Wednesday, April 02, 2008

 

Update on Iraq

Glenn Reynolds posts an update on the situation in Iraq, linking to an excellent analysis by Austin Bay at Real Clear Politics, and passes along a real time situation report from a deployed Colonel. Read both.

Bay ’s assessment:

The firefights, white flags, media debate and, for that matter, the Iraqi-led anti-militia offensive itself are the visible manifestations of a slow, opaque and occasionally violent political and psychological struggle that in the long term is likely democratic Iraq's most decisive: the control, reduction and eventual elimination of Shia gangs and terrorists strongly influenced if not directly supported by Iran.

Other Shia militia and gangs confront Iraq, but Sadr is the most vexing case. His father, a leading Shia cleric, was murdered -- many Iraqis believe at the order of Saddam Hussein. That makes his father a political and religious symbol.

And Sadr knows it. So do his financiers.

Bay should be required reading for his mainstream media counterparts, who seemingly are oblivious to the context for any news (especially news that can be used to portray our efforts in a negative light). He reminds us of the major sources for instability in the emerging Iraq Nation State, underscoring that the current difficulties with Shia militias is only the latest of challenges the new Government has faced. First ex-Baathists who hoped for Saddam’s return, then Al Qaeda who tried to start a Civil War. Increasingly those who sought to derail our efforts found unwitting allies in the US Congress, many of whom keep finding excuses to call the war a failure.

Bay concludes:

The Iraqi way often appears to be indecisive, until you learn to look at its counter-insurgency methods in the frame of achieving political success, instead of the frame of American presidential elections.

In southern Iraq and east Baghdad, Sadr once again lost street face. Despite the predictable media umbrage, this translates into political deterioration.

Think of the Iraqi anti-Sadr method as a form of suffocation, a political war waged with the blessing of Ayatollah Sistani that requires daily economic and political action, persistent police efforts and occasional military thrusts.

Reynolds’s correspondent Colonel in Iraq provides not only a good insight into military leadership under General Petraeus, but a useful framing of the objectives for Maliki’s government to weather the latest challenge:

From watching the news, you know Maliki moved to Basrah in a show of force. He made lots of blustery statements about what he was going to do to the Jayesh al Mahdi (JAM). The Baghdad arm of JAM, headquartered in Sadr City, responded with a little fireworks of their own in Maliki's absence. In hindsight, Mr Maliki may have overplayed a bit, and some feel he lost credibility in the process.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, General Petraeus quietly and deftly encouraged the central government of Iraq to:

(a) concentrate not on JAM, but on the criminal element within JAM. "Anyone on the street with a weapon is a criminal." This effectively divided the JAM members. Next,

(b) focus on the humanitarian element of the operation. Pushing much-needed food and water to trapped inhabitants encouraged even more JAM members to stay home and take care of family members. Finally,

(c) show that fighting is not going to solve the needs of Iraq.

By addressing the essential services issues and bringing central government people to the provincial sessions to address concerns, people see their government taking an active role in solving the problem.

The effect was that Moqtada al Sadr got to make a point, Maliki demonstrated his resolve, the Iraqi Army and Police showed themselves to be capable and professional, and there's a sense of a better day coming in Basrah. Without the strong response of the central Government, the militia-led uprising could have very easily led to further lawlessness, mayhem, and devastation. The Coalition trained and helped equip and arm the Iraqi Army. The surge allowed us to clear and hold areas long enough to bring violence levels down, so the government could start focusing on essential services. If anything, the surge came too late because people have been without services for far too long.

These are the arguments that need to be deployed against political and partisan opportunists here who will try to spin events in Iraq to (yet again) attempt to discredit our efforts in Iraq. General Petraeus’s next appearance before Congress will definitely provide a nexus for the domestic political battles to come.

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