Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 14, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

RECONCILIATION WATCH....Ever since we embraced the Anbar Awakening a year ago, the Army has been busily forming Sunni police forces called Concerned Local Citizens. The Shiite government of Nouri al-Maliki hasn't had much choice but to go along, but at the same time they've resisted taking over the CLCs from the Americans and incorporating them into the Iraqi security forces. Today, the LA Times reports that U.S. commanders, who believe that time is running out, are starting to push Maliki harder and more publicly to change his stance:

The day-to-day commander in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, believes that the Iraqi government's reconciliation with onetime Sunni fighters represents the "primary driver of enhanced security" over the next six months, according to internal military planning documents seen by The Times.

...."We've got a lull at the moment, an absolute lull in violence, but it could go anywhere next year, depending on how the current government reacts to it," Odierno's aide said. "One of our biggest risks are CLCs and which way they'll go."

The aide, like other U.S. officials, warned that the window of opportunity is narrow...."If [the Maliki government] doesn't embrace it, you could have the different Sunni Awakenings coming together as a Sunni army that tries to overthrow the government, pushing the country into civil war," the aide said. "It's possible."

This is not the first time that an Odierno aide has publicly suggested that Maliki better get on the stick with the CLCs or else the Sunnis will overrun him. (Maybe it was the same aide both times. No telling.) Three weeks ago Maliki's defense minister rejected the idea pretty explicitly, so apparently Odierno has decided to give the idea yet another public airing. However, if this weekend's sham de-Baathification law is anything to go by, Maliki and his allies have no intention of giving ground on this.

In other news, Juan Cole reports that an ad-hoc assembly of Sunnis, Shiites, and Turkmen are pressuring Maliki to prevent Kirkuk from being absorbed into Kurdistan and to halt the formation of a Shiite regional confederacy in the South. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: I didn't explicitly say what I think is going on here, so allow me to revise and extend. Odierno obviously believes that political reconciliation is crucial in Iraq, and just as obviously knows that Maliki isn't going to do anything serious on that front without a serious kick in the ass. Working behind the scenes apparently hasn't accomplished much, so he's now taken to making public threats (via his aides) to try to scare Maliki into action: Work with the Sunnis or else there's a good chance they're going to declare war and there won't be much we can do to stop it.

Odierno isn't reveling in doom and gloom, he's trying to force Maliki into action. And the reporters who pass this stuff along are helping him out.

Kevin Drum 12:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, believes that the Iraqi government's reconciliation with onetime Sunni fighters represents the "primary driver of enhanced security" over the next six months

Yahoo! Another Friedman Unit to go!

Posted by: Cernig on January 14, 2008 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

If anyone is looking for a book to read, put this one on your reading list: "The Coldest Winter, America and the Korean War, David Halberstam.

On page 53...the topic was how MacArthur and his staff controlled the intelligence coming out of his theater of operation....."Control intelligence, and you control decision-making". cleve

Posted by: cleve on January 14, 2008 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

I can't wait for the blowback.

We did a great job supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

When will we start killing the "Awakened" Sunnis?

Perpetuawar. Ya gotta love it!

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 14, 2008 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

Well, yeah, let's organize and arm all side of the civil war! That makes sense. I mean, then they're sure to make peace with one another. /sarcasm

Posted by: David in NY on January 14, 2008 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Odierno knows some big trouble is coming soon, and is too much of a coward to revel it with blunt and specific words. So we get vague assertions to assure he covers his own ass. He's afraid he will lose his job if he reveled the unvarnished truth, which he most assuredly would...

Posted by: elmo on January 14, 2008 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

I've never understood this. What did they expect from Maliki? Longtime Dawa Party member who wants a Shiite controlled Iraq very friendly to Tehran and oh yeah Sunni free. He's been saying all of this for years in one form or another and now they really really really expect him to be less sectarian.

What am I missing?

Posted by: Daryl on January 14, 2008 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, big trouble is coming soon. It is going to come down to "our way or the highway" and "the highway" is going to be us leaving the Shia government to twist in the wind. It is a moment of decision for the Shia government and Maliki. Do they continue allowing Sunni power to return incrementally through our prodding and the CLC's, or do they put a halt to the entire process and let the civil war recommence in earnest? If they choose the "highway", hopefully that signals the removal of all our troops permanently.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 14, 2008 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Daryl, I don't think we *expected* Maliki to be less sectarian, we just figured that since we were providing the protection for his government that we had the leverage to get him to do what we wanted. That's been true to some extent, but if they (The Shia government) feel existentially threatened by the Sunni resurgence and they feel that their project for a Shia ministate in the South is also threatened they will be tempted to tell us to get out if they think it will be to their advantage.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 14, 2008 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

"...an ad-hoc assembly of Sunnis, Shiites, and Turkmen are pressuring Maliki to prevent Kirkuk from being absorbed into Kurdistan and to halt the formation of a Shiite regional confederacy in the South."

Sounds like there are people in Iraq who want it to be a real nation rather than an ad-hoc confederation. Maybe we should encourage them.

Posted by: zak822 on January 14, 2008 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

What? We'll "unleash the Sunnis"? Do I hear Moqtada al-Sadr taking the wraps off his forces.

God, our generals are fucking political idiots. That's why Clemenceau is still right and war is too fucking important to be left to them.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on January 14, 2008 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Reconciliation demands a certain amount of letting bygones be bygones. It generally also demands, though, some kind of consensus as to why reconciliation is necessary -- in other words, a broad acknowledgment of who wronged whom and statements of apology or at least regret from the former.

This has never happened in Iraq, as it did in different ways in South Africa, the former Czechoslovakia and other Eastern European countries, and Nicaragua in the last decade. We are looking right past the core of the political problem in Iraq if we ignore the significance of this. It doesn't matter if Americans believe the line that all Iraqis were victims of Saddam and everyone should just forget the past. The plain fact of the matter is that most Shiites and nearly all Kurds don't believe that -- with ample cause, seeing as Saddam's worst acts of repression were directed against them.

Moreover, the insurgency has powerfully aggravated the already strong Shiite sense of grievance. We are too prone to forget that in 2003 the most influential voices in the Shiite community -- those of the senior clerics in Najaf -- were prepared to counsel restraint to their followers in the wake of their oppressor's fall. Sadr's organization made frequent gestures of support to the embattled Sunni Arabs in Fallujah in 2004, and even launched itself into disastrous confrontations with American main force units while the first battle for Fallujah was going on. The reward both groups of Shiites got was a campaign of assassination directed against Shiite government workers, police and police recruits, professionals, and civilians. And so now embittered feelings directed at Iraq's Sunni Arabs run as deep among Shiite factions as they long have among the Kurds.

In the abstract, there is no question the Maliki government is making a mistake by showing no flexibility toward ex-Baathists and the local Sunni groups that the American military has been organizing over the last year. Sunni Arab groups in Iraq have their own disagreements with one another; a wise government in Baghdad would seek to exploit these. But the reality is that Maliki and his associates are not just being mulishly obstinate. They are instead responding to a Shiite constituency that resented Iraq's Sunni Arabs at the time of the American invasion and has come to resent, and distrust, them more deeply since.

I am frankly surprised that Juan Cole of all people is so obtuse on this point. I recognize that from his point of view the invasion is where so many of Iraq's problems started, but it seems to me that his point of view is clouding his vision of how difficult a concept reconciliation is for Iraqi Shiite faction leaders to accept, and why.

Posted by: Zathras on January 14, 2008 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Zathras >"...I am frankly surprised that Juan Cole of all people is so obtuse on this point...."

Maybe it has something to do with the fact he reads the arabic press & gets lots of information that is scrubbed out of the "western" media you get your information from.

I know, let`s send that guy that claims he is a uniter not a divider over there and let him clean up the mess.

What`s his name ? Something short, like some sort of shrubbery.

Starts with a B as I recall. Probably come to me after I post this...

"Against stupidity, the very gods themselves must contend in vain." - Friedrich von Shille

Posted by: daCascadian on January 14, 2008 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

Work with the Sunnis or else there's a good chance they're going to declare war and there won't be much we can do to stop it.

Can we just call this the Re-Baathification of Iraq?

Posted by: Voice of Reason on January 14, 2008 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

First, how can you possibly integrate forces whose main allegiance lies outside the Iraqi security forces? Think Lebanon and the various military powers. None of these Sunni forces can or should be trusted by the Shia, whoever they swear allegiance to.

Second, how can you possibly strongarm the government into a proposition with the threat of civil war when the civil war is exactly the excuse needed to settle all outstanding scores? The Shias have the advantage of numbers, government resources and, to some degree, organization. And, so far, they seem to have been able to get the upper hand in pushing Sunnis around or ghettoing them.

The US have and continue to play their hand so incredibly ineptly in Iraq. Howsa about employing a few experts after almost 5 years of failure? It took 4 years to even start employing counter-insurgency methods! Probably too late, but at least make some attempt to understand the culture you are dealing with.

What a fucking shambles.

Posted by: notthere on January 14, 2008 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK
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