NEWS & ANALYSIS: Is the militia surge out of control?

U.S. sponsorship of Sunni groups worries Iraq’s government

The American campaign to turn Sunni Muslims against Islamic extremists is growing so quickly that Iraq’s Shiite Muslim leaders fear that it’s out of control and threatens to create a potent armed force that will turn against the government one day.

The United States, which credits much of the drop in violence to the campaign, is enrolling hundreds of people daily in “concerned local citizens” groups. More than 5,000 have been sworn in in the last eight days, for a total of 77,542 as of Tuesday. As many as 10 groups were created in the past week, bringing the total number to 192, according to the American military. [complete article]

Why American troops can’t go home

A recent Washington Post political cartoon by Tom Toles captured the irony and tragedy of this “five-year plan.” A big sign on the White House lawn has the message “We can’t leave Iraq because it’s going…” and a workman is adjusting a dial from “Badly” to “Well.”

This cartoon raises the relevant question: If things are “going well” in Iraq, then why aren’t American troops being withdrawn? This is a point raised persuasively by Robert Dreyfuss in a recent Tomdispatch post in which he argues that the decline in three major forms of violence (car bombs, death-squad executions, and roadside IEDs) should be the occasion for a reduction, and then withdrawal, of the American military presence. But, as Dreyfuss notes, the Bush administration has no intention of organizing such a withdrawal; nor, it seems, does the Democratic Party leadership — as indicated by their refusal to withhold funding for the war, and by the promises of the leading presidential candidates to maintain significant levels of American troops in Iraq, at least through any first term in office.

The question that emerges is why stay this course? If violence has been reduced by more than 50%, why not begin to withdraw significant numbers of troops in preparation for a complete withdrawal? The answer can be stated simply: A reduction in the violence does not mean that things are “going well,” only that they are going “less badly.” [complete article]

Nonstop theft and bribery are staggering Iraq

Jobless men pay $500 bribes to join the police. Families build houses illegally on government land, carwashes steal water from public pipes, and nearly everything the government buys or sells can now be found on the black market.

Painkillers for cancer (from the Ministry of Health) cost $80 for a few capsules; electricity meters (from the Ministry of Electricity) go for $200 each, and even third-grade textbooks (stolen from the Ministry of Education) must be bought at bookstores for three times what schools once charged.

“Everyone is stealing from the state,” said Adel Adel al-Subihawi, a prominent Shiite tribal leader in Sadr City, throwing up his hands in disgust. “It’s a very large meal, and everyone wants to eat.” [complete article]

Bush-Maliki agreement defies US laws, Iraqi parliament

Monday’s “declaration of principles” between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki indicates the US will maintain a “long-term” presence in Iraq and involve itself closely in the Iraqi oil trade, backsliding on rules made in this year’s two largest defense laws.

The 2008 Defense Appropriations Act, which Bush signed into law in mid-November, bars the United States from establishing permanent bases in Iraq and from exerting control over Iraqi oil. The 2008 Defense Authorization Act, which has passed the House and Senate and is expected to be sent to the president sometime in the next few weeks, contains similar language.

Under both acts, the US is forbidden “to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq.” Although when Bush approved the Appropriations Act, he released a signing statement exempting himself from several of the law’s provisions, the proscription against permanent bases was not one of them. [complete article]

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