Monday, March 20, 2006

Iraq, three years on

According to Lt. Gen Peter Chiarelli, the US second in command in Baghdad, the goal for US forces is to turn control of 75 percent of the country’s territory to Iraqi forces by the end of summer.

The US army has already pulled out of 25 percent of Iraq, so this means its withdrawal from another 50 percent over the next six months. Chiarelli was careful to characterize the land to be handed over as not necessarily areas where the insurgency is strongest.

US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it differently. In an article he wrote in the March 19 Washington Post, he said “…if we retreat now, there is every reason to believe Saddamists and terrorists will fill the vacuum – and the free world might not have the will to face them again.”

In other words, both seem to be saying in different ways that, three years after the US invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi army still cannot be trusted to handle the guerrilla war fought by Sunni insurgents without US backup.

Rumsfeld maintains that the “rationale for a free and democratic Iraq is as compelling today as it was three years ago,” and “the vast majority of the Iraqi people want the coalition to succeed” and a better future for themselves and their families.

The solution Rumsfeld suggests is the new Iraqi army.

The defense secretary says that some 100 Iraqi army battalions are “in the fight.” He says nothing about their fitness to stand up to the enemy on their own. Neither does he discuss the chances of their disintegrating once the American army is gone: Shiite units heading for the Shiite regions south and northeast of Baghdad, and Kurdish units joining the Persh Merga in the north.

The former prime minister, the pro-American Iyad Allawi, made headlines by stating “If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is,” on Sunday, March 19. "If Iraq has not reached the “point of no return yet,”…we are moving towards this point. We are in a terrible civil conflict now.”

Allawi sees Iraq falling apart if the sectarian violence reaches the point of no return, “…sectarianism will spread through the region and even Europe and the United States would not be spared the violence that may occur as a result of sectarian problems in this region.”

Hmmm...I don't see it quite that way. If Iraq dissolves, I see it as a withdrawal into different spheres of influnce and territory, rather than a civil war for rulership..someting the Bush Administration might have forseen when trying to cobble together such a disparate country.

The 500 pound gorilla in the room, of course, is Iran’s clandestine penetration of Iraq and the well-trained guerrilla fighters Tehran continues to feed into the conflict, as well as contingents already prepared in country for suicide attacks against US forces. Both radical cleric al-Sadr and Shiek Nasrullah of Hezbollah were recently called to Teheran and met with the head of Iran's Supreme Council of Guardians, Khamanei on this very subject, a joint offense against the Americans and their Iraqi allies in Iraq and on Israel from the Hezbollah controlled South of Lebanon.

The Iranians, of course, as I reported have finally made use of a longstanding US offer to hold face to face talks on Iraq..and no doubt to offer a face saving deal to the Bush Administration to ease up on their terrorist activities in Iraq in exchange for reduced pressure on Iran's nuclear weapons program.

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