Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Plan

Having looked at a couple of nationalist appeals, just for contrast I feel duty-bound to consider what seems (to me anyway) to be the plan of the pro-occupation GreenZone people for mobilizing the collaborators and marching on.

So far, discussions of the War on Sadr have centered on motives, including such things as pre-election power-distribution, federalism, Maliki's own position, and role of Washington. I think it might be more useful to start by looking at the chronology.

So here, for everyone's consideration, is a theory that would hopefully explain the timing for this extraordinary and unexpected attack on the Sadrist movement, that takes into account (1) the recent apparent demise of the Iraqi AQ/ISI organization; (2) the sudden expressions of hope that Maliki is going to find the Sunni parties and others closing ranks with him in the GreenZone; and (3) the fact that what is driving the events is naturally the USA, and in particular the US need for a GreenZone "government" that includes a broader representation than the current Maliki cabinet, and in particular that includes at least some Sunni representation. In other words, it is a theory that hopefully gets us back down to understanding basic American policy. And it is not a pretty sight.

Here it is:

First of all, one of the recurring allegations in the history of the Awakenings has been that Sunni-resistance groups, or parts of them, had struck a deal with the Americans: They would attack AlQaeda/ISI and observe a truce with the Americans, in exchange for American help in countering the Iranian influence.

On Monday (April 7) the Jordanian writer Muhammed AbuRumman
(or Roman) wrote in the newspaper AlGhad a lengthy piece about the new configuration of groups in Iraq, and in the course of that, he writes:
The collapse of AlQaeda and the setting of their sun in Iraq is also confirmed by a number of actors on the Sunni scene, and it seems the decline of Iraq came with the arrest of their leaders and representative people, one after the other, starting with the killing of Zarqawi and including the arrest of Khalid Al-Mashhadani, who played the role of "Abu Omar al-Baghdadi emir of the Islamic State of Iraq", and before him the killing of Muharib Al-Jabburi, and more recently their Agriculture Minister and judge of the Sahiah court of the Islamic State of Iraq. In fact people close to AlQaeda talk about a reverse migration in recent months of Arab [non-Iraqi] members in Iraq to other countries.
Naturally, in what concerns something as dear to the hearts of Bush administration as "AlQaeda", you have to be careful, but in this case the decline-of-the-ISI thesis seems to have some corroboration in the decline in suicide bombings (and in the case of my modest attempt to monitor jihadi sites, what I believe is a noticeable drop in claims and other statements by the ISI).

Anyway, it doesn't seem a bad assumption that ISI is in decline or retreat in Iraq. (Naturally the Bush administration would not actually announce such a thing as the decline of AlQaeda, given that "Iraq is the central front in the War on Terror", so the lack of fanfare for this is not a good counter-argument). Would this not represent the Sunni groups having made good on their part of the above-mentioned bargain (we curb AlQaeda, you Americans curb the Iranian influence). Could the Maliki/US attack on the Mahdi Army be the counterpart to that? Because for Maliki and the US, it is the chance to take out a rival/anti-occupation force, and at the same time placate some of the Sunni groups as promised.

The obvious objection is that the Mahdi Army is not as "Iranian" as Badr and the other Shiite militias that are allied with Maliki himself. But in this context that probably doesn't matter. Because from the standpoint of the Sunni actors the US is targeting, "Iran" means the parties to the sectarian wars in Baghdad post-February 2006, and wherever the truth may lie, to many that means the Mahdi Army. "We cleared out AQ, now you clear out Mahdi", would be the idea.

This would help explain this recent miraculous expectation (expressions of that anyway) of a "closing of the ranks" of the Sunni parties and others behind Maliki, supposedly on the bizarre grounds that his military campaign, although catastrophic, has in any event shown him to be a strong and independent leader. Rather than admiration for Maliki, on this reading, the driving force would be the expectation for sectarian quid pro quo, harking back to the bad old days of sectarian cleansing: "You break the back of the Sadrist forces, and we will be sufficiently comfortable to join the government, even if it is pro-occupation."

The bottom line is that, for the Americans, the existence of some kind of a "government" with at least some Sunni representation is a requirement to prop up the credibility of the proposed long-term bilateral security agreeement. The way to get there, they seem to have decided, (after many months of pussyfooting with "national reconciliation" meetings here and there), is by the good old sectarian way, in this case playing on anti-Sadr sentiment going back to the cleansing days, or earlier.

There is naturally a very important qualification. What is implied here is the US relying on those parts of the Sunni resistance and the Sunni parties that can be inveigled by this kind of approach. And it goes without saying that is not all of them, only the sectarian and corruptible part.

Moreover, the plan won't work for another reason. The Basra campaign was apparently based on the theory of a quick collapse of the Mahdi Army in Basra, not on seeing Maliki's people having to fight shoulder to shoulder with the Americans, for days and weeks, against Iraqis in heavily populated urban areas. Only a diminishing number of politicians is going to be able to join up with a government that is using occupation-forces backup including "air-support" and so on, to attack its own citizens in urban areas. But they're still working on it. Already vice-president Tareq al-Hashemi, while the fighting in Sadr City and elsewhere is still going on, is calling, not for an end to the fighting, but for "start of a dialogue to agree on a national political dialogue which will pave the way for the return of the withdrawn political blocs to the government."

The Hadley Memo of November 2006 called for shutting down the "militias" and providing Maliki with a de-Sadrized political base. Who knows how this was understood at the time, but the upshot is that the only way the Americans could even pretend get anywhere with this, turned out to be by pushing the old sectarian buttons. Their problem is going to be that as Iraqis see and reflect on the results of that approach so far, fewer and fewer of them are going to respond to that. That's my reading.


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