Sadrists withdraw from Government; Say they Will not Bring Down al-Maliki; Iraqi Military called Unprepared

The unstable al-Maliki government is on its last legs. The Sadr Movement (32 seats) has now formally withdrawn from the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite fundamentalist bloc that is the largest in parliament (though no longer by much). The Sadrists had withdrawn from al-Maliki’s cabinet a few months ago, but had said they would still vote with him in parliament as part of the UIA. They complain that he has cut them off, ceased consulting them, and is targeting their Mahdi Army militia over violence in Karbala during a recent holy festival.

Al-Maliki is increasingly open to being unseated by a vote of no confidence, which can be called by 55 MPs. Since the UIA is still the largest bloc, with 70-some MPs, it would still form the next government, however, so it is not entirely clearly what would be gained from unseating its current leader. The new PM might more plausibly come from the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the Sadrists’ main rival.

The Sadrists say they do not intend to try to unseat al-Maliki.

The Boston Globe reports that

‘ The number of Iraqi Army and police battalions considered ready to conduct combat operations without help from the United States has declined from 15 at the beginning of the year to 12 this month, according to data that Petraeus provided to Congress last week. . . At the same time, Pentagon assessments show that the number of Iraqi battalions considered “not ready” increased from 13 in November 2006 to 43 this past summer. ‘

Questions are thus being raised as to whether they can maintain the security gains in the capital of the recent troop escalation. [It is also not clear why Congress did not press Petraeus on this point.] Bryan Bender and Farah Stockman write,

‘many American military officials now acknowledge that when Iraqi forces took the lead in 2006 in a series of operations known as Together Forward I and II, the strategy failed, in part because of abuses committed by largely Shia Muslim Iraqi troops against minority Sunnis and their inability to hold area cleared of insurgents.’

Pepe Escobar in the Asia Times demolishes the ‘al-Anbar myth’ being promoted on the American Right. He does so on the basis of an actual interview with the late Sattar Abu Rishah, on the basis of a close analysis of tribal alliances in al-Anbar, and on the basis of recent opinion polling that shows 92 percent of Sunni Arabs support attacks on US troops and 98 percent despise the al-Maliki government. The tragedy is that Escobar is right about everything he says, but that virtually no one in the Washington power or journalism elite will probably ever read his important piece. Some nonentity who wouldn’t know the Dulaim from the Jubour will declaim some nonsense at NRO, and that will be what the Repub staffers on the Hill believe, having fed the nonentity the warped info in the first place.

James Denselow of the Guardian argues that the ‘bottom up’ approach of Gen. Petraeus in Iraq may lead to an Iraq that is so decentralized as to be dysfunctional, a la Lebanon in the 1980s.

Was traveling and missed this link to my interview in the Metro Times on where we are in Iraq.