Via a thought-provoking diary by Spin Doctor on Tacitus
Freedom may be on the march in Iraq, but it's very likely about to hit a serious pothole. Regardless of who wins the White House this week, what's waiting for him to deal with in Iraq is no Inaugural Ball. From Newsweek:
And so the bloody battles of the Iraq war—which never quite ended—are about to start up again in full force. Much depends on the new offensive. If it succeeds, it could mark a turning point toward Iraqi security and stability. If it fails, then the American president will find himself in a deepening quagmire on Inauguration Day. The Fallujah offensive "is going to be extremely significant," says one U.S. official involved in the planning. "It's an attempt to tighten the circle around the most problematic areas and isolate these insurgents." But it will also be "the first major test" of the new Iraqi security forces since the debacle in April, says Michael Eisenstadt, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute. Their performance, he says, will "provide a key early indicator of the long-term prospects for U.S. success in Iraq."
For months the American people have heard, from one side, promises to "stay the course" in Iraq (George W. Bush); and from the other side, equally vague plans for gradual withdrawal (John Kerry). Both plans depend heavily on building significant Iraqi forces to take over security. But the truth is, neither party is fully reckoning with the reality of Iraq—which is that the insurgents, by most accounts, are winning. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former general who stays in touch with the Joint Chiefs, has acknowledged this privately to friends in recent weeks, NEWSWEEK has learned. The insurgents have effectively created a reign of terror throughout the country, killing thousands, driving Iraqi elites and technocrats into exile and scaring foreigners out. "Things are getting really bad," a senior Iraqi official in interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's government told NEWSWEEK last week. "The initiative is in [the insurgents'] hands right now. This approach of being lenient and accommodating has really backfired. They see this as weakness." (emphasis mine)
One of more discouraging developments in our efforts to help build a new Iraqi army is the discovery that insurgents are heavily infiltrating these forces.
"The infiltration is all over, from the top to the bottom, from decision making to the lower levels," says the senior Iraqi official. In the Kirkush incident, the insurgents almost certainly had inside information about the departure time and route of the buses. Iraqi Ministry of Defense sources told NEWSWEEK the Iraqi recruits had not been allowed to leave the base with their weapons because American trainers were worried that some of them might defect. "The current circumstances oblige us not to give them their weapons when they're taking vacations, in case they run away with them," said one Iraqi intelligence officer.
The growing sense is that noone and nowhere in Iraq is safe. From the bombings inside the Green Zone, to the more than 900 Iraqi police officers who've been killed this year, it's an increasingly treacherous place:
Throughout much of Iraq, but especially in the Sunni Triangle at the heart of the country, U.S. troops are unable to control streets and highways, towns and cities. And allied Iraqi troops are simply not numerous, well trained or trustworthy enough. Attacks on Coalition and Iraqi forces are now in the range of 100 a day; casualties among Iraqis are far greater. More than 900 policemen have been killed in the past year, according to the Ministry of the Interior. The Iraqi media have been targeted, too: in just the past three weeks, assassins have killed two Iraqi journalists, both female TV personalities. On Saturday, a car bomb detonated near Al Arabiya TV in Baghdad, killing seven.
And apparently it's considered so unsafe that anyone who has the means is leaving Iraq:
Iraqi elites are fleeing by the thousands, many to neighboring Jordan. "Iraq is there for the bandits now. Anyone with the financial ability to do so has left," says Amer Farhan, who departed last summer with his father, Sadeq, a factory owner, and all of their family.
Hopes for reversing this nightmare and convincing both the insurgents and nonviolent locals to see the writing on the wall and side with the Coalition and new Iraqi forces seem to hinge on a decisive victory in Fallujah and Ramadi:
"The model is Najaf," a senior Western official said. Last summer Shiite militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr lost thousands of his militia in a major battle for Najaf, and American and Iraqi forces killed or captured 45 of his top aides. Sadr has been muted since, and has hinted he will run in the January elections being orchestrated by the U.S.-installed government.
Two factors working against this desired outcome, however, are the absence of a Sistani-like broker in the Sunni triangle and the fact that elections will not necessarily be as fruitful for the nonmajority Sunnis as it will likely be for Sistani's followers.
Personally, I believe the elections, held hell or highwater, will calm things down somewhat in Iraq. I don't think the result will be anything even approaching the sort of democracy we were led to believe Iraq would have, and I fully expect other Middle Easterners to be more sceptical than envious of the new government (i.e., no domino effect in the foreseeable future), but once the targets of the insurgents can no longer be called occupiers or puppets of the occupation, the insurgency will have lost its major recruiting tool. The only thing I look forward to more than the Iraqi elections being over is our own.