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September 09, 2007

Bottoms Up
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The new message for why we have to be in Iraq is that “bottom up reconciliation” is working in Anbar and therefore we should just replicate it everywhere and this time, finally, we will be on the right track, perhaps.   Brian Katulis has some questions about this strategy and I have one of my own as well. 

1.  Is this actually reconciliation?

What is the plan for integrating irregular Sunni forces into Iraq's national government? The Bush administration has opted to work around Iraq's national security forces by providing support to "irregular" Sunni forces drawn from Iraq's tribes, a new initiative that prompted complaints from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. If no clear plan is developed for integrating these Sunni irregular forces into Iraq's national government, Iraq's civil wars could become even deadlier in the coming years.

2.  Is this replicable in other parts of the country?

During the past six months, Iraq's south has seen escalating conflict between rival Shiite militias. In August alone, two governors of southern provinces were assassinated, militia clashes in the holy city of Karbala killed 50 people, and four top aides to the leading Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani were murdered. These events are signs that various political groups in Iraq's Shiite ruling coalition are engaged in a deadly struggle for power. Northern Iraq is experiencing conflict between Arabs and Kurds -- much of it centered on the disputed city of Kirkuk. Will the new "bottom-up" reconciliation model address these problems?

3.    Why do we need 168,000 troops to facilitate “bottom up reconciliation” and essentially act as political mediators?

Putting aside my skepticism about the “Anbar awakening,” I have little objection to the President changing his strategy (again) and putting more emphasis on negotiating agreements at the local level.  The national government is dysfunctional anyway and the country is already splitting apart and ethnically cleansing itself.  So try to work out deals at the local level and see if you can find local political accommodation.  This may lead to some kind of natural and evolving partition of the country or at least an extraordinarily decentralized structure, which is fine, as long as it brings stability.

But here’s the crux.  Why do we need 168,000 troops to make that happen?  The President’s argument was that the security that American troops provide creates political breathing space.  In Anbar, the reverse was true.  A political agreement was struck amongst the tribal Sheikhs on September 14, 2006 after which security began to improve.  More American troops were brought in to take advantage of the situation, not to create it.

So I say for now that the President can have his “bottom up” reconciliation and he can do it while withdrawing American troops out of the country.  If deals are struck, it might be reasonable to send a small number of American troops into certain areas afterwards to help take advantage of the situation, as they did in Anbar.  But until then, there is no reason for American troops to be acting as political mediators in the middle of various conflicts that they cannot control.


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This may lead to some kind of natural and evolving partition of the country or at least an extraordinarily decentralized structure, which is fine, as long as it brings stability.

Perhaps. But it strikes me as very unlikely. The more plausible prediction is that the Sunni Arabs in Iraq will ultimately continue to do what they have been doing since the invasion in 2003, when Saddam's Army and Mukhabbarat were driven from power and forced underground, and the Sunni clan and tribal networks that made up his power base were disinherited from their outsized claim on the Iraqi treasury. They will fight to topple the government and restore their power to something approaching its former levels; and they will return to attacking our troops, but this time with their shiny new US-supplied weaponry.

Rather than look for any ingenious change in US strategy, we should recognize this as a clever change in Sunni Arab strategy. Recognizing US diffidence about the Shia-dominated government it helped put in place, extreme US paranoia about Iran, US dependence on and infatuation with Its Sunni allies in Saudi Arabia, and the US obsession with "al Qaeda", some Sunnis shrewdly discerned that the Americans had grown weary of defending the Baghdad government, and were well-poised to be be duped into switching sides in the war. Rather than continue to fight Americans, they decided to gather a few scalps from some hapless jihadi militants, and deliver them to the Americans for some new firesticks.

This will go down as one of the most ignominious betrayals in history. A bunch of Shia Muslims, still sporting those legendary purple fingers used to vote their majority community into its rightful position of dominance in Iraq, in elections sanctioned and eagerly supported by the United States government as the culmination of the Great Democracy Crusade, are going to end up in shallow graves with George Bush's knife in their backs.

And a bunch of American parents of dead soldiers will wonder what the last five years were all about, as the same crew the invasion deposed, and which spent four years killing their boys and girls, and attempting to destroy a fledgling Iraqi democracy, is returned to power with the help of the US government.

More American troops were brought in to take advantage of the situation, not to create it.

Wait a minute - that's the reward you get for turning on Al Qaeda? More occupying forces come in to your province to "take advantage of the situation"?

1. Bush's meeting with the Sunni sheiks was tacit admittance that democraticization hasn't worked, despite the purple fingers. These are the same tribes that (a) supported Saddam and (2) have been killing GI's.

Photo of Bush shakin' with a sheikh here. The look on the sheikh's face is memorable.

2. Petraeus is arming the same Sunni gangs that have been killing GI's. From Iraq:

Working with 1920s – A Sunni insurgent group we’ve been battling for months, responsible for the death of my friend and numerous attacks, agreed to fight Al Qaeda alongside us. Since then, they’ve grown into a much more organized, lethal force. They use this organization to steal cars and intimidate and torture the local population, or anyone they accuse of being linked to Al Qaeda. The Gestapo of the 21st century, sanctioned by the United States Army.

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