We returned from Iraq convinced we need to determine if Prime Minister Maliki is both willing and able to rise above the sectarian agendas being promoted by others. Do we and Prime Minister Maliki share the same vision for Iraq? If so, is he able to curb those who seek Shia hegemony or the reassertion of Sunni power? The answers to these questions are key in determining whether we have the right strategy in Iraq.
Maliki reiterated a vision of Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish partnership, and in my one-on-one meeting with him, he impressed me as a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so. Maliki pointed to incidents, such as the use of Iraqi forces in Shia Karbala, to demonstrate his even hand. Perhaps because he is frustrated over his limited ability to command Iraqi forces against terrorists and insurgents, Maliki has been trying to show strength by standing up to the coalition. Hence the public spats with us over benchmarks and the Sadr City roadblocks.
Despite Maliki's reassuring words, repeated reports from our commanders on the ground contributed to our concerns about Maliki's government. Reports of nondelivery of services to Sunni areas, intervention by the prime minister's office to stop military action against Shia targets and to encourage them against Sunni ones, removal of Iraq's most effective commanders on a sectarian basis and efforts to ensure Shia majorities in all ministries -- when combined with the escalation of Jaish al-Mahdi's (JAM) [the Arabic name for the Mahdi Army] killings -- all suggest a campaign to consolidate Shia power in Baghdad.
While there does seem to be an aggressive push to consolidate Shia power and influence, it is less clear whether Maliki is a witting participant. The information he receives is undoubtedly skewed by his small circle of Dawa advisers, coloring his actions and interpretation of reality. His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change. But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.
The above is the beginning of a classified memo the New York Times has seen and "transcribed." The memo's title could be "Off With The Puppet's Head?" -- read it in full. Michael Gordon reports on it in "Bush Adviser's Memo Cites Doubts About Iraqi Leader:"
The Nov. 8 memo was prepared for Mr. Bush and his top deputies by Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, and senior aides on the staff of the National Security Council after a trip by Mr. Hadley to Baghdad.
When they can't even trust their puppet, the administration is in a great deal more trouble than they choose to admit.
Gareth notes Jonathan Steele's "American military concedes daily toll of civilians likely to rise far above 100" (Guardian of London):
Violence against Iraqi civilians, which is already taking between 60 and 100 lives a day, is likely to rise still further, Major General William Caldwell, the US military spokesman in Baghdad, conceded yesterday.
In the aftermath of last week's devastating car bomb and mortar attacks against the capital's crowded Shia district of Sadr City which killed 215 people and subsequent raids by gunmen into Sunni areas, he said: "We expect to see elevated levels of violence in the next couple of weeks."
Of course they do, they know the pattern. It's not what they portrayed it to the press awhile back, but the American military knows the pattern (and has for at least a month). They also know it can't be curbed. And the talk of that, which has gotten out, may be why some outlets are now comfortable using the term "civil war" (a term that's applied for some time now).
Meanwhile, Eddie notes Jonathan Karl's "EXCLUSIVE: Pentagon Considers Moving Troops From al-Anbar Province to Baghdad" (ABC News):
ABC News has learned that Pentagon officials are considering a major strategic shift in Iraq, to move U.S. forces out of the dangerous Sunni-dominated al-Anbar province and join the fight to secure Baghdad.
The news comes as President Bush prepares to meet with Iraq's president to discuss the growing sectarian violence.
There are now 30,000 U.S. troops in al-Anbar, mainly Marines, braving some of the fiercest fighting in Iraq. At least 1,055 Americans have been killed in this region, making al-Anbar the deadliest province for American troops.
The 'crackdown' never worked, all these months later and it's still not working, so the answer is what McCain dubbed "whack-a-mole"? Baghdad was all that was controlled early in the illegal war and now it can't even be secured.
Remember, from the Pacifica site, what Rachel noted yesterday:
Pacifica Radio Archives Presents Voices For Peace And Non-Violence, premiering The Ballad of Pete Seeger, a radio documentary celebrating his life and times. A 40 plus hour special from Tuesday through Wednesday. Please support the Pacifica Radio Archives.
That special programming continues today.
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