Friday, January 12, 2007

Troop Surge Reaction in Iraqi Gov't

Relevant to the issue of how Pres. Bush's recent speech played in Iraq, this piece from NYTimes. The title ("In Baghdad, Speech Met with Resentment) is not lined up with the story. But the article itself really sheds some interesting light on what is shaking down.

Key quotes:

The Iraqi leader, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, failed to appear at a news conference and avoided any public comment. He left the government’s response to an official spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, who gave what amounted to a backhanded approval of the troop increase and emphasized that Iraqis, not Americans, would set the future course in the war.
Remember the Tom Friedman rule of Middle Eastern politics: It's not what the politicians say in private that matters its what they say to their own in their language publicly that does. Not showing up is a deep form of communication.

And more (my emphasis):

While senior officials in Washington have presented the new war plan as an American adaptation of proposals that were first put to Mr. Bush by Mr. Maliki when the two men met in the Jordanian capital of Amman in November, the picture that is emerging in Baghdad is quite different. What Mr. Maliki wanted, his officials say, was in at least one crucial respect the opposite of what Mr. Bush decided: a lowering of the American profile in the war, not the increase Mr. Bush has ordered. These Iraqi officials say Mr. Maliki, in the wake of Mr. Bush’s setback in the Democratic sweep in November’s midterm elections, demanded that American troops be pulled back to the periphery of Baghdad and that the war in the capital, at least, be handed to Iraqi troops. The demand was part of a broader impatience among the ruling Shiites to be relieved from American oversight so as to be able to fight and govern according to the dictates of Shiite politics, not according to strictures from Washington. What transpired, in Mr. Bush’s speech on Wednesday night, appears to have been a hybrid: a plan that aims at marrying the Maliki government’s urgency for a broader license to act with Mr. Bush’s determination to make what American officials here see as a last-chance push for success in Iraq on American terms. And that, as Mr. Bush made clear on Wednesday, implies objectives that will be difficult — many Iraqis say impossible — to square with Mr. Maliki’s goals.

Fight and govern according to Shiite politics is not so hidden code for Sunni wipeout. More importantly vis a vis Moqtada al-Sadr:

As details of the Bush plan became known on Wednesday, Iraqi officials said that the new arrangements would give Iraqis operational control of the new push in Baghdad. But Mr. Dabbagh and others were quick to pull back on Thursday, acknowledging that Baghdad would remain under American operational control at least until later this year. American officials noted that American officers would be assigned to General Gambar’s headquarters, that an American battalion would be twinned with each Iraqi brigade and that every Iraqi unit, down to the company level, would have American military advisers. If this fell a long way short of the plan for full Iraqi control in Baghdad that Mr. Maliki set out in November, his officials were at pains to say that the prime minister would decide the issue of most concern to the Iraqi leader: whether, and when, Iraqi and American forces would be allowed to move in force into Sadr City. That Shiite working-class district in northeast Baghdad is the stronghold of the Mahdi Army, the most powerful of the Shiite militias, and the main power base of Moktada al-Sadr, the Mahdi Army leader, whose parliamentary bloc sustains Mr. Maliki in office.

This gives credence to the views I expressed yesterday of Juan Cole's that Maliki might tell Sadr to sit out for a few months. Maliki is a hardline Shia--more hardline than previous PM Ibrahim al Jafaari. I see no way at this crucial juncture he is going to turn his militia backers.

Which is key because The National Intelligence Threat Assessment out today says that the Iraqi security forces are incapable of handling the Sunni insurgency, Shia militias, and al-Qaeda in Iraq. They are "unable" to handle the Shia militias in large part because they are the militias. "Thoroughly infiltrated" are the Iraqi security forces in the National Intelligence-ese.

And more importantly because Bush may too realize that Maliki won't go after Sadr and therefore is planning a behind the scenes coup--"a moderate alliance" in MSM press & Administration coverage.

The article ends with this rather ominous prediction:
A Shiite political leader who has worked closely with the Americans in the past said the Bush benchmarks appeared to have been drawn up in the expectation that Mr. Maliki would not meet them. “He cannot deliver the disarming of the militias,” the politician said, asking that he not be named because he did not want to be seen as publicly criticizing the prime minister. “He cannot deliver a good program for the economy and reconstruction. He cannot deliver on services. This is a matter of fact. There is a common understanding on the American side and the Iraqi side.” Views such as these — increasingly common among the political class in Baghdad — are often accompanied by predictions that Mr. Maliki will be forced out as the crisis over the militias builds. The Shiite politician who described him as incapable of disarming militias suggested he might resign; others have pointed to an American effort in recent weeks to line up a “moderate front” of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political leaders outside the government, and said that the front might be a vehicle for mounting a parliamentary coup against Mr. Maliki, with behind-the-scenes American support.

"Cut and blame?" Or "stay the course?"--no specified responses to failures to meet the benchmarks laid out.


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