Monday, April 19, 2004

Mark Kleiman complains about the treachery of Ahmad Chalabi in refusing to support a crackdown on Shiite firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr.

Now, in general, I'm fine with complaints about Chalabi's treachery. This is the guy who fed "senior administration officials" phony information about Saddam's supposed weapons programs, and then sweet-talked them into taking his word, and his cronies', over our actual intelligence agencies. (The apparently sole source for that cock-and-bull story about "mobile biological labs"? The brother of one of his aides). It has also been widely reported that dissolving the Iraqi army, while Bremer's decision, was Chalabi's idea -- he was apparently a bit nervous about there being any rival power structures to the ones he was personally involved with.

But if Chalabi is, in fact, advising us to stand down and try to find a way to live with the Sadrists, then that would mark a change from that pattern -- an acknowledgment that other centers of power in the country can't just be wished away. And it may also be the first good advice Chalabi may have given us -- ever.

The idea behind the arrest warrant seems to be that getting rid of Sadr himself will get his followers off the streets. But as Juan Cole notes, it's not just al-Sadr himself that's opposed to us, it's a Sadrist movement. Making a martyr of the guy at the top won't get rid of the rest of them -- if anything, it's more likely to swell their numbers. Martyrdom's kind of big over there, if you haven't noticed. Muqtdata himself has invited it.

Beyond that, it's been a persistent fantasy of the occupation leadership that we've just got to find the guy that's stirring up the trouble, and get rid of that guy, and everything will simmer down. Remember when Saddam's kids were supposed to be the root of all our trouble? Pity that didn't last -- at the time, we didn't know what trouble was.

The plain fact is that we cannot govern Iraqi cities without at least the grudging consent of the governed. They have guns the way Americans have TV sets, and if they get pissed off enough, they will shoot at us. As the British commander on the scene in Basra is well aware:

Brigadier Carter, of the 20 Armoured Brigade, who has been in Iraq for four months, said that the British forces would stay in Basra with the consent of local Shiite leaders, or not at all.

"A crowd of 150,000 people at the gates of this barracks would be the end of this so far as I'm concerned," he said. "There would be absolutely nothing I could do about that."

Meanwhile, from inside the Green Zone, in splendid isolation from the Iraqi street, the latest news as I write is Bremer getting impatient with diplomacy and suggesting a crackdown may come soon at least in Fallujah. Meanwhile, troops keep piling up around Najaf. Najaf is a holy city to Shiites, and their most prominent clerics have already said that if the Americans assault, they will call for a general uprising. You'd like to think that no one would risk that to preserve the sanctity of the June 30th "handover date" (likely more symbol than substance in any event), and the very latest reports are that the U.S. military is ratcheting down the rhetoric there somewhat. But why move the troops there in the first place unless some asshat in the Green Zone is dumb enough to try it?

How bad could it get? Beats me. I was, after all, worried that our troops might be getting sucked into a trap during the initial invasion, and turned out to be way wrong. And so I've not commented much on the more recent military situation -- but here are some facts. Our supply lines are once again frayed, to the point that the guys in the Green Zone may soon have to fall back on MREs, less-than-delectable army chow. The forces we have in place have a heavy mixture of both regular army who have been there too long, and were scheduled to be rotated out, and reservists who were never meant (or trained) for extended duty in the first place. Between that and the supply problems, it all has to be taking a toll.

And then there's Steve Gilliard. Throughout the fall, he was my sanity check. He was the far-out doomsayer to whom I could turn, and read through his latest, and say "no way it can be this bad. Even I don't think it can be this bad."

Go back and read what he was writing six months ago. It was that bad. The guy has been Cassandra with a blog. And what's he saying now?

We are on the verge of a disaster, a Chosin Resevior-like disaster, in Iraq. The US should be able to keep supply lines open with their forces. Now that they can't, we may have to fight our way out. [The supply-line trouble] is a very serious, extremely serious, development.

Well, the guy's been right a lot, but he's an amateur commentator, and that kind of luck has to end eventually. Now would be good. I'm really kinda hoping for now.


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