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CIA Director Michael Hayden tells the Washington Post that al-Qaida is on the run: In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda’s allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group’s core leadership. While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. Two years ago, a CIA study concluded that the U.S.-led war had become a propaganda and marketing bonanza […]

The sniping between Barack Obama and the GOP over negotiating with rogue state leaders and other unsavory characters is even more removed from reality than the usual campaign rhetoric. The question of whether a President Obama would sit down with Iranian leaders grabs attention, but is largely irrelevant. Far more relevant is the fact that in Iraq — the highest-stakes arena of U.S. foreign policy — Americans already routinely negotiate with their enemies. From American soldiers and Marines meeting with Sunni insurgents and Shiite militiamen, to American diplomats meeting with their Iranian counterparts, negotiation has been at the heart of […]

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The amount of progress that’s been made since last November on the Turkish-PKK conflict is impressive, and worthy of mention. Yesterday, the Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government, Nechirvan Barzani, had this to say about stopping PKK attacks originating from Iraqi territory to Turkish reporters while in Washington: Turkey’s demand — asking our territory not to be used against Turkey — is a just and righteous one. This from the nephew of KRG President Massoud Barzani, who up until a few months back was threatening to bring the fight to Ankara. PM Barzani also said of the Kirkuk referendum: […]

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If you haven’t already, give David Ucko’s piece on the Sons of Iraq a read. I’m probably guilty of dismissing that particular aspect of the improved security situation too quickly. As Ucko makes clear, it’s risky and far from conclusively resolved. But it can’t be reduced to an effort to buy off guns to get them pointed in another direction, and doing so only ignores the significant opportunities it offers for real progress. The catch, as always when it comes to progress in Iraq, is consolidating it into something that resembles a cohesive national government. Ucko puts his hopes in […]

In the typically polarized debate on Iraq, the significance of the “Sons of Iraq” — the predominantly Sunni militias now allied with the U.S. military against insurgents and terrorists — can easily be lost. Depending on one’s point of view, the U.S. military’s new Sunni friends are either “concerned local citizens” or “opportunist insurgents” — with pro- and anti-war camps each using the phenomenon to support pre-existing political positions. As Iraq approaches provincial elections in October, however, and the United States nears its own presidential vote, it is high time to abandon easy slogans and to examine the fresh challenges […]

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Spencer Ackerman flags the Pentagon’s latest deployment announcement,noting how next spring’s Iraq rotation is made up entirely of NationalGuard units. I’ve mentioned in the past how the transformation of theReserves from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve is a majorcomponent of the hidden draft made necessary by the Iraq War. But thisis pretty flagrant.

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It’s worth noting that at the same time that Col. (and soon-to-be General) H.R. McMaster was telling an American Enterprise gathering that Iran has been carrying out targeted assassinations of Iraqi officials, three Iranian embassy staff and their Iraqi driver were fired on outside Iran’s Baghdad embassy. Iran blamed the attack, in which two of the employees were seriously wounded, on American security lapses. Setting aside the question of whether or not to broadly engage Iran through direct diplomatic negotiations, the need to engage Iran on the more limited question of Iraq security has already been recognized. So far, the […]

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Amidst the signs of progress in Iraq, two cautionary notes: despite the Maliki government’s solidification of its hold on power by military means, very few of the major political challenges to national reconciliation have been addressed, let alone solved; and the security gains of the past year have now exerted a “push me-pull you” pressure on Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes, which have either been appropriated or walled off behind sectarian lines. In other words, having returned the security situation to what resembles a frozen civil war (or a tenuous and sporadically violated ceasefire), […]

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This is a very insightful and neglected historical analogy, and the fact that it’s made by the former head of the U.S. Special Forces Command will hopefully pre-empt any attempts to dismiss it as America-bashing. It’s become something of a conventional wisdom that the democratization of Latin America has been a net victory for American regional interests. But as Maj. Gen. Lambert points out, the fallout from the methods used to suppress and/or eradicate a generation of Marxist revolutionaries is still being felt. Gen. Lambert doesn’t mention the exacerbating factor of ambient anti-American sentiment that no amount of public diplomacy […]

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There was some mention in the American press about Iran’s role in brokering the ceasefires in both Basra and more recently in Badr City. This is the first time I’ve actually seen Fars, the official Iranian news agency, brag about it call attention to it. Their analysis of the Iraqi government’s double bind bears citing in full: The Iraqi government has been forced to balance its allegiances to the US and Iran. Supported by American troops and reconstruction funds, Baghdad is obliged to pay attention to the US demands. But the Iraqi government cannot give in to Washington’s illegitimate demands […]

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Of course, one of the predictable consequences of the increasingly effective Turkish campaign to isolate and eliminate the Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq is that the latter will increasingly turn their attention to the folks helping the Turks out. That, of course, would be us. So far it’s just a warning from PEJAK, the PKK’s Iranian Kurdish sister group, but there’s every reason to believe that with Turkey more and more difficult to reach and the Iraqi Kurds not a politically viable target, we’re next on the list. Interestingly enough, PEJAK is the Kurdish separatist group that many have accused […]

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The Turkish government continued its deft handling of the sticky security situation on its Iraq border, following up its military strikes against PKK guerillas with its first diplomatic contacts with the Kurdistan Regional Government. The move comes in the wake of increasing signals from KRG President Massoud Barzani that the Iraqi Kurdish leadership values smooth relations with Ankara more than its ethnic solidarity with the PKK. On the Turkish side, the move signals a shift in its Iraq policy from a focus on divisive ethnically-based questions such as the status of Kirkuk to the development of regional economic and social […]

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Nir Rosen’s got a lengthy post over at the Washington Note that takes aim at the gathering narrative framework for Iran’s involvement in Iraq. Rosen is an extremely sharp, Arab-speaking observer who has spent most of the past five years in Iraq, and the piece comes with the imprimatur of Steve Clemon’s site. His arguments about both American policy in Iraq and our broader regional strategy are both provocative and thought-provoking, even if I suspect they are ultimately unlikely to significantly move the lines of debate for being so far outside the common wisdom. That’s not to say he’s wrong. […]