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When fighting back

I really haven’t had a lot to say about the Iraqi insurgency. Or, if you prefer, rebellion. Or terrorism. Or uprising. Me, I’ve been thinking of it as “the Iraqi disaster,” but I must admit that’s a somewhat loaded term.

I think in retrospect I’m a little wary. There’s this great debating tactic: when someone posts about problems in Iraq, and says “this is the sort of thing I was worried about; this is the sort of thing that proves my point” you go over and say, at the top of your lungs, “Look! She’s happy that American soldiers are dying!” It’s not a great tactic because it convinces people. It’s a great tactic because it reinforces the convictions of the people who use it, and allows them to feel all morally superior.

Still. This is the sort of thing I was worried about, and it’s the sort of thing that proves my point. I wish I’d been wrong.

Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army has a fairly firm hold on Najaf. Najaf is a holy city, and if American troops attack it, the Mahdi Army will swell with recruits. The United States cannot afford to allow rebels to control a major Iraqi city. The wicket is more than a little sticky.

It wouldn’t matter if it was UN troops. The only armed force that could do anything about the problem without making the problem worse is an Iraqi armed force. Unfortunately, we don’t have the kind of credibility and authority in Iraq which would make it possible for us to convince a sizable Iraqi military effort in Najaf. Not that there was going to be any way to establish that kind of credibility.

The only likely path out of this is negotiations, and those are going to be difficult for entirely different reasons — mostly issues of face. Muqtada al-Sadr doesn’t have to back down, and Bush won’t.

The current casualty levels are high in relation to what we’ve seen over the course of the last year, but low in absolute terms. This is cold, but it is also true. It also doesn’t entirely matter, because the question is how longer we’ll be willing to watch a hundred Americans die every month with no exit strategy in sight.

Juan Cole is still the best place to go for analysis of the Iraqi situation. The Command Post has a conservative bias but that doesn’t keep them from posting both good and bad news.

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