The other side of the hill
Since the New Year several events have been progressing in parallel and the question is whether they collectively make up a larger story. The narrative threads are listed below.
The Al Qaeda Counteroffensive, by Bill Roggio describes the attempt by the hard core of the insurgency to scupper negotiations to form a coalition government in Iraq.
al-Qaeda and the insurgency began the New Year with an anemic offensive of thirteen car bombs in Baghdad and northern Iraq which resulted in only twenty casualties, no deaths. The past two days have seen a dramatically increased level of effectiveness in the employment of suicide bombers and attacks on infrastructure. Over 160 Iraqis have been killed and hundreds wounded in over eight suicide and car bomb attacks in Baghdad, Ramadi, Najaf, Kerbala and Muqdadiyah. Oil production and gasoline distribution in northern has been disrupted by effective attacks. There are three main foci to these attacks: Shiites, Sunnis willing to cooperate with the Iraqi government, and Iraq’s oil infrastructure.
In The Tight Rope, Alaa of the Mesopotamian describes the urge to hit back at the terrorists without the McCain Amendment.
I have not been able to post recently due to pressure of daily life. We are facing a major onslaught by the enemy. The U.S. presence in Iraq is trying a very treacherous ropewalk at the moment. The situation is fraught with danger. The U.S. authorities are being too anxious to ingratiate themselves to the various Sunni groups in a way that I think is going too far. ... They are not going to win over the terrorists, but they run a serious risk of loosing their fundamental base of support in the country. It is of course, required and necessary to strike a balance and find a way to draw the Sunnis into the political process, but it must be done within clear boundaries and without giving any ground to the terrorists. And if there are any criticisms or misgivings about the conduct of the Interior Ministry or the Defense Ministry, they can be made known to those concerned through discreet and private channels and not by public statements and in the media.
But it's not just the Shi'ites, the Sunnis too are getting bounced around. Back to Bill Roggio again in Blowback from the Ramadi Attack
The responsibility for the attack is being placed directly on al-Qaeda’s shoulders. “Neither the Americans nor the Shiites have any benefit in doing this. It is Zarqawi,” said the brother of one of the wounded. According to the Washington Post, “Another group of people beat a doctor in the hospital after he told an Iraqi journalist that U.S. forces were to blame for the attacks… Others said they hoped that sympathies in the city… would turn against Zarqawi’s faction.”
Yet the remarkable thing is that the negotiations are going on. Winds of Change's interview with milblogger 365 and a Wakeup argues that Iraq is to a certain extent, already an independent country.
Thunder6: It is difficult to describe just how much we've seen change over the last year because you have to have a frame of reference to gauge progress. I think that is the perceptual trap the MSM is falling into - if you spend 10 minutes visiting a stretch of Iraq every 6 months chances are you won't notice the subtle signs of forward progress. When we arrived Iraq had just completed its first free elections, but for the most part we were still calling the shots. Now Iraq is a free and independent country, and they are preparing to seat their first democratic government. We were too busy to notice it at the time, but over the last year we have had a front row seat to the rebirth of a nation. There is still a long road ahead, but you have to start with a foundation – and I think the Iraq people have achieved that.
Now let's go to Iraq the Model who describes events since the counteroffensive described by Bill Roggio.
The Suuni choose Allawi as their leader, the Kurds unite their administrations ... Adnan al-Dulaimi and Salih al-Mutlaq were standing behind Allawi during the press conference which means that the two men have given Allawi the leadership of the new alliance. Allawi stressed that the new bloc rejects and condemns terrorism, of course this is something not unusual from Allawi but I think that Allawi this time was speaking on behalf of al-Dulaimi and al-Mutlaq who have recently been accused so many times by the UIA of backing terrorism. ... The day’s other big event is something that has been awaited for quite along time, and it is an achievement of special importance for the Kurds in Iraq, today Masoud Barzani announced that the KDP and PUK have finally reached an agreement to unite the two Kurdish administrations in Erbil and Sulaymaniya.
Powerline summarizes the recent views of Zbigniew Brzezinski in the Washington Post, arguing strangely enough, that the US can withdraw by the end of 2006 because, unless it is willing to hold out for the establishment of a liberal, secular, democracy, the goals of OIF have already been achieved. There's already a new Iraqi proto-state if the US is willing to accept it on less than perfect terms.
In contrast, a military disengagement by the end of 2006, derived from a more realistic definition of an adequate outcome, could ensure that desisting is not tantamount to losing. In an Iraq dominated by the Shiites and the Kurds -- who together account for close to 75 percent of the population -- the two peoples would share a common interest in Iraq's independence as a state. The Kurds, with their autonomy already amounting in effect to quasi-sovereignty, would otherwise be threatened by the Turks. And the Iraqi Shiites are first of all Arabs; they have no desire to be Iran's satellites. Some Sunnis, once they were aware that the U.S. occupation was drawing to a close and that soon they would be facing an overwhelming Shiite-Kurdish coalition, would be more inclined to accommodate the new political realities, especially when deprived of the rallying cry of resistance to a foreign occupier.
Those events in Iraq are the starting point for a "larger story" whose outlines are still indefinite, and whose existence may be wholly imaginary, but which might materialize suddenly like a ship out of a fog. That story is whether larger political upheavals are in the offing in the Middle East. The three collateral unknowns are Syria, Iran and Israel. Syria Comment describes the leadership crisis that is now gripping the Assad regime in Damascus, wishing devoutly for a soft landing. "Saudi Arabia and Egypt are again trying to broker a way for Syria to avoid a direct confrontation with the UN and still cooperate with the UN." because the region is alive with a sense that Assad dynasty is teetering on the edge. He quotes David Ignatius of the Washington Post.
David Ignatius writes in the Post of January 4, "Mob War In The Mideast."In the gangster movies, you know all hell is about to break loose when one of the disgruntled old dons decides to switch sides and rat out the young Godfather. Something like that is now happening with Syria -- and it provides a new year's bombshell for an already turbulent Middle East. Jumblatt says he hopes America will stand by the Cedar Revolution. "If Bush considers Lebanon one of his major achievements, now is the time to protect Lebanon," he told me. When I asked what he wanted from America, he answered: "You came to Iraq in the name of majority rule. You can do the same thing in Syria."
Is there any way, he asks for a just change to take place without damaging Syria further?
Dan Darling at Winds of Change comments on the startling news that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Ground Forces Commander has just died in a "plane crash". (Is it just me or are there altogether too many Iranian military plane crashes these days?)
Reuters and AP are reporting that an IRGC military plane has crashed, killing General Ahmed Kazemi, the commander of the IRGC's ground forces and former commander of its air force, and what looks like several other senior IRGC commanders. No word yet on whether or not Qassem Suleimani was among them, but I suspect we don't get that lucky.
This cannot but ratchet up the pressure as the Iran moves forward toward getting its own nuclear weapons, with the world wondering whether in the process it may not trigger some Israeli policy tripwire, whose long time leader, Ariel Sharon lies critical on his sick bed
I think it's probably true as 365 and a Wakeup says, that Iraq is rapidly becoming an independent country, by definition increasingly difficult to "control" unless the US is willing to conquer it all over again. But whether good or bad, it has become a different country from its pre-OIF condition. To a lesser degree Iran, Lebanon, Syria and even Israel have experienced major changes since 2003. One trite observation, which I think any fair observer would be willing to grant, is that the status quo antebellum in the Middle East is gone with the wind. Sherman has marched to the sea, and Tara will never quite be the same. The real question, which it seems to me no one is prepared to really think about, is how to meet whatever happens next.
Chester's piece about that "sinking feeling" going into 2006 (he compared it to 1914) can be read not as a belief in the eventuation of any particular scenario so much as the worry about whether a politically polarized Washington and apparently rudderless national leadership can cope with the challenges sure to emerge in the very near future. The relative clarity of vision with which the US entered 2002 is gone, it's place taken by a political class which has demoralized itself in despite of historically unprecedented success. Of the pillars that held up the political world in 2003 only a few remain standing. Arafat dead; Sharon in a coma; Schoeder a factotum of Vladimir Putin; Chirac a shadow of himself; the European Union moribund, the UN a standing joke; Blair badly weakned and America obsessed with cookies left on browsers on government websites. And 2006 just beginning. Interesting times indeed.