The Progress Report / http://www.americanprogressaction.org – 2008-03-28 22:58:57
WASHINGTON (March 27, 2008) — When Gen. David Petraeus testifies to Congress in a few weeks, he is expected to tout recent “security gains” from the US surge in Iraq as a reason to “pause” troop reductions. But violence this week across southern Iraq is pouring cold water on these tactical gains, erupting in several Iraqi cities including Baghdad, where “rockets pounded the fortified Green Zone area.”
“Thousands of supporters of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr marched in Baghdad” today, calling for “the downfall of the US-backed government.” In a battle in oil-rich Basra, a bomb blast destroyed an oil pipeline, Sadr’s Shiite bloc walked out of parliament Tuesday to protest the crackdown, and a Baghdad security plan spokesperson was kidnapped today.
This anger threatens to end Sadr’s pivotal cease fire, credited with much of the reduced violence across Iraq. As British Army Commander Lt. Gen. Graeme Lamb concluded Tuesday, “To suggest that good intentions will cross fundamental cultural, social and religious differences and win over a damaged population is at best dangerous and wishful thinking.”
UNDERSTANDING PLAYERS IN IRAQ’S CIVIL WARS
As Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Brian Katulis explained, the violence “brings into the open this long-running intra-Shi’a civil war.” The fighting across southern Iraq has pitted Sadr’s Madhi Army against Abdul Aziz Al Hakim’s Islamic Supreme Council (ISCI) of the so-called Badr Brigade, which has support from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Adding another layer to just one component of Iraqs many civil wars, “a third Shi’a faction, the Fadhila movement, is also engaged in the struggle for power in Basra,” Katulis writes. The result is a show of force from Sadr. “If these violations continue, a huge popular eruption will take place that no power on Earth can stop,” said Nassar al-Rubaei, leader of the Sadrist bloc in parliament. Most ironically, if Iraqi security forces and their militia allies prevail, Iran’s hand in Iraq will be heavily bolstered.
“The Badr Organisation and the ISCI had always been and remained the most pro-Iranian political-military forces in Iraq, having been established, trained and funded by the IRGC from Shiite exiles in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war,” notes journalist Gareth Porter.
NOT GOOD VERSUS BAD
The Bush administration has tried to simplify the violence into a government versus militia struggle. “The Prime Minister has gone to Basra….to re-establish the rule of law,” said National Security adviser Steven Hadley yesterday. But as analyst Anthony Cordesman noted, it is not that simple. A better explanation is that the Iraqi government — allied with ISCI militias — is trying to suppress its political enemies.
“[T]his is really a fairly transparent partisan effort by the Supreme Council dressed in government uniforms to fight the Sadrists and Fadila,” said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group. “Maliki in alliance with ISCI are doing their best to marginalize their political enemies locally — in preparation for local elections in October 2008,” argued historian Reidar Visser.
The result? “It seems far more likely that even the best case outcome is going be one that favors Iraqracy over democracy,” says Cordesman. Furthermore, this is not a hands-off situation. The US is providing air support — “help just in case they need it,” explained White House Press Secretary Perino.
AND THE SURGE?
The administration is trying to spin the new activity as a “by-product of the success of the surge.” President Bush even called it a “positive moment” today. But the violence shows the surge’s failure to contain Iraq’s vicious internal power struggles. One only has to look at British military activity in southern Iraq in 2006 and 2007 (Britain withdrew from Iraq last year).
“At first, there were signs of progress” such as diminished violence, but local militias “were not defeated; they went underground or, more often, were absorbed into existing security forces,” noted Robert Malley and Peter Harling at the time. Ironically, “heightened pressure” on Sadr “is likely to trigger both fierce Sadrist resistance in Baghdad and an escalating intra-Shiite civil war in the south.”
Tuesday’s violence “looks like a preview of what will happen as we approach provincial elections in the fall,” Hiltermann added. New Iraqi legislation has also stirred anger from Sadr, whose followers complain that too few “have been granted amnesty under a new law designed to free thousands held by the Iraqis and Americans.”
FEINSTEIN ASKS MUKASEY TO EXPLAIN
DECISION TO DISBAND LA
PUBLIC CORRUPTION UNIT
Last week, the US Attorney for the central district of California in Los Angeles Thomas O’Brien disbanded his office’s public corruption unit. O’Brien claimed, to increase the number of public corruption investigations, but current and former lawyers from the office disagreed with that reasoning and were asked not to dispute it publicly.
The LA US Attorney’s office is handling the ongoing investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis’s (R-CA) ties to a lobbying firm and earmarks its clients have received. The Hill reports that yesterday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) “called on Attorney General Michael Mukasey to explain the decision to eliminate the public corruption unit.”
In a letter to Mukasey, Feinstein “demanded a detailed explanation of why the decision was made, saying it “raises serious questions about the future of public corruption cases and whether they will be vigorously pursued in the central district of California especially given all of the turnover and disruption that has occurred.”
HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS PROTEST
NOMINATION OF TORTURE ADVOCATE
Yesterday, Human Rights Watch and the Open Society Policy Center sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee declaring that the Senate should reject Steven Bradbury’s nomination as head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) because of his “role in authorizing torture.”
In 2005, as the interim head of OLC, Bradbury signed off on a secret Justice Department torture memo that endorsed “the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the CIA.”
He also approved an executive order approving “enhanced” interrogation techniques. Though Democratic senators have called for President Bush to withdraw Bradbury’s nomination, Bush re-nominated Bradbury in January. Bush has played hardball in pushing for this nomination.
In February, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-IL) said on the Senate floor that more than 84 nominations were held up because Bush had insisted to him that “it’s Brabury, or nobody.” “Steven Bradbury has proven unable” to “provide the president a reliable interpretation of what the law is — rather than what the president wants the law to be,” the groups write.
BUSH’S RELEVANCY DWINDLING DESPITE
PROMISE TO “SPRINT TO THE FINISH”
In October 2007, President Bush told White House reporters, referring to his last year in office, that he was “going to work hard to the finish. I’m going to sprint to the finish line.”At a March 4 event at DAR Constitution Hall, the President reiterated his sprint to the finish and “said he remains energized to wrap up work on his agenda.”
But according to US News, Bush’s relevancy has started dwindling, as many administration officials are already seeking private-sector jobs. Not only are there new vacancies throughout the administration, the White House is also having “a hard time recruiting replacements for those who are leaving” because candidates for the position “don’t see the value in it for [his/her] résumé.”
While it is common for a second-term President to become a lame-duck during the final year on the job, polls showed that 71 percent of Americans thought Bush was a lame-duck as early as February 2007. Even White House reporters are reportedly “bored” by the President, attributing his early decline to the fact that “[Bush’s] rhetoric is so exhausted.”
“Behind the Pentagon’s closed doors, US military leaders told President Bush they are worried about the Iraq war’s mounting strain on troops and their families.” In the meeting, the Joint Chiefs of Staff also said “senior commanders in Iraq should make more frequent assessments of security conditions, an idea that appeared aimed at increasing pressure for more rapid troop reductions.”
New GDP numbers out this morning show that the economy grew by just 0.6 percent in the fourth-quarter of last year. The numbers “confirm the slump” the economy has entered and matched the expectations of weak growth predicted by many economists.
“A sweeping five-month investigation into the collapse of one of the nation’s largest subprime lenders points a finger at a possible new culprit in the mortgage mess: the accountants.” New Century Financial, whose failure came at the start of the credit crisis, “engaged in ‘significant improper and imprudent practices’ that were condoned and enabled by auditors at the accounting firm KPMG.”
Shiite militants “are hammering the US-protected Green Zone with rockets and mortars for the fourth day this week. … American military officials say the attacks are coming from breakaway factions of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.”
The Bush administration is taking credit for the Iraqi government’s offensive against Shiite militias “calling it a ‘byproduct of the success’ of the U.S. troop surge that showed that Iraqi forces are capable of assaulting Shiite extremists.
Responding to the Iraqi government’s recent crackdown on Shiite militias, anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr ordered a nationwide strike yesterday partially paralyzing the government and “prompting fears that basic services such as hospitals and schools could be crippled.”
“President Bush announced yesterday that he will make an unexpected trip to Russia after a NATO summit next week to meet with President Vladimir Putin in hopes of repairing relations that have grown strained over missile defense, Kosovo independence and NATO expansion.”
And finally: On Tuesday, the USO of Metropolitan Washington awarded comedian Jon Stewart its Merit Award for his strong support of US troops. A USO spokeswoman said that Stewart regularly comes from New York and visits with wounded soldiers at Walter Reed, but “up until now he’s done it for no public recognition; he just did it out of the goodness of his heart.” Stewart cracked few jokes on Tuesday, “speaking instead about how he’s been touched by his time with the wounded.”
“He [Sen. John McCain] has never said that this war would be easy. He has been the guy saying for four years that we’re getting it wrong. We need more troops.”
— Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), 3/25/08
“But the point is that, one, we will win this conflict. We will win it easily.”
— Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), MSNBC, 1/22/03