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The "American Objective" in Iraq
Posted by: Jon Henke on Monday, February 27, 2006

William F. Buckley's "the American objective in Iraq has failed" column has generated substantial conversation this weekend, on the left, the right and here at QandO. I've long been agnostic on the subject of whether the Iraq war will ultimately be a net positive for the United States, and I'm perfectly willing to accept the possibility that the "American objective" will ultimately fail in Iraq.

Maybe. Or maybe not. We may reasonably conclude that the cost of the Iraq war has exceeded any possible benefit, but I'm not sure that we're at a point at which we can measure the final benefit. The outcome in Iraq is still undefined, and a democratic state still possible.

Buckley cited the bombing of the Shiite mosque in Samarra as evidence that sectarian differences are inimical — that a pluralistic democracy in Iraq is intractable. But events surrounding that bombing could still work in our favor. The violence that has followed the bombing is certainly a problem, but...

  • "Shi'ite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, flanked by Sunni and Kurdish politicians, made a midnight televised appeal for Iraqis not to turn on each other..."


  • "Firebrand Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr held a rally in Basra calling on Sunnis and Shi'ites to hold joint prayers on Friday."


  • "Ridha Jawad al-Taqi, a senior official in SCIRI, the biggest of the Shi'ite Islamist parties, said Iraq has "passed the danger period. The security situation is now 80 percent stable.""


  • NYTimes: "Leaders of the main Sunni Arab political bloc have decided to return to suspended talks over the formation of a new government, the top Sunni negotiator said Sunday."


  • GatewayPundit: "Many Iraqi cities witnessed large demonstrations after Friday prayers (yesterday). These demonstrations were calling for national unity, not being pulled into civil war after attacks on Sunni mosques as retaliation to the bombing of the samara Shiite shrine."

The bombing was certainly a sign of instability, but these are not the signs of a fracturing democratic system. In fact — assuming the deployed Shiite militias are gradually withdrawn as tension eases — this is exactly how it's supposed to work. Somehow, we need to figure out a way to differentiate between problems caused by opposition forces and problems caused by a non-operational political system. The former can cause the latter, but they don't necessarily imply the latter.

Going forward, it seems to me that finding out exactly who is behind the Samarra Mosque bombing — and convincing the Iraqi public of that groups culpability — is the most important project. Nothing unites a people like an outside threat. Whether that threat is Al Qaeda in Iraq, Iranian operatives or some other group, public outrage directed against them could only help our political goals in Iraq. As Tom Bevan at RealClearPolitics argues...
The Iraqi government is forming and the terrorists are running out of both time and options, so they turned to an unbelievably risky strategy that will either incite civil war or unite the country against their cause. This bombing smacks of being an act of last resort.
If, in fact, this blasphemy does not incite civil war, it can still unite Iraqis against their common enemy. If that common enemy is outside agitators like Iran and violent jihadists, that should actually enhance "the American objective" that Buckley believes is already lost.

On the other hand, even if Iraq is reacting properly to the violence, their proximity to civil war means those who would cause the US problems are at a peak of power. Iran especially has a great deal of leverage over the US right now. Iran knows — and we know — that Iran can cause problems in Iraq, and our diplomatic options are contsrained by that fact. Any move against Iran — any sanction, UN condemnation, or serious threat — will almost certainly result in massive covert retaliation in Iraq. As narrow as the margin is in Iraq, that's not something we can well afford right now.
 
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Wretchard at the Belmont Club has some good posts up about this, and as always, they are a great read. Zeyad reports from Baghdad, Two Reports from Iraq, and The Nauroz offensive.
 
Written By: Chris
URL: http://
Going forward, it seems to me that finding out exactly who is behind the Samarra Mosque bombing — and convincing the Iraqi public of that groups culpability — is the most important project. Nothing unites a people like an outside threat. Whether that threat is Al Qaeda in Iraq, Iranian operatives or some other group, public outrage directed against them could only help our political goals in Iraq.
Umm.
The Judean People’s Front???
 
Written By: PogueMahone
URL: http://
Any move against Iran — any sanction, UN condemnation, or serious threat — will almost certainly result in massive covert retaliation in Iraq.
That’s assuming that Iran is not already involved in massive covert operations in Iraq. So if they’re already in there, the risks of moving against Iran aren’t as great.
 
Written By: equitus
URL: http://
Umm.
The Judean People’s Front???
Wankers.
That’s assuming that Iran is not already involved in massive covert operations in Iraq. So if they’re already in there, the risks of moving against Iran aren’t as great.
Of course they’re already there. The risk is that Iran will escalate. There’s a great deal more agitation they can do. If they’re not doing it, it’s because the cost (in alienating Iraqis, for example) is still too great relative to the potential benefit, or because they’re hoping to use that as leverage in negotiations with the US. If we steal the march and move on Iran, we eliminate their opportunity for leverage, and change their cost/benefit calculation.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
While not conclusive from your post, it seems to me that Iraqi’s have arrived at another major milestone for democracy — leaders of all stripes vying for power by appealing to the masses for support.

In all of your bullets, I see these folks tripping over themselves to sound both the least alarmist and the most unifying, all in an effort to be seen as the best leader and to appeal to a wider range of citizenry than just their own smaller faction.

Though that does not always happen, once the race starts, the finish line is never in the rear. This phenomena is particularly acute during elections, but I suppose Iraq could still be considered in that phase with the forming of government still in the works.

So, while Buckley could have had the right place, I think he has the wrong time.
 
Written By: Dusty
URL: http://www.thedustyattic.blogspot.com
The bombing was certainly a sign of instability, but these are not the signs of a fracturing democratic system. In fact — assuming the deployed Shiite militias are gradually withdrawn as tension eases — this is exactly how it’s supposed to work. Somehow, we need to figure out a way to differentiate between problems caused by opposition forces and problems caused by a non-operational political system. The former can cause the latter, but they don’t necessarily imply the latter.
As the bar is set lower and lower in Iraq, it is interesting to see what is now viewed as success.

What happened last week shows that there is no operating political system. First, it showed that the clerics are in charge, not the politicians. Second, it showed that the militias are in charge, not the army or security forces. Two months ago we were arguing about whether the militias had infiltrated the Iraqi security forces. Now it seems the security forces are non-existent.

Indeed, the militias are illegal. They are against the law. But what you don’t see coming from the elected leadership is any call for their elimination. To the contrary, the Sunnis themselves are now forming militias.

What happened?

From June 8, 2004 - CNN
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced a deal Monday to disband nine militias.

The deal calls for most militiamen to join Iraqi security forces or return to civilian life by the beginning of next year.

The agreement excludes the Mehdi Army of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which launched an uprising against coalition forces two months ago.

U.S. forces arranged a truce with the militia Friday, after weeks of skirmishes.

"While recent news has associated the word ’militia’ with the sort of violence orchestrated by Muqtada al-Sadr, in fact most of these groups and individuals were part of the resistance against Saddam Hussein’s regime," Allawi said.

Al-Sadr’s army will officially be outlawed Monday afternoon, according to a senior coalition official. His militia was not approached to take part in the new arrangement.

"No groups were excluded, other than by their own actions," the senior official said. The new law also makes it illegal for al-Sadr to hold office.

In his comments Allawi said, "I am happy to announce today the successful completion of negotiations on the nationwide transition and reintegration of militias and other armed forces previously outside of state control.

"As a result of this achievement, the vast majority of such forces in Iraq — about 102,000 armed individuals — will enter either civilian life or one of the state security services, such as the Iraqi armed forces, the Iraqi police service, or the internal security services of the Kurdish regional government," Allawi said.

Ninety percent of the militias are expected to disband before Iraq’s elections, to be held no later than January 2005.

Iraq’s interim government is scheduled to assume power at midnight June 30.
The militias are illegal. They are illegal for a reason. I guess I don’t see their willingness to strategically pull back from midnight raids, kidnappings, and summary executions - and yet retain their plenary power - as "exactly how it’s supposed to work." But as the bar is lowered, so are our expectations.
 
Written By: mkultra
URL: http://
The article you cite in your last paragraph actually seems to totally undermine your argument about Iran:
While that oratory has left Iran more isolated from the West, it has increasingly found a degree of unity and support in the region. The recent outrage over the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which set off more than a month of protests, also helped unite Muslims in opposition to a common perceived enemy.

That unity, and the prospect of Iran spreading its revolutionary ideas among Sunnis, could be undermined if there is a fevered civil war pitting Iraq’s Sunnis against its Shiite majority.
This seems to be saying that Iran loses influence if they incite a civil war. If so, how does this allow them to control US diplomacy?
 
Written By: Terry
URL: http://
This seems to be saying that Iran loses influence if they incite a civil war. If so, how does this allow them to control US diplomacy?
That’s certainly a cost to Iran — one they’ve certainly accounted for in their cost/benefit calculation. That’s precisely the danger of increasing the pressure on Iran. If we increase pressure on Iran, it could change their cost/benefit calculation. The cost of losing influence within Iraq may be outweighed by the benefit of causing problems for us.

Of course, the real danger is that they could wreak havoc in Iraq, but escape the blame for that havoc. If they were behind the Samarra bombing, for example...
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net

 
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