Saturday, February 24, 2007

Stepping Deeper into the Quagmire

In Iraq, the Sunnis are already mad at the United States. Now Bush is working on getting the Shiites mad at us; here's the AP story by Robert H. Reid in the Houston Chronicle:
Thousands of Shiites on Saturday protested the U.S. detention of the son of Iraq's most powerful Shiite politician, and the country's Kurdish president deplored the "uncivilized" behavior of the American soldiers responsible.

The real message of the demonstrations: Don't push the Shiites too far either over concessions to the Sunnis or ties to Iran.

Having 80% of the Iraqis mad at us is not a good idea. Oh, wait a minute, the Kurds have something to say too, according to the same AP story:
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd and longtime ally of al-Hakim's father, deplored the Americans' "uncivilized and inappropriate" behavior and demanded punishment for those responsible.
It's becoming hard to find anyone in Iraq who isn't mad at us. Part of the problem is that we don't know the culture, the religious issues, the ethnic groups, the tribes, the factions and the shifting political loyalties. And we're not just in a civil war but a civil war with multiple factions. Juan Cole of Informed Comment has some thoughts on the arrest of the eldest son of Aziz al-Hakim; here's the beginning but read his whole post to get a feel of the conflicting stories circulating:
The US has released Ammar al-Hakim and US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad apologized profusely for his arrest. The US military is giving three reasons for his arrest: He entered Iraq at a closed border station, his passport was expired, and his party was armed to the teeth. In fact, however, his passport was valid until September 17, 2007, and nobody travels overland in Iraq without being armed. It is most likely that the US doesn't want Shiite leaders slipping over to Iran in this way, because it is trying to reduce Iranian influence with US allies in Iraq. That is, al-Hakim's offense was probably his trip itself, though that cannot be admitted by Washington.

One of the stories mentioned by Cole is that the military may have thought that they were going to capture Muqtada Sadr. Maybe it's just as well they didn't. They probably would have a half million Shiites rioting by now. We're not just in a quagmire but in a dangerous situation with multiple plausible explanations for any event and multiple possible triggers for real trouble. It is not politics to say that our presence itself is becoming the biggest problem in Iraq; we're not trusted and we're in the middle of a deadly family quarrel in a land we don't know well. No one can expect rigid ideologues like Bush and Cheney to sort through such a mess.

Now, for the sake of balance, let me point out that not everything out of Iraq is bleak. A couple of days ago we discovered a bomb making factory in Fallujah (different spelling in the story below for Fallujah; it's not easy to keep up with the multiple English spellings of Arabic words); here's the story from Peter Spiegel of tghe Los Angeles Times:
U.S. troops in Iraq uncovered a "car bomb factory" near Fallouja this week that contained multiple canisters of chlorine, a potentially lethal gas that has been used in three insurgent attacks over the last month, a top U.S. official in Baghdad told reporters Thursday.

Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Army commander responsible for day-to-day military operations in Iraq, said the Tuesday night raid outside the city west of Baghdad netted a wide array of munitions and three vehicles that were apparently being readied as car bombs at the compound, in addition to the chlorine cylinders.

This is the kind of operation that should have been taking place more regularly three years ago when it would have been far more useful. These operations are only possible with intelligence in cooperation with the Iraqi government (and not by way of Abu Ghraib which only produces blowback). It's very late in the day for this kind of stuff but it may take a series of successful operations like it to make it easier to start drawing down with the purpose of disengaging from a conflict that isn't doing a thing for us and is already damaging us in multiple ways. The single most important reason we need to start disengaging is the risk that incompetent and arrogant people like Bush and Cheney will drag us into a deeper and far more dangerous conflict. Make no mistake: we're in deeper than we were a year ago.

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