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Is Maliki Dumping Sadr?

January 22, 2007

The part of President Bush’s plan that should give pause to anyone interested in success (about 63% of the population) is the reliance on Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki to stop protecting “radical cleric” Muqtada al-Sadr.

New Sisyphus, a former supporter of the war and now outraged critic of it, excerpts from a recent NYT article by John Burns. (Many people I respect including Austin Bay and Wretchard have singled out Burns in particular for accurate and commendable reporting.)

American military officials have spent days huddled in meetings with Iraqi officers in a race to turn blueprints drawn up in Washington into a plan that will work on the ground in Baghdad. With the first American and Iraqi units dedicated to the plan due to be in place within weeks, time is short for setting details of what American officers view as the decisive battle of the war.

But the signs so far have unnerved some Americans working on the plan, who have described a web of problems – ranging from a contested chain of command to how to protect American troops deployed in some of Baghdad’s most dangerous districts – that some fear could hobble the effort before it begins.

First among the American concerns is a Shiite-led government that has been so dogmatic in its attitude that the Americans worry that they will be frustrated in their aim of cracking down equally on Shiite and Sunni extremists, a strategy President Bush has declared central to the plan.

“We are implementing a strategy to embolden a government that is actually part of the problem,” said an American military official in Baghdad involved in talks over the plan. “We are being played like a pawn.”

It gets worse too when you consider the National Police are going to have a central role in the surge “which could compromise the operation”, not to mention the mysterious Iraqi commander that is to have a key post. It doesn’t look to good.

Then again, there’s a couple of stories out in the past few days that give one hope:

Iraq rebel army expressing siege mentality (Thursday)

Iraqi Leader Drops Protection of Militia (Today)

These are stories of massive sweeps rounding up fleeing fighters, too scared to even use their cellphones, who realize they no longer have the protection of the Maliki government. Targeted intelligence that has killed 5 Mahdi Army leaders recently. And this gem:

In a meeting before his session with Bush, 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.

It’s doesn’t seem they asked for negotiations or withdrawl:

Arab allies have quietly put serious pressure on President Bush to remain in Iraq, fearing premature evacuation will turn the country over to Iranian-backed militia, sources said Wednesday.

“What concerns us is the instability and uncertainty in the area,” Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy told the New York Daily News. “We need to stabilize the situation before the next step, otherwise it will become complete chaos.”

Several other Sunni Arab nations that are valuable U.S. allies – including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, the Emirates – are concerned about Iran’s influence and the growing power of Iraq’s Shiite majority. The Israelis, an unlikely ally, agree.

Bush also seems to be getting more serious about interdicting the basically free flow of arms and aid coming in from Iran:

The U.S. military has launched a special operations task force to break up Iranian influence in Iraq, according to U.S. News sources. The special operations mission, known as Task Force 16, was created late last year to target Iranians trafficking arms and training Shiite militia forces. The operation is modeled on Task Force 15, a clandestine cadre of Navy SEALs, Army Delta Force soldiers, and CIA operatives with a mission to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives and Baathist insurgents in Iraq.” The U.S. military has launched a special operations task force to break up Iranian influence in Iraq, according to U.S. News sources. The special operations mission, known as Task Force 16, was created late last year to target Iranians trafficking arms and training Shiite militia forces. The operation is modeled on Task Force 15, a clandestine cadre of Navy SEALs, Army Delta Force soldiers, and CIA operatives with a mission to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives and Baathist insurgents in Iraq.

Task Force 15 killed al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi, last June.

The new classified directive is part of an escalation of military countermeasures against Iran, authorized by President Bush, to strike back at what military officials describe as a widespread web of Iranian influence in Iraq that includes providing weapons, training, and money to Shiite militias.

It’s beyond belief that we have allowed this kind of activity to go on practically unopposed. We’ll see if it sticks. But I like the trajectory of what I see so far.

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