04 December 2008

Iraq on its feet for now?

Christian Science Monitor ran an interesting article a few days back chronicling the security situation in Iraq. While the title rings optimistic, it is important to heed some of the warnings in the article regarding the delicate balance of power which could easily shift come 2009:

"I think there is wide recognition that the role of the United States – the leverage of the United States – has diminished and will diminish further," says a senior Iraqi official. "Some will welcome this but, ironically, those who were so opposed to the Americans before are alarmed by it."

"I want to kiss you," jokes Abu Ibrahim, a jovial Sunni security official to US Army 1st Lt. Benjamin Dalton. Abu Ibrahim, formally known as Mohammad Abu Alaa, heads 300 Sons of Iraq, a neighborhood security force, in Baghdad's Amariyah neighborhood.

His mother, three sisters, and his grandmother were killed when a US cruise missile hit a shelter in Amariyah in 1991, but like many of the other almost 90,000, largely Sunni Sons of Iraq, he has aligned himself with the Americans.

As always, good news, but the reason for the Sunni enthusiasm is a bit disturbing, as the article mentions that the Sunni locals want the American protection from the Shia majority, headed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which is currently in control of the Iraqi government. The long-running fissures in Iraqi society need to be patched if any long-standing peace is to be achieved. The article concludes:

Concern over Iraq's stability has turned from threats from extremists to more complicated political fissures.

"Politics is partly show but it is also a reflection of the struggles going on within society," says a senior Iraqi official. "If we don't address the underlying political issues the security gains could unravel. If we don't address the political issues we risk a confrontation among the mainstreams as opposed to the extremists."

The SOFA has also sparked fears among counterterrorism analysts and some Iraqi officials that gains made against Al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent groups could be significantly set back as American forces withdraw and are replaced by Iraqi security forces that are still disproportionately Shiite.

"I'm worried," says one senior Iraqi official. "This is one area the Sunnis had major, major concerns about – they say we trust the Americans more than we trust the Iraqi security forces – this is not a statement of confidence in the present state of affairs of Iraq."

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