Friday, December 07, 2007

One to Tango

To some Iraq war boosters, the recent developments in Anbar province represent a panacea of sorts. Not only will the Anbar Awakening movement help to purge most of the extremists that have assumed the label "al-Qaeda in Iraq" (good chance of that, actually), but these Sunni elements will also usher in the long sought-after national reconciliation. That last part is a bit tricky.

The Awakening-as-vehicle for reconciliation narrative suffers from at least two fundamental flaws:

First, many, though not all, of the Sunni militant groups in Iraq (those directly involved in the Awakenings movement, and those on the outisde) don't tolerate the existence of the Shiite led Iraqi government - let alone show an interest in reconciling with it. For these revanchist Sunni groups, the Awakening is either viewed as a means of obtaining money, arms, protection, logistical support and control of local fiefdoms (for those directly involved) or as an impediment to be tolerated, though not antagonized, during the requisite period of regrouping and respite (for those waiting it out on the sidelines).

Second, the Shiite government is equally reluctant to embrace Sunni groups - be they directly involved in the Awakening, or not. In fact, the Shiite led government has mostly rejected efforts to incorporate the local Sunni militias into the official Iraqi Security Forces, has not allotted money for the training and organizing of more such Sunni forces, nor has it bestowed any significant reward on the leaders of the Awakening.

Not exactly the beginning of a beautiful friendship. A story in today's Washington Post (via Blake) illustrates the disconnect between those that are overselling the potential of "bottom-up" reconciliation and the actual state of affairs (this item focusing on Shiite intransigence):

The U.S. military plans to establish a civilian jobs corps to absorb tens of thousands of mostly Sunni security volunteers whom Iraq's Shiite-dominated government has balked at hiring into local police forces.

The new jobs program marks a sharp departure from one of the most highly touted goals of the so-called Sunni awakening, which was to funnel the U.S.-paid volunteers, many of them former insurgents, into Iraq's police and military.

President Bush and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, have said the volunteers have played a major role in the recent downturn in violence and would provide a key element of local security as U.S. forces draw down. Plans to reconfigure the program raise new questions about the permanence of security and political structures the United States has sought to impose on Iraq.

The Bush administration has described the hiring of the volunteers by police forces as proof that Iraqis are beginning to reconcile sectarian differences. Yet the government here has shown only grudging interest in the program, despite constant U.S. pressure. [...]

The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has lagged in hiring the volunteers, more than three-quarters of whom are Sunnis. Sectarian concerns are "still an obstacle. I won't lie to you about that," said Col. Martin Stanton, who tracks the program for Petraeus's command. "They're deeply suspicious of any organized group of Sunnis," Stanton said of the government.

The military still expects some volunteers to be hired as police officers but has concluded that the majority will not be. Fearing that the armed men might return to violence without long-term job prospects, it has decided to divert them into civilian work or send them to vocational training programs. It hopes to persuade the Iraqi government to take over management and financing of the reconfigured program -- which will begin in January with a shift of 500 Baghdad volunteers from security tasks to public works -- by the end of next year.

Right now, Stanton said, the idea of an Iraqi takeover is "still in concept," and the government is "not in any way, shape or form ready to take over these contracts." He added that the military wants to avoid ending up with the Iraqis "dropping the baton in the relay race. . . . We want to make sure they're running and ready to get it before we turn it over."

It's not really a question of being "ready" as much as being "willing." This paragraph also stood out:

Maliki's Shiite advisers had long expressed deep reservations about the CLC program..."It's not so much the ministers that were the problem," said the Western diplomat. "But this Dawa clique of advisers around him were just dead set against it," he said in reference to Maliki's Dawa party.

This misconstrues the problem in a way that is reminiscent of the fanciful notions of sacking Maliki in favor of a different kind of Shiite leader. The attitudes ascribed to Maliki and the Dawa party are not their's alone. SIIC takes the same position, Sistani seems cool to the idea and even the supposedly nationalistic, non-sectarian Sadr doesn't seem particularly enthusiastic. Come to think of it, our strongest allies - the Kurds - have also expressed grave reservations. Not much of a tango really when all you have is one party reluctantly swaying to the beat.

I leave you with some gallows snark from the maestro himself:

The Bushites may have convinced themselves they were just renting our newfound Sunni allies, but Team Shiite's message seems to be, "No, you bought them, so you keep them." Things will get interesting once our government decides we don't want them anymore, and just dumps our freshly trained and armed "concerned local citizens" back out into the street.

What, you don't think the Shiites will greet them with flowers and candies?

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