NEWS, ANALYSIS, OPINION & FEATURE: In Iraq, it’s getting harder to find any bad guys

Who’s the Enemy?

Who is the enemy? Who, exactly, are we fighting in Iraq? Why are we there? And what’s our objective?

Nearly five years into the war, the answers to basic questions like these ought to be obvious. In the Alice in Wonderland-like wilderness of mirrors that is Iraq, though, they’re anything but.

We aren’t fighting the Sunnis. Not any more, anyway. Virtually the entire Sunni establishment, from the moderate Muslim Brotherhood-linked Iraqi Islamic Party (which has been part of every Iraqi government since 2003) to the Anbar tribal alliance (which has been begging for U.S. support since 2004 and only recently got it) is either actively cooperating with the American military or sullenly tolerating what it hopes will be a receding occupation. Across Sunni-dominated parts of Iraq, the United States is helping to build army and police units as well as neighborhood patrols — the Pentagon calls them “concerned citizens” — out of former resistance fighters, with the blessing of tribal leaders in Anbar, Diyala, and Salahuddin provinces, parts of Baghdad, and areas to the south of the capital. We have met the enemy, and — surprise! — they are friends or, if not that, at least not active enemies. Attacks on U.S. forces in Sunni-dominated areas, including the once-violent hot-bed city of Ramadi, Anbar’s capital, have fallen dramatically. [complete article]

Inside the surge

Joint Security Station Thrasher, in the western Baghdad suburb of Ghazaliya, is housed in a Saddam-era mansion with twenty-foot columns and a fountain, now dry, that looks like a layer cake of concrete and limestone. The mansion and two adjacent houses have been surrounded by blast walls. J.S.S. Thrasher was set up last March, and is part of the surge in troops engineered by General David Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq. Moving units out of large bases and into Joint Security Stations—small outposts in Baghdad’s most dangerous districts—has been crucial to Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy, and Thrasher is now home to a hundred American soldiers and a few hundred Iraqis. This fall, on the roof of the mansion, amid sandbags, communications gear, and exercise equipment protected by a sniper awning, Captain Jon Brooks, Thrasher’s commander, pointed out some of the local landmarks. “This site was selected because it was the main body drop in Ghazaliya,” he said, indicating a grassy area nearby. “There were up to eleven bodies a week. Most were brutally mutilated.” [complete article]

2008: The year of federalism in Iraq?

In all the speculation about the fate of the US “surge” policy in Iraq, many analysts have overlooked a date on the 2008 calendar which is bound to become fateful: 11 April. On that day, the current moratorium on creating new federal entities – a last-minute addition to the Iraqi federalism legislation in October 2006 – comes to an end. From April 2008 onwards, the administrative map of Iraq could change dramatically.

The Iraqi constitutional and judicial modalities for creating new federal entities are poorly understood in the West. Under the legal framework adopted in October 2006, there are two paths to a federal status for an existing governorate: based on grassroots initiatives (by one tenth of its voters or by one third of the governorate council members) any Iraqi governorate can call a referendum for the creation of a new federal entity – consisting either of itself, or of itself in union with other governorates where the same kind of initiatives are launched (except Baghdad). A successful bid for federal status requires a simple majority of Yes votes in all governorates concerned. This is a complicated procedure, but it is at least a method that is based on popular initiatives. As such, it is antithetical to the recent resolution by the US Senate on federalism in Iraq, where there are suggestions about foreign “assistance” and elite conferences to “help” the Iraqis design a new administrative map – in other words, a plan to impose federalism on the entire country, not only “from above”, but also from the outside. [complete article]

Iraq to ease Baghdad controls

Iraqi military commanders signaled on Monday that they will soon remove some roadblocks, blast walls and other restrictions that had been imposed over the past nine months as part of the effort to reduce violence here in the capital.

However tens of thousands of American troops will remain on the streets of Baghdad, and the announcement appears to have been made to indicate to their constituents the Iraqi leaderships’ desire to change the emphasis from the military crackdown in the earlier stages of the operation to providing vital utilities and social services to the Baghdad population. [complete article]

The plight of American veterans

As an unpopular, ill-planned war in Iraq grinds on inconclusively, it can be a bleak time to be a veteran.

There is little outright hostility toward returning military personnel these days; few Americans are reviling them as “baby killers” or blaming them for a botched war of choice launched by the White House. Indeed, both Congress and the White House have been hymning their praises in the run-up to Veterans Day. But all too often, soldiers who return from Iraq or Afghanistan — and those who served in Vietnam or Korea — have been left to fend for themselves with little help from the government.

Recent surveys have painted an appalling picture. Almost half a million of the nation’s 24 million veterans were homeless at some point during 2006, and while only a few hundred from Iraq or Afghanistan have turned up homeless so far, aid groups are bracing themselves for a tsunamilike upsurge in coming years. [complete article]

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