Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Plumage Don't Enter Into It

Michael Totten joins the chorus of Iraq war supporters gathering confetti for the impending victory parade. Says Totten:

The civil war between Sunni and Shia militias likewise is over. We know that now because we can look back in hindsight. Not one single person was killed in ethno-sectarian conflict in May or June of this year. That particular conflict had been winding down since December of 2006 when the monthly casualties began freefalling in an almost straight line from a high of more than 2,000 a month down to nothing. Nobody won that war. It’s just over.

Over? That is every bit as brash as "Mission Accomplished" was five years ago. While it is true that many former Sunni insurgents have ceased attacks on the Shiite-led Iraqi government and US forces (opting, instead, to collaborate with US forces in going after AQI and, in turn, establish local fiefdoms and receive money, arms and other support) that represents a temporary, contingent and highly precarious truce. Not an end but a pause (and not a complete pause either).

As recently as Friday, Sunni leaders reieterated their demands: either the Maliki government must integrate their cadres into the Iraq Security Forces (ISF), or they will resume the fighting (and they want more money to boot). The Maliki government has, thus far, made it clear that it will only allow a tiny fraction of the Sunni forces into the ISF, and so the stage is set for a future battle. Making matters worse, many of these Sunni elements have been quite brazen in stating their intention to lay low in anticipation of the right opportunity to launch operations to "retake" Baghdad from the Shiites - which explains, in part, Maliki's reluctance to welcome large numbers of these groups into the ISF.

Further, there has been little to no progress in dealing with Iraq's roughly five million internally and externally displaced citizens - many of them Sunnis expelled from their homes in and around Baghdad that might have expectations about returning and reclaiming what was taken. But trust us: two months of dubious data telling of zero deaths and it's time to declare the conflict "over" (some creative categorization of the hundreds of deaths still going on?). I mean, what could go wrong?

Totten doesn't even acknowledge the existence of other ethnic/sectarian flashpoints in his calculus of the various "wars" in Iraq. Flashpoints like, say, Kirkuk. From the indefatigable Brian Katulis:

The unsteady calm evident across much of Iraq after months of declining violence was shattered this morning by multiple bombs in Baghdad and Kirkuk.

The attacks killed nearly 50 people, with at least two dozen dead in each city. In Baghdad, female suicide bombers struck three times during a Shi’a religious procession in the Karrada neighborhood. But the attack was particularly ominous in Kirkuk, where a suicide bomber targeted Kurds protesting the recently vetoed provincial elections law. Angry Kurds then attacked the nearby headquarters of Turkoman parties, setting fire to and taking pot-shots at the buildings.

These attacks include incidents of the Sunni/Shiite violence that was supposedly over and done with, and the first signs of new ethno/sectarian fronts opening up in Kirkuk (Kurd v. Sunni and Kurd v. Turcoman). The underlying conflicts leading to these incidents of bloodshed, again, do not lend themselves to easy solutions:

Today’s bombing took place against this background of increased Arab-Kurd tension over delays on Kirkuk’s status and the elections law. What the Kirkuk dispute serves to illustrate is that Iraq’s problems are fundamentally political in nature. The challenge is not security, which has improved dramatically over the last year, but political accommodation and power-sharing between Iraqi factions.

Thus far, the U.S. strategy and political discourse has been narrowly focused on the security situation, arguing over whether the “surge” has worked or not. This debate is beside the point. Iraq’s conflicts will not solve themselves peacefully unless political compromises and deals are made. As long as they remain unresolved, Iraq’s security gains will remain fragile and open to violent destabilization.

Ah yes, "political accommodation and power-sharing between Iraqi factions" - you know, the primary goal of the Surge. The one that hasn't been achieved, but which it is poor form to point out - an unwillingness to let the good news wash over us. Totten goes on, undettered by reality:

Casualties from insurgent warfare haven’t slacked off as completely, but they have almost slacked off as completely. If all violent trends continue in their current downward directions, this war, too, will taper off to non-existence or relative insignificance. We’ll know in hindsight, too, when that war finally is over after no has been killed by insurgents for a few months.

What looks now like the last dying gasp of the various anti-Iraqi insurgencies is all that remains of these various wars in Iraq.

Almost slacked off as completely? Meaning, almost down to zero? Actually, roughly five hundred Iraqis died in the months of May and June - as documented using Totten's own sources (which don't track Iraqis killed by US forces - those don't count apparently). Matt Yglesias puts this "near complete" cessation of violence in context:

If you look back to the summer of 2005, you'll see that few people at the time regarded conditions in Iraq as "good" or even acceptable. And yet things got so much worse over the course of 2006 and early 2007, that improvement in 2008 to bring us back to the kind of level of violence we had three years ago -- except with more walled-off and ethnically cleansed neighborhoods in place -- is now represented as a great triumph. James Vega has a forceful post up at The Democratic Strategist reminding us of how perverse this is.

It's beyond perverse. Although to John McCain, it's the new normal:

We have succeeded. Sadr city is safe. Basra is safe. Mosul is safe. The people of Iraq are now leading normal lives.

Other than those people getting blown to bits. And their loved ones. And neighbors. And the people living in walled off, segregated neighborhoods from which they dare not venture far for fear of being murdered. Other than the ones that plan for, or live in fear of, the next rounds of civil wars, etc.

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