Saturday, April 11, 2009

Violence in Baghdad was "a last gasp" of Islamic extremists?

Thus said Sec Def Robert Gates Tuesday evening on the PBS News Hour, and evidently some Obama administration people were quick to say that he made a mistake. As this McClatchy report notes, some see him as channeling Dick Cheney's unfortunate, extremely unprophetic remark in 2005 that the Sunni insurgency was in its "last throes."

My own small voice has over the last months been but one of many (including much bigger voices, happy to say) to suggest that the pronouncements of "victory" in Iraq (by the Kagans and others in the wake of the Surge) were way too premature. The McClatchy piece delineates very well the major fault lines in Iraq: Sunni Arab vs. Kurds in the north, with the mostly Shiite security forces willing to lie back and let the Kurds pound the Sunnis; and those same security forces in the south vs. what remains of a Sunni resistance. That group would include al-Qaeda in Iraq remnants - whose ranks may swell as US forces leave the cities in accordance with the SOFA agreement with the al-Maliki government - as well as Awakening Council militias, members of which the Maliki-government's security forces have been rounding up and harrassing for months now, with the backing of US troops - which may make US troops targets again as well. Indeed, 5 US troops were killed by a car bomb in Mosul yesterday (and factor in as well that AQI groups are not often well disposed toward the Sunni Awakening. Today, about 25 miles south of Baghdad, several Awakening members were killed by a suicide bomber, likely AQI). The consensus seems to be that the Iraqi forces are a long way from being ready to take on the forces that are already arrayed against them.

And let's not forget that thousands of members of the Mahdi Army may be lying low and waiting to act against any perceived provocation. As the MSM tout the success of the Surge, they tend to forget that (a) part of that success was due to Muqtada al-Sadr's instruction to his followers to stand down in their resistance to Maliki's army, and (b) parts of Sadr City, the mostly Shiite impoverished slum in Baghdad, were walled off (with those humongous concrete blast walls) by the US forces, which then expended considerable effort in keeping those walls guarded and pretty well plugged. What happens when the US forces withdraw from Baghdad over the next few months? And if the Iraqi forces are able to keep those walls up and that part of Baghdad therefore segregated, how long will it take to complete a reconciliation process that would make it possible for those walls to come down? And that simply has to happen at some point. No country can be called stable or a success when one portion of its capital has to be walled off from another.

I'll say it again . . . prepare to see in the weeks ahead a lot of neocons and US military honchos demanding that Obama in effect discard the withdrawal timetable agreed upon in the SOFA agreement, in order to "preserve the gains" made in Iraq and ensure that the sacrifices of the US military over the past 6 years will not have been "in vain." The impact of a wihdrawal slowdown in Iraq on Obama's plans for Afghanistan will be significant, of course. What remains to be seen is the impact such a slowdown will have in Iraq itself. But at the least, it will strengthen the impression of the US as a long-term occupier of Iraq, it will weaken Obama's diplomatic outreach to Iran (whose leaders do not want to see the US military presence next door extended - but the Netanyahu government in Israel might welcome this), and it may fatally undercut the Maliki government by labeling it as nothing more than a US puppet/proxy regime.

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