Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Thirty Days of Night Part 2

A reader asks whether this World Tribune story describing Maliki's anger over US efforts to bypass him are true. The World Tribune story said: "Tension has reached a boiling point between the U.S. military and the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki. The reason: after months of waiting for Al Maliki to act, the U.S. military has taken matters in its own hands to improve the security situation in Iraq."

Al Maliki has bitterly opposed what he regards as U.S. freedom of action in operations throughout Iraq, reports. He objects to the recruitment of Sunni tribes to battle Al Qaida as well as the introduction of former Saddam Hussein generals to operate key military units.

The Shi'ite prime minister has engaged in shouting matches with U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker and even threatened President Bush. But Al Maliki's biggest problem has been U.S. military commander Gen. David Petraeus, who has simply ignored the prime minister and runs his own policy in Iraq.

I don't actually know the truth, but here are three related developments which may help the reader form his own judgment. A recent report from the Associated Press describes a recent secure conference call between Bush and Maliki  in which the American President urged the the Iraqi PM to get reconciliation efforts moving on the political front. The second are today's reports of very heavy US raids on Shi'ite militias which are said to have killed dozens of militiamen. The last is a Stratfor report describing secret talks between the US and Teheran. Three reports, not all of which are obviously connected, bearing on the subject of US intentions to get the political ball rolling in Iraq. But first, to the conference call between Bush and Maliki.


By BEN FELLER Associated Press Writer Article Launched: 08/01/2007 12:23:38 PM PDT

"WASHINGTON—President Bush prodded Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday to unite rival factions in a country stung by an announcement that the largest Sunni Arab bloc intends to pull out of the government. The 45-minute conversation occurred as Democratic war critics in the House decided to make one final attempt before a monthlong vacation to nudge the administration toward a new war policy.

... Bush and al-Maliki spoke in a secure video conference, part of a regular series of conversations on the war and Iraq's struggling democracy.

"The president emphasized that the Iraqi people and the American people need to see action—not just words—but need to see action on the political front," said White House press secretary Tony Snow. "The prime minister agreed."

Apart from demonstrating how confidential "secure video conference" calls are with respect to the Associated Press, the news report suggests that President Bush is exerting direct and high-level pressure to Iraqi politicians to move towards a deal. How precisely this will be accomplished with the legislators in recess and some factions actively sabotaging the process is unclear. But the American intent is apparently there.

Today the AP reported very heavy attacks by US forces on Shi'ite militias in the capital.

U.S. aircraft and soldiers attacked Shiite militiamen in northeast Baghdad on Wednesday, killing 32 and capturing 12 in a raid that coincided with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's visit to Tehran.

The raids took place in Sadr City, Baghdad's huge Shiite slum. Afterward, neighborhood women shrouded in black wept and accused the Americans of attacking civilians. The Iraqi police and witnesses said the raids had killed nine civilians, including two women, and wounded six others. The United States accused the people it fired upon of smuggling armor-piercing roadside bombs from Iran, which has denied that it supports militants in Iraq. Maliki, on a state visit seeking both security cooperation and more electricity from Iran, had no immediate comment.

Whatever the military utility of this operation, and whether or not it was intended to send a political signal, these heavy attacks on Shi'ite militias must certainly send forceful message to the Sunnis, Shi'ites and Maliki. The article above notes that Maliki is currently in Teheran. The question is whether he will find himself pre-empted even there. While I have no independent way to confirm this STRATFOR report (please follow this link for to the free signup page) I will reproduce extracts from August 7 report entitled "The Major Diplomatic and Strategic Evolution in Iraq". The report basically argues that the US has been making a deal with Teheran because neither feels they can control the situation in Iraq. If it were true that would provide motive enough for Maliki to be in Teheran. But why should Iran talk to America? Isn't it the "winner" in Iraq? Maybe not. Basra would logically be the first city to fall under a gradually gathering Iranian influence. But the Post argues that events have shown it has actually become a No-Man's Land. Local gangsters are in control. If Iraq is not America's, neither is it Teheran's.

George Friedman from STRATFOR argues that the US and Iran have been meeting -- openly -- over what to do in Iraq, but that the press hasn't been paying attention. He gives the details.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker met Aug. 6 with Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Hassan Kazemi Qomi and Iraqi National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubaie. Separately, a committee of Iranian, Iraqi and U.S. officials held its first meeting on Iraqi security, following up on an agreement reached at a July ambassadorial-level meeting.

The U.S. team was headed by Marcie Ries, counselor for political and military affairs at the embassy in Baghdad. Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who handles Iraq for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, led the Iranian team. A U.S. Embassy spokesman described the talks as "frank and serious," saying they "focused, as agreed, on security problems in Iraq." Generally, "frank and serious" means nasty, though they probably did get down to the heart of the matter. The participants agreed to hold a second meeting, which means this one didn't blow up.

Longtime Stratfor readers will recall that we have been tracing these Iranian-American talks from the back-channel negotiations to the high-level publicly announced talks, and now to this working group on security. A multilateral regional meeting on Iraq's future was held March 10 in Baghdad, followed by a regional meeting May 4 in Egypt. Then there were ambassadorial-level meetings in Baghdad on May 28 and July 24. Now, not quite two weeks later, the three sides have met again.

The subject of these meetings, according to Friedman, is to reach some sort of deal. Friedman's analysis starts from the theme that both Iran and the US have checkmated each other inside Iraq. And rather than fight on, they are talking turkey (the bird not the country).

The Iranians no longer believe the United States is capable of creating a stable, anti-Iranian, pro-American government in Baghdad. Instead, they are terrified the United States will spoil their plans to consolidate influence within Iraq. So, while they are doing everything they can to destabilize the regime, they are negotiating with Washington. The report that three-quarters of U.S. casualties in recent weeks were caused by "rogue" Shiite militia sounds plausible. The United States has reached a level of understanding with some nonjihadist Sunni insurgent groups, many of them Baathist. The Iranians do not want to see this spread -- at least not unless the United States first deals with Tehran. The jihadists, calling themselves al Qaeda in Iraq, do not want this either, and so they have carried out a wave of assassinations of those Sunnis who have aligned with the United States, and they have killed four key aides to Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a key Shiite figure.

If this sounds complicated, it is. The United States is fighting Sunnis and Shia, making peace with some Sunnis and encouraging some Shia to split off -- all the time waging an offensive against most everyone. The Iranians support many, but not all, of the Shiite groups in Iraq. In fact, many of the Iraqi Shia have grown quite wary of the Iranians. And for their part, the Saudis are condemning the Americans while hoping they stay -- and supporting Sunnis who might or might not be fighting the Americans.

The situation not only is totally out of hand, but the chance that anyone will come out of it with what they really want is slim. The United States probably will not get a pro-American government and the Iranians probably will not get to impose their will on all or part of Iraq. The Saudis, meanwhile, are feeling themselves being sucked into the Sunni quagmire.

The reader can make of the STRATFOR report what he will. Certainly the assertion that the US and Iran have been meeting seems plausible enough. And they must be talking about something besides the weather. My own subjective assessment to the following propositions is as follows.

Proposition Probability Reason
The US is pushing Maliki and the Baghdad politicians hard to make a deal. High The stronger the prospects of a deal, the more support will be forthcoming from the US Congress and the weaker the Iranian belief that a viable, unitary state is impossible will be.
Maliki is angry at Petraeus Medium One the hand, Maliki would naturally be irked at being bypassed. On the other hand, he might secretly be glad that Petraeus' is doing what he would be loathe to attempt. Why is he in Iran? Getting electricity sounds plausible. But perhaps he is looking for allies or simply trying to find out what is going on.
The US is brokering a regional deal with Iran Medium ... but If you read carefully, it is regional deal not a bilateral one. Iraq, being a microcosm of the entire region is reverberating through its neighbors. Is this a bad thing? That depends. Certainly the shape of the "deal" will depend to a large extent on how far Petraeus and Crocker get in shaping the reality inside Iraq.


Blogger NahnCee said...

Question: when reports say that the US is negotiating with "Iran", what does that mean? That we're talking to President Nutcakes, or to the Mad Mullah's, or what? Who in Iran can speak for the whole country of froot loops and terrorists?

Comment: For the past week or two, there have been daily announcements of this or that group of Iraqi's getting fed up with the stalemates and Maliki's intransigence and pulling out of the political process. Sometimes they are Sadrists, sometimes they are Sunni, sometimes they are Kurds.

We are told that Maliki's government is failing. It's almost to the point now where it's a steady drip drip drip of a deliberate leak. Like someone -- the White House, for example -- is trying to plant the idea in the minds of Iraqi's that they *really* need a new election, or perhaps it's a heavy hint to Mr. Maliki that the Americans aren't the only ones who are fed up with his tap-dancing and he *is* replaceable.

My take on Mr. Maliki is he's way too stupid to take the hint and step down. Be interesting to see whether he's eased out politically or just assassinated. By Iranian terrorists, of course, unless they can import some good Russian poison to feed him.

8/08/2007 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger Ticker said...

News that the UN is considering moving back into Baghdad in force is probably an indication that insiders are betting that US efforts are going to work at least partway.

Hat tip: Blackfive. The Washington Post reports:

The United Nations has offered to increase its presence in Baghdad for the first time in more than three years, after repeated appeals from the Bush administration for the world body to play a more active role in mediating Iraq's sectarian disputes.

B. Lynn Pascoe, the top political adviser to Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that the United Nations was prepared to boost its personnel in Iraq over the coming months. The organization is also seeking $130 million to build a heavily reinforced compound in Baghdad to house the growing U.N. mission.

Although there are heavy suggestions in the article that the UN is "riding to the rescue", I find it hard to believe that the UN can ride to the rescue of anyone. More probably, after being blown out of Iraq, the UN has decided that it's safe to go back into the water. As Blackfive notes, the arrival of the UN will put the antiwar crowd on something of the defensive, because if the UN is present in a country, then everything must surely be all legitimate, caring, humane and so forth. My only worry is that the UN might actually think it can help. I might be cynical, but I sincerely think that's the right interpretation.

8/08/2007 02:35:00 PM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

The fact is, once we establish peace with the Sunnis that will leave 160,000 troops in Iraq to face Iran. Seems now might be the best time for both the U.S. and the Iraqi government to talk turkey.

All sides have to bargain hard and play both ends (or all six to sixteen ends) against the middle. But I think the forces pushing Iraq together -- basically, the nature of their neighbors -- will win out over forces pushing it apart.

So, if Iraq ends up as a unitary state with a free government that is not allied with the U.S., we've lost because it is not "pro U.S."

Personally I see a peace agreement to pull out the "occupation forces" in two years. This allows the various "insurgents" to claim they stopped the U.S. from stealing the oil (they will blame attacks on civilians on AQI. Once they give up AQI they give up that excuse so it's time to deal).

But somehow the U.S. will still end up with a couple of bases in Iraq and 32,000 men (these are not called occupation forces--which the insurgents have driven from the land--but guest of Iraq). Hey, it's a tough neighborhood and everyone needs a thick necked friend.

8/08/2007 03:29:00 PM  
Blogger BigLeeH said...

One of the axioms of information theory is that the amount of information a message contains is inversely related to the probability that such a message will arrive. If I say that the sun came up this morning at the expected time it means nothing -- except to suggest that I might be an idiot -- but if I said that it didn't come up at all then that would mean something (possibly that I am psychotic, but enough about me...) My point is that we should look at Maliki's position -- a Shiite politician with a Shiite base -- and ask ourselves how surprising it is for him to deplore the "heavy handed and unapproved" US action against the Shiite militias in Baghdad.

Of course he would say that. It would be much more surprising if he said anything else. So what do his statements tell us about his actual feelings in the matter? Not much. Personally, I expect him to shed buckets of crocodile tears while the surge weakens the more unruly elements of his base -- an element that Maliki will have to confront sooner or later but not just now.

As for the UN arriving on the scene, I see it as a good thing on balance. First, because it suggests that the surge is working and the UN wants back in to share in the credit, and second, because it gives the Coalition a bit more leverage in the upcoming end-game negotiations. There is simply no one who wants the UN to be forced to actually do anything and the threat of handing operations over to the blue helmet types will take most of the fun out of the idea of a precipitous US withdrawal for everyone.

8/08/2007 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

So, let me get this straight, BigLeeH:

If you said the Sun came up, and later swore it didn't, would that indicate you are Schizophrenic, or simply a liar?

8/08/2007 04:44:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

"There is simply no one who wants the UN to be forced to actually do anything"
We could always play the old Bubba/Wesley Clark trick, paint our Air Force as UN's finest, and Bomb the Hell out of Iraq.

8/08/2007 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Iraqi leader tells Bush: Get Gen Petraeus out

Relations between the top United States general in Iraq and Nouri al-Maliki, the country's prime minister, are so bad that the Iraqi leader made a direct appeal for his removal to President George W Bush.

Although the call was rejected, aides to both men admit that Mr Maliki and Gen David Petraeus engage in frequent stand-up shouting matches, differing particularly over the US general's moves to arm Sunni tribesmen to fight al-Qa'eda.

One Iraqi source said Mr Maliki used a video conference with Mr Bush to call for the general's signature strategy to be scrapped.
"He told Bush that if Petraeus continues, he would arm Shia militias," said the official.
"Bush told Maliki to calm down."

At another meeting with Gen Petraeus, Mr Maliki said:
"I can't deal with you any more. I will ask for someone else to replace you."

Gen Petraeus admitted that the relationship was stormy, saying: "We have not pulled punches with each other."

President Bush's support for Mr Maliki is deeply controversial within the US government because of the Iraqi's ties to Shia militias responsible for some of the worst sectarian violence.

The New York Times claimed yesterday that Saudi Arabia was refusing to work with Mr Maliki and has presented "evidence" that he was an Iranian intelligence agent to US officials. "Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia's counterproductive role in the war," it reported.

8/08/2007 05:18:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

Well if you can't sabotage the effort one way, you find another way.

8/09/2007 12:27:00 AM  
Blogger Marzouq the Redneck Muslim said...

Ahhhhhh, what the hell, let's just give Iraq to alSadr. Just kidding, how about Chalabi?

Salaam eleikum!

8/12/2007 01:42:00 PM  

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