Monday, February 05, 2007

Three stories, one theme ?

Al-Hayat this morning brings together three big Iraq stories: (1) Problems with the new security plan showing up before it even starts; (2) followup to the Syria-immigration story; and (3) the Najaf-Zarka debacle. Although the reporter doesn't make the point in any explicit way, I think in conjunction with other recent events, these can be seen as signs of the end-times, at least for the Maliki administration.

(1) Security. The Al-Hayat reporter writes:
Iraqi security officials say the armed groups are changing strategy with each government announcement about the "new plan". Interior Ministry spokesman...said "The terrorists' strategy changes as the government's strategy changes." And he added: "It is the takfiiri groups that are primarily responsible for the collapse of security, and the Sadriya calamity is proof positive that these groups have very strong intelligence that lets them know about each change and alteration that the government makes together with its security ministries".
What did he mean about "proof positive"? The following may or may not be relevant. The self-styled "Iraqi resistance reports" posted in English on include this for last Saturday, after reporting on the truck-bombing at the Sadriya market:
Two days before Saturday’s truck bombing, the same building was raided by US occupation troops who arrested nine people and found and took away the bodies of two Sunni youths who had been detained on the second floor of the building, which served as a Shi‘i sectarian slaughter house for Sunnis.

Local witnesses said that the Americans also found Sunni prisoners being detained in the building. The Americans set the prisoners free and tuned the bodies of the two dead victims over to al-Yarmuk Hospital but made no further investigation or announcement about the Jaysh al-Mahdi death squad stronghold.

Of course it is possible that the government spokeman only meant that the truckbombers knew of the absence of checkpoints and so on. But that wouldn't be "strong intelligence".

Still on the security theme, the Al-Hayat reporter adds this:
Another military leader, insisting on anonymity, expressed skepticism about the possibilities for success of the new plan. He told Al-Hayat that terrorist operations are esclating ahead of implementation of the plan, and that in itself represents a setback, because the plan calls for eradication of these gangs.

And that reallly dovetails nicely [the reporter notes in conclusion] with what observers say about the latest US intelligence report [referring to the NIE] where it talks about the dangers of civil war, namely that it is an attempt to provide cover for the failure of the announced new security plan, at a time when there is this domestic American debate about the next strategy and the need to send more troops.
So the gist of this, on the security theme, is that the new plan has basic defects including the apparent fact that armed groups can learn of, and adapt to, each change in government strategy. Moreover, observers in the US think the NIE remarks on civil war in Iraq are an attempt to provide cover for likely failure of the new plan.

(2) Syria. Following up on remarks by Maliki-government spokesman Ali Dabbagh blaming Syria for much of the violence ("We have proof that 50% of the takfiiris and of the killers calling themselves Arab mujadideen have come via Syria"), a UIA member of parliament proposed yesterday the deporting of "Arab" residents (meaning non-Iraqi Arabs naturally) in order to ensure the success of the new security plan. To which Mashhadani, the president of parliament and a Sunni, retorted: What about deporting the non-Arabs (referring to Iranians) too?

Syria recently announced a new visa requirement that has frightened the close to one million Iraqi refugees in Syria, because it calls for only a two-week initial stay followed by a requirement to present documents including a housing-rental contract. The new rules could apparently require those failing the requirement to leave the country for a month before re-applying. There is a variety of interpretations in English on the website, but I would like to call attention to one in particular. Joshua Landis notes that the Syrian authorities recently had lengthy and friendly meetings with Iraqi president Talabani; and he says the Syrians also met recently with Harith al-Dhari of the Muslim Scholars association. Friendly relations with the non-Shiite powers in Iraq, combined with the bitter denunciations by Shiite politicians (including government spokesman Dabbagh, as noted above), suggest that the Syrians are starting to think the Shiite-led Maliki administration might not last in its current form forever, hence the importance of good relations with the non-Shiite powers. Probably it is also worth noting that Syria hosted the recent meeting of breakaway Baath party members, accused by the resistance wing of planning to "participate in the so-called political process [in Iraq]".

The gist of this is that Syria may well be contemplating the possibility either or regime-change in Iraq, or as Landis puts it, of a "meltdown", and this has so unnerved the Shiite politicians that we have the spectacle of the "deport the Arabs", "deport the non-Arabs" shouting match right in Parliament.

(3) Zarka. Juan Cole tells us this morning that Sunni members of parliament "maintain that Iraqi troops and US pilots mistook innocent members of the Hawatimah and Khaz'al tribes for insurgents and killed them along with their women and children..." But that is not the case at all. On the contrary, there was no allegation of a mistake. Rather, as the Al-Hayat reporter puts it, there were "growing accusations that the local [SCIRI-controlled] government spread the fictitious story [about the threat from the millenarian group] in order to eliminate intra-Shiite opposition." And in the Azzaman version, the letter from tribal chiefs that Mashhadani read out in parliament accused the government of trying to blame the slaughter of men women and children of the two tribes on an "imaginary group". The Azzaman reporter says there are escalating demands for an independent Iraqi judicial inquiry to bring the responsible persons to justice, and at least one member said this should be on the model of the recent trial of Saddam. The charges led to Shiite members walking out of the session.

There you have it: (1) a "new security plan" that some suggest might be doomed before it starts, (2) Syria quite likely anticipating some kind of Iraqi regime-change and the Maliki government responding angrily to that; and (3) unprecedented heat over accusations the SCIRI authorities in Najaf abused their powers to eliminate local opposition. Let's just say there don't seem to be any factors working to stabilize the Maliki administration.


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