So, NOW What the Hell are We Doing Here?

Top Iraqis Pull Back From Key U.S. Goal
Reconciliation Seen Unattainable Amid Struggle for Power

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 8, 2007; A01

BAGHDAD — For much of this year, the U.S. military strategy in Iraq has sought to reduce violence so that politicians could bring about national reconciliation, but several top Iraqi leaders say they have lost faith in that broad goal.

–full article–


It was about Saddam until it wasn’t. Then it was about al-Qaeda until it wasn’t. When it wasn’t about 9-11 and wasn’t about nation-building, it became about holding the gangsters away from each other until they could form a government. Maybe even a democratic government, although we’d have settled for any government that could hold our coat for us as we beat a speedy exit.

Now it isn’t about that either, which will mean yet another wasn’t.

Iraqi leaders argue that sectarian animosity is entrenched in the structure of their government. Instead of reconciliation, they now stress alternative and perhaps more attainable goals: streamlining the government bureaucracy, placing experienced technocrats in positions of authority and improving the dismal record of providing basic services.

I remember writing about entrenched animosity back in 2002, but these neocons who now say they ‘had no idea’ it wouldn’t be a cake-walk weren’t listening. Even so, does streamlining bureaucracy, advancing technocrats and getting the electric grid up and running sound like goals worth getting American kids killed for?

“I don’t think there is something called reconciliation, and there will be no reconciliation as such,” said Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, a Kurd. “To me, it is a very inaccurate term. This is a struggle about power.”

Whoa! Has anyone told George? Does David Addington know this? Where on earth does Salih’s estimate of ‘affairs on the ground’ put General David Petraeus’s congressional testimony that we were and are making headway toward a stable enough Iraq for national reconciliation?

David, have you got the latest play-book?

Humam Hamoudi, a prominent Shiite cleric and parliament member, said any future reconciliation would emerge naturally from an efficient, fair government, not through short-term political engineering among Sunnis and Shiites.

“Reconciliation should be a result and not a goal by itself,” he said. “You should create the atmosphere for correct relationships, and not wave slogans that ‘I want to reconcile with you.’ “

If you find overpowering irony in the Hamoudi statement, who can blame you? Our government would benefit from the same instruction, merely substituting Democrats and Republicans for Sunnis and Shiites.

Are you listening, Nancy and Harry? Hear the message, Hillary and Barack, Rudy and Mitt? “The atmosphere for correct relationships.” Someone could almost build a presidential campaign on that.

The acrimony among politicians has strained the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki close to the breaking point. Nearly half of the cabinet ministers have left their posts. The Shiite alliance in parliament, which once controlled 130 of the 275 seats, is disintegrating with the defection of two important parties.

Please! Irony heaped upon satire. Hide your eyes, George. Will those Iraqis never stop drawing comparisons to our government? Enough, already.

. . . The U.S. military’s latest hope for grass-roots reconciliation, the recruitment of Sunni tribesmen into the Iraqi police force, was denounced last week in stark terms by Iraq’s leading coalition of Shiite lawmakers.

“There has been no significant progress for months,” said Tariq al-Hashimi, one of Iraq’s two vice presidents and the most influential Sunni politician in the country. “There is a shortage of goodwill from those parties who are now in the driver’s seat of the country.”

Goodbye Sunni tribesmen. The cornerstone of Petraeus’s strategy just bit the dust while the General was surveying his new headquarters in the American Embassy. (Side note on that; perhaps if the State Department and Military are actually in the same building, we can fire Blackwater and let American troops actually protect us)

Shortages of goodwill seem to be a worldwide pandemic in these early years of the changeover from ugly American to pre-emptive American.

Sunni leaders sense that their Shiite counterparts believe the era of Sunni leadership in Iraq is gone for good — “that Humpty Dumpty had a fall and cannot be put back together again” as one senior Iraqi official put it — and Sunnis should accept the new reality. Sunni leaders, however, tend to express more limited goals than reclaiming the government.

Egg mataphors from the West, the final humiliation. Where is there found a single Humpty or a lone Dumpty in the Koran? Death to the infidel invader!

The idea of “reconciliation” in Iraq has always been short on specifics. To Sunnis, it tends to mean Shiites will release their grip on decision-making, allow them greater influence in the government, crack down on militants regardless of their sect and promote peaceful cooperation between politicians. Sunnis demand the release of thousands of prisoners who have never been charged, the purging of all militiamen from the Iraqi security forces and influence in military decisions.

That sounds to me like a more than specific program–also a program that mirrors American intent (so far as intent can be presumed)–remembering that these are also the people we ran out of government, thus turning them against us.

“It’s clearly perceived by the government that reconciliation is clearly a winner for the Sunnis and not a winner for the Shias,” said Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, chief of staff for the second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq. “The question becomes: How do you start balancing that scale a little bit?”

I’ll level with you, Joe. It’s not our job to balance their scales at the present cost. What is ‘balancing the scales,’ the next administration goal it’s about until it isn’t?

Sit down and have a smoke, Joe. “The question becomes” is what’s put us on the Iraqi ropes for five years now. The question should have been answered (or at least asked) before ‘Mission Accomplished’ came undone.

And by the way, while we’re at it, how come the chief of staff to #2 never got that ‘clearly perceived by the government’ into the Petraeus report? I don’t remember the general whispering that particular detail into the congressional ear.

The Iraqi government plans to consolidate its cabinet and install skilled technocrats in place of inexperienced political appointees, officials said. Hamoudi, the Shiite member of parliament, said he expected that the 37 cabinet seats would be reduced to 22 or 23 in coming months. Certain public service ministries, such as Justice, Transportation, Health and Agriculture, would in theory become “independent” from political parties, he said.

What was that about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic?

We no longer have choices in Iraq and those who claim we do are whistling past the graveyard. This administration, by a combination of lies, hubris, arrogance, incompetence, thievery and misjudgment, has taken from us the slightest possibility of choice.

This president, exerting unparalleled control over a fearful nation, a supine Congress and a derelict judiciary, has wrecked any chance of conciliatory politics in the Middle East for decades to come. He has engineered a military and political disaster without precedent, leaving us the bitter option of abandoning Iraq to ethnic cleansing or staying to witness and participate in it.

His brutal and cowardly decision is to do nothing until January 19, 2009, when the next president takes office. He will then blame the failure of the war on his successor’s unwillingness to ‘stay the course’ and whine through the balance of his Nixon-redux life that victory could have (and should have) been his.

His legacy to the nation and history is 25,000 crushed Americans and another 4,000 killed, a sovereign nation preemptively attacked and destroyed, a million Iraqi civilians dead, a military, a currency and an international reputation in shambles.

As Walter Cronkite used to sign off, ‘that’s the way it is,’ a mere three weeks after the Petraeus report to the Congress of the United States.

* For more in-depth articles by Jim on Iraq War, check out

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