The Meaning of Anbar

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Here we have an emblem of the successful military campaign we have ultimately waged in Iraq. It should be a cause for celebration. And yet, outside of the political spin machine, this event cannot responsibly be celebrated. The peace in the province is tenuous and provisional. Any number of events could set off another cycle of extreme violence.

For those thinking clearly on Iraq, Anbar is simply another step towards the inevitable departure of American troops. A departure that portends – without the American financial, diplomatic, and military presence – a collapse into civil war and chaos.

So I meet this news with bittersweet emotions. Congratulations to GEN. Petraeus and the troops for a job well done.

But to al-Maliki and the Iraqis, all of whom are already looking to consolidate their positions, you must not lose the peace. Soon, by your own request, America will leave. We don’t want to go back. Keep the hard fought gains and make your country great. Make every doubter look the fool.

To Bush and the entire neocon cohort who brought us this war: You are war criminals and I look forward to charges being brought against you by the Hague. This is the least you deserve. If we’re lucky, we’ll get another Saddam Hussein after all is said and done. But for the lives lost (more than 4,000 American; tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Iraqis) the soldiers wounded (more than 30,000 American), and the treasure borrowed and spent, you deserve much, much worse.

That’s the meaning of Anbar.

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The Iraqi Timetable for Withdrawal

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

As the negotiations continue over the agreement for the continuing presence of American troops in Iraq, the Iraqis continue to make trouble for the Bush administration. According to Sally Buzbee of the AP, Iraq’s national security adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie said today,

“We will not accept any memorandum of understanding that doesn’t have specific dates to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq.”

Hmmm.

Best case: three years until Iraq assumes control over all 18 provinces (they currently control 9), and another three years to make sure the peace holds. That means, 2014, at the earliest. And, the best case, as anyone who has paid the least attention to Iraq knows, is unlikely to come to pass.

So what is the story here? That the Iraqi government wants America out eventually? That someone on the Iraqi side used the previously verboten word “timetable?” How about that al-Rubaie spoke to reporters

“after briefing Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf on the progress of the government’s security efforts and the talks.”

The big question is who is pulling the strings on this deal with the U.S. and why, after all the blood and billions, are we having such a hard time getting our way? Aren’t we supposed to be winning in Iraq?


Progress in Basra?

Monday, May 12, 2008

A story by Stephen Pharell and Ammar Karim in the New York Times this morning reports that there is a lot of good news coming out of Basra. It seems the Iraqi Army (with U.S. and British support) has calmed the city, largely ridding it of the harsh fundamentalist influence and violence of Moktadr al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. This is good news, of a sort.

It is also bad news for several reasons.

1) Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is closely aligned with the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (formerly known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq – Hmmm, I wonder why they changed the name?). Arguably the most powerful political party in Iraq, their power base is in the oil-rich southern part of the country, particularly Basra. Why is this bad? Because SIIC is a proxy for Iran, as, one suspects, is al-Maliki. By aiding this effort to stabilize Basra (and rid the town of al-Sadr), we hand full control to the SIIC and move their government and this oil-rich region closer to Iran.

2) The gains are temporary. They occurred largely after a cease fire was declared, and without continued resistance from al-Sadr. The article is deliberate in emphasizing the tenuousness of the peace, a fact well recognized by the city’s citizens. It is premature to see this as a significant victory.

3) Basra was supposed to be the easy city, remember? Back when the British had control of the town, there was very little violence and Basra was often referenced as an example of how well our efforts in Iraq were working. What happened? Well, parliamentary elections are coming up. The move to eliminate the Mahdi Army is likely an effort consolidate political power for SIIC and al-Maliki. See #1 for why this is bad.

The big question is, who is the greater danger to the U.S. in the long run? al-Sadr or the SIIC?

To me, it isn’t at all clear that we are helping ourselves by helping SIIC. And this is the fundamental, intractable problem in Iraq. Helping al-Sadr isn’t an alternative either. In Iraq, we are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.