Robert Spencer, founder and lead writer for Jihad Watch, has a bit of trouble telling the difference between friend and foe in Iraq and still thinks, despite everything, that the United States is losing the war.
Instead of referring to me by name, he sarcastically dismisses me as a “learned analyst,” as he does with President Barack Obama and his advisors, while scoffing at a long dispatch I published last week. “No insurgent or terrorist group can declare victory or claim Americans are evacuating Iraq’s cities because they were beaten,” I wrote. Spencer acknowledges that Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki isn’t the leader of an insurgent or terrorist group. But he maintains that my statement is “breathtaking in its disconnect from reality” because Maliki declared the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq’s cities “a great victory.”
Yes, I didn't name him because I was using his statement as an example of a tendency. But as long as he has responded, I will respond in turn.
We are not, and never have been, at war with Prime Minister Maliki. Everyone with even a pedestrian familiarity with events in Iraq during the last couple of years knows that American soldiers and Marines have fought alongside Maliki’s Iraqi soldiers and police against common enemies – Al Qaeda in Iraq and the various offshoots and branches of Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia.
Where did I claim otherwise?
Not even in an alternate universe have Maliki’s men fought Americans and forced them to withdraw.
Where did I claim otherwise?
They fought, bled, and died alongside Americans. The United States military recently withdrew from most of Iraq’s urban areas as stipulated by the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the Bush Administration, but they’re still training and working closely with Iraqi security forces.
Maliki’s “great victory” statement was an attempt to suck up to the anti-Americans in his electoral constituency who are unhappy with his close relationship with the United States. Iraq’s most sectarian Sunni Arabs regularly accuse Maliki of being an Iranian puppet prime minister when they aren’t contradicting themselves by joining radical Shias and saying he’s an American puppet prime minister. Maliki is closer to Iran than Americans and Iraq’s Sunnis would like, but he’s much closer to the United States where it counts most. He has never sent his men into battle against Americans. But he did order his soldiers into battle alongside Americans last year against Iranian-backed Shia militias in Sadr City and Basra. He also put the Sons of Iraq – whom he used to decry as an anti-Shia Sunni militia – on his government’s payroll.
I don’t know if throwing a rhetorical bone to Iraq’s most strident anti-Americans to shore up his nationalist bona fides is a good idea or if it isn’t. Either way, it’s not hard to see that’s what he’s doing. And it’s frankly ridiculous for Spencer to write as though I have no idea what’s going on in Iraq when he thinks a political speech for domestic consumption overrides the fact that for years Maliki has been at war not against us but with us against our mutual enemies.
Does Spencer believe that, all of a sudden and for no apparent reason, Maliki sympathizes with the terrorists and insurgents he recently crushed?
Of course not. This is the third straw man Totten has set up in the space of eight paragraphs.
“In any case,” Spencer writes, “any ‘victory’ the Americans won in Iraq was sure to be undone as soon as the troops were gone, and we are already seeing that. Sunni will go after Shi’ite and vice versa, the Iranians will press forward to create a Shi’ite client state, the non-Muslims will be victimized more than ever…”
Iraq has made a fool of just about everyone, including me, who has claimed to know in advance what the future would look like. The entire Middle East makes fools of its prophets. Most of us who work there eventually learn this the hard way. Nobody can know what’s going to happen in Iraq now that the U.S. is pulling back.
Spencer’s view might by chance be correct. Around half the Iraqis and half the Americans I’ve spoken to in Iraq think the country is more likely than not to disintegrate. The other half don’t. And the optimists who live and work over there, just like the pessimists, know more about Iraq than Robert Spencer and I do combined.
Well, here is some background information that may help us all learn a bit more:
"Doubts on Maliki pledge to Iran," from the BBC, June 9, 2008:
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has reassured Iran about a proposed security pact being negotiated between Iraq and the US. He told Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran that Iran would not be the victim of any security deal between Iraq and the US.
"Maliki: Iraq, Iran plan economic ties," from UPI, January 4, 2009:
TEHRAN, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Iraq and Iran have created two committees to strengthen economic ties, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Sunday as he ended a visit to Tehran.
The trip was Maliki's fourth to the neighboring Shiite state since he became prime minister. He had meetings President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Parviz Daoudi, the first vice president, Fars News Agency reported.
At a news conference, Maliki said the goal of his trip was a wider relationship between Iran and Iraq, the Tehran Times said. He said Cabinet members from both countries will supervise the two committees....
"Maliki moves to develop Iran relations," from UPI, January 5, 2009:
TEHRAN, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says he has established a committee to develop the country's relations with Iran.
Speaking to reporters in Tehran Monday after wrapping up meetings with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other officials, Maliki said his visit to Tehran has resulted of the formation of a supreme joint committee for bilateral relations development, Iraqi broadcaster Al Sumaria reported.
Maliki said an agreement was reached to form a reconstruction services company with Iran that would come into play after Iraq has gained more stability....
"Freed Iranians Get A Heroes’ Welcome Back Home As Iran Shakes A Fist at U.S.," by Patrick Goodenough for CNSNews, July 13, 2009:
(CNSNews.com) – Iran on Sunday welcomed as heroes five men held by U.S. forces in Iraq on suspicion of aiding deadly anti-coalition violence. Iran played down any suggestion that their release may help to improve relations between Tehran and Washington....
When the men were captured in Arbil in January 2007, the U.S. linked them to the Qods Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an organization the U.S. and British governments and militaries have accused of facilitating violence by Shi’ite militias against coalition forces.
In particular, the two governments have accused Iran and the Qods Force of responsibility for an influx of deadly roadside bombs or improvised explosive devices (IEDs), especially “explosively formed penetrators” (EFPs) with shaped charges designed to pierce armored vehicles....
U.S. forces last week handed the Iranians over to Iraqi custody, although the State Department acknowledged that there were ongoing concerns about the safety of U.S. forces – concerns which it said had been made clear to the Iraqis.
The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite with close historical ties to Iran, immediately turned the five over to the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad....
"Freed Iranians highlight US-Iraq conflict," by Gareth Porter for Asia Times, July 14, 2009:
WASHINGTON - The release on Friday of five Iranians held by the United States military in Iraq for two-and-a-half years highlights the long-simmering conflict between the US and Iraqi views of Iranian policy in Iraq and of the role of its Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) there.
For the Barack Obama administration, as for the George W Bush administration before it, the Iranian detainees had become symbols of what Washington steadfastly insisted was an Iranian effort to use the IRGC to destabilize the Iraqi regime.
But high-ranking Shi'ite and Kurdish officials of the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had never shared the US view of the IRGC or of the Iranian role. They have acted on the premise that Iran is interested in ensuring that a friendly Shi'ite regime would remain in power....
I believe that's what I said.