Monday, January 08, 2007

Execution of Saddam undermines US position in Baghdad.

Today the nation is breathlessly awaiting our fearless leader's plan for the New Way Forward. Supposedly he'll be letting us in on what he and his war cabinet have cooked up sometime on Wednesday. Unfortunately, I think Wednesday might be about six months too late. By making the political calculation to delay coming to grips with the fact that we weren't "absolutely" winning in Iraq until after the elections in November, the administration squandered what little chance there was of getting a handle on the situation in Iraq. Even as the president's new military and diplomatic appointments get themselves up to speed on the situation in Iraq and the troops load into their transports, events on the ground are again rushing ahead of W. & Co. By now, whatever strategy he and his National Security team have formulated has been rendered inoperable by their bungling of Saddam Hussein's execution.

I think history will eventually reveal that the failure of the administration to prevent that horrific spectacle was a crucial error that transformed the dynamics of the power relationship between the U.S. and the Iraqi government. By allowing al-Maliki and his puppet master Muqtada al-Sadr to get away with such a blatant sectarian lynching, the administration displayed its impotence. The United States government went eye ball to eye ball with al-Sadr and it blinked. In the dangerous world of the Middle East, weakness is something you dare not show. The U.S. may still have the most powerful militia on the streets of Baghdad, but that accounted for nothing when al-Maliki got the OK by the marjaiya in Najaf to sign the death warrant. [NYT]

Now it's clear for all to see who's really calling the shots in Baghdad. Any question as to Maliki's willingness or ability, or lack thereof, to rein in the Shiite death squads and the Madhi army should all be answered at this point. Yet despite this, the administration's plans for escalating the war continue apace. One fly in the ointment, however, remains the fact that the newly emboldened "sovereign" government of Iraq is refusing to sign off on the W.'s new surge strategy. To hear the Sunday talk shows you'd think it's a done deal, but according to an AP report from Saturday it's far from that:

"Sami al-Askari, a Maliki political adviser, said yesterday [Friday] that Maliki had not acquiesced to the reported White House plan to send as many as 9,000 more U.S. troops to Baghdad alone. 'President Bush told the prime minister he was ready to send additional troops,' Askari said, 'but Maliki said he would have to talk that over with his senior military officers to see if they were needed.'"

To put an even finer point on the Iraqi government's distain for U.S. interference, Askari said when al-Maliki spoke to Bush via video conference last week, he kept pressing Bush to withdraw U.S. troops to bases on "the outskirts of Baghdad." Could there be a reason why the Iraqis are so hell bent on getting us out of the picture? Could it be that a new security crackdown in Baghdad, announced by al-Maliki on Saturday, is in actuality the final push to ethnically cleanse Baghdad of Sunnis?

The official story is that this new crack down is part of Bush's -- as yet unannounced -- New Way Forward. Ostensibly, it's a joint Iraqi/U.S. operation to go neighborhood by neighborhood to clear out insurgents and death squads. However, another top al-Maliki aide, Hassan al-Suneid, told the AP that U.S. forces would only be needed in a supporting role.

U.S. forces were certainly no where to be seen on Haifa Street shortly after the crack down began on Saturday night. The NYT reported on Sunday that Iraqi army units had engaged "Sunni fighters" who had set up a fake security check point on Haifa Street and were pulling Shiites aside and killing them. The victims had then been hung from lamp posts, defense ministry spokesman Muhammed Askeri said. According to Askeri, 30 fighters were killed by Iraqi forces and residents in the mainly Sunni neighborhood said fighting continued into the night.

Oddly, as of yet, there have been no reports of Iraqi army units engaging Madhi army fighters. I'm sure that's just around the corner, though. As soon as all the Sunni insurgent groups are wiped out, al-Maliki will be getting right on that. 'Don't worry USA, just keep the money and arms coming and we'll take care of the rest.' I say we let them at it and take them at their word that they don't need us anymore. Instead of sending more troops to dodge bombs and bullets from both sides, we should get the hell out of their way.


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