Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 1, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

END GAME....The political situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate:

The largest bloc of Sunni Arabs in the Iraqi Parliament threatened to withdraw its ministers from the Shiite-dominated cabinet on Monday in frustration over the government's failure to deal with Sunni concerns.

....The bloc, known as the Iraqi Consensus Front and made up of three Sunni Arab parties, "has lost hope in rectifying the situation despite all of its sincere and serious efforts to do so," the statement said.

If the Sunni group followed through on its threat, it would further weaken a government already damaged by the pullout two weeks ago of six cabinet ministers aligned with the renegade Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr and further erode American efforts to promote reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites.

So what's the answer? More than likely there isn't one, but Cernig has a long post today in which he reminds us that (a) Ayad Allawi is still lurking around and (b) the Sunni politician Saleh Al-Mutlaq, head of the national dialogue front, has previously suggested that he and some allies are just waiting for the right time to form a new coalition government:

The front, he said, would include "the national dialogue front, the national Iraqi list led by Allawi, the reconciliation and liberation front led by Meshaan Aljuburi, and the Sadr movement." It would also draw support from Baathists, pan-arabists, the old Army leadership and seven important clerics.

....A coalition such as that described above, combining Sadrists, Sunni hardliners and Allawi-led secularists would, as noted above, [reduce] much of the ability and propensity of Iraqi activists against the occupation to create violence....I know it sounds counter-intuitive — but discreet support for the very elements which the US has fought for at least a goodly portion of the time it has been in Iraq — the Sunni and Shiite nationalists who believe in a sovereign Iraq — may be the only Plan B there is.

I can't really judge whether this makes sense or not, but it sounds at least plausible. And there's not much question that the Maliki government is on its last legs. Something's going to have to give before long, and maybe this is it.

Kevin Drum 1:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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Wonder if they'll have a new coalition together before their planned two-month recess at the end of June? Or will they use that recess to do all the maneuvering?

Posted by: PaulB on May 1, 2007 at 1:38 AM | PERMALINK

Has anyone else noticed that the so-called 'tribal Sunni sheikhs' that come so well dressed in impeccable traditional attire to meet the visiting American dignitaries appear to be coming straight from central casting?

I think someone is fooling us with these Potemkin Village moments.

Posted by: gregor on May 1, 2007 at 1:40 AM | PERMALINK

Or will they use that recess to do all the maneuvering?

You misspelled "killing."

Posted by: Old Hat on May 1, 2007 at 1:46 AM | PERMALINK

The Iraqi politicians have to know that American patience has worn out and ultimately Bush will yield. This isn't like Vietnam. None of the factions holds an overwelming hand. In an all out civil war the Shites would win, but that war would be long and horribly bloody. Most of the current leaders on all sides would be killed or seriously damaged. I think Congress has got to keep pushing. If it does there is chance for a political settlement. If it knuckles under to Bush both the US and the Iraqis are screwed. There is a rumor that a funding compromise is in the works. That compromise will involve benchmarks. If they aren't met, we pull the plug.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 1, 2007 at 1:48 AM | PERMALINK

"I can't really judge whether this makes sense or not, but it sounds at least plausible."

Would somebody please explain to me how I'm supposed to parse this sentence and not feel overwhelmed by a sudden urge to smack Kevin Drum on the nose with a whiffle bat?

Posted by: s9 on May 1, 2007 at 1:52 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: anonymous on May 1, 2007 at 2:16 AM | PERMALINK

Anyone who remembers the Lebanese Civil War, in about 1975 (when the Beirut Holiday Inn was a key strategic landmark, changing sides every few months or so) will remember this frantic shuffling between the different governing factions.

It all has an air of unreality, as the real power is in the Street, with the militias and their spiritual leaders.

Whoever has the largest, toughest militia, and the most backing from an outside power (Iran?) will win.

Posted by: Valuethinker on May 1, 2007 at 4:02 AM | PERMALINK

This doesn't make any sense. Let's ignore the part about Moktada al-Sadr actually allying himself with Sunni parties including former Baathists and secularists. Suppose this new coalition actually came into being somehow. Does anybody think that SCIRI and the Dawa party will gracefully watch themselves become the new minority? After all those years under Saddam?

Posted by: dws on May 1, 2007 at 4:19 AM | PERMALINK

Sadr's in for himself, certainly, but he does present himself as a nationalist, in favor of keeping the country together and throwing the Americans out, which may be consistent with the wishes of the Baathists and assorted Sunnis and Shiites. There's no reason for the Kurds to like him, or Iran, or SCIRI, or the Sunnis living near Sadr City, or our troops (none of whom are liked by many if any of the above).

Actually, if we weren't around, they'd have every good reason to stop killing each other.

Posted by: bad Jim on May 1, 2007 at 5:32 AM | PERMALINK

Hi Kevin,

Thank you for the link.

DWS says this doesn't make sense - and I'm aware that I may be grasping at straws a little. But all the reports suggect that Maliki has destroyed the rationale for the surge, which was supposed to give space for him to create a reconcilliation effect. Instead, he is reportedly purging the Army to keep it loyal to him rather than the nation. So now what?

The administration has already said it doesn't have a Plan B.

Eric from American Footprints and I have been batting that possibility back and forward in comments over at Jim Henley's blog.

Regards, Cernig

Posted by: Cernig on May 1, 2007 at 5:55 AM | PERMALINK

Cernig: DWS says this doesn't make sense - and I'm aware that I may be grasping at straws a little.

It makes complete sense given, as you suggest, "Sunni and Shiite nationalists who believe in a sovereign Iraq". However, a "sovereign, democratic, secular Iraq", is likely to be as short-lived.

Posted by: has407 on May 1, 2007 at 6:17 AM | PERMALINK

So, let's give the Maliki government six more months to get its act together, followed by six months to allow its successor to establish itself, followed by six months to see if its National Unity program makes any progress and six months to make adjustments to the National Unity program....

Posted by: BroD on May 1, 2007 at 6:59 AM | PERMALINK

Whether this, or any, new Iraqi government will be able to calm the waters in the short term, It seems the most likely plank of its platform would be an anti-occupation (or nationalist, if you like) one. In other words, an at least rhetorically anti-American stance.

It seems that the problem that this administration has had since the end of major operations is that, in order to 'win' this war (by which I mean leave Iraq in some semblance of an intact, stable republic) we must have leave with every appearance of having been, at the very best, asked to leave prematurely. It's kind of like a monkey taking candy out of a narrow-mouthed jar, or Chinese finger-cuffs, or the like: the only way out is anathema to the ideologues who must make the decision.

Since we have to say that we didn't do this for the resources, we can't admit that we will never agree to leave behind another a non-US client state with a nationalized oil sector.

Posted by: jhm on May 1, 2007 at 7:12 AM | PERMALINK

jhm -- that's a really excellent point. I always think these things are a lot more similar to Vietnam than most people ever want to admit. In Vietnam, too, obviously, if the US had just wanted to leave behind a stable government and end the civil war, there was an obvious solution available. The problem was that the factions which were able to create a stable and legitimate government were never quite to our fussy tastes: too Communist, too non-anti-Communist, too theocratic, too this, too that. The only leaders we ever do take a shine to are the ones who are willing to tell us whatever we want to hear (Diem, Thieu, Maliki) -- and they, obviously, are the ones who never have any popular legitimacy.

Posted by: mattsteinglass on May 1, 2007 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

And how many Friedman units will it take for the new government to settle in and start surging the insurgents? It will just be one more carnival act added to this stupendous caravan of sin.

Posted by: wmcq on May 1, 2007 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

The current al Maliki government has not been too effective. A different government might be better.

If the Iraqis could change government through peaceful realignment of various blocs, that would be a sign that democracy is working.

Also, if the change in government is done by the Iraqis themselves, not at the instigation of the US, that would show that it's not a puppet government.

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 1, 2007 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

"ex-liberal" wrote: The current al Maliki government has not been too effective. A different government might be better.

You don't say.

If the Iraqis could change government through peaceful realignment of various blocs, that would be a sign that democracy is working.

And if pigs had wings...

Also, if the change in government is done by the Iraqis themselves, not at the instigation of the US, that would show that it's not a puppet government.

And if pigs had wings...

What a spectacularly lame comment from "ex-liberal'! He/she/it offers up a batch of hand-waving subjunctives that don't, sadly, reflect the cutrrent situation in Iraq.

Of course, "ex-liberal" is on record as advocating the so-called "surge", which exposes more US troops to harm in order to give the political process time to work. Notice that "ex-liberal" doesn't make the obvious connection here. Those familiar with "ex-liberal"'s record of obtuseness and bad faith will hardly be surprised.

Posted by: Gregory on May 1, 2007 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

I don't have a crystal ball, but I'm afraid that most of the commentary on the Maliki government rests on assumptions that are not merely wrong, but obviously wrong. The Bush admininstration's policy rests on these same assumptions, though there must be people on the ground in Iraq who know better.

Reconciliation in Iraq is not something the current government there has resisted out of sheer bloody-mindedness. It hasn't taken the steps that Iraq's Sunni Arabs or their co-religionists in neighboring Arab states would see as "fair" because it has deep-seated ambitions to persecute Sunni Arabs either. The Maliki government is, to be sure, dependent on Shiite factional groups with a strong tendency toward theocracy. But the reason these groups have the support they do is the deliberate campaign waged over many years by the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency against Shiite government employees and civilians.

There has not come from Sunni Arab political factions -- let alone the various insurgent factions -- any expression of remorse, regret or repentance for this campaign (nor, of course, for the depredations of the Sunni Arab-dominated Baathist government that governed Iraq until 2003). Neither has there been any public recognition by the Saudi, Jordanian or other Arab governments that the present civil war in Iraq was actively and aggressively sought by Sunni Arabs there.

Basically, reconciliation has come to mean gestures by the Shiite majority in Iraq to soothe wounded Sunni Arab pride and to bring Sunni Arabs around to the belief that they will be treated fairly by the central government. Even the approach by the coalition forces reinforces that version of what reconciliation means -- the "surge" has evidently had some success in curbing "sectarian killings" (that is, killings of Sunni Arabs by Shiite death squads), but not in curbing "spectacular attacks" (in other words, suicide and vehicle bombs by Sunni Arab insurgent factions that target Shiite civilians).

It should be obvious that to most Iraqi Shiites, reconciliation not only does mean, but must mean, something else. The same is true, incidentally, of Iraqi Kurds. So far Iraq's Sunni Arab political factions have offered only the usual Arab two-faced two step, demanding fairness and reconstruction aid from the government while winking at continued terrorism by Sunni Arab insurgent factions. Neither Maliki nor any other Shiite political leader will accept reconciliation on terms like that -- not now, not ever.

This isn't to say there are a lot of white hats, politically speaking, among Iraq's Shiite factions. Self-evidently they employ a large number of people to whom savagery comes naturally; I have not the slightest doubt that in the absence of coalition forces the only thing that would prevent them from falling on any Sunni Arab civilian they could reach would be their propensity to quarrel with one another. This is not our problem.

American policy in Iraq right now is demanding of the Maliki government things it cannot deliver; as so often before in this war, the administration's assumptions are shared to a very large degree by its liberal critics. This is already leading us into what could turn into a fruitless, months-long debate about "benchmarks" -- a way for Americans who do not wish to take responsibility for liquidating the commitment in Iraq to generate a paper trail that plausibly shows that the decision to do so was not theirs.

Posted by: Zathras on May 1, 2007 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

...smack Kevin Drum on the nose with a whiffle bat?

It's Wiffle bat, not whiffle bat, dammit.

Posted by: wifflebat on May 1, 2007 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

Commemorate "Mission Accomplished" by looking back at four years of Republican talking points to sell the war and demonize Democrats:
"Mission Accomplished: 4 Years of GOP Iraq Talking Points."

Posted by: AngryOne on May 1, 2007 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

Hogwash - Real leaders do not need government.

Did Cromwell need Parliament? Did Hitler need a Reichstag? Did Saddam need any naysayers? Did Bush need Congress?

Plus, Alawi is on a book tour describing what went wrong following the overthrow - When he finishes, he'll take command of an illusion.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on May 1, 2007 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

It is possible that the thing that unites these folks is opposition to the US occupation. They come together, form a gov't, have a brief periodf of peace, then ask the US to leave and then that gives Bush cover to say "See! We got reconciliation! The troops can now come home!" Or, it gives the generals and Ryan Crocker an opportunity to tell Bush we have won so he can say that.

It looks like the only way out for them.

Posted by: Mimikatz on May 1, 2007 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, this is among the smartest of posts/smartest of links you've ever made on the Iraqi situation.

Zathras' comments are very smart, but Zathras', you're ignoring the point of Cernig's post, which is that, presumably, if the insurgents go into a coalition government, than the attacks on Shiites go away. If they don't, then yes, things get ugly.

Cersig has a very interesting idea. But it hinges on both parties being more opposed to the Americans than to each other. I'm not sure that's really true. I'm not sure that Sadr could sit in a government with Baathists. I think his constituency hates them too much.

Even as the U.S. and Iran fight each other by proxy, they're also competing for control of SCIRI/Dawa/Fadila, and simultaneously both supporting that bloc. This government won't fall because we won't let it fall. Cersig's idea is a good one that just won't happen. The Admin is too stupid and obstinate. The only way it could happen would be if Sunni Arab regional states and Iran worked out a deal behind the Admin's back, and then the Sunni Arab states put intense pressure on the U.S. to back the plan. On behalf of Iran?

Sound plausible? I didn't think so. Everyone involved would rather see massacres then see the other guy side with the bad guys, and it's happening at too high a level and too far behind the scenes for most Americans to understand.

Posted by: glasnost on May 1, 2007 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

I can't really judge whether this makes sense or not

It doesn't make sense.

Posted by: Thinker on May 1, 2007 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

This has been another edition of short answers to implied questions.

There has been a lot of dicussion about who could replace Maliki in blogs, the media and elsewhere. I don't know what is going to happen next, but if a new government was somehow formed as proposed that did not include a plurality of religious Shia (like those that respect Sistani's or Sadr's leads), we would get a whole new lesson in insurgent warfare. There is no bottom in Iraq. Things can get much worse.

Also, the Shia remember the 1963 Baath coup. Most of the coup leaders were removed from power, but the Baath extremists returned to power five years later eventually leading to Saddam Hussein's rule. They are not going to do anything that might let that happen again.

I hope there is a path to accomodation between the varied Sunni groups and the equally varied Shia. I suspect they'll have a better chance of finding it if we make it clear that there is a path for us that leads out of Iraq.

Posted by: dws on May 1, 2007 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has created an office within the Iraqi government that U.S. and Iraqi military officials say is being used as a smokescreen to carry out an extreme Shiite agenda that is worsening the country's sectarian divide.

How very similar to the extracurricular intelligence office that Cheney and gang created in the DOD as a smokescreen to carry out an extreme conservative agenda that worsened the world's battle with terrorism.

Maybe Cheney helped set up the Iraqi office too, eh?

Posted by: anonymous on May 1, 2007 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Google for "The Office of the Commander in Chief" + Iraq, and see what you get.

Posted by: Neil B. on May 1, 2007 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

To glasnost's post upthread: Cernig's post expresses a wish, not a point. The idea that Sunni factions sympathetic to the insurgents could enter the government and dial down Sunni Arab attacks on Shiites is not consistent with the record of the last three-plus years. The power in that community goes the other way -- the men with the guns do what they want to do, and the politicians accomodate themselves to that as best they can. What do people think the Shiites who form the base of the current government's support believe?

There is a somewhat romantic notion about that what Iraqis really object to is the occupation, and that once the Americans are out of the way things will sort themselves out nicely. Unhappily Iraqi resentment of the Americans is not inconsistent at all with, nor does it take precedence over, the Sunni Arab insurgency's zeal to murder the Shiite infidel or the Shiites fever to take revenge. In this environment a new government with more Sunni representation would likely be even more dependent on the Americans than the current one.

Posted by: Zathras on May 1, 2007 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Zathras: There is a somewhat romantic notion about that what Iraqis really object to is the occupation, and that once the Americans are out of the way things will sort themselves out nicely.

If only we could find someone who actually held that notion . . .

Posted by: anonymous on May 1, 2007 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

Matt David, McCain's campaign spokesman, said it is "intellectually dishonest" to compare Iraq to Haiti and Somalia because of the volatility now in the Middle East and terrorist threat.

"Haitians and Somalians do not want to follow us home and attack us on American soil," David said in a statement.

It is intellectually dishonest to suggest that the Iraqis want to follow us home and attack us on American soil or that the Iraq War is anything, much less the only thing, preventing Al Queda from doing so.

McCain seems to forget that the bogus claim of an Iraq-Al Queda linkage or Iraq-911 linkage has been utterly refuted and is only 'believed' by Cheney or those suckling at Cheney's tits.

McCain is a hypocrite and a liar and so are his campaign staff members.

Posted by: anonymous on May 1, 2007 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Yay. I learned something new today.

Posted by: s9 on May 1, 2007 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

The problem I have with the US looking for a way out of Iraq, is the fact that Bushco, had no intention of ever leaving Iraq. The entire point of this exercise was to secure some huge bases out in the desert and control the flow of oil to US & UK oil companies. When they speak of leaving Iraq they only mean heavy armor and a large number of ground troops. The intent was, and is, to stay there, ie somewhat resembling Germany, bases all over. Oh yes, and to get rid of Saddam too. I'm sure he didn't want us in his country either. If a future Democratic prez tries to pull troops entirely out the people who really run this govt, big biz & big oil, won't be happy at all and won't allow it.

Posted by: Erika on May 1, 2007 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK
There is a somewhat romantic notion about that what Iraqis really object to is the occupation,

Its pretty clear that Iraqis, broadly, object to the occupation.

Its also pretty clear that many Iraqis object to many things besides the occupation.

and that once the Americans are out of the way things will sort themselves out nicely.

Never heard of that idea. Have heard of the idea that Americans being out of there are a necessary prerequisite (but not a sufficient guarantee) for things there to get sorted out at all. They are certain not to be sorted out nicely; that has been assured since, at least, shortly into the occupation after the collapse of the regime, almost certainly, I'd say, since the invasion, and quite probably since the rise of the totalitarian regime in the first place, those not being known for sorting themselves out nicely except in extraordinary cases. At any rate, that things will not sort themselves out "nicely" whether we stay or go has been clear to any reasonable observer for quite some time.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 1, 2007 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

The actors may not be correctly predicted, but who wouldn't think that eventually, the heavily armed and viciously fighting factions (that is, "the very elements which the US has fought for at least a goodly portion of the time it has been in Iraq — the Sunni and Shiite nationalists who believe in a sovereign Iraq") who oppose the US will become the government either now or later.

If the Bush administration were interested in an Iraqi government that can hold power, be widely supported, achieve what reconciliation is possible (potentially very little), and defend itself, then they would offer "discreet support" for those "elements." But since they aren't, they won't.

Posted by: Daddy Love on May 1, 2007 at 7:22 PM | PERMALINK

Good evening, favorite bloggers.
Olbermann had a spectacular first ten minutes asking WHAT mission was accomplished, and wise guest Frank Rich is similarly disparaging, which is what I needed...following Bush's veto.
Has the purpose of this war only been to have a war, with the excuses changing with each day, Olbermann asks... Frank Rich says it is like kids playing with matches and it blew up in their faces.
Great analogy.
I love the way the news is increasingly liberal. We have enjoyed Stephanie Miller on Imus' old spot for the past couple of days. What a treat she is.

Posted by: consider wisely always on May 1, 2007 at 8:19 PM | PERMALINK

And there's not much question that the Maliki government is on its last legs.

Will he last longer than Ehud Olmert?

SUSPENSE!

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 1, 2007 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

Rachel Maddow says regarding the flight suit worn by Dubya during his Mission Accomplished moment four years ago--the most bogus thing was 'screw the troops, I need the photo op.' Using the military to make Bush look good??--tragically bogus, the codpiece, how embarassing--she says- his little weapon of mass destruction--pure action figure joy, cinched up codpiece. Evil photo op, when you look back at the transcript, like he was some kind of hero looking great, and the disgusting cheerleading by Chris Matthews, thinking he looked hot...he had Ann Coulters on that day, no less. Oh, Rachel is on a roll
Fetishizing the prez--Olbermann summarizes in retrospect.

Posted by: consider wisely on May 1, 2007 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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