Friday, March 10, 2006

Sectarian Violence Now Biggest Problem, Generals Tell Congress

It must really gall Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to have the generals give lawmakers a less cheerful description of events in Iraq than the civilians are currently sharing with the public.

Especially when the generals are sitting next to him at the committee hearing.

Sectarian violence in Iraq has reached a level unprecedented since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and is now eclipsing the insurgency as the chief security threat there, said Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, who appeared with Rumsfeld.

"The plan is to prevent a civil war, and to the extent one were to occur, to have the . . . Iraqi security forces deal with it to the extent they're able to," Rumsfeld told the Senate Appropriations Committee when pressed to explain how the United States intended to respond should Iraq descend wholesale into internecine strife...

The sobering assessment of sectarian tensions in Iraq shows the extent to which the Feb. 22 bombing of a holy Shiite shrine, and the ensuing revenge attacks that left hundreds of Sunni and Shiite Muslims dead, has shifted military calculations on a range of fronts, including what constitutes the top security challenge and prospects for further reductions in U.S. troop levels this year.

The brass is still on message with the meme that what is currently happening in Iraq does not amount to a civil war.

Abizaid and Rumsfeld voiced the belief that Iraq is not currently engulfed in a civil war and expressed confidence in Iraqi security forces, saying they had performed generally well after the recent wave of sectarian unrest. The country "is not in civil war at the present time, by most experts' calculations," Rumsfeld said.

It all depends on who is considered an "expert." By one political science definition, a civil war is taking place when there are a minimum of 1000 violent deaths, with a minimum of 100 deaths on each side, in a conflict that has two or more combatant elements made up of citizens of one country.

I'm sure Rumsfeld won't consider Iraq a civil war until the Sunnis and the Shiites start wearing blue and grey uniforms. And maybe not even then.

The constitutionally mandated first session of the Iraqi Parliament--the dog that was being monitored to see if it barked as a bellwether of further unrest--which was supposed to meet no later than this Sunday, March 12, has been postponed until the following Sunday March 19.

There still was no resolution of the bitter dispute over a new term for Shiite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, prompting Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish region of Iraq, to issue a statement saying the country was in political "crisis."...

The opening of parliament is the first step in the process of forming the country's first permanent, post-invasion government. When parliament convenes, it has 60 days to accomplish the task.

Time magazine reported on its Web site Friday that U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad hoped to coax the country's major politicians to join him in a conference, "possibly outside Iraq," to sort out the stalemated process of forming a government.

It says something about the political and military clusterfuck we have created when we have to call for what is basically a peace conference outside of Iraq in order to be able to apply the necessary "incentives" for the warring sectarian parties to begin to form a government.


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