Monday, December 10, 2007

Razing the Tower of Babel

Ned Parker provides a useful corrective to the most recent, and still wildly premature if not delusional, declarations of Mission Accomplished emanating from Republican circles - as well as the notion that devolving power to local nodes will aid in the reconciliation of warring factions on the national level. Parker warns, instead, of a balkanization that could lead to greater conflict down the road:

The U.S. troop buildup in Iraq was meant to freeze the country's civil war so political leaders could rebuild their fractured nation. Ten months later, the country's bloodshed has dropped, but the military strategy has failed to reverse Iraq's disintegration into areas dominated by militias, tribes and parties, with a weak central government struggling to assert its influence.

In the south, Shiite Muslim militias are at war over the lucrative oil resources in the Basra region. To the west, in Anbar province, Sunni Arab tribes that once fought U.S. forces now help police the streets and control the highways to Jordan and Syria. In the north, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens are locked in a battle for the regions around Kirkuk and Mosul. In Baghdad, blast walls partition neighborhoods policed by Sunni paramilitary groups and Shiite militias.

"Iraq is moving in the direction of a failed state, a highly decentralized situation -- totally unplanned, of course -- with competing centers of power run by warlords and militias," said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group. "The central government has no political control whatsoever beyond Baghdad, maybe not even beyond the Green Zone."

One passage from Packer's piece that stood out in light of recent news that the police chief of the southern, predominately Shiite Babel province was assassinated:

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has sought to address the splintering of the country, particularly in the south, where most of Iraq's Shiite population lives. There, Maliki, who is with the Islamic Dawa Party, is working with the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the leading Shiite party in the ruling coalition, to try to stabilize cities torn by militia infighting.

"They agree on what needs to be done in the south," said an official from Maliki's office. "This is a test for the government on whether they can establish control in a very volatile area," the official said.

The invaluable Reidar Visser (subscription only) provides some background information on Babel's police chief, Qays al-Ma‘muri, and who could be behind the killing:

...[T]oday is particularly tragic to those who are hoping for the restoration of a non-sectarian Iraq where ethno-religious identities are in the background. For several years, Ma‘muri had stood out as an honest figure of authority in the mixed governorate of Babel, and had fought hard against militias regardless of their sectarian affiliations.

Already, some newswire reports speak of “suspicion towards al-Qaida”. In the absence of further evidence, such accusations should be treated with caution. In several cases of violence in the Shiite-dominated parts of Iraq...vague references to al-Qaida were used by Iraqi government sources to gloss over episodes that clearly featured elements of intra-Shiite conflict.

Instead, it may be worth looking at how al-Ma‘muri’s conflict with various Shiite militias unfolded in the past.

Visser then quotes a May 2006 article penned by Bartle Bull appearing in the New York Times:

“What really makes Babel special is that it is a largely Shiite province in which the Shiite militias - the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades - have almost no foothold. But they are trying. All Iraq’s police answer to the Interior Ministry, which is held by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq [SCIRI], the main Iranian organ in the country [ed: true, yet underreported]. And the interior minister, Bayan Jabr, has repeatedly tried to replace Babel’s independent-minded provincial police chief, Gen. Qais Hamza al-Maamony. Under heavy pressure from the Americans, however, the minister agreed in January to a moratorium on the replacement of senior police officers until after the formation of the new government.

Nonetheless, according to American officials in the province, General Maamony was recently forced to accept 700 candidates recommended by the ministry - that is, by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution - for the incoming class of the provincial police academy. The police chief, I’m told, plans to spread these recruits as thinly as possible around the province upon their graduation to lessen their impact on the force.

General Maamony and his 8,000 men - especially the provincial SWAT teams, which supply the muscle that the relatively poorly trained and lightly armed regular police often cannot or will not provide - are understandably unpopular with the council and its military wing, the Badr Brigades. And they are equally feared by the Mahdi Army of the rebel Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.” [emphasis added]

Visser reports that accusations have surfaced in the Iraqi press that Maliki's own Dawa Party could be behind the assassination. Kind of makes you wonder about that close cooperation between SIIC (formerly SCIRI) and Dawa in the South, and just what the combined vision for "stability" entails.

Is it something that any honest observer could describe as a victory for the United States?

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