Friday, August 24, 2007

PM Nouri al-Maliki

How long will he last? That is the question for the week of August 20th, as pot-shots and verbal barbs passed back and forth between the Iraqi Prime Minister and officials stateside.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois spoke out first, albeit tepidly, by saying that his opinion on the matter of political progress within Iraq was rather dim.
"While we believe that the “surge” is having measurable results, and has provided a degree of “breathing space” for Iraqi politicians to make the political compromises which are essential for a political solution in Iraq, we are not optimistic about the prospects for those compromises. We were in Iraq both during the recent initial meeting of the Iraq Presidency Council, the Prime Minister and the President of the Kurdish region and during the immediately following expanded meeting, which were intended to reach political compromises. We would like to be optimistic that those meetings will lead to substantive progress, however -- given the performance of the Iraqi political leadership to date -- we remain extremely cautious in our expectations..."
Which was followed by the White House issuing statements reiterating that yes indeed, the President did stand by the government of PM al-Maliki. "Prime Minister Maliki's a good guy, good man with a difficult job and I support him," said Bush.

Senator Clinton asked that al-Maliki be removed by the Iraqi Parliament as well.
"During his trip to Iraq last week, Senator Carl Levin, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee on which I serve, confirmed that the Iraqi Government’s failures have reinforced the widely held view that the Maliki government is nonfunctional and cannot produce a political settlement, because it is too beholden to religious and sectarian leaders. I share Senator Levin’s hope that the Iraqi parliament will replace Prime Minister Maliki with a less divisive and more unifying figure when it returns in a few weeks."
It wasn't the best of weeks for the embattled Prime Minister. Adding a bit of an edge to this story is the push to place Ayad Allawi to first in line for the PM position provided that al-Maliki gets the proverbial (and not the physical) axe. This action coming through a long-standing Republican lobbying firm. A carnival ride for sure, and these are only the items that the press has found out so far - there could still yet be more plays to be revealed.

Just the same, the PM had had quite enough of U.S. politicians predicting his demise. Onto the offensive, he spoke on Sunday with a tongue-lashing for those that oppose his tenure. At his press conference he quipped:
"There are American officials who consider Iraq as if it were one of their villages, for example Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin. They should come to their senses."
He also listed plenty more grievances towards the American occupational forces which are sure to play well to his Shiite base inside Iraq. PM al-Maliki still does not have a majority in Parliament by which to rule, so what does this situation get him?

Given that the American presence in Iraq is now opposed by a large majority of Iraqis, it might be helpful for him to be seen as a leader who is willing to stand up and denounce the Occupiers. He does not appear to be in a position of strength among many Iraqis, but he surely must be seen as more favorable then someone such as Allawi who has incredibly suspicious ties to the United States through his years with the CIA which helped fund his group the Iraqi National Accord.

So American politicians calling for Nouri al-Maliki's ouster may in turn yield a blip of support for the Prime Minister provided he can deftly handle the situation to his favor. But what of the Senators and pundits who ascribe the failings of the Iraqi experiment solely at the feet of al-Maliki? Is there someone better waiting in the wing that doesn't have a tainted background or direct sectarian albatross dangling around their neck?

Those pols in Iraq are few and far between, and it may be that no one person in Iraq exists that can keep the country together in the near or distant future. Those are the breaks when you induce civil war.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Remember The Surge

If the White House and General Petraeus are in agreement, then the report to Congress to be delivered on September 15, 2oo7, may cite that the surge in troop levels is working just as expected. That is not a very large 'if'; both President Bush and General Petraeus have a large stake in assuring the public that their actions are finally having the intended effect as opposed to all prior actions and shortfalls experienced in the previous four years. It is not even surprising that instead of a detailed report coming straight from the military, the West Wing will cobble together the relevant details Congress may need.

But at least they will be able to speak directly, frankly, and publicly with the architect of the escalation in occupational forces.

Well, maybe not.

From the Washinton Post article above by Jonathan Weisman and Karen DeYoung from August 16:

"Senior congressional aides said yesterday that the White House has proposed limiting the much-anticipated appearance on Capitol Hill next month of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker to a private congressional briefing, suggesting instead that the Bush administration's progress report on the Iraq war should be delivered to Congress by the secretaries of state and defense.

White House officials did not deny making the proposal in informal talks with Congress, but they said yesterday that they will not shield the commanding general in Iraq and the senior U.S. diplomat there from public congressional testimony required by the war-funding legislation President Bush signed in May. "The administration plans to follow the requirements of the legislation," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in response to questions yesterday."

Even if there is something positive to be had from there reports and interviews, why limit it to private conversations? With this issue being the most prominent point on the public mind in America, wouldn't it serve the interest of the public to have the most forthright report possible out of the commanders themselves, and have it delivered to the country in an open forum where concerns and worries of the people can be expressed through the conduit of Representatives and Senators?

Maybe there could be answers to questions such as what Iraq and the U.S. will do for cities like Basra, which at one point were calm and secure but now are finding in-fighting among the various factions a serious destabilizing effect. Ben Lando of UPI notes that this oil-rich region is almost the sole source of Iraq's revenues currently, and that stability there means that Iraq still has the chance to tread water for the time being while the northern pipelines continue to suffer attacks and disruptions.

In a telling passage, Lando writes how three Shiite factions have set themselves up to establish control over this vital region:

"In Basra, three Shiite parties, powerful in their varied own right, swap allegiances and gunfire and jockey for position: the Fadhila Party, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (formerly the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), and the Sadr Movement, led by cleric Moqtada Sadr.

The Fadhila Party gained control of the province in the 2005 elections, but only with 21 of 41 seats, and with a coalition of other parties and independents. SCIRI took the rest. Sadr has no official seats but loyalists.

All three began their power play, infiltrating the police and the bureaucracy. The Fadhila Party grabbed control of the oil facilities protection service, which put it “in a position to really control how much is or is not smuggled,” said Ken Katzman, Middle East expert at the Congressional Research Service. “You can do whatever you want … it’s control over the proceeds of the smuggling.” "
That isn't the strong arm of Iran working, that is outright factional dissension seeded by a toothless central Iraqi government that has little control over the country at large. It wouldn't be fair to target the troop increase as a fault for the instability in Basra, but it is worth mentioning that when one area becomes more secure, there are many other areas in Iraq that are quite susceptible to civil war and terrorist acts. The incredibly massive attacks against the Yazidi people in Nineveh province on August 14th is another example.

As a last ditch effort, the U.S. military surge may probably be viewed as a stalemate. It can lock down neighborhoods, it can sweep villages for suspects with dubious results, but it will not make a civil war go by the wayside. A strong-arm military occupation cannot even produce real political results in the Iraqi Parliament. To the extent that Prime Minister al-Maliki had to form a new coalition in Parliament that doesn't even comprise a majority in the body lends credence to the mixed results of a show of force in Iraq this late in the game.

Occupations aren't won by military tactics. The people and the government of the occupied country either boot out the occupier or come to terms with themselves and grow a sustainable country whereby the occupier is no longer needed. In terms of Iraq, there is little if any chance that a duly elected government containing all of the various fractious elements inside the country can produce a sustainable government - anyone could have seen that coming nine years prior to the invasion. If that is the case, then what is left is a country which will be severely damaged for many years to come with or without the help of American soldiers and Marines.

Expect the surge to be polished nicely come mid-September, but do not expect the news to be any better for a very long time.