Thursday, November 22, 2007

So much for the success of the Surge™

When the Resident stood in front of the nation on January 10 and announced that he was going to go ahead and implement another American Enterprise Institute pipe dream the reason he gave for escalating forces was to give the nascent Iraqi government the "breathing space" to achieve political reconciliation.

So much for that grand ideal.

The sniping is incessant, the skirmishes bruising. For months, the verbal warfare between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, and his Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashemi, has been escalating.

Now Iraqi politicians and American diplomats and analysts fear that the very public feuding between two of Iraq's most influential leaders will doom even the minimal hopes that exist for progress on a host of key benchmarks — such as holding provincial elections and equitably sharing oil revenues.

"This is not merely about personalities quarreling over something trivial," said Anthony Cordesman, an expert on the Middle East for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. "It's about control of the state. ... It's about basic interests, factional and sectarian, and survival."

In spite of a decline in violence there has been no hint of political reconciliation, and no progress on any of the benchmarks in anyones assessment; Iraqi, United Nations or United States.

In the absence of political progress, it is feared that violence will escalate once more when the "Surge™" ends and the United States begins to reduce the number of troops in Iraq.

[Keep Reading...]

The widening social chasms in Iraq go far beyond the bickering and sniping between Hashemi and Maliki, but the hostility between the two leaders illustrates clearly the failure of the Surge™ to bring Iraq's troubles to an end, in spite of the reduction in violence.

On Tuesday, Maliki accused Hashimi of abusing his position on Iraq's 3-member presidency council and blocking legislation passed by the Shiite-dominated parliament. (To become law, legislation passed by the parliament must be unanimously approved by the council.)

Maliki also ridiculed Hashemi's Iraqi Sunni political party, calling it "unrepresentative" of the country's minority Sunnis, in spite of the fact that the party is the largest Sunni bloc in the parliament.

Hashemi, a former military officer who never joined the Baath party, has taken his shots at Maliki on a few occasions as well, especially regarding security and human rights issues. He has pushed for amnesty for thousands of Sunnis who have been detained and imprisoned. He has visited overcrowded prisons with television cameras in tow to criticize Maliki and his government over the treatment of detainees, most of whom are Sunni Arabs. Maliki dismissed Hashimi's forays into the prison system as nothing more than political grandstanding.

Hashemi has accused the Maliki government of turning a blind eye to the sectarian violence that has claimed the lives of three of his siblings - and the accusation outrages Maliki.

American officials are frustrated that the Iraqi leaders are not acting to resolve the impasse and Phil Reeker, an official at the U.S. embassy last week urged the two men to put their differences aside. "Leaders have to take advantage of this opportunity to continue serious work in focusing on the most important matters at hand to move the country forward. I think it's very important that the Iraqi people are looking to their leaders to provide them with progress, with security, with services, with jobs, and it is legislative activity that is going to lead to that."

Other Iraqi politicians are frustrated with the situation as well. "It's becoming more than political; it's becoming personal, and that's unfortunate. I blame both of them. I hope they can just get over it, because it's affecting the credibility of the government," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of parliament. "At this moment, they should be together now that the security situation is better. Iraq needs teamwork."

A GAO report issued last month found that the Iraqi government had failed to realize most of the 18 benchmarks established by the U.S. as signs of progress and reconciliation. Of vital importance - the GAO found that sectarianism within the government undermines the reconciliation effort. No one sees a quick solution.

Anthony Cordesman put the disputes in historical context, and put it bluntly - "There is not going to be reconciliation because of some magic agreement that will make everybody forget past grievances."

Othman, the Kurdish parliamentarian, agreed. "The lack of trust is the main issue," he said. "Maliki is not ready to have Sunnis as part of the decision-making process. There is a distrust there."

From the outset, the Bush administration has failed to consider the historic and ethnic realities of Iraq. That is why the situation is so thoroughly and utterly FUBAR, and was doomed to be from inception. Continuing the American presence only aggravates the situation. As long as American forces occupy the country, it is not going to get any better.

When faced with no good options, the least-bad option is the only intelligent choice. And right now, the least-bad option is to get the hell out of there and let the Iraqis solve their own problems. The wrong done to that country and it's citizens is of aWol's making, but we can no more solve the problems with military force than one can put out a fire with kerosene.