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Talking about Iraq - Questions for the PM’s spokesman (update)
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Today I had the rare pleasure to participate in a conference call in which the spokesman for Iraqi PM al Maliki and the Iraqi government, Dr. Ali Aldabbagh, answered questions of concern for those who were on the call.

To begin with I was extremely pleased with the fact that Dr. Aldabbagh answered the questions posed without any attempts at evasion or side-steping any of the issues raised. Some pretty tough questions were thrown at him and he handled them honestly, forthrightly and thoroughly.

He spoke about Iraq being at a 'very critical' stage now, where he believes they are close to positioning themselves to successfully defeat their opposition both militarily and politically. When questioned about al Sadr and the Mahdi army, Dr. Aldabbagh pointed out that the demonstration held the other day was actually a good thing because it demonstrated to Iraqis that they can dissent peacefully. And interestingly, Dr.Aldabbagh said that in discussions with al Sadr, the cleric had claimed his intent wasn't to be violent. Of course that works at odds with his current declaration that the "occupiers" be singled out as targets. However, what was positive in this discussion is that the government is talking too dissidents like al Sadr and keeping a line of communication open. Aldabbagh also asserted that al Sadr did not refelct the postion of the majority of Iraqis (and an argument could be made that the size of the demonstration also validated that claim).

Dr. Aldabbagh also made the point that armed militias were unacceptable and would be disarmed. Not may. Not might. But would be disarmed. Good to hear. He even gave a time-frame. He said they hoped their Operation Enforcing the Law (in Baghdad) should finish by the end of the year (2007). Their objective is to have disarmed the militias in total by the end of that operation. If successful, that should also end the surge.

He was asked about the increase in tips coming in now that the troops were living in the neighborhoods. He verified what the administration official had said previously - not only have they increased significantly, but they have provided much actionable intelligence. In fact, he was of the opinion that the majority of actionable intelligence is now flowing from the people of Iraq rather than government and military intelligence gathering resources.

If so, that's a very hopeful sign.

He was asked about whether or not Iraq was engaged in a civil war and his answer was a fairly emphatic "no." As he said, "civil war is not a war against civilians" and, in his opinion, that's primarily where all the violence is pointed by terrorists in an effort to goad Iraqis into civil war.

Obviously as they make it safer and safer, those opportunities become less and less. But as he points out, despite many opportunities to see the violence turn into civil war, Iraqis have resisted it. He also said that they are getting better and better and thus more successful at rooting out the bomb makers before they can deploy their bombs. That's evident in the statistics which show fewer bombs and fewer deaths for the past couple of months.

In a discussion about media coverage of the war, he again noted that it is rather hard to insist the media give equal impact to bombs that don't go off vs. those which do. It's just not going to happen.

I was able to ask him two questions. First, I asked when the oil revenue sharing legislation would finally be enacted. He felt pretty confident in saying he thought the final legislation would be finished and signed into law within the next two months. That's a very big step. I followed up by asking if he thought that finally passing that legislation would provide the good faith gesture from the government which would dampen some of the Sunni resistance.

He answered that yes, he thought it would be a good step to ensuring Sunnis they were included in the government and, as he said, "wouldn't be left out in the desert with nothing". I agree that this is a very important step toward reconciliation and the sooner the better.

My last question, and as it turned out, the last question of the interview, had to do with the police force. I said confidence seemed to be high about the army, but there seemed to be a large level of distrust concerning the police and asked if he could comment on that.

Again, Dr. Aldabbagh answered the question about the problem in a very straightforward manner. He said initially bad mistakes were made in hiring the first police force. In fact, as it turns out, those attempting to hire on paid for their jobs. And, of course, many of those who did sign on were militia types. The original force was "not loyal to Iraq" as Dr. Aldabbagh stated, and that caused very bad problems for the government. There were no hiring criteria except cash.

He said that they have begun purging the ranks of those types and applying a criteria to hiring which refelects the priorities of the government of Iraq and demands their loyalty to those priorities. 14,000 police officers have been fired by the Minister of the Interior for human rights violations, integrity issues and just poor job performance. So his point was the police force is improving. He made it a point to demonstrate how serious the government was by telling us that they had recently arrested and were trying a police lieutenant colonel for human rights violations, namely torturing prisoners. That's accountability.

Dr. Aldabbagh said that the new force stresses quality and accountability, and that in fact the image of the Iraqi police forces is slowly changing from one that was a threat to the people of Iraq to that of a protector instead. But he acknowledged it still had a way to go.

He finished by telling us a short story about day laborers who had been targeted by car bombing terrorists. Apparently the place is well known and the terrorists killed 80 there the first time. But the next day, the workers were back. The next strike killed 50. But the next day the workers were back. He said "the Iraqi people want to live" and be free to pursue their lives. And, as you could tell by the story, they're not easily intimidated.

UPDATE:
More coverage at the Weekly Standard.
 
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I was listening to an interview on NPR today with an LA Times Baghdad bureau chief currently transfering to Beirut about the dangers in Iraq. One of the things he said that was hardest to get used to was how Iraqis, living under Saddam when the truth could get you killed, were very adept at saying what they know someone wants to hear. They could smile and chat with soldiers in one instance, saying ’thank god you’re here,’ and then try to kill them the next.

I wouldn’t put too much stock in an obvious PR interview by a government spokesman, and it certainly is dangerous to assume that he was straight forward. After all, Iraqis were giving us this song and dance, and great stories about how Iraqis had ’risked death’ to vote, etc. Yet the violence got worse. Frankly, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the Iraqi government is playing us for suckers. Al Sadr clearly still has clout and has demonstrated it. Insurgents, always able to adjust to new tactics, have shifted out of Baghdad — for now. Violence continues, and ethnic hatreds remain high. Corruption in government is intense. I have to agree with Joe Klein’s assessment of Bush’s "epic collapse" and failed Presidency in this week’s Time (a collapse he blames on arrogance, incompetence and cynicism). An excerpt:
"Iraq comes first, as always. From the start, it has been obvious that personal motives have skewed the President’s judgment about the war. Saddam tried to kill his dad; his dad didn’t try hard enough to kill Saddam. There was payback to be had. But never was Bush’s adolescent petulance more obvious than in his decision to ignore the Baker-Hamilton report and move in the exact opposite direction: adding troops and employing counterinsurgency tactics inappropriate to the situation on the ground. "There was no way he was going to accept [its findings] once the press began to portray the report as Daddy’s friends coming to the rescue," a member of the Baker-Hamilton commission told me. As with Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the decision to surge was made unilaterally, without adequate respect for history or military doctrine. Iraq was invaded with insufficient troops and planning; the surge was attempted with too few troops (especially non-Kurdish, Arabic-speaking Iraqis), a purposely misleading time line ("progress" by September) and, most important, the absence of a reliable Iraqi government.

General David Petraeus has repeatedly said, "A military solution to Iraq is not possible." Translation: This thing fails unless there is a political deal among the Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds. There is no such deal on the horizon, largely because of the President’s aversion to talking to people he doesn’t like. And while some Baghdad neighborhoods may be more peaceful—temporarily—as a result of the increased U.S. military presence, the story two years from now is likely to resemble the recent headlines from Tall ’Afar: dueling Sunni and Shi’ite massacres have destroyed order in a city famously pacified by counterinsurgency tactics in 2005. Bush’s indifference to reality in Iraq is not an isolated case. It is the modus operandi of his Administration."


Indifference to reality seems also to be a modus operandi of some bloggers.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Indifference to reality seems also to be a modus operandi of some bloggers.
Amazing, ain’t it?

And citing these situations:
Violence continues, and ethnic hatreds remain high. Corruption in government is intense.
the story two years from now is likely to resemble the recent headlines from Tall ’Afar: dueling Sunni and Shi’ite massacres have destroyed order in a city famously pacified by counterinsurgency tactics in 2005.
You recommend we withdraw now?

Would that be to ensure failure and to permit the Iraqis to commence this predicted slaughter of one another sooner?

Have you ever heard the parable of the man who was given a one year reprieve to teach the horse to sing by any chance? It applies in a way.
I fail to see under your previously suggested plans, and those of the Congressional majority, how things ’get better’ in Iraq if things are done as you suggest.
I realize their may be ’smarter, better’, which is always what is touted, but I don’t see any actual evidence of smarter, and better, well, better for who?
 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Thousands of supporters of the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are gathering in the holy city of Najaf to hold mass demonstrations.

Mr Sadr has called for a million-strong protest to coincide with the fourth anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s fall.
Seems Sadr got about 5,000 to 7,000 (10,000 tops) to show. Clearly, the "Million Man March" on DC got closer to a million, using the disputed figures of the Park Service, than Sadr got to show in Najaf.
 
Written By: Neo
URL: http://
MY dad’s first business trip to China was right when we accidentally bombed their embasy in... Well, what ever European hell hole we were in at the time...

I mean, he landed the DAY it was in our paper...

Dad’s hotel (Where many foreign business people stayed) saw a protest of chinese in front. Dad’s local guide responded to my dad’s concern with "This is China... If you can’t get more than a couple of thousand people for something that’s anti-someone else, you really don’t have anything..."

Sounds like the same deal in Iraq.

And Erb, you seriously need to correct your cranial-anal inversion. Like, seriously. You’re starting to scare me with how damn stupid/insane you are...
 
Written By: Scott
URL: http://
You recommend we withdraw now?
I think the best options are described here.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Simply looking at pictures of the protest are enough to make it clear that the numbers involved were more than a few thousand. A description in the NYT described the protesters packing a three-mile-area. Wishful thinking doesn’t help anyone. It’s a case of sloppy and cautious wording in your specific story.


 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
With Erb. It’s nice to know that the government spokesmen is committed to saying the right things convincingly. I wouldn’t trust his predictions any further than I can spit. Maliki is our client. To the extent that he’s not Sadr’s and Iran’s. He says, to us, what we want to hear. That’s the literal embodiment of his job.

Of course, it’s true that it would be worse if he wasn’t even saying it.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
It’s nice to know that the government spokesmen is committed to saying the right things convincingly. I wouldn’t trust his predictions any further than I can spit. Maliki is our client. To the extent that he’s not Sadr’s and Iran’s. He says, to us, what we want to hear. That’s the literal embodiment of his job.

Of course, it’s true that it would be worse if he wasn’t even saying it.
Well I guess you had to be there ’nost. The interview wasn’t all happy talk. In fact, there was no statement. He just asked for questions and he got them aplenty. And they weren’t soft balls. He didn’t duck them, dance around them or try to whitewash them.

Now you may see that as a PR flack doing his job, but I’ve seen PR flacks do their job and you know, its kinda like pornography, you know it when you see it. And this wasn’t it.

Sorry if facts and news about positive developments in Iraq disturb your failure mellow, but if this actually ends up succeeding you need to be at least partially prepared, psychologically.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Some critiques:

Saw your link to Gateway Pundit. He doesn’t seem too bright. The photo he’s using to attempt to suggest a max of 7000 is very clearly showing a single section of the crowd, which extends to the right and left edges of the photo and, one would imagine, beyond it. I don’t know how big the crowd is, but you’d need a lot more evidence than this to fully establish a certain number.

That’s evident in the statistics which show fewer bombs and fewer deaths for the past couple of months.

In Baghdad. Last month. Maybe.

The stuff about civil war not being a war against civilians does not track most third world civil wars in the past two decades - civilian deaths are predictably multiples ahead of combatant deaths. Wishful thinking. But I’m glad the government’s saying there’s no civil war, even if it’s ridiculous, because at some point if anyone believes it, it makes it easier to climb down from the cliff.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
Sorry if facts and news about positive developmen
You’ve been trotting out facts about positive developments for four years. Right now you don’t have facts, you have hopes.

Reality bites.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
The stuff about civil war not being a war against civilians does not track most third world civil wars in the past two decades - civilian deaths are predictably multiples ahead of combatant deaths.
We both know what a civil war is, and what is going on there doesn’t fit that paradigm no matter how much some want it too.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
We both know what a civil war is, and what is going on there doesn’t fit that paradigm no matter how much some want it too.
By political science definitions of a civil war, this has been a civil war for some time. I don’t see how anyone could not consider it a civil war! How do you define "that paradigm" (and what do you mean by ’paradigm’ here — that seems a misuse of the word).
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
I was listening to an interview on NPR today with an LA Times Baghdad bureau chief currently transfering to Beirut about the dangers in Iraq. One of the things he said that was hardest to get used to was how Iraqis, living under Saddam when the truth could get you killed, were very adept at saying what they know someone wants to hear. They could smile and chat with soldiers in one instance, saying ’thank god you’re here,’ and then try to kill them the next.
Emphasis added.
 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
Emphasis added.
And it adds emphasis as to why I ignore him ...
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Mark, I’m not sure what your emphasis means. Clearly, no one ever can trust a government spokesperson in any event. Those who do, are usually buying propaganda.

As to civil war, here’s a link to the definition of a civil war. Looks like McQ is wrong. Again.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Having read McQ’s article and “Iraq plans Bush won’t consider, but his successor should.” By Fred Kaplan suggested by Scott Erb, it seems one or the other is ‘wishful thinking’ and I don’t know which fits that role.

If McQ is correct in his assessment of Dr. Aldabbagh we may be on the right course. It is the simplest of the two options. The plans suggested in the Kaplan article seem complicated and dependent upon actions of countries we can’t control. The principal of Occam’s razor favors McQ. his is the simplest plan. The question now seems to be, how good is McQ’s assessment?
 
Written By: James E. Fish
URL: http://faroutfishfiles.blogspot.com/
Clearly, no one ever can trust a government spokesperson in any event. Those who do, are usually buying propaganda.


Wow - more cognitive dissonance - so, does that apply if the government spokesman represents a Democratic administration or Democratic sponsored administration in a foreign country as well, or a Democratic party favored position?
Or does it only apply if we’re talking about a Republican administration or a Republican ’client’, or a Republican favored position?

Like, the government spokespersons for a Democratic plan to withdraw from Iraq? (you know, government...Congressmen...Senators)
Like Murtha? Pelosi? Reid? (Not government spokespersons?)

Don’t you love where broad generalizations take you?

How about the government spokesperson for the National Weather Service about to tell us about the doom of the onset of global warming based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change result the other day?
Glad you pointed out we ought not to trust that one when the report comes out.

EPA persons about to declare CO2 to be a pollutant?
Better not trust them, government spokesman you see....

Ah, where to take this, so many places, so little space.

But of course, I realize there are exceptions to your rule, and you’ll be sure and interpret for us which government spokesperson we can trust, and which ones we cannot (let’s see, ones you agree with, trust, ones you don’t agree with, don’t trust - check, got it).

Too entertaining.
 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Wow - more cognitive dissonance - so, does that apply if the government spokesman represents a Democratic administration or Democratic sponsored administration in a foreign country as well, or a Democratic party favored position?
Why cognitive dissonance? It certainly does apply for a Democratic administration. Although he was NATO’s spokesman (not America’s) during the Kosovo war, Jamie Shea drove me crazy.

And, no, I don’t really care for how the Democrats are approaching the Iraq war — the pork in their bill, and the way politics defines their reaction. A pox on both parties! Though I wouldn’t call Pelosi, Reed, or Trent Lott or any member of Congress a "government spokesman," I nonetheless rarely trust them. Politicians speak with forked tongue!

On global warming and pollution, no I don’t trust government spokespeople, I look to what scientists say in their reports, and I talk with scientists as much as I can. Better to cut the political spin out of the equation. I worked in DC — as an assistant press secretary and then LA for a Senator (Republican). From what I’ve seen, neither party is superior in terms of trustworthiness or integrity, they all play political games (and that was in the 80s when the atmosphere was more civilized).
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
They’ll revoke my card and my club privileges for this.....but Dr Erb, it seems we’re actually in agreement!

Here’s to a pox for them all.
 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Erb quotes somebody saying the solution will be political and that its not happening simply because Bush won’t talk to them.

First, its not Bush who is going to be talking to Sunni/Shia factions or making these deals, but mainly the Iraqis. This has already happened several times in their parliament and also directly with Sunni groups interested in talking...remember the talk of an amnesty?

Our last ambassador also kept great ties with the Sunni opposition (some of which are the political wings of the insurgents.)

This belief that it could all be done if only we talked, and that its Bush who is refusing is one of the DUMBEST things I have ever witnessed. It’s what gave Nancy Pelosi the hubris to try to make some deals in Syria, etc. Hey, if we just had someone reasonable talk with Syria/Iran/Osama Bin Laden, then we could clear the air and resolve the world’s problems.

BTW, Bush already talked with North Korea and Libya, and told the Iranians "any time is fine as long as you suspend your enrichment" so I really don’t get this "Bush doesn’t want to talk" line.


 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Here’s a typical Erb statement (directly quoted):
There is strong evidence to suggest a withdraw would not create more chaos.
Here is James D. Fearon, cited so approvingly by Erb, speaking to Congress about Iraq:
Foreign troops and advisors can enforce power-sharing and limit violence while they are present, but it appears to be extremely difficult to change local beliefs that the national government can survive on its own while the foreigners are there in force. In a context of many factions and locally strong militias, mutual fears and temptations are likely to spiral into political disintegration and escalation of militia and insurgent-based conflict if and when we leave.
Fearon actually argues for a gradual withdrawal, but he make the point repeatedly that their will be more violence when we leave.

So please, Scott "The Truth Hurts" Erb, do continue to tell us about how everyone else is wrong while you link to people who directly contradict you.
 
Written By: JWG
URL: http://
Mark, I’m not sure what your emphasis means
I’m sure that you believe the LA Times Baghdad bureau chief personally observed the phenomenon that he mentions. I find it much more likely such an opinion came from interviewing Iraqis.

Do you also need a ground guide and a strip map?
 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
First, its not Bush who is going to be talking to Sunni/Shia factions or making these deals, but mainly the Iraqis. This has already happened several times in their parliament and also directly with Sunni groups interested in talking...remember the talk of an amnesty?
I think he’s talking more about Syria and Iran there than groups internal to Iraq. Ultimately those two states hold the key, along with Saudi Arabia. They don’t want a regional war, and they need, ultimately, a stable Iraq. They just don’t want it to be one dominated by the US. Giving Iran an ultimatum about talking doesn’t really make sense; we are not in a position of power right now.
Fearon actually argues for a gradual withdrawal, but he make the point repeatedly that their will be more violence when we leave.
That is likely if you look at typical ethnic conflict — just as it is likely that the surge will at best provide only temporary respite in a small geographic area from this kind of violence. Given how overstretched the military is right now, I’m absolutely convinced that the Bush plan is to create a peace with honor moment: get violence in Baghdad down a bit, have the Iraqi government say "we’re getting things under control," and then leave. As Bush sits in retirement and the violence flares up, he can then say "well, if I had more support we’d have stayed and this wouldn’t have happened." But the reality is that there are limits to what we can do given the state of our military.
Still, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran have an interest in not seeing Iraq devolve into chaos, and the Saudis seem on better terms with the Iranians these days. Ultimately a regional solution is the most likely way to stability, and maybe it can work.

And Mark, you should have heard the interview with the bureau chief. It wasn’t just about what’s happening, it’s about the intensely dangerous positions he put himself into, and how many times he was convinced he was in really deep trouble because of the risks inherent in just covering the story. He said he had gotten used to not only the car bombs nearby and the gunfire, but also the smell of burning flesh. The guy was hardly a desk jockey just doing interviews. He also told of encounters with Hezbollah when he was in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. These war reporters tend to be pretty darn brave — read Chris Hedges book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning (he was a NYT Pulitzer prize winning war reporter, and his books on war paint a very real picture of what war actually is). Don’t deride war reporters, they don’t just putter around in the green zone looking for sound bites.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
"He said they hoped their Operation Enforcing the Law (in Baghdad) should finish by the end of the year (2007). Their objective is to have disarmed the militias in total by the end of that operation"

Is he saying that the current US troop level in Baghdad, and presumably the rest of Iraq, will stay the same until at least the end of the year?


 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Well, maybe I’m being too hard on the government spokesman. If you think his tone was convincing, great. He may even be invested in the ideas he’s pushing across. But I’ve been listening to the Maliki government say the right things in speeches for years now. I’ll dig up the man himself’s press conference with GW from last year, if you want. I can’t mentally edit out the disconnect between words and events.

but if this actually ends up succeeding you need to be at least partially prepared, psychologically.

Success and failure are slippery targets. If the militias are gone by 07 and stay gone through, oh, the first half of 08, though, I will indeed be caught completely off guard.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
BTW, Bush already talked with North Korea and Libya, and told the Iranians "any time is fine as long as you suspend your enrichment" so I really don’t get this "Bush doesn’t want to talk" line.

The solution to Iraq requires, for starters, a settlement of differences between Iran, currently funding the Shiites, and the Gulf Sunni states, currently funding the Gulf Sunni states bleeding us dry. Instead, the Bush Admin is currently doing everything it can to put these two at each other’s throats.

So, it’s not just a question of ’talking’. It’s a question of hopelessly incoherent, internally conflicted general strategy.

Meanwhile, the Sunni insurgents want... US troops out of Iraq, which is an indefinite nonstarter for the Admin. Thus, Zalmay Khalizad can talk until his jaw falls off, but he can’t actually deliver.. anything.

This is the same admin that squashed Maliki’s first amnesty plan in 05 and now finds themselves powerless to resurrect it.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
ERB: Asking Iran to simply suspend enrichment to start talks is not an "ultimatum." If the talks fail, they can re-start enrichment at their leisure. Frankly, seeing how many incentives have been tossed their way and the fact they can see the Libyan example, Iran has no excuse not to attend talks....unless they really do want nukes and don’t want to stop. Thus no negotiation would work in any case. Again, to be useful, talks have to include parties that wish to come to an agreement.

Glasnost: Remember when the Left and the media kept telling the Right how STUPID they were to say that the insurgency was mainly outsiders when it was really the locals? Now you’re telling me that it actually is mainly outsiders and their support that matters.

Personally, I think most of the groups in Iraq are homegrown and while getting some support from Syria or Iran helps them, they have more than enough local stockpiles to keep themselves self-contained for years to come. I think if tomorrow Iran and Syria agreed to stop all support, we’d still face 90% of the problems we have today in Iraq. You are not going to placate Al Qaeda in Iraq. Maybe the nationalist segment will stop if we were to withdraw, but since these are mainly Sunnis, they would simply stop targeting our troops and focus more on the Iraqi army/Shia.

There are plenty of countries with insurgencies that despite earnest efforts for talks and negotiation (all minus GWB) still manage to fail and end up with ongoing wars...see Sri Lanka, Colombia, Philippines, etc. Why should the Iraqi insurgents be any more accommodating than the Tamil Tigers or FARC?

BTW, we did talk to Iran during the big pow wow in Iraq.

I honestly don’t know what kind of words and actions you guys expect would woo the Iranians in any case.

 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
And Mark, you should have heard the interview with the bureau chief. It wasn’t just about what’s happening, it’s about the intensely dangerous positions he put himself into, and how many times he was convinced he was in really deep trouble because of the risks inherent in just covering the story. He said he had gotten used to not only the car bombs nearby and the gunfire, but also the smell of burning flesh. The guy was hardly a desk jockey just doing interviews. He also told of encounters with Hezbollah when he was in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. These war reporters tend to be pretty darn brave — read Chris Hedges book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning (he was a NYT Pulitzer prize winning war reporter, and his books on war paint a very real picture of what war actually is). Don’t deride war reporters, they don’t just putter around in the green zone looking for sound bites.
So your claim is that his statement...
They could smile and chat with soldiers in one instance, saying ’thank god you’re here,’ and then try to kill them the next.
...is something that he directly observed and not something that he obtained via interviewing Iraqis?

Good thing you are an academic, I guess. I’m switching back to "Ignore Dr. Erb" mode. Have a nice day.
 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
Iraqi demonstrations are about as useful an indicator as anti-gun demonstrations in anti-gun states. Can’t make the numbers, well, then press gang some school children into filling the rows.

Some observations of an Iraqi on the non-violent demonstrations which took place...
The commander of the 8th IA division in charge of the area was obviously suspicious of the demonstrations organized by the Sadrists in nearby Najaf (about 50km to the west) and he realized that demonstrators would possibly become reinforcements to the militiamen his soldiers are fighting so he made clear last night on TV that no marchers from other cities would be allowed to enter Diwaniya.

Speaking of the Sadrists’ pitiful demonstrations. His aides were hoping to gather a million marchers for yesterday but all they could manage were less than ten thousands, that’s even when they bussed people from Baghdad and Basra.

The Arabic-speaking al-Alam Iranian channel claims the number was "hundreds of thousands" but that’s just al-Alam, other channels and the footage we saw all put the number between 5 and 10 thousand. I had personally been to a demonstration of 10 thousands once and what I saw yesterday was definitely smaller.

Flying Iraqi flags in large numbers is another exposed cheap trick combining methods from both Hezbollah and Saddam.

Replacing partisan sectarian banners with the national flag was likely inspired from Hezbollah’s rallies in Lebanon. Both movements desperately try to show themselves as patriotic movements because they realize the others see them as Iran’s tools.

On the other hand the way the flags were gathered is a trademark of the Ba’ath work; the flags that were carried during the demonstration as well as the flags that were seen hanging on walls in Baghdad were not donated by NGO’s, nor bought with Sadr’s money.

Elements of the Mehdi army paid visits to hundreds of shops and stores in several neighborhoods in Baghdad and "asked" the owners for money to buy flags; 6,000 dinars ($5) from stores on main streets and 2,000 dinars from stores in the alleys. This is exactly what the Ba’ath thugs used to do; using intimidation to steal hard-earned money from hardworking Iraqis to decorate their false demonstrations with posters and portraits.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com/
glasnost: Remember when the Left and the media kept telling the Right how STUPID they were to say that the insurgency was mainly outsiders when it was really the locals? Now you’re telling me that it actually is mainly outsiders and their support that matters.

Personally, I think most of the groups in Iraq are homegrown and while getting some support from Syria or Iran helps them, they have more than enough local stockpiles to keep themselves self-contained for years to come. I think if tomorrow Iran and Syria agreed to stop all support, we’d still face 90% of the problems we have today in Iraq. You are not going to placate Al Qaeda in Iraq. Maybe the nationalist segment will stop if we were to withdraw, but since these are mainly Sunnis, they would simply stop targeting our troops and focus more on the Iraqi army/Shia.


You’ve got some good points here, Harun. I agree that the insurgency is mostly self-sustaining. it’s a myth to say, for example, if we bombed Iran, the Shiite militas would dissapear. Or if we invaded Syria, the Sunni insurgency would wither. Foreign countries are not running the insurgency.

Nevertheless, regional context matters - mostly because it influences the decisions that major groups might or might not take. I think the Baathists/nationalists in Iraq have a sense that the entire Sunni Gulf area stands behind them. I think they get that in money, rhetoric, safe havens, and who knows what else.

It’s not that the Baathist insurgency depends on Syria for active support, or that Syria is running it. It’s that the Sunni community as a whole, if it felt like it and/or was incentivized to feel like it, could play a major role in winding down the violence in that state.

It’s kind of like what didn’t happen, but could have, with Oslo.

A political agreement has to be made that accomodates the Gulf Sunni states to and with Iran, to and with the new Shiite power in Iraq. Right now our policy is pointed 100% in the opposite direction. We have prioritized pressuring Iran on nukes over winding down the war. We may not even know it, either.

BTW, Harun, I think more than one thing could happen during a withdrawal, depending on how it was done. I think we could use withdrawal as leverage to negotiate a lull - though it might have to be done with a partition of Baghdad.
Or, we could just pull out troops, and yes, some faction of Al-Queda might go to targeting Shiites instead. The hopeful scenario, though, is that the nationalist Sunni pragmatists sit down at the table with the Shiites, and Al-Queida bombs them a few times, and then everyone gangs up on the fanatics and wipes them out.
Perhaps with our help, perhaps without.

We are standing in our own way of getting everyone to gang up on the fanatics.

I honestly don’t know what kind of words and actions you guys expect would woo the Iranians in any case.

I don’t think a grand bargain is on the table, so it’s mostly about getting them to make reciprocal concilatory gestures towards their Gulf Neighbors in exchange for getting real pressure to shut down the Sunni insurgency. Instead, right now King Abdullah is making speeches about the illegal U.S. occupation.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
It’s possible that even with the Sunni regionals telling the Sunnis Iraq to wind it down, it wouldn’t wind down. It seems like the best shot to me, though. Otherwise, what’s going to do it? The US army has no, none, zero prospect of achieving it, and everyone knows it: it’s written into the memos: "We need a political solution".

If regional diplomacy can’t do it, frankly it will fall to the Shia to crush the population at large. It’ll be very, very ugly. The alternative, the current stalemate of atrocities, isn’t much better.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://

 
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