January 22, 2007

Surge in Iraq - Treat the disease, not the symptom

This appeared on the MSNBC Hardball "Hardblogger"

The first soldiers of the American troop "surge" in Iraq have arrived in Baghdad - the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division moved from Kuwait into the city. This brigade represents the first of five additional Army brigade combat teams to be deployed to Baghdad, one per month until May. A regimental combat team of 4,000 Marines will also deploy to Al-Anbar province to continue fighting Sunni insurgents and Al-Qa'idah-in-Iraq fighters.

The troops deploying to Baghdad are tasked with suppressing the escalating sectarian violence in ethnically mixed areas of the city. Ever since the destruction of a Shi'a holy site in Samarra' by forces of now-dead Al-Qa'idah-in-Iraq leader Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, there has been an ethnic cleansing campaign against Sunnis in neighborhoods previously home to both Sunnis and Shi'a. The violence has been especially bad on the east bank of the Tigris River, an area rapidly becoming almost exclusively Shi'a. With the additional U.S. forces and the new directions from the recently appointed American commander General Dave Petraeus, these troops will remain in the neighborhoods after they have cleared them, rather than returning to their garrisons. In the past, soon after neighborhoods or cities were cleared and American forces departed, the insurgents or militias returned and reclaimed the territory.

The mission does not include entering Sadr City, home to two million Shi'a and stronghold of the militia of radical cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, thus they will treat the symptom, not the disease. The disease, if you will, is the militia of Muqtada Al-Sadr and its death squads; the symptom is the continuing sectarian violence in the mixed neighborhoods of Baghdad. Clearing and holding Sadr City would eliminate the disease, causing the symptoms to disappear.

That said, things might be changing, and none too soon. The recent arrest of senior Al-Sadr aide 'Abd Al-Hadi Al-Daraji indicates a willingness of the American command to confront the Al-Sadr militia. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki has promised that he will move against all militias in Iraq. It is not a coincidence that, Al-Sadr just now announced that his organization (he controls 30 seats in the national assembly) is terminating its boycott of participation in the Iraqi government called after Al-Maliki’s meeting with President Bush in Jordan last November. Al-Sadr's recent instructions for his militia to maintain a lower profile also indicate his concern that he cannot continue to defy the Iraqi government.

However, the violence will continue until the Al-Sadr militia is disbanded or destroyed, and as long as Sadr City remains outside the control of American and Iraqi troops.