Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Latest Attack Shows That Al’Qaeda In Iraq Is Anything But Dead

Posted in Iraq by Dan on April 29, 2010

AQI strikes two days after its top leaders are killed

Just a few days after the group’s two top leaders were killed in a joint Iraqi-U.S. counterterrorism operation, the notorious Al’Qaeda in Iraq responded with a series of powerful and horrific bomb blasts that killed at least 69 people across the country. The attack, which occurred this past Friday, was by far the deadliest day for Iraq this year; a terrible sign of unrest that comes at the same time that Iraq’s leaders continue to haggle over who gets to form the next government.

The Associated Press has reported that a total of at least 10 bombs exploded in and around Baghdad, most of which targeted Shias in their own neighborhoods immediately following Friday prayers. By the far the most destructive by AQI was a coordinated attack just a few hundred yards away from Muqtada al-Sadr’s compound, which claimed the lives of 25 people and injured another 150. Another 14 people were killed near a Shia mosque in eastern Baghdad, and just as Iraqi civilians thought the bloodshed was over for the day, another eight died in a roadside bomb blast just north of that location.

Many analysts have predicted that last Friday’s violence could just be another sporadic attack by Al’Qaeda in Iraq, perhaps a retaliatory act for the killing of the group’s two main men, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. This assessment is certainly possible. After all, Al’Qaeda has engaged in similar operations in the past, such its campaign last August against Iraqi embassies that left hundreds of government employees and civilians dead. Given the organization’s propensity for revenge and its track record for shock-and-awe, this argument is both highly credible and worth investigating.

Yet just because it’s credible does not necessarily mean it is correct. Last week’s operation could be something different entirely, and much more serious at that. Despite numerous setbacks in manpower and capability over the past three years, Al’Qaeda is still strong and able to plan and carry out operations against targets before Iraqi intelligence gets a whiff of them. Last Friday’s act of terrorism was highly coordinated, with bombs hidden in cars and bombs tucked along roads going off within a two-hour time span. The fact that most of the targets were Shias demonstrates the unbending resilience and fortitude of AQI, as well as their inability to except defeat in their overall mission of creating as much chaos in Iraq as entirely possible. Reigniting sectarian warfare is still an overarching goal, and if violence keeps coming, Shia militias like Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army may be inching to pull the trigger.

If this is the case, then I’m afraid that terrorism in Iraq is anything but over. It couldn’t come at a worst time either; tens of thousands of American forces are scheduled to redeploy out of the country this summer, and Iraq’s leaders have still not managed to cobble together a coalition government that is both representative of the Iraqi population and capable of delivering the basic services that all Iraqis are entitled to.

But there is a larger lesson to be learned here as well, a lesson that unfortunately has not been heeded by U.S. counterterrorism officials. No amount of targeted killings against senior Al’Qaeda in Iraq figures (as well as senior Al’Qaeda figures in the Pakistani tribal belt) will destroy the movement, let alone bring a level of measured peace to the country.

This is not to suggest that the operation against al-Masri and al-Baghdadi was unnecessary. In fact, escalating the campaign against AQI should be applauded with the utmost vigor, not only because these campaigns keep the pressure on the group as it tries to reinsert its role as a spoiler, but also because it helps the Iraqi Security Forces improve their intelligence gathering capabilities. Iraq’s military is taking the lead in many different missions across the country, and the more they continue to do so, the better off they will be in terms of execution.

Even so, assassinating AQ figures will not really hamper the organization in the long run. AQI has survived this type of setback before. When Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in the summer of 2006, the organization quickly regrouped and brought Iraq to the brink of a full-on civil war between the country’s two main sectarian groups (particularly in Baghdad). This has been emulated in the work of terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman as well, a man of impeccable credentials who right argues that “al-Zarqawi’s death did not end AQI attacks and…following the killing, violence attributed to the group actually increased.” This does not even mention the gravity of the attacks, which happened to kill dozens of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi civilians in the months that followed al-Zarqawi’s assassination.

Like in 2006, AQI may reach a similar comeback. This could all be pure speculation, or it could a sign of things to come. For the sake of Iraq’s survival as a modern state, I hope I am wrong.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of the Economist**

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Ayad Allawi Edges Out P.M. Nouri al-Maliki

Posted in Iraq by Dan on March 28, 2010

The wait in Iraq is over.  According to official results from Iraqi press, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has edged out the incumbent P.M. Nouri al-Maliki in the parliamentary elections.

And boy what a close election it was.  Allawi’s coalition barely managed to defeat Maliki’s State of Law umbrella group (Allawi received 91 seats to Maliki’s 89).  In many ways, this 2 seat difference bears similarities to the Bush-Gore saga that plagued the United States for months.  Maliki is already complaining about voter fraud and intimidation, and his camp for the last 24 hours has been calling for a recount across the country.

This may be construed as both good and bad.  On the one hand, Maliki’s unwillingness to accept the tally shows how difficult it will be for Allawi to forge a functioning coalition government in the next few months.  Maliki may not cooperate, and the other Shia parties that were left in the dust may resort to violence on the street if their interests are not met.  Yet on the other hand, the fact that Iraq’s election was so close for so long shows the maturation of Iraqi democracy.  It sounds cliché, but millions of Iraqis braved the violence in order to stand in line and cast their ballots for a more hopeful future.  And from the looks of it, Iraqis have a wide range of interests.

Perhaps the most important success that we can take from this election is the contest’s legitimacy.  As far as I can tell, this is the first time that all main sectarian groupings (Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds) voted in mass, which is a far and welcome cry from the 2006 parliamentary election (when most Sunnis boycotted the vote entirely).

What about the victor?  Well, Allawi’s triumph is a very significant development for the United States.  Compared to the other candidates, Allwai is vehemently anti-Iranian.  Tehran’s proxies in Iraq, including the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and parts of al-Maliki’s government, were trounced by a broad and cross-sectarian list of politicians.  In fact, the sectarian and religious parties that used to dominate Iraqi politics are quickly being replaced by parties that take on a more nationalistic tone.  And with nationalism at an all-time high, disengagement from Iraq is that much easier for the White House.

There is still a long way to go.  Iraq’s political wrangling has only just begun.  Allawi still has to bargain behind closed doors with the Kurds to form a semi-functional government, which could be months in the making. But if the final tally is any indication, Iraqis may be moving on from sectarian division.

P.S: Let’s not forget that 40 people died in twin bombings, just as the votes were being counted.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of the Economist**


Iraq’s Election Is Over, But Now for the Hard Part

Posted in Iraq by Dan on March 8, 2010

So the Iraqi election is over, and when all is said and done, it was a relatively significant accomplishment for democracy in the region.  Sure, the elections weren’t exactly perfect, but in a region where elections are usually for show, it is still a pretty great achievement.  Now for the hard part…picking a government that Iraq’s political leaders will accept and endorse.

First off, we won’t know the election results for quite some time, and speculating about the winner will only get hopes up (depending which side you are for). Early reporting on election results are often preliminary and unedited in all societies…remember that awful three month experience the United States faced in 2000? Truth be told, if the U.S. cannot accurately predict a close election, we should not expect the Iraqi media to do that much better. I mean c’mon, there were 6,100 candidates vying for over 300 seats, so early coverage should be taken with a grain of salt.

Optimism is profound right now. Iraqis are showing off their purple-fingers and are boasting about their country’s democratic successes. Insurgents only managed to kill 36 people across the country during Election Day, a tragic number, but still remarkably low when putting the attacks into context. Iraqis braved the violence, eager to make their voices heard through ballots instead of bullets.

But again, the real test will come after the election results are tallied. In the short term, who leads the government is a distant second to how the government is picked. Will months proceed without an Iraqi Government, like in 2005 when it took almost 6 months for the parties to agree on a Prime Minister? Or will Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds do some effective backroom dealing, dividing the spoils in a way that will provide Sunnis and Kurds with representation?

We don’t know yet. Too early to tell, but this is certainly a great first step.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of the Economist and Marc Lynch**


Final Thoughts on Tomorrow’s Iraqi Election

Posted in Iraq by Dan on March 6, 2010

Tomorrow, millions of Iraqis will stand in line to cast their vote.  And it’s a pretty significant one; the last time Iraq had a full parliamentary election was the year 2005 (and we all know how well that turned out).  Since that period, we have seen Iraq’s fair-share of troubles, including a vicious cycle of sectarian warfare, terrorism from Al’Qaeda, Iranian infiltration of Iraqi society, and a political cancer that I like to call corruption.

But just as we have witnessed failures over the past few years, Americans and Iraqis have also seen some successes.  Violence between Shias and Sunnis began to decrease in 2007, just as President Bush ordered tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops into Bagdad.  Al’Qaeda in Iraq is now reduced to a figment of what it once was in 2005 and 2006.  Foreign investment is starting to trickle into Iraq’s oil industry, and the Iraqi Government is finally reaching out to its Arab neighbors through business deals and security contracts.

This is why tomorrow’s election is so important.  It’s the cornerstone of the U.S. adventure (or misadventure) in Iraq, and it will surely be a test of how mature the country has become since Saddam’s ouster.

Yet just as the election will test Iraqi maturation, the contest will also determine whether or not America’s troop surge worked in its entirety.  Will the 2007 surge be regarded as one of Washington’s greatest foreign-policy achievements, or will it be construed as yet another example of American mismanagement?

People seem to forget what the main purpose of the U.S. surge was. It wasn’t designed to specifically root out every bad guy in Iraqi society, which would have been an impossible task anyway. The objective of the surge was much more limited and pragmatic.  The Bush/Gates/Petraeus team wanted to decrease the sectarian violence to a tolerable level, giving Iraqi politicians a brief, albeit peaceful, period to reconcile their differences.

The problem is that none of the issues between the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds have been resolved thus far. The Arab-Kurdish oil dispute is still ongoing, and could turn violent rather quickly when U.S. troops withdraw entirely. P.M. Maliki could continue to cement his firm control over Iraqi state institutions, leaving Sunnis in the dust. And of course there is always the possibility of Al’Qaeda relocating as Iraq disappears from America’s mind.

If the election is not at least somewhat successful, the U.S. may have gone through seven years of warfare for nothing; well, that is if you think replacing a Sunni dictatorship with a Shia one is an achievement.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of the Economist**


The Case for Staying in Iraq

Posted in Iraq by Dan on February 24, 2010

With Iraqi elections fast approaching, there has been a flurry of articles trying to predict what will happen.  Some, like Tom Ricks at the Center for a New American Security, believe that Iraqis will once again fall victim to the types of sectarian violence that plagued their lives for close to two years (check out Peter Feaver’s post for another perspective).  Others, like Marc Lynch of George Washington University, still have a small sense of hope that everything will be ok; Iraqis have gotten themselves into this mess, and they will get themselves out of it.

I don’t happen to be that optimistic.  For all of the surge’s successes in 2007 and 2008 (improved security, more Iraqi trust, building of Iraqi institutions etc), it failed in its main purpose: providing political breathing space for Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds to reconcile over contentious issues.  Getting all three main sects back to the table was the stated mission, yet all three remain highly skeptical of each other’s motives.  The Arab-Kurdish oil dispute is still on the front-burner, which could potentially destabilize a region (Kurdistan) that has normally been immune from bombings and assassinations.  Sunnis continue to remain on the sidelines of Iraqi politics, as Shia politicians cement their firm control over the election process by banning hundreds upon hundreds of candidates from participating.

And yet, President Barack Obama is still steadfast in his determination to withdraw all American troops by 2011, when Iraqi soldiers are legally required to regain full control over their country.  Perhaps the United States should reconsider its options in Iraq, as General Ray Odierno is currently doing on the battlefield.  Perhaps the President should jump on board and seriously consider a much more credible Plan B…staying in Iraq until some of these tensions are reduced to tolerable levels.

If the main goal is a stable and long-term U.S.-Iraqi relationship, shouldn’t the United States do everything in its power (both militarily and diplomatically) to make sure that Baghdad does not spiral into chaos once again? This would make sense, considering the fact that an Iraq with a fragmented ethnic environment runs contrary to what the United States is desperately trying to accomplish.

A secure state is the only way that a constructive partnership can occur. If the March election produces even more conflict between Sunnis, Shia’s and Kurds, the U.S. (and the west generally) runs the risk of wasting seven years and thousands of lives for absolutely nothing.

There is no doubt that Iraqis want Americans out of their country, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t blame them.  No one wants to live in a society that seems under siege or under occupation. But the United States has to be realistic here. Next month’s election is the pivotal moment for Iraq’s success. It is the make-or-break event that will either result in a somewhat stable Arab state or another Mideast cesspool for conflict and terrorism.

We got into this mess, and we should be damn well ready to fix it if things go sour.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Tom Ricks and Marc Lynch at FP.com**

Iraq Needs to Become Relevant Again

Posted in Iraq by Dan on January 20, 2010

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With Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen on the front-pages of major newspapers across the country, few in the United States (and indeed in the world) remember that 100,000 American soldiers are still engaged in Iraq.  The failed operation by a Nigerian bomber against an American airline on Christmas day has only worsened the world’s attention span with respect to the Iraqi issue.

This OCD mentality is especially worrisome, given Iraq’s lingering domestic problems.  Educational opportunities for young Iraqis who strive for a better life are at the bare minimum, while general infrastructure in the country is still lagging behind other states in the Middle East.  Security has dramatically improved, but this peaceful time has not been utilized to the fullest extent by the Iraqi Government.  Many Sunnis remain isolated from mainstream Iraqi society, prying the streets for whatever job they can find.  The Sons of Iraq- the crucial group that was responsible for some of the security gains during the U.S. surge- are not receiving their pay-checks from P.M. Maliki’s administration.  Water shortages and food supplies are concentrated in the most populous cities.

And of course we cannot forget about the 4.5 million displaced Iraqi refugees who are either too scared to return to their country or simply don’t have the means to act on their desires (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/01/12/life_in_hell).

At a quick glance, Iraq’s problems appear resolved.  But upon further inspection, the struggle within Iraq is anything but over.  The Iraqi Security Forces may be a more professional organization than in the past, but what is the point of security if political and social grievances remain at a standstill?

So what can the Iraqi Government do to become relevant again in the eyes of the United States and the world?  Simple…take advantage of tensions inside your neighborhood.

If Iraq truly wants to get America’s attention, the best thing they could do is play a mediating roll between the United States and Iran. Geographically it makes sense; the country is in the very heart of the Middle East and is a main staging ground for regional trade.

This approach would work from a strategic standpoint as well.  For a few years now, Baghdad has tried to rebuild its repertoire and credibility in the region…particularly towards an Iran that holds a vast amount of influence in Southern Iraq. And to be honest, the Iraqi Government needs all the help it can get. P.M. Maliki’s spat with Syria over Sunni insurgents and Iraq’s short standoff with Iranian forces on the border (over oil of all things) serves to shore up this claim.

In retrospect, a mediation role would serve Iraq in two ways. First off, it would boost Iraq as a cooperative and diplomatic force in the eyes of Washington. Secondly, it would ease the concerns and historical animosity between Baghdad and Tehran in countless ways. It may even have the potential of bringing Iraq into the global spotlight at just the right time, thereby enhancing their trade and security alliances.

This recommendation is obviously easier said than done. Iran may not acquiesce. The United States will probably look the other way, given its refusal to talk to Iran over its nuclear program. But if the Obama administration intends to follow through on its “mutual interest and mutual respect” platform, then using Iraq as a mediator may be the best way to do this, absent direct talks with the Islamic Republic.

It is time for Iraq to think outside the box.

**Comments courtesy of Marc Lynch at ForeignPolicy.com**

-Daniel R. DePetris

http://www.twitter.com/mideastblogger

General Odierno: U.S. Troop Reduction Depends on Success of Iraqi Elections

Posted in Iraq by Dan on January 14, 2010

Can the U.S. troop drawdown hold up?

In a world full of violence and political turbulence, there is at least one piece of good news circulating around Washington…the timeline for a U.S. drawdown in Iraq remains on schedule.  According to General Raymond Odierno- the top American General in Iraq- the main contingent of U.S. troops will likely leave the Iraqi theatre by the end of 2011.

Understandably, General Odierno would not declassify any information concerning the specific logistics of the withdrawal.  But in an interview with the Associated Press a few weeks ago, he disclosed something that most Americans can take to heart; the U.S. Military plans to withdraw 12,500 troops per month after the Iraqi elections are completed in March.  By this estimate, the United States can expect a substantial troop reduction from Iraq in the first few months of this year.

To the troops and their families across the country, this is fantastic news.  Mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sons, and daughters have waited for seven years to reunite with their loved ones.  In fact, the U.S. deployment from Iraq is a great morale booster for the entire country.  Odierno’s assurances could not come at a better time for the United States, especially given the President’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan.  Physically, Iraqis will officially retake their destiny and control the internal and external affairs of their nation.  Psychologically, the Iraqi chapter in the American book-of-war can finally be closed.

On a personal note, I am rather excited that Iraqis are taking control of their own country.  Who would have thought three years ago- when Iraq was engulfed in a civil war between Shias and Sunnis- that Baghdad would be rebuilt and the security situation would be improved as drastically as it was.  I am even more excited that our troops are returning home on schedule.

But with all of this said, there are some caveats.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but as General Odierno said, all of these plans depend on a successful Iraqi election in March.  If the election goes sour, or if Iraqi legislators are unwilling to abide by the results, the entire U.S. drawdown could be in jeopardy.

Granted, Iraq has already experienced an election when sectarian violence was starting to emerge.  This election took place in 2005, when Iraqis voted for an official parliament.  And to a certain degree, the 2005 elections were somewhat successful.  Millions of Iraqi citizens took to the polls in spite of threats and intimidation, and Iraqis were able to create their own central government for the first time.  Taking precedent into account, common sense dictates that the March election will be even more successful, given the tremendous security achievements made in the past two years.

Yet this common sense would be shortsighted.  The 2005 election, while significant, was largely executed and defended by U.S. troops on the ground.  The Iraqi Security Forces- still untrained and underpaid at that time- had yet to experience the full pressure of taking the lead against Sunni insurgents and Shia militias.  What is more, millions of Sunnis decided to boycott the election in protest, making a Shia-led government a given phenomenon.

The 2005 election failed to test Iraq to the fullest extent.  March 2010 will be completely different.  This time, the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police will be forced to take the lead in security operations, with American troops residing in their bases on city outskirts.  This time, Iraqi politicians will have to convince Sunnis to take part.  With many Sunnis unable to find work- and with the Sunni community feeling marginalized by the Iraqi Government- this will not be an easy task.  Add Baath’ Party remnants and recent terrorist attacks to the list and the election could easily spiral into an unending wave of violence.

So, before we start jumping up and down and celebrating an Iraqi victory, let’s see if the Iraqis have the ability to conduct a somewhat peaceful election on their own.  Because in a way, their success can make or break the U.S. withdrawal strategy.

-Daniel R. DePetris

http://www.twitter.com/mideastblogger

“The Forgotten War”: Part II

Posted in Iraq by Dan on December 9, 2009

With America’s trials and tribulations in war-torn Afghanistan continuing to dominate the headlines, we must not forget that over 100,000 U.S. soldiers remain in Iraq.  Likewise, we must never forget why the United States decided to launch a preemptive invasion of Iraq in the first place.

The only problem is that the U.S. Government seems interested in burying the truth and forgetting about the run-up to America’s worst war blunder since the Vietnam Era.  Rather than figure out what went wrong, Washington is dissociating itself from the conflict, even though a large contingent of American forces will remain in Iraq for another two years.

America’s number-one ally, however, has taken a drastically different approach.  For the past month, British politicians, and British intelligence officials have established an independent inquiry on why Britain decided to go along with President George W. Bush’s plan for Iraq in 2003.  Chaired by John Chilcot and supported by former analysts from P.M. Blair’s administration, the British Government is rehashing old wounds in the hopes of learning valuable lessons for the future.

According to Newsweek’s Mark Hosenball, the British “inquiry’s panel aims to examine how the war was launched and conducted, what happened when the initial military operations ended, and whether there are ‘lessons to be learned.”  In case anyone was interested in the panel’s findings, here is a preliminary list of their conclusions:

1)      George W. Bush seemed to have a fixation on toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime after the September 11, 2001 attacks

2)      The Bush Administration was heavily divided over whether to use force against Iraq, with VP Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld on one side and Secretary of State Colin Powell and C.I.A. Director George Tenant on the other.

3)      On September 14, 2001- only three days after the terrorist attacks on the United States- George Bush suggested to Blair that “there might be evidence that there was some connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin-Laden and Al’Qaeda.”

4)      In early April 2002, Bush met with Blair and revealed that the U.S. Military was already preparing for a military confrontation with Saddam Hussein.

5)      P.M. Blair, in a private telegraph to the White House in October of 2002, initially argued against American military  involvement in Iraq.

6)      V.P. Cheney was frequently with the President during discussions with British officials over war planning and preparation.

Certainly, the panel’s early findings are not exactly pristine tidbits of information.  The American and British people already understand that the Iraq War was based on inaccurate intelligence estimates, personal animosity towards the Iraqi dictator, and a genuine belief that a democratic Iraq would transform the Middle East.  London’s inquiry only serves to confirm and legitimize these beliefs.

But the moral of this story is not that the British Government failed to discover anything surprising during the run-up to the Iraqi invasion.  Rather, the lesson that jumps out is Great Britain’s search for the unbiased truth, even if this involves a meticulous process of give-and-take and a nationally publicized question-and-answer session.  By calling former British politicians to testify on the stand, Gordon Brown is not only closing the final chapter in a lengthy and controversial book; he is also exposing his country’s commitment to improving British intelligence for future conflicts.

Shouldn’t the United States perform a similar investigation into the manner, one that strives to uncover the truth and nothing but the truth?  One would think so, considering that over 4500 American soldiers have died in Iraq as a result of faulty intelligence about Saddam and his motives.  In fact, with two pillars of America’s Iraq strategy – weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi support for the Al’Qaeda network- grossly inaccurate, one would be right to argue that the U.S. Government has a responsibility to explain itself to the American people.

Perhaps we are not embarking on the same path as the British because the war in Iraq is still raging on for American troops.  The fact that the British mission in Iraq is now over gives Brown and Blair an opportunity to close the book on the conflict once and for all.  With U.S. operations in Iraq still ongoing, Washington may not have the same incentive.

Yet we as Americans should hope that our government is as open and honest about “Operation Iraqi Freedom” as our British partners have been and continue to be.

Many times, getting it right in the present and digging into our past can help save lives in the future.  There is a reason why political scientists and historians are so keen on preventing a return of history.

-Daniel R. DePetris

The Baathist Revival

Posted in Iraq by Dan on August 28, 2009
The Baathist Party is more organized than people think, thanks to the Syrian safe-haven

The Baathist Party is more organized than people think, thanks to the Syrian safe-haven

While I imagine that everyone is sick and tired of news dealing with violence in and around Baghdad, Middle Eastern enthusiasts may take interest in some new information that was just recently acquired by Iraq’s security forces.  According to the Iraqi military, last week’s bombing that claimed the lives of over 101 people near government buildings in Baghdad was orchestrated by a former supporter of Iraq’s Baath Party.  Of course, this is the same Baath Party that held onto power during the reign of Saddam Hussein, which lasted from 1979 until his ousting by American forces in 2003.

At first glance, Wisam Ali Khazim Ibrahim’s confession on Iraqi-television (the man who perpetuated the attacks) seems normal, considering that Mr. Ibrahim has lost the high social status often given to Baath Party loyalists during the authoritarian tenure of Saddam.  Yet, while such a conclusion is tempting to buy into, it neglects to discuss the still resilient structure of the Baath Party in Middle Eastern politics.  After all, the same man who planned last Wednesday’s twin bombings also spoke of a coordinated and unified Baath Party in neighboring Syria.

According to reports from the Associated Press, “Ibrahim said the operation was ordered a month ago by a Baath Party operative in Syria in a bid ‘to destabilize the regime.’”  In all of the developments that have taken place in the last few months regarding Iraq’s domestic security, this could be the most politically explosive remark of them all.  The reason is both clear and undeniable:  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the most powerful politician within Damascus’ Baathist establishment.  Although history has proven that Syrian Baathists and Iraqi Baathists have been skeptical of each other’s motives- most notably when Saddam Hussein was still Iraq’s supreme authority- the fact that both appear to be casting aside their ideological differences is a cause for concern.

Perhaps more destabilizing to the region is Mr. Assad’s continued role as an antagonistic head-of-state, made all the more apparent with his extensive connections to Islamic proxies.  Those that were reluctant to label Syria as a safe-haven for terrorists and insurgents can now caste aside their doubts; intelligence from a number of sources are all rightly concluding that sympathizers of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Saddam are all able to plan coordinated-strikes against Iraq without any condemnation from Mr. Assad himself.

Ibrahim’s confession is all the more interesting when one considers Nouri al-Maliki’s most updated meeting with Bashar Assad.  Just one day prior to the truck bombings in Baghdad, a frustrated Maliki demanded Assad’s compliance and partnership; namely by making it more difficult for Sunni insurgents to cross the Syrian border into Northern Iraq.  As is apparent from last week’s act of terrorism, such requests have been ignored.  Are we to truly believe that similar calls for constructive assistance will be accepted by Assad’s regime, given his track-record and his personal relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran?

Was Syria fully behind last Wednesday’s Bagdad massacre, in the hopes that the Shia-led government in Iraq would collapse under the weight of public outrage?  It would be extremely difficult to provide evidence for this assertion.  However, this does not rule out other aspects of Damascus’ questionable behavior.  Syria, through its refusal to beef up security along its shared border with Iraq, could very well be cheering for Maliki’s incapacitation.  We must remember that a weak Iraqi state incapable of delivering basic security for its population plays right into Assad’s hands.  Such violence, however dismal for Iraq’s internal situation, allows Assad and his cronies to frighten the Syrian electorate into submission.  A violent-prone Iraq is absolutely necessary for Bashar’s survival as Syria’s primary strongman, for such a weak neighbor allows him to sustain the belief that he is personally responsible for keeping Iraq’s anarchy away from the heart of Syrian life.  While a stretch, it may be perfectly acceptable to link Assad with past (and present) bombings inside Baghdad…wherever they may strike in the capital city.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Sameer N. Yacoub of the Associated Press contributed to this blog.

We Are Getting Real Tired Over Baghdad Violence

Posted in Iraq by Dan on August 27, 2009
Last Wednesday's bombings reflects the continuing weaknesses of the Iraqi Security Forces

Last Wednesday's truck-bombings, the deadliest attack in the past year, serves as a test for Iraq's Security Forces

101 deaths and 1200 injuries later, Iraqis are finally beginning to understand the ramifications behind the U.S. troop withdrawal.  For months, even years, the Iraqi population was convinced that their personal safety could be ensured solely through Bagdad’s army and police force.  Trained alongside United States Marines in battles across the country, it was thought that the Iraqi Security apparatus was maturing to the level needed for a complete taming of terrorism and violence.  Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, despite his over-reliance on U.S. troops in the past, is beginning to invoke feelings of hope and grandeur for a greater and more resilient Iraqi state:  something that could be reached without Washington’s armies patrolling the streets of Baghdad.  This sentiment had risen to such a degree that I have even commented on Mr. Maliki’s transformation earlier on this blog, arguing that the former Shia-exile is now intent in defeating criminality, and terrorism in all its shapes and forms.  Now, one week later, with two-massive truck bombings in front of Iraq’s Financial, Foreign and Defense Ministries, this optimism is quickly wearing thin.

Iraqis themselves, some of whom lost loved-ones in the attacks, have spoken to the media and blamed Mr. Maliki outright…claiming that government promises of continued security are but political-tricks used to ensure Maliki’s re-election in the future.  Others are taking a more controversial tone, arguing that the Iraqi Government deliberately orchestrated the bombings in order to cement a pro-Maliki coalition among the injured.  Conspiracy-theories aside, most Iraqis are formulating a correct assessment on this most recent incident:  while greatly improved over the past two years, the Iraqi Security Forces are nowhere near ready to combat the persistent threat of Al-Qaeda-sponsored jihad.

In a short one-week period, it appears that the same Iraqis that were once celebrating the re-deployment of U.S. soldiers from Iraq’s cities and villages are now desperately pleading for their return.

Understandably, the sights and sounds of blood-soaked pavement, broken windows, and destroyed buildings are taking their toll on Iraqis across the nation.  Sadly, despite this reality, U.S. troops are not allowed to assist without the formal petition of the Iraqi Government.  In what is being viewed by national politicians as a necessary staple of the joint U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, the common civilian views as an unwarranted provision threatening the physical security of themselves and their families.  Unfortunately, before last week’s act of terrorism, this notion was virtually absent from the Iraqi political landscape.  Similar to September 11, 2001, sometimes it takes an extreme act of brutality to change peoples’ minds.

Mind you, this is all speculation.  On realistic terms, I have no idea what is running through the minds of Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, and Christians living in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.  Perhaps Iraqi Arabs are taking a more pragmatic approach to the whole situation, believing that it is only a matter of time before Iraq’s armed-forces will beat back an already declining insurgency.  However diverse some thoughts may be, one statement does seem safe to declare:  the ISF has a long road ahead of them without the direct assistance of U.S. forces.

Iraqi troops are going to have to take the lead in criminal investigations, something they have been reluctant to do in the past six years.  Bagdad is going to have to practice impartial judgment, a policy difficult to implement in a diverse and multi-ethnic population.  More importantly, Mr. Maliki and his cabinet must be willing to make public-policy for the future, no matter how unpopular these decisions may be in the present.  For if Iraq fails to perform these functions, and if sectarianism trumpets nationalism, a second round of civil-war is all too likely.

-Daniel R. DePetris