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January 03, 2008

More Bottoms Up
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

There are two pieces today that point out what happens after you successfully co-opt local actors and bring them in to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq.  As long as there is a common enemy, it works.  But once the enemy is eliminated, things start to break down and the groups splinter.  Without a comprehensive political strategy that brings these groups together and forces them towards a political agreement on how they might share power, all the United States is doing is putting its finger in the dam.

In Diyala, the Shi'a Security Forces still doesn't trust the Sunnis and believe that these tribal movements are likely to turn against the central government.  This could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the Shi'a dominated Iraqi Security forces are in fact alienating the "Concerned Local Citizens" (i.e. the Sunnis).  Eventually this could will likely encourage Sunni forces to turn against the Shi'a central government.

But Awakening Council members, often lightly armed and poorly trained, say Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is not their only adversary in Diyala. Iraqi security forces remain distrustful of the former insurgents, and last week staged a raid with American forces against one of their headquarters in the town of Buhruz. The Iraqi police said the tribesmen killed a Shiite hostage during the raid and fired at the officers. United States helicopters returned fire and killed at least 10 council members.

An Iraqi police brigadier, Kudhair Tamimi, acknowledged that many Sunni tribesmen had sacrificed their lives fighting the insurgents in Diyala, but said he still doubted their loyalty and questioned the wisdom of allowing them to serve in the Iraqi security forces...

Brigadier Tamimi said that some Awakening Council members continued to occupy dozens of Shiite family homes and were still involved in the kidnappings and murders of Shiites in Diyala.

But Abu Talib, an Awakening Council leader in southern Baquba, the capital of Diyala, said that continued insurgent attacks and lukewarm support from the Iraqi security forces were alienating his followers and could potentially push them back into the insurgency.

“We have had many martyrs, but nobody cares about them,” he said. “There is no recruitment of the Awakening Councils into the Iraqi security forces, and this will destroy the security situation in Baquba, because we now protect most of the neighborhoods.”

Meanwhile, in Anbar, we see what happens once the immediate and common enemy is eliminated and people turn back to governing.  Now, that Al Qaeda in Iraq has been pushed out of Anbar, we get this:

As violence has faded, an argument has been raging over who really speaks for Iraq's Sunni Arab minority: the province's largely secular and fiercely independent tribal leaders, who resisted the U.S. invasion, or the main Sunni political party, an Islamist group led by former exiles who cooperated with the Americans from the start...

Now, the sheiks say, it's payback time. They want more schools, better healthcare, clean water and reliable electricity for their war-ravaged province. They want jobs for their followers. And above all, they want a stake in government for their Iraqi Awakening Conference movement...

Saleh Mutlak, who heads a rival Sunni political group that has joined forces with the Islamic Party in parliament, said the sheiks asked him to convey a message to his allies.

"Unless there is a solution . . . then we will use our guns to displace the Islamic Party from Anbar," he quoted the sheiks as telling him.

This is what happens when you mistake short-term tactical success for long-term strategic progress.

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