Bad News from Iraq

After months of relatively good news from Iraq, with lower levels of violence and fewer casualties, this past week brought two bad pieces of news. First, the Iraqi government and the U.S. government have failed to agree to terms for a new security arrangement that replace the current UN mandate due to expire at the end of the year. Second, and more worrisome, was the announcement that anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was reactivating elements of his militia with the express purpose of attacking the "occupiers." This morning brought further bad news, buried at the end of a story on page A16 of the Washington Post that Iraqi security forces are massing outside a Sadr stronghold, promising renewed violence within the Shiite community. The American people have no way of really knowing what is going on in Iraq. The administration has lost all credibility on the subject. The press rarely gets outside the fortified Green Zone. But, the success or failure of America’s mission will be at the heart of this fall’s political debates, with John McCain arguing that the surge has worked to reduce violence, which it has, and Barack Obama arguing that success of the surge has done little to resolve the underlying political challenges. Both are right. Whatever one thinks of the circumstances on the ground, the geo-strategic failure of the Bush administration’s Iraq strategy is now beyond doubt. At the same time as the president was trying to get the Europeans to get tough on Iran’s nuclear program, accompanied by saber-rattling from both Washington and Jerusalem, Iraq’s president Nouri al-Maliki was meeting with Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The latter has also supported al-Sadr, despite the cleric’s hostile relations with the al-Maliki government. Iran has a simple interest in Iraq: to destabilize the country so that America’s attention cannot be brought to bear on Iran. It is always easier to cause havoc than to repair it. All of this was foreseeable to those who had eyes to see in 2002. Retired General Wesley Clark warned repeatedly that any foray into Iraq was bound to strengthen Iran, and that however odious the regime of Saddam Hussein, Iran was a greater long term threat to American interests in the region. That warning has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. This realization, however, is the coldest of comforts to Democrats who must try and figure a way out of the quagmire. There are no good solutions left. We can only hope that whether McCain wins or Obama, either would be the recipient of an enormous amount of good will simply because they are not George Bush. There will be a slight window of opportunity next January when the new president takes office. Some kind of regional peace conference, or the adoption of Sen. Joe Biden’s plan to separate the warring factions, may succeed where the surge has failed: bringing relative stability to the political situation within Iraq so that Iran cannot continue to exploit the chaos wrought by the U.S. invasion. It is a slim hope, but it is the only one left. Michael Sean Winters
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