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October 03, 2007

Worrisome
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

As I’ve written before, I’m skeptical of the Anbar strategy.  My concerns are about whether or not it can actually be replicated in other parts of the country.  Even more worrisome is that we just end up arming the Sunnis, who still hate the Shi’a and consider them public enemy number one.  And that eventually the Sunni tribes end up fighting it out with the central government.  Prime Minister Maliki has expressed his concerns about this strategy in the past.  But now comes this

The largest Shiite political coalition in Iraq demanded Tuesday that the U.S. military abandon its recruitment of Sunni tribesmen into the Iraqi police, saying some are members of "armed terrorist groups" and are engaged in killing, kidnapping and extortion under the guise of fighting the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The statement by the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite bloc of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, is the most direct rebuke to a policy that U.S. military officers hold up as one of their most important achievements over the past year…

"We condemn and reject embracing those terrorist elements which committed the most hideous crimes against our people," the United Iraqi Alliance statement said. It also condemned "authorizing the groups to conduct security acts away from the jurisdiction of the government and without its knowledge."

The statement went on: "We demand that the American administration stop this adventure, which is rejected by all the sons of the people and its national political powers…"

Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, described these partnerships as a "success story" and said 1,700 volunteers from the town of Abu Ghraib graduated last week after a month of police academy training.

"Anbar now stands as an inspiring example to the rest of the country for what is possible, as citizens come together to reject extremist behavior," Odierno said.

This is a big deal.  This is the largest bloc in the Central government openly condemning one of the cornerstones of American policy in Iraq.  Not good

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I think Kevin Drum might have been the one to say this (sorry no link) but shouldn't we make arming and training contingent upon political reconciliation?

As I've heard the metaphor repeated many times over: training without some form of political settlement is like pouring gasoline on a fire. We need to put the fire out first.

After all this time so many Americans are still thinking of reconciliation in Iraq the way they think about the UAW striking General Motors: just talk through the details, work out the problems, and settle your differences. What more is there to reconciliation, anyway?

In Iraq, the fundamental problem is that the deep-seated Shiite sense of grievance left over from Saddam's time has never been addressed by the only people who could address it -- the mostly Sunni Arabs who prospered under the regime that persecuted Shiites. Sunni Arabs instead supported "resistance," attacks on coalition forces that merged indistinguishably with attacks on mostly Shiite policemen, government workers, soldiers, and civilians. Rather than addressing the Shiites' sense of grievance, the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency magnified it.

That is the gulf American soldiers are trying to bridge with persuasion, material incentives, and their own blood. The effort they are making is remarkable in many ways, and they didn't cause this problem. But they also cannot solve it. It's fair enough to observe that Iraqi Shiite faction leaders are being short-sighted and unreasonable -- why wouldn't they support efforts to divide Sunni Arabs, some supporting the government and some opposed? -- and also to point out that the death squads they have sponsored have driven from the country many Sunni Arabs who had not been party to Saddam's crimes and could have been reconciled to a Shiite-dominated government. And no doubt American officers and diplomats have tried very hard to get those points across.

They haven't succeeded, and cannot succeed. Political reality in Iraq is that Shiite factional leaders have to respond to constituencies that have ferocious and, sadly, well-justified grievances against Sunni Arabs who will do anything -- even subordinate themselves to the Americans -- rather than do so much as acknowledge them. If the former apartheid government's army had done in South Africa what the Sunni Arab insurgency has done in Iraq over the last four years, South Africa would not be a democracy and Nelson Mandela would not now be known as a peacekeeper.

The issue is not whether Iraq will eventually sort itself out somehow. The issue is how long the United States will continue to pour men and resources into one, mid-sized Arab country in pursuit of a reconciliation that depends on Iraqi Arabs, and Sunni Arabs in particular, doing things we cannot make them do and have no reason to expect they will soon do on their own. The Bush administration's handles this issue with the promise of an indefinite commitment; his leading Democratic challengers promise an indefinite commitment at a somewhat lower level of expenditure, of men and resources. Neither will give up on reconciliation, and neither will change the absolute priority the future of Iraq has over all other American interests in the world.

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