Abu Abed's flight into exile shines a light on a violent power struggle pitting upstart leaders like him against Iraq's entrenched Sunni political elite and its Shiite-dominated government. The frictions could easily shatter the Sons of Iraq -- and open the door to Al Qaeda in Iraq's resurgence.The Shia-dominated Iraqi government considers many of the SoIs to merely be fronts for "former" insurgents. They are right, but they draw the wrong conclusion. Ending insurgencies and civil wars usually requires the government and counterinsurgent forces to hold their noses and make some accommodation with groups that used to be killing them. This is the lesson of the Sunni Awakening, but it's not clear the Iraqi government has internalized this lesson.
Perhaps even more significantly, the charges against him belie the notion of an Iraqi government moving toward reconciliation among its Sunni and Shiite populations.
The government considers Abu Abed a former militant with blood on his hands.Maliki and his inner circle of advisers--perhaps, most notably, those involved in the Implementation and Follow up Committee for National Reconciliation (IFCNR)--are paranoid that too much SoI integration will allow infiltration of the ISF by Sunni insurgents. And Maliki et al's growing (over)confidence in the prowess of the ISF has not put them in a compromising mood with these "thugs" and "hooligans." As a result, Maliki has been slow to integrate SoIs or provide them other forms of gainful employment despite repeated promises to do so. Again, the LAT notes:
"If he has done something, let the legal system take its course. It is not just with Abu Abed, but all the people," said Tahseen Sheikhly, an Iraqi government spokesman for Baghdad military operations. "They were part of the major problem of violence in Iraq."
Amid the political skirmishing, the committee set up to integrate U.S.-backed Sunni fighters into the security forces and public works jobs has stalled.This is a huge mistake. Separate from the merits or demerits of the Abu Abed case specifically, Abu Abed is not just a guy--he is a symbol. His treatment, in conjunction with other evidence of disdain for the SoIs emanating from Maliki and his coterie, could signal that former Sunni fighters will be locked out (and chased out) from integration and accommodation efforts. If so, there is a real risk of the SoI program imploding, taking much of the recent security progress with it. As Abu Abed himself warned: "Al Qaeda will come back and the government and Iraqi army will be helpless to defeat them. People will have lost their faith in the government because of the way they treated me and others."
Iraqi officials have been cryptic about the reason. Sheikhly acknowledged that the committee's efforts had slowed to a crawl, but said it was because the committee had shuffled members.
Others are more explicit. Sheik Fatih Kashif Ghitaa, a prominent Shiite who runs a think tank with close ties to the government, said Prime Minister Nouri Maliki had frozen the committee because of Shiite anger over America's failure to act against fighters such as Abu Abed.
One Western official agreed that the government's decision was deliberate.
"The coalition twisted Maliki's arm on the committee," the official said on condition of anonymity, referring to the prime minister's decision to create the body last year. "And now he has decided, we don't need it. As far as he is concerned, this is an American problem."
In recent months, Abu Abed had been organizing like-minded fighters around Baghdad and northern Iraq for provincial elections in the fall. U.S. officers believe his transition to politics could have proved the last straw for the government.The "Green Zone parties" are clearly worried that an emerging cadre of leaders at the local level will start to undermine their grip on power in the provincial elections, setting up a potential clash between the "powers that be" and the "powers that aren't" (local and tribal entities) in the months ahead. This is true of the continuing intra-Shia clashes between Dawa/ISCI and the Sadrists, and it will likely become increasingly apparent between the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) and Sunni tribal and SoI groups.
"Certainly you can draw the conclusion because he was getting involved in the political process to engage Sons of Iraq leaders to form a political party, the Iraqi government actively targeted him," said a U.S. military officer, who declined to give his name because of the subject's sensitivity. "I don't know that I can say it outright, but it certainly does seem that way."
Baghdad hasn't been this quiet in years. But the respite from bloodshed comes at a high price.
Up to 20 feet high in some sections.
Rows after rows of barrier walls divide the city into smaller and smaller areas that protect people from bombings, sniper fire and kidnappings. They also lead to gridlock, rising prices for food and homes, and complaints about living in what feels like a prison.
Baghdad's walls are everywhere, turning a riverside capital of leafy neighborhoods and palm-lined boulevards where Shiites and Sunnis once mingled into a city of shadows separating the two Muslim sects.
The walls block access to schools, mosques, churches, hotels, homes, markets and even entire neighborhoods — almost anything that could be attacked. For many Iraqis, they have become the iconic symbol of the war. . . .
Indeed, new walls are still going up, the latest one around the northwestern Shiite neighborhood of Hurriyah, where thousands of Sunnis were slaughtered or expelled in 2006. They could well be around for years to come, enforcing Iraq's fragile peace and enshrining the capital's sectarian divisions. . . .
First introduced by the Americans in 2003 to protect their Green Zone headquarters, walls became much more widespread with the launch early last year of a major security campaign in Baghdad. In some walled-off neighborhoods, access was granted only on proof of residence or special ID cards.
Nowadays there's hardly a street in Baghdad without a wall — or a cheaper substitute like barbed wire, palm tree trunks, mounds of dirt or piles of rocks. They're even used to control pedestrian and vehicular traffic in risky areas.
A core principle of COIN is separating the population from insurgents and monitoring and controlling access points to prevent reinfiltration. Walls, berms, and other barriers all serve that purpose. In Baghdad, the security benefits of walls are obvious. But we should not forget that the very need for the walls is an indictment of the failure to provide genuine population security in Baghdad through other means much earlier. And we shouldn't forget the very real, very human downside to these barriers: one person's secure "gated community" is another person's prison.
Some walls are colorful, painted by young local artists with scenes depicting green pastures or the pomp and glory of Iraq's ancient civilizations.
Others are commercial, plastered with fliers advertising everything from the local kebab joint to seaside vacations in Iran or university degrees in Ukraine.
Still others are religious or political, with posters of popular clerics or graffiti hostile to the United States, Israel or — most recently — Iraq's prime minister.
Most are just bleak and gray, a reminder that danger lurks on the other side.
Dora, a one-time stronghold of Sunni insurgents in southern Baghdad, has so many walls and observation towers that some parts resemble a maze.
The district's notorious Moalimeen area, which until a year ago had been among the most dangerous places in the capital, is now accessible to pedestrians through revolving iron doors guarded by security troops.
"The walls have stopped gunmen from coming into the neighborhood," said Salim Ahmed, a 29-year-old oil refinery worker who lives and works in Dora. "But we also feel that we are in a prison and isolated from the rest of the city." . . .
In April, the U.S. military sealed off the southern section of Sadr City to put the American Embassy and Iraqi government offices out of range of rockets and mortars fired by Shiite militiamen.
The shelling has since stopped, and quick-thinking entrepreneurs rushed to lay claim to a spot against the wall to sell fruits and vegetables.
Because of the Sadr City wall, Mustapha's journey to work every day now involves a 15-minute walk and two minibus rides — a major inconvenience considering Baghdad's unforgiving summer heat.
"It's both annoying and useful," Mustapha said. "It makes us feel like prisoners, but things have calmed down since they built it."
The bombings extended a pattern of multiple-casualty attacks in recent days that are clearly intended to kill local Iraqi leaders, in particular those who are believed to have collaborated with American forces against insurgents. Thursday’s attacks were among a string of deadly episodes in the past week that broke the previous several weeks’ lull in violence.
Most of the episodes have occurred in Sunni or mixed Sunni-Shiite areas where there has been mounting frustration over the lack of a political deal giving power to all of Iraq’s factions. Some were in small neighborhoods like Abu Dshir on the southern edge of Baghdad, and Madaen, which lies just to its southeast. There was also an attack on Tuesday on the Sadr City neighborhood council which killed six Iraqis, four Americans and an Iraqi-Italian interpreter.
Both of Thursday’s attacks raised questions about assertions by the United States military that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Sunni extremist groups had been largely vanquished. . . .
In Baghdad and in Anbar Province, there have been substantial American and Iraqi military campaigns to root out the insurgency. In those areas and in Diyala Province, where there was a suicide bombing a week ago, the Shiite-led government in Baghdad has frustrated the efforts of Sunni leaders to find government security jobs for Sunni tribal figures and former insurgents.
Although many of these people joined the Awakening movement and were paid by the Americans to help fight Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, few have been put on the government’s payroll.
“The government didn’t support the Awakening Councils enough,” said Omar Abdul Sattar, a member of Parliament from Ramadi who belongs to the Iraqi Islamic Party, a leading Sunni group.
“The Awakening lacks information, political advisers, arms and security advisers,” said Adnan al-Dulaimi, a leader of Tawafiq, the largest Sunni bloc in Parliament.
There are also allegations that the initial vetting process for the Awakening was flawed and that some people who still backed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia disguised their views and became part of the security forces or the Awakening groups.
Sheiks in Anbar, who asked not to be quoted by name, said that they knew the man responsible for the Garma bombing. They said he had been a policeman and previously a member of the Anbar Awakening.
The American pacification of Anbar — considered Iraq’s most dangerous province a few years ago — has been seen as so successful that American forces have been preparing to hand control back to the Iraqi government early next month.
However, Garma was the one of the last places in Anbar to reject the insurgency.
Dr. iRack doesn't know what to make of all of this. Are the attacks simply a way for AQI to demonstrate their continued relevance (especially in the lead up to Anbar being PIC'd)? Or, is it relevant that they are occurring against a deeper (and perhaps increasingly violent) struggle starting to emerge between Awakening groups and the Iraqi government and among the Sunnis themselves? Marc Lynch over at Abu Aardvark has recently written about news of growing disenchantment among the Awakening Councils/Sons of Iraq. Apparently, there is escalating anger over the slow pace of ISF integration and Iraqi government outreach (all in the context of increasing intra-Sunni competition in the lead up to provincial elections). Will we see rising attacks by "former" Awakening members who turn back to AQI because they are frustrated at the lack of accommodation by the Iraqi government?
The U.S. Army’s new strategy in Iraq—launched in February 2007, along with a surge of 25,000 additional American troops—qualifies neither as particularly new nor even as a strategy. Better to call it, instead, an enhanced reliance on tactics and operational concepts previously in use. Or, put less charitably, an over-hyped shift in emphasis that, on the one hand, will not necessarily yield an American victory in Iraq but, on the other, might well leave the United States Army crippled in future wars.Come on Gian, don't hold back, tell us what you really think!
A record consisting of published articles and anecdotal accounts as well as my own observations during two combat tours in Iraq shows clearly that most U.S. Army units had learned, adapted to, and absorbed the array of techniques and procedures for counterinsurgency at least as far back as mid-2004. When I was in Tikrit as a Brigade Combat Team Executive Officer in mid-2003, my unit was already executing counterinsurgency operations, rebuilding the area’s economic infrastructure, restoring essential services, and establishing governance projects. When I was training my cavalry squadron a year later, we focused nearly exclusively on counterinsurgency. In 2005, the president himself committed the United States to a “clear, hold and build” doctrine in his “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq,” even as the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command devised a new counterinsurgency doctrine, units at training centers immersed themselves in counterinsurgent tactics and procedures, and company commanders arriving in Iraq rotated through the counterinsurgency school in Taji.The problem with Gentile's story is that it is largely contradicted by the evidence. To be sure, there were some units who “got it” early—Petraeus in 2003-2004 and Chiarelli in 2004-2005 are prominent examples at the Division level, and there were certainly Brigade, Battalion, and Company commanders who “got it” very early at the retail level—but it is simply untrue that, across the force, COIN best practices were employed. A summer 2005 review for General Casey of nearly every U.S. unit in Iraq by Kalev Sepp and COL Bill Hix found that COIN best practices were applied very unevenly. Indeed, it was this conclusion, and the fact that units were not getting adequate training at their home stations and the combat training centers, that led Casey to establish the COIN academy Gentile mentions at Taji in late 2005. This uneven performance was also the impetus for the push to radically rewrite U.S. COIN doctrine, the increased emphasis on COIN in Army and Marine school houses, and the dramatic changes in training at the JRTC, NTC, JMTC, and 29 Palms.
A cursory glance at the U.S. Army’s Military Review, which features articles written by and meant for officers with on-the-ground experience, makes the point. In an article written after a tour with the 1st Cavalry Division in south Baghdad in 2004, Lieutenant Colonel Doug Ollivant notes that his combat battalion quickly adopted the precepts of counterinsurgency, taking its cue from theories detailed by French officer David Galula in his classic 1964 volume Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice. In a similar vein, Colonel Ralph O. Baker, a brigade commander in the 1st Armored Division, wrote in Military Review that to be successful during its 2003––2004 deployment in Baghdad, his brigade devoted nearly 70 percent of its time and activities to nontraditional missions such as information operations and other counterinsurgent functions. A recent report from a junior noncommissioned officer currently on his third tour in Baghdad observed that “nothing has changed” in his unit’s operations in the eastern side of the city from his previous two deployments.
There are, to be sure, distinctions to be drawn—though mostly on paper—between pre- and post-surge operations. General George Casey’s (and the White House’s) official strategy was to “stand-up” Iraqi Security Forces; under his successor, General Petraeus, the favored concept tends to be population security. Even during my 2006 tour under General Casey, however, I was never prodded to modify the counterinsurgency operations for which my battalion had trained and which it was executing around the clock in west Baghdad; nor were the units operating alongside mine similarly dissuaded. On the contrary, by providing a baseline of security in our sector, we were assured and encouraged that our counterinsurgency operations furthered the goal of transferring authority to the Iraqi Security Forces. The counterargument—that American forces had settled so comfortably on forward operating bases that they all but quit the country around them—is flatly and directly contradicted by the operational record. My squadron, 8-10 Cavalry, Fourth Infantry Division, conducted close to 3,500 combat patrols and operations during our year in west Baghdad.
The second difference between earlier and current operating methods revolves around the use of combat outposts. In line with earlier operations in Tal Afar and Ramadi, American units have now fanned out and essentially planted themselves in these outposts—abandoned houses, usually—at the center of select Iraqi neighborhoods. Proponents of the surge largely credit the decline in violence to these outposts and to the troops occupying them.In other words, Gentile knows that the widespread use of JSSs and COPs to provide 24/7 population security in many of Baghdad’s worst neighborhoods did indeed represent a real shift, but he thinks this change, in and of itself, had no effect.
But there is a disconnect between claims and reality that runs through the surge narrative. The two factors overwhelmingly and demonstrably accountable for the diminished violence haven’t depended on the surge at all. The first was the 2006 decision by senior American officers to pay large sums of money to our former enemies to ally themselves with us in the fight against al-Qaeda—a decision that, according to a January 2008 report from U.S. Army headquarters in Iraq, made “significant contributions” to the lowering of violence. The practice began in 2006 in Ramadi, where, tellingly, the resulting decline in attacks predated the surge. The second factor was Muqtada al-Sadr’s decision to stand down, flee to an exile in Iran, and order his forces to suspend attacks against Americans—a decision that top U.S. officers in Iraq praise nearly every day for the ensuing reduction in violence. Absent these twin developments, Americans would still be dying in large numbers.
Overall violence, as measured by enemy-initiated attacks, fell about 70 percent from about 180 attacks per day in June 2007 to about 50 attacks per day in February 2008—primarily due to decreases in violence in Baghdad and Anbar provinces. Fighting continues throughout Iraq. Average daily attack levels were higher during March and April before declining in May 2008. Further, the influence and areas of operation of al Qaeda in Iraq have been degraded, although the United States has not achieved its goal of defeating al Qaeda in Iraq and ensuring that no terrorist safe haven exists in Iraq. Security gains have largely resulted from (1) the increase in U.S. combat forces, (2) the creation of nongovernmental security forces such as Sons of Iraq, and (3) the Mahdi Army’s declaration of a cease fire. However, the security environment remains volatile and dangerous.2. Uneven ISF Development
Since 2003, the United States has provided more than $20 billion to develop Iraqi security forces. The number of trained Iraqi forces has increased from about 323,000 in January 2007 to about 478,000 in May 2008; many units are leading counterinsurgency operations. However, DOD reports that the number of Iraqi security force units deemed capable of performing operations without coalition assistance has remained at about 10 percent. Several factors have complicated the development of capable Iraqi security forces, including the lack of a single unified force, sectarian and militia influences, continued dependence on U.S. and coalition forces for logistics and combat support, and training and leadership shortages. In addition, the time frame for transferring security responsibilities to Iraqi provincial governments now extends into 2009. As of May 2008, 9 of 18 provincial governments had lead responsibility for security in their provinces.3. Mixed Progress on Meeting Political Benchmarks
The Iraqi government has enacted de-Ba’athification reform, amnesty, and provincial powers legislation after considerable debate and compromise among Iraq’s political blocs. However, questions remain about how the laws will be implemented and whether the intended outcomes can be achieved. For example, the government has not yet established the commission needed to reinstate former Ba’athists in the government. In addition, the government has not enacted legislation that will provide a legal framework for managing its oil resources, distributing oil revenues, or disarming militias. The Iraqi government also faces logistical and security challenges in holding the scheduled 2008 provincial elections—a key element of reconciliation for Sunnis. Finally, the government has not completed its constitutional review to resolve issues such as the status of disputed territories and the balance of power between federal and regional governments.4. Inadequate Progress on Spending Capital Budgets
Ministry of Finance expenditure data show that between 2005 and 2007, Iraq spent only 24 percent of the $27 billion it budgeted for its own reconstruction efforts. Specifically, Iraq’s central ministries spent only 11 percent of their capital investment budgets in 2007, a decline from similarly low spending rates of 14 and 13 percent in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Spending rates for critical ministries varied from the 41 percent spent by the Water Resources Ministry in 2007 to the less than 1 percent spent by the Ministries of Oil and Electricity. Violence and sectarian strife, shortage of skilled labor, and weak procurement and budgeting systems have hampered Iraq’s efforts to spend capital budgets and thereby contribute to its own rebuilding. GAO recommended that U.S. agencies develop an integrated plan for developing competent Iraqi ministries that can execute their budgets and effectively deliver government services. As of June 2008, an integrated strategy had not been developed.5. Poor Progress in Providing Essential Services
Overall crude oil production has increased or improved for short periods; however, production has not reached the U.S. goal of an average crude oil production capacity of 3 million barrels per day (mbpd) and export levels of 2.2 mbpd. In May 2008, oil production was about 2.5 mbpd and exports were 1.96 mbpd. Meanwhile, the daily supply of electricity met only 52 percent of demand in June 2008. The State Department (State) reports that U.S. goals for Iraq’s water sector are close to being reached. Since April 2006, U.S. efforts have focused on producing enough clean water to reach up to an additional 8.5 million Iraqis. As of March 2008, State reported that U.S.-funded projects had provided an additional 8 million Iraqis with access to potable water. Several factors present challenges in delivering essential services, including an unstable security environment, corruption, a lack of technical capacity, and inadequate strategic planning.The GAO then concludes with a call for moving beyond the current operational-level Joint Campaign Plan driving U.S. activities in Iraq, to a revised, overarching national strategy. Dr. iRack thinks the conclusions are important, so they are quoted at length:
To reflect changing U.S. goals and conditions in Iraq, MNF-I and the U.S. embassy in Baghdad revised their Joint Campaign Plan in July 2007. At the President’s direction, they updated it in November 2007 to reflect the decision to withdraw the surge forces by July 2008—the end of The New Way Forward. According to the May 2008 State Department report, the Joint Campaign Plan supports the implementation of U.S. efforts in Iraq along four lines of operation: political, security, economic, and diplomatic. The plan recognizes the importance of enhancing security and protecting the Iraqi population and of advancing the political line of operation to help Iraqis establish legitimate, representative governance in their country at both the national and provincial levels.Dr. iRack thinks the GAO is largely on target (although some of the differences with the administration on estimates of ISF capabilities and budget expenditures will remain open to dispute). However, in calling for a new strategy, the GAO could have done more to outline its possible contours. Overall, the report’s conclusions are biased toward calls for improving efforts to build the governance capacity of the Iraqi state. This is absolutely necessary, but not sufficient. Sustainable stability in Iraq requires revision in U.S. strategy aimed at promoting both improved governance and political accommodation; that is, efforts to enhance both the capacity and will of the Iraqi state. If the Iraqi government doesn’t step up—and if the this administration and the next don’t utilize all elements of our remaining leverage to push them to do so—many of the security gains that have been purchased at such a high cost in American and Iraqi blood, sweat, and treasure could be squandered.
However, a campaign plan is an operational, not a strategic plan, according DOD’s doctrine for joint operation planning. A campaign plan must rely on strategic guidance from national authorities for its development. For example, the April 2006 MNF-I/U.S. embassy Baghdad Joint Campaign Plan relied on the NSC’s prior strategic plan, the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, as a basis for the plan’s development.
Activities at the strategic level include establishing national and multinational military objectives, as well as defining limits and assessing risks for the use of military and other instruments of national power. In contrast, a campaign plan is developed at the operational level. Activities at this level link tactics and strategy by establishing operational objectives needed to achieve strategic objectives, sequencing events to achieve the operational objectives, initiating actions, and applying resources to bring about and sustain these events. The development of a campaign plan, according to doctrine, should be based on suitable and feasible national strategic objectives formulated by the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—with appropriate consultation with additional NSC members, other U.S. government agencies, and multinational partners. Doctrine states that in developing operational plans, commanders and their staffs must be continuously aware of the higher-level objectives. According to DOD doctrine, if operational objectives are not linked to strategic objectives, tactical considerations can begin to drive the overall strategy at cross-purposes.
Joint doctrine also states that effective planning cannot occur without a clear understanding of the end state and the conditions that must exist to end military operations and draw down forces. According to doctrine, a campaign plan should provide an estimate of the time and forces required to reach the conditions for mission success or termination. Our review of the classified Joint Campaign Plan, however, identified limitations in these areas, which are discussed in a classified GAO report accompanying this report.
Weaknesses in “the way forward” and the Joint Campaign Plan are symptomatic of recurring weaknesses in past U.S. strategic planning efforts. Our prior reports assessing (1) the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, (2) U.S. efforts to develop the capacity of Iraq’s ministries, and (3) U.S. and Iraqi efforts to rebuild Iraq’s energy sector found strategies that lacked clear purpose, scope, roles and responsibilities, and performance measures. For example, we found that the NSVI only partially identified the agencies responsible for implementing the strategy, the current and future costs, and Iraq’s contributions to future needs. Although multiple U.S. agencies have programs to develop the capacity of Iraqi ministries, U.S. efforts lack an integrated strategy. Finally, although the United States has spent billions of dollars to rebuild Iraq’s oil and electricity sectors, Iraq lacks an integrated strategic plan for the energy sector. We recommended that the National Security Council, DOD, and State complete a strategic plan for Iraq and that State work with the Iraqi government to develop integrated strategic plans for ministry capacity development and the energy sector. Clear strategies are needed to guide U.S. efforts, manage risk, and identify needed resources.
"Iraq is a much better place than it was a year ago across the board, politically, economically and from a security standpoint," Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday. "But we are not at the sustainable point yet, we are not at the irreversible point yet."Also:
[O]minously, both the Pentagon and GAO reports note potential problems with the so-called Sons of Iraq program. Most Sunni Arab groups whose members have been brought into the program have yet to reconcile their differences with the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government, the GAO report notes. The Pentagon said the program faces the challenge of combating infiltration by extremist groups and concluded that the Iraqi government cannot currently manage the effort.
Because of deep sectarian divisions, the Pentagon report predicted that future political and diplomatic progress in Iraq "may be slow and uneven." The report also noted that new laws must be implemented fairly to avoid heightening sectarian tensions.
The most prominent dividing line in Iraqi politics now is between the Powers that Be and the Powers that Aren't. The PTB are the two Kurdish parties, ISCI, pieces of Da'wa, and the IIP, who has one foot in and one foot out of the government, but is on an inexorable vector towards having both feet in. I stress IIP here, because so much of non-IIP Tawafuq has broken off, most to form that Arabs Bloc or whatever it is with Mutlaq, and others to strike out on their own in the coming elections. The PTA are everyone else: these Sunnis I was just referring to, the Sadris, Fadhila, the Awakenings, the mishmash of secularists in Iraqiya who are constantly at war with each other, and a variety of independents, both in parliament and, now that provincial elections are on the horizon, increasingly at the local level.Go read the rest now!
[. . .]
So where does the US stand in this? They're at least apparently working hard for provincial elections and thus to give the PTA and the popular forces they represent some power. But at the same time, their main priority appears to be buttressing the state security apparatus that belongs to the PTB, the very one that's being used to crack down on the PTA in the south ("JAM") and, if Abu Rumman is right, the PTA in the form of the Awakenings ("thank you very much, we'll take it from here! that will be all!") The more this process goes on and the more they drag their feet on provincial elections, by the time these elections do happen, if they do, the PTA will be so weakened and fragmented, the system likely so rigged in favor of the unified PTB parties, that they'll hardly matter.
[. . .]
We're so intent on getting a large portion of our troops out fast, and so eager to sew Iraq up into this little box, and thus so singlemindedly focused on making the government strong, that we're missing an opportunity to make this government at least a bit more inclusive and a bit more stable and thus a bit less reliant on us.
Consider the latest caricatures of Mr. Maliki put up on posters by the followers of Moktada al-Sadr, the fiery cleric who commands deep loyalty among poor Shiites. They show the prime minister’s face split in two — half his own, half Saddam Hussein’s. The comparison is, of course, intended as a searing criticism. But only three months ago the same Sadr City pamphleteers were lampooning Mr. Maliki as half-man, half-parrot, merely echoing the words of his more powerful Shiite and American backers. It is a notable swing from mocking an opponent perceived to be weak to denouncing one feared to be strong.6. Money, money, and more money. High oil prices are filling Iraqi government coffers, increasing the resources available to provide services in war-torn areas.
Abdul Hadi Jasim, a barber from Adhamiya, said, “Now, after one of the biggest Shiite militias that ravaged Basra was targeted, I think there is a sense of justice and fairness.” But old suspicions linger, and Sunnis remember the slaughter inflicted by Shiite militias from 2004 to 2007, and how Shiite death squads were protected by Iraqi security forces. In addition to the Mahdi Army, many Sunnis fear the Badr organization, the armed wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a close ally of Mr. Maliki’s Dawa Party. Badr forces dominate some Iraqi security force units.5. Slow political progress. The growing political credibility accruing to Maliki has not yet translated into sufficient political progress to lock in security gains. Some of the important “benchmarks” recently met by the Iraqi government (e.g., de-Baathification reform and the provincial powers law) remain incomplete: implementation of de-Baathification reform has been problematic; and there is still no election law to govern the provincial elections. And, on a score of other issues essential for long-term stability, there has been inadequate progress, including: hydrocarbons legislation; resolution of territorial disputes (especially Kirkuk); improved capital budget execution and (more equitable) provision of essential services (in the context of windfall oil profits); political co-optation of OMS/JAM; ISF integration and employment of the predominantly Sunni “Sons of Iraq” (SoIs); and a comprehensive plan to meet the needs of Iraq’s 4-5 million refugees and internally displaced people.
“Maliki’s war was a selective one,” says Falah Muhammad Abdullah, 46, an engineer from Falluja. “Why does Maliki’s government hunt down the Mahdi militia while it neglects Badr?”
Sunni Skepticism Remains
Many Sunnis are convinced that Mr. Maliki is trying to serve other masters: Iran, the Americans, or his own Dawa Party and the Islamic Supreme Council. Both face a serious challenge from the Sadrists in provincial elections later this year.
Mowafaq Abu Omar, a 52-year-old street merchant in Adhamiya, voiced a common suspicion — that the true aims of the Basra operation were to seize control of Iraq’s only significant port and to advance the creation of a large, autonomous and oil-rich Shiite super-province in the south.
There is also less enthusiasm for the recent operation in western Mosul, which is largely Sunni. Eman al-Hayali, a teacher in Amiriya, praised Mr. Maliki for weakening Mr. Sadr’s Mahdi Army but said she feared the Mosul operation was intended to satisfy the Maliki government’s patrons in Iran and telegraph a message to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “Do not worry, your excellency, we are also killing Sunnis.’ ”
At least 700 policemen suspected of criminal activities also were detained and under investigation, said Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf. More arrests were expected, Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Askari said.Thus far, the Sadrists/JAM have not responded (which is a good thing), but too many provocative moves could stress or break the fragile ceasefire calming much of Baghdad and southern Iraq.