Thursday, August 09, 2007

Politics of the Sadr City attack

The US military operation in Sadr City yesterday, including house-to-house searches and arbitrary detention of persons from each household, followed by an air-strike, the whole thing timed to coincide with Prime Minister Maliki's visit to Tehran, is being reported in the US as a military event in the fight against alleged Iranian influence, and the discussion is mostly on the topic of "Iranian influence, or more Bush propaganda?" But this also obscures the fact that the event represents something of a political milestone in the evolution of American stratgegy vis-a-vis the Maliki administration. Here's what had to say about the view from Sadr city:
[We learned] from several participants in the protest demonstrations against the attacks to which Sadr City was subjected, that the participants shouted slogans calling for the toppling of the Maliki administration, which they accused of open cooperation with the occupation forces, in the interests of hanging on to their own positions and privileges. And members of the Sadr movement [agreed], including one person who is editor-in-chief of a newspaper published in Sadr City, who put it this way: "Maliki has forfeited [support in] this world and the next, and he will end in the same way that Saddam ended."
US policy, outlined in the famous Hadley memo of November 2006, has been to move its Baghdad client, in various ways, toward a position more acceptable to its other Arab clients in the region, ahead of potential confrontation with Iran, but the Baghdad process has been at times difficult to follow, on account of a number of factors, the main one being that as the US cozies up to armed Sunni groups, Maliki becomes apparently less, rather than more, amenable to compromise with the Sunni parties in parliament, so the process has been a zigzag. Which shouldn't completely obscure the fact that the US political/military strategy since fall 2006 has been unidirectional in a pro-Sunni direction.

The second confusing factor is the US domestic focus on the theme of "withdrawal", and here too the debate itself is a little misleading. The debate is about the degree to which "withdrawal" masks a mere re-organization of US forces in Iraq and the region. But the other point is that the US forces currently in Iraq are not merely fighting the bad guys and getting ready for a withdrawal/re-organization. Rather, they are involved in much the same way that the militias are said to be involved: Applying military force in the interests of a particular sectarian outcome.


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