Both Sides Now
For many commentators, the Iraq is a fiasco but for others it is a key part of the effort to defeat the terrorist -- or if you will the Islamist -- threat. Here are blog posts on both sides of the argument, arranged in pro and contra fashion.
Marc Cooper suggests that Iraq has become an absurdity: a collapsed state sliding into a chaos headed by a man unwilling to stand up to Iran.
As many as 60 more people died Sunday in Iraq in a spate of car bombings and shootings, including as many six U.S. soldiers. That news came as Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was yapping away on CNN, telling Wolf Blitzer that sectarian violence was now on the decrease. I heard that dialogue on my XM car radio today as I was heading toward the local airport. I stalled in the parking lot to hear the whole thing and nearly missed my plane in doing so. But I couldn't pull myself away. Not only because Wolf is one of the dumbest men on TV and, therefore, is always more than amusing. I was also taken by al-Maliki who -- if anybody pays any attention to-- sits as a rather brazen embodiment of the pro-Iranian Islamicist regime we are now backing in Baghdad. I don't have the transcript in front of me but -- reconstructing my mental notes-- Our Man in Baghdad:
- refused to criticize the leader of the extremist Shia militia Muqtada Al Sadr
- refused to criticize the government of Iran
- insisted that his new billion-dollar-a-day pro-American government was not actively considering establishment of diplomatic ties anytime in soon with Israel
Those are pretty strong words. In partial rebuttal, here are some news headers:
- Maliki plans a reshuffle in the Iraqi cabinet to eliminate persons of dubious loyalty. It's unclear how this will affect Sadr, but one minister associated with him has already resigned.
- A large gunbattle erupted in Diwaniyah between Iraqi government forces and armed groups said to be loyal to Sadr, resulting in the 60 or more dead on both sides. "Sheikh Abdul-Razaq al-Nidawi, the manager of al-Sadr's office in Diwaniyah, told The Associated Press that trouble had been brewing since Saturday night when the Iraqi army arrested an al-Sadr supporter from the Jumhouri neighborhood. On Sunday, the army raided the same place and "a gunfight erupted between them and the Mahdi Army," al-Nidawi said.
- The MNF says clearing operations are planned for Sadr City in Baghdad, but no timeline has been set.
- Gen William Caldwell asserts that murder rates have dropped by about 50% in Baghdad.
The key problem, according to Israpundit is that Iraqis really don't want democracy. All that is important to them is "clan, tribe, the Ummah and the caliphate". He quotes an Op-ed news poll which asserts that "91.7% of Iraqis oppose the presence of coalition troops in the country, up from 74.4% in 2004. 84.5% are ‘strongly opposed’." Israpundit also echoes the assertion that Iran is advancing against an ineffectual America in both Iraq and Lebanon.
The Iraq battlefield has now been extended to Lebanon and Bush has continued to play the democracy card. When the war began, Bush stressed that Israel should not undermine the government of Siniori. He hoped that the defeat of Hezbollah would strengthen Siniori. As it turned out Hezbollah, was not defeated and managed to increase its control of the Siniori government. It is no longer a state within a state, it is the state. Iran is thus in control of Lebanon even more so than of Iraq.
In rebuttal, this article Amir Taheri says that on the contrary, practically every coalition in Iraq wants the US to stay and their greatest fear is that it might actually leave.
The coalition, which includes a broad spectrum of parties and groups with the widest range of ideologies, is united in the belief that new Iraq would need foreign military support for some time yet - maybe until the next general election in 2009. ... Beyond that, the coalition is divided into three camps with regard to the nationality, size and mission of the foreign forces that might still be needed. ... In the first camp are the Kurdish parties and some Arab leftist groups, including the Communist Party that believe that only a force led by the US, and with a massive American presence, could keep the country together and persuade the insurgents and their terrorist allies that they cannot wreck new Iraq through murder and mayhem. The failure of the Europeans to assemble a small force to monitor the cease-fire in Lebanon has strengthened the position of those who believe that only the US has the will and the power to provide military muscle when and where needed. ...
The second camp is that of the various Shiite parties, including those with links to Iran. What they want is a smaller multinational force, under US leadership, to continue fighting the insurgents in the four mainly Sunni provinces for as long as it takes. At the same time, however, they want the US-led multinational force to transfer control of the Shiite provinces to them - that is to say their militia. ...
The third camp, consisting mostly of secularist parties, both Shiite and Sunni and supported by a good part of what one might call the " civil society", proposes a broadened multinational force in which half of the 130,000 troops needed would come from Arab and other Muslim countries. This would enable the US to cut the number of its troops in Iraq by half by early next year.
Iraq the Model rejects both the idea that democracy is unworkable or that the US is unwelcome. In his view, the extremists on both the Sunni and Shi'ite camps are power hungry and think they can win an all out sectarian conflict, which the average Iraqi dreads. The only thing preventing this is the US armed forces. He asks why, if extremists can find support for a fight lasting decades, Iraqi democracy can find no sponsors.
Finally, let's end with a quote from David Ignatius, who traveled around Baghdad recently with Gen John Abizaid.
My assumptions come from reading and hearing what extremists of either sect say and from even direct personal conversations with followers of those extremists; on one hand there are the remnants of the Baath and former army and radical Sunnis who count on their ability to regain control like they did back in 1991 when they repressed the uprising with relatively little effort and those still have hope that they are able to exterminate or herd the untrained, not-accustomed-to-handling-power masses.
On the other hand the plans of radical Shia leaders seem to be more realistic given what they accomplished on the ground and given their ability to overcome the mistakes of 1991 by building political and military foundations in the provinces capable of directing action.
The point is that, for either group, the ambition to do something big to change the face of the country (that can be sparked by escalating a simple incident at any time) will face the wall of the coalition presence in Iraq and this can be seen clearly in the claims of these groups when they say that the American presence is hindering Iraq's effort to restore security while the fact is that the American presence is the obstacle stopping them from taking over the country and marginalizing if not eliminating their rivals. In this manner, the mere physical existence of US troops in Iraq is doing a crucial service in protecting the newborn democracy. ...
To make it simple, in addition to the presence of military forces we also need to garner all kinds of support to the liberal, secular, truly pro-democracy powers. It is no secret that Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria support extremists of both sects so why not America and other friends of democratic Iraq offer grater, or at least equal, support for the liberals/moderates?
An Iraq that's actually run by Iraqis again won't be perfect. In the early years, it will be corrupt and disorderly: Baghdad Airport probably won't work as efficiently when it's returned to Iraqi control; insurgents will probably still be setting off roadside bombs. If things go right, American troops will be welcome here training and advising Iraq's security forces even after the bulk of the US force has come home.
To make this transition plan work, Americans need a little more patience and Iraqis a little less. That's the judgment of Gen. John Abizaid, with whom I traveled in Iraq last week. "Our problem is to give up some control. The Iraqi problem is to take control," says Abizaid, who as head of Central Command has overall responsibility for US forces in Iraq. He says Americans shouldn't think of the transition as a straight line - "as they stand up, we stand down" - but as a process of gradual stabilization. ...
Abizaid's big worry is the battle between Sunnis and Shiites for control of the new Iraq. "Sectarian violence is the mortal danger," he says. "Left unchecked, it will lead to civil war. There are a lot of similarities that remind me of Beirut in the early stages before things got out of control." In congressional testimony this month, Abizaid raised a red flag about the risk of civil war, but he told me Friday that he had new confidence that Iraqi leaders were prepared to make the tough decisions necessary to check sectarian strife. He found Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his key ministers more confident and focused than they had been earlier this summer, when death squads seemed to have taken over Baghdad. To test the new security plan for the capital, Abizaid walked the streets of two of Baghdad's most violent neighborhoods on Thursday.
"The chances of success are good, if we give ourselves time to succeed," says Abizaid. I don't feel quite so optimistic, but I think Abizaid is right in urging a sensible, deliberate policy to reduce the American presence - as opposed to a pell-mell rush for the exit. The situation in Iraq is difficult, but the sense of panic in the Washington debate just doesn't match the situation on the ground. It's bad here, but it's not hurtling out of control.
Was that glass half-empty or half-full?