4 years, 8 months ago
Omar at Iraq The Model had previously observed that Iran’s IRG was most likely behind the recent bombing attacks in Baghdad (or so it was reported by Azzaman). Mohammed updates us with news that Maliki is blaming the Syrian administration for the attacks, and is demanding that certain Ba’athists be handed over to Iraq. He further speculates that Maliki is going after Syria as the weakest link in the trouble-makers in the region as a straw man.
I had initially suspected not the Ba’athists, nor AQI, but Iran and the IRG or perhaps the Quds. I believe that AQ is essentially dead in Iraq. But this doesn’t mean that the Sunni insurgency is dead. The New York Times has a happy report on lake Habbaniya being enjoyed by Sunni and Shi’a alike, but a more clear headed assessment is given to us by Jane Arraf through the Council on Foreign Relations, entitled Reappraising U.S. Withdrawal from Iraqi Cities.
When you talk to Iraqi officials, they believe this is a fight for survival. The Shiite-led government believes that there are Baathists who want to topple them. There are Iraqi officials who firmly believe that there are military people, former Baathists, who want to launch a coup. And that doesn’t make the Sunnis feel very secure, particularly since we’ve seen things like the governor of Baghdad, Salah Abdel-Razzaq, saying that they might arrest some Sunni members of parliament in connection with these bombings. That creates a huge division.
Iraqi and U.S. officials always say the key to stability is reconciliation, and by that they mostly mean reconcilitation by the Maliki government [Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] with the Sunni groups including, former insurgents and the Sunni political parties. In the aftermath of the bombings, it’s hard to see where they go from here with all the accusations that have been thrown around. And then there are Iraq’s relations with its neighbors. Over the weekend, the governor of Baghdad said Saudi Arabia was behind this. The interior ministry released a taped confession which may or may not have actually been a confession from someone who says that Syria was involved in this. That doesn’t really bode well for Iraq’s relations with neighboring countries. And we have to draw a difference there between the government and the foreign ministry. The foreign minister, who is Kurdish, actually has very good personal relations with the Saudis. But the Saudis hate Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and they hate the Shiite-led government. Iraq is a really complicated place to begin with but this attack, and its repercussions, could really threaten stability.
There is no question that the recent bombing, along with the sectarian behavior and ineptitude of the ISF, causes the Maliki administration to look weak and unable to ensure security. She then goes on to discuss the issue of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Iraqi cities.
There’s a very delicate dynamic right now. The whole idea was that after June 30, the United States would step down from security in the towns and cities. There wouldn’t be combat troops in the street and it would truly be an Iraqi show. And it’s happened perhaps to a faster extent than even the U.S. commanders would have envisioned. I was in Ramadi and Anbar Province and the local Iraqi police wanted the Marines to help, but decisions to ask for U.S. help had to be made by the Anbar operations command, which is an arm of the operations apparatus attached to the prime ministry. It has not made a single request for help from the Marines since June 30 and that’s the case in a lot of these towns. Which was all well and good up until last Wednesday. Those bombings indicated to a lot of people that we have to stop pretending that things are fine and that applies to the U.S. commanders as well. One Iraqi senior official told me literally that they can’t pretend that everything’s fine as they engage in a responsible drawdown. Because in some cases, Iraqi security cannot handle it. They don’t have the intelligence capability. They don’t have the technology to detect explosives.
They don’t have a lot of the more sophisticated skills and the technological assets they actually would need to be able to fight this insurgency. They certainly have what it takes in terms of cultural knowledge, obviously, but this is still an insurgency. When you can build two-ton truck bombs in the middle of Baghdad, which is, according the interior ministry, where it happened, and then drive them through the streets, there’s got to be something wrong there.
But the discussion doesn’t drive to the root of the issue with whether the Marines could ever again perform combat operations in the Anbar Province. On the occasions that Marine bases in Anbar take rocket attacks, the first reaction is to call Iraqi Police. The Status of Forces Agreement has the Marines’ hands tied.
At the security meeting this week, Marine officers reminded their Iraqi counterparts that US forces were available to help with intelligence and surveillance, biometrics to identify suspects, and defusing explosives.
The security agreement, which requires the Marines to give the Iraqis 72 hours notice to move outside their base and then only with Iraqi escorts, has left part of the battalion with so little to do that more than 500 Marines are being sent home early.
While looking inept, the Maliki administration has “bet the farm” on the readiness of the ISF, virtually ensuring that the U.S. forces do not contribute to the future stability of Iraq. This bet might prove to have been a bad one, and regardless of being in the minority, if the Sunnis feel that they haven’t been included in the power sharing, there will be trouble. While the Sunnis still must be addressed, it is clear that Iran has not been.
The Marines will leave Anbar, and very soon. They will not be back inside the cities or anywhere else for that matter, nor should they be under the current SOFA. Any future participation in the affairs of Iraq by the Marines should be under a revised SOFA that gives them the latitude to close with and destroy the enemy, project force, and ensure their own protection.