Kahl: Iran Tamed Mahdi Army; Al-Maliki May attack Sunni Awakening Councils

Colin Kahl, just back from Iraq, gave a briefing that Gareth Porter attended. He reports that:

1. US officials in Baghdad are genuinely worried that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has become “over-confident” about his military capabilities and has therefore become unreasonably difficult to deal with over the proposed status of forces agreement on the rules governing US troops in Iraq. (Al-Maliki appears to have won some internal battles in the Iraqi government in the past six months, so that he now firmly controls the intelligence apparatus and has military operations centers under his authority throughout the country).

2. Al-Maliki is not only refusing to incorporate the Sunni Arab Awakening Councils or “Sons of Iraq” into the Iraqi security forces, but may actually be planning to make war on them. These are Sunni Arab militias, many former Salafi or nationalist guerrillas, who have agreed to take a salary from the US and to fight the Qutbist vigilantes (‘al-Qaeda in Iraq’):

‘ Kahl said in the briefing that, of the 103,000 Sunnis belonging to those militias, the Iraqi government had promised to take into the security forces only about 16,000. But in fact, it has approved only 600 applicants thus far, according to Kahl, and most of those have turned out to be Shi’a rather than Sunni militiamen.’

[I've also been told by knowledgeable Iraqi Shiites that the Awakening Councils are the biggest threat Baghdad faces and that when the Americans are weaker in Iraqi it will be necessary to "take care of them.")

3. Bush is so done out with al-Maliki’s obstreperous stance on restrictions on US troops and his demand for a withdrawal timetable that he sharply warned al-Maliki that without a SOFA he would have to pull out US troops by Jan. 1, 2009. (US troops operating in Iraq with no agreed legal framework would be constantly open to murder and other serious legal charges).

4. Muqtada al-Sadr agreed to a ceasefire last September and is turning his Mahdi Army into a civilian social-work force under strong Iranian pressure. The Iranians seem to be convinced that the Mahdi Army was becoming a pretext for the US to stay in Iraq (and of course the Bushies were blaming Iran for everything Muqtada did). (Kahl did not note, but I want to, that Iran is mainly allied with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and his Badr corps paramilitary, which has become the backbone of al-Maliki’s security forces; Iran thus has multiple reasons for trying to get rid of the Mahdi Army as a military force).

Question: Is there a third reason Iran pressured al-Sadr on this matter? Is there a secret, informal agreement between Bush and Khamenei that if the Mahdi Army quietens down, the US will talk to Iran, will refrain from bombing the nuclear facilities at Natanz, and will forestall an Israeli attack, as well? Just speculation on my part– I’m not asserting, just wondering.

Kahl’s information is another challenge to the idea that the “Surge” “worked.” Among the things that “worked” were Iran becoming even more influential in Iraq and al-Maliki getting hold of his own government.

Shorter LAT: Georgia and other allies with relatively large, effective troop contingents in Iraq are leaving, which probably makes it difficult for the US to draw down its troops at the rate Gen. David Petraeus originally envisioned for this year. US forces will likely have to step in to replace Georgian troops in Kut and British ones in Basra.

Shorter LAT Iraq blog #1: Al-Anbar desert is still very dangerous and full of seedy operators, whether terrorists or smugglers.

A Marine was killed in al-Anbar on Thursday.

Shorter LAT Iraq Blog #2 The resurgence of violence in the big, dangerous province has delayed the planned turn-over of security duties to Iraqi security forces there by the US military.

Kirkuk dispute fuels ethnic tensions.