Monday, October 15, 2007

Events are fluid in Iraq

There is plenty of good news. First, on Saturday, less people died in Iraq than in most major U.S. cities.

The civilian death toll in Iraq fell to its lowest level in recent memory Saturday, with only four people killed or found dead nationwide, according to reports from police, morgue officials and credible witnesses.

Saturday marked the beginning of the Eid al-Fitr feast for Shiites, the three-day capstone closing out the Ramadan month of fasting. Sunnis began celebrating the holiday on Sunday.

The daily number of civilians killed, not including those on days when there were massive casualties from car bombs, had climbed above 100 at the end of last year and the beginning of 2007.

The Washington Post (no doubt begrudgingly and on Page B06) reported this...

A month later, there isn't much room for such debate, at least about the latest figures. In September, Iraqi civilian deaths were down 52 percent from August and 77 percent from September 2006, according to the Web site The Iraqi Health Ministry and the Associated Press reported similar results. U.S. soldiers killed in action numbered 43 -- down 43 percent from August and 64 percent from May, which had the highest monthly figure so far this year. The American combat death total was the lowest since July 2006 and was one of the five lowest monthly counts since the insurgency in Iraq took off in April 2004.

During the first 12 days of October the death rates of Iraqis and Americans fell still further. So far during the Muslim month of Ramadan, which began Sept. 13 and ends this weekend, 36 U.S. soldiers have been reported as killed in hostile actions. That is remarkable given that the surge has deployed more American troops in more dangerous places and that in the past al-Qaeda has staged major offensives during Ramadan. Last year, at least 97 American troops died in combat during Ramadan. Al-Qaeda tried to step up attacks this year, U.S. commanders say -- so far, with stunningly little success.

In fact, if you dare to look, you will find that the Shiite militias are crumbling all over much like those of Al Qaeda and its allies.

In a number of Shiite neighborhoods across Baghdad, residents are beginning to turn away from the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia they once saw as their only protector against Sunni militants. Now they resent it as a band of street thugs without ideology.

The hardening Shiite feeling in Baghdad opens an opportunity for the American military, which has long struggled against the Mahdi Army, as American commanders rely increasingly on tribes and local leaders in their prosecution of the war.

The sectarian landscape has shifted, with Sunni extremists largely defeated in many Shiite neighborhoods, and the war in those places has sunk into a criminality that is often blind to sect. In interviews, 10 Shiites from four neighborhoods in eastern and western Baghdad described a pattern in which militia members, looking for new sources of income, turned on Shiites.

In fact, the news is so good that central command was bold that is has lead some Generals to consider declaring victory in Iraq.

The U.S. military believes it has dealt devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al-Qaeda in Iraq in recent months, leading some generals to advocate a declaration of victory over the group, which the Bush administration has long described as the most lethal U.S. adversary in Iraq.

While I have myself have pointed out that this is the classic Sun Tzu divide and conquer strategy at its finest, I am also reminded of the classic Reservoir Dogs line (I will clean it up for the masses)

Let's not go s%^king each other's d%&ks just yet.

Still, there is even more good news on the political front from Iraq. Shiite politicians are reaching out to Sunnis in an effort to achieve the all important reconciliation.

In a major reconciliatory gesture, a leader from Iraq's largest Shiite party paid a rare visit Sunday to the Sunni Anbar province, where he delivered a message of unity to tribal sheiks who have staged a U.S.-backed revolt against Al Qaeda militants in their region.

The visit by Ammar al-Hakim, son and heir apparent of Iraq's top Shiite politician, provided the latest evidence that key Iraqi politicians may be working toward national reconciliation independently from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, which has faced criticism for doing little to iron out differences between the country's Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis.

Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi visited Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, last month at the holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad. The visit amounted to an unprecedented Sunni Arab endorsement of al-Sistani's role as the nation's guardian.

We have definitively turned around the momentum and those that called this a failure before it had a chance to succeed will have to answer for their judgement (I am looking at you Senator Obama) in due time, however the news is not all good. On the Kurdistan/Turkey border and tensions are quite high.

Turkish warplanes bombed positions of suspected Kurdish rebels Wednesday, and the prime minister said preparations for parliamentary approval of a military mission against separatist fighters in Iraq were under way.A cross-border operation could hurt Turkey's relationship with the United States, which opposes Turkish intervention in northern Iraq, a region that has escaped the violence afflicting much of the rest of the country.U.S. officials are already preoccupied with efforts to stabilize areas of Iraq outside the predominantly Kurdish northern region.

The fragile momentum that the coalition has established is being threatened by the tension between Turkey and Kurdistan. Turkey is being threatened by Kurdish terrorist from a terrorist group called PKK. They are currently debating in Parliament whether or not to authorize troops to move across the border in what is called "hot pursuit". It is this diarist's belief that Turkey's bark is much worse than their bite and they are most likely saber rattling. If they cross the border they could turn the entire Kurdish population, including within their own border, against them. That is a situation they cannot contain and I firmly believe that unlike most of the Middle East Turkey still practices the philosophy of self preservation, and turning the entire Kurdish population against it doesn't serve that philosophy.

Still tensions are high, and the stakes are huge for the U.S. A war between Turkey and Kurdistan is of course something not in the interest of the U.S. Furthermore, the U.S. uses Turkey for supply routes and fly over, and those would also be jeopardized. Obviously, getting in the middle of two allies, Turkey and Kurdistan, is not something that would have a happy outcome no matter how you slice it.

That is why it is mind boggling that at the same time, the Democratic leadership is floating a non binding resolution that condemns an event almost a hundred years old.

To understand the situation we need to travel back to 1915-1923 when what is now Turkey was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. During that time period tends of thousands of people were dislocated and murdered, including Armenians.

Since then, of course, the Ottoman Empire is no more and Turkey is a member of NATO and a close American ally. From what I understand, many of our supplies and fuel to our troops go through Turkish ports and air space.

Enter the resolution passed out of the House Conference Committee. France passed a similar resolution last year. As a result, no French planes have flown through Turkey air space since.

According to Fox News this morning the Democrats are determined to get this non binding resolution through the House. While the Ottoman Empire no longer exists, the Turks consider themselves the descendants and they are not happy with this resolution to say the least. It cannot be stressed enough that this resolution holds absolutely no practical worth. It is non binding and thus its power is strictly ceremonial. The Turks are not happy with this resolution and they have already recalled the Ambassador to the U.S. and given the tensions currently going on on the border, this resolution only adds fuel to the perverbial fire. It is time to act again. I have called on everyone to write their Representative and tell them this resolution is down right reckless. Please go here find your Representative and let them know that this is not the time to pass meaningless resolutions that threaten our geopolitical standing. After you do that, please cut and paste what you have written so everyone can see.

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