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Friday, 5 May 2006
A PKK update.
Topic: Iraq

The other day I was warning about the "doomsday scenario" in which Turkey crosses the northern Iraqi border to deal with their PKK insurgency problem and, apparently as I was writing about his, the Iranians were dealing with their own Kurdish problem.

The FT reported on the 2nd that, "Iraqi Kurdish officials yesterday reported Iranian artillery shelling of positions held by fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) inside Iraq. This was a day after the Iraqi defense ministry said Iranian troops had recently attacked PKK positions inside Iraq, crossing 5km into Iraq territory near Haj Umran." Another group associated with the PKK, Pejak, has been fighting with Iranian forces for over year the FT writes.

Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, the Iranian Interior minister says northern Iraq is the "center for terrorist attacks" and that Tehran and Ankara are committed to "intelligence co-operation and increasing border guards."

It’s still a little difficult to see what we're doing about this PKK problem in the north of the county. We've got by far the biggest military force in Iraq but we're pretty much doing nothing about a situation that is continuing to escalate. The fact that the Iranians have actually gone over the border should be quite an eye opener for whoever is running Iraq policy in the administration. (Who is running Iraqi policy anyway?)

Another thing they should be concerned about is the extremely low esteem that the U.S. is currently held in Turkey. They used to be our best friends in the world, but after the whole pre-Iraq invasion arm-twisting and insulting that went on trying to get them to let us use their territory, relations between us have deteriorated quite a bit.

Along with all the "thousands of tactical errors" we've made probably one of the most important strategic mistakes we've made is alienating the Turks. This will come back to haunt us down the road. And it doesn't help that Iran supplies a significant amount of natural gas to Turkey. A reminder of this was a few months back when Iran turned off the spigot, just to focus Turkey's attention on making sure the do the right thing as far as the Iranians are concerned.

Stay tuned and keep your eyes on Turkey.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 2:05 PM EDT
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Iraq and Rummy:
Topic: Iraq
OK, so things aren't going as well as we might have expected in Iraq after this latest 'turning point' in Iraqi politics. The new PM, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, promises he'll have his government up and running before the 30-day deadline, but I don't know...where have we all heard that before? While the various factions continue to squabble over the democratic spoils, the violence keeps getting worse.

We lost another 2 soldiers yesterday bringing the number of U.S deaths to 2,409: 43 more corpses were found in the streets of Baghdad, that's on top of the 50 or so the day before and the 34 before that: The police in Ramadi said U.S. aircraft bombed two houses killing 13 Iraqis and wounding four: and a suicide bomber blew himself up on Palestine Street in Baghdad killing 10 and wounding 50. [AP]

In another sign of progress and not of an impending civil war: the Red Crescent reported this week that more than 100,000 Iraqis has been displaced since the Feb 22 Shia shrine bombing in Samarra. The FT reports that the RC claims:

"11,391 families totaling 20,240 men, 27,765 women and 55,199 children had fled their homes by April 26. It said the number was increasing and might soon total 180,000 people." These refugees that have been moving have "fled from mixed Sunni-Shia areas, with both Shia militias and Sunni insurgents telling members of the other group to leave or be killed." [BBC]

It appears that Iraq's demographics are being realigned for a future splitting up of the country into solid ethnic enclaves. That can't be good, right? But let’s not talk about the Shia militias being the most dangerous threat to peace in Iraq: Let’s talk about Abu al-Zarqawi. He's the real danger, isn't he?

U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch showed out-takes of the latest Zarqawi video where he's shown to be decked out in New Balance tennis shoes and fumbling with his machine gun. Good stuff! Too bad they can't actually capture him, instead of his video making equipment. Not that it would make a difference anyway. And besides, he's such a good bogeyman they may not want to capture him. It’s hard to figure out that message the pentagon is trying to send here.

On the one hand, Zarqawi is the biggest threat to the U.S. since OBL, but on the other he's making videos out of "desperation," according to Gen. Lynch, and he can't even fire a gun. And how much of a threat can "al-Qaeda in Iraq" be if, as Gen Lynch claims, they have killed or captured 161 "al-Qaeda leaders?" According to AP, these military successes are "seriously undercutting the group's capabilities."

I don't mean to be a kill-joy here, but they can't all be "leaders," can they? We've been hearing a lot about Zaqawi's #2's being captured or killed for a pretty long time now and the suicide bombings and car bombings just keep coming. Remember before Zarqawi was the main problem; it was Udey and Qusey who were behind the violence, which was defiantly not an insurgency ----but rather a small group of "rejectionists" and "dead-enders." After they got killed it was Saddam who running the show and after he got caught, Zarqawi suddenly became the big man in Iraq. I swear this Zarqawi is almost super human, if unable to fire a machine gun.

They've really got Zarqawi on the brain at the pentagon as well. Just yesterday Rummy was trying to convince an audience in Atlanta that he didn't lie about Iraq's WMD and the first thing he came up with was Zarqawi. [Inquirer] An ex-CIA analyst, Ray McGovern, had challenged Rummy in a question and answer session ---which Rummy is usually so good at --- asking him:

"Why did you lie to get us into a war that caused these kinds of casualties and was not necessary?"

Rummy motioned off the security guards who were about to escort McGovern out ---negative guest ions not allowed! --- and said:

"I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were."

(At that point Rummy's pants burst into flames.)

McGovern answered that ridiculous statement by saying, "You said you knew where they were ---Tikrit, Baghdad, northeast, south, west of there. Those were your words....we're talking about lies and your allegation there was bulletproof evidence of ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq."

[Note: Rummy on March 30, 2003: "We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south, and north somewhat."]

Rummy: "Zarqawi was in Baghdad during the pre-war period. That is a fact."

McGovern: "Zarqawi? He was in the north of Iraq in a place where Saddam had no rule"

Rummy: "He was also in Baghdad.

McGovern: "Yes, when he needed to go to the hospital. Come on, these people aren't idiots. They know the story."

Rummy went on to say that the soldiers actually did believe that Saddam had chemical weapons; why else would they wear protective suits? "Because they liked the style?" he asked.

McGovern: "That is what is called a non sequitur. It doesn't matter what the troops believe; it matters what you believe."

Oh no, Rummy isn't taking credit for anything these days; it was Colin Powell, he knew. "Colin Powell didn't lie," he said. "I'm not in the intelligence business. [Clearly] They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there." It appears? Is there still some question about this?

Posted by bushmeister0 at 2:02 PM EDT
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Monday, 1 May 2006
Ignoring the PKK in Iraq: Another
Topic: Iraq
[Note: I wrote this last week just before I came down with the flu and I didn't get a chance to post it, but its still kind of timely.]

So Rummy and Condi have made another "surprise visit" to Iraq, which the administration says is intended to show the Iraqis our support for their new government. I'm not buying that explanation, though. Such a high level visit can only mean that there's some very serious news coming. My guess is that they're there to let the Iraqis know that we have to start pulling out a large number of troops.

After all, as Rummy said:

"We now are moving through another important milestone -- the formation of a new government, a sovereign government of Iraq, the first government that doesn't have a qualifier in front of it. It's not a transitional government. It's not an interim government. It's not a governing council. It's a government, a government of Iraq, and that's an important thing. This is a sovereign country, and they're making impressive progress." [defenselink]

So that means we should be able to pack up and leave right?

The midterms are coming up and I expect the pressure coming from the Republican members on the Hill is really starting to become too much to bare. Naturally, this administration makes never makes a policy decision that isn't solely for political reasons, so you've got to figure that Karl Rove has done the math and decided that cutting and running is less harmful than staying the course and getting creamed in November.

They'd better hurry up and get busy though, because the doomsday scenario is about to come crashing down on them. From the moment we invaded Iraq there was always the danger that the Turks might at some point decide to move troops into Iraq to deal with their Kurdish insurgency. [They actually did in March of 2003] Such a move would upset the whole regional applecart, pulling in the Iranians, the Syrians and God knows who else. This would also put us in the position of having to choose between our Turkish NATO ally or our Iraqi Kurdish allies, who currently are the best friends we have there.

The Iraqi Kurds don't exactly get involved with the fighting between the Kurds and the Turks, but they --and we --- have looked the other way as the PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party, has used bases inside Iraq just over Turkey's southern border, to attack Turkey. The Turks have been complaining bitterly about this for a few years now to the Bush administration, but they've essentially done nothing about it because they've been too busy with the Sunni insurgency to worry much about it.

The administration had been holding them off by promising that an Iraqi government of "national unity" would ensure that the Kurds didn't break off and declare their own independence -- a move that Turkey considers a red-line --- but the four month delay in forming a government has allowed a vacuum to develop that the PKK has taken full advantage of.

Now its all coming to a head. In fact, the Turks last week moved about 50,000 troops close to the Iraqi border and the Turkish foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, told Condi just yesterday -- while she was in Ankara for a little chitchat --- that the PPK had turned Iraq into a "training ground" and that Turkey would now "take her own precautions." [AP] Condi admitted that the U.S hadn't done enough ---another tactical error? ---but that "We believe that it is important that we make a joint effort through information sharing and other means to prevent any vacuum from being used as a way to inflict harm here in Turkey." Too late, the Turkish media is full of stories about Turkey's military build-up along the Iraqi border and I'd say it's just a matter of time before they go on over.

If Turkey were to launch an incursion into northern Iraq, the Iraqi Kurds would immediately meet them with force. The Iraqi army would pretty much cease to exist because most of the best units it has are made up of the Peshmerga. The Peshmerga, the Kudish resistance fighters that spent decades fighting Saddam, are the best fighters the army has and they would all head north to defend Kurdistan.

There's any number of variables involved with a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq, and none of them are good. So, here's yet another fine mess W. & Co. have gotten us into.

[For further reading on this issue read the United States Institute of Peace report]

Posted by bushmeister0 at 3:07 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 1 May 2006 3:09 PM EDT
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Saturday, 22 April 2006
A breakthrough in Iraqi politics?
Topic: Iraq

Or more of the same with different characters?

Word came down from Najaf and Ibrahim al-Jaafari decided to step aside after months of holding up the formation of a new government with his obstinate refusal to get lost. Jaafari said on Iraqi TV on Wednesday, "I cannot allow myself to be an obstacle, or appear to be an obstacle." (He certainly never did that!) "The one thing I cannot compromise is my dedication to this heroic people," Right, all this trouble he's caused was all in the name of democracy and the Iraqi people.

It's not going to go over well in the White House that it took Ashraf Qazi, a U.N. envoy, and a visit by him to Ayatollah ali-Sistani to get the ball rolling again. Remember, earlier on this month Condi Rice and British Foreign Secretary had made a "surprise visit" to Baghdad to try and get al-Jaafari to leave and they left empty handed. ( See, W. was right, diplomacy never works!) It looks like the Brits and the U.S. don't have too much credibility or clout when it comes to Iraqi politics these days.

Ali-Sistani does however: Robert Reid writes for the AP that, "Sistani's role was another sign of the Shiite clergy's political power. Shiite politicians turn frequently to the clergy for the politically tough decisions that they cannot make." So who's running the show over there, the democratically elected leadership or the turbaned Taliban? I'm sure all the people who have lost loved ones over there will be happy to know all their sacrifice has led to this.

Supposedly, the politicians are now on the fast track to forming new government. One little sticking point might be that part of the reason the Kurds wanted al-Jaafari out in the first place was because he had reneged on his promise to help them grab Kirkuk, an ethnically mixed city that they want rolled into their autonomous region. There isn't any guarantee that the next PM, Jawad al-Maliki, is going to be any more accommodating on that score. To be sure, any future government is going to have to deal with Turkey, if the Shiites do accede to Kurdish demands for Kirkuk. [Note: Turkey has moved 50,000 troops closer to the Iraqi border. AP]

When and if we ever leave, it looks like the militias might be ones who we leave in control. There's the Badr brigade, which is the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution; the Mehdi army, of Muqtada al-Sadr, who we fought to a standstill twice back in 2004 and whose numbers have exploded to maybe 15,000 fighters; and a new player on the scene, the Facilities Protection Services, which Newsweek says numbers about 146,000.

The funny thing about he FPS is that no one knows exactly where they came from or who controls them. This shadowy organization was apparently the offspring of groups of armed men who were known to be "night watchmen" for the various Shiite mosques around the country under threat form the Sunni insurgents. Now, they roam around Baghdad in police pickups, in blue police uniforms and, naturally; they're armed to the teeth. The crazy Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, denied that he has any connection to them and tells Newsweek that "they are dong some bad." He says that one element of the FPS, Battalion 16, is responsible for "sectarian killings, explosions and mortar attacks."

So even the Interior Minister, who is very likely behind many killings himself, says they're out of control. Tim Keefe, a military spokesman says, "We really don't get anywhere near them." Another American official who didn't want his named used said, "The FPS has basically become the private army for the ministries. They have no accountability."

We're pretty busy with the Sunnis and al-Qaeda, so we're staying clear of the Shiite militias and, for the moment, they're staying out of our way while they consolidate their hold over the entire country. This could change at anytime, particularly if we attack their benefactor Iran.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 2:49 PM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 22 April 2006 2:53 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 19 April 2006
Rummy's war.
Topic: Iraq

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.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 12:37 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 11 April 2006
Zarqawi: Bush's man for all seasons.
Topic: Iraq

The WaPo reports:

"The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to internal military documents and officers familiar with the program. The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks."

A pentagon briefing obtained by the Post says, "Through aggressive Strategic Communications, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi now represents: Terrorism in Iraq/Foreign Fighters in Iraq/Suffering of Iraqi People (Infrastructure Attacks)/Denial of Iraqi Aspirations."

This is not exactly news and its been going on for longer than a year or two. Atimes Online reported back on Oct. 14 2004 that the U.S. was using Zarqawi as an excuse to level Fallujah. At that time PM Iyad Allawi was threatening Fallujah with destruction unless it handed over Zarqawi. Pepe Escobar quotes Sheikh Khaled al-Jumeili, a key Fallujah negotiator, as saying that there were only a small number of foreign jihadis in the city and he insisted that they were not terrorists, but plain mujahideen.

"Zarqawi is just an excuse for them to smash the spirit of the resistance," al-Jumeili said.

Before the invasion Escobar writes that Zarqawi was a nobody, but that:

"Zarqawi stopped being a non-entity on February 5, 2003, when he was spectacularly catapulted onto the global stage - six weeks before the start of the Iraq war - by US Secretary of State Colin Powell's weapons of mass destruction speech at the United Nations. Powell used Zarqawi to link Saddam Hussein's secular Ba'athist regime to the 'Islamic terror network', and thus partly justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq."

He can run but he can't hide. We're going to smoke him out! But not really, because after all the money we've spent on building up this "master of disguise and bogus identification papers," we wouldn't want to see that all go down the drain.

There's always Muktada!

Posted by bushmeister0 at 1:08 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 11 April 2006 2:36 PM EDT
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Monday, 10 April 2006
Duck and cover day in Iraq:
Topic: Iraq

Yesterday was the third anniversary of the "liberation" of Iraq, or "Freedom Day." Next month, we'll be celebrating "Mission Accomplished Day" followed soon after by the two year anniversary of the official turnover of "sovereignty" (two days early!) to the Iraqis. The most important date to remember, though, might be the Dec. 15th elections.

It must now be clear to anyone observing the slaughterhouse that is Iraq, that those "landmark" elections have produced nothing but a fiery hurricane of death and destruction. Going into the fifth month of forming a government of "national unity," any expectations at this late date of an actual liberal democracy resulting from all this bloodshed seems just slightly naive. The media and the pundits can keep pushing the fiction that there is a solution to the political "impasse" between the Shiites and the Sunnis, but there really is no "stalemate" or “gridlock." Indeed, the Iraqis are moving right along quite well to resolve their differences politically, only not exactly the way W. & Co. expected them to. In fact, they've taken a page from Clausowitz and are conducting their politics by other means (i.e. war).

For instance: Hundreds of bodies are popping up all over Baghdad every week, presumed to be the victims of Shiite death squads, and in retaliation the Sunnis are blowing up Shiites in their mosques. Any hopes that the bombing of the golden dome mosque in Samarra on Feb. 22 was an aberration, have been dashed. The mosque bombings are only becoming even more frequent and horrific. On Thursday, 10 people were killed in a car bombing in Najaf next to the Imam Ali shrine and on Friday, three suicide bombers killed 85 people and wounded over 150 in Baghdad.

These bombings don't seem to be just random acts of mass murder, either. The bombing in Najaf took place in the same neighborhood where Ayatollah Ali-Sistani and Muqtada al-Sadr live and the attack on the Buratha mosque in Baghdad might have been targeting Sheik Jalal Eddin al Sagheer, the preacher there and a leading Shiite politician, who just last week called for al-Jaafari to step down. This begs the question: were these Sunni on Shiite attacks, or Shiite on Shiite attacks? The tribal, ethnic and religious morass of Iraq is so murky; it's difficult to rule anything out.

Even worse, if that's possible, ominous reports are starting to become more frequent of Shiah and Sunni civilians being forced to leave their mixed neighborhoods to seek refuge in areas dominated by their respective religious factions. The appearance of refugee tent cities is a dead canary in the mine if I ever saw one.

As if to put a finer point on this, AP reported yesterday that a senior Iraqi official, Maj. General Hussein Kamal (Not the one who said Saddam had no WMD) said Iraq is in the midst of an "undeclared civil war." Kamal told the AP that, "All these bodies that are discovered in Baghdad, the slaughter of pilgrims heading to holy sites, the explosions, the destruction, the attacks of mosques are all part of this." (You think?)

So what to do? John Kerry said on Meet the Press this Sunday that his plan for a May 15th deadline for the Iraqis to get themselves together or we leave, isn't a cut and run proposition. He advocates a diplomatic approach along the lines of the Clinton's Dayton Accords that brought "peace" to Bosnia. He thinks a diplomatic get together where all the powers of the region can chew over the details of a permanent Iraqi peace is the ticket out of our new quagmire. That sounds like a more constructive idea than nuking Iran, but it’s a fantasy. Can you imagine a room full of Sunni Arab dictators agreeing on turning over Iraq to the Shiites?

No amount of diplomatic pressure or threats by us is going to make any difference. It's too late. Despite Condi Rice and Jack Straw's "surprise visit" to Baghdad last weekend and their effort to put a fire under the squabbling Iraqi politicians to get their act together, the visit may have only made things worse. Kirk Semple in the NYT reported on Thursday that, "a top adviser to Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said Wednesday that the visit this week" by Rice and Straw "had backfired." Haider al-Abadi said, "Pressure from outside is not helping to speed up any solution. All it's doing in hardening the position of people who are supporting al-Jaafari."

This view is not unique to the supporters of al-Jafaari. Semple writes that even politicians who oppose al-Jaafari thought the visit was a mistake. Kurdish politician Mahmoud Othman said, "They complicated the thing, now it’s more difficult to solve. They shouldn't have come, and they shouldn't have interfered." The complaint that the Americans are interfering goes for ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, too, who is quickly wearing out his welcome. His insistence that the Shiites accommodate the Sunnis is grating on Shiites who see their Sunni counterparts as nothing more than the political front of the suicide bombers.

On the 31st of March a senior cleric, Ayatollah Muhammad al-Yacoubi, denounced Khalilzad in a sermon and called for him to be replaced. He said the Americans were trying to "change the demography of the Iraqi people and weaken the strongest component in Iraq, represented by the followers of Imam Ali." Khalilzad, he said, was offering "political support" for the "political front of the terrorists."

This is the mess we find ourselves in and it's all of our own making. We can complain that the Iraqis should be listening to us because we've spent so much treasure and blood to free them from Saddam, but then again, they didn't ask us to liberate them and they certainly didn't ask us to occupy their country for so long (Freedom Day celebrations notwithstanding). For us at this late date to be telling the Iraqis to solve their own problems after we wrecked their country and put them in this position is just slightly arrogant. Who are we to be telling them what to do?

I don't know what the answer is, there are no good options. A slightly less awful option is to extricate ourselves from the middle of this centuries old blood feud before we go completely bankrupt and damage our military beyond repair. Though this might lead to Iran increasing its influence in Iraq, they would be unlikely to take over totally. The Iranians are Persians, after all, and the Iraqis are Arabs. And the Iranians won't want to repeat our mistake by getting in over their heads in Iraq, either. One upside to our getting out would be al-Qaeda being weakened. The Iraqis themselves would expel the foreign elements of al-Qaeda that are there now, so there would be no chance of Iraq becoming another Afghanistan under the Taliban. And al-Qaeda would have a hard time recruiting new fighters if the "Great Satan" wasn't there to kick around anymore. Of course, they would all congregate in Afghanistan, but, hey, we'd still be fighting them over there and not on the streets of New York, right?

This is all speculation, of course but I think this is the least terrible option.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 1:48 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 29 March 2006
Back the Sunnis?
Topic: Iraq

Nancy Youssef and Waren P. Strobel in the Inquirer report today:

"U.S. officials sent a message this week to Iraq's senior Shiite cleric asking that he help end the impasse over forming a government and strongly implying that the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, should withdraw his candidacy for reelection, according to U.S. officials.

The unusual decision by the White House to reach out to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani suggested how eager the Bush administration is to jump-start negotiations that have failed to produce Iraq's first permanent postwar government more than three months after national elections."

Or in other words, we're out of ideas. We've got nothing. Once again we're crawling in suplication to Ayatollah ali-Ssitani to dig us out of the hole we're in.

The report goes on to say that Scott McClellan denied reports in Baghdad that president Bush had written a letter to Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim. You remember, al-Hakim is the leader of Sciri, whose armed wing the Badr Brigade is accused of rampaging around Iraq killing Sunnis. The NYT reports that the U.S. military now believes that the Shiite militias are more of a problem that the insurgency is.

So why would the president be writting letters to one of the leaders of those militias, you may ask. It's because we attached our star to the wrong bunch to begin with. The leading Shiite party led by al-Hakim wants to split the country up into three pieces. The Sunnis want Iraq to remain one nation. Say what you will about the Sunnis and their past rule, but at least they're nationalists and more secular for the most part.

I said it along time ago and I'll say it again, we're going to eventually wind up backing the Sunnis. The Shiites may be the majority in Iraq, but the Sunnis are the majority around the region. If we ever expect to get the help of our Arab allies in the Middle East, we're going to have to back the Sunnis.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 12:38 PM EST
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Tuesday, 28 March 2006
A.C. Grayling and his great plan for victory in Iraq.
Topic: Iraq

The NYT published an astounding column by A.C. Grayling in yesterday's edition that really got me wondering what the hell their thinking about at the Times these days. Grayling started out alright by writing that a watchful press should make sure U.S. forces in Iraq are adhering to the "doctrine of distinction," a basic law of warfare that requires the military to distinguish combatants from noncombatants to make sure the latter are protected.

This is all well and good, but then Grayling launched into a twisted historical analogy of the British war against the Mau Mau in Kenya in the 1950's as an example of what he thinks we should do to "dry out" the insurgency in Iraq. The British colonial strategy for fighting insurgencies involved "physically moving a civilian population from troubled areas into camps,” or draining the pond in which the insurgents swam. The camps in Kenya "into which civilian population was 'drained,'" he writes, "were usually comfortable villages with good amenities and became an element of the hearts-and-minds aspect of the campaign."

Let's just stop here for a moment and get into the way-back-machine and find out exactly what the British did to the Kenyans:

Ashley Pettus writes in Harvard Magazine:

"British soldiers herded nearly one million of them into detention camps and 'emergency villages,' where they endured forced labor, starvation, torture, and disease. At least 100,000 died. When the British left Kenya in 1963, they destroyed all official files relating to their crimes...brutality was common and took place at every level, ranging from electrocution and mutilation to beatings and various forms of sexual assault and humiliation. Many of the women forced to labor on so-called 'poor relief' projects on the reserves died of exhaustion and disease. Others found their babies had died while strapped to their backs during work brigades. Both British officers and loyalist African guards raped women with impunity."

[See also Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya by Caroline Elkins]

Besides, the fact that the British waged a vicious campaign against the Mau Mau that almost wiped out the entire population, there's also the American experience in Vietnam ,which Grayling, I guess, just forgot to mention. We've tried this "draining" the pond strategy before and it met with abject failure. And on top of that, this has already been tried in Iraq in the aftermath of Fallujah II and despite the check points, ID cards and retinal scans, the insurgents are still operating inside Fallujah with relative ease.

The problem then and now is that rounding up whole populations up and putting them behind bars only reinforces support for the insurgency, which wouldn't have been able to operate in the first place if it wasn't for the majority of the population being full square behind the idea of expelling the occupier. Grayling finishes up by writing that, "An insurgency cannot be defeated, only damped down and eventually ended through a political settlement. This hard truth has to guide efforts in Iraq, the sooner the better."

With this I agree, but so far our quest for a political settlement through elections and the creation of a constitution has only exacerbated the sectarian and ethnic divisions inside Iraq. A political solution now seems more distant then ever before. After the assault on Fallujah that left a city of 300,000 in ruins and the de facto imprisonment of its population, coupled with the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the consequent degradation of our moral standing in the world, I hardly think putting Sunnis in concentration camps is a strategy for victory.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 12:20 PM EST
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Monday, 27 March 2006
That was then, this is now. Picking a new fight with Moqtada
Topic: Iraq

As if things weren't going well enough already, now it looks like we might be going into round two with Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi army. Yesterday, U.S. Special Forces and the Iraqi cannon fodder army apparently stormed a Mehdi army headquarters in Baghdad ---which we called a "terrorist cell" ---and somehow managed to kill a bunch of "insurgents" or militia members or maybe civilians and an 80-year old Imam inside a mosque in the northeast of Baghdad. [NYT] The facts are still sketchy, with the U.S. claiming they were barely involved and didn't attack the mosque at all the Iraqis not saying much of anything on the subject. Something tell me, though, we probably had a much larger role than what we're letting on, but we can't be seen to be taking sides in this non-civil war.

See, the problem is that al-Sadr was the target of a mortar attack near his home in Najaf just hours before this raid took place. Al-Sadr may be connecting the dots at this point and be thinking we're out to get him. Since he's a major power broker in the negotiations to get a "unity government" going --- which will lead to peace and tranquility and our departure --- getting into a hot war with him at the same time we're fighting the Sunnis and al-Qaeda, might not be the best situation to be in. Military spokesman Maj. Rick Lynch says, "Sometimes it's hard to sort out who's killing who," amidst this non-civil war, but in this ever expanding Arabian nightmare we might find out pretty soon that everybody is out to kill our guys in particular.

Adding the Mehdi army to our list of enemies would pretty much double the number of people we're fighting right now and put a quick end to W.'s rosy predictions of a big draw down of forces by the end of the year. That scenario must be especially worrying to congressional Republicans on the election trail who are trying to get Iraq off the front page in their home towns, where the war is becoming ever more unpopular.

The reason I say we probably had more to do with this "incident" at the mosque is because I don't buy the fantasy W. is peddling that the Iraqi army is doing a great job and is increasingly able to operate on their own. The NYT reported in the same article about the raid, that 40 bodies were found dumped near the highway between Baghdad and Baquba, 30 of which were decapitated.

So, I guess, that crack Iraqi army W. is so fond of talking about fearlessly moved in to secure the area and pick up the bodies, right? Not exactly. "Iraqi Army troops waited for American support before venturing into the insurgent-controlled area to retrieve them. 'It's too dangerous for us to go in there alone,' said Tassin Tawfik an Iraqi army commander." Boy, you really get the feeling the Iraqis are ready to stand up so we can stand down, don't you? These bozos can't take a whiz without our air and logistical support. Why would anyone think that they took on the Medhi army all by themselves, while we only sent a few "advisers" to look over their shoulders? Are these the same "advisers" that were giving the ARVN a leg up in Vietnam by any chance? Give me a break.

Someone very smart recently said that a policy that leaves you no options is no policy at all, referring to W.'s contention that our policies in Iraq are working out great. We have no option in Iraq. If we leave it'll be a disaster and if we stay it will be a disaster. Not only are the Iraqis, who we're relying on to take over for us, incapable of operating without our support, but now we're on the brink of being dragged into a full-scale civil war with them being the only ones on our side in this thing.

And even then, we can only really trust the units made up of the Peshmerga, because the Shiite units are infested with troops who are connected to the Medhi army and the Badr brigade. And how long can we count on the Kurds if they decide to take over Kirkuk while we're busy in Baghdad and Anbar? They might have to redeploy to their northern border to deal with the Turks, who are already not exactly impressed by our lack of interest in their little PKK problem problem.

And then there's the Iranians, remember them? If we're too busy dodging all the various factions bent on killing us, the Israelis just might decide at some point very soon Iran has crossed that red-line they keep talking about and take matters into their own hands.

But the Italians will help us, though, right? NO? They're leaving? The Brits? Oh crap, they're leaving too. Well, there's always Romania.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 1:57 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 28 March 2006 12:21 PM EST
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