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August 18, 2008

Canceling Iraq’s Blank Check
Posted by Shawn Brimley

As soon as I get to it I plan on writing up a long post on the trip I took to Iraq in July and August. For now, below is a section and link from a piece posted on Foreign Policy online by yours truly and my co-travelers Colin Kahl and John Nagl:

Traveling across Iraq as the surge ended, it was impossible to ignore the dramatic improvements in security. In 10 days on the ground in and around Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul, we did not hear a shot fired in anger. Remember the "triangle of death" just south of Baghdad? Soldiers now jokingly call it the "triangle of love."

Jokes aside, Iraq remains a dangerous place—and a number of significant attacks did take place out of earshot during our trip. But overall violence against Iraqi civilians and U.S. and Iraqi forces has fallen to levels not seen since early 2004. And as U.S. forces have stepped down from the surge, Iraqi security forces have started to find their feet. In recent months, the Iraqi Army has conducted successful operations in Amara, Basra, Mosul, and Sadr City (and they are currently engaged in operations in Diyala province). Iraqi security forces now control most of the country. In Basra, a southern metropolis infested with Shiite militias a few short months ago, we were able to tour the entire city in an Iraqi Army convoy accompanied by only a handful of coalition advisors.

Up north, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is still deadly. Half of all attacks now occur in and around Mosul, where AQI remnants continue to find sanctuary. U.S. military commanders and intelligence analysts, however, now believe the group has been strategically defeated. AQI remains capable of intimidation, assassination, and periodic spectacular bombings, but it no longer poses a threat to the viability of the Iraqi state. The same goes for Iranian-backed "special groups," which have been substantially degraded by recent offensives.

Despite the improved security environment, no one in Baghdad, including Gen. David Petraeus, is doing a victory dance (even as a rising number of commentators in Washington do just that). Those on the ground know that because none of the fundamental political grievances underlying Iraq's ethnosectarian conflict have been resolved, the security gains remain fragile and reversible.

Genuine reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites remains elusive. The "Sunni Awakening"—the Sunnis' decision to cooperate with U.S. forces against AQI—ranks among the biggest reasons for the decline in violence in Iraq. But don't be fooled: The awakening represents an accommodation with the United States, not the Shiites who dominate Iraq's government. These security gains could dissolve if the Sunni "Sons of Iraq"—many of them former insurgents—are not integrated into official forces or gainfully employed, and if emerging tribal leaders don't get an opportunity to share power at the local and national levels through elections. Yet Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government, to the great frustration of many Sunnis and U.S. military commanders, has been slow-rolling integration of the Sons of Iraq. Nor is the Iraqi prime minister likely to incorporate the most important elements due to their former allegiances to the Baath Party, Saddam's army, or the insurgency. Smoldering grievances among even a small percentage of the 100,000 armed Sons of Iraq could reignite a rebellion.

For the rest of the piece click here.


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We gave Iraq a blank check, but those checks going to US corporations have big numbers on them and they won't stop any time soon, no matter what we make "crystal clear" to Iraq. As Smedley Butler said, war is a racket, the racketeers are coastin', and they will thank you to stay off the brakes.

Didn't I hear this on XM America Left the other day?

This is yet another commentary that describes reconciliation in Iraq exclusively as something Iraqi Shiites must deliver to Sunni Arabs.

Why should we think this a realistic view? Why should we believe this to be a view Iraqi Shiites think realistic? Why should we consider it likely that simply putting the American foot down and demanding that the Shiite government accomodate a minority responsible through Saddam Hussein's government and the insurgency for many years of violence against Shiites will produce the stability and reduced risk of sectarian violence we seek for Iraq?

"Because it is necessary to continue finding fault with Bush administration policy in Iraq" is not an acceptable answer to any of these questions. I am fully aware of the rarity of white hats in the politics of an Arab country; there are doubtless many officials in the Maliki government with blood on their own hands, and many more motivated by the opportunities the current political structure presents for personal and family enrichment. It remains gratingly obtuse to insist on a definition of reconciliation after many years of tyranny vicious even by Arab standards and several more of insurgency that demands everything of the majority sect just because it is in control of the government now and nothing of the minority responsible for all the violence in the first place.

Perhaps you didn't read the article, which describes Shiite/Sunni, Shiite/Sadrist and Arab/Kurd differences (as well as the AQI threat) and then suggests that the Iraqi government needs to reconcile these differences for peace to exist.

"The surge was supposed to be about buying time to build Iraqi capacity and create breathing space for political accommodation."--article

"I've made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people -- and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people."--Bush, Jan 10, 2007

Nobody, except you, is talking about delivering anything to the Sunnis. In regard to the Sunnis, former Baathists have been effectively kept out of the government and Sunnis in general are not being allowed into the Iraqi Army in any numbers. This continued enmity toward Sunnis also has an international downside, with the Saudis in particular withholding support.

There are also major problems in Kirkuk with the Kurds which have apparently postponed provincial elections, and while the Sadrists may have been defeated militarily they still have wide political support. All of these differences need to be reconciled to some degree by the Iraqi government, which has been lax in doing so.

Apart from being as non-responsive as a response can be, the post immediately upthread is notable for Don Bacon's appeal to George W. Bush for support of his opinion. I don't think I've ever seen that before.

Nowhere in my second post does my opinion appear. I am simply acting as a clarifier, a civic role in fairness to Shawn Brimley. My opinion is in my first post, a moral role explaining what's really going on, sadly an unoriginal viewpoint as Richard Smith has astutely noted.

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