This won't make John McCain or Joe Lieberman very happy and the folks over at the White House must be positively fuming.
Colin Kahl from the Centre for a New American Security told a press briefing this week that things are not nearly as rosy as John McCain is portraying them on the campaign stump or Bush is saying in the Rose Garden.
Kahl reports that US civilian and military officials in Baghdad are genuinely worried that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has become "over-confident" about his military capabilities, explaining his demands to the US over the proposed status of forces agreement on the rules governing US troops in Iraq. Al-Maliki appears to have won some internal battles in the Iraqi government in the past six months, so he now firmly controls the intelligence apparatus and has military operation centres under his authority throughout the country.
Even worse, Al-Maliki is not only refusing to incorporate the Sunni Arab Awakening Councils or "Sons of Iraq" into the Iraqi security forces, he seems to be planning to fight them. These are Sunni Arab militias, many former Salafi or nationalist guerrillas, who act as US mercenaries by fighting Qutbist vigilantes who call themselves “al-Qaeda in Iraq.”
Kahl said of the 103,000 Sunnis belonging to those militias, the Iraqi government had promised to take only about 16,000into the security forces. But in fact, it has approved only 600 applicants thus far, and most of these turned out to be Shi’a, not Sunni militiamen.
The Awakening Councils are the biggest threat Baghdad faces and that after Americans are drawn down in Iraqi, al-Malaki’s allies say it will be necessary to "take care of them.”
Bush is so mad at al-Malaki’s stance on US troop restrictions and his demand for a withdrawal timetable that he sharply warned al-Maliki that without a SOFA he would have to pull out US troops by Jan. 1, 2009. US troops operating in Iraq with no agreed legal framework would be constantly open to murder and other serious legal charges.
Muqtada al-Sadr is turning his Mahdi Army into a civilian social-work force under strong Iranian pressure. The Iranians seem to be convinced that the Mahdi Army was becoming a pretext for the US to stay in Iraq – understandable since the Bushies are blaming Iran for everything Muqtada did. In fact, Iran is mainly allied with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and his Badr corps paramilitary, which has become the backbone of al-Maliki's security forces; Iran thus has multiple reasons for trying to get rid of the Mahdi Army as a military force.
But there may be a third reason Iran pressured al-Sadr. Reports – rumours, mostly – keep circulating that there is a secret, informal agreement between Bush and Khamenei that if the Mahdi Army quietens down, the US will talk to Iran, refrain from bombing the nuclear facilities at Natanz and will forestall an Israeli attack, as well.
Kahl's information is another challenge to the propaganda that the Bush’s escalation "worked." Among the things that "worked" were Iran becoming even more influential in Iraq and al-Maliki getting hold of his own government.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that Georgia and other allies with relatively large troop contingents in Iraq are leaving, making it difficult for the US to draw down its troops at the rate Petraeus originally envisioned for this year. US forces will likely have to step in to replace Georgian troops in Kut and British soldiers in Basra.
At the same time, the newspaper reports that the al-Anbar desert is still very dangerous and full of seedy operators including insurgents, thieves, highjackers and smugglers. This is one reason why a Marine was killed Thursday in al-Anbar. The mostly unreported return of violence in the big, dangerous province has delayed the planned turn-over of security duties to Iraqi security forces there by the US military.
*When I was young, oh so much younger than today, I believed that the United States would become completely unhinged at some point in my lifetime. This...