the resurgence of al-Qaeda in Pakistan and the deterioration of Afghanistan as a result of the near absolute focus on Iraq.

But of course admitting such isn’t going to happen of course. Their entire dream (more like hallucination) of imposing some order has been unmasked.

Obama has to come out swinging on this one.  Force McCain into the corner–what does this mean for his policy?  The Iraqis clearly want a timetable–will he give one?  If not, is he simply going to keep US forces in Iraq against the will of the majority of the US populace AND the majority of the Iraqi populace AND the Iraqi government?  Not to mention the Legislative Branch of the US.

This lets Obama shift away from McCain’s stupid question about “is the surge working” to the central issue:  the occupation is unsustainable. It has been rejected by both countries populations and is putting stress on the military it can not afford. And leaves untouched the actual culprits behind the attack on the US who continue to pose a threat to US national security, clearly seeking to attack US soil (unlike any actors in Iraq).

Obama can then say he was both right about the not getting into the war in the first place and has been right in his judgment of where strategically the country has to move (draw down Iraq, focus on the Afghan-Pak border region).

P. Cockburn on Iraq

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).

However:

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.

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.

Nir Rosen on ME-Iraq-Iran

There is no better journalist in the English-speaking media world (and hasn’t been since 2003) on these issues than Nir Rosen.  No one who knows the region better, interacts with the people (as opposed to hand picked “experts” from the region vetted by the governments) and knows what is going on than this guy.

If you read and think deeply about this long post, it would be like scales falling from your eyes. Kudos to Steve Clemons who has Rosen on board to post regularly at The Washington Note.

There is a rant/digression towards the end on Palestine-Israel that is not his best stuff.  But the majority focuses on Iran and Iraq.

There is so much in this post, so I can only highlight a few central elements.

On the Iraq gov’t and the recent fighting in Basra (and a nice shot on ideologue Fred Kagan):

Why anybody even hires or publishes Kagan on the Middle East is a mystery, but there is nothing legitimate in the government of Iraq, it provides none of the services we would associate with a government, not even the pretense of a monopoly on violence, it was established under an illegitimate foreign military occupation and it is entirely unrepresentative of the majority of Sunnis and Shiites who are opposed to the American occupation and despise the Iraqi government.     (my emphasis)

Moreover the dominant parties in the government and in those units of the security forces that battled their political rivals in Basra and elsewhere are the ones closest to Iran. The leadership of the Iraqi government regularly consults Iranian officials and is closer to Iran than any other element in Iraq today. Moreover, the Americans have always blamed their failures in Iraq on outsiders, Baathists, al Qaeda, Iranians, because they refuse to admit that the Iraqi people don’t want them. So Iran is a convenient scapegoat to explain the strength of the Sadrists, a strength actually resulting from the fact that they are a genuinely popular mass movement. Blaming Iran also lets the Americans maintain the illusion that the Mahdi Army’s ceasefire is still in effect.

Then this–bullseye: (more…)

Crack Reporting on Iraq-Iran

From Cernig at Newshoggers, one of the best sites for Iraq (and especially Sadr, Iran, intra-Shia) out there on the web.

The news reported today is that an Iraqi delegation consisting of members of al-Maliki’s Dawa and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), an ally of Maliki and the chief Shia rival of the Sadrist movement, went to Iran. The American military line is that this delegation was sent to tell Iran to stop funding and arming through the Quds force the Mahdi Army.

Michael O’Hanlon, everyone’s favorite security expert, was on Hardball last night and repeated this ludicrous line (first uttered I think by Lieberman) that 1/2 of all American deaths in Iraq recently–which are seriously back up btw–are due to these special groups with direct support of the Iranian regime.

Cernig:

equal opportunity arms sales over porous borders and into a regional black market at an all-time high has always seemed like the Occam’s Razor explanation of Iranian weaponry in Iraq – especially given the way U.S. weapons “mislaid” in Iraq so quickly turned up in the hands of pro-Kurdish terrorists in Turkey. No-one’s alleging that American policy at the highest levels is to kill Turks in the same way CIA director Hayden is claiming Iran’s policy in Iraq is simply to kill Americans. That seems to me to be a dangerously simplistic and beligerently hyped analysis of Iran’s complex motives. Some Qods guys are likely getting rich at the expense of their nation’s arsenal.

Not to mention (as Cernig does) that if the Iranians are funding/arming anybody the biggest recipient would be in fact the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council–which was started in Iran and whose leadership still receive pensions from Iran as de facto members of the Revolutionary Guards.

From an AP article cited by Cernig:

“Moqtada al-Sadr did not permit his leaders to meet the Iraqi delegation,” said Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi, his spokesman in the central holy city of Najaf.

“Sadr insists that the crisis can be solved only through a parliamentary initiative backed by President Jalal Talabani and speaker Mahmud Mashhadani.”

Obeidi did not elaborate, but Talabani has been holding talks with Sadrists to resolve the crisis.

So it doesn’t appear they were there to discuss de-arming miltias–which are likely being armed by black market anyway, but rather to put an end to the intra-Shia fighting. Not entirely clear but Iran seems now to be leaning more towards the al-Maliki/Hakim group with Sadr using this as a moment to play his Iraqi nationalist and anti-US cred. [Calling for the Kurdish and Sunni parliamentary leaders to deal with the issue not the Iranians]. Perhaps Sadr suspects a ceasefire is really a prelude to an another assault by the combined forces of the US army and Badr Brigade (i.e. “Iraqi” security forces).

But if the government of Iran were honestly the prime cause of 1/2 of US deaths–and not say through certain Iranians moonlighting on the black market–I mean that would be a cause of war. So what is more disturbing I think is the increased saber rattling and laying the groundwork for some strikes.

Hell even the HuffingtonPost is reiterating the argument that Iran is increasing supply trains to al Sadr.
The American military said that they were holding the evidence they have to give the Iraqi government a chance to show it to the Iranians. If they are going to keep making these claims, they need to show some proof and establish that they are not black market sales.

Published in: on May 1, 2008 at 1:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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