Another provision of the same bill would require Iraq's government to pay the salaries and training costs of the predominantly Sunni militias, or so-called "sahwa" or "Awakening" councils, on which the U.S. has been spending roughly $27 million a month.
Despite U.S. pressure, the al-Maliki government has strongly resisted integrating the vast majority of the estimated 90,000 members of these militias -- most of which were previously part of the Sunni insurgency -- into the army or police for fear that they will eventually turn their guns on the regime.
The result has been growing frustration on the part of the militias, frustration that reportedly was significantly enhanced last month after al-Maliki enlisted thousands of members of the Badr Organization into the government's security forces during fighting with Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Basra and Sadr City in Baghdad. The Badr Organization is the armed wing of the Shiite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), the strongest party in the coalition.
Both the intra-Shiite conflict between the Sadrists and the government and the growing anger of the sahwa militias -- most recently dramatized by a series of strikes and public protests and by an increasing number of attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces in al-Anbar province and other Sunni strongholds where the militias have kept the peace for most of the past year -- have resulted in a sharp rise in both Iraqi and U.S. casualties over the past two months, threatening the security gains made by the surge.
The surge, which was initiated in February 2007, was aimed at pacifying both al-Anbar province and the capital by adding some 30,000 U.S. troops to the 140,000 already deployed to Iraq to stop and reverse the drift to sectarian civil war between Sunnis and the various Shiite militias. Its strategic aim was to foster a climate of peace and stability that would encourage all factions to make the political compromises necessary for national reconciliation.
While the surge made substantial headway in achieving its tactical goals of improving security -- with the critical help of the sahwa militias which had mostly broken with al Qaeda in Iraq and allied themselves with the U.S. even before the surge got underway -- its strategic goal of political reconciliation has been far more elusive.
Moreover, the surge's tactical success has failed to translate into additional popular or Congressional support for the war at home. As a result, the Bush administration, which promized months ago to withdraw the 30,000 surge troops by the end of July, is adhering to its pledge, leaving fewer troops to ensure that a new round of violence does not break out.
At the same time, the Pentagon leadership is pressing the White House to continue the drawdown from Iraq beyond July so that it can deploy the three brigades -- between 10,000 and 12,000 troops -- it says it needs to cope with the Taliban and their allies in Afghanistan. While Bush has announced that there will be at least a 45-day pause to assess the impact of the surge withdrawal after July, the pressure on him to resume the process -- not only from the Pentagon, but from Republican candidates in the November elections -- is expected to be intense.
Republican backing for the Armed Services Committee bill banning additional spending on major reconstruction projects and support for the sahwa militias is clearly seen by both the administration and the promoters of the surge as a worrisome portent, and not only for maintaining the relative -- albeit fragile -- peace that has prevailed for much of the past year.
One of the surge's architects, Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), said that legislation would "do catastrophic damage to our image in the world, particularly the Muslim world...The argument that Iraq should use its oil revenues to pay the United States sounds like the ultimate proof that we invaded Iraq for mercenary reasons."
Ending U.S. funding for the sahwa militias, in particular, will pose a critical -- and long overdue -- test of the surge strategy, according to a number of observers, who see Maliki's failure to integrate them as a critical stumbling block to national reconciliation.
"If the Awakenings are not integrated into the national security forces, then there is little hope for political accommodation or for lasting security and the U.S. is effectively trapped," according to Marc Lynch, an expert at George Washington University whose blog, abuaardvark.com, is widely read here. "Since all other forms of persuasion seem to have failed, it's time to give Maliki an ultimatum...If he gives in, then there may finally be some hope for political accommodation..."
"The downside is that if Maliki doesn't go along...then things may well get ugly. But all signs suggests that they will get ugly anyway -- and better that they get ugly while the U.S. is at the highest troop levels it will ever have," Lynch wrote.
"If Maliki won't do this now, when U.S. troop levels are high and security is relatively better, with the shadow of a new president who likely will not continue to offer an open-ended commitment, then he never will...and everyone should know this."
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Albion Monitor May
7, 2008 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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