Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 5, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

IRAQI POLITICS UPDATE....If you have a good memory you might remember a post I wrote last month about the slow emergence of an anti-Maliki bloc in Iraq that includes various elements led by Ayad Allawi, the Sunni politician Saleh Al-Mutlaq, and Muqtada al-Sadr, among others. At the time, Cernig suggested that "discreet support" for this alliance might be "the only Plan B there is" in Iraq if the surge fails.

Today in the American Prospect, Robert Dreyfuss updates us on this emerging alliance and suggests that it represents the best path forward to an American withdrawal:

Earlier this year, Fadhila — a Sadrist movement strong in Basra and Iraq's south — pulled out of Maliki's ruling United Iraqi Alliance. Since then, both Fadhila and Sadr's own party have been discussing a new political alignment with the Sunnis called a "National Salvation Front."....Among Sadr's potential allies are Mutlaq's bloc, the larger Iraqi Accord Front (which includes Sunni religious parties, such as the Iraqi Islamic Party), and Allawi's secular Iraqi National List. Allawi, a secular Shia, has been actively seeking a leadership role in a coalition to replace Maliki, too.

....In the end, if and when the United States reconciles itself to a withdrawal from Iraq, the path to stability will be found in a nationalist government constituting most or all of the emerging "national salvation" coalition. It's possible that the team of so-called realists now in control of U.S. foreign policy can come to that understanding on their own. Or perhaps they'll need to be pushed, and hard, by the Democrats in Congress and on the '08 presidential campaign trail.

But with each passing day, as sectarian violence grows, it will be more and more difficult to make that happen. Americans need to begin understanding that the end of the Maliki government and the start of a U.S. withdrawal are one and the same thing.

Now, Maliki's coalition is genuinely influential, and its members won't fade quietly away if a rival coalition manages to take power. Stability is far from guaranteed even if the National Salvation Front successfully wrests control away from Maliki.

It's also unclear just what the United States can do to encourage the NSF in any case, especially since its credibility with the Iraqi public rests largely on the very fact that they're fundamentally anti-American. Any overt help we gave them would likely backfire, which means our assistance would need to be very discreet indeed.

Still, the Maliki government has pretty clearly failed and the NSF is the most credible opposition there is. It also seems like the best bet to hold things together enough to allow an American withdrawal. So, discreetly, subtly, quietly, whatever, Dreyfuss is probably right: helping the NSF build a coalition that can topple the Maliki government is most likely our best bet for disentangling ourselves from Iraq. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 4:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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Comments

You and I may want disentanglement, but I don't think our current leadership does.

Maybe in 2009 they will. Maybe.

Posted by: Model 62 on June 5, 2007 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, for the good old days when we just could have sent the CIA in to kill Maliki.

Posted by: tomeck on June 5, 2007 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe in 2009 they will. Maybe.
Posted by: Model 62 on June 5, 2007 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, I'm anxiously awaiting to hear what lame-ass excuse the Democrats will come up with to not get our troops out in 2009.

Seriously.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on June 5, 2007 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

I think "won't go away quietly" might be a bit of an understatement. How about foment mutiny in many of the armed security forces stacked with their followers. If there's any hope for such a plan to work SCIRI or another significant part of the Maliki gov't would have to come along too.

Posted by: AJ on June 5, 2007 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

The only viable means we have of supporting NSF is to withdraw and give NSF all the credit for "driving the Americans out." Just as our 'support' for Maliki is actually poison to his political authority (and effectiveness), so our hostility, even somewhat feigned, to a coalition like NSF would give it street cred and, ultimately, some sort of governing effectiveness.

Of course, so-called Al Qaeda in Iraq will want to take all the credit for our withdrawl. And it is just another Bush screwup that he places so much emphasis on Al Qaeda, thus enabling them to take that credit (when they're really a bit-player in the current strife).

Posted by: lampwick on June 5, 2007 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

A little off topic, but anyone else get images of Deus Ex in their heads when they read 'NSF'?

Posted by: Tim P. on June 5, 2007 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

AJ: I agree. This seems like a better alternative than allowing Maliki to continue floundering, but there's no question that the odds are still stacked against it.

But then, the odds are stacked against everything in Iraq. All we can do is try to identify the least-bad options.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on June 5, 2007 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

I don't see it. I can't imagine the point at which Sistani says:

"Sure Mookie, go ahead and bust up the UIA in order to ally with Allawi and the Sunnis. Good idea. Can't imagine how that could possibly back-fire. Not like there's any history of Sunnis carrying out coups from the inside or anything. Come to think of it, how did the Baath Party come to power in the first place...."

Likewise, it's highly unlikely Mookie moves on something this large without Sistani's blessing. That's a hell of a person to cross when you're trying to sell yourself as a Shiite cleric.

Not to mention the fact that Sadr himself must be a little wary of these new BFFs he'd be teaming up with. Does he really trust Allawi and some ex-Baathist Sunni groups? Who would have his back?

The only way he makes this break is if Dawa and SIIC get overly greedy and try to push him out of the money and power altogether.

More likely, Sadr is keeping his options open in order to compel good behavior on the part of Dawa and SIIC. Let them know that he can break out if they squeeze him too hard. He's done that before.

Posted by: Eric Martin on June 5, 2007 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

Seems we are moving toward the endgame dynamic. It is likely Bush will reduce troop exposure and pull back to fortified bases by the 2008 election. By doing this the US will reduce its already weak ability to influence events in Iraq and increase Iranian soft power. The long-term goals of the Republican and Democratic establishments will be permanent bases and the oil bill that favors foreign, mostly British and American, corporations. The hope is that the intra-Iraqi conflicts will work themselves out, perhaps into semi-autonomous zones, and against the interests of the Shiites with the US stepping in a later date to be more influential. Particularly after a long covert war against Shiite influence in the region.

Al-Sadr and other nationalists want to deny this favorable outcome and they seem to be sending out a message to other factions in Iraq. (He is probably also positioning himself within the broader Shiite alliance and making sure gets to the power table) The oil bill could easily be undone even it gets the minimum backing. You can’t find anyone in Iraq who wants it and any Iraqi who backs it will be identified as a traitor. It remains to be seen if the bases will remain on Iraqi soil. They will threaten the sovereignty of any government in Iraq, separatist or nationalist.

What exactly do the Americans have to offer now? Money? Security? Sanctions? Threats of violence? Nearly all the cards have been played.

Posted by: bellumregio on June 5, 2007 at 7:10 PM | PERMALINK

Nice of Eric Martin to save me the time of pointing out what a silly fantasy this is.

Allawi will join any coalition that promises to make him prime minister, and drop out of any coalition that doesn't. Fadhila is the same way, except with regard to increasing their share of the oil graft in Basra.

Sadr is all about his "Sunni brothers" when it comes to PR gestures, but his henchmen are still methodically cleansing Sunnis from Baghdad neighborhoods. His only interest in these flirtations is increasing his leverage within the Shiite political alliance.

Posted by: Swopa on June 5, 2007 at 7:32 PM | PERMALINK

Though, it should be noted, that a temporary alliance formed for the sole purpose of getting the US out is not out of the question. But it would be a short-lived, and entirely contingent marriage. In this sense, Sadr could be a useful lever for Sistani et al should the US presence outlive its usefulness. Which would make US support for such a bloc a questionable move unless an exit is what is desired. Doubtful.

Otherwise, defer to Swopadamus. I make it a general rule.

Posted by: Eric Martin on June 5, 2007 at 8:25 PM | PERMALINK

It is not in our interest that al Sadr be in a position of power. Al Sadr has already made one attempt to overthrow the elected government militarily. The Americans put down his insurgency, but made the mistake of leaving him alive. Al Sadr is a bad actor who will do no good for us or for the Iraqi people.

Posted by: ex-liberal on June 5, 2007 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

If democracy is governing by the will of the people, then in Iraq the will of the people is to kill each other.

Democracy can be messy. Did Rumsfeld say that?

What we call "democracy" is really American culture in large part. Since PC libs think everybody is exactly alike, they will never get this. They assume the handful of collaborators in the Green Zone are representative of the "Iraqi people." Just a little politicking and pick off a few insurgents, and the "Iraqi people" start celebrating diversity and feminism.

Posted by: Luther on June 5, 2007 at 9:44 PM | PERMALINK

Sadr tried to overthrow the government? That he was a part of? When was this?

He did battle US forces, but I wouldn't make that synonymous with the "elected government"

Posted by: Eric Martin on June 5, 2007 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK

Hang on there, Luther. Don't start rewriting history so soon.

It wasn't the "PC libs" who started this war and thought that there would be flags and flowers on the street. It is not the "PC libs" or any liberals who tried to impose an ex-Iraq puppet government on the Iraqi people. And it wasn't them that assumed that Iraq would be turned to US-style democracy in the blink of an eye.

No! All those simpleton assumptions can be layed at the feet of the genius crew who started all this with the aberrative judgement you lay on the "PC libs", who ever they might be.

And the "handful of collaborators in the Green Zone" are the people the boy wonder George touts as the one clear success he's attained.

Yeah, well. I don't see any, in a strategic sense.

Anyway, who exactly are "the team of so-called realists now in control of U.S. foreign policy" that Dreyfuss is referring to?

I still don't see any.

Posted by: notthere on June 6, 2007 at 12:25 AM | PERMALINK

Since PC libs think everybody is exactly alike, they will never get this. They assume the handful of collaborators in the Green Zone are representative of the "Iraqi people." Just a little politicking and pick off a few insurgents, and the "Iraqi people" start celebrating diversity and feminism.

WTF are you talking about? And who the hell are you to speak for me? Hmmmm?

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on June 6, 2007 at 12:40 AM | PERMALINK

I'll throw my opinion with the sceptics. I won't claim to have near enough knowledge to read the ins and outs of tribal/sect/blood politics, and I can bet you can count the fingers on my left foot for the number of the administration that do, and there probably aren't too many journalists either, but NSF is a bounced check to me.

At present, the administration might clutch at any straw for victory. For withdrawal, I'm not sure they've reached that point even now.

By the way, General Pace wrote a letter to the court for Libby. WTF is with that? I thought the serving flags would keep themselves out of day-to-day politics.

Not this guy. He's sold his soul. What for, I wonder?

Posted by: notthere on June 6, 2007 at 12:52 AM | PERMALINK

By the way, paras have landed hours ago and the first waves of LCs are going in.

63 years ago.

Bless 'em all.

Posted by: notthere on June 6, 2007 at 12:56 AM | PERMALINK

General Pace wrote a letter to the court for Libby. WTF is with that?

I know. I thought they said the military wasn't supposed to play politics. By the way - pace wasn't alone...That disgrace to K-State Purple and Strata Blue, Richard effing Meyers. It pisses me off no end that he and Tony McPeak so often get mentioned in the same breath.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on June 6, 2007 at 1:01 AM | PERMALINK

But Kevin, what about *democracy*! Maliki is the one the Iraqi people elected! What about that!

Posted by: !!! on June 6, 2007 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

"ex-liberal" wrote: It is not in our interest that al Sadr be in a position of power.

Then it kind of sucks that, like it or not, Sadr is in a position of position of power. And, of course, it's Bush and you neocon jackasses who put him there.

Also, I second the calling bullshit on your claim that he "attempted to overthrow the government."

"ex-liberal" also publicly embraces the immorality and corruption of the neocons by tacitly callign for Sadr's assassination. Shame on you, "ex-liberal."

Posted by: Gregory on June 6, 2007 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

ex-liberal: Al Sadr is a bad actor who will do no good for us or for the Iraqi people.

This is exactly the type of leader that conservatives crave.

Witness Noriega, the Shah, Musharraf, Rios Montt, Pinochet, and Saddam himself.

There is nothing about Al Sadr that doesn't lend itself to conservative love of tyrannical, murderous, torture-loving dictators!

Ergo, you must be lying again!

Al Sadr is imminently good for any "us" that includes you.

Posted by: anonymous on June 6, 2007 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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