Monday, January 15, 2007

Steve Benen: About the Iraqis Supporting Bush's Escalation

Based on the White House’s description of the president’s “new way forward,” the bulk of the initiative is dependent on Iraqi officials following through on Bush’s policy agenda. The New York Times had a good item today highlighting a small flaw in the plan: Iraqi officials don’t seem to care for Bush’s policy agenda at all.

American military officials have spent days huddled in meetings with Iraqi officers in a race to turn blueprints drawn up in Washington into a plan that will work on the ground in Baghdad. With the first American and Iraqi units dedicated to the plan due to be in place within weeks, time is short for setting details of what American officers view as the decisive battle of the war.

But the signs so far have unnerved some Americans working on the plan, who have described a web of problems — ranging from a contested chain of command to how to protect American troops deployed in some of Baghdad’s most dangerous districts — that some fear could hobble the effort before it begins.

I don’t mean to sound picky, but shouldn’t the administration have ironed out some of these details before the president announced what would happen? If the U.S. is dependent on Iraqis buying into the plan, and Iraqis aren’t, why unveil a “new way forward” that may not be able to leave the starting gate?

Reading the Times piece, one wonders if anyone in Iraq is ready to line up behind Bush’s approach. Shiites remain a problem.

First among the American concerns is a Shiite-led government that has been so dogmatic in its attitude that the Americans worry that they will be frustrated in their aim of cracking down equally on Shiite and Sunni extremists, a strategy President Bush has declared central to the plan.

“We are implementing a strategy to embolden a government that is actually part of the problem,” said an American military official in Baghdad involved in talks over the plan. “We are being played like a pawn.” […]

The plan gives a central role to the National Police, viewed as widely infiltrated by Shiite militias and, despite an intensive American retraining program, still suspected of a strongly Shiite sectarian bias. One American officer said that the National Police commanders have been “dragging their feet” over their role in the new plan and that they could seriously compromise the operation.

For that matter, as Steve M. noted, the Sunnis aren’t happy…

President Bush’s plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq has inflamed passions among the restive Sunni Arab minority, bringing new recruits to insurgent cells and outpourings of popular anger toward the U.S., the spokesman for the country’s most hard-line Sunni clerical group declared Sunday.

“Iraq is like a fire,” said Mohammed Bashar Faidi, spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Assn. “Instead of putting water on the fire, Bush is pouring gasoline.” […]

Faidi said Bush’s calls for increased troops had only roused suspicions of imminent offensives on Sunni districts of Baghdad and Al Anbar province and spurred a sudden “mobilization” among Sunnis, according to clerics and prayer leaders who contacted him by telephone from Iraq.

…and neither are the Kurds.

The arrest of the Iranians by U.S. forces at a liaison office in the northern city of Irbil last week exposed a growing rift…. Kurdish legislators condemned the raid as illegal. […]

Although the Iranians were not accredited diplomats, they worked in a well-known office, approved by the Kurdish regional government, that offers consular services and is on its way to gaining accreditation as a formal consulate….

Kurdish officials said the United States should have contacted the regional government before launching the raid.

It’s quite a plan, isn’t it? Bush told 60 Minutes last night, “I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude and I believe most Iraqis express that.” I guess it depends on what the president means by “most.”

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