Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Real Disaster is Bush himself.

The Real Disaster
The New York Times | Editorial

Thursday 11 January 2007

President Bush told Americans last night that failure in Iraq would be a disaster. The disaster is Mr. Bush's war, and he has already failed. Last night was his chance to stop offering more fog and be honest with the nation, and he did not take it.

Americans needed to hear a clear plan to extricate United States troops from the disaster that Mr. Bush created. What they got was more gauzy talk of victory in the war on terrorism and of creating a "young democracy" in Iraq. In other words, a way for this president to run out the clock and leave his mess for the next one.

Mr. Bush did acknowledge that some of his previous tactics had failed. But even then, the president sounded as if he were an accidental tourist in Iraq. He described the failure of last year's effort to pacify Baghdad as if the White House and the Pentagon bore no responsibility.

In any case, Mr. Bush's excuses were tragically inadequate. The nation needs an eyes-wide-open recognition that the only goal left is to get the U.S. military out of this civil war in a way that could minimize the slaughter of Iraqis and reduce the chances that the chaos Mr. Bush unleashed will engulf Iraq's neighbors.

What it certainly did not need were more of Mr. Bush's open-ended threats to Iran and Syria.

Before Mr. Bush spoke, Americans knew he planned to send more troops to pacify lawless Baghdad. Mr. Bush's task was to justify that escalation by acknowledging that there was no military solution to this war and outlining the political mission that the military would be serving. We were waiting for him to detail the specific milestones that he would set for the Iraqis, set clear timelines for when they would be expected to meet them, and explain what he intended to do if they again failed.

Instead, he said he had warned the Iraqis that if they didn't come through, they would lose the faith of the American people. Has Mr. Bush really not noticed that the American people long ago lost faith in the Iraqi government - and in him as well? Americans know that this Iraqi government is captive to Shiite militias, with no interest in the unity, reconciliation and democracy that Mr. Bush says he wants.

Mr. Bush said yet again that he wanted the Iraqi government to step up to the task of providing its security, and that Iraq needed a law on the fair distribution of oil money. Iraq's government needs to do a lot more than that, starting with disarming the sectarian militias that are feeding the civil war and purging the police forces that too often are really death squads. It needs to offer amnesty to insurgents and militia fighters willing to put down their weapons. It needs to do those things immediately.

Iraq's Shiite-dominated government has heard this list before. But so long as Mr. Bush is willing to back that failed government indefinitely - enabling is the psychological term - Iraq's leaders will have no reason to move against the militias and more fairly share power with the Sunni minority.

Mr. Bush did announce his plan for 20,000 more troops, and the White House trumpeted a $1 billion contribution to reconstruction efforts. Congress will debate these as if they are the real issues. But they are not. Talk of a "surge" ignores the other 140,000 American troops trapped by a failed strategy.

We have argued that the United States has a moral obligation to stay in Iraq as long as there is a chance to mitigate the damage that a quick withdrawal might cause. We have called for an effort to secure Baghdad, but as part of the sort of comprehensive political solution utterly lacking in Mr. Bush's speech. This war has reached the point that merely prolonging it could make a bad ending even worse. Without a real plan to bring it to a close, there is no point in talking about jobs programs and military offensives. There is nothing ahead but even greater disaster in Iraq.

Go to Original

Promising Troops Where They Aren't Really Wanted
By Sabrina Tavernise and John F. Burns
The New York Times

Thursday 11 January 2007

Baghdad - As President Bush challenges public opinion at home by committing more American troops, he is confronted by a paradox: an Iraqi government that does not really want them.

The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has not publicly opposed the American troop increase, but aides to Mr. Maliki have been saying for weeks that the government is wary of the proposal. They fear that an increased American troop presence, particularly in Baghdad, will be accompanied by a more assertive American role that will conflict with the Shiite government's haste to cut back on American authority and run the war the way it wants. American troops, Shiite leaders say, should stay out of Shiite neighborhoods and focus on fighting Sunni insurgents.

"The government believes there is no need for extra troops from the American side," Haidar al-Abadi, a Parliament member and close associate of Mr. Maliki, said Wednesday. "The existing troops can do the job."

It is an opinion that is broadly held among a Shiite political elite that is increasingly impatient, after nearly two years heading the government here, to exercise power without the constraining supervision of the United States. As a long-oppressed majority, the Shiites have a deep-seated fear that the power they won at the polls, after centuries of subjugation by the Sunni minority, could somehow be pried from their fingers once again.

There are misgivings, too, among other Shiite leaders, including some whom Mr. Bush has courted recently in a United States effort to form a bloc of politicians from the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities that can break Mr. Maliki's political dependence on the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, who leads the Mahdi Army, the most powerful of the Shiite militias that are at the heart of sectarian violence in Iraq.

Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of the security committee in Parliament and a close associate of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim - a prominent Shiite leader who met with Mr. Bush last month in Washington, and who has quietly supported the American push to reshape the political landscape in Baghdad - was unequivocal in his opposition to a troop increase.

"You can't solve the problem by adding more troops," said Redha Jawad Tahi, another Shiite member of Parliament from Mr. Hakim's party. "The security should be in the hands of the Iraqis. The U.S. should be in a supporting role."

Still, the Iraqis seem to be getting some of the increased authority they have been demanding. The plan Mr. Bush sketched out involved the appointment of an Iraqi commander with overall control of the new security crackdown in Baghdad, and Iraqi officers working under him who would be in charge of military operations in nine newly demarcated districts in the capital. The commanders would sit in a new office of commander in chief directly under the authority of Mr. Maliki. The arrangement could allow Mr. Maliki to circumvent the Ministry of Defense, which is controlled directly by the American military.

The arrangements appeared to suggest that Mr. Maliki could halt any push into Sadr City, the Mahdi Army stronghold that American commanders have been saying for months will have to be swept of extremist militia elements if there is to be any lasting turn toward stability in Baghdad. But Mr. Bush's new plan appeared to have safeguards of its own to prevent sectarian agendas from gaining the upper hand. Bush administration officials said that Americans would be present in the commander in chief's office and that an American Army battalion - 400 to 600 soldiers - would be stationed in each of the nine Baghdad military districts. That means Mr. Maliki will not have complete freedom of movement. In the past, American commanders have been reluctant to hand over operational control to the Iraqis, worried that Iraqi forces will be used as a weapon in a civil war.

Still, Mr. Abadi said that the Iraqis are expecting that the Americans will base themselves on the outskirts of Baghdad and that the Iraqis will take command of the city itself.

"There is a dialogue going on between the prime minister and Bush," he said. "The U.S. agrees that the government must take command."

Shiite suspicions of the American troop increase reflect a tectonic shift in the political realities here. Shiites, the principal victims of Saddam Hussein's repression, had joined with Iraqi Kurds in hailing the American-led invasion in 2003, seeing it as opening their way to power. But once they consolidated their control through two elections in 2005, they began distancing themselves from the Americans, seeing their liberators increasingly as an impediment to the full control they craved.

By contrast, moderate Sunnis, who were deeply alienated by the American occupation at an earlier stage of the war, are now looking to Americans for protection, as Shiite militias have moved into Sunni neighborhoods in a deadly cycle of revenge. On Wednesday, moderate Sunni politicians hailed the idea of more American troops.

The Shiite leaders' frustrations have grown in recent months as American commanders have retained their tight grip in Baghdad. While the Americans have argued for a strategy that places equal emphasis on going after Shiite and Sunni extremists, the Shiite leaders have insisted that the killing is rooted in the Sunni attempt to regain power and that Shiite militias and revenge killings are an inevitable response.

American officials have warned that with lessening American oversight, Shiite leaders might shift to a sectarian strategy that punished Sunni insurgents but spared Shiite militias. The execution 11 days ago of Saddam Hussein, carried out in haste by the Maliki government over American urgings that it be delayed until the legal paperwork was completed, only reinforced such fears. With as many as 17,000 additional American troops in Baghdad, the American force level in the capital will rise above 30,000, and many of those, under the Bush plan, will be in American units that are twinned with Iraqi units, or in expanded teams of military advisers that are embedded with the Iraqis, down to the company level.

American generals have acknowledged that the twinning of American and Iraqi units, and the rapid increase in the number of American advisers, will serve the dual purpose of stiffening Iraqi combat performance and providing American commanders with early warning of any Iraqi operations that run counter to American objectives. In effect, the advisers will serve as canaries in Mr. Maliki's mine, ensuring the American command will get early notice if Iraqi operations threaten to abandon the equal pursuit of Sunni and Shiite extremists in favor of a more sectarian emphasis. Some Iraqi politicians have expressed bitter opposition to the expansion of the advisory teams, saying they will amount to "spies" at the heart of Iraq's war.

But if that appeared to set the stage for future tensions between the Americans and the Iraqis, there was much else in the Bush plan that appeared to have been fashioned to avoid an early confrontation with the Maliki government. While the plan set out political benchmarks, it appeared to lack any timelines to force compliance on Mr. Maliki, who has shown in the past months that his willingness to pledge action on issues urged on him by the Americans is more than matched by his resourcefulness in finding ways to defer steps that might incur resistance among Shiite religious groups.

The wish list set out by White House officials was the same as the one the Americans laid down in May, when Mr. Maliki took office: an oil law that promises a fair distribution of future oil revenues between the Shiite and Kurdish populations that sit atop most of Iraq's oil wealth, and the Sunnis whose heartland is mostly bereft of proven oil reserves; constitutional revisions that will assuage Sunni complaints that their interests were swept aside when Shiite and Kurdish voters approved the charter 15 months ago over Sunni objections; a new de-Baathification law that will sweep aside the barrier that thousands of Sunnis have found in seeking government jobs; and, most important, a militia law that will lay the groundwork for disarming and demobilizing armed groups like Mr. Sadr's that challenge the government's monopoly on armed force.

Hard-line Shiite politicians have been saying with growing vehemence that these American goals amount to an attempt to deprive them of the victory they won at the polls, and that instead of placating Sunnis, a minority of about 20 percent in Iraq's population of 27 million, the United States should stand aside and "allow the minority to lose." For Americans, whose best road home lies in drawing the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds together, it amounts to a collision with the hard history of Iraq.

Only time will tell whether Mr. Maliki and his associates, with the trends in the war running against them, will take the "breathing space" that White House officials said the American troop reinforcements will give them to decide, at last, that history is theirs to command.

Only time will tell whether Mr. Maliki and his associates, with the trends in the war running against them, will take the “breathing space” that White House officials said the American troop reinforcements will give them to decide, at last, that they can refashion that history in a way that brings Iraqis of all groups together and avoids a further slide toward all-out civil war.


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