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Time’s Haditha Reporter: All Lost In Iraq

The same reporter at Time Magazine who helped Tim McGirk bring us the so-called "Haditha "Massacre" now explains what the US has to do to solve the problems in Iraq.

(Hint: he thinks we should help Saddam’s Sunni minority. You know, the guys who are butchering our soldiers and the Iraqis who are trying to establish a Democratic government.)

How to Prevent Iraq From Getting Even Worse

Analysis: Staying the course is no longer an option. Here’s the best scenario for the U.S. to do some good before it pulls out


Sunday, Oct. 22, 2006

There are no good options left in Iraq. To those who have lived through the daily carnage wrought by organized criminals, sectarian militias and jihadist terrorists, the idea that the U.S. can prevent a full-scale civil war—let alone transform Iraq into a stable democracy—has been dead for months. The main question is, How long will it take for military officials in Iraq and policymakers in Washington to concede that the whole enterprise is closer to failure than success?

[B]oth parties are hoping that the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic Representative from Indiana, will provide the White House with the political cover to abandon its now quixotic goals of creating democracy in Iraq in favor of a more limited focus on establishing enough stability to allow U.S. troops to leave without catastrophic consequences. "You can’t sugarcoat that. The Iraq situation’s not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word. What the U.S. needs to do now is look for a way to limit the losses and the costs," Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former member of the Administration’s foreign policy team, said last week. The question, Haass added, is "how poorly it’s going to end up." …

So what can still be done? Despite the consensus of gloom —Bush told ABC News last week that the violence in Baghdad "could be" compared to the Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968-69, which helped turn many Americans against that war—few Iraqi or U.S. officials believe an immediate withdrawal is wise or likely. But paralysis could be worse. So the focus is on finding ways to bring violence down to a sustainable level, after which the U.S. can begin to extricate itself from the mess. At this late date, there’s nothing the U.S. or the Iraqi government can do to stop the bleeding altogether. Iraq’s most pressing problems may still take years to resolve. But quick and decisive action in a few key areas could at least help slow the inexorable descent into anarchy. Here are five of them:


Sunni victims of sectarian violence routinely accuse the police and army of looking the other way when the militias unleash havoc—or worse, joining in the killing…

The only option is for the U.S. to press al-Maliki to abandon his plans to absorb the militias into the security forces, slow down recruitment and set up a screening process to prevent militiamen from infiltrating the ranks. And cops suspected of abuses can’t merely be fired. "If these officers and policemen have been guilty of sectarian crimes, they should be in jail and not in the street where they can commit more crimes," says political analyst Tahseen al-Shekhli. "Otherwise, the message al-Maliki sends to every policeman is, ‘There is no punishment for killing Sunnis.’" …


Since the Feb. 22 destruction of a major Shi’ite shrine in Samarra, the Mahdi Army, al-Sadr’s black-clad private militia, has been on the warpath against Sunnis, especially in and around Baghdad…

In public, the U.S. military says al-Sadr—who controls a sizable block of parliament—is a major political figure and must be treated accordingly; in media briefings, even al-Sadr’s name and that of his militia are studiously avoided. Privately, however, American commanders say they would like the shackles taken off just long enough to deliver some blows against the Mahdi Army. It wouldn’t be simple: a full-frontal assault on heavily populated Sadr City isn’t a smart option, and a senior U.S. intelligence officer says that "Sadr himself has a diminished ability to command and control his forces." But the U.S. may still be able to do some good by hacking away at those elements of the Mahdi Army responsible for the worst sectarian atrocities and criminal activities…


Yes, that’s been tried, but much of the hard slog U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad put in last winter to bring the Sunnis into the political process was undone last month when Shi’ite and Kurdish parties forced through legislation that brings Iraq closer to a partitioned state, which Sunnis fear would leave them without access to the country’s main resource, oil. "The Shi’ites and Kurds used their combined parliamentary majority to bully the Sunnis," says a Western diplomat in Baghdad. "They need to understand that a big part of democracy is about reassuring the minority that its worst fears won’t be realized." …

The risk is that more Sunnis will join the insurgency, which is being driven by extremist jihadis who have taken over parts of western Iraq. The Mujahedin Shura Council, an umbrella of jihadist groups that includes al-Qaeda’s Iraqi wing, last week announced the formation of an Islamic state in "the Sunni provinces of Iraq." Scores of white-clad jihadis staged a brazen show of force in several towns in Anbar province. Although the majority of Sunnis want no part of an Islamic state run by jihadis, they may feel they have no option if the political process seems rigged against them…


Since Syria and Iran are a big part of Iraq’s problems—Damascus shelters and funds Sunni insurgents; Tehran arms and trains Shi’ite militias—they will have to be a big part of any solution. That has always been clear in Baghdad, where leaders like President Jalal Talabani maintain that the U.S. needs to engage Iraq’s neighbors in some sort of dialogue, through unofficial channels if no other options exist. Talabani told the BBC last week that "if Iran and Syria were involved, it will be the beginning of the end of terrorism and securing Iraq within months." …


… Even at current troop levels, U.S. forces may be able to bring the violence down to a more tolerable level. As the insurgency has intensified, many U.S. units have gone into "force protection" mode: going outside the wire only when a situation has reached crisis proportions and there’s little they can do to set things right. That’s the scenario that unfolded in Balad last week, when U.S. forces stood on the sidelines despite calls by Sunni leaders for them to intervene against the Shi’ite death squads. Some top commanders would instead like to see the U.S. military adopt more aggressive counterinsurgency tactics. For instance, rather than confine most troops to a few large bases on the outskirts of urban centers, the commanders advocate setting up smaller "patrol bases" near volatile neighborhoods. Those would give U.S. troops a higher profile—which is in itself a deterrent against violence—and allow them to respond more swiftly to trouble…

If all of these prescriptions were applied, would they make a difference? It’s possible, but only if taken together. The Iraqi security forces can’t be cleaned up unless the U.S. is prepared to face down al-Sadr—and it can accomplish neither of these tasks unless American commanders are allowed to be more aggressive on the ground. And no political solution is possible unless the Sunnis stay in the tent and the Iranians and Syrians agree to stay out of it.

Equally plausible, however, is the prospect that none of these steps will work, taken separately or together. Among independent analysts in Iraq and Washington, there is a growing skepticism about prescriptions of any kind. "No mix of options for U.S. action can provide a convincing plan for victory in Iraq," wrote Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in a recent paper…

Say, do you think Aparisim Ghosh might be a Sunni? I suspect that is a pretty safe bet.

Lest we forget, Mr. Ghosh is the same honest reporter who repeatedly described his source for the (Sunni village of) Haditha video as a local young journalism student:

Ironically, Mr. Ghosh also scribed the following article in which he bitterly decried the fickleness of US foreign policy:

Will Pakistan be jilted by America again? You bet


Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Since the United States asked Gen. Pervez Musharraf for help in the War on Terrorism, the dictator and his officials have wasted no opportunity to remind Washington (and the world) that the last time Pakistan lent a hand it was abandoned by the Americans as soon as their objective had been met. After helping the U.S. fight a proxy war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Pakistan had hoped to remain Washington’s special friend: instead, it was treated like a pariah, with the added humiliation of seeing the Americans chummy up with India. Musharraf has refered to that slight in almost all his press conferences, and his officials have weighed in as well, using expressions like “ditched” and “jilted.”

The no-so-subtle objective of these repeated reminders is to prevent history repeating itself. The Pakistanis hope that a suitably abashed America will be more sensitive to their feelings this time round, and will remain friendly long after the current campaign in Afghanistan has ended. Expect this chorus to rise to a cresendo over the next few weeks as the Taliban is pushed into a corner.

But emotional blackmail is an unreliable diplomatic tool: Musharraf and his officials would do well to look more closely into the reasons why Pakistan was “ditched” before in order to prevent it from happening again. America didn’t dump a good friend, it simply ended a temporary arrangement. What it had with Pakistan was not really a relationship, it was more like a one-night stand. Like people, countries can only build long-term relationships when they share common values. And secular, democratic America had little in common with the Islamic dictatorship that helped win the first Afghan War. (When democracy did come to Pakistan, it was deeply flawed, with the military still calling the shots.) That is why the U.S. turned away.

It’s like doing business with somebody you suspect is a slightly shady character: you don’t want to socialize with him when the deal is done.

This is not to say America (or any other nation, for that matter) doesn’t forge ties with shady characters — countries that don’t share its values. The U.S. has at one time or another been in bed with tinpot dictators in Africa, fundamentalist Islamic kingdoms in the Persian Gulf and the communist regime in China. But all of these ties were and are based on specific objectives — the Cold War, oil or massive markets for American companies. Never mind what American politicians say, Saudi Arabia and China are not America’s “friends,” they are no more than partners of convenience…

Lacking rich oil reserves or a billion-man market, Pakistan cannot hope to hold on to America’s interest for very long after the campaign against the Taliban. What must Islamabad do to be one of Washington’s enduring friends? For a start, it must quickly return to democracy — and a real one this time, please, with the military staying out of it. Sadly, Musharraf has made it plain he has no intentions of giving up power. For all the assurances coming out of Washington, Pakistan is doomed to be “ditched” again.

So of course Time Magazine would pick this objective and knowing reporter to point out the only solutions available to the US at this juncture.

This article was posted by Steve on Sunday, October 22nd, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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