Thursday, April 2, 2009

USA sinks the policy of hundreds of Tribes with Flags ever deeper into Sunni-Shi'ite struggle

"weapons of mass deception"

USA sinks the policy of hundreds of Tribes with Flags ever deeper into Sunni-Shi'ite struggle, doing the same copy-cat also, in ASIA, Africa and soon in Latin America...

WASHINGTON - When United States troops and Apache helicopters joined Iraqi forces in putting down an uprising by Sunni "Sons of Iraq" militiamen in central Baghdad last weekend, it was a preview of the kind of combat the US military is likely to see increasingly over the next three years unless a policy decision is made in Washington to avoid it.

Although the arrest of a Sunni Awakening Council leader and seven of his deputies that triggered the uprising was spun both by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and by the US command as an anti-terrorism issue rather than sectarian repression, it was in fact part of the long-term struggle for power between the Shi'ite-dominated government of Iraq and Sunnis who have been disenfranchised.

Sunday's battle in Fadhil was a warning signal that the US command has allowed itself to be drawn into a campaign by Maliki to pick off individual commanders of the Sunni neighborhood security groups made up of former insurgents. The detention of a popular Sunni commander there may have touched off a process of sending a large proportion of the Sunni Awakening Councils movement, which is supposed to be on the government payroll, back into underground insurgency.

The uprising in Fadhil marked the first time that Awakening Council units had responded with force to a government campaign of repression of selected Sunni militia leaders that began as early as spring 2008.

Despite reported US efforts to reassure Sunnis that they are not being abandoned to repression by the Shi'ite government, the US-assisted operation against Sunni militiamen protesting the arrest of Adel al-Mashadani in the Fadhil neighborhood has already prompted threats by Sunni militia commanders in other neighborhoods to go back to armed resistance.

Given the present US definition of its mission in Iraq, US forces are likely to be directly involved in more such operations against Sunni militiamen, analysts of Iraqi military affairs say.

The Awakening Councils or Sahwa, which US military officials have generally called "Sons of Iraq" (SOI), were created in 2007 through arrangements reached by Multinational Forces-Iraq with Sunni tribal chiefs and some commanders of armed resistance groups, under which former Sunni insurgents became paid local security forces in Baghdad neighborhoods as well as in nearby Diyala province and in Sunni-dominated Anbar province.

But Maliki has never hidden his hostility to the US scheme to set up neighborhood Sunni security units. "These people are like a cancer, and we must remove them," one Iraqi general was quoted by Shawn Brimley and Colin Kahl of the Center for New American Security as saying last summer.

Iraqi army units and special operations forces which were controlled directly by Maliki began arresting SOI leaders in Diyala and Baghdad, and the arrests continued through the autumn.

Despite the evidence that Maliki intended to destroy them, the United States agreed last October to turn over control of all 90,000 Awakening Council members to the Iraqis. The government agreed, in turn, to continue paying the neighborhood Sunni security forces US$300 a month.

However, the government stopped the payments more than a month ago - a development that US officials have explained as a bureaucratic glitch rather than a deliberate policy.

John McCreary, a retired senior defense intelligence analyst on the Middle East, said in an interview that the detention and subsequent battle in Fadhil "is only the opening round" in a new phase of Maliki's campaign to eliminate the Awakening Councils as a potential threat to his regime before US troops complete their withdrawal in 2011.

"He has to neutralize his enemies while he still has the Americans there to help keep him in power," McCreary said.

Maliki has cleverly exploited the partnership between the US military and the Iraqi army to draw the United States into such a campaign. One of the characteristics of that relationship is that the US military command in Iraq is very reluctant to be separated operationally or politically from its Iraqi counterparts.

Despite its unhappiness with Maliki's policy toward the Awakening Councils, the US command in Iraq did not oppose the arrest and detention of Mashadani, ostensibly because the government had insisted it was not aimed at Awakening Councils per se but only at an individual who had committed crimes.

That was a tactic both the US command and Maliki had used in targeting Mahdi Army commanders in Sadr City and elsewhere in 2007-2008.

US military spokesman Bill Buckner justified the detention of Mashadani by citing a December 2008 arrest warrant listing seven alleged offenses, including extortion, roadside bombings targeting Iraqi forces and ties to al-Qaeda.

But the real reason for the detention of Mashadani was apparently that he had openly espoused Ba'athist ideology. A spokesman for Maliki accused the Awakening Councils leader in Fadhil of forming a secret cell to support the Ba'athist Party. That is not actually illegal under present Iraqi law, but according to the Arabic-language daily al-Zaman, Maliki's Da'wa Party has called for the criminalization of the Ba'ath Party, which had once made membership in the Da'wa a capital offense.

Further underlining the sectarian nature of the broader repression of Sunni commanders underway, Iraqi troops quietly seized Raad Ali, a Sunni commander in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Gazaliyah on March 24, as reported by Ned Parker and Qasar Ahmed of the Los Angeles Times on Monday. In contrast to the openly Ba'athist Mashadani, Ali had never voiced Ba'athist loyalties and had emphasized his renunciation of insurgency.

McCreary said he sees no evidence that the United States is "backing a purge" of Sunni militias, but added, "It is compelled to work with the man we helped put in power." The willingness to support Maliki, even if his policies are regarded as wrong-headed, is a function of the desire to "leave a stable government behind as much as we can", said McCreary.

The former senior Defense Intelligence Agency analyst believes the need to support the Shi'ite-dominated government during the final phase of the US military presence means US neutrality in the sectarian struggle for power is no longer possible. "We are no longer in a position to have a foot in both camps," he said. "We can't support both Sunnis and Shi'ites."

That reality will affect the kind of combat the US military will be involved in, according to McCreary. "It will be involved in helping plan and support operations which it may find distasteful," he said. "That's the way it works."

Stephen Negus, who was Financial Times correspondent in Iraq from 2004 to 2007, and is now a visiting scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, said US military units in Iraq will have to support the Iraqi units to which they are attached in any battle, regardless of how it might have started. "If you have an ally taking fire, you have to respond," said Negus.

Unless the Barack Obama administration adopts an explicit policy of keeping US troops out of the sectarian power struggle, US troops will be participating in a lot more combat against Sunnis whom Maliki had left little option but to resist....

Neocons never die. They just keep giving themselves new names. After claiming "mission accomplished" in Iraq, it seems the PNAC crowd has done just that with their latest attempt at re-branding, The Foreign Policy Initiative. Rachel Maddow brings in Matt Duss from Think Progress to fill us in on their recent make-over. You can read more about this group in Matt's post over at the Wonk Room: Foreign Policy Initiative: Housebroken Neocons? From the article:

Attending the Foreign Policy Initiative's inaugural conference on Afghanistan today at the Mayflower Hotel, I was struck by how very little that was said was controversial. And that's really the point - in the wake of Iraq debacle, for which the neocons are widely and rightly held responsible, it simply won't do to bang the drum for American military maximalism. One has to be a bit slicker than that. And these guys are nothing if not slick.

As their website makes clear, FPI intends to re-brand and mainstream-ize neoconservatism as a "reasonable" and "moderate" - and of course "serious" - alternative to the rising tide of isolationist sentiment in American politics (the fact that no such tide of isolationist sentiment is rising in American politics is entirely beside the point.) This strategy was evidenced in the morning's first panel, as Robert Kagan praised President Obama's "gutsy and correct decision" on Afghanistan, but warned that "the United States is at a tipping point between desire to maintain extensive engagement in the world, as it has done since World War II, and the temptation to pull back...[Obama] has decided to maintain the commitment."


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