Saturday, August 14, 2010






Today on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Diane discussed Iraq with Daniel Dombey (Financial Times), Yochi Dreazen (National Journal) and Susan Glasser (Foreign Policy).
Diane Rehm: And now we have Iraq's most senior soldier saying the Iraqi army will not be ready until 2020. What does that mean, Dan?
Daniel Dombey: Well I think one of the things that it really means is that if you were a betting person, I think you would be very advised to bet that there will still be US soldiers in Iraq after the 31st of December 2011.
Diane Rehm: The question is how many?
Daniel Dombey: Well at the moment there supposed to come down to 50,000 by the end of this month. That from a peak of over 140,000 when President [Barack] Obama took office. I have to say they talk a lot about the combat mission ending. I would say a large part of that is just semantics. They're still going to be involved in counter-terrorism, they're still going to be an essential part in terms of communication and logistics and transport -- all the really difficult actions against al Qaeda or against insurgengents are going to likely rely on US forces for some time to come, I would say.
Yochi Dreazen: Two quick points. One on this issue of semantics, it's important also to look at what General Zubari -- Babaker Zubari -- was actually saying. He was asked about Iraq's ability to defend its borders externally. Which is a very different issue when it has Iran on one side, Turkey on other side, I mean it has multi-powerful countries on almost all of its borders. That's a very different question from its ability to patrol within its borders. And clearly the US focus rightly has been can you get Iraqi security forces capable of fighting insurgents, controlling areas, operating on their own. And there's been really remarkable progress. I mean, admist all the bad news from Afghanistan, I've spent a lot of time with Iraqi forces over the years, they've gotten markedy, markedly better. So the question of what their main mission is in the near future, they're already doing it. I would also add that I totally agree with Dan's point. I think that there's no question in the mind of anyone I talk to in Afghanistan -- I'm sorry, in Iraq or the Pentagon, that there will be an amendment to the deals to allow for some number -- usually in the low thousands is the number I hear -- to stay after 2011 when they're supposed to all leave.
Susan Glasser: I think those are all really important points. I think a couple of things I would add. One, is Iraq unlike Afghanistan had a large standing army that was to maintain internal and external order. This was Saddam Hussein's police state which functioned in a very militarized way so they had something they were reconstructing there which is very different from in Afghanistan which has hadn't a very meaningful army in a long time.
Could Yochi explain this: "One on this issue of semantics, it's important also to look at what General Zubari -- Babaker Zubari -- was actually saying. He was asked about Iraq's ability to defend its borders externally. Which is a very different issue when it has Iran on one side, Turkey on other side, I mean it has multi-powerful countries on almost all of its borders." Is he implying that Iraq installed new borders after 2003 (when the illegal war started)? Or is he implying everyone overseeing the illegal war is so stupid they didn't know basic geography? Iraq's borders were well known. I believe a considerable amount of press ink was spent in 2002 and 2003, for example, on how Turkey might or might not allow the US to fly over (they decided not). Iraq's defense is its borders. It's stupid to act as if this just popped up or to say, "Woah, they can do the internal, just not the external!" That's stupid and crazy. And, point of fact, Iraqi forces can't protect the country internally. As AP notes, "Bombings continue almost daily in Baghdad and around the rest of Iraq, a grim reality illustrated by the fact that the number of civilians killed by insurgents in July was the highest in two years. Though violence is far lower than it was between 2005 and 2007, when revenge attacks brought the country to the edge of civil war, Iraq is far from secure." Matthew Rusling (Xinhua) speaks with Statfor's military analysist Nathan Hughes who also sees realities different than Yochi.
Michael Jansen (Irish Times) observes, "Iraq has just begun to receive some of the equipment it needs to defend the country. Eleven of 140 US battle tanks have arrived but crews will not be trained and the rest of the tanks will not be in service until mid-2012. Iraq has no independent air cover, an essential component of any defence strategy. Last March the government contracted to purchase 18 US F-16 fighter jets, but these are not set for delivery before 2013." Arab News notes the following in an editorial:
Lt. Gen. Babaker Zebari went on to claim his troops might not be able to take control of the military situation for another decade. It is hard to imagine what the general thought he was going to achieve by this outburst, which surely cannot have been authorized by any government figure, if for no better reason than the deplorable fact that over five months after elections, Iraq still has no proper government.
It will be suspected, of course, that Washington may have been behind Zebari's words, since they constitute an invitation for the US to continue its occupation. However, there are powerful factors arguing against US complicity. Barack Obama won the presidency with a clear promise to quit Iraq. The American message has been that the Iraqi police and armed forces have reached a level of competence and equipment where they can assume responsibility for security. Indeed in recent months, much has been made of the fact that very few US troops have been out on the streets, leaving the job of dealing with the violence to the Iraqis. Only in the field of sophisticated signals intelligence is the US likely to have any future role alongside the Iraqi military. That contribution probably need not involve the continued presence of US boots on the ground.
Besides, if Washington's assurances about the standards achieved by the Iraqi security forces really are nonsense, what does it say about similar protestations over the level of training and efficiency currently being claimed for the Afghan police and military?
And the line Yochi's attempting to draw -- "security" relegated to internal -- is as false as the claim that "combat" missions are now over and the US has housed Iraq with "non-combat" troops.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 5 months and 6 days. Andrew England (Financial Times of London) visits the Parliament and speaks with an unidentified MP who tells him, "Ten per cent of parliamentarians [those involved in political negotiations] are active, the other 90 per cent have nothing to do. The whole of Iraq is a vacuum, for God's sake. You know when you get a black hole in the universe? It's exactly the same now." Hayder Najm (Niqash) states:
Iraqis have no idea when both the US and Iran have agreed to throw their combined support behind Nouri al-Maliki's candidacy for Prime Minister . The leader of the State of Law coalition has never been a 'key ally' to Tehran or Washington. In fact, he has probably been more of a source of concern for both.
The US and Iran have managed to align their interests on the future of Iraq, despite their clashes over many issues.
The US accuses Iran of supporting armed groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Afghanistan. Iran is critical about Washington's stances on Israel at the expense of its neighbours' interests. The Iranians recently detained three US citizens who crossed the border, who it accuses of spying. Iran's nuclear ambitions also remain on the US file.
Salah Hemeid (Al-Ahram Weekly) runs through a number of possibilities on what's taking place (including that the stalemate lives on). As Azzaman notes, many rumors are flying around and they provide a list of some of the more popular ones:

· The crime of killing medical doctors is back in Baghdad in full force.

· Al-Qaeda is luring Sahwa Councils -- the Sunni militia the U.S. raised and armed -- by paying them salaries higher than those the U.S. offers.

· The Iraqi army is asking U.S. troops to extend their occupation of the country for another decade. The reason is that the army comprises mainly candidates from sectarian parties who are not capable of guarding the country.

· Iran wants free shipments of Iraqi oil in return for compensations of the 1991 Gulf War.

· The bombing of fixed U.S. military bases is easier than smoking a cigarette.

· Militia leaders have returned to Baghdad camouflaged in parliamentary garb and quiet and moderate turbans.

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