Monday, December 25, 2006

It's December 25th, the date on which many people of European descent celebrate their druidical heritage with rites involving holly, pine branch wreaths, and even mounting an entire tree in their living rooms. (Some, I understand, try to reconcile these practices with a more recent set of beliefs by calling it "Newtonmas", celebrating the birth of Sir Isaac Newton on this date, though it's documented that celebrations around this date long preceded Newton's birth).

And now, people of European descent find themselves in conflict with a rather different culture in Iraq --- so I've been secretly worried that some armed force in Iraq would decide that December 25th is the perfect date to do something that really harms and damages United States efforts there. I believe I can now claim vindication --- even if it came a day early, and the United States army itself is the force that did the damage.

This particular shot in the foot came by way of two raids which captured several Iranians in Iraq --- including two diplomats, and at least two other individuals who were there at the specific invitation of Kurdish leader (and titular Iraqi president) Jalal Talabani. Just to spread the insult around, one raid took place on the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a prominent Shiite politician who visited Bush in the White House a few weeks ago, and who had been a centerpiece of plans that Dubya's crew had floated to try to build a coalition of supposedly moderate Shiites to work against Muqtada al-Sadr. Lots of luck with that now.

So, you'd think that the Americans would have some really solid reasons for conducting this raid and endangering that program. And they say they do. Well, sorta kinda. From the Times writeup I linked above:

"We conduct operations against those who threaten Iraqi and coalition forces," [a "senior Western official"] said. "This was based on information."

Yeah, right. The information that Iranians were present. (And of course, it should be no surprise to anyone that al-Hakim was talking to Iranians --- the political party he now leads was formed as an exile movement in Tehran). And in case you're wondering whether there was "information" which tied these particular Iranians to specific threats against "Iraqi and coalition forces", the same report quotes an "administration official" as saying:

When the military conducted the raids, they really didn't know who they were going to find.

Which hasn't stopped various spokespeople from dropping dark hints about which Iranian security organs might have representatives in custody. But (as the article says right up top) "Iraqi government officials ... have been making strenuous efforts to engage Iran on matters of security." Who do you think shows up for those meetings --- the minister of agriculture?

To summarize: American government spokespeople have now, effectively, acknowledged that these raids were a fishing expedition mounted in hopes that these Iranians would be found carrying something embarassing. Yet the mere fact of the raids was deeply embarassing and insulting to key figures in the soi-disant Iraqi government --- whose pretensions to sovereignty are dissolving as its representatives scurry around begging the Americans to release Iranians who were present at their invitation, and captured on their own soil.

Not the sort of thing you like to see on the birthday of a man now revered as a symbol of rationality.

More: it's more defensible to raid a police station out of which police gone rogue were running death squads --- but if the local authorities gone rogue don't cotton to the idea, the consequences could be the same.

Yet more: Chris Floyd explains the al-Hakim puzzlement; Ayatollah al-Sistani had already more or less scotched the "grand unified coalition" that Dubya & co. were trying to set up, and "Hakim was a prime mover in the 'moderate coalition' gambit; now that Sistani has killed that initiative, there's no need to mollycoddle Hakim. He can be roughed up like all the rest of the darkies."

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Paul Wolfowitz, erstwhile architect of our strategy in Iraq (to the extent that we ever had one) explains why he doesn't want to talk about it now:

I'm not a U.S. official any more and unfortunately not a private citizen either. I work for 184 countries that expect me to do the job at the World Bank. I would like nothing better than to be able to get involved in this debate [over Iraq]. I would particularly like to be able to clear the record of some of the garbage about myself personally, but if I start doing that, the people I work for would say, 'You are not doing your job, you are getting mixed up in something that is a distraction from the message that we would like you to deliver.'

Bush administration figures are frequently accused of abandoning this country's principles. And yet Wolfowitz is, at least, allowing his staff to set him on a policy oft attributed to Lincoln himself: they would rather he keep silent and be thought a fool, than that he speak and remove all doubt.

(via Kevin Drum).