Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld`s sudden trip to Baghdad this week is the latest sign that things are going very poorly in Iraq. Rumsfeld`s mission was purely political, as the prospects for a new constitution being written in the next two weeks with national elections to follow later this year are bleak indeed. Rumsfeld`s hope has been in thinking a vow to begin pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq a year from now would break the gridlock that has developed between the Shiites and the Kurds over what the new government will look like after a constitution has been approved and elections are held. That is, out of fear of civil war once the U.S. pulls out, the Shiites and Kurds would make the compromises necessary to get this show on the road.
It is most unlikely that either Shiites or Kurds take the threat seriously, especially when the top commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., "reaffirms" Rumsfeld`s vow, but adds that "some substantial reductions" could only be made if the political process remains on track and Iraqi forces assumed more responsibility for securing the country. The reasoning is circular, with it being plain enough the political process will not remain "on track." There is first the fact that the Shiites want a constitution written to the specifications of the Ayatollah in Iran. It now seems clear enough that Iraqi women who had led the Arab world in equal treatment under the secular Ba`ath regime will be sent back to the Middle Ages. The Sunnis who dominated the Ba`ath regime would never go along with that level of sectarianism and will not participate in the process.
Secondly, the Kurds, under the leadership of men in the interim government who also fought on the side of Iran in the Iran-Iraq war, Mssrs. Barzani and Talabani, are not relenting in their demands for an autonomous Kurdistan only loosely tied to Baghdad. They are also widening their claims on land, encompassing not only the oil fields of Kirkuk, but also tracts that extend south of Baghdad. Rumsfeld seems to think he can reason with the Kurdish leaders because we have treated them as allies – giving them the limited sovereignty they have by protecting them from Baghdad with a "No-Fly Zone," and making sure they got the lion`s share of food in the "Oil-for-Food" program set up in 1997. Rumsfeld can`t put that genie back in the bottle by "reasoning," as the Kurds know their best chances of getting everything they want means delaying work on the constitution if it means they are otherwise forced to make concessions.
A military man in his current job, Rumsfeld has never seemed to understand the politics of Iraq, and it again became evident yesterday when he issued demands that Iran cease its support of the insurgency, or be "more aggressive" in halting their harmful behavior. It must not have occurred to him that Iran has no interest in supporting the insurgency. It has gotten everything it has wanted thus far, with Iraq`s prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, pushing for a sectarian constitution and government, going out of his way to make deals with Iran on oil pipelines and rails. The Iraqi government, composed almost entirely of Iranian sympathizers, also did Tehran a great favor by formally announcing that Iraq had started the Iran-Iraq war, when it was clearly the Ayatollah Khomeini who declared the secular Ba`ath regime of Saddam Hussein his mortal enemy and systematically provoked Iraq until it had no choice but to fight. The Iraqi "apology" opens the door to reparation claims that will surely be made from Tehran. The new courts, controlled by the Jaafari government, can be expected to be favorably disposed to such reparations, with the funds coming from the mingled accounts that include U.S. taxpayer funds. The nice, little "doable War," in Paul Wolfowitz`s words, was to have cost no more than $30 billion. The Congressional Budget Office now projects spending to hit as much as $700 billion before all is said and done.
On top of all the other problems on the near horizon is the trial of Saddam Hussein, which the Jaafari government hoped would take place in the next several weeks. The aim has been to convict Saddam of war crimes ASAP and get him out of the way. The fly in this "ointment" is none other than Ahmed Chalabi, who has been part of the neo-con team all the way back to his student days at the University of Chicago, where he studied geopolitics with classmate Paul Wolfowitz. Officially, Chalabi is out of favor with the Bush administration over CIA assertions that he was spilling classified secrets to the Iranian government. It is inconceivable to me, though, that Chalabi, who got his high post in the interim government through jiggling of slates by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, is not now acting under instructions from the neo-con power center in Washington.
As the minister in charge of "de-Baathification," Chalabi has thrown a monkey wrench into the judicial system, demanding the removal of all judges who were Baathists. This will mean the delay of Saddam`s trial, which is what the Bush administration tried to do in order to prevent a show trial that it thinks, correctly, would further inflame the insurgency. Washington wanted several of Saddam`s ministers tried first, which would permit the prosecution to make deals with the defendants if they would testify against Saddam. It would be much easier to then deal with Saddam. As yet, there is no sign of any defections of this kind among the Saddam loyalists. The New York Times intimated in a dispatch from Baghdad last week that Tariq Aziz, Saddam`s deputy prime minister for decades, had turned against him on the issue of genocide. But it seems whatever Aziz said was taken out of context. With Saddam now asking to meet with former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who is on his defense team, a show trial might produce the kind of show the administration prefers not be shown.
Finally, there is the likelihood that any day now there will be an indictment in the Valerie Plame affair. In his current newsletter, Bob Novak says there will almost certainly be an indictment from the federal grand jury, but the White House does not believe it will involve Karl Rove. It really doesn`t matter who is indicted, because the national press corps will have a whole new story to cover and it will blanket the news with all kinds of twists and turns. A new turn occurred just yesterday when Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus revealed that he was also told about Plame in July 2003 and can now say so because his source revealed himself to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.
It`s always hot as the devil in Washington in August, but it looks like it will be hotter this year than ever… and not because of Global Warming.