August 22, 2009

Iraqi government gives in and rebulds blast walls

Following several weeks of increased violence around Iraq, the government has begun re-installing concrete barriers that had recently been removed. The order is recognition that there is still a viable insurgency in the country, despite a reduction in the level of violence over the last year. The increase in attacks coincides with the withdrawal of American forces to bases outside metropolitan areas and turnover of security to Iraqi police and military units.

Concrete blast wall in Baghdad before removal

After attacks on government targets, specifically the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance are a direct challenge to the administration of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. These attacks symbolize how ineffective the Iraqi security forces are without American assistance. In accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement between Baghdad and Washington, U.S. troops have turned over almost all security in the country to the Iraqis.

Re-installation of blast walls

Al-Maliki's reversal of the policy of removing the barriers is an admission of a defeat for his security plan. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari (a personal friend of mine) summed it up, "We have to face the truth. There has been an obvious deterioration in the security situation in the past two months." Al-Maliki was more political, saying, "I would like to assure the Iraqi people that the security forces are still capable of continuing the battle and achieving more victories despite all the loopholes that took place here and there." More victories?

There has been a lot of finger pointing among the various security, police, intelligence and military units in the wake of the two major attacks this week. Eleven senior Iraqi security officials have been detained for questioning. In a possibly related incident, Muhammad al-Shahwani (also a personal friend of mine), Director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service was fired; he has relocated to his previous exile location - Amman, Jordan.

A few words about al-Shahwani. He warned that there might be an attack on the sixth anniversary of the August 19, 2003 attack on the United Nations office in Baghdad. To consider this suspect is strange - analysis and warning are what intelligence services are supposed to do. I know al-Shahwani - he is a Turkman and former general in the Iraqi Special Forces. I was one of his CIA contact officers in Jordan during the aborted 1996 coup attempt against Saddam Husayn - I was with him and his wife when we learned that his sons had been caught and about to be executed. The man is an Iraqi patriot - to think al-Shahwani is working with the remnants of either al-Qa'idah in Iraq (AQI) or the Ba'th Party is absolutely ludicrous.

As for the increased violence in Iraq. This comes as no surprise - many analysts (including me) predicted it. The insurgents - be they AQI, Ba'th Party, or Shi'a militias - knew that American forces were scheduled to withdraw to their bases on June 30. This is the danger of publicized "date certain" events. Telling the enemy that you will be withdrawing your forces on such-and-such date allows them to wait until you are gone, then attack.

Had al-Maliki had his country's best interests in mind instead of his own political future, he would have insisted that American troops remain in place until the situation warranted. He wanted the Americans off the street - fine. After months of relative calm prior to June 30, those streets are no longer safe.