Monday, April 26, 2010

The US's Desperation in Iraq is showing

Patrick Cockburn reports in The Independent that the US has injected itself into Iraq's post-election stalemate by pushing a solution that would have the current PM, Nuri al-Maliki, and the former PM whose party seems to have won the most seats, Ayad Allawi, agree to rotate the prime ministership in a new government, thereby (supposedly) making it all better.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, part of the US's sense of urgency here stems from Muqtada al-Sadr's "offer" to re-constitute his Mahdi Army militia (not that it was ever entirely de-constituted) and have them work with the Iraqi government's security forces to ensure security.  To see the Mahdi Army stand up again is, of course, the last thing that Maliki or Allawi (or, for that matter, the US) wants to see.  The Iraqi security forces are predominantly Shii, and many of them are former - or still - members of the Shii Badr Brigade militia, which has clashed violently with the Mahdi Army in the past.

This would significantly complicate the situation on the ground in Iraq tremendously, especially with the US in the process of withdrawing most of its combat troops.  Also remember that the Mahdi Army gave US forces a very tough time as resistance forces in Najaf in 2004, and that their members constituted many of the death squads that "cleansed" Baghdad of much of its Sunni population in 2006-2007.  Ayad Allawi's most important backers are the now-reinvigorated Sunni Arab population of Iraq.  They have no love for either the Mahdi Army or, by and large, the Iraqi security forces, who only recently were found to have been maintaining a secret prison in northern Iraq where they were detaining and torturing Sunnis.

However, the solution the US is reaching for - rotating the prime ministership - really does very little more than to apply a very loose band-aid over the sectarian divisions and mistrust that still afflict Iraq.  Allawi and Maliki seem to despise each other personally, and each of them surely despises what he sees as the other's intentions: that Maliki will bring Iraq more closely into Iran's embrace, and that Allawi will allow the Sunnis (read: Baath party, of which Allawi, though a Shii himself, was once a member in good standing).  What the US is proposing only kicks the sectarian-division can farther down the road.

More importantly from Washington's perspective though, it may give the US just enough cover to say to the American public (who surely have turned the page on Iraq; after all, the Surge fixed it, right?) "Hey, it's gonna be OK," and then get the hell out of Dodge.

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