Malika and Muqtada have to go

Ralph Peters:

...

I lost faith in our engagement in Iraq last week. I can pinpoint the moment. It came when I heard that Maliki had demanded - successfully - that our military release a just-captured deputy of Muqtada al-Sadr who was running death squads.

As a former intelligence officer, that told me two things: First, Iraq's prime minister is betting on Muqtada to prevail, not us. Second, Muqtada, not the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is now the most powerful man in Iraq.

At his news conference, Bush was asked about another statement made by Maliki just hours before. Our troops had conducted a raid in Sadr City, Muqtada's Baghdad stronghold. The Iraqi PM quickly declared that "this will not happen again." He was signaling his allegiance to Muqtada. Publicly.

Oh, Maliki realizes his government wouldn't last a week if our troops withdrew. He doesn't want us to leave yet. But he's looking ahead.

For now, Maliki and his pals are using our troops to buy time while they pocket our money, amass power and build up arms. But they've written us off for the long term.

Does that mean we should leave?

Not yet. Iraq deserves one last chance. But to make that chance even remotely viable, we'll have to take desperate measures. We need to fight. And accept the consequences.

The first thing we need to do is to kill Muqtada al-Sadr, who's now a greater threat to our strategic goals than Osama bin Laden.

We should've killed him in 2003, when he first embarked upon his murder campaign. But our leaders were afraid of provoking riots.

Back then, the tumult might've lasted a week. Now we'll face a serious uprising. So be it. When you put off paying war's price, you pay compound interest in blood.

We must kill - not capture - Muqtada, then kill every gunman who comes out in the streets to avenge him.

Our policy of all-carrots-no-sticks has failed miserably. We delivered Iraq to zealots, gangsters and terrorists. Now our only hope is to prove that we mean business - that the era of peace, love and wasting American lives is over.

And after we've killed Muqtada and destroyed his Mahdi Army, we need to go after the Sunni insurgents. If we can't leave a democracy behind, we should at least leave the corpses of our enemies.

...

Peters wants to get tough or get out. I agree that the failure to destroy Sadr and his operation in 2003 was a big mistake, just like the failure to finish the first attack on Fallujah. Unfortunately, Bush has run out of the political capital needed to pursue Peters' advice. There is also the problem that the military has made the decision that the way to win the war is too be nice to the bad guys, with a new counter insurgency doctrine.

At this point the best way to handle Malika and Sadr is to tell them they have a choice to make. Starting with Maliki, he should be told that he will have to rein in Mugtada or we will no longer support his government. Then Maliki will have to tell Muqtada that he will have to rein in his death squads and militia or the US will be turned loose to destroy them. Those are the tough choices that they have to make.

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