(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)
In what may be simultaneously the understatement and overstatement of the year, Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki said this in New York yesterday:
I can’t say there is a picture of roses and flowers in Iraq. However, I can say that the greatest victory, of which I am proud… is stopping the explosion of a sectarian war.
He also said that Iranian intervention in Iraq has “ceased to exist”.
This is a good news / bad news situation for President Bush and the warmongers. On the “good” side, they can take credit for what Maliki calls “the greatest victory,” namely, the prevention of civil war. If he is right, then a case could be made, similar to the one already being made, that the Surge has been a success and that more Surge will bring more such success. But what if he is wrong? Or, more likely, what if he is being intentionally misleading, that is, what if he is essentially lying?
Maliki is surely right that Iraq is not “a picture of roses and flowers”. But it doesn’t take much to acknowledge that, and he would have deserved outright ridicule had he attempted to claim otherwise. But has “sectarian war” been prevented? Here, once more, the problem lies in language, definitions. Just what constitutes “sectarian war”? The situation on the groud in Iraq is complicated. There are intra-sectarian divisions just as there are inter-sectarian ones. In Anbar province, for example, Sunni elements, back by the U.S., are fighting al Qaeda, a Sunni terrorist organization. There are similar divisions among the various Shia factions. But here’s the assessment contained in the January 2007 National Intelligence Estimate:
The Intelligence Community judges that the term “civil war” does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qaâ€™ida and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. Nonetheless, the term “civil war” accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements.
Has the situation on the ground improved so dramatically this year that this is no longer the case? Surely not. There has been some success, however temporary, however isolated, but violence across the main sectarian division, Sunni-Shia, continues. It is civil war, of a kind.
So what is Maliki’s game?
Is it to paint a rosy picture in order to push the U.S. out or to keep the U.S. in? Out, eventually, but, for now, the Surge serves Maliki’s purpose, which is for his opponents, the Sunnis, to be weakened. If Maliki can keep the Shia militias under control, and if Sadr and others can restrain from engaging their opponents, then Maliki and his Shia allies can secure ever greater control in Baghdad while the U.S. hits the Sunni insurgency and sides with some Sunni factions over and against others.
But what to make of Maliki’s claim that Iran is no longer engaged in Iraq? This hurts the ongoing effort of the warmongers to make the case for war with Iran, one of the major planks of which is the controversial, and largely unsubstantiated, claim that Iran is supplying arms to anti-U.S. forces in Iraq, that is, stoking the insurgency and indirectly attacking the U.S. itself. If Iran has committed what are essentially acts of war against the U.S., that is, if Iran started it, then what is to stop the U.S. from hitting back, from acting self-defensively? So the reasoning goes.
But if Iran has not supplied, or is no longer supplying, arms to anti-U.S. forces in Iraq, then this entire argument, this highly questionable rationale for war, crumbles. There is still the matter of Iran’s nuclear program, and of Ahmadinejad’s lunacy, and of Iran’s likely ambitions in the region, but the key for the warmongers is not to have a repeat of Iraq, that is, another preemptive war. The next war, the coming war with Iran, must be seen to be not preemptive but, ultimately, defensive.
Again, though, Maliki may be wrong. (This would mean that Cheney and the rest are right.) If so, or, rather, if he is again being misleading, what is his game? Seemingly to stand in the way of a U.S. war with Iran.
More and more, what seems to be the case is that Maliki, and those close to him, including Sadr and the various Shia elements aligned with Baghdad, want the U.S. to get the hell out of Iraq as soon as possible. And the best way to push the U.S. out — or to persuade it to leave sooner rather than later — is to claim that the situation on the ground is improving, that reconciliation is underway, that the government is secure, and that Iran does not pose an immediate threat to the U.S. Then, and perhaps only then, can Maliki and his allies secure power in Baghdad, establish what would essentially be a Shia-run Iraq, and dominate the country.
That could, in all of this, be the “bad” side for Bush — no more war in Iraq, no war with Iran — but also, ultimately, the bad side for Iraq generally.