Commentary Magazine


Topic: Nouri al-Maliki

Iraq’s Losers

David Ignatius and Kori Schake make a good point about the Iraqi election results: the big loser, at least for now, is Iran. Ignatius notes how hard the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force worked to derail the electoral ambitions of Ayad Allawi and to engineer a victory for the Iraqi National Alliance, a Shiite religious combination of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadrists. Iran was widely seen as responsible for the De-Baathification Commission’s attempts to disqualify many Sunni, secular candidates, and, Ignatius reports, “A U.S. military commander told me in February that Iran was sending $9 million a month to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and $8 million a month to the political party of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.”

Obviously the Iranian strategy failed, as Allawi’s Iraqiya slate came out the top vote-getter with 91 parliamentary seats, followed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition with 89 seats. The Iraqi National Alliance was a distant third with 75 seats.

As Schake notes, the results suggest that “Iraqi voters don’t want Iran running their government or having sway in their society.” Allawi was the most anti-Iranian candidate. Maliki may well have lost votes because, writes Schake, he “is seen — rightly or wrongly — as more susceptible to Iranian influence.”

These are all, of course, only preliminary conclusions. It is still possible that Iran may regain the edge in post-election camel-trading that it lost in the actual vote. Allawi will struggle to form a government, and if he fails, Maliki will get a shot. Both sides have an obvious incentive to woo at least one of the Shiite religious parties by making who knows what kinds of concessions. The obvious alternative would be for Maliki and Allawi to form their own coalition — a nationalist unity government –but that would be hard to pull off because they can’t stand each other.

Stay tuned. It’s hard to predict what will happen. In some ways, that is the highest tribute we can pay to Iraq. In how many other countries in the Middle East is it so hard to know in advance who will rule after an election? In most countries, the voting is a mere formality to ratify the authoritarian status quo. Not in Iraq. It is emerging as a genuine democracy, but it now faces a major test. As has been noted by many experts, the true test of a political system is whether power can shift peacefully from one party to another. It will be the reaction of the losers, more than the winners, that will set the tone in Iraqi politics and help determine the ultimate success or failure of its democratic experiment.

David Ignatius and Kori Schake make a good point about the Iraqi election results: the big loser, at least for now, is Iran. Ignatius notes how hard the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force worked to derail the electoral ambitions of Ayad Allawi and to engineer a victory for the Iraqi National Alliance, a Shiite religious combination of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadrists. Iran was widely seen as responsible for the De-Baathification Commission’s attempts to disqualify many Sunni, secular candidates, and, Ignatius reports, “A U.S. military commander told me in February that Iran was sending $9 million a month to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and $8 million a month to the political party of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.”

Obviously the Iranian strategy failed, as Allawi’s Iraqiya slate came out the top vote-getter with 91 parliamentary seats, followed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition with 89 seats. The Iraqi National Alliance was a distant third with 75 seats.

As Schake notes, the results suggest that “Iraqi voters don’t want Iran running their government or having sway in their society.” Allawi was the most anti-Iranian candidate. Maliki may well have lost votes because, writes Schake, he “is seen — rightly or wrongly — as more susceptible to Iranian influence.”

These are all, of course, only preliminary conclusions. It is still possible that Iran may regain the edge in post-election camel-trading that it lost in the actual vote. Allawi will struggle to form a government, and if he fails, Maliki will get a shot. Both sides have an obvious incentive to woo at least one of the Shiite religious parties by making who knows what kinds of concessions. The obvious alternative would be for Maliki and Allawi to form their own coalition — a nationalist unity government –but that would be hard to pull off because they can’t stand each other.

Stay tuned. It’s hard to predict what will happen. In some ways, that is the highest tribute we can pay to Iraq. In how many other countries in the Middle East is it so hard to know in advance who will rule after an election? In most countries, the voting is a mere formality to ratify the authoritarian status quo. Not in Iraq. It is emerging as a genuine democracy, but it now faces a major test. As has been noted by many experts, the true test of a political system is whether power can shift peacefully from one party to another. It will be the reaction of the losers, more than the winners, that will set the tone in Iraqi politics and help determine the ultimate success or failure of its democratic experiment.

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Here’s a Housing-Freeze Idea

COMMENTARY contributor Ruth Wisse asks a marvelous question: “How about an Arab ‘Settlement Freeze’?” Her point is a cogent one:

Of the children of Abraham, the descendants of Ishmael currently occupy at least 800 times more land than descendants of Isaac. The 21 states of the Arab League routinely announce plans of building expansion. Saudi Arabia estimates that 555,000 housing units were built over the past several years. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced during a meeting in Baghdad last year that “Some 10,000 units will be built in each province [of Iraq] with 100 square meters per unit” to accommodate citizens whose housing needs have not been met for a long time. Egypt has established 10 new cities since 1996. They are Tenth of Ramadan, Sixth of October, Al Sadat, Al Shurouq, Al Obour, New Damietta, New Beni Sueif, New Assiut, New Luxor, and New Cairo.

In 2006 the Syrian Prime Minister, Mohammad Naji Atri, announced a new five-year development plan that aims to supply 687,000 housing units. Kuwait expects to have a demand for approximately 100,000 private housing units by 2010. Last year Jordan’s King Abdullah launched a National Housing Initiative, which aims to build 120,000 properties for low-income Jordanians.

And the litany of housing goes on, as does the history of Arab rejectionism, which seeks to displace the Jewish state — housing units and all — from the region. As Wisse argues, “It is unfortunate that Arabs obsess about building in Israel rather than aiming for the development of their own superabundant lands. But why should America encourage their hegemonic ambitions?”

So why focus on the tiny Jewish state and 5,000 units in the undefined “East Jerusalem”? (By the way, the capitalization of “East” now employed by every journalistic outfit on the planet is misleading. There is east or eastern Jerusalem; there is no legal entity “East Jerusalem.”) We return then to her query:

Why does the White House take issue with the construction of housing for Jewish citizens within the boundaries of their own country? The same White House raised no objection when Jordan recently began systematically stripping citizenship from thousands of its Palestinian citizens rather than providing new housing units for them in a land much larger than Israel.

Perhaps Israel has been at fault for not doggedly insisting on unconditional acceptance of its sovereign existence, and for not demanding that Arab rulers adhere to the U.N. Charter’s guarantee of “equal rights of . . . nations large and small.” Preposterous as they would have thought it, perhaps Israelis ought to have called for a freeze on Arab settlements to correspond to unreasonable Arab demands on them.

It is a measure of how cockeyed our thinking has become that there is only a single country in the region — the one that affords its Arab minority more civil liberties than in the surrounding Arab states — that must play “Mother-may-I?” when it comes to housing its own population. Now there’s an “affront.”

COMMENTARY contributor Ruth Wisse asks a marvelous question: “How about an Arab ‘Settlement Freeze’?” Her point is a cogent one:

Of the children of Abraham, the descendants of Ishmael currently occupy at least 800 times more land than descendants of Isaac. The 21 states of the Arab League routinely announce plans of building expansion. Saudi Arabia estimates that 555,000 housing units were built over the past several years. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced during a meeting in Baghdad last year that “Some 10,000 units will be built in each province [of Iraq] with 100 square meters per unit” to accommodate citizens whose housing needs have not been met for a long time. Egypt has established 10 new cities since 1996. They are Tenth of Ramadan, Sixth of October, Al Sadat, Al Shurouq, Al Obour, New Damietta, New Beni Sueif, New Assiut, New Luxor, and New Cairo.

In 2006 the Syrian Prime Minister, Mohammad Naji Atri, announced a new five-year development plan that aims to supply 687,000 housing units. Kuwait expects to have a demand for approximately 100,000 private housing units by 2010. Last year Jordan’s King Abdullah launched a National Housing Initiative, which aims to build 120,000 properties for low-income Jordanians.

And the litany of housing goes on, as does the history of Arab rejectionism, which seeks to displace the Jewish state — housing units and all — from the region. As Wisse argues, “It is unfortunate that Arabs obsess about building in Israel rather than aiming for the development of their own superabundant lands. But why should America encourage their hegemonic ambitions?”

So why focus on the tiny Jewish state and 5,000 units in the undefined “East Jerusalem”? (By the way, the capitalization of “East” now employed by every journalistic outfit on the planet is misleading. There is east or eastern Jerusalem; there is no legal entity “East Jerusalem.”) We return then to her query:

Why does the White House take issue with the construction of housing for Jewish citizens within the boundaries of their own country? The same White House raised no objection when Jordan recently began systematically stripping citizenship from thousands of its Palestinian citizens rather than providing new housing units for them in a land much larger than Israel.

Perhaps Israel has been at fault for not doggedly insisting on unconditional acceptance of its sovereign existence, and for not demanding that Arab rulers adhere to the U.N. Charter’s guarantee of “equal rights of . . . nations large and small.” Preposterous as they would have thought it, perhaps Israelis ought to have called for a freeze on Arab settlements to correspond to unreasonable Arab demands on them.

It is a measure of how cockeyed our thinking has become that there is only a single country in the region — the one that affords its Arab minority more civil liberties than in the surrounding Arab states — that must play “Mother-may-I?” when it comes to housing its own population. Now there’s an “affront.”

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The Indifferent Ally

We were told during the campaign that Obama was a worldly man. He had lived overseas. He understood America’s “proper” place in the world. (Yes, there’s American exceptionalism, but also Greek and British exceptionalism. In other words, America’s not exceptional at all.) He “got” the Muslim World. And he just adored multilateralism. So he was going to repair all the damage done by the cowboy who preceded him. But it seems not to have worked out that way. And the number of aggrieved allies is considerably higher than it was when George W. Bush left office.

Jackson Diehl explains:

I recently asked several senior administration officials, separately, to name a foreign leader with whom Barack Obama has forged a strong personal relationship during his first year in office. A lot of hemming and hawing ensued. … His following means that, in democratic countries at least, leaders have a strong incentive to befriend him. And yet this president appears, so far, to have no genuine foreign friends. In this he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.

Diehl chalks most of this up to disinterest on Obama’s part. He is, after all, consumed with reinventing America. And frankly, he’s been an unreliable ally (ask the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Honduras) and an unfaithful friend. (“Obama also hasn’t hesitated to publicly express displeasure with U.S. allies. He sparred all last year with Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu; he expressed impatience when Japan’s Yukio Hatoyama balked at implementing a military base agreement. He has repeatedly criticized Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, and he gave up the videoconferences Bush used to have with Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki.”) He’s been obsessed with ingratiating himself with foes who are indifferent to his overtures rather than forging solid partnerships with those whose help we could use. (“In foreign as well as domestic affairs, coolness has its cost.”)

In all this one senses a certain insularity. Obama reminds us he isn’t one for open-ended commitments. (Too bad, then, that our enemies wage open-ended wars.) The serial rudeness to the Brits and constant carping at Israel suggest not merely tone-deafness but also indifference to the concerns and sensibilities of our allies. Where is all that vaunted internationalism and supposed sophistication? Well, he’s got other concerns, but perhaps once ObamaCare and cap-and-trade go by the wayside, he’ll look for other ways to spend his time. Restoring our alliances would be a place to start. It seems they were in better shape when he arrived and could use some tending.

We were told during the campaign that Obama was a worldly man. He had lived overseas. He understood America’s “proper” place in the world. (Yes, there’s American exceptionalism, but also Greek and British exceptionalism. In other words, America’s not exceptional at all.) He “got” the Muslim World. And he just adored multilateralism. So he was going to repair all the damage done by the cowboy who preceded him. But it seems not to have worked out that way. And the number of aggrieved allies is considerably higher than it was when George W. Bush left office.

Jackson Diehl explains:

I recently asked several senior administration officials, separately, to name a foreign leader with whom Barack Obama has forged a strong personal relationship during his first year in office. A lot of hemming and hawing ensued. … His following means that, in democratic countries at least, leaders have a strong incentive to befriend him. And yet this president appears, so far, to have no genuine foreign friends. In this he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.

Diehl chalks most of this up to disinterest on Obama’s part. He is, after all, consumed with reinventing America. And frankly, he’s been an unreliable ally (ask the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Honduras) and an unfaithful friend. (“Obama also hasn’t hesitated to publicly express displeasure with U.S. allies. He sparred all last year with Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu; he expressed impatience when Japan’s Yukio Hatoyama balked at implementing a military base agreement. He has repeatedly criticized Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, and he gave up the videoconferences Bush used to have with Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki.”) He’s been obsessed with ingratiating himself with foes who are indifferent to his overtures rather than forging solid partnerships with those whose help we could use. (“In foreign as well as domestic affairs, coolness has its cost.”)

In all this one senses a certain insularity. Obama reminds us he isn’t one for open-ended commitments. (Too bad, then, that our enemies wage open-ended wars.) The serial rudeness to the Brits and constant carping at Israel suggest not merely tone-deafness but also indifference to the concerns and sensibilities of our allies. Where is all that vaunted internationalism and supposed sophistication? Well, he’s got other concerns, but perhaps once ObamaCare and cap-and-trade go by the wayside, he’ll look for other ways to spend his time. Restoring our alliances would be a place to start. It seems they were in better shape when he arrived and could use some tending.

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Mishandling Karzai

Not the least of the innovations that Gen. Stanley McChrystal has introduced is changing how the U.S. interacts with Hamid Karzai. The Obama team came into office bashing the president of Afghanistan without lining up a solid alternative. The predictable result: a key ally has been alienated for no good reason. Now McChrystal is working to shore up Karzai’s authority and especially his credentials as a wartime leader.

This Wall Street Journal article shows how McChrystal was careful to brief Karzai on plans for the offensive into Marjah and to get his sign-off before the launching of operations. As the Journal notes:

For both the Americans and the Afghans, who have been fighting together for more than eight years, it was a novel moment. As Mr. Karzai said after being roused from a nap: “No one has ever asked me to decide before.”

This attempt to bolster Karzai and involve him more in NATO decision-making seems a much more productive way to deal with him than the previous approach of scolding him in public. It is just possible that Karzai can undergo a transformation similar to that of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq, who established himself as a strong leader in 2008 by becoming the public face of military operations against Sadrist insurgents.

Not the least of the innovations that Gen. Stanley McChrystal has introduced is changing how the U.S. interacts with Hamid Karzai. The Obama team came into office bashing the president of Afghanistan without lining up a solid alternative. The predictable result: a key ally has been alienated for no good reason. Now McChrystal is working to shore up Karzai’s authority and especially his credentials as a wartime leader.

This Wall Street Journal article shows how McChrystal was careful to brief Karzai on plans for the offensive into Marjah and to get his sign-off before the launching of operations. As the Journal notes:

For both the Americans and the Afghans, who have been fighting together for more than eight years, it was a novel moment. As Mr. Karzai said after being roused from a nap: “No one has ever asked me to decide before.”

This attempt to bolster Karzai and involve him more in NATO decision-making seems a much more productive way to deal with him than the previous approach of scolding him in public. It is just possible that Karzai can undergo a transformation similar to that of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq, who established himself as a strong leader in 2008 by becoming the public face of military operations against Sadrist insurgents.

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Re: Re: Iran Strike, Out

Abe, we seem to be trailing not only France and Canada on the Iran nuclear issue but also that well-known bastion of neocon aggression, the International Atomic Energy Agency. It appears, unlike the Obami, that the IAEA is willing to concede the obvious:

An International Atomic Energy Agency report expresses worry that Iran may be working on a nuclear warhead, despite a 2007 U.S. intelligence assessment that found the Islamic Republic stopped such work in 2003.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog also confirmed that Iran had indeed enriched uranium to nearly 20 percent, a claim made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during revolutionary anniversary festivities last week but rebuffed by the White House.

“We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree they say they are enriching,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at last Thursday’s daily briefing.

But the IAEA report said that Iran had hit 19.8 percent enrichment on two days last week.

So what’s up here? Could it be that the Obami are — I know it’s hard to imagine — foot-dragging and trying to downplay the urgency of the situation? Might it be that the policy of  do-nothingism only works as long as the public doesn’t get the idea that the mullahs are doing something, namely making steady progress toward a nuclear weapons capability. Once that becomes apparent, the Obami may be called upon to do something.

At this point, the Obami look feckless (more so than usual) and can only float the idea that, yes, they might be revising that now entirely discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. But for now, it seems that’s the extent of their concern.

And it’s not simply on the nuclear threat that the Obami have gone mute. As Kim and Fred Kagan point out, they also appear dangerously indifferent to the growing influence of Iran in Iraq’s nascent democracy. They explain that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and Chairman of the Assembly of Experts Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani “worked doggedly in 2009 to rebuild the coalition of the three major Iraqi Shiite parties that had run in 2005 as a bloc.”  When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to join, and that effort fell apart, the Iranians orchestrated a ban of some 500 Iraqi candidates, including “some of the most prominent Sunni leaders who had been running on cross-sectarian lists.” The Kagans sum up:

But politics is by no means Tehran’s only sphere of influence in Iraq. The Iranian armed forces violated Iraqi sovereignty on at least two occasions in 2009—U.S. forces shot down an Iranian drone in Iraqi territory in March 2009, and Iranian troops ostentatiously seized an Iraqi oil well in December 2009 as the Iraqis completed a round of international oil bids.

Against this continuous Iranian campaign of engagement, intimidation and political machinations, the Obama administration has offered little more than moral support. In practical terms, this administration has done little to implement the nonmilitary aspects of the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that would signal an American commitment to Iraq.

Thus, the Obami are paralyzed. They show no determination to prevent Iran from moving closer and closer to membership in the nuclear weapons club or to interfere with Iran’s efforts to subvert its neighbor Iraq. Israel and its Arab neighbors have reason to be nervous. The Obama administration seems keen on stopping Israel from striking Iran yet indifferent to any action that would halt the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran bent on regional hegemony and destruction of the Jewish state. One wonders why U.S. lawmakers and Jewish groups aren’t more concerned as we sleepwalk into a world with a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

Abe, we seem to be trailing not only France and Canada on the Iran nuclear issue but also that well-known bastion of neocon aggression, the International Atomic Energy Agency. It appears, unlike the Obami, that the IAEA is willing to concede the obvious:

An International Atomic Energy Agency report expresses worry that Iran may be working on a nuclear warhead, despite a 2007 U.S. intelligence assessment that found the Islamic Republic stopped such work in 2003.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog also confirmed that Iran had indeed enriched uranium to nearly 20 percent, a claim made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during revolutionary anniversary festivities last week but rebuffed by the White House.

“We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree they say they are enriching,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at last Thursday’s daily briefing.

But the IAEA report said that Iran had hit 19.8 percent enrichment on two days last week.

So what’s up here? Could it be that the Obami are — I know it’s hard to imagine — foot-dragging and trying to downplay the urgency of the situation? Might it be that the policy of  do-nothingism only works as long as the public doesn’t get the idea that the mullahs are doing something, namely making steady progress toward a nuclear weapons capability. Once that becomes apparent, the Obami may be called upon to do something.

At this point, the Obami look feckless (more so than usual) and can only float the idea that, yes, they might be revising that now entirely discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. But for now, it seems that’s the extent of their concern.

And it’s not simply on the nuclear threat that the Obami have gone mute. As Kim and Fred Kagan point out, they also appear dangerously indifferent to the growing influence of Iran in Iraq’s nascent democracy. They explain that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and Chairman of the Assembly of Experts Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani “worked doggedly in 2009 to rebuild the coalition of the three major Iraqi Shiite parties that had run in 2005 as a bloc.”  When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to join, and that effort fell apart, the Iranians orchestrated a ban of some 500 Iraqi candidates, including “some of the most prominent Sunni leaders who had been running on cross-sectarian lists.” The Kagans sum up:

But politics is by no means Tehran’s only sphere of influence in Iraq. The Iranian armed forces violated Iraqi sovereignty on at least two occasions in 2009—U.S. forces shot down an Iranian drone in Iraqi territory in March 2009, and Iranian troops ostentatiously seized an Iraqi oil well in December 2009 as the Iraqis completed a round of international oil bids.

Against this continuous Iranian campaign of engagement, intimidation and political machinations, the Obama administration has offered little more than moral support. In practical terms, this administration has done little to implement the nonmilitary aspects of the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that would signal an American commitment to Iraq.

Thus, the Obami are paralyzed. They show no determination to prevent Iran from moving closer and closer to membership in the nuclear weapons club or to interfere with Iran’s efforts to subvert its neighbor Iraq. Israel and its Arab neighbors have reason to be nervous. The Obama administration seems keen on stopping Israel from striking Iran yet indifferent to any action that would halt the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran bent on regional hegemony and destruction of the Jewish state. One wonders why U.S. lawmakers and Jewish groups aren’t more concerned as we sleepwalk into a world with a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

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No George Bush When It Comes to Our Allies

Noting Obama’s decision to skip the U.S.–European Union Summit and spurn its host, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Jackson Diehl sees a pattern by Obama of withdrawal from and growing indifference to international affairs. He writes:

It’s not just Zapatero who has trouble gaining traction in this White House: Unlike most of his predecessors, Obama has not forged close ties with any European leader. Britain’s Brown, France’s Sarkozy and Germany’s Merkel have each, in turn, felt snubbed by him. Relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are tense at best. George W. Bush used to hold regular videoconferences with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Obama has spoken to them on only a handful of occasions.

Diehl raises a number of issues here. First, Obama was never that game on international commitments. He told us again and again — although Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton tried to hush him up on this — that he wasn’t going to make an open-ended commitment of American troops in Afghanistan. He repeated in his West Point speech and in interviews that his concern was rebuilding at home (i.e., his ultra-liberal domestic agenda). Beyond Afghanistan, much of his foreign policy arguably can be seen as conflict avoidance — don’t ruffle the Russians, don’t draw a line with Iran, don’t get the Chinese upset about human rights — precisely so he can focus resources and attention on his beloved health-care, cap-and-trade, and other domestic proposals.

Second, to the degree he was inward-focused from the get-go, Obama certainly has become more so as his domestic agenda and poll numbers have cratered. He begrudgingly dragged himself to the microphone to address the Christmas Day bomber (though he was uninformed, and misinformed the public that we were dealing with an “isolated extremist”). He zipped by national-security matters in his State of the Union speech. Maybe once he got that Nobel Peace Prize, he just lost interest.

And finally, could it be (Diehl is certainly providing some evidence) that Obama is less effective as an international diplomat that the Cowboy from Crawford? You mean Obama hasn’t bonded with any foreign leader, as George W. Bush did with Tony Blair, for example? (Well, returning the Winston Churchill bust and the cheesy gifts to the Brits probably didn’t help Obama with that ally.) He’s not keeping up with key leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan the way Bush did, we are told. And then there is the Israel debacle. I don’t suppose Obama would win any popularity contests in Honduras, Poland, or the Czech Republic either.

So to sum up, the president who campaigned to restore our standing in the world and practice “smart” diplomacy isn’t much interested in the world, expends little time and no effort in bolstering democracy and human rights, and doesn’t have effective relationships with key allies — at least not as effective as were Bush’s. Well, he did run as “not Bush,” and now he’s living up to that particular campaign promise. Too bad: the result is the most error-strewn, irresolute, and ham-handed foreign-policy apparatus since the Carter administration. Maybe living in Indonesia as a child wasn’t sufficient foreign-policy preparation after all.

Noting Obama’s decision to skip the U.S.–European Union Summit and spurn its host, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Jackson Diehl sees a pattern by Obama of withdrawal from and growing indifference to international affairs. He writes:

It’s not just Zapatero who has trouble gaining traction in this White House: Unlike most of his predecessors, Obama has not forged close ties with any European leader. Britain’s Brown, France’s Sarkozy and Germany’s Merkel have each, in turn, felt snubbed by him. Relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are tense at best. George W. Bush used to hold regular videoconferences with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Obama has spoken to them on only a handful of occasions.

Diehl raises a number of issues here. First, Obama was never that game on international commitments. He told us again and again — although Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton tried to hush him up on this — that he wasn’t going to make an open-ended commitment of American troops in Afghanistan. He repeated in his West Point speech and in interviews that his concern was rebuilding at home (i.e., his ultra-liberal domestic agenda). Beyond Afghanistan, much of his foreign policy arguably can be seen as conflict avoidance — don’t ruffle the Russians, don’t draw a line with Iran, don’t get the Chinese upset about human rights — precisely so he can focus resources and attention on his beloved health-care, cap-and-trade, and other domestic proposals.

Second, to the degree he was inward-focused from the get-go, Obama certainly has become more so as his domestic agenda and poll numbers have cratered. He begrudgingly dragged himself to the microphone to address the Christmas Day bomber (though he was uninformed, and misinformed the public that we were dealing with an “isolated extremist”). He zipped by national-security matters in his State of the Union speech. Maybe once he got that Nobel Peace Prize, he just lost interest.

And finally, could it be (Diehl is certainly providing some evidence) that Obama is less effective as an international diplomat that the Cowboy from Crawford? You mean Obama hasn’t bonded with any foreign leader, as George W. Bush did with Tony Blair, for example? (Well, returning the Winston Churchill bust and the cheesy gifts to the Brits probably didn’t help Obama with that ally.) He’s not keeping up with key leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan the way Bush did, we are told. And then there is the Israel debacle. I don’t suppose Obama would win any popularity contests in Honduras, Poland, or the Czech Republic either.

So to sum up, the president who campaigned to restore our standing in the world and practice “smart” diplomacy isn’t much interested in the world, expends little time and no effort in bolstering democracy and human rights, and doesn’t have effective relationships with key allies — at least not as effective as were Bush’s. Well, he did run as “not Bush,” and now he’s living up to that particular campaign promise. Too bad: the result is the most error-strewn, irresolute, and ham-handed foreign-policy apparatus since the Carter administration. Maybe living in Indonesia as a child wasn’t sufficient foreign-policy preparation after all.

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Pelosi Credits Iran’s “Goodwill” for Surge Success

In an interview yesterday with the San Francisco Chronicle, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi claimed the U.S. troop surge failed to accomplish its goal. She then partially credited the success of the troop surge to “the goodwill of the Iranians,” claiming that they were responsible for ending violence in the southern city of Basra.

Asked if she saw any evidence of the surge’s positive impact on her May 17 trip to Iraq she responded:

Well, the purpose of the surge was to provide a secure space, a time for the political change to occur to accomplish the reconciliation. That didn’t happen. Whatever the military success, and progress that may have been made, the surge didn’t accomplish its goal. And some of the success of the surge is that the goodwill of the Iranians-they decided in Basra when the fighting would end, they negotiated that cessation of hostilities-the Iranians.

This is an inexcusable slander. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki brought the Sadrists militias to their knees in a month-long battle that enabled Iraq’s largest Sunni bloc to rejoin the government. Furthermore, when Pelosi met with Prime Minister al-Maliki in Mosul she sang quite a different tune. She had “welcomed Iraq’s progress in passing a budget as well as oil legislation, and a bill paving the way for the provincial elections in the fall that are expected to more equitably redistribute power among local officials,” and stated, “We’re assured the elections will happen here, they will be transparent, they will be inclusive and they will take Iraq closer to the reconciliation we all want it to have.”

Discounting the success of the American military, denying the accomplishments of U.S. allies, and giving the credit to our most dangerous enemies seems like an especially productive week for a Democrat on Capitol Hill. After Nancy Pelosi’s post-Iraq hat trick, there’s really no need for Barack Obama to make this trip after all.

UPDATE: Ace has more on Iran’s “goodwill.”

In an interview yesterday with the San Francisco Chronicle, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi claimed the U.S. troop surge failed to accomplish its goal. She then partially credited the success of the troop surge to “the goodwill of the Iranians,” claiming that they were responsible for ending violence in the southern city of Basra.

Asked if she saw any evidence of the surge’s positive impact on her May 17 trip to Iraq she responded:

Well, the purpose of the surge was to provide a secure space, a time for the political change to occur to accomplish the reconciliation. That didn’t happen. Whatever the military success, and progress that may have been made, the surge didn’t accomplish its goal. And some of the success of the surge is that the goodwill of the Iranians-they decided in Basra when the fighting would end, they negotiated that cessation of hostilities-the Iranians.

This is an inexcusable slander. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki brought the Sadrists militias to their knees in a month-long battle that enabled Iraq’s largest Sunni bloc to rejoin the government. Furthermore, when Pelosi met with Prime Minister al-Maliki in Mosul she sang quite a different tune. She had “welcomed Iraq’s progress in passing a budget as well as oil legislation, and a bill paving the way for the provincial elections in the fall that are expected to more equitably redistribute power among local officials,” and stated, “We’re assured the elections will happen here, they will be transparent, they will be inclusive and they will take Iraq closer to the reconciliation we all want it to have.”

Discounting the success of the American military, denying the accomplishments of U.S. allies, and giving the credit to our most dangerous enemies seems like an especially productive week for a Democrat on Capitol Hill. After Nancy Pelosi’s post-Iraq hat trick, there’s really no need for Barack Obama to make this trip after all.

UPDATE: Ace has more on Iran’s “goodwill.”

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Obama’s Iraq Problem

Once Barack Obama’s appeasement issue completes its turn through the most recent news cycle, the presumptive Democratic nominee will have to face a more worrisome analysis of another aspect of his foreign policy. While he’s been blurring the lines between pre-conditions and diplomatic preparations, between terrorists and terrorist sponsors, clarity has come to Iraq. The Maliki government, the citizens of Iraq, and the Iraqi military are resolved to keep their country on track. Barack Obama continues to deny them support in their efforts.

On Tuesday, during a speech in Iowa, Obama said, “The Bush Iraq policy that asks everything of our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians is John McCain’s policy too,” without so much as a nod to the Iraqi government’s and Iraqi military’s recent string of achievements. In February, the Iraqi parliament passed three laws, all critical to the future success of statehood: a 2008 budget, a regulation on power-sharing of provincial and local governments, and a partial amnesty of Iraqi prisoners. In March, Prime Minister al-Maliki liberated the southern city of Basra from Sadrists militias thus bringing the country’s largest Sunni bloc back into the government. The Iraqi Army is now successfully ridding Bagdhad’s Sadr City of more Sadrist thugs and Iraqi-U.S. forces are rooting al Qaeda in Iraq from their last stronghold in the northern city of Mosul.

We already know that the world’s candidate has no problem denying American success (Obama has belittled the troop surge since its very inception), but how can the man who speaks incessantly of restoring the U.S.’s global image denigrate the efforts of America’s newest–and arguably most critical–ally? How can he continue to mock the fragile hopes of a newborn democracy? How can any American president do so while making friendly overtures toward a neighboring mullocracy?

If Obama thinks there is no cost for shunning allies, he should look at the recent case of Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker of the House slammed the Maliki government in February at the very same time that the Iraqis passed the above-mentioned laws. She called the troop surge “a failure” and resigned herself to the all-is-lost script of 2006. This past weekend, Pelosi met with a cold reception when visiting Iraq to begin her mea culpa. Time magazine reports:

Pelosi is something of a nonentity to average Iraqis. If they know who she is at all, she is generally seen as an antiwar caricature figure, someone whose views on U.S. troop withdrawals are widely considered unrealistic. Pelosi has said she wants to begin withdrawal of troops this year with a goal for the U.S to be out of Iraq by the end of 2009. It is a time frame virtually no Iraqi political leader sees as feasible. Not even Mahdi Army militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiercest advocate of a U.S. withdrawal on the scene, has called for such a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The lack of popularity of Pelosi’s views was evident in the fact that her first day on the ground Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not make an effort to see her. Maliki is currently in the northern city of Mosul overseeing a crackdown on insurgent networks there. But the city has been largely quiet in recent days, and there was no obvious pressing reason for the Prime Minister to skip Pelosi’s arrival.

Such strained relations with a country so intimately involved with the U.S. is a liability. The problem is Barack Obama continues to espouse the same Iraq plan as Pelosi’s. Every time he says “I will bring this war to an end in 2009,” Iraqi leaders and citizens have reason to quake.

The U.S. is rightly concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq. Consider the risks of having an American president land in Iraq only to get the Pelosi treatment. No lofty talk about talk is going to assuage the concerns of Iraqis who know their futures depend, at the very least, on the recognition of their country’s progress.

Once Barack Obama’s appeasement issue completes its turn through the most recent news cycle, the presumptive Democratic nominee will have to face a more worrisome analysis of another aspect of his foreign policy. While he’s been blurring the lines between pre-conditions and diplomatic preparations, between terrorists and terrorist sponsors, clarity has come to Iraq. The Maliki government, the citizens of Iraq, and the Iraqi military are resolved to keep their country on track. Barack Obama continues to deny them support in their efforts.

On Tuesday, during a speech in Iowa, Obama said, “The Bush Iraq policy that asks everything of our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians is John McCain’s policy too,” without so much as a nod to the Iraqi government’s and Iraqi military’s recent string of achievements. In February, the Iraqi parliament passed three laws, all critical to the future success of statehood: a 2008 budget, a regulation on power-sharing of provincial and local governments, and a partial amnesty of Iraqi prisoners. In March, Prime Minister al-Maliki liberated the southern city of Basra from Sadrists militias thus bringing the country’s largest Sunni bloc back into the government. The Iraqi Army is now successfully ridding Bagdhad’s Sadr City of more Sadrist thugs and Iraqi-U.S. forces are rooting al Qaeda in Iraq from their last stronghold in the northern city of Mosul.

We already know that the world’s candidate has no problem denying American success (Obama has belittled the troop surge since its very inception), but how can the man who speaks incessantly of restoring the U.S.’s global image denigrate the efforts of America’s newest–and arguably most critical–ally? How can he continue to mock the fragile hopes of a newborn democracy? How can any American president do so while making friendly overtures toward a neighboring mullocracy?

If Obama thinks there is no cost for shunning allies, he should look at the recent case of Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker of the House slammed the Maliki government in February at the very same time that the Iraqis passed the above-mentioned laws. She called the troop surge “a failure” and resigned herself to the all-is-lost script of 2006. This past weekend, Pelosi met with a cold reception when visiting Iraq to begin her mea culpa. Time magazine reports:

Pelosi is something of a nonentity to average Iraqis. If they know who she is at all, she is generally seen as an antiwar caricature figure, someone whose views on U.S. troop withdrawals are widely considered unrealistic. Pelosi has said she wants to begin withdrawal of troops this year with a goal for the U.S to be out of Iraq by the end of 2009. It is a time frame virtually no Iraqi political leader sees as feasible. Not even Mahdi Army militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiercest advocate of a U.S. withdrawal on the scene, has called for such a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The lack of popularity of Pelosi’s views was evident in the fact that her first day on the ground Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not make an effort to see her. Maliki is currently in the northern city of Mosul overseeing a crackdown on insurgent networks there. But the city has been largely quiet in recent days, and there was no obvious pressing reason for the Prime Minister to skip Pelosi’s arrival.

Such strained relations with a country so intimately involved with the U.S. is a liability. The problem is Barack Obama continues to espouse the same Iraq plan as Pelosi’s. Every time he says “I will bring this war to an end in 2009,” Iraqi leaders and citizens have reason to quake.

The U.S. is rightly concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq. Consider the risks of having an American president land in Iraq only to get the Pelosi treatment. No lofty talk about talk is going to assuage the concerns of Iraqis who know their futures depend, at the very least, on the recognition of their country’s progress.

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Does Nancy Pelosi Believe In The Surge?

Well, look who’s reconciled to reconciliation. Today, Nancy Pelosi met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Mosul and–according to the AP, the Speaker of the House, “welcomed Iraq’s progress in passing a budget as well as oil legislation, and a bill paving the way for the provincial elections in the fall that are expected to more equitably redistribute power among local officials.”

“We’re assured the elections will happen here, they will be transparent, they will be inclusive and they will take Iraq closer to the reconciliation we all want it to have,” said Pelosi.

In February, she had said, “The purpose of the surge was to create a secure time for the government of Iraq to make the political change to bring reconciliation to Iraq. They have not done that.”

Some questions: Does this mean that the surge worked? And if so, does this mean Pelosi–gasp!–disagrees with Barack Obama, who has been against the surge from its inception? And when Nancy Pelosi returns home and speaks before the House about her experience in Iraq, will we finally see a change from the lockstep posturing that keeps the Democrats aligned with Obama on every last detail?

Well, look who’s reconciled to reconciliation. Today, Nancy Pelosi met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Mosul and–according to the AP, the Speaker of the House, “welcomed Iraq’s progress in passing a budget as well as oil legislation, and a bill paving the way for the provincial elections in the fall that are expected to more equitably redistribute power among local officials.”

“We’re assured the elections will happen here, they will be transparent, they will be inclusive and they will take Iraq closer to the reconciliation we all want it to have,” said Pelosi.

In February, she had said, “The purpose of the surge was to create a secure time for the government of Iraq to make the political change to bring reconciliation to Iraq. They have not done that.”

Some questions: Does this mean that the surge worked? And if so, does this mean Pelosi–gasp!–disagrees with Barack Obama, who has been against the surge from its inception? And when Nancy Pelosi returns home and speaks before the House about her experience in Iraq, will we finally see a change from the lockstep posturing that keeps the Democrats aligned with Obama on every last detail?

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About That Basra Debacle . . .

Ever since the Iraqi insurgency first proved resilient, the MSM has not missed an opportunity to label any military challenge a lost cause. On March 31, the New York Times’s James Glanz and Erica Goode reported that the Iraqi military was unable to drive Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army from Basra, forcing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to approach Sadr, hat in hand, and plead with him to stand down. Sadr reportedly complied. The Times painted a worrisome picture of Maliki’s predicament:

Many Iraqi politicians say that Mr. Maliki’s political capital has been severely depleted by the Basra campaign and that he is in the curious position of having to turn to Mr. Sadr, a longtime rival, for a way out.

And it was a chance for Mr. Sadr to flaunt his power, commanding both armed force and political strength that can forcefully challenge the other dominant Shiite parties, including Mr. Maliki’s Dawa movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Three weeks later. Same battle, same players, same paper, same reporter. Here’s James Glanz, writing this time with Alissa J. Rubin in today’s New York Times.

Iraqi soldiers took control of the last bastions of the cleric Moktada al-Sadr’s militia in Basra on Saturday, and Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad strongly endorsed the Iraqi government’s monthlong military operation against the fighters.

[…]

Despite the apparent concession of Basra, Mr. Sadr issued defiant words on Saturday night. In a long statement read from the loudspeakers of his Sadr City Mosque, he threatened to declare “war until liberation” against the government if fighting against his militia forces continued.

But it was difficult to tell whether his words posed a real threat or were a desperate effort to prove that his group was still a feared force. . .

What a strange ceasefire it was, leading as it did to three more weeks of fighting; what a strange powerlessness Maliki suffered, leading as it did to total victory; and what a strange power flaunted by Sadr, leading as it did to total defeat.

In short, the evidence is in: the Times got Basra upside down. The battle that James Glanz saw as a decisive sign of Maliki’s impotence, Sadr’s influence, and Iraq’s hopelessness proved to be a demonstration of Maliki’s adaptability, Sadr’s irrelevance, and Iraq’s capacity to free itself from the sectarian divisions that characterized its pre-Surge state of affairs. To be sure, Maliki stumbled in the early parts of the Basra fight. However, he obviously did not approach Sadr as a desperate man, but as a statesman who wanted to augment his military approach with diplomacy. At the time, Maliki even said Iraqi troops would continue the fight in Basra—a fact the Times ignored.

In his statement on Saturday, Sadr summed up the most important aspect: “This government has forgotten that we are their brothers and were part of them.” Indeed, they have. Mesopotamia’s supposedly inescapable sectarian allegiances are loosening, and those who are set on exploiting the Iraq that was will continue to find themselves complaining on the sidelines.

Ever since the Iraqi insurgency first proved resilient, the MSM has not missed an opportunity to label any military challenge a lost cause. On March 31, the New York Times’s James Glanz and Erica Goode reported that the Iraqi military was unable to drive Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army from Basra, forcing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to approach Sadr, hat in hand, and plead with him to stand down. Sadr reportedly complied. The Times painted a worrisome picture of Maliki’s predicament:

Many Iraqi politicians say that Mr. Maliki’s political capital has been severely depleted by the Basra campaign and that he is in the curious position of having to turn to Mr. Sadr, a longtime rival, for a way out.

And it was a chance for Mr. Sadr to flaunt his power, commanding both armed force and political strength that can forcefully challenge the other dominant Shiite parties, including Mr. Maliki’s Dawa movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Three weeks later. Same battle, same players, same paper, same reporter. Here’s James Glanz, writing this time with Alissa J. Rubin in today’s New York Times.

Iraqi soldiers took control of the last bastions of the cleric Moktada al-Sadr’s militia in Basra on Saturday, and Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad strongly endorsed the Iraqi government’s monthlong military operation against the fighters.

[…]

Despite the apparent concession of Basra, Mr. Sadr issued defiant words on Saturday night. In a long statement read from the loudspeakers of his Sadr City Mosque, he threatened to declare “war until liberation” against the government if fighting against his militia forces continued.

But it was difficult to tell whether his words posed a real threat or were a desperate effort to prove that his group was still a feared force. . .

What a strange ceasefire it was, leading as it did to three more weeks of fighting; what a strange powerlessness Maliki suffered, leading as it did to total victory; and what a strange power flaunted by Sadr, leading as it did to total defeat.

In short, the evidence is in: the Times got Basra upside down. The battle that James Glanz saw as a decisive sign of Maliki’s impotence, Sadr’s influence, and Iraq’s hopelessness proved to be a demonstration of Maliki’s adaptability, Sadr’s irrelevance, and Iraq’s capacity to free itself from the sectarian divisions that characterized its pre-Surge state of affairs. To be sure, Maliki stumbled in the early parts of the Basra fight. However, he obviously did not approach Sadr as a desperate man, but as a statesman who wanted to augment his military approach with diplomacy. At the time, Maliki even said Iraqi troops would continue the fight in Basra—a fact the Times ignored.

In his statement on Saturday, Sadr summed up the most important aspect: “This government has forgotten that we are their brothers and were part of them.” Indeed, they have. Mesopotamia’s supposedly inescapable sectarian allegiances are loosening, and those who are set on exploiting the Iraq that was will continue to find themselves complaining on the sidelines.

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Fighting in Basra

I have hesitated to comment on the fighting raging in Basra, which has spilled over into other cities including Baghdad, because the shape of events is so difficult to make out from afar-or for that matter even from up close. The best analysis I have seen is this article in the Financial Times which notes that Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is taking a major gamble by challenging the power of the Shiite militias–more like criminal gangs-which have seized control of Basra, Iraq’s second or third largest city and home to its only major port.

While most news coverage has focused on the renewed fighting as signs of impending doom–or at the very least evidence that the surge isn’t working so well–the FT correctly detects a silver lining: “If the prime minister succeeds, the pay-off would deliver a big boost to the credibility of a shaky government, proving that the growing national army is capable of taking on powerful militia.”

This gamble is long overdue. The British basically abdicated their counterinsurgency role in the south and allowed thugs to take over Basra. The police force is particularly corrupt. Maliki is now sending the Iraqi Security Forces to do what the Brits wouldn’t: clean up Dodge.

The risk of course is that Moqtada al Sadr’s Jaish al Mahdi (JAM)–one of Iraq’s largest and most threatening militias–will go to the mattresses in retaliation. There is some evidence of this happening with ultra-violent “Special Groups”, which have been loosely associated with JAM, ramping up rocket attacks on the Green Zone. There have also been clashes reported in Sadr City, Hilla, Karbala, and other Shiite areas.

But the Sadrist leadership has stuck by its promise to maintain a ceasefire, at least when it comes to operations against coalition forces. Even though some more mainstream JAM elements, not just the Special Groups, seem to be drawn into fighting against the Iraqi security forces and to a lesser extent coalition forces, that is not necessarily a bad thing. If we’re going to have a showdown, better to have it now then in the fall when there will be substantially fewer American troops on the ground.

The power of militias has been one of the most corrosive features of post-2003 Iraq. No prime minister, including Maliki, has shown much willingness or ability to take on the gunmen, because successive Iraqi governments have depended for their existence on political parties closely aligned with the militias, notably the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadr trend. If Maliki is now getting serious about asserting the supremacy of the Iraqi state over the militias, that is a development to be cheered. I only hope he does not lose his nerve in this hour of crisis: if well-led, the Iraqi Security Forces have the power to defeat any militia on the battlefield.

I have hesitated to comment on the fighting raging in Basra, which has spilled over into other cities including Baghdad, because the shape of events is so difficult to make out from afar-or for that matter even from up close. The best analysis I have seen is this article in the Financial Times which notes that Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is taking a major gamble by challenging the power of the Shiite militias–more like criminal gangs-which have seized control of Basra, Iraq’s second or third largest city and home to its only major port.

While most news coverage has focused on the renewed fighting as signs of impending doom–or at the very least evidence that the surge isn’t working so well–the FT correctly detects a silver lining: “If the prime minister succeeds, the pay-off would deliver a big boost to the credibility of a shaky government, proving that the growing national army is capable of taking on powerful militia.”

This gamble is long overdue. The British basically abdicated their counterinsurgency role in the south and allowed thugs to take over Basra. The police force is particularly corrupt. Maliki is now sending the Iraqi Security Forces to do what the Brits wouldn’t: clean up Dodge.

The risk of course is that Moqtada al Sadr’s Jaish al Mahdi (JAM)–one of Iraq’s largest and most threatening militias–will go to the mattresses in retaliation. There is some evidence of this happening with ultra-violent “Special Groups”, which have been loosely associated with JAM, ramping up rocket attacks on the Green Zone. There have also been clashes reported in Sadr City, Hilla, Karbala, and other Shiite areas.

But the Sadrist leadership has stuck by its promise to maintain a ceasefire, at least when it comes to operations against coalition forces. Even though some more mainstream JAM elements, not just the Special Groups, seem to be drawn into fighting against the Iraqi security forces and to a lesser extent coalition forces, that is not necessarily a bad thing. If we’re going to have a showdown, better to have it now then in the fall when there will be substantially fewer American troops on the ground.

The power of militias has been one of the most corrosive features of post-2003 Iraq. No prime minister, including Maliki, has shown much willingness or ability to take on the gunmen, because successive Iraqi governments have depended for their existence on political parties closely aligned with the militias, notably the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadr trend. If Maliki is now getting serious about asserting the supremacy of the Iraqi state over the militias, that is a development to be cheered. I only hope he does not lose his nerve in this hour of crisis: if well-led, the Iraqi Security Forces have the power to defeat any militia on the battlefield.

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Handshakes with the Enemy

Abe already blogged about this, but I wanted to follow up on Diana West’s fretting in the Washington Times about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent trip to Iraq, where he was supposedly given a warm reception by the Baghdad government. “[O]ur Iraqi allies have welcomed our Iranian enemies right into it.” Not so fast. Iraq and Iran are two Shia-majority countries. They share a long border and a terrible history, as Abe pointed out. They should be expected to have relations of some kind, and the more civil the better considering the depth of hatred Iranian Persians and Iraqi Arabs have for each other. Another full-blown war between Iraq and Iran is in the interests of no one.

In any case, a meeting, a few agreements, and a photo op don’t make these two countries an axis. Iran supports insurgents that for years have been trying to destroy the Baghdad government using terrorism, guerilla warfare, assassination, and sabotage. Who can seriously believe after all this–not to mention the centuries of conflict that preceded it–that the two governments actually like each other? Baghdad may formally welcome Ahmadinejad, but certainly not his proxy armies.

But let’s put that aside for the sake or argument and assume Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may be a quiet Iranian sympathizer. What about Iraq’s president?

“Mr. Ahmadinejad was greeted with multiple kisses from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani,” West notes before saying “Blech.” Talabani is not only Iraq’s president. He is also the political leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the staunchly secular leftist political party with its home base in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya. The PUK provides funds and materials to at least two exiled Kurdish Iranian political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan whose explicit goal is the destruction of the Islamic Republic regime in Tehran. Each of these parties has their own private army. One crossed into Iran recently and fought the regime in the streets during an uprising in the city of Mahabad. The idea that the secular, leftist, and Kurdish Jalal Talabani supports the theocratic, rightist, and Persian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while at the same time funding and supplying revolutionaries who cross the border, doesn’t make sense.

If you want to know the truth, pay close attention to what Middle Easterners do, not what they say. At least some elements in each of these governments hope to remove the other from power by force. Their making nice in front of the cameras is no more meaningful than Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shaking Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn.

Middle Eastern leaders go through the motions of being nice to each other all the time when what they’d really like to do is pull out a dagger. Last May, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the international tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is not directed at “sister Syria.” Of course he doesn’t believe that, but that’s diplomacy for you. Almost everyone in Lebanon knows the Syrian regime was complicit in Hariri’s murder, as well as the murders that have picked off Siniora’s allies in parliament and the media one by one ever since.

I rented an apartment just around the corner from Siniora’s residence in Beirut, and I couldn’t walk anywhere near his house while using my cell phone. The signals are jammed. Cell phones can detonate car bombs. Siniora knows very well that he might be next and doesn’t think of Syria as anything like a brother or sister–at least not while the murderous Assad regime is in power.

In From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman tells the story of Christian militia leader Camille Chamoun receiving flowers from his arch enemy Yasser Arafat while he was laid up in the hospital. During this time they both hoped to kill each other. “These two men,” Friedman wrote, “had sent so many young men to die in defense of their own personal power and status, and now they were sending bouquets. That was Beirut.”

It is not just Beirut. It is the whole Middle East where smoke, mirrors, and false friendships are normal.

Diana West correctly notes that some Middle Eastern leaders claim to be American allies while fomenting jihad. Well, yes. Of course. They do the same thing to each other.

Abe already blogged about this, but I wanted to follow up on Diana West’s fretting in the Washington Times about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent trip to Iraq, where he was supposedly given a warm reception by the Baghdad government. “[O]ur Iraqi allies have welcomed our Iranian enemies right into it.” Not so fast. Iraq and Iran are two Shia-majority countries. They share a long border and a terrible history, as Abe pointed out. They should be expected to have relations of some kind, and the more civil the better considering the depth of hatred Iranian Persians and Iraqi Arabs have for each other. Another full-blown war between Iraq and Iran is in the interests of no one.

In any case, a meeting, a few agreements, and a photo op don’t make these two countries an axis. Iran supports insurgents that for years have been trying to destroy the Baghdad government using terrorism, guerilla warfare, assassination, and sabotage. Who can seriously believe after all this–not to mention the centuries of conflict that preceded it–that the two governments actually like each other? Baghdad may formally welcome Ahmadinejad, but certainly not his proxy armies.

But let’s put that aside for the sake or argument and assume Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may be a quiet Iranian sympathizer. What about Iraq’s president?

“Mr. Ahmadinejad was greeted with multiple kisses from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani,” West notes before saying “Blech.” Talabani is not only Iraq’s president. He is also the political leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the staunchly secular leftist political party with its home base in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya. The PUK provides funds and materials to at least two exiled Kurdish Iranian political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan whose explicit goal is the destruction of the Islamic Republic regime in Tehran. Each of these parties has their own private army. One crossed into Iran recently and fought the regime in the streets during an uprising in the city of Mahabad. The idea that the secular, leftist, and Kurdish Jalal Talabani supports the theocratic, rightist, and Persian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while at the same time funding and supplying revolutionaries who cross the border, doesn’t make sense.

If you want to know the truth, pay close attention to what Middle Easterners do, not what they say. At least some elements in each of these governments hope to remove the other from power by force. Their making nice in front of the cameras is no more meaningful than Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shaking Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn.

Middle Eastern leaders go through the motions of being nice to each other all the time when what they’d really like to do is pull out a dagger. Last May, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the international tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is not directed at “sister Syria.” Of course he doesn’t believe that, but that’s diplomacy for you. Almost everyone in Lebanon knows the Syrian regime was complicit in Hariri’s murder, as well as the murders that have picked off Siniora’s allies in parliament and the media one by one ever since.

I rented an apartment just around the corner from Siniora’s residence in Beirut, and I couldn’t walk anywhere near his house while using my cell phone. The signals are jammed. Cell phones can detonate car bombs. Siniora knows very well that he might be next and doesn’t think of Syria as anything like a brother or sister–at least not while the murderous Assad regime is in power.

In From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman tells the story of Christian militia leader Camille Chamoun receiving flowers from his arch enemy Yasser Arafat while he was laid up in the hospital. During this time they both hoped to kill each other. “These two men,” Friedman wrote, “had sent so many young men to die in defense of their own personal power and status, and now they were sending bouquets. That was Beirut.”

It is not just Beirut. It is the whole Middle East where smoke, mirrors, and false friendships are normal.

Diana West correctly notes that some Middle Eastern leaders claim to be American allies while fomenting jihad. Well, yes. Of course. They do the same thing to each other.

Read Less

Endgame Iraq

Let’s hope Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki didn’t make himself a hostage to fortune today by announcing an upcoming “final war” on al Qaeda in Iraq. The recent smattering of suicide bombings in Mosul do demand decisive military action, and there’s plenty of reason to expect success once Iraqi forces take the fight north to this AQI stronghold. But those two unfortunate words could wind up in the same soundbite chamber as “mission accomplished” and “final throes.”

Hubris aside, al-Maliki’s further words were heartening: “Now we have a real army. The days when the militants could do anything in front of our armed forces are gone,” he said. For this, we can thank the tireless training and recruitment efforts of both U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The most useless trope in recent discussions about Iraq is the one about how military success means nothing without political progress. Political progress is an impossibility without the security furnished by ongoing military success. (Below, Peter Wehner has highlighted Iraq’s emerging political reconciliation and the operational progress that’s made it possible.) The battle for Mosul will be Iraqi-led. This is critical in showing Iraqis that the state’s military is now an effective instrument employed for the good of the country. Political reconciliation is predicated on this kind of reassurance.

“Final war” or not, the prospect of eradicating AQI, in what appears to be its final refuge, points both to past U.S. military success and to further political progress in Iraq.

Let’s hope Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki didn’t make himself a hostage to fortune today by announcing an upcoming “final war” on al Qaeda in Iraq. The recent smattering of suicide bombings in Mosul do demand decisive military action, and there’s plenty of reason to expect success once Iraqi forces take the fight north to this AQI stronghold. But those two unfortunate words could wind up in the same soundbite chamber as “mission accomplished” and “final throes.”

Hubris aside, al-Maliki’s further words were heartening: “Now we have a real army. The days when the militants could do anything in front of our armed forces are gone,” he said. For this, we can thank the tireless training and recruitment efforts of both U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The most useless trope in recent discussions about Iraq is the one about how military success means nothing without political progress. Political progress is an impossibility without the security furnished by ongoing military success. (Below, Peter Wehner has highlighted Iraq’s emerging political reconciliation and the operational progress that’s made it possible.) The battle for Mosul will be Iraqi-led. This is critical in showing Iraqis that the state’s military is now an effective instrument employed for the good of the country. Political reconciliation is predicated on this kind of reassurance.

“Final war” or not, the prospect of eradicating AQI, in what appears to be its final refuge, points both to past U.S. military success and to further political progress in Iraq.

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Contra Klein

In his blog Swampland, Time magazine’s Joe Klein writes that “We’ve seeing [sic] a fair amount of triumphalism from the usual suspects on the right about the situation on the ground in Iraq,” and he considers it to be “premature.” Klein then goes on to add this:

And yet: The reduction of violence is real. The defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq—sneezed at by some antiwar commentators—is nothing to sneeze at. The bottom-up efforts to reconcile Sunnis and Shiites across the scarred Anbar/Karbala provincial border, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, quite possibly reflect an Iraqi exhaustion with violence that has to be taken seriously as well. There is no question that the performance of the U.S. military has improved markedly under the smarter, more flexible, and creative leadership provided this year by General Petraeus. And the withdrawal of U.S. troops is beginning. The refusal of the antiwar movement—or some sections of it—to recognize these developments isn’t helping its credibility.

Klein continues:

Let me reassert the obvious here: The war in Iraq has been a disaster, the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President. It has weakened America’s moral, military, and diplomatic status globally. It cannot be “won” militarily. The best case scenario is a testy stability, most likely under a Shiite strongman, who will be (relatively) independent of Iran and (relatively) independent of us. . .

There are fewer votes now in Congress—and less cause—to cut off funding for the war than there were last Spring. A renewed campaign on the part of the hapless Democratic leadership to cut off the supplemental funds will only increase the public sense of Democratic futility. It will also play into the very real, and growing, public perception that Democrats are too busy wasting time on symbolic measures (like trying to cut off funds for the war) and shoveling pork (the water projects bill) to pass anything substantive for the public good. Too much time, and political capital, has been wasted fighting Bush legislatively on the war. I’m sure the President and the Republican Party are salivating over the prospect that Democrats will waste more time and capital over it this month . . . especially at a moment, however fleeting, when the situation on the ground seems to have improved in Iraq. Democrats need to think this over very, very carefully before they proceed.

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In his blog Swampland, Time magazine’s Joe Klein writes that “We’ve seeing [sic] a fair amount of triumphalism from the usual suspects on the right about the situation on the ground in Iraq,” and he considers it to be “premature.” Klein then goes on to add this:

And yet: The reduction of violence is real. The defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq—sneezed at by some antiwar commentators—is nothing to sneeze at. The bottom-up efforts to reconcile Sunnis and Shiites across the scarred Anbar/Karbala provincial border, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, quite possibly reflect an Iraqi exhaustion with violence that has to be taken seriously as well. There is no question that the performance of the U.S. military has improved markedly under the smarter, more flexible, and creative leadership provided this year by General Petraeus. And the withdrawal of U.S. troops is beginning. The refusal of the antiwar movement—or some sections of it—to recognize these developments isn’t helping its credibility.

Klein continues:

Let me reassert the obvious here: The war in Iraq has been a disaster, the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President. It has weakened America’s moral, military, and diplomatic status globally. It cannot be “won” militarily. The best case scenario is a testy stability, most likely under a Shiite strongman, who will be (relatively) independent of Iran and (relatively) independent of us. . .

There are fewer votes now in Congress—and less cause—to cut off funding for the war than there were last Spring. A renewed campaign on the part of the hapless Democratic leadership to cut off the supplemental funds will only increase the public sense of Democratic futility. It will also play into the very real, and growing, public perception that Democrats are too busy wasting time on symbolic measures (like trying to cut off funds for the war) and shoveling pork (the water projects bill) to pass anything substantive for the public good. Too much time, and political capital, has been wasted fighting Bush legislatively on the war. I’m sure the President and the Republican Party are salivating over the prospect that Democrats will waste more time and capital over it this month . . . especially at a moment, however fleeting, when the situation on the ground seems to have improved in Iraq. Democrats need to think this over very, very carefully before they proceed.

I have several thoughts in response to Klein’s comments. The first is that if the war in Iraq has been “the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President,” then you wonder why Joe supported it before the war. Here’s what Klein told Tim Russert on his CNBC program on February 22, 2003:

This is a really tough decision. War may well be the right decision at this point. In fact, I think it—it’s—it—it probably is…. [Saddam] has been defying the world for twelve years. It is very clear—I mean, I—I—I haven’t found anybody who doesn’t believe that he’s hiding stuff there. And if there’s going to be a civilized world order, the—the world has to be able to act on its—you know, on—on—on its agreements. And—and there have been now seventeen UN resolutions calling on this guy to disarm, a—something that he agreed to do, and at certain—at a certain point, you have to enforce it.

Now you can quibble with the fact, you can argue with the fact that the Bush administration forced this judgment at this time in this way, but I think—and—but I—but I do believe that it was Bill Clinton’s moral responsibility and responsibility as leader of the country to do it in 1998, as we—as we were saying before. And—and I think that now that we’ve reached this point, where the inspectors are in and it has become absolutely manifestly clear that he’s not going to abide by this—you know, just look at his behavior in the days since the peace protests. All of a sudden, you know, he’s—he’s—you know, he’s defiant again. So I think that, you know, the—the message has to be sent because if it isn’t sent now, if we don’t do this now, it empowers every would-be Saddam out there and every would-be terrorist out there.

I wonder, then: Does Klein’s statement on Russert’s show therefore qualify as the stupidest endorsement of the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President? In any event, at least President Bush didn’t pretend (as Klein has) that he was against the war after he was for the war.

More important, though, is that Klein, a ferocious critic of the war and the President, is willing to concede that progress is real. He has documented that progress in his reporting, for which he deserves credit.

Obviously “triumphalism” is premature—Iraq remains a very complicated and difficult situation, progress that’s been made can be lost, and the outcome is still uncertain—but it shows that the good news is breaking through and is now undeniable. For example, we read in the Washington Times today that U.S. military fatalities are down from 101 in June to 39 in October; that Iraqi civilian deaths were also down from 1,791 in August to 750 in October; that mortar rocket attacks by insurgents in October were the lowest since February 2006; and that according to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni fighters in Baghdad has dropped 77 percent from last year’s high.

Klein, an excellent political reporter, is also correct in warning Democrats against trying to force the President to pull out prematurely. The Washington Post today reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid “declared that Bush will not get more money to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year unless he accepts a plan to complete troop withdrawals by the end of next year.”

This approach by Senator Reid is reckless and will be injurious politically. While the trajectory of events in Iraq is (finally) getting better, and in some important respects events are getting significantly better, Democrats are redoubling their efforts to pursue a policy that can only undermine progress and our chances of success.

This tells us all we need to know about the leadership of the modern Democratic Party. That of FDR, Truman, or JFK it ain’t.

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Rational Optimism on Iraq

The evidence of gains being made on the ground in Iraq continues to pile up.

See, for instance, this article by Robert Burns, the Associated Press’s veteran military writer. Burns has just returned from his 18th trip to Iraq to report: “The new U.S. military strategy in Iraq, unveiled six months ago to little acclaim, is working.”

Or this new report by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He traveled to Iraq with Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution recently, and while his findings are not quite as positive as theirs, he nevertheless writes: “While all the half-truths and spin of the past have built up a valid distrust of virtually anything the Administration says about Iraq, real military progress is taking place and the U.S. team in Baghdad is actively seeking matching political and economic progress.”

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The evidence of gains being made on the ground in Iraq continues to pile up.

See, for instance, this article by Robert Burns, the Associated Press’s veteran military writer. Burns has just returned from his 18th trip to Iraq to report: “The new U.S. military strategy in Iraq, unveiled six months ago to little acclaim, is working.”

Or this new report by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He traveled to Iraq with Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution recently, and while his findings are not quite as positive as theirs, he nevertheless writes: “While all the half-truths and spin of the past have built up a valid distrust of virtually anything the Administration says about Iraq, real military progress is taking place and the U.S. team in Baghdad is actively seeking matching political and economic progress.”

Unfortunately, that matching political progress has not yet materialized. To be sure, there have been surprising and encouraging gains at the local level where Sunni tribes are increasingly turning against al Qaeda. But at the national level the political gridlock is worse than ever. The latest news from Baghdad is that five ministers belonging to Ayad Allawi’s secular Iraqiyah party have suspended their participation in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s cabinet (though they continue to run their ministries). This comes on top of similar boycotts by the six ministers from the Iraqi Consensus Front, the major Sunni party, and six ministers from Moktada al-Sadr’s radical Shiite party. In all, seventeen ministers, or nearly half the cabinet, are not participating in its deliberations at the moment.

Confidence in Maliki’s government seems to be plummeting, and various Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish chieftains seem to be farther apart than ever when it comes to vital legislation, such as the law to share Iraq’s oil wealth.

Of course, no serious proponent of the “surge” expected that Iraqis would get their act together overnight. In fact, the theory has always been that gains in security are a necessary prerequisite for the major political factions to make compromises. Since the gains in security are just beginning, it is far too soon to say that political progress won’t happen, too. After all, who would have predicted the turnaround in the attitude of the tribes that has occurred over the past year? Yet even supporters of the surge—a group to which I belong—must admit, if we’re being honest with ourselves, that it’s dismaying to see the political situation regressing, at least at the national level, even as the security situation is progressing.

That doesn’t mean it’s prudent to wash our hands of Iraq, or give up on the surge. Cordesman’s report, making the case for “strategic patience,” has it right. But even the most ardent backers of General Petraeus should not let their hopes run out of control. Given how bad the situation was by the time Petraeus took over, there is still a possibility he could do everything right and fail.

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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

There is no shortage of bad news from Iraq, such as the bombing of another market in Baghdad that reportedly killed 25 people on Tuesday, another suicide bombing near the Iranian border that killed fifteen people on Wednesday, and various other attacks around the country that killed seven U.S. soldiers and two marines. Yet amid the inevitable setbacks there are also some modest signs of progress.

On Saturday, U.S. Special Operations forces killed Sheikh Azhar al-Dulaymi, a major-league bad guy responsible for the daring operation in Karbala on January 20th, in which attackers disguised as U.S. troops invaded a government compound and killed five American soldiers. The U.S. military command said that intelligence indicated that Dulaymi had received training from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and their Lebanese Hizballah puppets.

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There is no shortage of bad news from Iraq, such as the bombing of another market in Baghdad that reportedly killed 25 people on Tuesday, another suicide bombing near the Iranian border that killed fifteen people on Wednesday, and various other attacks around the country that killed seven U.S. soldiers and two marines. Yet amid the inevitable setbacks there are also some modest signs of progress.

On Saturday, U.S. Special Operations forces killed Sheikh Azhar al-Dulaymi, a major-league bad guy responsible for the daring operation in Karbala on January 20th, in which attackers disguised as U.S. troops invaded a government compound and killed five American soldiers. The U.S. military command said that intelligence indicated that Dulaymi had received training from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and their Lebanese Hizballah puppets.

U.S. forces have also rolled up a gang of insurgents responsible for downing a string of our helicopters. As summarized by USA Today:

Enemy fighters shot down six military helicopters in January and February, killing 23 servicemembers. Heavy machine guns were used in four attacks and small arms in one assault. A missile was used to down one of the six helicopters. Two private contractor helicopters were also shot down during that time.

But, as the newspaper continues, “There haven’t been any fatal helicopter attacks since February.” This may be attributed to a combination of factors. One shouldn’t discount the role of pure, dumb luck, but American aviators have also successfully changed their operating procedures and have even managed to ambush the ambushers. As USA Today notes:

During the raids, U.S. forces combined air attacks with ground assaults that captured insurgents, [Maj. Gen. James] Simmons said. Information gathered in those raids revealed anti-helicopter tactics used by insurgents. The military used that knowledge to launch counter-ambushes, using U.S. aircraft to target the [insurgent] teams.

There is also some good news on the political front. This Washington Post story reports that Moqtada Al-Sadr, head of the Jaish al-Mahdi (the Mahdist Army, JMA), one of the largest and most violent Shiite factions, professes to be moderating:

The 33-year-old populist is reaching out to a broad array of Sunni leaders, from politicians to insurgents, and purging extremist members of his Mahdi Army militia who target Sunnis. . . . And moderates are taking up key roles in Sadr’s movement, professing to be less anti-American and more nationalist as they seek to improve Sadr’s image and position him in the middle of Iraq’s ideological spectrum.

Meanwhile, the other leading Shiite party is changing its name from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, dropping the “revolution” in its name to make clear that it is not seeking a radical overhaul of Iraqi society. This faction, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, is trying to lessen its ties to Iran and to remake itself as an Iraqi nationalist movement.

A measure of skepticism is in order about both changes—elements of JAM remain extremely violent, and both it and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council maintain strong subterranean links with the Iranian leadership. The latest steps may simply be tactical adjustments in their ultimate pursuit of power. Nevertheless they are positive steps, and they are being met with some Sunni reciprocation. There are reports of Sunni tribes in Diyala and other provinces forming their own groups to resist al Qaeda, following in the footsteps of the Anbar Salvation Council. And the original Anbar group is expanding its activities to other parts of the country. As this New York Times story reports:

In a hopeful sign on Tuesday, a Sunni tribal leader made a conciliatory public visit to Sadr City, the Shiite enclave in western Baghdad. Sheikh Hamid al-Hayis, leader of an alliance of Sunni tribes that recently began providing men to fight al Qaeda beside the marines in Anbar Province, met with backers of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Salih al-Ugaily, a Sadr supporter in Parliament, said in an interview that the two sides had agreed on the need for reconciliation and to expedite holding provincial elections, a major demand of Sunni Iraqis, many of whom have said they feel disenfranchised after boycotting previous elections.

Neither security operations nor the political process is moving as quickly as anyone would like, but it would be a mistake to despair too soon. In particular it would be a mistake to give up on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and try to replace him with someone more to America’s liking—an option suggested in this Los Angeles Times article.

Maliki, for all his faults, has only been in office a year, and he is by many accounts improving. He is the third Iraqi leader hand-picked by American officials since Jerry Bremer gave up power in 2004. The previous two—Ayad Allawi and Ibrahim al Jaafari—weren’t so hot. There is no reason to think that anyone who replaces Maliki would be any better, especially when one of the top potential replacements (at least in his own mind) is Allawi.

Replacing prime ministers means going back to square one. Better to work with the leader already in place, however imperfect, and to strengthen his hand by weakening through military action the Shiite and Sunni extremists who threaten the fragile political process. And this is, more or less, the strategy that General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker plan to follow, according to this Washington Post dispatch. We can only wait and hope for results.

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The Walls of Baghdad

Confusion persists about the erection of walls in Baghdad. Some critics of this joint Iraqi-U.S. military project are raising the specter of the Berlin Wall or of a West Bank-style barrier separating Sunnis and Shiites. Reacting to such criticism, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced, while attending a meeting in Cairo, that he did not want to see a twelve-foot-high wall built around the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah.

Odds are, however, that the building of walls will persist, though most of them will be made up of shorter, three-foot-tall “Jersey” barriers rather than the taller “Texas” barriers that stretch twelve feet high. Most American and Iraqi security officials are convinced that the barriers are the way to go. (In fact, in one Baghdad meeting recently, I listened to an Iraqi general ask for taller barriers to go in faster.) An increasing number of ordinary Iraqis agree.

It’s not hard to see why: Concrete saves lives by impeding the movement of terrorists. In fact, as Linda Robinson reports in U.S. News & World Report, last week’s car bombing of the Sadriya market, which killed over a hundred people, might have been averted had not local complaints led Iraqi security officials to remove several Texas barriers arrayed around the market prior to the blast.

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Confusion persists about the erection of walls in Baghdad. Some critics of this joint Iraqi-U.S. military project are raising the specter of the Berlin Wall or of a West Bank-style barrier separating Sunnis and Shiites. Reacting to such criticism, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced, while attending a meeting in Cairo, that he did not want to see a twelve-foot-high wall built around the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah.

Odds are, however, that the building of walls will persist, though most of them will be made up of shorter, three-foot-tall “Jersey” barriers rather than the taller “Texas” barriers that stretch twelve feet high. Most American and Iraqi security officials are convinced that the barriers are the way to go. (In fact, in one Baghdad meeting recently, I listened to an Iraqi general ask for taller barriers to go in faster.) An increasing number of ordinary Iraqis agree.

It’s not hard to see why: Concrete saves lives by impeding the movement of terrorists. In fact, as Linda Robinson reports in U.S. News & World Report, last week’s car bombing of the Sadriya market, which killed over a hundred people, might have been averted had not local complaints led Iraqi security officials to remove several Texas barriers arrayed around the market prior to the blast.

The point of these barriers isn’t to create a dividing line between Sunnis and Shiites, although admittedly that would be their effect in some places. The real point is to allow Iraqi and American security forces to keep a neighborhood free of terrorists once it has been cleared. Concrete barriers limit movement, channeling cars and pedestrians through a handful of checkpoints (known formally as ECP’s, or entry control points). Security personnel manning those checkpoints can turn away anyone who doesn’t have any business being in the neighborhood.

And how will they know who belongs and who doesn’t? In order to make this policy effective, officials or soldiers need to canvas the neighborhood, gathering census-style data about every household. It would help tremendously if Iraq launched a formal census and issued biometric identity cards to everyone. Such a step is under discussion by the Maliki government, but don’t hold your breath—it won’t happen anytime soon. Even short of such a solution, U.S. and Iraqi security forces are already improvising population surveys in their areas using handheld computers.

The whole process ought to be familiar to students of counterinsurgency. It is, in essence, an update of the old plan known as “concentration” zones or camps. The latter name causes understandable confusion, since we’re not talking about extermination camps of the kind that Hitler built, but rather of settlements where locals can be moved to live under guard, thereby preventing insurgent infiltration. The British used this strategy in the Boer war, the Americans during the Philippine war, and many other powers took similar steps in many other conflicts. In Vietnam they were known as “strategic hamlets.”

This type of massive population movement is not practical today given Iraq’s dense urban environment and nationalist sensitivities, but concrete barriers and tamper-proof identity cards can achieve some of the same result. There’s nothing nefarious about the process. It’s Counterinsurgency 101. The only wonder is that it’s taken so long for this obvious strategy to be implemented.

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