Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Iraq War: It goes on

Patrick Cockburn, one of the best Western reporters on the Iraq War, writes about Inside Baghdad: A city paralysed by fear The Independent 01/25/07:

Black smoke was rising over the city centre yesterday as American and Iraqi army troops tried to fight their way into the insurgent district of Haifa Street only a mile north of the Green Zone, home to the government and the US and British embassies. Helicopters flew fast and low past tower blocks, hunting snipers, and armoured vehicles manoeuvred in the streets below. ...

It is extraordinary that, almost four years after US forces captured Baghdad, they control so little of it. The outlook for Mr Bush's strategy of driving out insurgents from strongholds and preventing them coming back does not look good.
He also points to one of the bizarre things about Bush's approach:

Mr Bush's [State of the Union] speech is likely to deepen sectarianism in Iraq by identifying the Shia militias with Iran. In fact, the most powerful Shia militia, the Mehdi Army, is traditionally anti-Iranian. It is the Badr Organisation, now co-operating with US forces, which was formed and trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. In the Arab world as a whole, Mr Bush seems to be trying to rally the Sunni states of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to support him in Iraq by exaggerating the Iranian threat.
And he talks about the situation outside Baghdad, which is to be the main focus of the McCain escalation now in progress:

The degree of violence in the countryside is often underestimated because it is less reported than in the capital. In Baquba, the capital of Diyala province north-east of Baghdad, US and Iraqi army commanders were lauding their achievements at a press conference last weekend, claiming: "The situation in Baquba is reassuring and under control but there are some rumours circulated by bad people." Within hours, Sunni insurgents kidnapped the mayor and blew up his office.

The situation in the south of Iraq is no more reassuring. Five American soldiers were killed in the Shia holy city of Karbala last Saturday by gunmen wearing American and Iraqi uniforms, carrying American weapons and driving vehicles used by US or Iraqi government forces. A licence plate belonging to a car registered to Iraq's Minister of Trade was found on one of the vehicles used in the attack. It is a measure of the chaos in Iraq today that US officials do not know if their men were killed by Sunni or Shia guerrillas.
The McClatchy news service gives more details on that latest operating around Haifa Street in U.S. and Iraqi troops storm Baghdad neighborhood again by Richard Mauer 01/24/07.

Juan Cole also addresses the mismatch between Bush's anti-Iran rhetoric and the actual Shi'a groups he's made in Iraq in
Arguing with Bush Informed Comment blog 01/24/07:

The major Shiite religious parties with long histories of anti-American rhetoric and activity are the Islamic Call or Da'wa Party and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Both of these Shiite religious parties are now allies of Bush. The Iraqi Da'wa actually helped to form the Lebanese Hizbullah in the early 1980s. A major figure in its Damascus bureau at that time was Nuri al-Maliki, now the Prime Minister of Iraq and a Bush ally. Al-Maliki supported Hizbullah versus Israel in the war last summer. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq is headed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who is close to the Iranian regime but whom Bush hosted in the White House on Dec. 4.

So if these Iraqi Shiite parties and militias can be brought in from the cold, why is it that Bush demonizes and essentializes other Shiite groups that are equally capable of changing their policies given the right incentives?
Good question.

In their report for Jan. 23, the US Air Force reported near four dozen air strikes in Iraq:

In total, coalition aircraft flew 44 close air support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom. These missions included support to coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities.
The report gives a few more details about strikes "near"Baghdad and "near" Basra.

Last fall, Robert Parry took a look at one indication of what the real, existing Al Qaida may think of Bush's Iraq War policies:
Al-Qaeda's Fragile Foothold by Robert Parry 10/04/06


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