Just when Americans were getting to know the Sons of Iraq, otherwise known as the “Sunni Awakening” — if only at the base level of whether they began B.S or A.S.S (Before Surge or After the Senator’s Surge) — they seem to be breaking up. More succinctly, they are being targeted for termination.
Reports over the last week have suggested that the Iraqi government, under the direction of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, wants to completely disband the some 99,000 Sunni fighters on the American payroll. That they have been largely credited by the US with chasing al Qaeda out of town seems not to matter to Maliki’s now-emboldened government, which apparently sees them (perhaps rightly so) as a potential threat down the road. In a surprisingly candid admission that got no mainstream news coverage, Gen. David Petreaus said last week that Maliki hasn’t been doing his part to give these Sunnis jobs — as promised — in exchange for their help in The Surge.
From McClatchy: The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, said Thursday that the Iraqi government had been purposefully slow in absorbing into its security forces tens of thousands of mostly former Sunni insurgents who’d joined U.S.-financed militias.
When asked if the U.S.-backed Iraqi government had created stumbling blocks to absorb the now roughly 99,000 men known as the Sons of Iraq or Awakening councils, Petraeus confirmed that it had.
“That has certainly been the case,” he said in an interview with McClatchy.
But last week, Petraeus said, Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III received a commitment from Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki that he would uphold the government commitment to take on 20 percent of the men for the Iraqi Security Forces and the rest would go into other government jobs and vocational training.
Petraeus said the transfer had been too slow.
“We’re not going to walk away from them, and as I said, Prime Minister Maliki committed to taking care of them,” he said. “I do think it is somewhat understandable that the government struggles to hire former insurgents for its security forces or for its ministerial positions…But this is how you end these kinds of conflicts. That’s why they call it reconciliation. It’s not done with one’s friends, it’s done with former enemies.”
Only time will tell if the renewed commitment would translate into actions on the ground, he said.
“We’ll see what happens now that there is unequivocal direction and commitment from the prime minister,” he said. “We’ll have to see if this prime ministerial commitment is translated into the kind of action that we’ve wanted to see for a number of months.”
The U.S. military pays an average of $25 million a month to members of the Sons of Iraq or Awakening councils. Earlier this week, a senior intelligence analyst told McClatchy that if they did not become part of the current government’s security forces or take on other government jobs they could become a “long-term threat” to Iraq if they turn back to their insurgent ways.
Two days later, the Los Angeles Times reports Maliki has launched “an aggressive campaign to disband a U.S.-funded force of Sunni Arab fighters that has been key to Iraq’s fragile peace, arresting prominent members and sending others into hiding or exile as their former patrons in the American military reluctantly stand by.”
This led to this telling nugget from Stephen Biddle, an establishment man from the Council on Foreign Relations and apparently, according to LAT, one of Petreaus’ expanding brain trust:
“We want to have our cake and eat it too, support Maliki and the Sons of Iraq. . . . Maliki wants to make that as hard for us as possible. He wants us to choose him,” said Stephen Biddle, a Council on Foreign Relations defense expert who has served as an advisor on strategy to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq. “What it looks like we are getting is a Maliki government that won’t behave itself and wants to crush the Sons of Iraq.”
According to the report, when Maliki told US officials he wanted the entire Sons of Iraq program “handed over to him as soon as possible,” American officials got nervous and responded by promising to slash the ranks 60 percent by the the end of the year and completely by the summer of 2009.
That knocks right into another date — US officials have indicated recently that combat brigades could be coming home at that time. It also crashes into the timeline, supposedly imposed by the new draft agreement between the Bush Administration and Maliki, that would see most of American troops out of Iraqi cities by the end of 2009 — with a complete withdrawal from the country by 2011 (how “complete” is still unclear)
Nevertheless, the Bush Administration seems to be setting up the very scenario it has been admonishing the Democrats for supporting over the last several years: agreeing to a public “deadline” for troop withdrawal. Making the stakes higher, that deadline coincides with some 100,000 Sunni fighters potentially being persecuted and left jobless by a Shia-dominated government after the US could not come through on its promises, once again, to an ethnic minority that had become expedient helpmates. Promises that were made so that Bush and McCain could see their Surge succeed — at least enough to confuse the American people about what was really going on there.
(And it seems, at least on the surface, to have worked. Voters in a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released last week said they thought John McCain would do a better job than Barack Obama on terrorism, 51 to 23 percent, handling international crises, 52 percent to 27 percent, and on Iraq, 46 percent to 36 percent. The results here should be viewed as nothing less than extraordinary, given the last eight years.)
Republicans are already boasting that an agreement between Bush and Maliki could neutralize the Iraq issue for the rest of the presidential campaign. That just might be nervous talk, given the contortions it would take to explain to the American public why, after years of sneering that a timetable would only put US troops in danger and encourage terrorists to “follow us home,” the White House had agreed to just that. Now, the Republicans might say that The Surge changed the landscape, allowing for “the space” for a timetable to happen, but the fact the end result looks more like Democrat Barack Obama’s original plan will be difficult to avoid.
But as the media has decided to ignore Iraq, leaving an empty palette for McCain and others to fill with their own inventions on how The Surge has won the day, perhaps it won’t be that difficult for the Republicans to explain how Bush lost control of the situation. Perhaps the train wreck that is the 99,000 US-trained Sunni fighters turning against the central government, five million refugees and displaced persons trying to find a home, the food crisis and continued political instability — will happen only after John McCain is deemed the man most fit to fill Bush’s shoes in the White House.