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Tilting at Windmills

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August 29, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

POLITICAL UPDATE....A couple of days ago I wrote about an announcement from the Iraqi government that it had reached consensus on several political issues, including de-Baathification, oil laws, and provincial elections. The announcement didn't get much play, though, and the reason seems to be that nobody really believes it's for real. Today, Time's feature editor emails to recommend his magazine's take:

Why Baghdad's Latest Deal is No Deal

....Sunday's deal was more notable for who wasn't involved than who was. The agreement didn't include representatives from the bloc loyal to Shi'ite politician and militia chieftain Moqtada al-Sadr....As a practical matter, an agreement to reconcile with former Baathists is next to meaningless without Sadr's acquiescence. And the Sadrists weren't absent simply from Sunday's deal. At the moment they are not even part of the government; like their Sunni adversaries they are engaged in a boycott.

Sunni political leaders have a similar problem. As the same Western diplomat put it, there is "the question of the connection between national politics and what's happening on the local level." With the U.S. military cutting deals with Sunni tribes and ex-insurgents to help battle al-Qaeda in Iraq, the influence of the Sunnis' national political leadership becomes more and more questionable.

Time's piece goes on to note that "The agreement may give Ambassador Crocker some rare and much-needed good news to highlight when he delivers his surge status report to Congress next month." Marc Lynch agrees and goes further:

This agreement was likely produced for the sole purpose of giving Ryan Crocker something to bring back to Congress (and is what I expected weeks ago). But it doesn't actually solve anything: [Sunni leader Tareq al-Hashimi] has made very clear that he has no intention of rejoining Maliki's government, the agreements exist only on paper at this point, and nothing has been done about the deeply sectarian nature of what passes for the Iraqi state.

For now, that seems to be something of a consensus view: Sunday's announcement is notable mostly because it gives Crocker and Petraeus something positive to point to during their September testimony, not because it signals real progress. As Ilan Goldenberg points out, we've been down this road before when there was political pressure to show a "breakthrough," and it hasn't meant much once it served its PR purpose. Probably the same thing is happening this time around.

Kevin Drum 1:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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Comments

Kevin, I am amazed by your ability to downplay the progress of the surge and the political process. Given your gifts, it's amazing you haven't been hired by the liberal media yet.

Posted by: Al on August 29, 2007 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

I'm afraid Kevin and Time Magazine may be right. Prior agreements have failed to get enacted, so there's grave doubt that this one will be approved by the Parliament. If any part of this agreement is officially approved, I will be happily surprised.

Posted by: ex-liberal on August 29, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

And the kabuki dance of the White house authored Petraeus report -- which dishonest neocon tools like "ex-liberal" will no doubt predictably cite as reporting "progres" -- continues apace while American blood and treasure continues to be wasted in Iraq just so Bush can punt his failure into the lap of the next President.

Posted by: Gregory on August 29, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Funny you said Kabuki, Gregory. It was in the title of the post I wrote yesterday.

Here is an excerpt:

For his part, the Resident continued to spin yesterday. He was rhetorically high-fiving Iraqi politicians for reaching some minor agreement on Sunday, but so what? The Cabinet still does not have a quorum so it doesn’t matter. Without a quorum, it’s just so much rowing with one oar.
Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on August 29, 2007 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

Extremely safe prediction: the Very Serious People will fall for this gambit yet again, as they always do.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on August 29, 2007 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Shame on the American people and Congress if we are fooled by this pathetic and transparent ruse.

Posted by: jb on August 29, 2007 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Sunday's announcement is notable mostly because it gives Crocker and Petraeus something positive to point to during their September testimony, not because it signals real progress

Imagine that. More fake, phony, pseudo-good "news" to trumpet in order to secure more Billions from Congress and extend this all too real fiasco another Friedman Unit or two. Mission Accomplished. I've been assuming this was the purpose of the announcement all along - though I was surprised the media didn't play along as it usually does.

Posted by: ckelly on August 29, 2007 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

But can we agree that at least on paper, the 'surge' is producing wonderful results?

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on August 29, 2007 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Imagine that. More fake, phony, pseudo-good "news" to trumpet in order to secure more Billions from Congress and extend this all too real fiasco another Friedman Unit or two.

It's also useful to remember that, while the warfloggers are now forced to admit that Iraq is a mess now, they were jsut as vociferously citing spurious "progress" and denying that things were as bad as the reports of carnage would make it seem since the insurgency started.

Posted by: Gregory on August 29, 2007 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Delay, delay, stall, stall. . .

gee, I wish I could churn out horseshit like this and still pull in $50 Billion worth of pork every 3-6 months. I guess you gotta have friends in low places to get that kind of gig.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on August 29, 2007 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Time wrote: The agreement didn't include representatives from the bloc loyal to Shi'ite politician and militia chieftain Moqtada al-Sadr....As a practical matter, an agreement to reconcile with former Baathists is next to meaningless without Sadr's acquiescence. And the Sadrists weren't absent simply from Sunday's deal. At the moment they are not even part of the government; like their Sunni adversaries they are engaged in a boycott.

Al Sadr isn't really a loyal part of the government. He's looking to gain power by use of his militia and he's apparently a toady for Iran. Time Magazine thinks he needs to be placated. Maybe so, but if I were in al Malaki's shoes, I'd rather cut al Sadr off. I'd be thrilled to see some agreements enacted without support from al Sadr.

There's some good news regarding al Sadr today. Maybe his exclusion from the agreement motivated him to improve his behavior.

BAGHDAD - Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered a six-month suspension of activities by his Mahdi Army militia in order to reorganize the force, and it will no longer attack U.S. and coalition troops, aides said Wednesday.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070829/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq


Posted by: ex-liberal on August 29, 2007 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Perenially dishonest neocon shill "ex-liberal" wrote: Al Sadr isn't really a loyal part of the government. He's looking to gain power by use of his militia

Leaving aside the fact that any of "ex-liberal"'s assertions have negative credibility value, one wonders how this characterization differs him from many of the other members of Iraq's parliament.

and he's apparently a toady for Iran.

How is it "apparent"?

Time Magazine thinks he needs to be placated.

I'm sure you got a special thrill out of yet another dishonest representation of the opinion of your betters, "ex-liberal." Shame on you.

I were in al Malaki's shoes, I'd rather cut al Sadr off.

The key question is the ability to do so. You shouldnt' have gone there, "ex-liberal;" the inability of Iraq's government -- or the US military -- to do so is evidence that the so-called "surge" is a faileure and a waste of American lives and treasure. But you aren't paying, so that's just fine with you, right?

I'd be thrilled to see some agreements enacted without support from al Sadr.

And a pony! A pony!

But then, none of "ex-liberal"'s bullshit is surprising, nor is its conspicuous lack of persuasiveness any shock. "ex-liberal" may eschew profanity, but he isn't here for good-faith debate, but rather to insult Kevin and his readers with obvious bullshit.

Speaking of which, jackass, you've shown that you know how to code a link, which indicates that making the people you pretend to be trying to persuade cut and paste is yet another insult.

Why Kevin's moderator(s) continue to tolerate "ex-liberal"'s pissing on the rug in here is a mystery.

Posted by: Gregory on August 29, 2007 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Gregory; How is it "apparent" that al Sadr is a toady for Iran?

Because he reported fled to Iran a few months ago. E.g., see http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/IraqCoverage/story?id=2872953

Since Iran has been sending weapons to Iraq and training fighters in an effort to undermine Iraq's elected government, Iran is an odd place for an Iraqi elected representative to flee to. I'd say it gives the appearance that al Sadr represents Iran's interests in some way,

Posted by: ex-liberal on August 29, 2007 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

The trouble is that, even if he is a toady for Iran, he's much less of a toady for Iran than his archenemies in the Badr organization -- and they have far more influence over the current government (so to speak) of Iraq. Actually, it would be hard to locate any influential Shiite in Iraq right now who ISN'T willing to be a toady for Iran, and that is precisely the problem.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on August 29, 2007 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

When Eric Rudolph hid in North Carolina, it didn't demonstrate that he was in cahoots with the government of North Carolina. As usual, fox-conservative is just creating "facts" out of whole cloth.

Posted by: heavy on August 29, 2007 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

Since Iran has been sending weapons to Iraq and training fighters in an effort to undermine Iraq's elected government

Evidence for this assertion? Do you have anything other than suspect administration claims? If not we'll just chalk this up to more of your insulting lies.

Iran is an odd place for an Iraqi elected representative to flee to.

Except, of course, that it's immediately adjacent to Iraq, and that al Maliki visited Iran earlier this month as well. Perhaps what's more significant is the implication that the US is trying to assassinate a member of the iraqi Parliament -- it kind of cuts down the neocon's case about alleged Iranian interference.

I'd say it gives the appearance that al Sadr represents Iran's interests in some way

Well, sure, you'd say that, "ex-liberal," because you're a dishonest neocon toad. But no one who's remotely familiar with your bullshit would give it any credbility.

There's also the unfortunate reminder, of course, that a consequenceo f the US invasion is to hand power to a Shiite-led government, and so therefore Bush's foolish, incompetent, disastrous invasion itself increased Iranian influence in the region -- as predicted.

And again, jackass, you've shown you know how to post links, so do it. Otherwise we might just assume you're being obstinate as an insult. Oh, wait -- we already know that. You can just keep proving it, though. Oh, wait -- you already do.

Tool.

Posted by: Gregory on August 29, 2007 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

When Eric Rudolph hid in North Carolina, it didn't demonstrate that he was in cahoots with the government of North Carolina. As usual, fox-conservative is just creating "facts" out of whole cloth.
Posted by: heavy on August 29, 2007 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah - too bad we didn't bomb and invade Texas and take out its terrorist-supporting leader during the Branch-Davidian crisis.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on August 29, 2007 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

Iran is an odd place for an Iraqi elected representative to flee to.

Except when that elected representative spent years in exile in Iran, of course.

I'd say it gives the appearance that al Sadr represents Iran's interests in some way

Never mind that Iran is a Shia theocracy and Sadr would like to see one in Iraq. No common interest there, none at all.

(Hannah Arendt never met you, did she? Or maybe she did...)

Posted by: Isle of Lucy on August 29, 2007 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Since Iran has been sending weapons to Iraq and training fighters in an effort to undermine Iraq's elected government

Can some toady, neocon, chicken-hawk explain to me why the Iranian government would so actively undermine an Iraqi government that would be a lovely Shia addition to the new Bush-created Iranian empire? I've really never gotten a satisfactory answer to this.

Posted by: ckelly on August 29, 2007 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Can some toady, neocon, chicken-hawk explain to me why the Iranian government would so actively undermine an Iraqi government that would be a lovely Shia addition to the new Bush-created Iranian empire? I've really never gotten a satisfactory answer to this.

Lotsa luck with that. I'm still waiting for an explanation of why the bush Cultists give Dear Leader a free pass for his apparent failure to take any action in response to the August 6 PDB.

Posted by: Gregory on August 29, 2007 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

Muqtada al-Sadr is a nationalist who has been a critic of the dominant Shiite block in parliament. He has two criticisms: one is that they are too close to Iran and the other is that they have not sufficiently rejected the foreign invasion. He thinks al-Malaki is a US puppet. He and his father back in the time of Saddam were outspoken critics of what can be called the silent clerics. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani would fall into this camp. Al-Sadr believes that religious leaders should speak truth to power. He sees himself as part of religious and political movement that rejects tyranny in favor of the light of Islam. The Sadrists are followers of the “first martyr” Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (killed by Saddam). Al-Sadr’s father, also killed by Saddam is the “second martyr”. They are both theorists of Islamic government. The US invasion fuels the already powerful movement. After years under Saddam’s tyranny these people are very hardened and skilled at resistance. In many ways they have never had it so good.

All Shiite parties agree that Iraq, by which they mean non-Kurdish Iraq, should be governed by Islamic law, they all have intellectual bloodlines to Ayatollah Khomeini, and the Americans should pack their bags and go home.

It only matters for neocon propaganda if he went to Iran or not. The point is that all the Shiite political parties and most of the Iraqi people, including those presently running the government, are sympathetic to Iran's version of Islam.

Juan Cole had this to say about al-Sadr’s supposed flight to Iran:
The press record I assembled, below, does not support Muqtada's disappearance to Iran. It is possible but not likely that Muqtada would go to Iran. He and his family have endlessly made fun of the al-Hakim clerical leaders for fleeing to Iran to escape persecution by Saddam Hussein, when the al-Sadrs insisted on staying in Iraq. Muqtada's father was killed in 1999 by Saddam's agents because he stayed and gave defiant sermons. So it would be a lot of crow to eat for Muqtada to go to Iran to escape the Americans. Plus, there is nothing in the Iranian press about him showing up in Qom, and an Iranian diplomat denied the story. Without more and better evidence, this account strikes me as suspect, and I would guess that if Muqtada disappeared, it is inside Iraq.

Makes sense since he went into hiding in Iraq for four years after his father and brothers were killed by Saddam. His guy is no amateur.

Posted by: bellumregio on August 29, 2007 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Sadr has been eased out of the political picture, and is trying hard to get back in. He usually plays the "Peaceful Politician" card only after his militias have had their butts whipped.

Posted by: harry on August 29, 2007 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

In the interest of clarity: among the major Shiite leaders, al Sadr has the fewest connections to Iran. He never lived there, his militia is entirely home grown and although he wants an islamic government, he doesn't subscribe to Iran's model of government by cleric. There is no evidence that he's using Iran as a safe harbor, and in fact the last time the US said he was in Iran, the Independent coincidentally published an interview wih him conducted in his Kufa headquarters. His Shiite rivals, though — SIIC (formerly SCIRI) and Maliki's Da'awa party — were hosted and supported, financially and militarily, by Iran during Saddam's rule, and maintain close relationships with Iran.

If any of the Shiite militias are getting official support from Iran, it'll be SIIC's Badr Brigade, which was formed under the auspices of and trained by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and which is fighting al Sadr's Mehdi Army for control of Basra and the shrine cities, and which is solidly in Maliki's camp, at least at the moment.

Further, al Sadr is not, never has been and never will be an elected member of Iraq's government because, as I said, he opposes direct clerical involvement in government. He has non-clerical representatives in the government who were part of the United Iraqi Alliance list blessed by Sistani, and consequently he controls several ministries.

All that info is public record. On the speculative front, Pentagon news releases are beginning to refer to the Mehdi Army fighters in Najaf and Basra as "rougue elements" of Sadr's militia, which would appear to indicate that he is once more being mainstreamed by the US, probably so that he'll back the next Prime Minister and lend some credence to the "Surge is working" mantra.

Anyway, Isle of Lucy and whoever else is making profoundly ignorant remarks about Sadr and the situation in general, get a grip, do a couple of hours of reading and quit embarrassing yourselves, assuming you have the capacity for embarrassment.

Posted by: weldon berger on August 29, 2007 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

ckely: Can some toady, neocon, chicken-hawk explain to me why the Iranian government would so actively undermine an Iraqi government that would be a lovely Shia addition to the new Bush-created Iranian empire? I've really never gotten a satisfactory answer to this.

The fact that Iran is doing this has been verified by many, many reports showing them sending weapons, training insurgents, and sending Qud forces to fight in Iraq. Regarding Iran's motivation, your guess is as good as mine. Here are some vague guesses, for what they're worth:

1. Iran opposes the US and other coalition forces. They're not really opposed to Maliki's government (even though the coalition forces are Maliki's ally and are currently crucial to keeping the democratic government from toppling>)

2. Iran's Mullah's don't want a democracy to succeed next door; it might make Iranis seek their own democracy.

3. Iran thinks that by throwing Iraq into chaos, they can wind up with even more control.

4. It might have to do with internal calculations by the Quds or the Mullahs.

I don't vouch for any of these guesses, ckelly. You can probably come up with better ones than these four.

Posted by: ex-liberal on August 29, 2007 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

The fact that Iran is doing this has been verified by many, many reports showing them sending weapons, training insurgents, and sending Qud forces to fight in Iraq.

...none of which alleged abundance of "reports," strangely enough, "ex-liberal" sees fit to cite. Perhaps because he knows full well that these "many, many reports" are generally anonymous bullshit from Administration sources eager to gin up the next step in the neocon's war plans.

Your assertions, along with your guesses, aren't worth a bucket of piss, "ex-liberal." You've provided no evidence. But that wasn't the point, was it? The point was to insult us with another transparently disingenuous posting.

Why Kevin's moderator(s) tolerate your pissing on the floor in here is a mystery.

Posted by: Gregory on August 29, 2007 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

cf the meaningless agreements that appear at the end of meetings like the G-8 meeting. "The members of the G-8 all agree that economic growth is a good thing and pledge to work together to further such economic growth."
Bullshit in both cases; a complete waste of time.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on August 29, 2007 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

Ex-liberal: there are no verified reports of any of that stuff; only unsubstantiated administration statements which, when pressed, even the authors admit are unsubstantiated. "We don't have any hard evidence but ..."

Isn't there something like a rhetorical Special Olympics forum you could go hang out in?

Posted by: weldon berger on August 29, 2007 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

weldon berger just reminded us that “the SIIC (formerly SCIRI) and Maliki's Da'awa party — were hosted and supported, financially and militarily, by Iran during Saddam's rule, and maintain close
relationships with Iran.”

Since they are the folks running the government no party could be happier about the vote in Iraq than the Iranians.

Posted by: bellumregio on August 29, 2007 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

Since they are the folks running the government
You are correct, sir, although Dawa is the smallest of the Shii parties in the Iraq government, SCIRI (I know they aren't for Revolution anymore) is more important and both were formed in Iran and supported by the Iranians. Neither can do anything alone, nor can Moqtada al Sadr. They all need each other to pass any legislation.

According to Maliki:
"He said he has the support of Iraq's supreme Shiite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, and that he talks to him regularly. He said he'd stopped meeting with fiery Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr, whose supporters in parliament were critical to his election, because Sadr no longer is influential even within his own movement."

He also said he believed the Americans are exacerbating sectarian tensions by building up Sunni groups that have turned on al Qaida and that he would reject incorporating any former insurgent with coalition or Iraqi blood on his hands into the Iraqi security forces.

While he says al Sadr doesn't matter, Fadel does note:Maliki's day included an hour-long interview with a Shiite television station and an hours-long meeting with an unnamed Sadrist.

Posted by: TJM on August 29, 2007 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

The fact that Iran is doing this has been verified by many, many reports showing them sending weapons, training insurgents, and sending Qud forces to fight in Iraq.

No it hasn't been verified. Not one shred of proof beyond unsupported accusations has ever been offered.

Ever.

And your "guesses" are beyond ridiculous.

Posted by: trex on August 29, 2007 at 9:21 PM | PERMALINK

http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/forumy/2007/07/shiism-sunnism-and-state-authority-in.php

The above was interesting reading for background/understanding.

I noticed in another article on the web that one of the factions (Iraqi Islamic Party) referred to the agreement/accord as "an irrelevant media production."

Posted by: consider wisely always on August 29, 2007 at 9:46 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe we should all just use a little bit of reverse psychology and play along with this. After all, in between teh surge working so awesomely, and Sadr calling off his Mahdi army, and now this political progress, wouldn't this be a great opportunity to begin redeploying the troops? Unless, of course, Bush intends to keep the troops there permanently. Which I realize he does, but the pundit class likes to pretend that Bush actually has a plan for leaving at some point.

Posted by: Pocket Rocket on August 29, 2007 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

ex-liberal: Al Sadr isn't really a loyal part of the government. He's looking to gain power by use of his militia and he's apparently a toady for Iran.

Only partially correct. Just because you don't support the Maliki government doesn't mean you're a "toady" for another power. Is it really so difficult to imagine that Sadr has his own agenda apart from that of Iran, the US, Maliki, or whoever?

Partial or opportunistic intersection of agendas and tactics does not imply agreement on long term goals or strategy. If you think otherwise, then you should be raising bloody hell about US support for regional Sunni militias against Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Posted by: has407 on August 29, 2007 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK

With the U.S. military cutting deals with Sunni tribes and ex-insurgents to help battle al-Qaeda in Iraq, the influence of the Sunnis' national political leadership becomes more and more questionable.

Not simply more questionable, but more critical to any hope of a viable Iraqi government...

Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead, NIE, Jan 2007:

The emergence of a checkered pattern of local control would present the greatest potential for instability, mixing extreme ethno-sectarian violence with debilitating intra-group clashes.
Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: Some Security Progress but Political Reconciliation Elusive, Update to NIE, Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead, Aug 2007:
Sunni Arab resistance to AQI has expanded in the last six to nine months but has not yet translated into broad Sunni Arab support for the Iraqi Government or widespread willingness to work with the Shia.

The IC assesses that the emergence of “bottom-up” security initiatives, principally among Sunni Arabs and focused on combating AQI, represent the best prospect for improved security over the next six to 12 months, but we judge these initiatives will only translate into widespread political accommodation and enduring stability if the Iraqi Government accepts and supports them. ...

We also assess that under some conditions “bottom-up initiatives” could pose risks to the Iraqi Government.

Translation: the current US strategy of empowering local Sunni (and Shia) forces could backfire in a big way. While that may allow a short term show of progress against al-Qaeda in Iraq, it risks blowing the keel off the central government.

That is an issue Patreus needs to be grilled on. What is the central government doing to "accept and support" those forces? And please spare us the fanfare about agreements among Baghdad government apparatchiks; they have no control over those forces and don't count for squat.

Posted by: has407 on August 29, 2007 at 11:47 PM | PERMALINK

It's not surprising that this is a phoney agreement. The problem is the groups with real power have no interest in reaching a settlement. Most important here are the Shiite Islamist parties. Their goal is to defeat the Sunnis, and either completely dominate them or run them out of the country. They are gradually succeeding, and so they have no interest whatsoever in reaching a peace agreement, bringing them into the government, and sharing power and wealth.

Posted by: bobo the chimp on August 30, 2007 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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