There's still no sign in Iraq that the various squabbling political factions are any nearer to any kind of agreement on forming a new government. The speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Adnan Pachachi, canceled Monday's meeting of the 275-member national assembly because no one can agree on what to do about the PM, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who still refuses to step aside. There was talk last week that the more secular types in the main Shiite bloc along with the Kurds and the Sunnis might be able to agree to work out a deal on picking a new candidate for PM, but al-Jaafari is having none of it. Stepping down is "out of the question," he said today. [AP]
Members of his Dawa party might be open to picking a new candidate from their party if Jaafari decides step down, but there's no sign that he will. Hence the stalemate, or gridlock, or whatever you want to call it. It's only been four months since the election, though, so what's the rush, right? That's what Mamoud Othman, a Kurdish leader told Nancy Youssef of the Inquirer. "I don't think anybody is in a hurry. They are completely out of touch with the voters," he said. (Imagine that!)
Meanwhile the country continues to fall apart. Last week we suffered 24 Marine casualties in one battle and this week the death count for the Marines is at 6. Yesterday, AP reported that insurgents in Anbar province launched a full out coordinated assault against the main government building in Ramadi, using suicide car bombs, RPGs and automatic weapons. The Marines were able to hold their own, but this is the second time in less than two weeks that Sunni insurgents have launched these types of attacks. Ramadi has been and remains an insurgent stronghold. The Marines may patrol there, but they do so in large numbers and inside heavily armored vehicles.
If anything, Anbar seems to be getting worse. All the major operations of a few months ago in Anbar province, much ballyhooed by the military and the press have apparently come to nothing. The insurgents seem to be getting stronger and more sophisticated in their tactics. In Baghdad, while the politicians fiddle, U.S. troops and the Iraqi army have fought pitched battles in the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya, killing several civilians in the process. [NYT]
This had been going on now for a few days and despite the military sealing off Adhamiya, the fighting isn't diminishing. In this case, it appears that the people we're fighting are regular citizen soldiers, not insurgents, who initially started firing on Iraqi forces who they thought were Interior Ministry troops. The Interior Ministry troops, there is no question, are the same bunch that's been responsible for the hundreds of bodies popping up all over Baghdad every week. No wonder then that the Sunnis are barricading their neighborhoods and climbing to the rooftops to defend their homes and families.
And then, of course, there's the daily body count of car bomb victims; drive by shooting victims; kidnappings and other crimes and misdemeanors. Not all related to sectarian violence; some of the killing is the result of tribal rivalries and criminal gang activity.
And we can add this to the indictment of Rummy's mismanagement: The Inquirer ran a story yesterday about all the missteps Rummy & CO. have made in the emergence of the Shiite militias, who now have totally infiltrated the security forces, the ones that we're expecting to stand up so we can stand down. While the brain trust in the pentagon was focused on the Sunni insurgency, the Badr brigade was busy spreading its tentacles throughout the Interior Ministry. The other Shiite militia, Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army, has grown from a disorganized rabble of maybe 5000 street fighters to a new and reorganized force of 15,000, according to Time magazine.
Ton Lasseter writes that, "U.S. inaction gave the militia’s time to become a major force inside and outside the Iraqi government and American officials acknowledge that dislodging them now would be difficult." In fact, the military says the militias are a greater danger to the country than the Sunnis are. Whereas the Sunnis were killing perhaps a few dozen people a week in car bombings and such, the Shiites are killing hundreds every week. They're going around Baghdad, picking up 20 or 30 Sunnis at a pop, who then later wind up dumped in the streets with bullets in their heads.
Our inability to stop the Sunnis from killing Shiites has led to them building up their own armies to protect themselves. Abu Haider Lami, a Badr official, says, "They forget that the Sunnis have been killing us for 45 years. What do you expect?" (But, didn't Paul Wolfowitz say that Iraq had no history of sectarian strife?) It's not bad enough that we've created the conditions for a full blown civil war that could pull the whole region into a conflagration of biblical proportions, but we've actually helped the combatants get themselves ready for it.
Obviously, we were at the beginning and remain completely clueless about what we've got ourselves into in Iraq. Adnan Pachachi, the only sane person in this whole thing told Tom Lasseter that, "The so-called Sunni insurgency is active in hostilities toward the Americans, while Badr --- and perhaps the Mehdi army --- is not attacking Americans. Badr has been rather careful not to attack the Americans, not to provoke them." He could have added 'yet' to that sentence. If we attack Iran, that all could change: the security forces that we've been trying to so hard and spending so much money to build up, could turn all that equipment and training against us in a heartbeat.
Faced with this reality, any talk of forming a new government and basing timelines for troop withdrawals on that very dubious outcome, seems just a little beside the point. As long as W. and Rummy and their supporters in the Congress hold on to this idea that everything is going to work out the way they want, we'll keep losing troops, money and our ability to maneuver diplomatically internationally.
China and Russia can afford to keep blowing us off about doing anything serious about Iran's nukes because they can see we're wounded and bleeding in Iraq. Until we get some new blood and new thinking into the White House and the pentagon, we're doomed to just keep flailing and floundering and our enemies will reap the benefit at our expense.