Frustration in Washington, digging in heels in Baghdad as America confronts reality

Frustration in Washington, digging in heels in Baghdad as America confronts reality
August 19th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Frustration in Washington, digging in heels in Baghdad as America confronts reality

Frustration in Washington, digging in heels in Baghdad as America confronts reality
Media: The Associated Press
Date: 19 August 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Frustration in Washington. Digging in heels in Baghdad.
There's little sign that Iraq's government of national unity is bringing
together the country's sectarian and ethnic groups _ as hoped _ so that U.S.
troops can leave anytime soon.

By nearly every yardstick, the situation in Iraq is getting worse:

Last month, about 3,500 Iraqis died violently _ the highest monthly civilian
toll since the war began more than three years ago.

In all, 2,625 explosive devices either detonated or were discovered before
they could explode in July _ nearly double the figure for January, U.S.
officials said. About 70 percent of the 1,666 bombs that did explode
targeted U.S.-led forces.

What the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki needs is breathing
space to address the issues and move toward genuine national reconciliation.
Instead, the government now worries about whether rockets will crash down on
the U.S.-controlled Green Zone or whether key civil servants will be killed
on their way to work.

The need to stop the slide toward chaos is behind the new U.S. security
crackdown in Baghdad. U.S. commanders are bringing in nearly 12,000 U.S. and
Iraqi reinforcements to move through the city, neighborhood by neighborhood,
to arrest gunmen, seize weapons and build public confidence.

One senior U.S. official who was familiar with the planning of the operation
said the new Iraqi government was being "constantly distracted" by violence
and the intent was to provide the government with a "secure platform" so
that it could begin to deal with political issues. The official spoke on
condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The security operation has had some success. Col. Michael Beech, a brigade
commander in the 4th Infantry Division, said only one murder had occurred in
the notorious Dora neighborhood since Aug. 7 and shops were beginning to
reopen as a sign of public confidence.

But U.S. military and civilian officials in Baghdad believe that strategy
will work over the long haul only if the Baghdad offensive calms things
enough _ and if Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish politicians accept compromises for
the good of the country.

American officials used to say that the political process would lead to an
end to violence. Now it is clear that the violence must ease before the
political process can get going.

The government has been in power only about three months, and no one
expected quick success. What's disappointing is the absence of any movement
that could eventually bring success.

In June, al-Maliki, a longtime Shiite activist, submitted a 24-point
reconciliation plan to parliament. But the program was little more than
broad goals. For example, it offered amnesty to insurgents who renounce
violence and have not killed American forces or Iraqis.

But it's difficult to understand how an amnesty in a war can have much
meaning or impact unless it includes those who have killed people.

After months of bitter sectarian violence, distrust among the religious and
ethnic groups runs deep.

Minority Sunni Arabs complain that the majority Shiites have no intention of
offering significant compromises. Shiites and their U.S. partners complain
that Sunnis show little interest in overtures.

Many local Sunni leaders in Anbar province remain convinced that they can
regain power in Baghdad through the armed insurgency. Hard-liners in both
camps appear willing to wait for the day the Americans go home so they can
run the country the way they want.

Even worse, the divisions aren't limited to the Sunni-Shiite gap.

In fact, al-Maliki will be lucky to keep his own disparate Shiite alliance
intact over the coming months. Shiite rivalries have already triggered brief
but sharp gunfights this month in at least two major Shiite cities _ Karbala
and Basra.

Differences between two powerful Shiite factions are nearly as profound as
those dividing Sunnis and Shiites. The factions are locked in a power
struggle for leadership. One wants to move quickly to establish a Shiite
self-ruled region in the south similar to what the Kurds enjoy in the north.
The other, along with Sunnis, strongly opposes the plan, fearing it would
break the country apart.

Many Iraqis fear it's only a matter of time before internal Shiite
differences explode into open conflict.

"There is no move toward reconciliation," said Khalid al-Obeidi, 60, a
community leader in Azamiyah, a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad. "There should
be political preparations for reconciliation. It cannot be done in such a
short time."

From the U.S. perspective, all this has begun to look like petty squabbling
and squandered opportunities _ while more Americans die.

Key U.S. senators complain it's time to tell Iraqis that American troops
won't stay indefinitely and to make political compromises to avoid all-out
civil war.

From the Iraqi perspective, the Americans are unrealistic and are pushing
them along a timetable based more on U.S. domestic political interests than
reality on the ground. That's been an Iraqi complaint since the Americans
and their allies toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The acid test may come when _ and if _ parliament considers constitutional
amendments on issues that Sunnis and Shiites could not agree on during talks
last year.

In a deal worked out under U.S. pressure, they agreed to form a
parliamentary committee that would have four months to recommend amendments
that, if approved by parliament, would go to voters.

Yet four months after parliament convened, it has not managed even to form
the committee.

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