Iraq at the precipice
There will be no troop draw down in the near term, and General Casey's report on planned troop deployment is overdue. A brawl between populist Sadr and the Badr Brigade brews in Basra, and Maliki's brief tenure is caught in the middle -- his position may be untenable. Ramadi is an insurgent's city. Insurgent attacks are at the worst level since such levels were evaluated.
The Boston Globe:
The Boston Globe:
WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon reported yesterday that the frequency of insurgent attacks against troops and civilians is at its highest level since American commanders began tracking such figures two years ago, an ominous sign that, despite three years of combat, the US-led coalition forces haven't significantly weakened the Iraq insurgency.The Los Angeles Times:
BAGHDAD — The Pentagon's hopes of making substantial reductions in U.S. troop levels in Iraq this year appear to be fading as a result of resurgent violence in the country, particularly in the Sunni Arab stronghold of Al Anbar province, military officials acknowledge.The Times of London on the troubles in Basra:
Army Gen. George W. Casey, commander of U.S.-led forces in Iraq, said Tuesday that he was moving 1,500 "backup" troops from Kuwait to Al Anbar, the western region that includes the war-torn cities of Fallouja and Ramadi.
Publicly, Pentagon officials insisted Tuesday that the move was temporary and unrelated to Casey's much-delayed recommendation on overall troop levels, now expected to be made next month. But other officers have privately acknowledged that the worsening situation in Al Anbar — particularly in Ramadi, which U.S. officials say is now under insurgent control — is likely to prevent any significant drawdown this year.
Since the beginning of the year, military commanders have said that progress in forming a government and training the Iraqi military might allow U.S. troop levels to be reduced from more than 130,000 to 100,000 or fewer. But a senior officer privy to Iraq planning discussions, who requested anonymity when discussing internal Pentagon debates, said there was "a growing realization" that ongoing violence was hampering withdrawal plans.
Iraq's new Prime Minister promised today to use "an iron fist" against armed gangs who have killed hundreds of people in recent weeks in the oil-rich southern city of Basra.Oddly enough, Fareed Zakaria ponders just such a conflagration in the Washington Post today:
Nouri al-Maliki declared his intent to confront the gangs on a visit to Iraq's second city, where UK forces have been unable to prevent a bloody power struggle between rival Shia Muslim militias and have increasingly become the target of militia attacks.
Mr al-Maliki, who took office two weeks ago at the head of a grand coalition of Shias, Sunni Arabs and Kurds, told tribal leaders and politicians that security would be restored in Basra after a string of clashes and murders.
"We will hit the gangs with an iron fist and those who interfere with the security of the city. Security is first, second and third. This must be said," he said. "What are these assassinations and murders? Who are these gangs kidnapping people? What is going on in this city?"
The situation in Basra, where British forces are headquartered, has been exacerbated by a public dispute between the mayor and the local heads of the army and police. The power struggle involves the armed Badr Brigade, the Fadhila party loyal to the Basra governor, Mohammed al-Walli, and the al-Mahdi Army that follows the firebrand cleric Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr.
Maliki will have to handle Sadr politically as well as militarily, enlisting Ayatollah Ali Sistani's help. If Maliki cannot handle him, Moqtada al-Sadr will become the most powerful man in Iraq. And Nouri al-Maliki will not be the first elected prime minister of a new Iraq, but the last prime minister of an experiment that failed. Iraq will continue down its slide into violence, ethnic cleansing and Balkanization. In places such as Baghdad, with mixed populations, this will mean the city will be carved up into warring neighborhoods, with gangs providing a mafia-style system of law and order, and constant guerrilla attacks. It will be Lebanon in the 1980s, except that 130,000 American troops will be in the middle of it all.