Thursday, November 30, 2006

Crisis? What Crisis?

After a no show yesterday, President Bush met with Prime Minister al-Maliki today. This formally arranged meeting was not held it Iraq but in Jordan. Bush, like Blair, only ever makes "surprise visits to Iraq" for obvious reasons. The fact that neither Bush nor Blair can safely visit the country they "liberated" more than three years ago doesn't seem to get the media coverage it deserves. Perhaps it's just too far off the irony scale to qualify as proper news.

On the plus side, it is just possible that the Bush people have finally got him to understand how damaging it is for al-Maliki to have the President turn up unexpectedly in Iraq and then demand an audience with its PM. That simply reinforced the belief held by many Iraqis that the al-Maliki government is a puppet, a vassal to American interests.

Nevertheless, for al-Maliki, the mere fact that he attended this meeting has been a source of instability. Six of his Cabinet ministers and thirty MPs, all loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, have suspended their participation in parliament and the government in protest at the meeting.
A statement issued by the 30 lawmakers and six Cabinet ministers said their boycott was necessary because the meeting constituted a "provocation to the feelings of the Iraqi people and a violation of their constitutional rights.'' The statement did not explain that claim.

"This visit hijacked the will of the people during days when the sons of Iraq write their destiny with blood and not ink,'' said the statement, which referred to Bush as "cursed,'' the "world's biggest evil'' and a "criminal.''
Just to reiterate, six (possibly five according to some reports) of those who issued this statement are members of al-Maliki's government. When Chavez said something similar, it was headline news all over the world. When members of an "allied" government call Bush the "world's biggest evil" you'd think it'd be even more newsworthy. Apparently not.

Bush, meanwhile, continues to inhabit the fantasy world where U.S. troops will remain in Iraq "until the job is complete". As far as I can tell, he made no reference to the fact that members of the government he's so keen to support have said that this meeting was a "provocation to the feelings of the Iraqi people". In Bush's mind of course, statements such as these can only possibly have been made by "evildoers" who belong firmly in the "against us" category. These views can, therefore, safely be dismissed as irrelevant. Quite how he squares that with the fact that this sentiment is coming from inside the Iraqi government is something of a mystery.

On security, Bush said:
"We have agreed and we were clear on the need to speed up the transfer of security responsibilities to the Iraqi forces.

I believe that the Iraqi security forces are capable enough of protecting the country and its citizens against those who seek to undermine their safety."

Interestingly, Bush made a speech on this very day this time last year emphasising the need to transfer responsibilities for security to Iraqi forces. Here are some choice quotations.
"As the Iraqi forces grow in number, they're helping to keep a better hold on the cities taken from the enemy."

"The training of the Iraqi security forces is an enormous task, and it always hasn't gone smoothly. We all remember the reports of some Iraqi security forces running from the fight more than a year ago. Yet in the past year, Iraqi forces have made real progress."

"They're helping to turn the tide of this struggle in freedom's favor."

"Progress by the Iraqi security forces has come, in part, because we learned from our earlier experiences and made changes in the way we help train Iraqi troops."

"Over the past two and a half years, we've faced some setbacks in standing up a capable Iraqi security force -- and their performance is still uneven in some areas. Yet many of those forces have made real gains over the past year -- and Iraqi soldiers take pride in their progress."

"Our commanders on the ground see the gains the Iraqis are making. General Marty Dempsey is the commander of the Multinational Security Transition Command. Here's what he says about the transformation of the Iraqi security forces: "It's beyond description. They are far better equipped, far better trained" than they once were. The Iraqis, General Dempsey says, are "increasingly in control of their future and their own security _ the Iraqi security forces are regaining control of the country.""

"As the Iraqi security forces stand up, their confidence is growing and they are taking on tougher and more important missions on their own. As the Iraqi security forces stand up, the confidence of the Iraqi people is growing."
I wonder if there's anyone left in the real world who would argue that the security situation in Iraq has improved since he made those statements?

A large part of the problem is one of loyalty. There's no point training tens of thousands of people in counter-insurgency techniques and the like if they are not going to abide by a chain of command and instead answer to some other loyalty. Almost every day in Iraq, deaths squad attacks are carried out by people "wearing the uniforms of Iraqi security forces". There's a blindingly obvious reason for this. In fact, there are growing signs of professionalism in these attacks. Why, it's almost as if they've been receiving training in the use of armed force. It is idiocy of the highest order.

There appear to be mixed messages as to what the Iraq Study Group will recommend. A previous report suggested that they'd recommend increasing U.S. troops levels by around 20,000. Today, a new report suggests the opposite. It may be best to wait to see what they actually say before coming to any definite conclusions. One thing is for sure though; whatever they propose, it won't be a magic bullet. Iraq is far to far gone for that.

And Britain's influence in the decision making process?
"We typically ignore them and take no notice - it’s a sad business".
It's worse than sad; it's bloody tragic.

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