Saturday, August 16, 2008

Maliki May Attack Sunni Awakening Councils

One of the more significant factors in the tempering of violence coinciding with the US Surge has been the willingness of Sunnis in the Anbar province to accept money to stop fighting the Americans. While that tact has certainly aided the US, especially on the PR front, it has also created new problems, such as a well-armed block of Sunnis seen as a threat by the predominantly-Shiite government. Garreth Porter, writing for IPS, recounts several issues seen by Colin Kahl, a fellow at the Centre for a New American Security (which supports a long-term US presence in Iraq), during his recent trip to Iraq.

Kahl and the CNAS, as they support a long-term US presence, are put off by Maliki's growing confidence in his security forces and find that he is becoming harder to work with. I interpret that as he's become less receptive to unilateral US demands in the area of a long-term legal framework, which is sour news for the administration. Maliki's confidence has left him opposed to any SOFA without a specific withdrawal date, something the US is loathe to offer, choosing instead to play hardball, saying that without an agreement, the US forces would be pulled out at the turn of the year.

It's hard to fathom Bush following through on such a threat, but that negotiations have deteriorated to such a point is surprising. Most of the tension stems from the US's decision to put its lot in with the Sunnis in an effort to thwart Iranian influence in Iraq. The Iraqi government is overwhelmingly Shiite, and are not open to allowing the freshly-armed Sunnis into the ISF as promised.

Kahl said in the briefing that, of the 103,000 Sunnis belonging to those militias, the Iraqi government had promised to take into the security forces only about 16,000. But in fact, it has approved only 600 applicants thus far, according to Kahl, and most of those have turned out to be Shi’a rather than Sunni militiamen. [Which does nothing to dispel the prevailing notions of Sunnis that the Iraqi government is a Shiite-run militia. -Tim]

"There’s even some evidence that [al-Maliki] wants to start a fight with the Sons of Iraq," said Kahl. "Al-Maliki doesn’t believe he has to accommodate these people. He will only do it if we twist his arm to the breaking point."

Bush was entirely incapable of tempering the ISI's support of militants in Afghanistan, and there is no reason to suspect that his foreign policy has become any more in tune with reality or that he has any strategy up his sleeve for heading off such a conflict should it materialize. If Maliki did decide to go after the Sons of Iraq, the US would be in a position where it was forced to support the established government in a battle with a contingent it has armed and funded for over a year.

Kahl also noted that al Sadr has been drawing his Mahdi army down at the behest of the Iranians. As I noted before, the Iranians do have inroads into the Iraqi government through Shiite militias, but it's Badr and ISCI, not the Mahdi Army. Despite that reality, the US has focused almost entirely on al Sadr's forces. As such, the Iranians seem to be asking al Sadr to draw down so as to remove one of the major reasons for the US to stay in Iraq long-term. By eliminating a US bugaboo, the Iranians hope to see vacation by US forces without suffering any effect on their influence in the Iraqi government.

Kahl's concern are coming from his position in support of a long-term US presence, and cannot be construed as the ramblings of an anti-war hack as the Bush administration loves to do. These are real concerns about the reality on the ground in Iraq, a reality that the Bush administration uniformly fails to address in any of its rhetoric. Iran is serving as a stabilizing force -- for purely selfish motives, to be sure -- and al Maliki is threatening to attack the US's strongest block of allies. These are serious issues that need to be addressed as the deadline for a SOFA quickly approaches.


Fences Make Good Neighbors, April 11
Iraqi SOFA: Out on the Curb?, July 14

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