Iraq and Domestic Political Considerations
The future of Iraq may now center around the Iraqi government’s response to a search for an American soldier in Iraq believed to have been captured last week by a Shi’ite militia. The U.S. military responded to the kidnapping by sealing off and aggressively searching the Sadr City section of Baghdad. On Tuesday, the Iraqi Prime Minister either ordered or convinced American forces to shut down the search. This is from various wire reports compiled by the Hartford Courant…
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki flexed his political muscle Tuesday and won agreement by U.S. forces to end their weeklong near-siege of Baghdad’s largest Shiite Muslim district.Prime Minister Maliki’s order follows an earlier statement that he does not consider disarming Iraq�s Shi�ite militias to be amongst his government’s top priorities. The Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi parliament has expressed a similar idea…
American troops departed, setting off celebrations among civilians and armed men in Sadr City, the sprawling slum controlled by the Mahdi Army militia loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Small groups of men and children danced in circles chanting slogans praising and declaring victory for al-Sadr, whose political support is crucial to the prime minister’s governing coalition….
There were conflicting accounts of whether the decision to lift the barricades was made jointly with Americans. U.S. officials insisted the decision was taken after consulting with them, but an Iraqi official said al-Maliki made the decision, then spoke to Americans.
Khaled al-Attiya, the Shi’ite deputy speaker of parliament, said militias were not the main problem: “All the militias will disband at the end of the day but these are not the main enemy of the Iraqi people,” he said.The more conspiracy-minded suggest that this may all be part of a plan to make the Maliki government look tough, allowing it to build the support necessary to eventually confront the militias. Whether that’s true, or just wishful thinking, if Prime Minister Maliki will not confront the violence originating with Shi’ite militias, the Bush administration needs to prepare itself for some domestic repercussions of its own.
“The main enemy are the Baathists and Saddamists who want to destroy the political process and the main principles of the constitution.”
Senator Jack Reed has offered a stern reaction to Prime Minister Maliki’s order (request?) to stand-down the search (h/t RightRI)…
This is yet another example of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the Iraqi government yielding to sectarian pressure rather than providing national leadership.Senator Reed’s reaction will resonate with the traditions of American hawkishness in a way that standard Democratic statements on the war usually don’t. In America, popular support for sending troops into combat comes with at least one non-negotiable condition: that leaders who make the decision to go to war make an absolute commitment to victory. The American public will forgive a leader for making mistakes in pursuit of a noble cause, but they will not forgive — or follow — a leader who puts soldiers into harm’s way in the absence of a total commitment to winning. (This is all a part of what the historian Walter Russell Mead calls the Jacksonian tradition in American foreign policy.)
Our troops surrounded Sadr City, a major hot spot and a place where kidnappers may be holding one of our own soldiers, and Prime Minister Maliki is once again undermining efforts to rein in violence within Baghdad.
His on again-off again approach to disarming the militias is undermining efforts by both the Iraqi security forces and the United States military to provide basic security for the people of Baghdad.
Today, the critical issue in Iraq is whether the Maliki government can muster the political will to confront those who use violence to destabilize Iraq. If the Maliki government won’t stand up to them, then military efforts alone will not guarantee success.
If the mission in Iraq changes from pursuit of unqualfied victory over the enemy to just helping a foreign leader improve his domestic positioning, support for keeping our troops in Iraq — even for perhaps a smaller training-oriented force — will quickly erode, regardless of the consequences that a rapid American withdrawal from Iraq would bring. If Prime Minister Maliki does not make some kind of commitment to reining in the sectarian militias, whatever support his refusal to take action against them wins amongst Iraqis will come at the cost of undercutting the American support that remains for keeping American soldiers deployed in Iraq.
This is an area where the Bush administration must quickly overcome its famous tin ear (think Harriet Miers or the Dubai Ports Deal) when it comes to listening to its natural base.