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Iraq Politics, Media Beguile U.S.

Prepared by: cfr.org editorial staff
February 17, 2006

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Prodded by the United States, Iraq's Interior Ministry is opening a probe into alleged death squad activity by state security forces directed against Sunni Muslims (NYT), the disgruntled minority that controlled the country under Saddam Hussein.

As talks aimed at forming a national-unity government continue, new reports from the International Crisis Group and Brookings Institution suggest Washington's leverage in the conflict may be diminishing even as the insurgency remains potent and unbowed. In addition, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said at CFR Friday, the U.S. is struggling with a global media environment often unreceptive and sometimes downright hostile to U.S. aims (Cfr.org News Brief). He called for a reinvention of the way the United States communicates to the rest of the world, including a new emphasis on engaging Internet and foreign broadcast outlets along with traditional mediums.

"Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but for the most part we—our country—has not—whether our government, the media or our society generally," Rumsfeld said.

With Iraq's first constitutionally mandated election behind it and a new government forming behind Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (LAT), Kenneth Pollack, who led the Brookings report, says 2006 is shaping up as a “make-or-break year.” He tells cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman, “If [Jaafari] doesn’t turn things around very quickly and start delivering on these basic services, which are the most important to the Iraqis, I think that you could see the Iraqis souring on reconstruction very quickly.”

The surprise elevation of al-Jaafari, rather than the more moderate Adil Abd al-Mahdi, Washington's favored candidate, shocked some U.S. policymakers. In the role of kingmaker was the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (NYT), who twice in 2004 launched violent uprisings against U.S. forces and loudly demands an American withdrawal. Al-Sadr now controls thirty-two seats in the new parliament.

Washington's current strategy, Pollack and other experts note, is dependent upon training Iraqi troops to replace U.S. and coalition forces in their fight with the insurgents. Yet the new International Crisis Group report, which culls communications between insurgent constituents, finds that the insurgency's foreign jihadis and Sunni nationalists are less divided than U.S. officials suggest. This CFR Background Q&A looks at the status of the insurgency, while this one examines U.S. military reports of rifts among the insurgency's ranks.

The infiltration of new Iraqi security units, dominated by Shiites, is further destabilizating the country. Keeping militias—outlined in this CFR Background Q&A—out of Iraq's security forces will be crucial to ensuring future stability, says Matthew Sherman, former director of policy to Iraq’s Ministry of Interior, in an interview with cfr.org's Lionel Beehner.

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