Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Anyone Notice that Whole Basra on Fire Thing?

Anyone want to ask Petraeus what it was about?

Kate Gould, FCNL
Guest blogger

Senator Levin: “But the major political steps that they need to take have not yet been taken by the Iraqis, including […] adopting an election law, so an October 1 provincial election can take place; and considering amendments to their constitution.”

OOPS!!!! This was Senator Levin’s, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, opening statement for the Petraeus testimony. Problem with this statement—it is flat out wrong!

Next problem—it misses the entire root of the conflict. This is of course the main “anti-pro-war” argument put forward in Congress—that the political benchmarks as developed by the Bush administration and later supported by Congress have not been met because of the failures of the Iraqi government to reach reconciliation.

Iraqis HAVE passed their provincial election law. You ask why this matters that Iraq passed its election law on March 19th, a few days before the Maliki offensive began against Sadr’s forces? The “pro-war” and the “anti-pro-war” American political spectrum have jointly derided Iraqis for political infighting while the US surge was meant to “provide the political space for reconciliation”. The US backing with its Special Forces, bombing raids, and ground troops, of one side of that political fight seriously challenges the idea that the US presence the “a breathing space” for political reconciliation in Iraq—but not one Senator questioned this approach.

The passage of the Provincial Powers Act and the struggle it represents is at the heart of the violence in the south, which spread to Baghdad and throughout Iraq. As Ambassador Crocker (correctly) explains, this law is “a major step forward in defining the relationship between the federal and provincial governments.” Only Sadr’s militias reported to be targeted during this “crackdown on militias”. Sadr’s party is widely expected to win the elections in the south, and that this offensive was intended to undermine his political support. Some U.S. officials in Iraq have concluded that Mr. Maliki is firing "the first salvo in upcoming elections" scheduled for Iraq’s provinces in October, according to one administration official cited by the Washington Post.

[IRAQI SHIITE POLITICS 101: There are 4 primary Shiite parties represented in the Iraqi parliament. Maliki’s party, al-Dawa, and Hakim’s party, the Supreme Islamic Council, favor ‘federalism’ or weakening the central government in favor of a Shiite “super region”. They favor decentralizing natural resource revenues (thereby providing more money for the provinces), and increasing US troop levels.

The Sadrists and Fadhila parties support a strong central government, centralizing natural resources revenues, and favor a US timetable for withdrawal.]

Why has Sadr’s support grown since the 2005 elections, while the pro-US Shiite parties have lost power? Perhaps we should take note at an Iraqi opinion poll published by the BBC/ABC just before Petraeus’ last testimony on September 11th:

  • 73% of Shia thought that the presence of US forces in Iraq made the security situation worse
  • 55% of Shias believed that the departure of US forces would make a Shia-Sunni civil war less likely.

As Petraeus insists 140,000 troops must be kept in Iraq without any timetable for withdrawal, a majority of Shia Iraqis believe that US presence is making them less safe.

FCNL supports the Iraq Study Group’s recommendation that “The United States must also try to talk directly to Moqtada al- Sadr, to militia leaders, and to insurgent leaders.”

Instead of serious negotiations, the US backed Maliki’s forces in an offensive launched against Sadr’s forces. The last time the US launched such a major offensive against Sadr’s forces, was back in April 2004. The Coalition Provisional Authority’s (Bremer’s government) own polling data showed that Sadr gained 81 points of popularity after US forces target his Mahdi Army militia members.

After thousands of Iraqi security forces resigned, it seems if Sadr wasn’t set to win the elections before, Maliki’s actions would certainly have strengthened his actions this time.

The US and the Maliki leadership have to recognize not just Moqtada al-Sadr, but the base of his political platform which draws so much support. When 70% of Iraqis support withdrawal of US forces, is it any surprise that his consistent call for a US timetable for withdrawal would have a substantial base of support?

Beyond that, its time for the American “anti-war” Senators as well as “pro-war” Generals, to start recognizing the “major political steps” that Iraqis are indeed taking in deciding the future of their country and that the US strategy of taking sides in this conflict is squeezing the breathing space rather than widening it.

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