Saturday, October 28, 2006

U.S. Finally Starting to Fix Iraqi Mistakes---Two Years Too Late

Roula Khalaf of the Financial Times is one of the most lucid commentators on the Iraq War that threatens to swamp the Bush Presidency and the Republican Party over the next two years.
Weeks of soaring casualties and degenerating chaos have forced America’s politicians to confront the reality of Iraq. But in the debate over who is to blame and how to get out of the quagmire, what seems to be lost – and may be most disheartening – is that the problem is not so much the policies now promoted by the US; it is that they come too late to turn the tide of violence.

For over a year, particularly since the arrival in Baghdad of Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador, the Bush administration has been quietly shifting strategy in the management of Iraqi politics, reversing many earlier decisions in favour of actions that its critics had long urged.

The rest is pay-per-view, but can be summarized as follows: the baleful influence of Cheney and Rumsfeld foisted an underqualified loyalist, L. Paul Bremer, to oversee the post-battlefield development. Instead of Arabists, pinhead Rumsfeld wanted "fresh thinking," according to Cobra II and Bremer nixed Khalilzad as his co-chair overseeing CD activities. Bremer immediately de-Baathified the country, depriving it of any qualified leadership, and disbanded the armed forces instead of confining them to barracks. Two separate fountainheads of insurrection were therefore embittered by American incompetence and enabled by the under-estimation of U.S. troops necessary to maintain public order.

Khalilzad came in as Ambassador two years too late, as Rumsfeld/Cheney mismanagement had made a manageable situation virtually impossible to control. Ambassador K. has got the new government trying to do the right things, to empower the Sunnis and share oil resources enough to keep a unitary state. Mainstream Sunnis bought in on the promise of oil-profit sharing after the October elections last year.

U.S. failure to keep the radical Sunni insurgents under control and the Samarra Dome atrocity gave the Shias motivation to use their base in the Ministry of Interior and their militias to break the restraints urged by their religious leaders and seek vengeance---which in turn has driven mainstream Sunnis into U.S. arms. But the criminal gangs and Shias are conducting a near civil war and the Maliki government finds itself unable to use police and Iraqi army forces to control the Shi-ites, who are Maliki's main source of political support in parliament. Last week that parliament followed a Shi-ite majority to vote for federally autonomous regions after 18 months, which may mean promises to Sunnis for a share in the oil economy are in jeopardy.

So Washington has finally realized that the Shi'ites might make a grab for the same kind of power that enabled the minority Sunnis to lord it over the Shi-ites since 1920 until the overthrow of Saddam in 2003. The Sunnis might decide a civil war is more desirable than organized Shi-ite payback for 80 years of humiliating submission to the Sunni minority.

Khalilzad is the right man for the job, if that man exists. But many think not even Superman could keep the two Arab sectarian rivals from a fight to the death mano-a-mano.

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