Friday, January 19, 2007

The surge and the Sadrists and the Sunnis (and the AP)

When I read this article, entitled "Iraqi rebel army expressing siege mentality," I found myself doing a double-take: this is the AP?

The piece seemed relatively upbeat about, of all things, the "surge," the new commanders of US forces in Iraq, and their plan.

Far more important than the AP and its editorial politices, of course, is the actual information contained in the article. It touches on a concern of mine about whether the announcement of our plan might possibly give the enemy enough warning to be able to evade the net more easily (see here and here).

According to Steven R. Hurst, author of the article, the Sadrists are running scared. Something about this one's got them worried--that is, if we can believe what they are saying:

[Sadrist commanders'] account of an organization now fighting for its very existence could represent a tactical and propaganda feint, but there was mounting evidence the militia is increasingly off balance and has ordered its gunmen to melt back into the population. To avoid capture, commanders report no longer using cell phones and fighters are removing their black uniforms and hiding their weapons during the day.

The key to the new notion the Sadrists have of the potential seriousness of this particular campaign? President Maliki sounds as though he might be on board this time against them, instead of providing them protection.

And why? According to the article, Maliki told Bush at a meeting in November that he would no longer stand in the way of our going against Sadr. And what's behind that change of heart? Well, one begins to wonder whether Psychology Today might be correct after all, at least about certain political conversions to conservatism being motivated by fear--someone seems to have put the fear into Maliki, at least.

And whom might that be? Here's the money quote:

Jordan's King Abdullah II was said by al-Maliki confidants to have conveyed the increasing anger of fellow Sunni leaders in the Middle East over the continuing slaughter of Sunni Muslims at the hands of Shiite death squads.

That just may be the most important sentence in the entire article. It's becoming increasingly apparent that the surrounding Arab nations with their largely Sunni populations are not at all cheered by the possibility of a Shiite (read: Iranian-allied) ascendance in Iraq.

Jordan has always been an interesting nation among the group--the most clearly moderate and Western-friendly of all (or what passes for moderation in that neck of the woods). What's more, Jordan has not been at all shy in the past about using power against other Arab states or peoples when its own survival warrants (see Black September).

As noted before, what the Sadrists are telling the AP might be the equivalent of a psych-op. Hard to tell. But here is some more:

The third commander, who also spoke anonymously to protect his identity, said U.S.-led raiding parties were now also engaged in massive sweeps, having rounded up what he said was every male old enough to carry a gun in south Baghdad's Um al-Maalef neighborhood Tuesday night.

As for the US, the military seems to be aware of the potential for running and hiding on the part of the enemy, and to have prepared for this eventuality:

Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said the security strategy and the additional American forces would allow the crackdown to be sufficiently broad to sweep up those who try to escape Baghdad and operate elsewhere.

"On the militia, the Baghdad plan itself is integrated to a holistic, countrywide plan that the multinational corps is developing. And security for Baghdad won't just come from securing the inside of Baghdad," Casey said at a briefing on Monday.

"It comes from the support zones around the outside as far away, as you suggest, Baqouba and Ramadi and Fallujah. It goes all the way out to the borders to stop the flow of foreign fighters and support coming in there."

Again, one wonders about the motivation for the Sadrist commanders in divulging the following news to the AP, but here it is:

The Mahdi Army commanders said they were increasingly concerned about improved U.S. intelligence that has allowed the Americans to successfully target key figures in the militia.

With this as background, I say "give the surge a chance." But just tell that to Congress. Many of its members seem determined to stop a program that represents the only present hope we have to get these people.

But I suppose some of them consider it more important to "get" Bush, and to get themselves re-elected. And if I sound a bit cynical about that, it's because I am.

[NOTE: Tigerhawk has some further thoughts about Maliki's motivations.]

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