Saturday, July 28, 2007

A battle that is already

July 28, 2007

A battle that is already lost

THE US wants to handle the insurgency in Iraq the American way, enlisting friends and allies as it finds fit in order to in its bid to fight off Al Qaeda. The strategy includes forming alliances with Sunnis in the Sunni-dominated provinces and with Shiites in Shiite-majority areas. Parallel to that the US is also moving against hardline Shiite militiamen who are posing a key challenge to overall security in the country.
The US-backed Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki thinks it knows better and wants the US military to stay away from becoming friends with the Sunnis and stop recruiting Sunnis into the security apparatus without case-by-case approval by the Iraqi state intelligence apparatus. Also, the Iraqi government does not want the US military to take on Shiite militiamen alligned with Maliki's coalition partners and wants the US military commanders to keep it informed of planned operations against Shiite gunmen. It is even suggested that Maliki had advised Shiite groups like the Mahdi Army of anti-US firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr to lie low, hide their weapons and not to offer themselves as targets in the US military crackdown that was launched in February.
Maliki has reportedly told the US side that if the top US commander in Iraq, David Petraeus, continues to build alliances with the Sunnis, then the Iraqi government would arm Shiites.
With such a dramatic difference in approach and conflicting interests, it is only natural that the rift between the Maliki government and the US military is widening. The latest in growing crisis is a report that Maliki has already requested Washington to withdraw Petraeus.
On the broader front, the US administration is unhappy with Maliki because his government has not been able to meet any of the "benchmarks" that Washington has set towards meetings its objectives in Iraq.
US Ambasador Ryan Crocker faces the almost impossible task of persuading the Iraqi parliament to endorse laws that Washington sees as central pillars of a post-crisis Iraq (if ever there could be one).
Crocker's mission has acquired an added sense of urgency because he has to report to the US Congress in September on "progress" made in Iraq and explain why American soldiers are fighting and dying to give Maliki political breathing space that the Iraqi prime minister will not or cannot capitalise on.
US President George W Bush has no option but to continue to back Maliki if only because replacing the Iraqi prime minister with a more "amenable" figure and working with him to achieve the US goals in Iraq before Bush bows out of office in 18 months is not a practical idea. As such, Bush and Maliki are stuck with each other, but it is obvious that they are and remain unable to make the best of their dependence on each other.
The relationship between Washington and the Maliki government is central central to the future of Iraq and the larger Middle East. That relationship is in deep trouble now, adding yet another huge hurdle in the way of the US realising its strategic goals of its invasion and occupation of Iraq.