[Marxism] Wa. Post report sees big problems for US in Najaf settlement

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Aug 28 06:00:50 MDT 2004

The Wa.Post sees big problems for the US in the accord on Najaf (even
aside from such details as the fact that Sadr's followers turned in
their arms to an office of Sadr's movement), focusing on the political
and strategic problems that have emerged rather than comparative
military strength and capacity, which is not a new factor.  The
political evolution of the situation continues to be strongly against
the maintenance of US control and towards the emergence of an even
broader national movement.

For an analysis of the situation that starts from comparative military
power and battlefield success, see the current Militant for an example
of this. The Militant's analysis (written before Sistani's invervention
and the settlement),  begins from the supreme power of the Rumsfeldian
New Model Army, and then cites as proof assessments of the military
situation which also flow from the premise, including acceptance of the
claim that Sadr had "fled" Najaf.

The core of the Militant's assessment is in the following overconfident
declaration, reflecting the declarations of the occupation and Allawi
but not the actual political situation: "The occupation forces and the
Allawi government have made it clear they will not allow any pockets of
dual power to develop through armed revolts, whether in Fallujah, Najaf,
or other cities." 

How has this been made "clear" in Najaf? Is US-Allawi control there now
firmly established?  Was Sadr's militia forced to "dissolve" as
demanded?  Did they "surrender" to US-Allawi forces, as demanded? Did
the Sadr militia give up its arms, as opposed to ending the individual
gun-toting?  Has the US made it "clear" through this confrontation that
they can effectively retake Fallujah and Sadr City in Baghdad (or Kufa,
parts of Basra, and other areas) without running into intractable
political problems that have military consequences?  Was the US military
able to show, as they had hoped to do, that they were capable of
pursuing an offensive to the end without backing down in the face of
political resistance?  Shock, awe, and more-or-less grudging admiration
in the face of US military power and Rumsfeldian administrative dynamism
is a poor guide to politics in Iraq today.

The tendency of US imperialism's political weakness in Iraq to grow
steadily and prove more important than its well-known and undeniably
enormous military superiority is the reason why, as the Post notes: 

"U.S. military strategy has also suffered a blow, particularly since
Najaf is the third confrontation in five months in which Iraqi
insurgents fought American troops until they began to take losses, then
agreed to a cease-fire so their fighters could rest and regroup. The
fear is that Iraqis now believe they can pick the time and place of
their attacks and then beat a safe retreat." 

The US political calculation in Iraq was that the decline of the
bourgeois nationalist movements and leaderships, the depoliticizing
effects of the Saddam regime, years of bombing and sanctions, plus the
overall political and economic crisis of the region had opened up the
possibility of decisively reversing the gains of the 1958 revolution in
Iraq and re-establishing a client regime under US occupation.  This
calculation has run into very heavy sledding.  Iraqi society, as it has
taken shape since direct imperialist control ended, resists this kind of
domination despite its weaknesses, bourgeois leaderships, and ongoing
Fred Feldman 

An Accord for Now, But Risks Ahead 

By Robin Wright and Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 28, 2004; Page A01 

The Najaf deal may bring short-term peace to the ravaged holy city after
three weeks of urban warfare, but the cease-fire terms could pose a
long-term danger to U.S. troops and interests in Iraq, U.S. officials
and Middle East experts said yesterday. The issues underlying the bloody
showdown have not been resolved, they warned. 

Rebel cleric Moqtada Sadr is free and capable of rallying his dispersed
forces in other Shiite strongholds, many of which are already political
cauldrons. The goal of dismantling all Iraq's illegal militias -- with
Sadr's Mahdi Army as the test case -- remains elusive for a vulnerable
new government struggling to assert centralized control. And the United
States has been stuck with the bill for damage to Najaf as part of the
deal, the officials and experts said. 

U.S. military strategy has also suffered a blow, particularly since
Najaf is the third confrontation in five months in which Iraqi
insurgents fought American troops until they began to take losses, then
agreed to a cease-fire so their fighters could rest and regroup. The
fear is that Iraqis now believe they can pick the time and place of
their attacks and then beat a safe retreat. 

"What we will see here is that the Mahdi Army will just rearm, recruit a
new group of fighters and move to another city," said retired Marine Lt.
Col. Rick Raftery, an intelligence officer who served in Iraq. "We'll be
playing 'whack-a-mole' somewhere else shortly."

The United States yesterday lauded aspects of the deal, brokered by
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's most powerful cleric. Secretary of
State Colin L. Powell said Sadr suffered a serious blow to his Mahdi
Army. "Frankly, they took huge losses over the last several weeks, and I
think their capability was diminished," he said yesterday in a radio
interview on "The Tony Snow Show." "What's more important to take a look
at now is how the new Iraqi interim government has started to show
leadership and potential in working with the Ayatollah Sistani to
resolve the situation in Najaf." 

Two months after the U.S.-led occupation ended, the Bush administration
is hoping that Iraq's Shiite majority will become disillusioned with
Sadr's ruthless tactics, dissipating the momentum behind his crusade
against both the United States and the Iraqi government of Prime
Minister Ayad Allawi. 

"His fighters might be wondering what they got out of three weeks of
bloodshed," said a senior State Department official. 

Yet Sadr, who seeks to create a religious regime in Baghdad, is also a
proven political survivor who could fight again soon, U.S. officials and
experts noted. "For Moqtada, it is a wash. He did not have Najaf until
April anyway and can easily survive not having it. His movement in the
slums of the southern cities is intact, even if its paramilitary has
been weakened," Juan Cole, an Iraq expert at the University of Michigan,
said in an analysis on his Web site. 

There is also no sign that the U.S.-backed government intends to act on
an arrest warrant for murder issued last year against Sadr in the
assassination of a moderate cleric. Powell noted that the indictment has
not been lifted, but he added: "Right now, we're not pursuing that.
Right now, we're pursuing stability in Najaf." 

Conversely, the United States and its Iraqi allies did not win a great
deal, either tactically or politically, even though Sadr returned
control of the revered Najaf shrine, said some U.S. officials and
several experts on Iraq. 

"The U.S. has rolled the rock up the edge of a decisive military
engagement, only to see it roll back down the mountain," Anthony H.
Cordesman said in an analysis for the Center for Strategic and
International Studies. "Sadr will be perceived by many Iraqis as the
victor and Sistani as the man who had to rush to deal with Sadr in the
face of a weak Iraqi interim government whose leaders threatened and
blustered and then could not act."

Allawi also lost some ground, experts noted. U.S. officials said Allawi
would have preferred to go in and clean out Sadr's militia, which became
difficult once Sistani returned from medical treatment in London to
mediate an end to the crisis. Sistani may be the lone clear winner to
emerge from the settlement, they added. 

The particulars of the Najaf deal are especially troubling to U.S.
military strategists. It calls for the U.S. military and anti-U.S.
militias to stay out of the city. The provision will have a
disproportionate impact on U.S. forces, which tend to move in large,
visible units whereas militiamen can simply take a minibus in and out of
the city. 

The stop-and-start pattern of the fighting is beginning to irritate some
soldiers. "I can tell you that I have witnessed the frustration" that
the situation creates, said one Army officer who has operated near
Najaf. "Military commanders still plan missions the way they always
have, only to have those plans frustrated by local political decisions
over which they often have little influence." 

Not every officer interviewed was negative about the outcome in Najaf.
One U.S. Army commander in Iraq argued that it was a successful solution
for the United States compared with Fallujah. "In Fallujah we negotiated
from a position of weakness," he said, speaking on the condition of
anonymity because he had not been cleared to be interviewed, "and there
was no Iraqi government to make decisions."

By contrast, he said, the handling of Najaf was dictated by the Iraqi
government, and the United States operated from a position of strength.
"Clearly Sadr's army was beaten, his remnants had retreated to conduct a
glorious last stand for martyrdom and were denied that opportunity,"
this officer said. 

U.S. officials have long argued that the solution to the Sadr problem
has to originate with Iraqis. Their calculation is that the U.S.
position in Iraq would not be helped by having U.S. troops kill the
rebel cleric. "At some point the Iraqis themselves will take Sadr out --
like the Colombians taking out drug lords with U.S. in the background,"
said a Pentagon official who would speak only anonymously because he is
not supposed to have contact with the media.

Najaf is hardly the only problem area facing U.S. commanders in Iraq.
Less noticed during the Najaf battles have been ongoing clashes in
several areas closer to the capital. U.S. warplanes have repeatedly hit
Fallujah, where the Marines pulled back after another brokered
settlement in the spring. North of Baghdad, the Army has all but
withdrawn from Samarra, another Sunni Triangle hot spot. Fighting also
continues in Baqubah. 

"Currently, the insurgents are in charge of both Fallujah and Samarra,"
said a senior Army commander in Iraq. "The status quo in Samarra is
unacceptable, and the final outcome is still in question." 

But, this officer noted, one of the signs for optimism amid the recent
turmoil was that Sadr's recent confrontation with U.S. forces appeared
to draw less support across Shiite areas of Iraq than during the April
uprising, which led to widespread combat across a broad swath of
south-central Iraq. 

C 2004 The Washington Post Company 

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