Tim Russert lives in the faux reality created by George W Bush about Iraq. He is apparently convinced that America will stand down when Iraqis get mowed down.
Appearing on CNN’s Late Edition Russert left the comfortable inanity of being a moderator to wade into foreign policy punditry. That led to the following manly exchange between Blitzer and Russert:
BLITZER: He’s trying to balance a realistic assessment. At the same time, he uses the phrase "a turning point," which may or may not happen.
RUSSERT: We do not know if this will be a turning point. The reason is, are there enough young Iraqis who will step forward and say, "I believe in this new democracy. And to prove that, I’m willing to shed my blood and give my life."
It is then and only then can Americans start coming home. That’s the unanswered question. Do the Iraqis believe, across the board, in their government and willing to take on the insurgency without any question? [Emphasis added by me.]
How noble of Russert to offer up the blood of young Iraqis so that Mr. Bush’s war on reality can be won. It would be noble if it reflected even a basic understanding of the situation in Iraq. The Iraq mess moved well beyond a fight between insurgents and Americans a long long time ago. It is now a civil war with militias on all sides carrying out ethnic cleansing, torture and wholesale massacres. In this civil war the American military are merely another militia. But unfortunately for Russert, instead of seeing reality, he has bought hook line and sinker Mr. Bush’s talking points about "suiciders".
Mr. Russert might have benefited by listening to the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq Barham Salih, a Kurd, who was on Late Edition before Russert. In a telling exchange Salih balks when Blitzer asks him if the Kurdish militia, the peshmerga, should have to disarm:
BLITZER: The British defense secretary said this on Tuesday. Des Browne said, "Armed militias are widespread and a grave threat to the stability of Iraq and the rule of law. Any government, if it is to survive, must establish a monopoly on the use of force. At the moment the Iraqi government clearly lacks this."
Is the new Iraqi government of Prime Minister al-Maliki taking steps already, right now, to disband, to disarm the various militias?
SALIH: The prime minister made this issue a priority. And this is one of the most difficult issues that will face this government and perhaps this government will be judged by.
We know who the terrorists are. And the terrorists are on one side and the rest of the people of Iraq are on the other. Everybody should be united in tracking the terrorists.
But the issue of organized armed groups who are acting outside the state and outside the law are becoming a serious problem for our politics and our society. And we have to deal with it.
The prime minister has committed to taking serious steps in that direction. And all the key parliamentary blocs are supporting him in this mission.
I cannot say that this will be done easily because we have a serious problem in that context and certainly in certain areas of Iraq. But the prime minister and the government are determined and committed to resolving this issue.
We know that it will be a bit difficult, but we are committed to doing so because without that, there will be no stability in Iraq.
BLITZER: Let me play for you what the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, told me last Sunday here on "Late Edition." Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Well, it’s still a challenge, an important challenge.
The prime minister has said, and we agree with him, that those ministries should be occupied by people who are unifiers, that are not people with ties to militias, people who are broadly accepted by the Iraqis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: This militia issue, clearly a critical issue. I assume you want the Badr militia, the Mahdi militia to be disbanded. What about the Peshmerga?
You’re a Kurd. The Peshmerga is the militia of the Kurds in the north, some 70,000 militia members in the Peshmerga.
Will that be disbanded as well?
SALIH: I’ve just come back from Kurdistan. I was on a short trip to Sulaymaniyah and Erbil. Thank God the situation there is stable and secure because the Peshmergas have been enrolled in the security services, the police.
And in accordance with the Iraqi constitution, there is a provision that every federal region in Iraq can have its regional guards, very much like your National Guards in the United States.
So the Peshmerga is really not an issue in dispute as such. The issue of militias and the issue of bringing in people in charge of the security portfolio that are unifiers and are seen by most Iraqis as competent and non-sectarian will be an important challenge for this government.
And this is why the prime minister really has taken his time and is consulting and consulting. And I hope, at the end of this process, we will bring in people who can do this difficult task. And we’ll deal with the issues of militias by laying ahead of us a road map for rehabilitation and reintegration of these people back into public life of Iraqi politics or Iraqi state.
BLITZER: So let me just press you on this point. So there’s one standard, as you see it, for the Peshmerga, which will be integrated into the new Iraqi security force, another for the Shiite militias, the Badr militia, the Mahdi militia?
Is that what you’re saying? Those militias should be disbanded but not necessarily the Peshmerga?
SALIH: No, I’m not saying that at all. The Peshmerga — and you have to remember the historical context as well. The Kurdistan regional government has been in existence over the last 14 years. And this issue of militias has been dealt with for almost a decade now. That has been dealt with, by and large.
But even with the Iraqi constitution that was ratified a few months back, there is a single provision calling for the establishment of regional guards, very much like the United States, where you have a national guards for the states.
But these, all military units of Iraq, including the Peshmergas or the regional guards of Kurdistan, will be going back to the same chain of command, ending in Baghdad at the ministry of defense and the prime minister.
This is where the crux of the problem in Iraq lies. The Kurds want the Shia and Sunni to disarm. The Shia want the Sunni and Kurds to disarm. The Sunni want the Shia and Kurds to disarm. Iraq has fractured across sectarian lines with each ethnic group with its own militia. A so-called "Unity" Government cannot survive if, as you just heard from the Deputy Prime Minister, each group wants an exception to protect their militias from disarming. This, Mr. Russert and Mr. Bush, is a recipe for a civil war.
Against this backdrop comes an incisive article in The Washington Post written by Nir Rosen. Mr. Rosen has spent nearly two years in Iraq following the disintegration of Iraqi society. His article is a gripping first hand look into the heart of the problem:
Every morning the streets of Baghdad are littered with dozens of bodies, bruised, torn, mutilated, executed only because they are Sunni or because they are Shiite. Power drills are an especially popular torture device.
I have spent nearly two of the three years since Baghdad fell in Iraq. On my last trip, a few weeks back, I flew out of the city overcome with fatalism. Over the course of six weeks, I worked with three different drivers; at various times each had to take a day off because a neighbor or relative had been killed. One morning 14 bodies were found, all with ID cards in their front pockets, all called Omar. Omar is a Sunni name. In Baghdad these days, nobody is more insecure than men called Omar. On another day a group of bodies was found with hands folded on their abdomens, right hand over left, the way Sunnis pray. It was a message. These days many Sunnis are obtaining false papers with neutral names. Sunni militias are retaliating, stopping buses and demanding the jinsiya , or ID cards, of all passengers. Individuals belonging to Shiite tribes are executed.
At first, the dominant presence of the U.S. military — with its towering vehicles rumbling through Baghdad’s streets and its soldiers like giants with their vests and helmets and weapons — seemed overwhelming. The Occupation could be felt at all times. Now in Baghdad, you can go days without seeing American soldiers. Instead, it feels as if Iraqis are occupying Iraq, their masked militiamen blasting through traffic in anonymous security vehicles, shooting into the air, angrily shouting orders on loudspeakers, pointing their Kalashnikovs at passersby.
Today, the Americans are just one more militia lost in the anarchy. They, too, are killing Iraqis.
The world wonders if Iraq is on the brink of civil war, while Iraqis fear calling it one, knowing the fate such a description would portend. In truth, the civil war started long before Samarra and long before the first uprisings. It started when U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad. It began when Sunnis discovered what they had lost, and Shiites learned what they had gained. And the worst is yet to come. [Emphasis added by me.]
If you still believe that the war in Iraq is about "suiciders" and fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here, read Nir Rosen’s article very carefully. It becomes quite clear that the "progress" made by the Green Zone politicians is restricted to the Green Zone only. On the streets of Baghdad and the rest of Iraq it is the militias who rule and dole out swift justice. With the Badr Brigade, the Mahdi Army and the Peshmerga firmly entrenched with their leaders occupying senior positions in the "Unity" Government; the stage is set for large-scale bloodletting.
I am reminded of the situation in Afghanistan after the Soviet backed Government collapsed in 1992. Then a so-called "Unity" Government was formed with the various militias occupying various ministries of the Government. The "unity" collapsed rather quickly as different warring ministries began to engage in full-scale warfare. The country plunged into anarchy. The result, as everyone knows, came in the form of security and stability provided by a fundementalist group known as the Taliban.
Though there are certainly differences in the internal dynamics of the various groups that exist in Iraq and those that existed in Afghanistan in 1992, the parallels are also quite striking. Afghanistan should serve as a cautionary tale for what can happen when well armed militias are "integrated" into a "Unity" Government. But as long as our leaders are focused on the "suiciders" the lessons of history will be ignored and we will be condemned to repeat the past.