The Independent: A Candid Assessment Of Iraq genre: Just Jihad

Pulling back the blinds

On the heels of the leaked Central Command report suggesting that Iraq was as close to chaos as one can get without calling it a civil war, The Independent pulls back the drapes and gives the reader a down and dirty assessment of the deteriorating Iraq situation. I've included a few excerpts but I would recommend reading the full article.

Sunni insurgents have cut the roads linking the city to the rest of Iraq. The country is being partitioned as militiamen fight bloody battles for control of towns and villages north and south of the capital.

As American and British political leaders argue over responsibility for the crisis in Iraq, the country has taken another lurch towards disintegration.

Well-armed Sunni tribes now largely surround Baghdad and are fighting Shia militias to complete the encirclement.

The Sunni insurgents seem to be following a plan to control all the approaches to Baghdad. They have long held the highway leading west to the Jordanian border and east into Diyala province. Now they seem to be systematically taking over routes leading north and south.

In some isolated neighbourhoods in Baghdad, food shortages are becoming severe. Shops are open for only a few hours a day. "People have been living off water melon and bread for the past few weeks," said one Iraqi from the capital. The city itself has broken up into a dozen or more hostile districts, the majority of which are controlled by the main Shia militia, the Mehdi Army.

The scale of killing is already as bad as Bosnia at the height of the Balkans conflict. An apocalyptic scenario could well emerge - with slaughter on a massive scale. As America prepares its exit strategy, the fear in Iraq is of a genocidal conflict between the Sunni minority and the Shias in which an entire society implodes.

I obviously can't confirm the information provided by The Independent but it seems fully plausible given recent comments from former and current military leaders and it supports the recently leaked Central Command report. It wouldn't surprise me to see a barrage of bad news right after the election as it becomes increasingly impossible to characterize the situation as anything but a full scale civil war. That will likely be followed by the quick release of the report being prepared by James Baker and the Iraq Study Group which will no doubt call for a completely new strategy which will then allow the President to avoid any forthright admission of failure.

Amid all this, Dick Cheney, the US Vice-President, has sought to turn the fiasco of Iraq into a vote-winner with his claim that the Iraqi insurgents have upped their attacks on US forces in a bid to influence the mid-term elections. There is little evidence to support this. In fact, the number of American dead has risen steadily this year from 353 in January to 847 in September and will be close to one thousand in October.

Mr Maliki has recently criticised the US for the failure of its security policy in Iraq and resisted American pressure to eliminate the militias. Although President Bush and Tony Blair publicly handed back sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004, Mr Maliki said: "I am now Prime Minister and overall commander of the armed forces yet I cannot move a single company without Coalition [US and British] approval."

In reality the militias are growing stronger by the day because the Shia and Sunni communities feel threatened and do not trust the army and police to defend them. US forces have been moving against the Mehdi Army, which follows the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, but he is an essential prop to Mr Maliki's government. Almost all the main players in Iraqi politics maintain their own militias.

Another ominous development is that Iraqi tribes that often used to have both Sunni and Shia members are now splitting along sectarian lines.

Keep an eye on the Maliki situation. As the U.S. moves closer to disengagement, I expect Maliki to become more vocal in his criticism of the U.S. as he is forced to distance himself from the Bush administration or find himself unable to govern...something that could well happen regardless. There will soon come a point where Maliki has to act under the assumption that the U.S. is going to find a way out of the mess. As soon as his opposition understands as much, he could be doomed. My suspicion is that our current troop levels and our presumed commitment to an ongoing presence has been enough to forestall an inevitable government collapse. I suspect that unless the U.S. forces a partitioning arrangement that is acceptable to all the parties, the country will implode at whatever point we exit.

We have an election in less than a week that many voters hope will bring some shift in strategy. Unfortunately, I suspect that any possible alternatives that would minimize our involvement are rapidly evaporating. That may mean that the political party viewed to be in the lead on November 8th is going to struggle to meet the expectations of most voters. November 7th is apt to make one side pretty happy...but the following morning may come with a painful hangover.

Daniel DiRito | November 1, 2006 | 9:06 PM
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