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Tue

09

Jan

2007

You Can't Square an Iraqi Circle
Tuesday, 09 January 2007 00:45
by Larry C Johnson

Earnest and well-intentioned ain't going to cut it in Iraq.  Someone needs to get that message to the new U.S. ground commander, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno.  You see, Odierno wants to fight Iraq with the Iraqis he wished existed rather than the sectarian groups who acutally exist.  If he persists he believing in an Iraq that does not exist in reality he will fail.  Just because you want to believe a circle is square does not mean you can square a circle.

While acknowledging in an interview yesterday at Camp Victory that the nature of the war and the tactics required to prevail had changed, his other comments to reporters reflect an alarming naiveté about the sectarian rifts in Iraq.  According to the Los Angeles Times article by Solomon Moore:

Odierno said another reason for Iraqis' alienation was the tendency of many leaders to be more interested in sectarian interests than the national good of Iraq. "We thought they'd come together rather easily," he said. "We underestimated that…. We thought they'd think Iraq first, and that didn't occur. I think maybe it will occur over time, but it's not occurring now."

So, he believes that the various Sunni and Shia factions will come together an act in a national interest that he believes exists.  But the evidence to support such a belief?  Zippo.  Nada.  In fact, the Iraqis cannot even garner a quorum and have not met in more than a month.  Why?  Because Moktada al-Sadr has withdrawn his supporters from the parliament.

Well surely Odierno has a plan to bridge that gulf.  Right?

Think again.  Odierno shows frightening ignorance in his latest statements about what has transpired in Iraq since the U.S. troop surge in August of 2006.  In Odierno world the U.S. military favored the Shias:

Odierno said that targeting militias would balance military efforts in Baghdad that until recently were overly focused on Sunni areas. Shiite militias have been ruthlessly pressing their advantage in Baghdad, sweeping whole neighborhoods clear of Sunni Arabs.

One of the failings of a U.S. security plan for Baghdad that was announced with great fanfare in August was that it "was focused mostly on Sunni neighborhoods," he said. "One of the things I think about all the time is that we can't be seen as being a leverage of one group getting advantage over another group."
Sorry General, but that's not right.  A major reason that the Iraqi parliament is not meeting is because the cleric and head of the Mahdi Army militia, Moktada al-Sadr, ordered his followers to withdraw.  And this came after U.S. troops attacked his forces in Sadr City.  Perhaps you did not read the NY Times account on October 31st:

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki demanded the removal of American checkpoints from the streets of Baghdad on Tuesday, in what appeared to be his latest and boldest gambit in an increasingly tense struggle for more independence from his American protectors.

Mr. Maliki’s public declaration seemed at first to catch American commanders off guard. But by nightfall, American troops had abandoned all the positions in eastern and central Baghdad that they had set up last week with Iraqi forces as part of a search for a missing American soldier. The checkpoints had snarled traffic and disrupted daily life and commerce throughout the eastern part of the city.
The U.S. troops were surrounding a Shia enclave looking for a missing U.S. soldier, born in Iraq who happened to be Sunni.  What was the effect of this blockade?  According to the NY Times:

In its search for the soldier, the American military has singled out the Mahdi Army militia, which has grown increasingly fractured but still answers in part to Mr. Sadr. 

Joint American-Iraqi roadblocks and checkpoints at the entrances to the neighborhood, and others erected in Karada, have caused major traffic jams, impeded commerce, turned short commutes into ordeals lasting hours and provoked the ire of Iraqis. On Monday, Mr. Sadr, who led two uprisings against American troops in 2004, threatened unspecified action if the American “siege” continued.
Is it any surprise that November and December marked the highest loss of life by U.S. soldiers in 2006?  This much we know historically--every time the United States has decided to fight the Mahdi Army militia and go after Shia interests U.S. casualties have soared.

So, let me see if I have this straight.  The "new" U.S. surge will rely on 80% of the existing militia (your words General, not mine).  Most of those are Shia.  However, you are also signalling clearly that you will fight the other 20%, which includes the Mahdi Army miliita.  Ironically, the Mahdi Army is the least closely aligned with Iran. 

You are going to surround the various neighborhoods Baghdad, which are already largely sectarian cleansed areas, and control who goes in and who goes out.  Great.  That should reduce the murders throughout Baghdad but at the expense of all economic activity grinding to a halt.  Have we put in place aid logistics system to ensure that each and every neighborhood receives the food, water, and medical care required to keep life semi-normal while they are surrounded by armed troops?  If not, don't be surprised when people fight.

These defacto ghettos, segregated according to whether one is Shia, Sunni, or Christian (they are a very small group), will deepen sectarian differences.  You can be sure of that.  Who will guard the entrances along with U.S. troops?  If it is a Sunni neighborhood then it better be a Sunni militia or a police or military unit comprised of largely Sunni.

Except you have another practical problem.  Most of Baghdad is Shia.  Are you willing to attack the Shia?  Whatever you do to get control on the ground now will be perceived as in the interest of either the Sunnis or the Shias.  The other irony in this is that even though Iraq is majority Shia we will have to attack Shia interests in order to get some control over the escalating violence.  In launching such attacks we will give the Shia more cause to attack U.S. troops and interdict our resupply lines.  How that outcome serves our national interest is beyond my understanding?  Hopefully George Bush will clear things up Wednesday night.  But I doubt it.  We need to accept that Iraq is a circle that you cannot square.   
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