''There are American officials who consider Iraq as if it were one of their villages, for example Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin. They should come to their senses."

--Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, speaking today.

Oh my. When Haley Barbour and Hillary Clinton are singing from the same song-sheet, one cannot help but grow ever more concerned the Washington-Baghdad honeymoon is coming to an inglorious end (by Baghdad, I mean the Iraqi leaders cloistered in the Green Zone, of course). Why, soon we might be treating Maliki's 'freely elected' Government like others in the region that have come to power of late via the ballot-box, but were deemed undesirable and shunned (though not just yet, as the President recently declared Maliki a "good guy", a moniker not quite as affectionate as 'Turd Blossom', but still...)

Meantime, more from Maliki:

"Concerning American raids on Shula and Sadr City, there were big mistakes committed in these operations. The terrorist himself should be targeted not his family."

The Shi'a of Iraq increasingly view us, no longer as liberators, but as occupiers. Yes, there was brief euphoria among many Shi'a after Saddam was toppled, given the parade of horribles the savage dictator had visited on them for decades. This good will mostly evaporated, however, amidst the fiasco of the Rumsfeldian "stuff happens" chapter, as the anarchic chaos unleashed left millions of Iraqis fearing desperately for their security ("freedom is messy"!).

Now, fast forward a couple more years, as we try to hold Shi'a 'crude majoritarianism' at bay, and increasingly cozy up with Sunni tribal elements. We can guess how this is going to end, can't we?  Matters are almost certain to get much nastier between U.S. forces and the majority Shi'a of Iraq. And that, putting it gently, can't be good news for the U.S. I mean, just ask the IDF how it felt patrolling Gaza back in the day? They were hated, and the occupied wished for one thing and one thing only: for the occupier to leave. The same will increasingly apply to U.S. GI's in places like Sadr City, as it has already to the British in Basra.

The Iraq project, alas, looks increasingly unsalvageable, whatever short-term, localized security improvements arguably achieved by the much ballyhooed 'surge'. We've unleashed historical forces beyond our control, and of which we know little, ultimately. The national security team at the helm is mediocre, at best (though Steve Clemons has been more optimistic on this score, at least on occasion). We're been unable to adopt a serious regional approach a la Baker-Hamilton, and within Iraq, we are floundering trying to balance myriad Iraqi factions on the political side, who have little appetite to drop their maximalist demands at this (relatively early, at least vis-a-vis Iraq time) juncture. In my view, therefore, it is time to draw-down our involvement in this terribly costly adventure, flawed from its very conception by the false WMD pretenses, executed in criminally negligent fashion and with course corrections coming far too late, with some of them regardless of dubious merit (for instance, arming all-Sunni militias).

Yes, it is time to start coming home, not in a wild panic, but with purposeful deliberativeness. After all, we have other tools in our quiver, apart from bleeding American lives in seeming perpetuity in Iraq, to prevent a full-scale genocide there, or the emergence of a significant al-Qaeda sanctuary, or the regionalization of the conflict. Indeed, cogent arguments can me made that having troops 'over the horizon' or located near the borders might act as better prophylactic to prevent the conflict spreading to neighboring countries, while still affording requisite forces in the neighborhood to pressure al-Qaeda as necessary (indeed, freeing up some forces for Afghanistan). As for preventing a genocide, we've done rather shabbily protecting innocent Iraqi life to date, and it is very likely that population transfers born of 'ethnic cleansing' fears will continue to take place whether we stay or leave. For instance, the rate of internally displaced hasn't slowed since the surge began, indeed reports indicate the contrary. These movements are occuring because Iraqis feel compelled to flee towards areas controlled by sectarian kin. They know, sooner or later, that we will leave, and so are planning for that day. It is high time we start doing the same.

(Cross posted at Belgravia Dispatch here for readers wanting to leave comments).

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