Although President Bush’s escalation of the Iraq War has been opposed by a substantial majority of the American people, many generals, the Iraq Study Group, and most Democrats and some Republicans in Congress, the most important opposition may come from Iraqis. Although Bush had trouble correctly reading the results of the November 2006 congressional elections, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki got the message loud and clear. When Maliki met Bush in Amman, Jordan, later in November, he hoped the newly chastened American president would be sensible enough to lower the U.S. profile in Baghdad. Maliki demanded that the United States turn most of the security responsibilities in Baghdad over to the Iraqi government and withdraw U.S. forces to the outskirts of the capital. Rather than training Iraqi security forces and moving toward the exits, however, the president has decided to do the opposite. His escalation of the war will now result in U.S. forces bearing the brunt of the fighting and dying in the Iraqi capital.
Although U.S. forces will have been strengthened, their mission also will have been expanded substantially. Instead of merely fighting Sunni insurgents, they now will go after Shi’ite militias, such as the Mahdi Army of Moktada al-Sadr, the largest such militia in Iraq. If U.S. troops actually do go into Sadr City to attack the Mahdi Army, they may have quite the fight on their hands–”as they did in Najaf in 2004. Also, instead of keeping U.S. escalation a secret and hitting Sunni insurgents and perhaps the Mahdi Army with “shock and awe,” the gradual entry of the additional 21,000 troops piecemeal into Iraq will telegraph the punch, thus making it much less effective in debilitating these factions. More than likely, violence in Baghdad will decrease only temporarily and then continue to rise over the long-term–”a repeat of the last time the United States sent additional forces into Baghdad.
The Iraqi government will do everything it can to impede the entry of U.S. forces into Sadr City, because the government will fall without al-Sadr’s critical support. According to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, if the Iraqi government doesn’t deliver its promised troops, money for reconstruction, and progress in meeting other benchmarks, the United States might stop the month-by-month increase in troops before the 21,000 level is reached. Since the Iraqi government is not enthusiastic about U.S. escalation in the first place, this U.S. threat appears to be empty. It’s like threatening to withhold a kid’s spoonful of castor oil if he or she fails to do homework.
One hint that the Iraqi government may not be “getting with the program,” was its recent demand that the United States release five Iranian officials, captured in Iraq, who were apparently associated with an organization that provides arms to Iraqi extremists and supports attacks against U.S. forces.
Unfortunately, inserting more U.S. forces into what promises to be a multi-sided civil war, in support of an Iraqi government that is friendly to U.S. enemies, doesn’t seem likely to win the “public policy of the year” award. Baghdad has become subdivided into smaller and smaller sectarian enclaves with smaller and more dangerous militias guarding them. This Balkanization makes the militias more difficult to control and the likelihood of a negotiated settlement among the parties more remote. But according to the Washington Post, Lt. Col. Fred Johnson, deputy commander of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, there may be good news. Johnson said that augmented U.S. forces could end sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi’ite militants because “when they are thinking about us, they are not killing each other.” His soldiers, who could now be attacked by both Sunnis and Shi’a, might not be as thrilled as he seems to be about this new reality.
Another way to take the fire out of the sectarian violence, the Bush administration hopes, is to initiate FDR–”style “dig the hole and fill it back in” public works projects and the revitalization of decrepit and inefficient state-owned Iraqi industries. The administration is attempting to rescue its failing attempt to be Iraq’s military nanny with even more socialism. The Iraqi government, trying to rid itself of the draining expenses for such dinosaur industries, may not be all that happy about this effort either.
Without much support from the Iraqi government and the groups that underpin it, the new U.S. initiative to stave off defeat in the Iraq War is likely doomed to fail.