Civilian and military leaders here assured U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Thursday that Turkey's incursion into northern Iraq would be limited to redoubts occupied by Kurdish separatists but offered no guarantees on how soon their troops would withdraw.
In meetings with the Turkish officials, Gates pushed, he said, for the operation to be wrapped up as quickly as possible and for the Turks to more clearly explain to the Iraqi government the size and scope of the offensive.
The Turkish military, which has long battled Kurdish separatists who strike at Turkey from bases in the mountains of northern Iraq, launched the large-scale ground operation last week backed by artillery and warplanes. The fighting has angered Washington's Iraqi allies and raised concern that the conflict could spread in a relatively stable area of Iraq.
Gates previously had urged that the operation end after a week or two. But he told reporters traveling with him back to Washington that the Turks had given no timetable for their withdrawal.
The above is from Peter Spiegel's "Gates and Turks discuss Iraq incursion" (Los Angeles Times) and this morning Gareth Jones and Paul de Bendern (Reuters) are reporting that Turkey's invasion has "wound down" at least in terms of "ground offensive". Whether it has or not will emerge later in the day. What is known is that Nouri al-Maliki is a puppet of the occupation. Lloyd notes Amit R. Paley and Joshua Partlow's "Despite Problems, Iraqi Leader Boasts of Success: Rivals See Maliki's Confidence as Rash, but Publicly Deny a Move to Topple Him" (Washington Post):
"We promised we would bring national reconciliation to the sons of Iraq, and we have succeeded!" Maliki thundered to hundreds of thousands of Shiites gathered at the golden-domed Imam Hussein Shrine in Karbala. "Iraqis are once again loving brothers!"
Maliki is facing a drumbeat of criticism that his government has achieved little progress as well as constant calls for his ouster, but these days he hardly sounds like a man fighting for his political survival. He acts as if he has the upper hand over his political rivals, brusquely rejecting demands from key allies and making a bold grab for greater control of the federal bureaucracy.
[. . .]
Maliki's confidence seems untethered to political reality. Predicting when his government will fall has become a parlor game in certain circles in Baghdad. And some of his pronouncements -- like one on Thursday that "sectarianism has been eliminated" -- have struck Iraqi and American officials as bordering on the delusional. Sectarian killings are still common and political reconciliation remains elusive, a fact underscored by the veto this week of a law calling for nationwide elections, one of the few major pieces of legislation approved by parliament.
"He's failed at governing," acknowledged a senior U.S. official in Baghdad, who was granted anonymity so he could speak candidly, but the official said there was no better option. "If Maliki were to be removed by a vote of no confidence, we'd go into an extended period of stagnation."
It sounds a lot like the nonsense that was offered to the House Armed Service Committee on the "training" of Iraqi forces yesterday. As soon as they're up and running and can do the job, Gen. George Casey swears, US forces can come home. But as the committee's chair, Ike Skelton, pointed out, training started in 2004, continued in 2005, in 2006, in 2007 and now into 2008.
How long will the puppet from spring 2006 be propped up?
And of course, his concerns with the "sons" and "brothers" of Iraq only reflect the attacks on women in Iraq that thugs like him have led. Commenting on his "unity" speech, Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) observes:
When he said it, our Iraqi staff chuckled. Yes the unidentified bodies in Baghdad have dropped, but violence has crept back up slightly, this month and the last, in the capital. The first day of February at least 99 people died in coordinated bombings here and when Shiites walked to Karbala, at least 40 died in a bombing at a roadside tent that offered refreshments to the pious walking to Karbala.
One of our Shiite Iraqi staffers asked if Maliki would go to Adil, a restive Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad where Sunni insurgents still operate and Shiites know they are not welcome. Maybe he can check out Hurriyah where Sunni residents have not returned. They were run out of the neighborhood in 2006 and some men were burned alive.
Maybe he can ask the more than 88,000 mostly Sunni contractors that work with the U.S. to fight Al Qaida how they feel about the reconciliation effort. Many of them are former insurgents, very few have been absorbed into the government. People complain now that many act as warlords, in each neighborhood the law is in their hands.
He may want to see what's happening in Basra where Shiite groups battle for power with bullets or ask the tribal sheikhs who are being targeted for turning on Al Qaida.
This morning's second entry is started but the rest will have to be dicated so it will go up shortly.
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amit r. paley