Monday, September 13, 2010

Iraq's Complexities

Ned Parker of the LA Times has a report today that bodes ill for Iraq's future, and also testifies to the social and political complexities that undercut nation-building there.  It's ominous in its assertion that al-Qaeda is re-emerging in Iraq.  That's hardly news, of course.  It's been noted by several sources for months now as suicide and car bombings - especially against the police - have ramped up.  It's likely that they will persist, although such happenings - devastating to Iraqi lives - will be increasingly out of Americans' awareness now that "combat operations" have been declared over (even though 50,000 troops remain in Iraq and, as Reuters reports and some of the soldiers complain, are still in danger).

Parker's report, however, reminds us that the so-called US "victory" that was produced by Petraeus' "surge" was won as much - even more perhaps - by Sunni tribesmen who decided to turn against the al-Qaeda groups with whom they had previously allied as fellow resistance fighters against the US presence in Iraq.  They became members of the Sahwa, the "Sunni Awakening" that worked with the US military, which provided them needed financial support.  (Some might call it bribes.) But when the US bequeathed the Sahwa fighters to the tender mercies of the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, we effectively hung them out on a limb.  Maliki's government did not come through with the jobs that they had promised them, and even began to round them up and detain them.  (Many of them are undoubtedly among the 30,000 still detained in Iraqi prisons, where, according to a new report from Amnesty International, they deal with frequent torture.) 

Now, feeling sold out by their erstwhile American patrons and preyed upon by the government, these one-time heroes live in fear of reprisals from the re-emerging al-Qaeda groups.  As Parker reports, the new al-Qaeda leaders are not especially extremist ideologues, but sometimes only local tough guys who are after money and local status, and have tribal scores to settle with former Sahwa members.

So, as Iraq's politicians continue to wrestle - 6 months after the elections! - with building a government, al-Qaeda is getting to its feet again, ready and able to smack down Baghdad's rule.  And the groups that helped lead the attack against al-Qaeda in Iraq - the Sunni Awakening fighters and the US military - are on the ebb.

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