Crunch time again 2
Iraq the Model has this update on events:
March 29 -- People here are still urging politicians to get done with the negotiations and form a government and although they have given up the high hopes they had once of a government that can get all things right, they still hope that forming the permanent government can at least stop the deterioration in some critical aspects of life and prepare for putting things back on the right track again after the last few months that have been the roughest for Iraqis since Saddam was toppled.
Most of the debate in Baghdad today was about the alleged message from Bush to al-Hakeem telling him to replace Jafari with another candidate. The simple people I meet at work have made a simplified version o their own of this story that goes like this "Bush told the government that if they don't agree on a president, I will appoint that I choose"! This is followed by a "whatever, maybe this can put an end for this mess" which reminds me that we still believe in firm and direct orders from a boss thinking that one shout or frown from him would be enough to solve the dispute while negotiations seem boring and taking forever, something not unexpected with all the stress and frustration Iraqis have to deal with.
On the other hand the local media was more interested in yesterday's negotiations that were resumed after being suspended for one day after the raid on Sadr's militia. Anyway, the latest sessions seem to coincide with a call from Sistani to the leaders of the UIA to go back to the table and accelerate the process.
Bill Roggio writes in an email to say:
March 29 -- I think your post is pretty fair assessment of the situation in Baghdad and the political situation in general. If you haven't seen my post on the UIA, I think you'll see there is much we agree on. We are definitely at a 'crisis point' and the crisis is more political than military in nature. The attempt to remove or marginalize the Sadrs from the political process is now underway and the outcome is by no means certain.
The player to watch here is SCIRI (the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq). Muqtada al-Sadr has threatened Hakim, SCIRI's leader, as well as other members of the United Iraqi Alliance if Jaafari was not chosen as Prime Minister. It appears there is a real break between SCIRI's political wing and Iran (which is why Iran is throwing its weight behind Sadr.) SCIRI's Badr Brigades are said to be Iranian controlled, and may very well be, but the political party itself is not. They support Sistani, who leads the leads the Najaf school of Shia Islam, and opposes the Qom school which is based out of Iran. This is a major schism in Shiite Islam. Sistani opposes the Khoemeist brand of governance. SCIRI does not back Sadr, and will be the kingmaker here. SCIRI can cross the lines (and Fadihla will likely follow) and create the unity government. My opinion is the Army will back the unity government. The Iraqi Army has acted as an apolitical organization to date, and there is no indication this will change.
My estimation is the Iraqi Army should not be considered a militia or firmly under the political control of one party. I saw no evidence of this while in Iraq, and no convincing evidence of this from afar. I am of the mind the worst 'sectarian attacks' are being conducted by Sadr's Mahdi Army, al-Qaeda/insurgents, and rogue elements within the police force. al-Qaeda and the insurgency has a vested interest in discrediting the security services, and are conducting attacks that are designed to destroy the credibility of the institutions of the police and Army. We've found army/police ID cards & uniforms far too many times on raids for it to be a coincidence. The Army units are either partnered with US forces or have MITTs embedded, and it would be difficult for them to conduct sectarian attacks without U.S. forces being aware of their actions. I have no doubt there are rogue elements of the police forces (and bringing in some militia units into the police en masse was a big mistake.) The U.S. needs to get the equivalent of MITTs into the police forces ASAP.
On the operations north & west of Baghdad - one small correction, there have been 7 operations in 10 days. I do not think these were make-work operations to keep the Iraqi Army from conducting mischief in Baghdad, but legitimate counterinsurgency operations. The Iraqi forces have been working closely with Coalition units for some time now and are now putting their training to work and are beginning to take the initiative and lead in fighting the insurgency.
The center of gravity is definitely in Baghdad - the politicians, the militias, the Coalition, the media, are all concentrating their forces in the Capitol (for different reasons). As I stated last winter, the insurgency is moving back to the heartland of Iraq. This is not to say the insurgency isn't still being fought in provinces such as Anbar, but the insurgency realizes fighting in the sticks (or sands) is not having an impact on the political process. Outside of Baghdad the U.S. and Iraqi forces are essentially routing the insurgency. While the insurgents may still be able to plan roadside bombs or conduct sporadic small scale assaults, they are unable to prevent the rise of the influence of the Iraqi Security Forces and the establishment of local government and police forces. There have been no claims of "Islamic Republics" or "no-go zones" for some time, and cities such as Mosul, Tal Afar, Husaybah, Haditha and even Ramadi have made real progress in the past six months. The security and services in these cities are not perfect, but are a far cry from where they were one year ago.
Baghdad itself is a mess. I believe the rise in kidnappings and mass-murders in Baghdad is directly related to the insurgency relocating back to Baghdad. They are making a push to destroy the political process. The insurgency recognizes the police are the weak point (politically and physically) and are trying to exploit this. Sadr's actions are feeding into the destabilization of the security situation. For this reason he is being targeted.
You are correct: going after Sadr (and by default Iran) is a far thornier problem than dealing with the Sunni insurgency and al-Qaeda.
The Iraqi Army is apparently solid, in part because it operates in close partnership with US forces. The militias, while pesky, are probably not very capable in operational terms. The political aspects remain the most difficult, but they are not at an end, as Iraq the Model's post shows.
I'm somewhat bemused by reports that Wretchard has gone "gloomy". I think it's important not to understate what the Coalition has achieved so far. It's been historic and probably unprecedented. But it's also important never to underrate the difficulties and to describe them as accurately as possible. Analysis should be persuasive on the basis of facts and reasoning and not on emotions.
Some time back there was a shift from the "insurgency" theme to the "civil war" theme. All the old names -- remember Fallujah? Tal Afar? Mosul? -- have gone to page 2. My guess is that we have gone into a new kind of game or endgame. It's important to recognize this. For some people it's always 2004 and everything is an undifferentiated soup, without phases and without developments. It's important to look at the new situation closely precisely because Act I may have ended and Act II Scene I about to begin.