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January 23, 2007

Reflections on the Surge and the Future of Iraq (Part 2)
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The surge, like almost everything else the Bush administration comes up with, fails to address in any serious way what seems to me the fundamental problem – the utter incompetence and intransigence of the Maliki government, a government which turns a blind eye to terrorizing and murdering its opponents and a government which shows little to no interest in reaching out to Sunnis, moderate or otherwise. Maliki is an unfortunate creature, as he – by his very existence – presents the most compelling argument against electoral democracy. Of course, I imagine Spencer Ackerman will jump up and down upon hearing this, and say I told you so. Not quite. If the Iraqi people elected Maliki (and I guess you could argue whether they really did), then they have to live with that stupid decision (sort of like how we voted for Bush not once but twice). Democracy, at its essence, is the right to do the wrong thing – and taking responsibility for it afterwards.

Peter Beinart makes the most compelling argument yet that Maliki’s government is not worth defending and we – and not to mention Iraq’s Sunnis – would all be better off if Maliki wasn't longer Prime Minister. He has failed to live up to any of his empty assurances that he would, in fact, be a national leader. He is not. He is a hard-line Shia partisan who protects thugs and murderers (i.e. the Sadrists and their Mahdi Army) who operate with impunity as coalition partners in his government. Perhaps even worse, the Iraqi government has actively undermined the U.S. mission, in effect empowering Sunni insurgents in the process. Fareed Zakaria noted that in Tall Afar

The Third Armored Cavalry Regiment had repelled [the insurgents], secured the streets and won over the local population. But the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad had since ignored all appeals for money for reconstruction (the "build" phase), which has meant few new jobs. Many Sunni areas complain of similar treatment from Baghdad. Tall Afar is now sliding back into instability. Thus a smart American strategy falls prey to the political realities in Iraq.

Back to the original point, though – the fundamental question isn’t so much whether the surge will “control the violence,” (I am not sure what that even means), but, rather, if it will resolve the “Maliki problem.” Kagan and Kristol, for their part, argue that the surge will actually make political compromise between Shias and Sunnis more likely:

Democratic claims that Iraqis must immediately find a political solution to their political problems are laughable in the face of the violence in Baghdad. Abandoning American efforts to control the violence in Iraq would lead to an increase in violence. This would in turn reduce the odds of peaceful and constructive political discourse, and would further undermine any spirit of compromise between the competing Iraqi factions.

I do not really understand this logic because, well, it’s not really logical. It seems to me that that the surge would more likely have the opposite effect: the more the US stands behind the Maliki government, the less incentive it will have to change its ways and get its act together. The Maliki government needs to finally take responsibility for its own actions instead of hypocritically thumbing its nose at the Bush administration while receiving political-military support from it. As long as he knows that American troops are coming in (presumably to help his government), I am not sure why Maliki would feel compelled to stop the killing of Sunnis or to reach out to them as part of a political reconciliation effort, unless the Bush administration makes unmistakably clear that any support for the Iraqi government is contingent precisely on those two things. And Bush has not done that.

I am against political subsidies for the same reason I’m against economic subsidies (i.e. protectionism). Subsidies allow actors, in this case the Iraqi government, to shirk responsibility and deflect criticism onto external forces (i.e. the US). Without American support, the Maliki government would be forced to come up with a political solution – otherwise, it might not survive. The message if we threatened a troop reduction (rather than a troop increase) would be: “do or die” – you can’t count on us anymore, and unless you demonstrate you’re serious about a political solution, we will begin to slowly withdraw support from your government.

At no point, however, should we consider a full withdrawal or even a withdrawal of the majority of troops. Troop reductions, in such a scenario, would not be a prelude to complete withdrawal, but rather a bargaining chip against a recalcitrant Iraqi government. At the very least, a signficant number of American troops must remain to prevent Maliki’s anticipated ethnic cleansing of the Sunni minority, something which Fareed Zakaria first proposed two months ago in one of the best Iraq articles in recent memory. This would take the form of a rapid-reaction force which would intervene to protect Sunni communities, prevent ethnic cleansing, and maintain some level of basic security in key areas. Zakaria suggests that a rapid-reaction force of this nature would number around 60,000 soldiers. This would be coupled with a sharp increase in American advisors to the Iraqi Army (from 4,000 to 16,000), “embedding an American platoon (30 to 40 men) in virtually every Iraqi fighting battalion (600 men).”


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Let me give this answer to Shadi Hamid's proposal here: no. Just no.

I hope I may be forgiven for pointing out the clear appearance that Hamid writes here as an Arab, not as an American. That's a habit I'd encourage him to break. He cares nothing for the cost in money or lives of keeping an American army in Iraq indefinitely. He seems oblivious as well that the population he is desperate to protect -- Iraq's Sunni Arabs -- were the primary support for the former Iraqi government and the insurgency. After all that both had done for so many years, what did Hamid think was going to happen?

There weren't a lot of white hats ten years ago among Croats and Bosnians, but we didn't talk then about the Balkan wars in terms of the victimhood of Milosevic and Mladic. It makes no more sense now to discuss Iraq in terms of Sunni Arab victimhood. That community has brought its current problems on itself; while it may be very late in the day, perhaps Iraq's Sunni Arabs might consider doing a little "reaching out" themselves. Or maybe more than a little. In any event, there is no way, none, that American troops are going to hang around Iraq for the next 20 years to protect one ethnic group.

This post is straight out of Neverland. More fussing by the interventionist lost boys like Zakaria and Beinart who just can't seem to grow up.

Maliki is supposed to reign in the Shia militias precisely how? Let’s hear your plan Shadi. Should he call up all of those independent Iraqi troops – the ones who do not belong to militias themselves or are not allied to them politically? Great! Where are they? I’m sure they’re hiding somewhere. And I'm ever so sure Maliki possesses the capability to crush or reign in Sadr and Badr. I think there is a magic anti-militia button somewhere in the Green Zone. He just lacks the will to do it, right?

The most recent report I saw on US casualties indicated that virtually all of them were due to attacks by Sunni insurgents. Sunni insurgents also blew up another Shiite mosque yesterday and killed another 70 people. The reporter on the radio sardonically noted: “This was the largest such attack in over 6 days”.

But hey – at least it’s not ethnic cleansing. If you just blow them up you don’t have to cleanse them.

Oh those poor insurgents. Just imagine! These are people who have simply refused to participate in the government, continue to wage a civil war to overturn it and continue to murder Shiites in large bundles – and yet the government refuses to release reconstruction funds to them! The inhumanity!

I wonder why a government might be reluctant to release money to people who will probably pour it back into ammunition, car bombs, smuggling, bribery and racketeering. It’s just so confusing!

And from Fareed Zakaria: My goodness – 70 percent unemployment in the Sunni Triangle? You don't say. Who could ever imagine such a thing in a war zone?

This discussion is really a testament to the power of public diplomacy. Saudi Arabia summons Cheney to Riyadh; Saudi officials start penning editorials for major US newspapers; they juggle a few top diplomatic positions - and voila! A whole army of media stooges is mustered to tell us that we have now discovered that our chief enemies in Iraq have been the victims all along. Those wily Persian Evildoers - they're the ones to blame for all the violence! Just like Saddam said!

Shadi is another entrant for the top essay prize in the new “blame the patient” rhetorical strategy by the wise doctors of the interventionist set. More “smart American policy” undermined by those brutal Iraqi ingrates! This is petulant, intellectually dishonest rot from people who are unable to come to grips with the foolishness of their own agenda, and continue to blame everyone but themselves.

There is a civil war in Iraq. Iraq cannot be reconstructed or have an effective national government until that civil war is over. There is a good chance that it will never have an effective national government, and is headed for dissolution by one path or another. Until someone comes up with a realistic plan for ending the civil war, the rest is just wind.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have been reigning in Shi'ite militias for the past 45 days. And so far Maliki seems to be supporting it.

About 600 fighters and 16 leaders of the radical Shia militia, the Mehdi Army, have been captured by security forces in Iraq, the US military says.

The statement said 52 operations had been conducted in 45 days targeting the militia, which is loyal to Najaf-based cleric Moqtada Sadr.

Sunni extremists were also the focus of the crackdown, the US military said.

US and Iraqi forces are currently preparing for a broad offensive in the strife-torn Iraqi capital Baghdad.

BAGHDAD, Jan. 17 — Facing intense pressure from the Bush administration to show progress in securing Iraq, senior Iraqi officials announced Wednesday that they had moved against the country’s most powerful Shiite militia, arresting several dozen senior members in the past few weeks.

It was the first time the Shiite government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had claimed significant action against the militia, the Mahdi Army, one of the most intractable problems facing his administration. The militia’s leader, the cleric Moktada al-Sadr, helped put Mr. Maliki in power, but pressure to crack down on the group has mounted as its killings in the capital have driven a wedge into efforts to keep the country together.

Although the announcement seemed timed to deflect growing scrutiny by an American administration that has grown increasingly frustrated with Mr. Maliki, American officers here offered some support for the government’s claims, saying that at least half a dozen senior militia leaders had been taken into custody in recent weeks.

In perhaps the most surprising development, the Americans said, none of the members had been prematurely released, a chronic problem as this government has frequently shielded Shiite fighters.

One of the main arguements for those proposing withdrawl is that Maliki will not reign in Shi'ite militias, which is crucial to stem the security crises and sectarian violence, unless we start withdrawing forces. Yet I have heard little from withdrawl proponents commenting on these new developments.

Does it mean we can be sure Maliki is serious? Of course not. But it also means that there's more of a possibility that he is serious than we thought months ago.

Of course, ironically I think one of the reasons Maliki has had a change in heart is the new Democratic congress. Yet while I think the threat of withdrawl is necessary, I think withdrawl itself at this time is ill-advised.

That also means that I favor the resolutions being proposed in congress. Not because I'm not in favor of the surge, but that they act as a motivator for Maliki to hold up his end of the bargain, which is necessary for the surge to work.

Divided government working at it's finest.

Will the surge be complete by August?

Ok, Zathras says: "I hope I may be forgiven for pointing out the clear appearance that Hamid writes here as an Arab, not as an American. That's a habit I'd encourage him to break. He cares nothing for the cost in money or lives of keeping an American army in Iraq indefinitely." I suppose he is accusing me of dual loyalty, apparently implying that I value Arab life more than I should. It's a bit weird. What about all the people who support staying in Iraq who aren't Arab? How do you explain their positions? (Last time I checked Bill Kristol, Ken Pollack, Barack Obama, Frederick Kagan, and a good chunk of the US congress weren't Arab). This accusation is just as ludicrous and offensive as it is when people question the loyalty of American Jews. To use another example, it's also a bit like saying the CBC supports more aid to Africa b/c they're of African origin. Yes, my background has something to do with my interest in the Middle East. But, as far as what I write in this blog is concerned, I'm concerned about the Middle East because of our country's safety, our country's ideals, and in a broader, philosophical sense because of what it means for the future of idealism in US foreign policy.

Dan Kervick says I'm employing the "blame the patient" rhetorical approach. I'm not exactly sure what this means. Well, the Shias of Iraq are not "patients." They are in charge of the country, they control the government, and there is much they can do (that they haven't) to ameliorate the situation. Of course, I realize that the Sunni insurgents are a huge part of the problem. But it should be obvious by now that the only way to defeat the insurgency is to give Sunnis a real stake in government and to bring them into the political process in a serious way. Otherwise, Sunnis will have grievances, grievances which will find their expression in violence and terrorism.

Dan, you then discuss the "foolishness of their agenda" presumably referring to people like me (i.e. interventionists). Please be more discerning. Invading Iraq was never on my "agenda." Invading Iran is most certainly not on my "agenda," and imposing democracy by gunpoint is not on my "agenda." Get your agendas straight, please.

But it should be obvious by now that the only way to defeat the insurgency is to give Sunnis a real stake in government and to bring them into the political process in a serious way. Otherwise, Sunnis will have grievances, grievances which will find their expression in violence and terrorism.

The Sunnis have been offered a real stake in the government several times. They have generally rejected it. That's apparently because a rather large proportion of them don't want a stake in the government. They want to defeat the government. And those that are willing to accept a stake in the government live in terror of those who aren't thus willing.

There is little that can be done to alleviate all of the many Sunni grievances. That's because their chief grievance is that the US invaded their country and toppled their government, and their place as the dominant faction in Iraqi society has consequently been usurped by others who constitute the overwhelming majority of the country - and the former top dogs don't like it one bit.

And that's just the "moderate" ex-Baathists. A fairly large number of the most active insurgency groups have radical Islamist agendas - somethimes virulently anti-Shia. Their grievances also cannot be addressed easily, because their chief grievance is that Iraq is not a Sunni Islamic republic.

I'm not in Iraq, Shadi, and neither are you. So maybe one or both of us has an inaccurate view of what is going on there. But you talk about the responsibilities of the Iraqi government. As far as I can tell, Iraq has no real government. The entity called "the Iraqi government" is certainly not in charge of the country, as you describe it. There are vast expanses of the the country where the population is effectively at war with the government. Where Iraq is pacified, that is not due to any actions of the Iraqi government, but rather the actions of local leaders in charge of local militias and security forces. Those forces may in some cases be nominally incorporated into the government, but they owe their chief loyalty to their local communities and leaders, and will side with the latter if a serious conflict emerges between local leaders and the central government

This is an intercommunal civil war. It's a two-way street. Until the war is over, it's unrealistic to expect one side in the war to distribute benefits to the people who are attacking them on the other side.

First off, if you haven't seen it, here's an interview with the iraqi president.

I wouldn't just believe what he says, but he at least is presenting one iraqi view.

The iraqi government isn't exactly a real government. They haven't had control of any of their own army until recently. They haven't had control of their own administration, each government office has been controlled by someone appointed by Bremer who could not be removed by iraqis (except by killing him). But they're as close to a government as anything iraq has. They have some influence over their budget. They have hundreds of thousands of militia members they could call on in an emergency. They nominally control the food ration distribution, which they have taken responsibility for shutting off to sunni areas. The ruling coalition is the strongest coalition in the country at least among voters, and everybody knows it.

They have a chance to accept a sunni surrender. If the sunnis do surrender, why continue to do ethnic cleansing? Does revenge take precedence over getting the US out and with us gone, starting to rebuild?

Talabani: "I want to add something: after Saddam Hussein's execution, I do not think the Baathists are any longer under the impression that they will return to power. There was a notion that Saddam might cooperate with the Americans and, thus, they would put him back in power, or that Arab States would apply pressure. This notion is now over. On the other hand, those who have suffered from the crimes of Saddam Hussein felt that they recovered part of their rights. Thus, they have no right now to exaggerate in this regard. So I think there is room to settle the issue of debaathification and to turn over a new leaf with the Baathists, who accept democracy and the peaceful approach, and refuse to fight against the current government."

In Talabani's statement there's an implied deal for the USA. We could sit in our bases and avoid iraqis entirely, and be ready to protect southern iraq from iran and northern iraq from turkey. They might be happy to have our troops in their country provided they never have to interact with them.

Just for the record, what I suggested upthread was that Shadi Hamid appears to identify the interests of a specific foreign population -- a population representing one side in a civil war -- with the interests of the United States. American partisans of certain factions within Israeli politics (since Hamid alludes to that group) do much the same thing, and I object to that as well. He may well find this "ludicrous and offensive," and he is entitled to his opinion. As for his taking cover behind people like Bill Kristol, Kevin Pollack and so forth, I will only say that I was addressing his arguments, not theirs.

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