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Thursday, August 30

Wimmin: can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em

"Be here now." That's what I tell people who can't wait for the US to quit Iraq. Everything is in Iraq. How the 21st century deals with the most intractable development problems and tragedies such as child soldiers and forced marriages -- it's all in Iraq, compressed into the terse language of war. We face it all there, or we keep trying to evade.

Ever wonder how things first blew up between al Qaeda and Sunni tribesmen who are now fighting them in Iraq? Read the amazing story at Small Wars Journal. (Hat tip: Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye). David Kilcullen writes:
[...]Some tribal leaders told me that the split started over women. This is not as odd as it sounds. One of AQ’s standard techniques, which I have seen them apply in places as diverse as Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indonesia, is to marry leaders and key operatives to women from prominent tribal families. The strategy works by creating a bond with the community, exploiting kinship-based alliances, and so “embedding” the AQ network into the society.
But Qaeda decided to ignore Iraqi marriage customs:
Marrying women to strangers, let alone foreigners, is just not done. AQ, with their hyper-reductionist version of “Islam” stripped of cultural content, discounted the tribes’ view as ignorant, stupid and sinful. This led to violence, as these things do. [...]

Wednesday, August 29

MOOKIE'S GUTSY MOVE: ORDERS MAHDI ARMY TO STAND DOWN FOR SIX MONTHS

10:30 PM EDT Update
Bill Roggio at The Fourth Rail also has several interesting insights about the reasons behind Sadr's order. And he provides a list of the different categories of Mahdi Army groups and this surprising statement:
With the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (formerly SCIRI) and large elements of the Badr Brigades breaking away from the Iranian sphere of influence, they have a greater motivation to fight Sadr and his Mahdi Army.
* * * * * * *
9:30 PM EDT Update
Here are points I found of particular interest in Amer Moshen's take on Mookie's order (based on Amer's analysis of Thursday's Arab press):
Muqtada’s decision will have deep ramifications, given that the rank-and-file of the Mahdi Army will actually abide by the cleric’s decision. [...]

The de-centralized nature of the Mahdi Army, which became in effect a broad umbrella organization, allowed its members to act more-or-less independently, and gave many armed groups the opportunity to “affiliate” themselves with the Mahdi Army. [...]

The six-months suspension of operations may aim at creating a more effective and disciplined force out of the Mahdi Army (which has proven itself effective in street battles against rival factions, but largely useless against US forces and the Iraqi Army.)

But another reason for the halt of operations may be that the US Army has been waging a major campaign against the Sadrist militia, Muqtada may have decided to take his armed wing underground until the situation “clears.”
Also, don't miss Amer's discussion about (1) Mookie's interest in Hezbollah and (2) the Muslim Brotherhood's representative party in Iraq.
* * * * * * *
This is big news. Yet Pundita can't subscribe a sincere motive to anything Mookie does. So I doubt he's doing this for the good of the country or even Iraq's Shia as a whole, or to declare a truce with the Americans. What's he really up to?

It could be significant that Sadr's order is coming close to the (Sept 4) reconvening of Iraq's parliament. Has he cut a deal with Maliki that will allow Maliki to save face? Or is it just that Iran is trying to weed out certain elements in the Mahdi Army that don't toe the Tehran line?

Or is he making a populist announcement? It could be that the Shia caught in the middle of fighting between the Shia factions are ready to revolt.

Another angle is that the US military and Iraqi Special Forces have been coming down hard on the Mahdi Army, in particular the "rouge" elements with clearest ties to Iran. Yet with so many factions of the Mahdi Army in play, and with each faction having varying degrees of help from Iran, it's hard to tell how much control Mookie has left of his army. He's about to find out:
Just as the ongoing tensions between Iraq's two largest Shia factions appeared on the brink of spiraling into complete chaos, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has ordered his followers to halt all activities.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Sadr directed all his political offices to be closed for three days, and for his fighters to suspend operations until February. Sadr's order specifically called for Sadrists to stop targeting offices of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim's Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), a number of which have been attacked and burned in recent days.

One of his senior aides, Sheikh Hazim al-Araji, read the statement on Iraqi television, saying on Sadr's behalf:

“I direct the Mahdi Army to suspend all its activities for six months until it is restructured in a way that helps honour the principles for which it is formed." Araji also said that the intent of the pause was to "rehabilitate" the organization, which has reportedly broken into factions.

A Sadr aide told AFP that the suspension of activities was to include a cessation of all armed attacks against "the occupiers or any other groups," explaining, "The aim is to reorganize the militia but not to dismantle it. It is also an effort to root out the rogue elements" in the militant group.

Sadr's declaration comes after two days of fighting in Karbala between members of the Mahdi Army and elements of Hakim's Badr organization. The clashes killed an estimated four dozen and wounded hundreds, bringing an early end to the religious festival that had drawn tens of thousands of Shiite pilgrims. [...]

"The coming days will be a test for Sadr. It's a bold move to publicly order his followers to stop fighting, but one which leaves him exposed. If he is unable to reign in his fighters, demonstrating a lack of discipline in their ranks, Sadr's leadership will be questioned."

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President Sarkozy's bombshell

"An Iran with nuclear arms is, to me, unacceptable, and I am weighing my words." Sarkozy told members of France’s diplomatic corps on August 27. "And I underline France's full determination to support the alliance's current policy of increasing sanctions, but also to remain open if Iran makes the choice to fulfill its obligations. This policy is the only one that will allow us to escape an alternative, which I consider to be catastrophic. Which alternative? An Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran."
The analyst hastens to add that France's President is not advocating that Iran be bombed, nor does he suggest that France would be involved in any such bombing. But Mr Sarkozy's first major foreign policy speech has made a splash.

I am just not sure how to take the speech with regard to the comments about Iran. Pundita would rather wait until the supposed showdown with Iran at the UN in September before leaping into thin air.

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Does France's Foreign Minister know something we don't?

[...] hours after the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner, apologized to the Iraqi Prime Minister (for making comments calling for his replacement) Kouchner reiterated today, in a meeting of French Ambassadors, that “Maliki may leave us soon.”
From Amer Moshen's Wednesday roundup at Iraq Slogger

Tuesday, August 28

A shaky agreement

Iraq Slogger has published the full text of the Five Party Agreement, which is very tenuous. Iraq Slogger's Amer Moshen observes:
The new agreement (announced jointly by five Iraqi leaders: the President, his two deputies, PM Maliki and Kurdistan’s President Mas'ud Barzani) seems to be designed with two objectives in mind: Pleasing the Sunni leaders and providing “good news” for Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker to include in their September report to the American President.

The agreement includes a bundle of laws: chiefly an amendment to the de-Ba'thification law allowing ex-Ba'thists to run for elections and be considered for positions in the administration, which was a major Sunni demand. Secondly, the agreement guarantees the release of thousands of Iraqi prisoners without trial (most of whom Sunni,) third, a new law will be passed organizing local elections (another Sunni demand), lastly, passing the controversial oil law will be part of the “package” -– which is good news for the US administration
.
The bad news is that it's just an agreement between only five in Maliki's government (it might be said those five are the government right now) and has a way to go before it can become law. The way is strewn with pitfalls. Amer continues:
It remains to be seen how the Iraqi parties will react to the agreement (especially the Sunni Iraqi Accord Front) and whether the Sunni ministers of the IAF will return to the government, thus breathing life into Maliki’s crumbling cabinet.

It should also be mentioned that the agreement is one of principle, and the laws included in it still need parliamentary approval to be promulgated. However, al-Jazeera reported that an IAF leader commented on the agreement, describing it as “insufficient” and announcing that his front will wait to judge its application on the ground.
But by any which way, an agreement has been wrestled into existence. Perhaps loud complaints about Maliki's leadership from some US Democrat and Republican senators spurred Maliki, despite his grumbles about back-seat driving.

Pick up a wrench

"What can France do to help this ravaged country recover hope? First, it can be modest. No one imagines that we have a magic formula."
-- Bernard Kouchner, France's Foreign Minister

The Armchair Generalist spoke with Brigadier General Michael Walsh, who is working to bring more electricity to Baghdad, about Iraq's electrification situation and came away with insights that reminded me of the broader context:
The Iraqi goal is to have 24-hour access to electricity [in the] 2010-2013 time frame. BG Walsh pointed out that the Iraqis have never had 24-hour access, even during Saddam's regime. He also pointed out that, even in the United States, there had been issues in the 1990s (notably, California) where neighboring states either refused to cooperate in energy distribution or hiked the costs so high that the solution had to be rolling brownouts for the state.
Try to imagine living in country that's never had electricity round the clock.

We talk about "reconstructing" war-torn Iraq but in many ways we're having to fit together the nuts and bolts of a modern society, and from the ground up. So I really do wish the Europeans who have come to the idea of helping Iraq would stop hovering and talking about history or modesty. Just grab a wrench and pitch in.

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Sunday, August 26

Ayad Allawi returning to Iraq

He told Wolf Blitzer on CNN that he would be traveling first to "Iraqi Kurdistan" then to Baghdad to fight for his political position.

Wolf questioned Allawi about David Ignatius's claim (made in an op-ed in today's Washington Post) that Allawi is receiving financial support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Allawi denied the claim, adding in amusement that he only wished he could be receiving funds from those quarters.

(Ignatius also wrote that Allawi was not receiving financial help from the United States, which I think is correct.)

When Wolf asked about the $300,000 Allawi is reportedly paying a Washington lobbying firm, Allawi replied that he is not making the payment. He said the contribution has come from an Iraqi supporter of his party and their anti-sectarian stance. He said that he could not name the supporter who must remain anonymous.

Allawi also pointed out that other Iraq political parties are spending many more times that amount on purchasing media outlets - TV stations, satellite time, press, and so on.

Allawi refused to be drawn into criticizing Maliki; he said that the problem is not with one person but with the "system" of sectarianism. Throughout the interview, he returned to the anti-sectarian theme.

Allawi also said that a drawdown of US troops in Iraq could realistically occur within 2 to 2-1/2 years provided the Iraqi government worked in "partnership" with the US one.

Over at NBC's Meet the Press, Richard Engel repeated what he said last week, which is that Maliki's government is on the verge of collapse. Engel believes the government will collapse; he said that it could be replaced by a series of weak governments.

Also, Michael Gordon, the author of Cobra II, told Tim Russert that he will be publishing his observations on the surge in next week's New York Times magazine. He said that he saw progess from the counterinsurgency strategy. He also said that the strategy of the US military forming alliances with Sunni tribes is having success and that building up these coalitions is still in the early stage, but promising.

Interestingly, Gordon said flatly that the US military is not arming the Shia or Sunni militias in Iraq.

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Saturday, August 25

If for no other reason Maliki's government needs to get out of Dodge

Pundita is having a fit. Just yesterday I advised that to help keep gains made by Sunnis against Qaeda in Iraq that the US bring in security contractors to help guard the Sunni sheiks who have fought Qaeda. Well according to Michael O'Hanlon's op-ed in today's Washington Post, my idea is dead in the water:
And while the interior and defense ministries have approved firing some commanders who have been guilty of clear bias or corruption, they still protect Shiite militias. They also often interfere with the hiring of security forces, particularly in Sunni regions such as Anbar.
That's the final straw.

Why should US soldiers be dying and wounded to bring an end to the worst violence while Maliki's gang works against them at every turn? That damn Dawa party has to go. Don't be fancy; just run 'em out of Baghdad on a rail.

Clarity from a Commie website, again

Readers who have been with this blog since 2005 know that when Pundita gets really desperate for a clear summary of doings in a country she hunts around at the World Socialist Web Site. Trotsky's ghost hasn't gotten me yet, maybe because Pundita squirts a liberal application of demon repellent on the computer screen before her visit to WSWS.

It's very odd, but during a critical phase of events I've found the clearest picture of the political situation in Ukraine, Mexico, and Venezuela from a journalist publishing on WSWS. Of course Pundita had to cast out the Commie verbiage and the writer's interpretation of events. The remainder was remarkably informative.

The problem with following the daily news is that it's like studying a landscape from the window of a moving train. Now matter how clear the view, it's immediately replaced by another view. The upshot is a kind of blur of knowledge. One longs to get off the train for a few minutes and get to high vantage place; there one exchanges many clear details for a sweeping vista.

The other day Pundita found a WSWS analysis of the current political situation in Iraq. The analysis, written by James Cogan, contains little news for those who closely follow Iraq. But it's a great summary of how things stand now in Iraq. So it's a good review to read ahead of Ayad Allawi's interview with Wolf Blitzer tomorrow. (11:00 AM EDT on CNN.)

Two key points not mentioned in Cogan's report: Iraq's intelligence service has been run by the CIA because the Iraqis believe that otherwise the service will be taken over by Baathists loyal to Saddam. The other day the head of Iraq's intel told a reporter that a country which has 160,000 soldiers defending it can't be considered a sovereign nation. This by way of explaining that he wouldn't dissolve in tears if the US ousted Maliki.

Here's the report.

Get two Iraqis together, you immediately have 10 different opinions

Today Iraq Slogger's Chris Allbritton gives a crash course on Iraqi religious styles that is helpful to understanding the chaos in Iraq politics:
Islam -- and Sunni Islam especially -- isn't like the Catholic Church with a hierarchy that locks in place obedience to Church dogma. A fatwa issued by Imam Ahmed al-Kubaisi is valuable, but many Sunnis will not feel bound by this. A lot of Sunnis don't follow any one imam and often go for a "second opinion" if they come across a religious ruling they don't like.

Shi'ites are more hierarchal inclined -- there is no doubt Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is the most senior Shi'ite leader in Iraq -- but they're not monolithic. Many Shi'ites revere Sistani as their marja, or advisor, but many also do not. If they don't follow Sistani, and most followers of Moqtada al-Sadr don't, they don't have to listen to his fatwas. He's also an Iranian by birth so anything coming from his mouth will do little to convince nationalist Sunnis, who make up the bulk of the Sunni insurgency
.
All this is oddly comforting; it suggests that many Iraqis are an independent minded lot. However, Allbritton's explanation throws light on why Iraqi religious leaders who call for an end to violence between the sects haven't made headway.

So what's the tiebreaker? Business profits, probably. Allbritton mentions elsewhere in his Saturday summary that the "Mahdi Army has gone into numerous businesses around Baghdad and now controls 70 percent of the city's gas stations."

War may be good for business, but constant turmoil isn't. Given enough freedom, people eventually decide it's better to make buckets of money than war. However, we're not there yet. Much of the sectarian warfare comes from a Shiite grab for business that the Sunnis had previously dominated. It's like the wars for land in America's Wild West.

So there is really no way for the US to stop the bloodshed until the new business cartels have emerged. In the meantime a strong central government, with US help, can put a lid on the worst violence.

Can Iraq's religious leaders help? Well, if they get on the same page and put out a strong united front. Will hell freeze first? Maybe not, if US commanders manage to convey to the various religious leaders that the US military is not the Golden Goose.

Friday, August 24

Pakistan: the ball is in play

Pundita can't imagine Musharraf taking this turn of events lying down:
The increasingly assertive Supreme Court in Pakistan ruled Thursday that [former prime minister Nawaz] Sharif could return from exile, throwing politics in the nation into turmoil and threatening the strategy of support by America for the president. [...]

Sharif and Musharraf are longtime enemies, and his return could split the party that supports Musharraf and undo any prospect of his re-election. (The Pakistan Muslim League, the party of Sharif, on Friday rejected any possibility of reconciliation with Musharraf ... Sadique al-Farooq, a senior leader of the party, said "there is no chance for any reconciliation" with Musharraf.) [...]

For the Bush administration [...] the re-entry of Sharif into politics would overturn its plan to prod the general to share power with the Pakistan Peoples Party chairwoman, Benazir Bhutto [another former Pakistan prime minister], as a way of keeping him in power [...]

Sharif is a rival to Bhutto, who had been made politically vulnerable by reports that she had held secret talks with Musharraf to negotiate a power-sharing deal. [...] (1)
Earlier this week Bhutto chatted at length with PBS NewsHour about the talks. Not wise.

Complicating matters, Sharif is not a friend of the United States.
[...] should Sharif end up becoming prime minister after general elections, current agreements that America has with Musharraf - particularly on the sharing of intelligence - would have to be renegotiated, said Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations.

"For months or longer, there would be no progress on a lot of different issues," he said. But, he asked: "Could we resurrect the relationship? I think we would. I think we'd have to."

The return of Sharif would certainly hamper the efforts by the Bush administration to arrange a power-sharing accord between Bhutto and Musharraf, and it could further complicate the plan by Musharraf to seek election next month by members of the current National Assembly, whose term expires this year.

A government minister, Ishaq Khan Khakwani, said this week that moves were already afoot to start reconciliation with all parties and have Musharraf seek re-election from a newly elected Parliament instead. The general has sought to avoid that route because his support in a new Parliament is far less certain.

Political analysts predicted that the court decision would fundamentally alter the political map of the country as it headed toward general elections
.

Europe's new interest in helping Iraq could again put them at loggerheads with US

Last night's Daily Report with Jon Stewart featured an interview with someone in the US military who noted that the fundamental philosophy of the new US counterinsurgency can be summed in three sentences:

"Be polite. Be professional. Be prepared to kill."

Of course we don't want to kill any of our friends in Israel or Europe. But I think the gist of the advice is also good for analysts who support the US effort in Iraq. We should always remember to thank offers of help from governments, but also be prepared to pounce.

It could be argued that the Allies won World War Two because General Eisenhower was good at herding cats. If your idea of a friend is someone who won't pursue their own agenda while throwing in with your lot, then you need to accept the idea that one has no friends in war.

I make that observation to caution that Western Europe's growing interest in helping the US in Iraq does not necessarily translate into doing what the United States wants.

Last week a study published by an influential German policy institute argued that federalism is the only way to keep Iraq a single country. The author wrote:
The basic assumption of this study [...] "is that a federalist solution will be the only possibility to maintain Iraq as a single country. The most important role of German and European policies should therefore be that of supporting steps toward a peaceful federalist solution."
It's noteworthy that Der Spiegel highlighted the study, but Pundita found the Swedish Meatballs Confidential report on the study to be very useful.

If Europe will not support a unitary government, I imagine they don't like Ayad Allawi and his National Project. Allawi has been called Saddam Lite by those who don't like him. Pundita likes Allawi so I don't go that far. But it will take a strongman to create a functioning central government.

And without a central government, I think US troops in Iraq will be put in an untenable position. The German study does not factor in that angle because Germany will not be investing troops in helping the US in Iraq.

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Iran stages a provocation. Pass the aspirin.

Oh, blast war! There are never any timeouts. Pundita got a headache yesterday reading Kenneth Timmerman's report for Front Page Magazine titled Iran's High Stakes Game in Northern Iraq. My wild hope -- like clutching at seaweed for support during a tsunami -- is that because it's Timmerman, the situation might not be as bad as it sounds. Timmerman is a superhawk on Iran.*

However, the facts he sounds, while sometimes from anonymous sources, suggest that Iran has come up with their own Hail Mary pass. And just in time for General Petraeus's report to Congress in September.

Because the situation has so many moving parts, which include Turkey, I will provide only a few paragraphs from Timmerman's piece, and urge you to read the report in its entirety. That won't be time wasted if the situation blows up into a shooting war between US and regular Iranian forces:
Iran is banking on its secret “entente” with Turkey -- to supply Hezbollah through Syria, and to smash the bases of each other’s opposition Kurds in Iraq -- to deter the United States from any military intervention in northern Iraq.

The Turks have been threatening for months to go after the PKK, who have tens of thousands of fighters training in camps inside Iraq, along the Turkish border.

And so the Iranians have spread the rumor, which until now has been accepted at face value, that its own Kurdish dissidents (PJAK) are actually the Iranian branch of the PKK, which the U.S. has designated as an international terrorist organization.

Clearly, the Iranians believe they can thumb their noses at the U.S. military. For more than a week, they have conducted intermittent shelling of Iraqi Kurdish villages in the general vicinity of suspected PJAK bases.

My Iranian sources tell me that the Iranians are hoping to expel PJAK from the area and replace them with Ansar al-Islam, the precursor group to al Qaeda in Iraq, “They want to send Saad Bin Laden, who is currently in Iran under Iranian government protection, into a new base inside Iraq,” one source told me.
* Kenneth R. Timmerman was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along with John Bolton for his work on Iran. He is Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum: 2005).

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If true, then time to pile on another counterstrategy.

According to today's Washington Post, one aspect of the US counterinsurgency is running into trouble:
An insurgent attack Thursday [in Baqubah] on a Sunni sheik who has cooperated with U.S. forces escalated into an extended street battle involving the sheik's militiamen, local villagers and Iraqi forces [...]

The attack underscores a key difficulty for U.S. forces in maintaining the support of Sunni militias, which generally oppose Iraq's Shiite-led government and whose long-term goals remain unclear. As more Sunni leaders are attacked, American commanders are finding it increasingly difficult to persuade others to join the effort.

[...] no American troops were in the area when the attack began in the early morning, but [...] commanders sent a unit to stabilize the situation later in the day.
The Post report does not source the statement that commanders are facing increased difficulty in persuading Sunni tribal leaders to fight Qaeda. So Pundita takes the statement with caution.

But the bottom line is that Qaeda killed the sheik. The kind of attack Qaeda carried out in Baqubah village, which managed to fight off the attackers but at a high toll, would certainly cause many tribal leaders to think twice about affronting Qaeda.

So if this particular US counterstrategy is to hold onto gains, security has to be scared up from somewhere for the sheiks who side with US forces. Of course more US troops in Iraq would be a help. But maybe the security could be provided, at least short term, by contractors at US expense. That, until local security forces could be beefed up.

Thursday, August 23

Meat of latest National Intelligence Estimate

From Bill Roggio's Fourth Rail site:
Most significantly, the NIE states that a shift [in Iraq] from a counterinsurgency role to a counterterrorism and support role, or the “strategic redeployment” of US forces, would squander the progress of the past year and lead to further instability in Iraq.

“We assess that changing the mission of Coalition forces from a primarily counterinsurgency and stabilization role to a primary combat support role for Iraqi forces and counterterrorist operations to prevent AQI from establishing a safehaven would erode security gains achieved thus far,” the NIE concluded.

“The impact of a change in mission on Iraq’s political and security environment and throughout the region probably would vary in intensity and suddenness of onset in relation to the rate and scale of a Coalition redeployment.”
Read the rest of the report.

So by Matzzie's reasoning, America's high casualities on D-Day meant the Allies were losing.

I caught Tucker Carlson's dust-up yesterday with MoveOn.Org's Washington director, Tom Matzzie. Tucker was so flabbergasted by Matzzie's talking points that he was off his game. Here's a sample of the exchange:
MATZZIE: There is no evidence that the troop surge is making things better.

CARLSON: Hold on. I want to be—I want to be open minded enough to recognize that. I don‘t think you are. I mean, all these liberals, all these Democrats, confirmed war opponents, have come back from Iraq saying, actually, we are making progress. Are they lying?

MATZZIE: Well, I think you‘ve got to look at the facts on the ground. They‘re getting the dog and pony show from the White House. And they‘re having one quote out of their entire speech pulled out and, you know, skewed out of context.

CARLSON: But that‘s not true. Wait, wait, wait. No.

MATZZIE: You need to look at the facts. There is the bloodiest summer in Iraq.

CARLSON: Hold on, man. Slow down.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Slow down. On this show yesterday, we had Brian Baird, Democrat—five-term Democrat from Olympia, Washington. He‘s a liberal, voted against the war. He‘s nobody‘s right-winger, nobody‘s neocon.

And he came back. He didn‘t give a single sound bite to me. I talked to him for six minutes, and he said, actually, the troop surge in some ways is working.

I mean, do you -- is he lying?

MATZZIE: We need to talk about the facts. Let‘s list the facts.

CARLSON: Where does he come up with that?

MATZZIE: The bloodiest summer in Iraq yet. More Americans killed June, July and August of this year than any year since we went in. That‘s a fact. Right?
Matzzie continued pounding at Tucker with the statement that the surge was a failure because this has been the bloodiest summer in Iraq for US troops.

Pundita fully expected Tucker to come back with something like the rejoinder in the title of this post. But he was so stunned by Matzzie's complete refusal to accept any Democrat's testimony of an improvement on the ground in Iraq that he couldn't get past that.

General Petraeus warned Washington that American casualties would increase once the US began fighting a war again in Iraq instead of conducting mostly policing operations. He may have put it a little more diplomatically but that was the gist.

Of course higher casualties in a war are not necessarily evidence a campaign is working. But there is enough evidence from numerous quarters that the new counterinsurgency strategy, in combination with the additional troops, is turning the tide. Yet Matzzie rejects all eyewitness accounts to this effect, saying that visitors are only treated to a show.

True, you have to be embedded to get a good look at what's happening in Iraq, but Der Spiegel was able to choose which regions their embed examined. Their reporter brought back accounts that comport with recent accounts of Democrat (and GOP) visitors to Iraq, who see evidence that the surge is working.

Matzzie twisted two other facts to argue the surge isn't working:
The second fact we need to look at is, Iraqi parliament on vacation. No political reconciliation in the country. [...]

The third point we need to look at: the Iraqi cabinet, 38 cabinet ministers, 17 of the 38 cabinet ministers are boycotting the government. They‘re not showing up for work. [...]

The point of the surge was to force the Iraqi government to make progress.
No, the point of the surge was to beat back the insurgents, who had run away with Iraq during the years the US military played cop. Instead of confronting this bleak situation head-on, Congress -- under fire from American voters about the disaster in Iraq -- reasoned in stepwise fashion about the surge:

They expected that the upshot of military progress during the surge would translate to giving Iraq's government a breather from violence. And from there, the belief was that with more security there could be conciliation between the sects.

MoveOn has clearly kicked out the steps; they read the surge as a failure because Iraq's government is in deep trouble.

MoveOn and the Democrats supporting their position need to keep in mind that no amount of political conciliation would have influenced al Qaeda's war in Iraq. No amount of conciliation would have influenced Iran's military actions in Iraq.

None of this means the US shouldn't push hard for conciliation but it's wrong to analyze the progress of the surge in terms of Baghdad's political problems. Indeed, the counterinsurgency has gone round Baghdad to work with regional players.

Does that mean Maliki's government is on the verge of collapse? Pundita's fav NBC war correspondent, Richard Engel, told NBC national news last night that he thinks so.

The French Connection in Iraq: what George Will is overlooking

George Will's latest op-ed cautions that General Petraeus's September report is likely to only harden positions on Iraq held by the opposing congressional camps.

In 2005, Pundita wrote a post in which I branded the Democrats the "Eurocrat" party because they had become so influenced by the thinking in Brussels and particularly West Europe. Agree or disagree, there is no question that America's (overwhelmingly Democratic) antiwar stand on Iraq was profoundly influenced by West Europe's antiwar movement.

Yet August is showing evidence of being the month of a major shift in West European thinking on Iraq. That doesn't mean they have rethought their opposition to the US invasion; they are simply taking events as they stand now and coming round to the view that Americans need help in Iraq.

In her most recent announcements on Iraq, Hillary Clinton is showing herself to be ahead of the Democrat pack in being sensitive to the changes in European thinking on Iraq. If she continues on this path, she is making an incredibly smart move -- so smart that Clinton would really be positioning herself to win the presidential election.

In the Iraq U-turn Dept.: Today's Christian Science Monitor notes:
France's sudden shift on Iraq "is almost as spectacular as the refusal of France to take part in the American intervention in Iraq," noted the left French daily Le Monde. "It is time to stop lecturing the Americans about their errors and start contributing to a solution." [...]
And France's foreign minister is admirably positioned to make fast progress in promoting conciliation between Iraq's major factions. See the Monitor story for details.

Wouldn't the French just love to be the saviors of the Americans in Iraq! Wouldn't they gloat! That's okay by Pundita. By any which way. Blowing kisses at Iran and Syria, letting France play older brother: these are things one does, once one gets dead serious about eking out a victory in a theater of war.

Speaking of Iraq Slogger

Because I've done so much promoting of Iraq Slogger since early August, I assume Pundita readers who've taken my advice to follow the site know by now that Iraq Slogger has dropped a bomshell: On September 1 the site is going paid subscription.

Pundita is shocked but resigned. There have been many blows during this war; one learns after a time take bad news in stride. Yet after John Batchelor's show went into hiatus I warned that we'd all have to work harder now that we couldn't depend on John's research and analysis.

It's the same for Iraq Slogger. Often, my choice is between research and writing, as it is for many bloggers who are not paid for their time. So it's been a great help to have quality daily summaries of all major US and Arab media on Iraq at my fingertips.

Given the September showdown in Congress over Iraq, I wish the site's owners had held off until October 1 before halting the free service. But I can only wish the best of success to Iraq Slogger's efforts and thank the entire staff for all their hard work.

A Most Wanted jumps on US-Friendly bandwagon in Iraq; Maliki follows Pundita's advice

Amer Moshen reports for Iraq Slogger that according to Al-Hayat
[...] the leader of the – banned – Ba'th party, and Saddam’s henchman, 'Izzat al-Duri, is considering striking a deal with the US occupational forces and the Iraqi government, which would involve putting a stop to operations against the US Army in Iraq and Iraqi government forces.
He's also offering to fight Qaeda in Iraq.

Ah, popularity! Isn't it grand? You know what's happening to us? Americans have invested so much blood, sweat, and money in Iraq that we're being accepted as an another Iraqi tribe, from the viewpoint of many Iraqis. So now it's okay to enter into negotiations with us.

Amer's summary of today's Iraqi press reports also carries hopeful news on the Syria front. In asking Syria for help with security, Maliki is following a course of offering economic incentives, which Pundita has been recommending. He negotiated several deals with the Syrian government during his three-day visit with Assad, including
[...] an agreement to re-open the Kirkuk-Banias oil pipeline, which allows Iraqi oil produced in the North to be exported from the Syrian port on the Mediterranean. Al-Hayat saw the agreement as part of a “barter” proposed to Syria by Maliki: “security for the economy.” The paper said that Maliki is promising to launch a host of lucrative economic deals with Syria in exchange for heightened Syrian cooperation with Iraq in the security dossier.
We'll see now if Damascus thinks the pot is sweet enough. If not, the US needs to get creative with economic incentives. Reopening the pipeline is sweet for Syria; they lost hundreds of millions of dollars a year when the US bombed the pipeline in 2003. And I assume it's not yet fully operational; if that's the case, maybe the reconstruction the US can fund for Syria is the pipeline.

Pundita doesn't want letters asking, "What about the Golan?" Yes, I understand the situation. However, the better off Syria is economically, the less they will have to depend on Tehran, which means the less they will have to toe Tehran's line.

And I think Assad has seen enough war in his neighborhood in the past few years to want to think twice about going to war with Israel.

Assad is also very useful to the United States right now because he's pressuring Maliki to reform the de-Baathification law in Iraq. Getting that law toned down is a key step to tamping down the Iraq insurgency.

Assad has indeed signed a joint security pact with Maliki, which we discussed recently. But it seems Assad is making the greatest cooperation contingent on the de-Baathification issue in Iraq. So that's a lot of pressure on Baghdad. With all this going on, it's vital for US politicians to put on hold moves that threaten any sanctions against Syria. Just put on the lid for the time being.

There will be additional Pundita posts today; I'm just not sure when.

Wednesday, August 22

Missing John Batchelor

"Pundita, Is John Batchelor ever coming back? It's been almost a year and I heard him once as a sub on Drudge. Is his audience only being set up for a big letdown?
Judith"

My dear Judith:
I don't know when or whether he will return to the airwaves. I can tell you this much: From September 12, 2001 until the time he left the air, John Batchelor dedicated his life to teaching his listeners the ways of the new century.

So even if Batchelor never returns to the radio we will go on benefiting from sitting in his classroom. Keep to that thought and stop whining.

Should US civilian agencies spend more time fighting the war than each other? What a quaint notion!

Re Pundita's post Where the hell is the war czar? --

"Hi Miss P:
You are right. Our policy formation and execution remains a total mess. I think our "War Czar" is a lot like the "Drug Czar" - a box on an org chart (hey - ain't the president supposed to be the "czar" of war???)

Bruce Kesler [at Democracy Project] prodded me into doing a guest post on foreign policy coordination (or lack thereof) when the War Czar thing hit the news. Here's the result:

Modern Foreign Policy Execution

I listened firsthand to Zinni (along with Generals Gray & Van Riper) talk about the trials and tribulations of Goldwater-Nichols at Quantico about a month ago -- it wasn't a perfect solution but in the long term it sure helped the armed services spend more time fighting the enemy than each other. We need that for the spectrum of Military - State - IC - Economic agencies.
Mark Safranski"
ZenPundit

Dear Mark:
Pundita nodded in agreement so many times while reading your observations at Democracy Project that I risked a crick in my neck. Thanks to Bruce for prodding. Your recommendations, which if implemented can get civilian agencies cooperating rather than fighting with each other, are very important. What we face now is unacceptable. As you note:
The foreign policy process is becoming unmanageable because the bureaucracy through which the president – any president – must work his foreign policy, was built for an era that is increasingly relegated to history books. A world of iron curtains and checkpoint charlies that ran at the pace of snail mail, telegrams and rotary telephones. That time is gone and it is never coming back; America’s problems today evolve at a much faster velocity. [...]
I am very concerned about a situation running alongside the agency infighting, which is that US politicians have realized that foreign policy can make or break them, and indeed their entire party. So they are running their own foreign policy initiatives; e.g., promoting legislation designed to pressure a foreign government into giving the US more help in Iraq. But the initiatives come off not as diplomacy or even policy but as threats.

That situation is not new in a time of war. But it's new in that it's playing out during the era of instant globalized news reporting. The upshot is that State spends a lot of time trying to defuse anger in foreign governments about statements by US politicians that are broadcast globally. This takes away from the diplomatic effort and makes a lot of unnecessary problems.

This said, disarray caused by poor interagency coordination feeds into the secondary situation. So I hope a great many in Washington have seen your recommendations, which you framed in highly accessible language.

Clear as mud

Pundita has become a fan of Amer Moshen's press summaries for Iraq Slogger. But the more I learn of the Iraqi factions, the more confused I become. From Amer's summary today:
Al-Hayat’s Mushriq 'Abbas penned an excellent report explaining the balance of power in the Iraqi south, and detailing the current power struggle between the Sadrist Current and the pro-Iranian Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC- formerly SCIRI).

'Abbas’ report comes in the backdrop of several events: multiple clashes have erupted between the Sadrists (and their Mahdi Army) and the SIIC (along with its militia: the Badr Brigade) throughout Southern cities in the last months, in several of these confrontations, the US Army intervened along with units of the Iraqi Army – usually on the side of the SIIC. [...]

'Abbas summed up the political equation in the South as follows: “the street for the Sadrists and the local governments for Hakeem.” Seven out of nine southern provinces are controlled by the SIIC, 'Abbas wrote, while the Sadrist Current seems to have the upper hand in terms of popular mobilization
.
Okay, but which Mahdi army are we talking about? From Bill Roggio's August 21 report:
The murder of the two governors and the clashes between the government and Mahdi Army fighters highlights the splits within the Shia community, which, like the Sunni community, is often portrayed as a single political entity. While Sadr portrays himself and his movement as nationalists, his involvement with Iran's Qods Force and Hezbollah, and the Mahdi Army's attacks on government forces and Iraqi civilians, have tarnished this image.[1]

The Mahdi Army has
split into factions described as the "noble Mahdi Army," which has cooperated with government and Multinational Forces Iraq Security Forces, and the "rogue Mahdi Army," which receives support from Iran.
But -- but, Hakeem's SIIC also receives support from Iran! And why should the US support the SIIC against the Sadr's forces when -- let's go back to Amer's summary:
A “strategic policy” of Hakeem, 'Abbas wrote, lies in the creation of a “Southern Region,” along the lines of the autonomous Kurdistan government. Consolidating the SIIC control over the administration of southern provinces is an important first step, but the Sadrist challenge is making the task harder for Hakeem. The Sadr Current is not enthusiastic to the idea of southern autonomy [...]
Okay, but the Americans are supposedly against southern autonomy. So why are we supporting the SIIC? Even if they're shooting at Qaeda? The Madhi army is also shooting at Qaeda, right? So shouldn't we stop playing two sides of the fence? Maybe the answer is that there is no fence, just constantly shifting alliances.

Another point that's clear as mud is that by supporting the SIIC, we must be working at some level with Iran, which doesn't make sense. Maybe it only makes sense if we assume that all the Shia factions in the south are allied with Iran -- although Mookie's involvement with Iran is very perplexing.

Just a few weeks ago Sadr publicly denounced Iran, saying in essence that Iran was working with al Qaeda in Iraq. If I recall he made the accusation during a sermon at a mosque, or at least at some other public venue in Iraq. Yet shortly afterward he reportedly returned to Iran.

Another point of confusion is whether there are competing factions in Iran supporting competing factions in Iraq's south. Is there a split between the Pasdaran and Iran's regular military on how to deal with Iraq?

1) Mookie has not denied his involvement with Hezbollah; he's just denied that he gave an interview with the Independent. See Bill's report linked above.

Where the hell is the war czar?

"Pundita: [re First open the checkbook] You've always harped on the need for border security in Iraq so I don't see why the US shouldn't try Lieberman's recommendations in addition to opening the checkbook and asking France to do heavy lifting with Syria.
Chicago Dan"

Dear Dan:
Pundita is seriously thinking of renaming this blog "HELLO we're at WAR." We're supposed to have a war czar, yet I don't know what he's doing to earn his paycheck. There is no strategy, no coordination of tactics, with regard to how the US treats key players outside Iraq who have influence inside the country.

Instead, we have parades of congressionals and presidential candidates shooting off their mouth with this idea and that, and making threats against this country and that. Every time they read another declassified intelligence report they go running off in six different directions. And we have different cabinet levels and agencies running around and trying this tactic and that for dealing with Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, and so on.

What are we accomplishing with this chaos? Many ruffled feathers and stiff spines.

Senator Joe Lieberman was reacting to recently declassified US intelligence that Damascus international airport is the hub of transit for foreign terrorists on their way to Iraq. However, yesterday a Washington Post report noted:
Syria said this month that it had moved to increase security along its border with Iraq, including setting up fixed checkpoints, boosting patrols and tightening rules on crossings by people under age 30.
That's probably a leak from the State Department. There doesn't seem to be official confirmation of the specific actions mentioned. There's only a pledge from Assad to Maliki during their meeting yesterday that Damascus is "ready to offer everything helping in Iraq's stability."

That sounds to Pundita if there's some horse trading going on. It's worth trying to build on, which means holding off on the confrontational approach with Assad and substituting a lot of creative action.

That doesn't mean the US can't quietly ask European nations with flights into Damascus to work in closer cooperation with Syria's intelligence service, in order to flag outbound passengers who fit the terrorist profile.

But trying to pressure the European airlines into suspending flights into Damascus -- that smacks of an economic sanction; I don't think European governments would go for it. So why rile Damascus with a symbolic gesture?

Keep in mind that Syria's refugee problem now gives Damascus a big stake in tamping down violence in Iraq. Assad's biggest task is to lean on members of Syria's Baath party who are supporting Iraqi insurgents. We might help him do that if Maliki's coalition delivered on easing up de-Baathification in Iraq.

However, it's not productive to loudly signal on the world stage that we'd like to see Maliki's government vanish. Instead, decide on a substitute for Maliki and push him in backchannel ways. Many Iraqis are expecting and hoping that the US will take such action.

Returning to Syria, it could help if we promised to scare up money for a big construction project in Syria that Assad would like to see done. This could be accomplished through a development bank, although don't ask me which one at this point.

Also, the US military should offer to send advisors to work with counterparts in Syria's military. This might not get much done, but it would be an important diplomatic gesture.

If all fails after three months of really hard trying, then is the time to get nasty with Assad, but do this through State, not through a parade of congressionals. Same advice applies to dealing with Iran.

Secretary Rice once famously replied, "One war at a time," when asked about how the US should treat Iran's threat. To some extent she's ignored her advice because all theaters of the war are connected. But right now we need to gather the strands of our attention and weave them into a coordinated effort to win against the insurgents and al Qaeda in Iraq. A big part of that effort is coordination on how the US deals with governments that have a big stake in outcomes in Iraq.

Tuesday, August 21

"Studying War Among The Graves"

Dan Riehl is on the road, following the path of General Lee's army and musing on war. Worth the read.

First open the checkbook

Yesterday Senator Joe Lieberman called for US action in response to the use of Damascus International Airport as a transit hub for terrorists. Terrorists entering Iraq from Syria is an old story; what's new is willingness to use Congress for action on the situation. I don't think that's the way to go.

The US is fighting a war in a region where we've been very hostile to two countries bordering the war zone. Pundita is of the mind that the top priority is to win the war, and for that we need all the help we can get.

Right now Syria's government is overwhelmed with looking after refugees from Iraq. So I would try offering Syria considerable help in exchange for vigilance with foreign travelers.

When it comes to asking Iran and Syria for help with Iraq, I see too much halfhearted trying from the US, then waving of hands and saying, 'See, they won't deal.' Try harder.

Also, Lieberman's approach overlooks improving relations between Washington and Paris. France and Syria have good relations, so I think the US Department of State should ask their French counterpart if they can do quiet diplomacy on the transit issue. For that reason I think the US should put on hold the confrontative approach with Syria.

Here's Lieberman's report and suggestions:
... the U.S. military estimates that between 80% and 90% of suicide attacks in Iraq are perpetrated by foreign fighters, making them the deadliest weapon in al Qaeda's war arsenal. Without them, al Qaeda in Iraq would be critically, perhaps even fatally, weakened.

That is why we now must focus on disrupting this flow of suicide bombers--and that means focusing on Syria, through which up to 80% of the Iraq-bound extremists transit.

Indeed, even terrorists from countries that directly border Iraq travel by land via Syria to Iraq, instead of directly from their home countries, because of the permissive environment for terrorism that the Syrian government has fostered. Syria refuses to tighten its visa regime for individuals transiting its territory. [...]

Coalition forces have spent considerable time and energy trying to tighten Syria's land border with Iraq against terrorist infiltration. But given the length and topography of that border, the success of these efforts is likely to remain uneven at best, particularly without the support of the Damascus regime.

Before al Qaeda's foreign fighters can make their way across the Syrian border into Iraq, however, they must first reach Syria--and the overwhelming majority does so, according to U.S. intelligence estimates, by flying into Damascus International Airport, making the airport the central hub of al Qaeda travel in the Middle East, and the most vulnerable chokepoint in al Qaeda's war against Iraq and the U.S. in Iraq.

Syrian President Bashar al Assad cannot seriously claim that he is incapable of exercising effective control over the main airport in his capital city. Syria is a police state, with sprawling domestic intelligence and security services. The notion that al Qaeda recruits are slipping into and through the Damascus airport unbeknownst to the local Mukhabarat is totally unbelievable.

We in the U.S. government should also begin developing a range of options to consider taking against Damascus International, unless the Syrian government takes appropriate action, and soon.

Responsible air carriers should be asked to stop flights into Damascus International, as long as it remains the main terminal of international terror.

Despite its use by al Qaeda and Hezbollah terrorists, the airport continues to be serviced by many major non-U.S. carriers, including Alitalia, Air France, and British Airways.

Monday, August 20

Scoop! Plot of upcoming "24" season!

Jack Bauer will be battling the African Violet Grower's Association of Greater Los Angeles as they plot to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge!

That is, if America's New Left have anything to say about the dastardly depiction of Muslims as terrorist bombers.
The BBC has dropped plans to screen a fictional terrorist attack by Muslim extremists in the new series of the hospital drama Casualty.

Senior executives had discussed the plotline in a development meeting but were overruled by the corporation's editorial guidelines department amid fears it would cause offence.

The opening episode, to be shown next month, will now focus on the bloody aftermath of an explosion caused by animal rights extremists.

Critics, among them Lord Tebbit, the former Conservative Party chairman whose wife was paralysed by an IRA terrorist attack in Brighton 23 years ago, condemned the climbdown.

"People were perfectly free during the violence in Northern Ireland to produce dramas about terrorism for which presumably they might have been accused of stereotyping IRA terrorists or even suggesting that all Catholics were terrorists," said Lord Tebbit. "What is the difference here? The BBC exists in a world of New Labour political correctness."
Read more

Sea change in European opinion on Iraq?

Here are some signs: The French foreign minister's trip to Iraq. The UN's new willingness to help in Iraq, which I don't think could have happened without encouragement from Brussels. And an August 10 in-depth report from Germany's Der Spiegel on the situation in Iraq that breaks with Spiegel's previous estimates of the situation there.

From all that, West European governments strongly opposed to the US position in Iraq may be poised to support the US effort, although I don't see this translating into military support.

The Der Spiegel report is notable because the paper has always been a harsh critic of the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq and the war effort. The Spiegel report by Ullrich Fichtner (translated into English by Christopher Sultan) continues to chastise Bush, but finds notable progress in Iraq and finds the US effort worth pursuing. Fichtner writes:
[...] Research for this story took me on a three-week journey throughout the country, my fourth trip to Iraq in as many years. Under the protection of the US military, it led us to the northern city of Mosul and its suburbs, to Ramadi and to Baghdad. The military did not choose our destinations, SPIEGEL did. Apart from a few technical and strategic details, nothing was censored. [...]

In some parts of the country, especially Baghdad, the situation is even worse than was feared, and in others, it is much better than anyone could have hoped. [...] Earlier this year, thousands of attacks occurred every week, and hundreds died daily. It seemed that terror reigned supreme, that its resources were inexhaustible. But now the trend appears to be reversing itself. Terror is weakening, and its leaders, most recently al-Qaida's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are issuing dramatic appeals to radical communities not to give up the fight. This is a good sign. "They are no longer on schedule," Petraeus says. "They have a problem."

[...] Something is happening in Iraq that is consistently concealed behind images of bombings. The situation that the White House and its deceptive advisors had erroneously predicted before their invasion -- that the troops would be greeted with candy and flowers -- could in fact still come true. That's already the case in many places. It's as if the terrorists have lost popular support, as if their acts of violence have driven the Iraqi people into the arms of the enemy, the Americans.

But there is little talk of these developments outside of Iraq.
I think there is more talk of positive developments in Iraq in the 10 days since the Spiegel report. Yet the report deserves close attention from the public -- and from everyone in the media who is following the story.

In the Fog of War Dept.: The Spiegel account of the important Battle of Donkey Island has it that the attackers' plan "was foiled when Iraqis intent on preserving peace in Ramadi betrayed them to the Americans."

The Spiegel reporter had good sources in Iraq. But yesterday The Washington Post's version has it that a routine US patrol near Ramadi stumbled across the camp of insurgents preparing to retake the city.

The Post's blow-by-blow report was culled from " ... interviews with three dozen U.S. soldiers and Iraqis with direct involvement in or knowledge of the battle and its aftermath, as well as official U.S. military accounts and maps detailing the fighting, insurgents' videos later obtained by the U.S. military, and a Post reporter's survey of the battlefield."

And a hat tip to Zenpundit and Small Wars Council for bringing back the Spiegel story.

Musharraf continues to pursue suicidal negotiations with Qaeda and Taliban

From a Fourth Rail report today:
As the Taliban fights the Pakistani military in an undeclared insurgency in the Northwest Frontier Province, the Pakistani government continues to sue for peace, and in the process, has released a senior al Qaeda operative [Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan] [...]

The release of Khan from custody is an ominous sign. The Pakistani government released over 2,500 Taliban, al Qaeda, and associated Pakistani jihadis during the signing of the Waziristan Accord in September of 2006. Currently, the government is seeking to revive the North and South Waziristan Accords, which have been negated by Pakistani Taliban commanders.
Read more

War jumble

Just Life Happening
Finally, finally, Anthony Bourdain's documentary for the Travel Channel aired last night about his being stranded in Beirut, along with his film crew, during the Israeli bombings last summer.

There's just no way to describe the documentary without shorting it; so much was packed into the hour but it was also very simple: cook goes to Beirut to film show on restaurants, and ends up in the Royal Hotel watching Lebanon get bombed. Of course, not just any old cook; it's Bourdain and his sharp eyes.

One thing I'll mention; his surprising and moving tribute to the Marines who evacuated people from Beirut.

Also, disturbingly, Bourdain said that a flim clip of President Bush eating a buttered roll "while Tony Blair tried to get his attention" aired over and over again on Beirut TV during the bombings. I know the Lebanese felt abandoned and betrayed by the US but the anecdote brings the feelings home.

One caveat: A hip young Lebanese tells Bourdain, who knows nothing about the politics of the region, that Beirut residents have moved beyond sectarianism. Only in that young man's class.

But the documentary shows Christians and Muslims mourning together at the memorial shrine to Rafik Hariri.

Okay, one more: For those who know about Bourdain's role as an acid-tongued food critic, the footage of him happily scarfing tuna noodle casserole aboard the USS Nashville is priceless.

Now They Tell Us
CNN Friday report on the Iraq war -- a reporter explaining that al Qaeda had been dug into Diyala province "for years;" that they were operating very openly, and even had their own government.

Why weren't we hearing years ago about the extent of al Qaeda's presence in Iraq, when US commanders kept assuring Congress that they didn't need more troops? Sometimes I fear that trying to see through the fog of this war from a Washington vantage point is driving me mad.

Stop Eating your Buttered Roll, Mr Bush, and Act
The biggest complaint about Ayad Allawi is that he spends too much time in Jordan. If Allawi sees signs that the US government will get behind him, he'll spend less time in Jordan.
Lack of alternative means Maliki remains: [...] Iraqi politicians complain that they are not able to replace Maliki until the Americans signal their own opposition and identify a replacement. There is a strong sense among the Iraqi political class that it would be better to wait to see who could be the likely victor, then jump on board.

Qasim Dawood, a Shiite lawmaker, said the Americans' refusal to act was becoming increasingly frustrating as the political deadlock continued.

"From one side, they interfere in everything they want," he said. "Then on the other side, they say, 'Sorry, you are a sovereign country, you have to do it yourself.' "
A Great Team
"We don't hear as much about [US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker] as about Petraeus (although they seem to get along, and do PT together), but Crocker deserves the same amount of respect; together, the general and the ambassador seem, for the first time in this war, to have both the military and the political sides well in hand and closely integrated."
-- from Wes Morgan's account of his day making the rounds with General Petraeus in Iraq

How tragic that it took years to get cooperation between Defense and State in Iraq.

What Is This Man Saying?

Baghdad, Aug 18,(VOI)- Iraqi President Jalal al-Talabani on Saturday said the Arab countries had showed no desire to establish diplomatic relations with Iraq. [...]

The Iraqi President also said, "Iraq has been making efforts to enhance relations with the Arab countries as we recognize the importance of such ties for Iraq. [...] He is a mistaken who thinks that Iraq is a weak country. We do not want to be involved in hostilities with the states anemically act towards us but we will not sit idle for good," Talabani added.

The Iraqi President noted that if problems with theses states were not settled through dialogue, they should know that "Iraq is a strong country and not weak as they miscalculate."

I wonder if it will occur to Mr Talabani that if you threaten your neighbors you can't expect them to invite you to their barbeques.

Thank You, President Sarkozy
French FM pays unannounced, highly symbolic visit to Baghdad
[Bernard Kouchner] The French foreign minister arrived in Baghdad on Sunday in a highly symbolic gesture to the United States effort in Iraq after years of icy relations over the American-led invasion. [...] Kouchner said he was not in Iraq to offer initiatives or proposals but to listen to ideas on how his country might help stop the devastating violence.

"Now we are turning the page. There is a new perspective. We want to talk about the future, democracy, integrity, sovereignty, reconciliation and stopping the killings. That's my deep aim," Kouchner said in English after meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hosyhar Zebari. [...]

He also gave a nod to calls to have the UN play a more active role in Iraq's future. "I believe that part of the solution, part of the beginning of the whispering of a drop of solution might be going through the UN system and we are ready for that," he said.

Asked at a news conference if France was now ready to help the Americans who are mired in Iraq, the top French diplomat demurred and said he was on a fact-finding mission.

"We are ready to be useful, but the solution is in the Iraqis' hands, not in French hands," he said, adding "I'm not frightened of the perspective of talking to the Americans." [...]

Saturday, August 18

Al Qaeda the dope dealer, and say whatever happened to Julie Sirrs?

Qaeda's propaganda has been so effective that legions of Western opinion experts believe the organization can't fail to drive the US out of the Middle East. I didn't realize how entrenched the belief had become until I received a note from Dave Schuler, which in effect compares Qaeda's mission to Gandhi's mission to eject the British from India.

Qaeda cannot be compared in any way with India's independence movement. The Indians were fighting for their homeland. Qaeda is fighting to survive dope wars.

Qaeda's fortunes started to wane when De Beers put a lid on trading in blood diamonds. Today Qaeda depends on the dope trade to keep them afloat. This is running them afoul of kingpins in the Pakistan narco-state and Afghanistan, and pitting them against dope gangs throughout Central Asia and the Middle East.

Now they're trying to make inroads in Latin America's dope trade, but the same pattern of running up against the locals will repeat there.

Qaeda's membership includes many nationalities, but anyone who hangs with the organization long enough realizes the top echelon belongs to Saudis and Egyptians. The rest are, well, highly expendable; they figure that out fast enough, if they're not doped out of their skull. Why do they stay on, then? Money; the drug trade is lucrative.

Al Qaeda is a rootless organization surviving on dope deals, and people who learn to think in rootless fashion find betrayal as easy as breathing. Qaeda has ended up fighting every government that aided them. But most people can't think in rootless fashion for long, or can't learn the knack.

So while al Qaeda may look like a big oak tree with many branches, it's sawdust inside. A few stiff winds will knock it over. The US is just one wind; a sense of betrayal from inside will be the strongest.

As for driving the US out of the Middle East -- China is racing to develop a blue water navy to rival the US one. The PLA wants to serve as an alternative to US protection for the Arab gulf oil producers. But one way or another, foreign security forces from non-Muslim nations will be hanging around the Middle East, at invitation from the Gulf states. This will keep on until the wells run dry or a real alternative to petroleum is found.

Every one of those Gulf states believes that given an opening, Qaeda will overthrow their government and that Qaeda is always trying. Qaeda has a well-worn tradition of wearing out their welcome, in every nation where they've been given refuge -- even Sudan.

As for attacking the dope trade as a means of getting at Qaeda: if you can manage to read through this timeline on the evolution of al Qaeda's involvement in the drug trade, without wanting to throw up at any point on the timeline, I'd like to hear your plan of attack.

By the way, every title in the timeline is linked to masses of additional data, but I won't hold you to the links. Just try to get through the blurbs without looking for a barf bag. This is the one that made Pundita's stomach turn; I hadn't followed the story when it first came out:
October 1998: Julie Sirrs, a military analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), travels to Afghanistan. Fluent in local languages and knowledgeable about the culture, she had made a previous undercover trip there in October 1997. She is surprised that the CIA was not interested in sending in agents after the failed missile attack on bin Laden in August 1998, so she returns at this time. Traveling undercover, she meets with Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. She sees a terrorist training center in Taliban-controlled territory.

Sirrs claims, “The Taliban’s brutal regime was being kept in power significantly by bin Laden’s money, plus the narcotics trade, while [Massoud’s] resistance was surviving on a shoestring. With even a little aid to the Afghan resistance, we could have pushed the Taliban out of power. But there was great reluctance by the State Department and the CIA to undertake that.”

She partly blames the interest of the US government and the oil company Unocal to see the Taliban achieve political stability to enable a trans-Afghanistan pipeline (see May 1996) (see September 27, 1996).

She claims, “Massoud told me he had proof that Unocal had provided money that helped the Taliban take Kabul.” She also states, “The State Department didn’t want to have anything to do with Afghan resistance, or even, politically, to reveal that there was any viable option to the Taliban.”

After two weeks, she returns with a treasure trove of maps, photographs, and interviews. [ABC News, 2/18/2002; New York Observer, 3/11/2004]

By interviewing captured al-Qaeda operatives, she learns that the official Afghanistan airline, Ariana Airlines, is being used to ferry weapons and drugs, and learns that bin Laden goes hunting with “rich Saudis and top Taliban officials” (see Mid-1996-October 2001) (see 1995-2001). [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001]

When she returns from Afghanistan, her material is confiscated and she is accused of being a spy. Says one senior colleague, “She had gotten the proper clearances to go, and she came back with valuable information,” but high level officials “were so intent on getting rid of her, the last thing they wanted to pay attention to was any information she had.”

She is cleared of wrongdoing, but her security clearance is pulled. She eventually quits the DIA in frustration in 1999. [ABC News, 2/18/2002; New York Observer, 3/11/2004] Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R) will later claim that the main DIA official behind the punishment of Sirrs is Lt. Gen. Patrick Hughes, who later becomes “one of the top officials running the Department of Homeland Security.” [Dana Rohrabacher, 6/21/2004]
Have a nice day.

News Flash! President Bush to interrupt his vacation!

I'm not sure what Bush can tell the leaders of Canada and Mexico next week except, "Sorry, folks, the American people have spoken," and as a consolation prize sew up the deal to give Calderon money for fighting drug cartels.

Anyway, Bush interrupting his vacation to attend the summit is a nice gesture. Now just make sure the damn fence gets built quickly along the southern border. Then we can start on the northern fence. As a matter of fact, why aren't we starting now? Because, as we all know, Qaeda sits around with a scheduler so their attacks don't happen until US fortifications have caught up.

HELLO Washington, we're at WAR.

State's patience with Maliki worn thin

The Washington Post, that weathervane for US State Department winds, has decided to publish an editorial by Ayad Allawi. That in itself is news, although a somewhat mixed message because the Post published the editorial on Saturday -- traditionally a dead day -- instead of the 'don't miss' Sunday editorial fest in the Outlook section.

In his op-ed Allawi sends a clear message to the Middle East's Arab states: de-Baathification is the sticking point, and overturning de-Baathification cannot move forward under Maliki's government.

Allawi notes that Maliki has stalled the passage of March legislation to reverse de-Baathification but I find this the key passage:
Iraq's security forces need to be reconstituted. Whenever possible, these reconstituted forces should absorb members of the sectarian and ethnic militias into a nonsectarian security command structure.
Translation: the insurgency will continue until 'reformed' Baathist soldiers are reabsorbed into Iraq's military.

Allawi also takes a dig at General Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy:
Empowering militias is not a sustainable solution, because it perpetuates the tensions between communities and undermines the power and authority of the state.
Well, we're fighting a war against Qaeda so we do what we must. Would we need to fight this way in Iraq if the government declared a nationwide state of emergency and enforced it? That's Allawi's recommendation, which seems out of reach while Maliki holds the reins. And in the present state of affairs, I really don't see how even the combined Iraq and US security forces could make a state of emergency stick, countrywide.

There are so many fighting factions that it's hard to tell the security militias from the insurgents, Southern separatists, and Qaeda. So, reversing de-Baathification would be a forest clearing operation. Top of the list, bring all those disgruntled guys back into 'their' military.

I recall Rajiv Chandrasekaran's account of a furious military ex-commander, booted under Bremer's de-Baathification edict, telling Rajiv that the Iraqi army had been around before Saddam Hussein; that the army was for Iraq, not any one political party.

There are a lot of spitting mad military men in Iraq who would agree, although they couldn't have expressed their feelings while Saddam was their commander-in-chief. One such Iraqi told Rajiv that if he was wondering where all the military men had gone since de-Baathification, they'd gone to join the insurgency.

There has been some side-door easing of the de-Baathification edict since then, on the simple recognition that Iraq's army couldn't function with all its experienced soldiers gone. But the reversal needs to be made official and accompanied by genuine reaching out in all sectors to Iraqis who have recanted the Baathist line.

Can that happen under Maliki? Allawi thinks not.

The big question is whether Allawi can do enough coalition-building to force a showdown with Maliki by September. I think State is hoping so.

Note re Pundita's rendering of Allawi's first name: "Iyad" is closer to the Arabic translation but, according to Wikipedia, Ayad is the Iraqi pronunciation for Iyad. Pundita will probably continue to publish whatever spelling a source provides, which makes for inconsistency. If by some miracle Allawi ends up in Iraq's top post, the spelling of his first name in the press will surely standardize.

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Friday, August 17

"The Princes of Sects"

Iyad 'Allawi dubbed the participants in the new coalition as “the princes of sects”

Political junkies the world over must be having a ball trying to keep up with Iraq politics. Iraq Slogger's Amer Moshen has a great summary of the latest dizzying developments; don't miss a word, especially if you're bored to tears with US politics.

But I'm highlighting the following passages from the summary because -- well, because Pundita is an Allawi fan. And also because it's still a wonder to me that Iraq is free enough to sound so many views. For all his power, Saddam Hussein lived in fear of Iraq's sects; for an Iraqi to be able to poke fun at them, and have his opinion heard in Iraq, is really something.
To accentuate the absence of Sunni representation in the new coalition, several Arab papers are referring to it as “the Shi'a-Kurdish alliance,” a term that may be as inaccurate as the “moderate” label that the leaders of the front are trying to promote.

The “Front” also excluded non-sectarian parties - which are admittedly few and of limited popularity – a fact that its enemies are exploiting to portray the new coalition as a sectarian front. According to Az-Zaman, Iyad 'Allawi dubbed the participants in the new coalition as “the princes of sects,” and said that his party, the Iraqi List, was not invited to the negotiations because of its “secular” character.

Pro-Government al-Mada tried to portray the new Front under the best possible light, claiming in its headline that the front aims at “supporting the government and energizing the political situation” in the country. The paper also tried to minimize the effect of the absence of the Sunni Islamic Party from the coalition, highlighting a congratulatory telegram that was sent by Hashimi to Talabani and avoiding to report the criticisms directed at the new coalition by Hashimi’s party.

Az-Zaman, on the other hand, devoted its front page to displaying the attacks directed at the new front. According to the paper, officials in 'Allawi’s bloc described the Front as being led by “sectarians and racists, with Iranian sponsorship, against the national project.”

Furthermore, Pan-Arab al-Quds al-'Arabi (which often panders to the Sunni Arab public) headlined that the new front “edifies the exclusion of Sunnis."

There's more, lot's more.

Note: Moshen italicized all the newspaper names.

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Speaking of the Soviet era

"We overthrew Mossadegh not because he was too strong but because he was weak and the most logical successor to him would have been a Tudeh coup and Soviet divisions on the Straits of Hormuz. The Shah was a lousy client and Khomeini was an even worse alternative but at the time it was preferable to Iran as a Soviet satellite."

-- Mark Safranski, in a reply to a ZenPundit reader.

Once again, ZenPundit uses his historian's knowledge to keep the record straight. See the first and second comments in the Zenpundit post for the complete exchange. I was going to add Mark's quote to the Yalta post but decided it deserves to be spotlighted.

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The Yalta play

ZenPundit Mark Safranski has weighed in on the announced US plan to designate the Pasdaran a terrorist organization (or to be more precise, give them a "special" terrorist status).

Mark takes issue with those who have voiced a negative view of the plan and states why he strongly supports the plan. (See this Pundita post for my view of the plan.) One of his arguments is that during the Soviet era, the US " ... saw no contradiction in bleeding the Soviets in one part of the world while negotiating with them in another."

Thus, Mark does not see the US plan as counterproductive:
... until we have an agreement with Iran we do not have any agreement and the regime should be squeezed at every point until we do. I'm all for negotiating in earnest [...] We should scrupulously keep our word and demonstrate to the Iranians through actions that we will deliver exactly what we promise. But until that point in time, Teheran should get no favors, no breathing space, no economic freebies of any kind until we come to an arrangement.
I agree, within the context that Mark is viewing relations with Iran; i.e., through the lens of negotiations. Yet there is a big difference between negotiating and asking for help.

The US request for help from Iran did not come through official channels; it was made public by Maliki. But the US agreement to meet face-to-face with Iran clearly signaled a request for help with ending the violence in Iraq.

Then, within about 24 hours of the first US working meeting with Iran about Iraq, out came the announcement to designate the IRGC a terrorist organization! And what did we hear about the reason for this plan? US negotiators working on Iran's nuke program are getting impatient with the UN. Well, tough cookies. The negotiators were the ones who set up the parameters of the negotiations. They set September as the time they would go back to the UN and attempt to wring out tougher sanctions on Iran.

American negotiators don't think China and Russia will go along in September with tougher sanctions; okay, but that situation has been going on for years with no sign of change. So that's not enough reason to blow up the footbridge on joint US-Iranian efforts to fight al Qaeda in Iraq.

(I have noted in some recent posts that I think the time has ripened for Iran's Supreme Leader to put the Pasdaran on a leash in Iraq. Pundita thinks military events in Iraq are making a strong argument for Iran to stop instigating strikes against the US military in Iraq.)

And notice the timing of the announcement! The plan to designate the Pasdaran a terrorist organization has been rolling around Washington for more than a year. But on the very heels of a history-making US-Iranian joint effort on Iraq, BAM! out comes the announcement about the plan.

I stress this is only an announcement of deliberations about whether to carry out the plan. So it seems as if some in Washington just couldn't wait to set off this firestorm -- again, on the heels of a joint US-Iranian effort.

Pundita bets these people are in the Washington camp that has already written off Iraq. That camp sees halting Iran's nuke program as the top priority. That's because their thinking about Qaeda has settled into a groove. They see the war with Qaeda as a generational one. Yet events are in the saddle, not Qaeda, and many events around the world are turning against Qaeda.

So at the risk of trying to sound like Roosevelt at Yalta, I think the top priority is to destroy al Qaeda as soon as humanly possible; for that we need all the help we can get, even if means holding our nose.

However, none of my arguments overturn ZenPundit's reasons for wanting to be tough on the Pasdaran, and which deserve attention. So what is the tiebreaker? I think we should let the Europeans do the heavy lifting right now with regard to negotiations with Tehran. I think we should let the Europeans hurl sticks at the Pasdaran. Let the Europeans designate the IRGC a terrorist unit.

The obvious retort is 'That's just the problem.' Yes, and that's why I led off my earlier post on the subject with a passage from Victor Comras's congressional testimony. We need to clamp down on our buddies who do business with Iran -- and keep going after US shell corporations doing business with Iran.

Those actions are the logical starting point for turning the screws on Iran -- because if we don't get more cooperation from allies who do business with Iran, the Pasdaran can continue to find banks and companies that will do business with them.

Yet those who cooked up the plan to block Pasdaran funds are treating the Pasdaran, who do many billions of dollars in business -- as if they were North Korea's army, which controls not a drop of petroleum. Hello, the Pasdaran are megabucks businessmen.

At the least, wait until the September meeting before launching financial war against the Pasdaran. What they should have done was float the Pasdaran plan in backchannel discussions with the Europeans. If the discussions leaked, well, it wasn't our fault and it just an idea we were batting around. In this way, we could have left some room for our request for help from Tehran.

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Qaeda is now to Iraq as Soviets were to Afghanistan

From Bill Roggio's August 16 Iraq report:

Multinational Forces Iraq described the fighting, and notes the coordination between the insurgent group, the local police, and US attack helicopters:

"In an unprecedented combined action in Diyala Province, Iraqi police and citizen volunteers defeated a coordinated attack of approximately 40-60 al-Qaeda terrorists in the southern Burhitz area of Baqubah, Wednesday, and killed an estimated 21 insurgents, wounding more. As the terrorists entered the city of Burhitz, a group of concerned local citizens, called ‘Baqubah Guardians,’ and IPs stationed in Burhitz engaged the first wave of attackers, killing seven.

"At least two suicide bombers were killed before they reached their intended targets, with the bomb vests detonating prematurely. The IP notified the Provincial Joint Coordination Center and requested Coalition Force attack helicopter support after the first engagement. Attack helicopters arrived and engaged another large group of heavily armed fighters staging near the first attack site, killing or wounding an estimated 14 terrorists."

This kind of joint effort against Qaeda, which is mushrooming in Iraq, is reminiscent of the Afghan tribal leaders turning enmasse to the US for help in fighting the Soviets. This situation is bad news for both the Pasdaran and the Saudis meddling in Iraq.

Note that Pundita is being very diplomatic and saying Pasdaran instead of Tehran. Yes indeed, butter wouldn't melt in our mouth right now when it comes to talking about Iran.

If they were smart, they would recall the Soviet debacle in Afghanistan and say, "Hey, let's get known among the Iraqi tribes for helping the Americans!" But the Pasdaran are so busy waging a proxy war against the Saudis that they may not notice the trap door. Ditto from the Saudi side.

I suppose Tehran would retort that Iran was helpful to the US invasion of Afghanistan, and what they got in return was Iran designated a spoke in the axis of evil. But the name of the game is influence in Iraq after the US pulls back, so right now they're playing their cards wrong.

On a related subject, yesterday a US military Talking Head said, in commenting on the massive suicide bombings of Yezidi villages near Singar, that the US military couldn't be everywhere in Iraq.

True, but I think the military might want to strive to be everywhere that Qaeda is now fighting for turf in Iraq drug smuggling routes.

It's just Pundita's theory but I think there's enough evidence of Qaeda's drug operations to test the theory against Qaeda's recent pattern of land-clearing, shall we call it, in Iraq.

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Pundita blows off Friday steam

"Dear Pundita:
You wrote [yesterday]: "What do you want Qaeda to do in Iraq, Mr Allbritton? Fall back without a whimper?"

Awed, no doubt, by the purity of our spirits.

When are people going to figure out that Gandhi succeeded because he opposed the British?
Dave Schuler"
The Glittering Eye

Dear Dave:
If Gandhi hadn't existed, the British would have invented him. I won't carry that remark further. Pundita is in a terrible mood, so I don't want to regret everything I say this week. Not to cry on your shoulder but --

I just woke up and I'm having to type with CNBC blaring in the background. This in in hopes the Fed will suddenly wake up to the fact that they can't focus too much on technicals during a wartime situation.

And Ahmadinejad is having a great week on the international front -- first with Maliki, then with Karzai, then his little speech to the SCO.

Meanwhile, US policy on Iran is veering toward incoherence. There are so many layers to the US war effort, and State won't let the Pentagon take control of policy, and vice versa. Bush is just standing there with folded arms repeating his mantra, "What do I hire you people for?" The upshot is a crazy quilt of policy initiatives, from which Maddy is making mounds of hay.

But I get your point. In this context, however, the big difference between Gandhi and al Qaeda is that Gandhi wasn't a dope dealer. I will explain that remark as soon as I consume a quart of coffee.

Thursday, August 16

Hey, moron, what do you think war is?

Chris Allbritton's Iraq Slogger roundup of Thursday's news reports on Iraq features a summary of a new tactic by the enemy: Sniper fire at US soldiers to lure them into a booby-trapped house in search of the shooter, then blowing up the house with the troops inside.

Then Allbritton gets huffy about the US military's discussion of the new tactic, which has al Qaeda written all over it.
In a stunning example of spin, the increased deadliness of these attacks is actually a good thing, according to Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, spokesman for the American operation in northern Iraq.

"It's a clear sign that they could not get to us by other means, and that's a good sign," he said. "Obviously we're countering the improvised explosive devices, and force on force, they know that they can't fight us."
Then Allbritton launches into editorializing:
Can we please stop with all this, "they're killing more people, more efficiently because they're desperate" stuff? With so many bombs, killings, ambushes and an about-to-collapse Iraqi government, they don't seem very desperate.
What do you want Qaeda to do in Iraq, Mr Allbritton? Fall back without a whimper? The US military has already denied them their preferred strongholds. And now one of Qaeda's most effective tactics, the use of IEDs, is collapsing. So tell me, are they supposed to slink off to the hinterlands without a murmur? What do you think war is?

If you can manage for a few minutes to rip your attention from US mistakes, why don't you try something new for a change? Spend a little time studying the enemy's mistakes and spin. And why not report on the number of US and Iraqi enemy kills, wounded, and captured?

For perspective you can study Adolf Hitler's fallback tactic of ordering bombing against his own people; this on his theory that a people who couldn't win against the Allies didn't deserve to live.

I'm not asking you to be a cheerleader. I asking you to keep in mind that the situation is not about desperation. It's simply that there is nothing more dangerous than a ruthless enemy in retreat. You may trust that the US command in Iraq knows this.

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Whoa! This is not the kind of political progress the US is looking for!

Here is a disturbing turn of events:

"Shia, Kurdish Parties Form Political Alliance; New Coalition Creates Governing Majority That Excludes Sunnis"

One of the new coalition's goals, according to Prime Minister Maliki, "would be to address charges that his government is biased against Sunnis, which could prove a difficult task as the new governing coalition doesn't include any Sunnis."

Well, let's hope the new alliance is just more horse trading, but the Sunnis had better stop folding their arms at Maliki's government.

Next week should be an interesting one for Iraqi politics. I wonder how Allawi is taking the new coalition.

Say, let's work together to help Iraq! First off, how about labeling one of your military units a terrorist organization and freezing their assets?

"Halliburton is not the only US corporation with foreign subsidiaries working with and in Iran. Some of its main competitors in the oil field industry, including Baker Hughes, and Smith International, also have foreign operations there. General Electric’s Canadian, Italian and French subsidiaries have also long been engaged in business deals with Iran, and there is a Swiss owned Caterpillar dealership in the heart of Tehran.

"Some 35 foreign subsidiaries of different US companies are reportedly now operating in Iran. Several, including GE, have decided to follow Halliburton’s example. They have announced they also will no longer seek new business deals with Iran. This is an interesting declaration given the fact that they have long claimed to exercise absolutely no corporate control over these subsidiaries."

-- Victor D. Comras, Attorney and Consultant Special Counsel to Eren Law Firm, in
testimony before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, April 30, 1997

Victor Comras is cautiously in favor of yesterday's announced US plan to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization. I recommend that you read his April congressional testimony, which is clear and brief, before plunging into his analysis of the planned move. Yet after taking in both his opinions, I think the route of additional economic sanctions against Iran, which wends through negotiations with Europe, China and Russia, is very complex.

There is nothing complex about the US offer to work with Iran to help tamp down Iraq's violence. The first US committee meeting with Iran took place just days ago in Baghdad. Now we turn around and, going beyond the issue of sanctions, designate an Iranian military branch as a terrorist organization. The move ignores the situation on the ground in Iraq and mocks the US offer to work with Iran. So the move sends a loud message that the US government is not working in concert to gain Iran's help in Iraq.

The upshot is that the US presents itself as acting in such irrational fashion that Iran's so-called moderates are completely confused.

If the US were not fighting a hot war next door to Iran, it would make sense at this time to attempt to isolate Iran economically and throw at them every financial strategem the US Treasury could cook up. But hello, the top priorities are to kill Qaeda in Iraq and beat down sectarian violence. So it makes no sense to strip Iran of all face, then say, "Help us."

The curious thing is that the US annoucement about labeling the IRGC a terrorist unit comes on the heels of concilliatory noises from Iran's president:

"The terror going on in Iraq has links to foreign states that were adopting ideologies hostile to Iraq but recently they felt that supporting terror will make it spread outside Iraq to other countries," the Iraqi Premier told reporters. The Prime Minister, who just ended official visits to Turkey and Iran, told the news conference that he got pledges from Turkey and Iran to support Iraq in face of violence and providing basic services to its people [...]
What is a pledge from Ahmadinejad worth? The answer depends on how his military advisors read Petraeus's counterinsurgency.

Petraeus has created virtual chaos by cutting deals with an endless parade of Iraq's Sunni and Shia tribes. One result is that Iran can no longer control Iraq's insurgency. Ergo, one reading is that it would make sense for Iran to morph into the fountainhead of helpfulness at this time.

But it's almost as if there are elements in Washington that don't want Iran to be helpful. It's as if some elements are focused on the campaign in Iraq, and other elements are focused on Iran's nuclear weapons program.

If Pundita's speculation is in the ballpark, she would suggest that President Bush settle on priorities and enforce them.
* * * * * * *
August 17 Update
Tonight I saw that ZenPundit had weighed in on the discussion. Here is my counter-argument: The Yalta play.

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