Saturday, March 10

Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

Adding more US troops to the surge in Iraq, and Maliki's government launches a major shift in tactics:

Last week the (UK) Guardian Unlimited reported:

"The US could send an extra 7,000 troops to implement President George Bush's controversial Iraqi security plan [...] Gordon England, deputy secretary of defence, revealed that army commanders were requesting reinforcements beyond the 21,500 personnel already earmarked for the so-called "surge" into the capital.

"At this point, our expectation is the number of ... troops could go above 21,500 by about 4,000, maybe as many as 7,000," the official told the House of Representatives Budget committee in Washington.

"The news that yet more men are likely to be joining the nearly 140,000 US troops already serving in Iraq came as Mr Bush insisted there were "encouraging signs" that his strategy was working."(1)

So how are things going with the surge? Last Sunday's Guardian reported:

"As the US and Iraqi forces clamp down in Baghdad - reducing violence from Shia elements by up to 40 per cent although failing to tackle Sunni bombs - it has seen both factions shift their fight out of the city to other locations.

"And as weapons have been confiscated from around Baghdad, it has left some areas - like Ghazaliya, which used to be capable of defending itself from Shia gangs - more vulnerable to attack. So the violence is not eradicated but the balance of power lurches dangerously.

"Outside the capital, the problems have become just as complex. In Anbar, the tribal counter-insurgency - backed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki - against jihadist groups who had challenged the power of the sheikhs has spawned a vicious retaliatory war within the Sunni community which last week saw two bombings in Ramadi.

"In the south, too, where British generals have argued that the presence of UK troops was exacerbating the problem, the prospect of their departure has acted as an accelerator to factional violence."(2)

The US is doing what John McCain once described as Whack-a-Mole, named for the video game: The US is whacking 'em in Baghdad, but the bad guys are now popping up in the provinces in greater number. So now we'll have to put more troops to the provinces, where we'll whack 'em, then they'll pop up --

All this is to be expected while engaged in the activity called warfare, but given the inexhaustible supply of fighters from outside Iran we need a way out of the cycle. Iraq's government has launched a shift in strategy that works in concert with the US troop surge. Writing last week in The Washington Post, Jim Hoagland reported:

"[...] the impression of impending crisis has either prompted or helped [Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] to develop a political initiative of his own to accompany the surge -- and has encouraged U.S. officials to give him more room to maneuver. Bypassing the dysfunctional "national unity" cabinet that U.S. officials helped force on him nearly a year ago, the prime minister has created four committees to work directly with Gen. David Petraeus in implementing the new Baghdad security plan."(3)

Maliki tagged the tick, Ahmed Chalabi, to head up the committees charged with building public support for the new effort. The committee is working on the task of reconciliation between Shiites and Sunnis at the neighborhood level.

"People are fed up with the violence" and may be ready to overcome old differences, says Chalabi, who seems to have noticeably softened his harsh judgments of the limited place ex-Baathists should occupy in Iraqi society."(3)

If Chalabi is rethinking de-Baathification, this is a sign of progress.

Meanwhile, Mookie's militias are keeping a low profile while shifting from foot to foot. From The Washington Post:

"Most of the large-scale attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians since the Feb. 14 inception of the Baghdad security plan appear to have been committed by Sunni insurgents. Shiite militias, meanwhile, including the powerful Mahdi Army, led by anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, appear to have scaled down their violence.

"Abdul Razak al-Nadawi, a spokesman for Sadr, denounced the attacks as "a criminal act" and blamed the government for not protecting the pilgrims. Sadr representatives, he added, had asked the government to allow the Mahdi Army to help provide security along the route from Baghdad to Karbala, but the government did not take them up on the offer.

"Last year, when the Mahdi army was involved in securing the road, no attacks occurred, but this year we have seen the breaches that happened," Nadawi said in a telephone interview from the southern city of Najaf. "The government should have been more alert and better prepared to deal with the situation."

"Nadawi said that the Sadrists would not be pressured to retaliate against the Sunni insurgents. "We are still committed and comply with the words of our leader, Moqtada Sadr, which call for calm and self-restraint," he said.

"Other Sadr officials said the attacks suggested that the Sunni insurgents were trying to capitalize on Sadr's orders to his men to lay down their arms. [...]

"A Mahdi Army commander in Baghdad, Mohammad Abu Haider, said he was upset that people he called Sunni criminals were not being brought to justice. But he said he and his fighters would obey Sadr's orders and refrain from seeking revenge. "We want to show we have a clean hand," he said.[...](4)





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