Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Iraq Brief

Topics Discussed:
1. Iran offensive against US this summer? Story here.
2. US counter-retaliation in the form of black covert ops. (Hat tip: John Robb)
3.New Political Strategy merged to neo-Baker Hamilton agenda. (HT: Sic Semper Tyrannis)

The first story from the Guardian argues that Iran is now linking up with Sunni (even al-Qaeda in Iraq) jihadis along with their traditional alliances among the Shia (including new stronger links with Mahdi Army) in order to pull a massive summer uprising against the Americans, forcing them to withdraw. Juan Cole finds this charge ludicrous.

They know the US political debate and come September a reckoning might come. Barnett refers to this as the veto Iran has always had over US policy in Iraq. Seems possible they are in talks let's say with some Sunni groups in Iraq. There have always been rumors (Michael Ware comes to mind) that the Iranians have their hands in all sides in Iraq. But I don't know about a coordinated attack. Seems if such a thing were to be pulled off it would come from Sadr not the Iranians.

The Iranians are also, so goes this article, forging links with Sunni elements in Afghanistan, something they would have never dreamed of prior to the US declaration of them as in the Axis of Evil--which they now are becoming. Nice self-fulfilling prophecy there. The Iranians were one of the key supporters of the Karzai government. This seems more far-fetched to me (agreeing with Cole). But who the hell knows in the Middle East nowadays. We may be heading to a place where all bets are off.

#2 outlines the US response, which has been to fight a covert war with a covert war. Brian Ross of ABC News reports that:
The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say President Bush has signed a "nonlethal presidential finding" that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions.
According to Ross this means:
Current and former intelligence officials say the approval of the covert action means the Bush administration, for the time being, has decided not to pursue a military option against Iran.
Perhaps. It would represent an in-between position from that of Cheney (who supports direct military intervention) and Rice who supports diplomacy/sanctions. On the other hand it could easily escalate and create a causus belli. As usual in this conflict, the Iranians look like they know the game. They have massively increased according to reports their hunt for nuclear weapons capacity. The current time frame (so goes the article) is 2 years. Although given the record on Iraq, I think that should be taken with a grain of salt. A massive amount of grain. But 2 years is a perfectly timed (coincidence?) to Bush's exit.

#3 New political strategy. Via WAPO.

Here's the plan:
The overarching aim of the plan, which sets goals for the end of this year and the end of 2008, is more political than military: to negotiate settlements between warring factions in Iraq from the national level down to the local level. In essence, it is as much about the political deals needed to defuse a civil war as about the military operations aimed at quelling a complex insurgency, said officials with knowledge of the plan.
Sounds logical. Sounds like something that should have been done 2 or more years back. But then the following:
Finally, the campaign plan aims to purge Iraq's leadership of a small but influential number of officials and commanders whose sectarian and criminal agendas are thwarting U.S. efforts. It recognizes that the Iraqi government is deeply infiltrated by militia and corrupt officials who are "part of the problem" and are maneuvering to kill off opponents, install sectarian allies and otherwise solidify their power for when U.S. troops withdraw, said one person familiar with the plan.
And further:
The plan is also designed to shore up Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, even though some U.S. commanders regard him as beholden to narrow sectarian interests. But they support Maliki for pragmatic as well as political reasons: As pressure mounts in Congress for a troop withdrawal, time lost reorganizing the government could mean losing the war, officials said...The campaign plan upholds Bush's long-term goal of creating a stable and unified Iraq that is a partner against terrorism. Yet because of uncertainty over Maliki's intentions, the plan lowers medium-term expectations for reconciliation in Iraq. Instead, it aims for bargains to curb sectarian violence.
Problematic. This gets to the heart of the matter. With the US engineering a putsch against elements of the Iraqi government (depending on your counting at least second time, possibly third or fourth), how can the continued line of them being a sovereign democratically elected government hold? Particularly with the populace. Maliki as the commanders admit is beholden to narrow sectarian interests. Why would that change? Especially if he knows the US won't pull the plug on him. And who would they substitute? No such US-backed coup government will have the support of the populace seems to me.

Moving to support, logistics for the Iraqi Army as well as Sunni tribes to take on the Salafis, even trying to squeeze some of the most hardline sectarians (easier said than done), working further on the regional security blanket (Sharm el Sheik) and getting the sides to hammer out some sorts of deals. I'm with all this. Again it's Baker-Hamilton, what we should have done when the thing originally came out instead of going for a surge which has just delayed the endgame in my estimation.

But again what to do about Moqtada? Would he qualify as one to be outed from the government? It also still assumes the government actually has control. When the US troops pull back are the Iraqi Troops going to fight for corrupt bureaucrats?

Bush is still locked into the view that the US gets to decide who their government is and what their governing policy should be. This is the central point of why it changed from a liberation force to an occupation. The summer is shaping up to be horrifically bloody.

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