The New Iraq NIE: Pig Ugly, Little Lipstick

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by Larry C Johnson

Despite concerted pressure on the Intelligence Community to adopt the sunny optimism about Iraq's future touted by that visionary, Dick Cheney, the analysts held their ground and provided the nation this grim assessment in the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq:
...even if violence is diminished, given the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation in the time frame of this Estimate.
Folks, that is the center of the earth, bottomline. Iraq is toxic or radioactive — pick your metaphor — and is not likely to improve, with or without a troop surge.


For starters the Shia majority are crazy angry with the Sunnis for the horrors the latter inflicted on them during the last millenium. A 1000 years of grudges. There is not a severe enough case of Alzheimers to easily erase this collective memory of rage and vengeance.

Next, the Shia believe that U.S. efforts to promote reconciliation and cooperation with the Sunnis is really a diabolical plot to screw them out of their recently acquired domination. They ain't letting go.

For their part the Sunnis refuse to be a compliant minority.  They enjoyed being on top and resent the hell out of the Shia who supplanted them.  Oh yeah.  Almost forgot.  They are none too happy with us either for giving the Shia a leg up.

We might have a chance if someone with the stature of a George Washington was on stage in Iraq, but he does not exists (and no, she ain't even a possibility).  Add to this the fact that we are busily training and equipping police and army units that are covers for sectarian militia.  Foreign fighters intervene in Iraq and act like Tony Soprano's mother (a toxic bitch) while the intellectual and professional core of Iraqi society is being steadily killed off or fleeing to a new life in other countries.

And more good news.  We shouldn't characterize the war and horror in Iraq as a civil war.  Why?  Because it is worse than a mere civil war.  According to the NIE:

The Intelligence Community judges that the term “civil war” does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qa’ida and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. Nonetheless, the term “civil war” accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements.
So, is there any genuine good news or cause for hope?  Here's the lipstick for the pig.  The NIE says things could improve if the following happen:

  • The Sunnis admit they are wrong and decide to accept the political structure that leaves the Shia as the dominant majority.
  • The Shia and Kurds make major concessions that allow the Sunnis to say, "never mind" and become federalists.
  • And, drum roll please, "A bottom-up approach — deputizing, resourcing, and working more directly with neighborhood watch groups and establishing grievance committees."
It appears that the possibility of monkeys flying out of George Bush's ass was left off of the list.  Too bad, because that is more likely to happen than the Sunnis giving up.

With the Democrats in control on the Hill the analysts working on the NIE recognized they had to tell the truth, no matter how uncomfortable.  Yet a careful reading of the Key Judgments reveals an intelligence community still smarting from the beating it took over the 2002 fiasco and still cautious about tweaking the President.  It appears to deliver the goods — Iraq is going in the toliet and it is largely the result of internal strife unleashed by the U.S. invasion of 2003.  Heck off a job.

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