Friday, June 09, 2006

Zarqawi the poker chip?

Amid all of the hoopla surrounding the death of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the one element I find most fascinating is that it appears that the U.S. has dropped it's role as casino security and sat down at the high stakes table. The pot on the last hand was a (temporarily) stable Iraq. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (C.S.I.S.) was obviously prepped for this event and have an exhaustive report on many of the implications of Zarqawi's death. [Thanks to Online Springboard for having easy fingertip listings for all of the important think tanks, and every news source on earth(it seems)]

The report they present shows what I think is a fairly balanced look at the issue's factual landscape, though their conclusions - as are anyone else's - are debatable. Get the Full Report. The report begins with an ominous warning:

"There is no doubt that the Iraqi government and US forces in Iraq have scored a major political and propaganda victory by killing Abu Musab al Zarqawi. What is less clear that this victory will have a major impact over time. Its lasting importance depends on two things. The overall resilience of the insurgency in Iraq and how well the new Iraqi government can follow up with actions that a build a national consensus and defeat and undermine all the elements of the insurgency."

That is more or less the assumption of all of the experts I've read with respectable credentials. (I can't, for the life of me, understand the hyperbole on this issue from so many people who understand less than half of the facts.) The gist of the C.S.I.S. study is that several factors will determine the ultimate value of Zarqawi's death. They are:

- Appointing ministers of the defense and interior.

This was done today, literally 5 minutes after Zarqawi was reported dead. Now a fascinating discussion on that was on the Dennis Prager Show today. Dennis' guest, whose name escapes me and who I can't find because Dennis' archive link wasn't accessible to me, laid out a tale of intrigue wherein the Sunni's in Iraq dealt Zarqawi to the Shi'a government in return for the Minister of Defense post. That makes sense, because a reasonable minority leadership would want some control over the defense and military apparatus that could easily be used by a Shi'a majority to get payback for Saddam Hussein's dictatorship.

That the U.S. was able to facilitate that deal by greasing public enemy number 1 in Iraq was gravy for Uncle Sam. Also, it brings to an end the relationship between fairly odd bedfellows Iran and Zarqawi (who killed Shi'as, Iran's dominant sect).

The C.S.I.S. report continues with many other points that will determine the importance of this kill, like:

-"Freeing Detainees and Bringing Sunnis and Ba’athists Back into Government
and the Iraqi Forces"
- on this one, I'd be more careful and tread lightly. It isn't as though they have that good a record.

- "Investigating American 'Abuses'" - being done and effectively so, it would seem. This is critical if the U.S. ever hopes to leverage allies in the neighborhood to bring Iran into compliance with the general goals of peace in the larger global community. Do what we do, get justice and move on.

- "Reaching out to Sunnis"

- "Cleaning Up the Ministry of Interior, Security Forces, Police Forces, and
Guards" maybe the toughest job of all of them

- "Dealing with the Militias and Irregulars"

- "Cleaning Up Baghdad"

- "Appointing the Group to Review the Constitution" this one is critical. Once all parties buy in to the system, the job get easier. Everyone is bound by their own self interest to make the system work.

The report goes on to assess the damage to the insurgency, Al Qaeda and brings into focus the other groups of radicals in play in the region. Which, the report concludes: "As a result, some are likely to escalate even further as their situation becomes more threatened, and may seek to lash out with a new surge of violence because of Zarqawi’s death. It seems almost certain that many cadres and leaders of such groups and cells cannot be persuaded to join the Iraqi government and political process, only defeated. Some non-Islamist extremist groups will remain alienated almost regardless of what the government and other Sunnis do, and will move on to join the most extreme Islamist movements."

This is a long-term project no matter how one views it. That is precisely why I think the end of Zarqawi, when weighed fairly, produces a net positive effect for the war. Time will tell.

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