Monday, May 21, 2007
Can We Afford Another Fallujah?
As a measure of how not only the situation in Iraq, but also the American military's recognition of the situation in Iraq have changed, compare and contrast these two articles regarding America's treatment of Moqtada al-Sadr.
Patrick Cockburn reports in The Independent that three years ago, the American military used an invitation to negotiate a settlement to the Najaf uprising in order to carry out an assassination attempt on al-Sadr's life. The attempt failed, and played a large role in determining al-Sadr's hostile and mistrustful stance towards the US occupation ever since:
The revelation of this extraordinary plot, which would probably have provoked an uprising by outraged Shia if it had succeeded, has left a legacy of bitter distrust in the mind of Mr Sadr for which the US and its allies in Iraq may still be paying. "I believe that particular incident made Muqtada lose any confidence or trust in the [US-led] coalition and made him really wild," the Iraqi National Security Adviser Dr Mowaffaq Rubai'e told The Independent in an interview.
Fast forward three years to the Baghdad "Surge", where the WaPo reports that the US is so concerned about not alienating Baghdad's sprawling slum known as Sadr City, it's been delicately negotiating all operations targeting militias within the neighborhood:
The U.S. military is engaged in delicate negotiations inside Sadr City to clear the way for a gradual push in coming weeks by more American and Iraqi forces into the volatile Shiite enclave of more than 2 million people, one of the most daunting challenges of the campaign to stabilize Baghdad.
So sensitive is the problem of the sprawling slum -- heavily controlled by militiamen loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr -- that Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, personally approves all targets for raids inside the Baghdad district, military officers said.
Clearly, this entire year of military operations in Iraq can be seen as an attempt to clean up some of the mess we've created over the course of the previous three. But if you think the military has renounced its more counter-productive knee-jerk reactions entirely, think again. From the same WaPo article:
If political avenues are exhausted, the U.S. military has formulated other options, including plans for a wholesale clearing operation in Sadr City that would require a much larger force, but commanders stress that this is a last resort.
The plan was referred to by an anonymous officer as a "second Fallujah plan." Presumably because the first one worked so well.