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Iraq between two elections

09/19/2004

The shape of American strategy in Iraq, still largely unarticulated, became more apparent in an article today by New York Times Baghdad correspondent Dexter Filkins. Filkins relates the latest plans of the U.S. military in Iraq, according to "a senior American commander": a renewed push to recapture Fallujah, Ramadi, and other Sunni Arab cities before the elections planned for January.

Without some semblance of order in the Sunni Triangle, balloting won't be possible there. But the planned offensive seems compressed into the narrowest of timeframes, for reasons that inescapably include the November elections in the U.S. Only once America's voting is finished should we expect the situation in Iraq to heat up dramatically.

Filkins writes:

A senior American commander said the military intended to take back Falluja and other rebel areas by year's end. The commander did not set a date for an offensive but said that much would depend on the availability of Iraqi military and police units, which would be sent to occupy the city once the Americans took it.

The American commander suggested that operations in Falluja could begin as early as November or December, the deadline the Americans have given themselves for restoring Iraqi government control across the country.

"We need to make a decision on when the cancer of Falluja is going to be cut out," the American commander said. "We would like to end December at local control across the country."

"Falluja will be tough," he said.

At a minimum, the American commander said, local conditions would have to be secure for voting to take place in the country's 18 provincial capitals for the election to be considered legitimate. American forces have lost control over at least one provincial capital, Ramadi, in Al Anbar Province, and have only a tenuous grip over a second, Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province northeast of Baghdad. Other large cities in the region, like Samarra, are largely in the hands of insurgents.

Senior officials at the United Nations are concerned that legitimate elections might not be possible unless the security conditions here change...

The stated reason for delaying until November to commence operations doesn't wash. By now, the idea that the U.S. military can charge into the hearts of insurgent-controlled cities, pacify them within the space of a few weeks, and hand off to the Iraqis should be laughable.

Does anyone think that top U.S. commanders would retake Fallujah, Ramadi, and so on at great expense, only to walk away again ("local control") on the eve of the elections? It's more reasonable to expect that a substantial American force will remain in key cities at least for the duration of the election, even at cost to security elsewhere. If it's worth having an election, nothing is going to be allowed to disrupt the voting.

There's just about one place in the Sunni Triangle that's been quiet for months, and that is Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, where by all accounts the U.S. military presence remains heavy. Losing control of Tikrit, it seems, would be an unacceptable humiliation. That can't be allowed to happen, and so it hasn't.

By comparison, the U.S. has been reluctant to accept too many losses for the sake of other Sunni cities: consider the abrupt withdrawal of the U.S. Marines from Fallujah in April.

The bottom line is a question of domestic politics. At this stage in the campaign, risking heavy losses is unacceptable. It will remain unacceptable until after the U.S. elections in the first week of November. Not even headlines reading "Heavy Fighting" are acceptable until then. Once that small matter of democratic procedure is settled, it will be safe to proceed, regardless of who will be President of the United States next year.

An obvious alternative to the anticipated "bloody November" would be to delay the elections (Iraq's elections, not America's) until the Sunni Triangle could be secured, however long that takes. But the imminence of Iraqi elections have become a staple of President Bush's campaign rhetoric, as if the mere date on the schedule were evidence of a successful mission. That date has become sacred in the White House; it can't be abandoned so lightly now.

This consideration is only reinforced by how the election schedule came to pass in the first place -- largely at the insistence of Iraq's Ayatollah Ali Sistani (whose dramatic return to the country ended the standoff in Najaf). With Sistani's influence over events in the Shi'a south stronger than ever, holding a national vote on schedule is more than ever the price of keeping the peace.

The only problem is, January's vote is designed to bring the Shi'ite community unambiguously into power in the new Iraq. Peace or no peace in the Sunni areas, there's likely to be a boycott, denying the outcome any legitimacy. Unless perhaps the U.S. military imitates the Indian military in Kashmir in years past, actually forcing voters to polling places, it's difficult to imagine many votes being cast.

Filkins continues:

Iraqi and United Nations officials say they are banking that enthusiasm for the elections among ordinary Iraqis will help persuade insurgents and other skeptical Iraqis to allow election workers into most areas of the Sunni triangle.

The initial signs have not been encouraging. For example, the Association of Muslim Scholars, the country's largest group of Sunni clerics, said last week that it had decided against taking part in the elections.

"As long as we are under military occupation, honest elections are impossible," said Sheik Abdul Satar Abdul Jabbar, a member of the association, which represents about 3,000 Sunni mosques in the region.

"People will not come out to vote in this environment," Sheik Jabbar said. "If the election goes forward anyway, the body that will be elected will not represent the country."

Indeed, the violence in Iraq is giving rise to concerns that voting held under the present conditions, with a possible large-scale boycott by the Sunni Arabs, will render the results of such an election suspect in the eyes of many Iraqis. If that happens, some Iraqis say, the stage could be set for even more violence.

"Bad elections will open wounds rather than heal them," said Ghassan al-Atiyyah, the director of the Iraqi Foundation for Development and Democracy, an independent governance group here. "If the Sunnis do not vote, then you could end up with a polarized Parliament that could lead to civil war."

To the extent that U.S. policy is aligned with Shi'ite interests, the first chapter in Iraq's civil war already has been written, during the fight for Fallujah that began in the spring. The second installment is due in November.

Analyst

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000296.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Analyst @ 09:11 PM CST [Link]

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Replies: 2 comments

remeber people Jesus wont come back and save the christians if the land from present day Palestine Not Israel (no such thing exists) to present day Iraq is not under control of the israelites!

Posted by annon @ 10/19/2004 02:10 AM CST

everything else is icing on the cake

Posted by annon @ 10/19/2004 02:11 AM CST


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