Sunday, January 7, 2007

Iraq War: Leadup to the Battle of the Surge

Here are a few recent articles providing good insight into the Iraqi situation as we move into the Battle of the Surge:

Bush Iraq Policy Murky on the Real Enemy by Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service 12/28/06.  Porter gives a good sketch of the experience over the last year of trying to come to an accomodation with the Sunni insurgents:

In that setting, the most striking thing about the George W. Bush administration's policy in 2006 has been its inability to identify the primary enemy in Iraq.

Is it al Qaeda in Iraq? Bush often implies that they are the real enemy, suggesting that the U.S. must fight the enemy in Iraq so it doesn't have to fight them at home.

Is it the armed Sunni resistance groups, who were the original target of a U.S. counterinsurgency war that is now an all but officially admitted failure?

Or is it the Mahdi army of Moqtada al Sadr, which has been implicated in large-scale killings of Sunnis in the Baghdad area and which is aligned with Iran in the conflict between Washington and Tehran?

And what about the Badr organisation, which is known to be responsible for mass kidnapping, torture and what many now call ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from predominantly Shiite neighbourhoods in Baghdad?

More Troops but Less Control in Iraq by Dahr Jamail and Ali Al-Fadhily, Inter Press Service 12/28/06.  He also addresses the question of which side or we on, really, in the Iraqi civil war:

Whatever the numbers, the vital question is whether U.S. troops will continue to do next year what they have been doing this year.

Under the increasing number of attacks and the escalating chaos, it has apparently become U.S. military policy to bulldoze or bomb houses whenever attacks are launched on their patrols. This is particularly the case in places like Fallujah, Samarra, Siniya, Ramadi and other Sunni dominated areas. Sectarian conflict has roared between Shias and Sunnis, who follow different beliefs within Islam.

This year has shown how the U.S. military is dealing with sectarian violence. While it carried out collective punishment in cities like Fallujah and Ramadi, it has ignored Shia death squads. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki leads a Shia-dominated government.

Many Sunnis believe the U.S. military has long been favouring Shia politicians and their militias.

Iraq to probe filming of Saddam hanging by Steve Negus Financial Times/Reuters 01/01/07. What Saddam's execution illustrated about the relationship of the Iraqi government to the Mahdi Army Shi'a sectarian militia:

As the noose was tightened around the deposed president’s neck, several in the chamber began to chant a slogan affiliated with the radical Shia Sadrist movement, whose founder, the Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, was assassinated by presumed agents of Saddam in 1999.

Despite pleas from one unidentified voice in the room to allow Saddam a dignified end, the chanting of the name of the ayatollah’s son and the movement’s new leader built up to a crescendo – “Moqtada! Moqtada! Moqtada!”

The moment captured the extent to which the Shia radicals associated with the Sadrs have imposed their agenda on the Iraqi state and its institutions, and the magnitude of the task facing Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, as he tries to impose his authority on a deeply fractured and radicalised country.

Further emphasising the splits within Iraqi society was the pilgrimage of hundreds of mourners to Saddam’s tomb in the town of Awja, where he was born in 1937. Mr Maliki’s government appears to have rejected initial plans to bury the former leader in an unmarked grave, and Saddam’s body was flown to the town in a US helicopter.

Hussein's Death Leaves Unanswered Questions by Aaron Glantz, Inter Press Service 12/30/06.  More on the execution that managed to turn one of the worst mass murderers in the world into a Sunni martyr:

From the beginning, observers note, Hussein's trial had been directly supervised by U.S. officials. It was funded by a 138-million-dollar grant from Congress and by a large staff of foreigners working out of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad called the Regimes Crime Unit.

Previous key moments of Hussein's trial had coincided closely with the needs of the George W. Bush administration. In August, the trial recessed only to reconvene on Sep. 11, the anniversary of the al Qaeda terror attacks on the United States. And Hussein was sentenced to death shortly before the U.S. midterm congressional elections in November.

Scott Horton, the chair of the International Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association, who worked on the trial, told IPS there was little doubt that the death sentence was intentionally handed down on the eve of the elections.

Execution Begins to Deepen Divisions by Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily, Inter Press Service 12/30/06 also looks at the effect of Saddam's execution on the civil war:

The resistance to occupation is expected to continue. A spokesman for the Al-Mujahideen Army resistance group in Ramadi told IPS that his group saw Saddam Hussein simply as the leader of the Ba'ath Party who was "a helpless man in jail when we conducted our heroic operations against invaders."

The spokesman, who refused to give his name, added: "We praise his bravery in facing death, but his death will not increase or decrease our carefully planned actions until the U.S. invaders and their allies leave our country."

Across Iraq, Saddam seems to have won respect for the calm with which he went to his execution. And that could increase sympathy for him and his family.

Analysts doubt Bush will benefit from Saddam's execution by William Douglas, McClatchy Newspapers 12/29/06 also looks at the execution of Saddam and its likely political effects:

"Anytime the White House uses the term `milestone' it's a stone around the president's neck," said Ray Tanter, a national security professor at Georgetown University and a National Security Council member under President Reagan. "You do not change the situation in Iraq by capturing Saddam, convicting Saddam and executing Saddam. Nothing changes the insurgency except a political deal. The president may get a little bump from this, but it will quickly go down because the situation on the ground hasn't changed."

Iraqis doubt Saddam's execution will reduce violence by Nancy Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers, also argues that Saddam's execution is unlikely to help the American cause in Iraq:

Although state-run TV sought to dramatize the event by airing the hanging video and grainy reels documenting Saddam's years of torture, many Iraqis said the death of the man who personified Iraq's past would do little to rid the new Iraq of the problems it now faces - sectarianism, ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods and towns, and lack of services.

Government leaders sought to tell a different story, saying Saddam's trip to the gallows should become a turning point in Iraq's strife. Referring to leaders of the Sunni insurgency, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a statement, "Saddam's execution puts an end to all their pathetic gambles on a return to dictatorship." ...

But in communities immersed in civil strife, there was little response. In Baghdad, residents largely celebrated inside their homes or among friends at coffee shops. In the northeast city of Baqouba, one of Iraq's most ethnically diverse, only police vehicles aimed at stopping retaliatory violence filled the streets.

Iraqi officials released the first images and photos of Saddam's last moments Saturday. Saddam was executed in what was once called the Fifth Section Intelligence building in the northern Shiite Baghdad neighborhood of Kadimiyah. Shortly after his regime fell, residents raiding the building found scores of dead and various types of equipment used to torture and kill, including machines that reportedly were designed to grind body parts.

Arab press debates Saddam execution Aljazeera 01/01/07 looks at Arab reaction to Saddam's execution:

Qatari Arabic dailies Al-Watan and Al-Sharq said the "unwise and undue" timing of Saddam's execution could further deepen the factional fracture which all concerned parties were keen to avert.

The papers said it was not easy for the Iraqis to forget the politicised execution of Saddam, screened worldwide, but urged warring rivals "to resort to tolerance and reconciliation to end sectarian violence".

The Lebanese Arabic daily Al-Safir said that Saddam was the first Arab president to be executed under occupation, saying the motivation was political and reflects on the sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shia.

Al Jazeera correspondent Hoda Abd al-Hamid said Baghdad had started to come back to life on Monday, but that traditional New Year's celebrations had not gone ahead.

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