We are winning the War in Iraq.
President Bush says so. Vice President Cheney agrees. And GOP Presidential nominee John McCain, who just got back from Baghdad, says we’re on the verge of victory.
Indeed, violence is down significantly in most parts of the country. The Iraqi parliament is moving slowly toward passing important legislation that would help reconcile the factions. A recent poll on Iraq found the people more hopeful about the future.
But the fact is, despite this upbeat news, Iraq is still an ungodly mess – barely a country at all with neighborhoods in Baghdad separated by huge concrete walls and barriers, the presence of armed police and militia on every street corner, frequent and intrusive checkpoints. All this to keep the country from exploding into violence.
The surge has worked – for the present. Now what?
What is it exactly that we are “winning” in Iraq? The peace? Amity in the national polity? Not hardly. A 70% drop in violence from the horrific levels of last year is heartening but is far from bringing peace and security to the country. And Shia resistance to Sunni participation in Iraqi public life is as entrenched as ever. Passing laws will not change the hearts and minds of those who suffered so long under the brutal Sunni dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
A realistic look at Iraq shows two sides, sullenly and without much enthusiasm for working together, eyeing each other suspiciously across a great divide patrolled by Americans and poorly paid and trained Iraqis, buttressed by the forced separation of the sects into ghettos while all the progress made over the last year balances on a knife’s edge.
And the helluva it is, we are entirely dependent on others for continued success.
Keeping the 80,000 strong Sunni militias happy is absolutely vital to continued peace. So would someone please explain to me why in God’s name we’re not paying them? If they were to quit in disgust and take up arms once again against the Americans, it would be a setback from which there would be no recovery.
Consider also our dependence on the forbearance and good will of Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi militia. His Iranian supplied fighters could make Baghdad into a nightmare again – concrete barriers or no concrete barriers.
What of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki? His inability to drag his government toward meaningful reconciliation and his eagerness to establish close ties with Iran are extremely problematic for our efforts to unite the country.
And how do you deal with the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (formerly the SCIRI) – the largest political party in Iraq – and their insistence that any power sharing agreement include an autonomous Shia state in the south where they have set up a government based largely on Sharia law and regularly thumbs their noses at Maliki’s government in Baghdad?
To be so dependent on others for our success or failure in Iraq highlights the fact that despite progress, for real peace to have a chance all the tumblers will have to click into place at the same time and the independent forces threatening to tear the country apart somehow be kept together.
Otherwise, everything goes south again and we’re back to square one.
The military and Bush recognize this and will keep troop levels at the same level they are now through the end of the year:
Troop levels in Iraq would remain nearly the same through 2008 as at any time during five years of war, under plans presented to President Bush on Monday by the senior American commander and the top American diplomat in Iraq, senior administration and military officials said.
Mr. Bush announced no final decision on future troop levels after the video briefing by the commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and the diplomat, Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. The briefing took place on the day when the 4,000th American military death of the war was reported and just after the invasion’s fifth anniversary.
But it now appears likely that any decision on major reductions in American troops from Iraq will be left to the next president. That ensures that the question over what comes next will remain in the center of the presidential campaign through Election Day.
Perhaps they know something that we don’t?
On Sunday, a barrage of at least 17 rockets hit the heavily fortified Green Zone and surrounding neighborhoods, where both the U.S. and Iraqi government headquarters are housed, according to police. Most of them were launched from the outskirts of Sadr City and Bayaa, both Mahdi Army-controlled neighborhoods.
On Monday, the Sadrists all but shut down the neighborhoods they control on the west bank of Baghdad. Gunmen went to stores and ordered them to close as militiamen stood in the streets. Mosques used their loudspeakers to urge people to come forward and join the protest.
Fliers were distributed with the Sadrists’ three demands of the Iraqi government: to release detainees, stop targeting Sadrist members and apologize to the families and the tribal sheiks of the men.
The Iraqi security forces issued a statement promising to deal with those who terrorized shopkeepers and students.
“It’s an open sit-in until the government responds to our demands. If the government doesn’t respond, we will have our own procedures,” said Hamdallah al Rikabi, the head of the Sadr offices in Karkh, in western Baghdad.
The death toll from attacks that occurred all over Iraq on Sunday-Monday was at least 59 with 4 Americans killed in separate incidents. That brought the number of US dead over the previous two weeks to 25 – a disturbing spike that could be either a short term uptick in casualties or a sign that the enemy is growing stronger and that despite all our good work in rooting al-Qaeda from their strongholds and driving them away, it may not be enough.
I have lamented the fact before that we are well and truly trapped in Iraq and that the next president be it a Democrat or Republican will have precious few options. Grandiose statements of a quick withdrawal coming from the Obama and Clinton camps are meaningless. Some symbolic drawdown to appease the base would probably be undertaken but until the Iraqi army and police can prove themselves capable of preventing the country from falling from a barely manageable chaos into hellish dissolution and slaughter, American combat troops in large numbers will continue to be needed.
In the end, it comes down to a Hobson’s Choice between continuing an occupation in Iraq that has harmed our relations with our friends in the region, cost the nation a trillion dollars and counting, caused the sacrifice of 4,000 brave Americans, and currently has no end in sight or withdrawing from Iraq, leaving its uncertain fate to benighted thugs like al-Sadr and salivating foreigners like Iran and Syria while praying that there isn’t a bloodbath of biblical proportions.
UPDATE AND CORRECTION
Bob Owens looked into the Guardian story on the Sunni militias not being paid and found it to be “a load of bull:”
Multi-National Force-Iraq commanding General David Petraeus has little use for recent claims in the British press that the Surge is on the verge of collapse in parts of Iraq. In an e-mail to Pajamas Media, Petraeus wrote that the story, as reported in the Guardian were ”based on dated info.”
In addition, he said that reports that the Iraqi government is refusing to employ Sunnis are incorrect. ”The National Reconciliation Committee just approved a list of over 3,500 names of Diyala Sons of Iraq for the Iraqi Police,” wrote General Petraeus in his e-mail, a sign that more jobs integrating the Sunnis within the government’s security forces were forthcoming.
Petraeus also responded to a GuardianFilms video report for Britain’s Channel 4 on March 20 charged that Sunni militias in Iraq were not being paid by U.S. forces and were on the verge of staging a national strike because they were not getting jobs within the Iraq government. A Guardian print article also made that claim followed on March 21.
Petraeus said in his correspondence that a threatened strike in Diyala was “resolved a week or two ago” when Sunni militiamen called “Sons of Iraq” (SoI) were told that if they didn’t work, they wouldn’t get paid.
This is good news indeed. However, what was not addressed in Bob’s article was the belief by at least some of the militiamen that Americans were slighting their contributions to the effort to stamp out al-Qaeda and that our soldiers were letting the Sunnis do most of the hard fighting while sitting back and getting credit for their success.
I have no way of knowing whether this is true of a majority of Sunni militiamen. But I know that there has been quite a bit of triumphalism in some media quarters about our success and that this could very easily be misinterpreted by those who are already suspicious of us.
No matter. The fact that they are on the job, getting paid, and as Bob points out in his excellent article, being slowly integrated into the Iraqi police force is all that counts.