Improved security, an expanding economy, and new understandings with Iran, Syria and Turkey are fomenting an almost forgotten emotion among leaders of Iraq’s Shia-led government: optimism. But for Sunni Arab neighbours in the Gulf, Baghdad’s returning confidence raises the ghosts of troubled times past. Saddam Hussein is no more; Iraqi nationalism never died.
Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq’s national security adviser, typifies Baghdad’s brash boosters. Speaking on the sidelines of a weekend security conference in Bahrain, he warned Saudi Arabia’s princely rulers and other Gulf potentates to watch out.
“We are out of the woods … We are building a new Iraq under a democratic parliamentary system. There is a new sense of belonging in Iraq,” he said. “These people should understand the new Iraq is going to lead the region in a new way, with democracy and a new nationalism and a western orientation. They should understand these upstart Shia are not going to go away … Our strategic direction is very clear to everybody in the region. We are heading west.” [complete article]
American casualties in Iraq have declined dramatically over the last 90 days to levels not seen since 2006, and the White House has attributed the decline to the surge of 35-40,000 U.S. combat troops. But a closer look suggests a different explanation. More than two years of sectarian violence have replaced one country called Iraq with three emerging states: one Kurdish, one Sunni, and one Shiite. This created what a million additional U.S. troops could not: a strategic opportunity to capitalize on the Sunni-Shiite split. So after Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr decided to restrain his Mahdi army from attacking U.S. forces, General David Petraeus and his commanders began cutting deals with Sunni Arab insurgents, agreeing to allow these Sunnis to run their own affairs and arm their own security forces in return for cooperation with U.S. forces against Al Qaeda fighters. As part of the bargain, the Sunni leaders obtained both independence from the hated Shiite-dominated government, which pays far more attention to Tehran’s interests than to Washington’s, and money—lots of money.
Striking such a “sheikhs for sale” deal (whether they be Sunni or Shiite) is nothing new in the Arab world. The men who ran the British Empire routinely paid subsidies in gold to unruly tribal leaders from the Khyber Pass to the headwaters of the Nile. (Of course, British subsidies were a pittance compared with the billions Britain extracted from its colonies in Africa and Asia.) While the arrangement reached by U.S. military commanders and dubbed the “Great Awakening” has allowed the administration and its allies to declare the surge a success, it carries long-term consequences that are worrisome, if not perilous. The reduction in U.S. casualties is good news. But transforming thousands of anti-American Sunni insurgents into U.S.-funded Sunni militias is not without cost. In fact, the much-touted progress in Iraq could lead to a situation in which American foreign-policy interests are profoundly harmed and the Middle East is plunged into even a larger crisis than currently exists. [complete article]
See also, A powerful awakening shakes up Iraqi politics (Trudy Rubin).
On the first day of class, two male teenagers entered a girls’ high school in the Tobji neighborhood, clutching AK-47 assault rifles. The young Shiite fighters handed the principal a handwritten note and ordered her to assemble the students in the courtyard, witnesses said.
“All girls must wear hijab,” she read aloud, her voice trembling. “If the girls don’t wear hijab, we will close the school or kill the girls.”
That October day Sara Mustafa, 14, a secular Sunni Arab, also trembled. The next morning, she covered up with an Islamic head scarf for the first time. The young fighters now controlled her life. “We could not do anything,” Sara recalled.
The Mahdi Army of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is using a new generation of youths, some as young as 15, to expand and tighten its grip across Baghdad, but the ruthlessness of some of these young fighters is alienating Sunnis and Shiites alike. [complete article]
Democratic lawmakers and staffers privately say they’re closing in on a broad budget deal that would give President Bush as much as $70 billion in new war funding.
The deal would lack a key provision Democrats had attached to previous funding bills calling for most U.S. troops to come home from Iraq by the end of 2008, which would be a significant legislative victory for Bush.
Democrats admit such a move would be highly controversial within their own party. Coming just weeks after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, vowed the White House would not get another dollar in war money this year, it would further antagonize the liberal base of the party, which has become frustrated with the congressional leadership’s failure to push back on Bush’s Iraq policy. [complete article]