August 23, 2007

the ungrateful Nouri

The apparent overarching rationale for the surge is that peaceful conditions in Baghdad may provide the Iraqi leadership with "breathing space" in which the sectarian and ethnic factions may resolve the issues which prevent a unified approach to Iraq's problems. That takes a while to say, but it certainly doesn't take long to figure out it's unlikely to happen. I note that Senator Carl Levin of Michigan is now actively clamoring for the ouster of Nouri al-Maliki, Bush's "good guy in Baghdad," and now Bush is defending Maliki, in a way, by saying his fate is up to the Iraqi people, not "American politicians." Mee-oww, Georgie. This suggests that maybe Bush and Levin, who are both technically on vacation, nevertheless could use a little breathing space of their own.

I'm beginning to think that the Shiite leadership in Baghdad needs a lot more than breathing space. There seem to be about three main things that the Shiite, Sunni and Kurd factions in parliament are supposed to agree on, and two of them are oil distribution and local elections. I would surmise that there's not a hell of a lot to do in the Green Zone, where parliament meets (when not on vacation, as it is now), and if the Iraqis were actually going to agree on these things, which they've been "working on" since last year, they would already have signed the deal. Instead, the Sunni members of the cabinet staged a walkout a few months ago, and now al-Maliki is under siege from his American sponsors because he hasn't put the deal together yet.

Waiting in the wings, I have read here and there, is the cleric Muktada al-Sadr (always referred to as the "firebrand cleric"), who of course led a Shia rebellion against the United States in 2004 in southern Iraq, and has existed as a free man in Iraq despite a three-year old arrest warrant issued by the Iraqi government at the behest of the United States. Thus, ousting Maliki, as urged by the often confused and heavily conflicted Senator Levin, may result in the rise to power of a fugitive from Iraqo-American justice; and from that point on, the U.S. military will be in the position of attempting to create breathing space for a government led by a Shiite cleric who is responsible for killing significant numbers of the U.S. military. Yet if the Iraqi parliament itself accomplishes this result through democratic processes, Bush will of necessity applaud the development and cite it as an example of a "young democracy" in action.

When I think about it this way, I begin to understand why Bush has decided that the real problem in Iraq is al-Qaeda, even if it isn't. At this point, there's no other way of looking at things that would justify remaining in Iraq, if indeed the presence of al-Qaeda in Iraq offers any justification at all for remaining there. Even if al-Qaeda is in Iraq, I wonder if the main focus of its "insurgency" is to disrupt the formation of an Iraqi government, or, rather, if it simply sees the U.S. military as a target of opportunity. I will not hold my breath waiting for George W. Bush to spell this out. The U.S. military decided not long ago that Anbar province (where Fallujah is located), a Sunni area, was infested with al-Qaeda and then reached the seemingly counter-intuitive decision to arm the Sunnis (who had killed American soldiers in great numbers during the first few years of the Iraq War) so they could assist in fighting al-Qaeda, who are also, of course, Sunni Muslims. I have the feeling there must be considerably more to this part of the story -- such as the true motivations of the Sunnis in al-Anbar. I suspect that the Sunnis in western Iraq have decided that the partition of Iraq is a fait accompli; so much ethnic cleansing has already occurred in Iraq, with mass migrations out of the country and intramural refugees, that the majority Sunnis, who recognize that the idea of a meaningful role in the central government is a lost hope, have intelligently decided to join forces against the Sunnis (the dead-enders) who chafe at this decision. These dead-enders are what Bush calls al-Qaeda, and it is noteworthy that al-Qaeda is recognized from its "trademark" tactics, such as car bombs which kill large numbers of people. Since car bombs killing large numbers of people have been a staple feature of the Iraq war since 2003, it's hard to see how this is definitively taxonomic. But from the viewpoint of the majority Sunnis in Anbar, and probably in Tikrit and everywhere except war-torn areas of Baghdad, receiving arms and materiel from the Americans will prove strategically advantageous when the Shia begin the final cleansing of Iraq following the departure of the Americans, probably beginning in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Shia will continue to stall and temporize in the Green Zone, because they have no intention of sharing power with the Sunnis. Maliki, who spent the Saddam years as a fugitive in Iran and Syria, organizing and provisioning guerrilla bands of Shiites who attacked the Sunnis, is the kind of guy the Shia want in power, because he is uncompromising. He is disappointing to the Bush Administration because he refuses to put together the kind of smiling happy people government of Shia Kurds & Whey that Bush is looking for as the final (and single) triumph of his presidency. Maliki has had the colossal effrontery of parading his close ties with Syria and Iran recently, and Bush has had to remonstrate with him from afar. Maliki has even said he can find other friends besides the United States, if he needs allies, and I'm wondering if he's thinking of enlisting the military aid of, say, Russia or China, to help him stay in power if the U.S. applies too much pressure to oust him, so that the U.S.A. could conceivably find itself in World War III as part of its effort to give Maliki the breathing space he needs to put together a coalition government in Baghdad, only then the U.S. military's role would be to fight a war against Maliki and his allies (who would probably be promised Iraq's oil concessions after the war with the Americans) as part of the American effort to give that same government the breathing space it needs to form a unified leadership.

Anyway, Bush's friend with the permanent 5 o'clock shadow is just not playing ball. But I don't think it's because Nouri lacks the space to breathe. I think it's because he thinks Bush has done all he can for Nouri, and he's thinking, thanks, cowboy, and don't let the door to the souk hit your horse in the ass on the way out.

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