11 GIs Killed; 70 Dead in Oct.;
Bush: This is their Tet;
Maliki Sees Sistani
Iraqi guerrillas killed 11 US troops on Wednesday, one of the highest tolls in a single day seen in the course of the war. Since October 1, some 70 US troops have been killed. This level of violence resembles November, 2004, when the US invaded the small city of Fallujah to the west of Baghdad. Some of the spike in the deaths of GIs comes from the “Battle for Baghdad,” their attempt to sweep Sunni Arab districts of the capital to root out guerrilla cells. But some of it probably comes from adaptations and better tactics of the guerrillas. Although the US military blames it in part on Ramadan, I can’t see what that would have to do with it.
In his interview with George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday evening, George W. Bush accepted that there might be a parallel between the spike in killings of US troops in Iraq and the Tet offensive in Vietnam. Many commentators are saying that he finally admitted that Iraq is a quagmire like Vietnam, but this is a complete misreading of what Bush is saying.
Bush’s position is that things are going just great in Iraq, and that a few trouble-makers have managed to hijack the US media with a small number of limited bombings and other sabotage, and have made it look like the US isn’t making progress. Bush believes that the media and Americans are falling for a get-up job. So he is is trying to say to the American public that just as the Tet offensive was a military defeat for the Viet Cong but a propaganda defeat for Washington, so the October offensive of the Sunni Arab guerrillas is so much smoke and mirrors, a mere propaganda stunt with no substantive importance for Iraq.
But in fact, the current guerrilla war against US troops and the new Iraqi government isn’t at all like the Tet offensive. It is deadly serious. Because the US military is not defeating the guerrillas militarily any more. They have succeeded in provoking an unconventional, hot civil war, which was their “poison pill” strategy for getting the US out. The US has alienated the Sunni Arab population decisively. In summer of 2003, only 14 percent of them supported violent attacks on US troops. In a recent poll, 70 percent supported such attacks. And, the guerrilla movement is well-heeled, well-trained, and adaptive. Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN for Wednesday presented videotape showing well-trained snipers shooting down US troops in Baghdad. The guerrilla war is real, not just a political show put on to weaken the will of the fickle American public.
What is delicious is that the general American public does not hold the view of the Vietnam War popular among far-right politicians like Bush, and so no one but the true believers will catch his drift here. In fact, most Americans will assume that Bush has admitted that we are in an unwinnable quagmire in Iraq, just as in Vietnam. And the Iraq=Vietnam identification is likely to stick. Of all his misstatements and malapropisms over the years, any one of which would have robbed most people of credibility or made them a laughing-stock, it is ironic that this miscalculation, uttered coolly and with no stutter, may have been his biggest gaffe of all.
Some 2000 members of the Sadr Movement demonstrated in downtown Baghdad on Wednesday to protest the arrest Tuesday by the US military of Sadrist cleric Mazin al-Sa’edi in his office in Shu’la, north Baghdad, along with 5 others. The US clearly thought he was leading a violent Mahdi Army cell. The Sadrists called on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to have the cleric, an aide of young Shiite nationalist leader Muqtada al-Sadr, freed.
In response, PM al-Maliki did secure the release of Sheikh al-Sa’edi. Al-Maliki came to power as prime minister with the backing of al-Sadr. I think it is shameful that the US is arresting people in such a way as the prime minister of Iraq then has to plead with the foreigners for the release of his citizens.
WaPo is saying that the Mahdi Army militia has fractured into many small, neighborhood-based cells, many of them with ties to criminal gangs. About 6 major Sadrist leaders have deserted Muqtada because they view him as too accommodating to the American occupation now that he has joined the political process. I think all this is bad news not for what it tells you about the Sadr Movement but for what it tells you about Iraq. The security and communications situation is probably now too bade to sustain a national, united organized political force.
PM al-Maliki flew to Najaf Wednesday for consultations with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and Hujjat al-Islam Muqtada al-Sadr, Shiite clerics with broad influence. I suspect, though, that al-Maliki was mainly consulting with Sistani about the Sunni-Shiite Clerical Conference being held in Saudi Arabia and hosted by King Abdullah on Thursday and Friday.
The Sunni-Shiite clerical conference in Mecca is being hosted by Saudi Arabia but is sponsored by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which groups the foreign ministers of Muslim countries. Sunni and Shiite clerics from Iraq, as well as some politicians, will attend. On Friday, it is hoped that they will sign a joint fatwa forbidding Muslims of either branch to shed the blood of members of the other.
Al-Zaman reports [Ar.] that al-Maliki flew to Saudia after his visit to Najaf, probably in order to be involved at least peripherally with the conference. Saudi Arabia is sending a plane to Baghdad to collect other participants.
Some observers quoted in the Peninsula Qatar article above doubt that the clerical conference or the joint fatwa will have much practical effect. They may be right, but it may nevertheless be a good development in its own right, with import for Sunni-Shiite relations more generally.
The Holy Warriors’ Consultative Council sent white-clad, armed and masked guerrillas into the streets of Ramadi on Wednesday to proclaim that the city was now part of the Islamic State of Iraq, headed by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. There was videotape on Aljazeera, but the US military denied knowledge of such a demonstration. In actual fact, Ramadi is occupied by the Marines, and those guerrillas would have been killed if they had stuck around very long. It was a publicity stunt without much reality behind it. I don’t even know if the Holy Warriors’ Consultative Council is very popular in Ramadi any more, since they blew up those Dulaim boys who were standing in line to be recruited as police. You don’t want a feud with the Dulaim.
The US is pressing Iraqi authorities to extend the amnesty offer to the Sunni Arab guerrilla group to a “painful” extent. When the amnesty program was discussed soon after al-Maliki became Prime Minister, however, the US Congress pressed to ensure that it was not offered to guerrillas who had killed US troops. And the Shiite parties agitated against it being offered to those who had killed Shiites. So there isn’t really any amnesty program, since the innocent don’t need it and no one needs to negotiate with them anyway. I can’t see how this US pressure will produce any real results, since if it became too open, the Congressmen would shoot it down again as would al-Maliki’s own constituents.
Riverbend responds to the Lancet study. She points out that all of the Iraqi families she knows have lost members to the political violence.