Monday, July 16, 2007

The real enemy in Iraq

I'm glad several people, in the MSM and elsewhere, have called President Bush (and most official spokespeople) on his assertion in a press conference last week that the most formidable foe in Iraq is al-Qaida in Iraq, or al-Qaida in Mesopotamia. It's an obvious propaganda ploy, calculated to try to connect the war in Iraq with the people who flerw airplanes into building on 9/11 -- even though the group named al-Qaida in Iraq didn't form until after the U.S. invasion, and petitioned bin Laden for recognition, which he seemed to give grudgingly.

This WashPost article, however, makes a strong case that the Mahdi Army, led or inspired by the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. which had laid low for a while when the "surge" began, has once again become the most dangerous group in what is clearly at least in part a civil war between Sunni and Shia militants. (In fact, it's more complicated and probably more intractable, especially by foreign forces, than a classic civil war.)

In West Rashid, a Baghdad neighborhood, the Mahdi Army controls power distribution, the housing market, gas stations, and the loyalty of most residents. The neighborhood used to be 80 percent Sunni, but so many Sunnis have been killed or driven out that it's now 80 percent Shia. Meanwhile Moqtada al-Sadr still plays a role in government -- perhaps a key role in offering support prime minister Maliki can't stay in power (whatever that means these days) without.

Given complications that get more complicated by the day and paralyze what passes for a government in Iraq, it's hard to see the "surge" having anything like a decisive impact in any period of time measured in units shorter than decades. I don't think the American people will stand for that, but so far 70 percent opposition to the war has had virtually no impact on policy.

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