Saturday, October 16, 2010

In Baghdad It's 2007 Again

Remember the Petraeus "surge" that was supposed to have settled things in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.   Well, any sentient observer realized that was nothing more than a parlour trick, a very useful conjuring act that allowed George w. Bush to leave office with some claim to success.

Even today General David Petraeus is all too happy to wear the laurel wreath of victory for his surge.   It was imagined to have worked so well that he sought to replicate it in Afghanistan. 

In reality the Baghdad Surge was a vehicle to steal credit for a number of positive changes that had nothing at all to do with the extra troops Bush sent to Iraq.   Foremost among these was the departure of Moqtada al Sadr to Iran and the standing down of his Mahdi Army.  There was no way Sadr was going to waste his militia battling Americans when they would be far more useful to him in muscling his way back in the post-U.S. era.  Another was the simple fact that many of the deaths in Baghdad were part of a process of ethnic cleansing that was pretty much finished as the Surge began.  Yet another was the Awakening Councils that actually predated the Surge.   These saw Sunni militias split with al Qaeda in exchange for U.S. cash and at least temporary immunity.

That was then, this is now. Sadr has returned to Iraq.  The Sunni militias, feeling betrayed by the ruling Shia and facing prosecution and suppression, are again taking up arms.  Al Qaeda in Iraq is staging a comeback.  The Kurds are getting restless over their claims to Kirkuk and the surrounding oil fields.  And eight months after a general election there's still been no national government formed.

A wave of assassinations is sweeping through Baghdad.  Iraqi police and army officers are the targets.  Al Qaeda is being blamed for the killings.   The weapons of choice are silenced firearms or limpet-style, magnetic bombs attached to the bottom of victims' cars.  From The Guardian:

A wave of targeted attacks on soldiers, police, traffic officers and senior officials is steadily picking off the custodians of Iraq's streets at rates that are nearing the darkest days of the insurgency, according to security commanders.

As of last Monday 710 Iraqis had been killed this year with silenced pistols or rifles. At least 600 more had been killed by magnet bombs placed under the cars of officials, according to Baghdad's Major Crimes Unit. Hundreds more have been injured.

The killings have increased sharply in the past four months amid fears that the ongoing failure to form a government in Baghdad is fuelling a worsening security vacuum.

... traffic officer, Omar Sabah, said he was now almost too scared to turn up to work.
"I have worked with the police since 2004 and this is the most dangerous atmosphere in all of that time. Al-Qaida have very accurate information. They are not random attacks. They are organised. Al-Qaida are seeking their revenge. They want to destroy the government."

Ali Sayed, 30, an army lieutenant at a nearby checkpoint, agreed. "The delay in forming the government is creating this atmosphere. I cannot hide my concerns. Every day, three or four of my colleagues are being killed."

There are some among us who argue we should keep fighting in Afghanistan, claiming the Americans can prevail there as they did in Iraq.   That's a completely false premise.   Iraq is really just four or five burning fuzes.   What we don't know is which one is going to reach the powder keg first.

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