Bush’s Iraq Policy Review looks set to announce that on the political front in Iraq there will be no change, even as the administration contemplates a military escalation.
After floating some very radical ideas for abandoning “national reconciliation” and outreach to Iraqi Sunni insurgents–the so-called “80 percent Solution“–the Bush administration now appears to be ready for more of the same.
Robin Wright of the Washington Post reports:
During its two-month interagency review, the Bush administration has struggled the most to come up with proposals to jump-start the stalled political process in Iraq, according to U.S. officials and Western diplomats. The fate of the revised strategy will be determined as much by new movement on Iraq’s combustible political front as by success on the battlefield, administration officials said.
But the emerging package looks slim and, absent last-minute additions, appears to be more of the same, according to sources who have been briefed.
The centerpiece of the political plan is the creation of a national reconciliation government that would bring together the two main Shiite parties with the two largest Kurdish parties and the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials. The goal is to marginalize Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the largest and most powerful Shiite militia and head of a group that has 30 seats in parliament and five cabinet posts.
To ensure participation of Sunni moderates, the Bush administration is pressing the Maliki government to take three other major steps: Amend the constitution to address Sunni concerns, pass a law on the distribution of Iraq’s oil revenue and change the ruling that forbids the participation of former Baath Party officials.
Been there. Done that.
Or, more to the point: Been there. Tried to do that. Was blocked by Grand Ayatollah Sistani who allegedly refused to allow the US to marginalize Sadr.
Little wonder, with word that the US is determined to pursue this course, that Sadr has gone to meet with Sistani for clarification and confirmation of support.
So, is the US prepared to move without the blessing of Sistani? Good luck with that.
Meanwhile, the same old political battles will certainly accompany the proposed escalation on the security front.
The military brass is spoiling for a fight with Shiite militias, if not Sadr himself. Here is the Washington Post report on the political contours of the US military surge:
A top U.S. commander in Iraq said Sunday that previous attempts to halt sectarian killings in Baghdad had failed in part because of a shortage of Iraqi troops and a tight focus on Sunni Arab neighborhoods, and that those lessons would be incorporated into a new strategy to slow the violence in the capital.
Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the number two commander in Iraq, declined to discuss a proposed surge of thousands of additional U.S. and Iraqi troops in Baghdad, saying he preferred to wait for President Bush to outline the policy. But he said he wanted his forces to begin with a push against both Sunni and Shiite fighters…
“You have to go after both Sunni and Shia neighborhoods,” he said. “Together Forward was mostly focused on Sunni neighborhoods, and we’ve got to do both.”
Reuters suggests that Odierno hedges a bit on Sadr and the Mahdi Army:
Odierno said U.S. forces would leave dealing with Sadr to Iraqi authorities. “I’m not sure we take him down,” he said.
“There are some extreme elements (of the Mehdi Army) … and we will go after them. I will allow the government to decide whether (Sadr) is part of it or not. He is currently working within the political system.”
The military brass consistently emphasized a split between Sadr and his followers.
In any event, some of Prime Minister Maliki’s aides are already throwing cold water on Odierno’s plan for a more balanced security crackdown in Baghdad.
Hassan al-Suneid, a key aid and member of al-Maliki’s Dawa Party, said the Iraqi leader had committed 20,000 soldiers to the operation that would call upon American troops and airpower only when needed…
Al-Suneid, who is also a member of parliament, said the new drive to free Baghdad from the grip of sectarian violence would focus initially on Sunni insurgent strongholds in western Baghdad.
Indeed, the Shiite appetite for a decidedly sectarian form of counter-insurgency seems undiminished. As Robert Collier reports in the San Francisco Chronicle:
For their part, Shiite hard-liners also say they support reconciliation efforts. But in interviews with The Chronicle, they called for U.S. officials to stop advocating the inclusion of Sunnis and to give military backing to a full-scale Shiite offensive in Sunni areas. These Shiites described their opponents as “takfiri Baathists,” combining the term for Sunni religious extremists with the name of Hussein’s secular-leaning party — two groups that most outside observers say are often at each other’s throats.
“The American government must give the Iraqi government complete sovereignty, which means that the Iraqi army will have the authority to strike the takfiri Baathists with an iron hand, without any interference from the Americans,” said Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Brigade, a Shiite militia that has been largely incorporated into the Interior Ministry and, along with al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, is widely blamed for death-squad attacks on Sunnis.
Many al-Sadr followers, including the Mahdi Army, appear markedly more sectarian than their leader.
As I noted in a previous post, there are competing conceptions about the purpose of a military “surge” in Iraq.
The Shiite visions for Baghdad articulated in Robert Collier’s report seem to have more in common with Reuel Marc Gerecht’s views on counter-insurgency than with Odierno’s.
Right Zionists like Gerecht are still looking for “victory” in Iraq. [Update: new Gerecht essay emphasizes his basis for hope, albeit not on the basis of the path set to be adopted by the White House.]
Odierno, not so much. Reuters reports:
U.S. Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, in charge of combat forces in Iraq, said on Sunday U.S. commanders had offered several recommendations and some did not involve more troops….
He also sought to play down U.S. public expectations of what could be achieved over insurgents, saying an overwhelming “77-7″ win — to use a sports metaphor — “ain’t going to happen“.”It’s a different concept. There will be no victory parade when we leave here. There never was going to be,” he said.