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Gates: Surge is to Buy Time for Reconciliation; Al-Maliki Cabinet Shuffle Postponed
by juan cole (reposted)
Monday Mar 19th, 2007 6:41 AM
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Monday, March 19, 2007

Renewed US Anti-War Protests Sunday;
Gates: Surge is to Buy Time for Reconciliation;
Al-Maliki Cabinet Shuffle Postponed


Thousands of antiwar demonstrators came out again on Sunday. Some cities , such as San Francisco, Seattle, and Minneapolis, had especially vigorous protests.

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates revealed on Sunday that the surge of US troops into Iraq and the new security plan are designed to give the Iraqi government time to seek national reconciliation.

That is a worthy goal, but if it is the reason for the escalation in the number of US troops in Iraq, then that lays an especially heavy burden on the al-Maliki government to accelerate efforts at national reconciliation.

I don't see any particular evidence that it is doing so. Nor can I see any signs that the government is able to act at faster than a glacial pace. It had long ago been announced that al-Maliki would reshuffle his cabinet. But now it appears that this step, intended to streamline the government and punish cabinet ministers linked to sectarian violence, will be substantially postponed and implemented gradually. Al-Maliki, having just lost a member of his coalition-- the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila-- 15 seats), appears to have thought better of just firing large numbers of ministers from parties whose support he needs.

But now he has gone back to playing consensual politics negotiated with excruciating slowness. If it takes him months to so much as decide who his minister of health is, when is he going to be up to the challenge of finding a way to make peace with the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement (which he dismisses as Saddamis and 'excommunicators'-- i.e. hard line Sunnis who say Shiites are not Muslims).

General Petraeus, in the meantime, is signalling that his own patience is not infinite, and that if he can't see a genuine improvement in the security situation by June, he would have an obligation to his own troops to say so. It is so refreshing to hear that kind of language from the Pentagon after all those years of Donald Rumsfeld's despicable disregard for the welfare of the troops he was supposed to be leading (asked why he didn't get US forces more armored vehicles, Rumsfeld had said that you go to war with the army you have; the manufacturer of the armor spoke up and said that his factory could provide more such armor quickly, but that Rumsfeld had not requested it do so). One problem: It will be hard to tell which security effects are temporary, as a result of the US surge, and which would survive a US drawdown.

Sawt al-Iraq writes in Arabic that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will reshuffle his cabinet in three stages, beginning with the ministries in charge of services. Some reports are saying that the changes have been put off until July. Mufid al-Jaza'iri, a member of parliament, said that al-Maliki is having a dispute with parliamentary blocs over whether he should also change the ministers at the ministries concerned with security. Especially contentious is the request of the (Sunni fundamentalist) Iraqi Accord Front that they be allowed to change their minister, who represtents them as head of the ministry of defense. The Iraqi Accord Front also wishes to relinquish the ministry of culture for one of the service ministries.

The Sadr Movement had earlier given al-Maliki carte blanche to replace current cabinet ministers from their bloc with others of his choosing. Their relations with al-Maliki have now turned frosty, however, and they are insisting that they should be the ones to suggest alternative appointments.

Maysun al-Damluji of the Iraqi National List said that her party is urging that women be added to the cabinet in the course of the shuffle.

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that Iyad Allawi, the ex-Baathist former appointed prime minister of Iraq, conducted talks in Cairo with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak on Sunday. He expressed his hope that Arab states would push Iraqi interests at the upcoming Riyadh summit. Allawi said that reconciliation in Iraq would require concessions from all parties and joint action for national interests. Mubarak is said to have emphasized the need for Iraqis to prefer their national interests as citizens to their sectarian interests.

Reuters reports political violence on Sunday, including several bombings, some deadly, in Baghdad.

The conference on the Iraqi reconstruction is upcoming in Istanbul.

Check out the video, Hometown Baghdad at Salon.com.

Anthony Arnove at Tomdispatch.com on the commemoration of the fourth anniversary of "Shock and Awe."