Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A New Plan From Maliki

Yet another plan for the conduct of the war.

Not that it is any more realistic than any of the other proposals.

But this time the author is an Iraqi. And one of the nominal leaders, at that.

Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has created a two-pronged security plan for Baghdad in which U.S. forces would aggressively target Sunni Arab insurgents instead of Shiite militias. At the same time, Maliki would intensify his efforts to weaken Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and contain his Mahdi Army militia, Iraqi officials said Tuesday.

Under these conditions, Maliki would accept a surge in U.S. troops in Baghdad, according to two Maliki advisers with knowledge of the plan. Maliki plans to discuss his proposal with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and senior U.S. commanders during a meeting in Baghdad on Thursday, the officials said. The Bush administration is contemplating a temporary increase in troops to help stem the highest levels of violence since 2003.

The plan calls for U.S. troops to combat Sunni Arab insurgents for four to eight weeks in outer Baghdad neighborhoods, which Maliki believes are the source of the sectarian violence afflicting the capital, his aides said. Iraqi forces would take over primary responsibility for patrolling inner Baghdad from U.S. forces.

During this period, Maliki would persuade Sadr to stop the Mahdi Army from fomenting violence, using a combination of carrots and sticks, including the threat of force, said the advisers, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters. If the Mahdi Army does not stop its assaults, Maliki, with the help of U.S. troops, would crack down on Sadr. ...

They said Maliki has discussed the plan with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Khalilzad, Casey, and Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the top U.S. military spokesman, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

The Bush administration's acceptance of Maliki's plan would require a shift in U.S. strategy for taming Baghdad's sectarian violence. U.S. forces are currently concentrated in Baghdad's core in an effort to contain Shiite-Sunni tensions.

It is doubtful that Maliki will be able to neuter Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army. Or even really be willing to take on that task.

But Maliki is capable of saying the right things to the Americans if it will result in the U.S. military diverting more assets to confronting the Sunnis.


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