Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Change of Mind

At the height of the recent fighting in Basra, Tahseen Sheikhly, a high profile Iraqi government official and a Sunni, was abducted from his home in Baghdad by Shiite militiamen. He was held in Sadr City and released unharmed several days later. In an interview on NPR, Sheikhly said he was surprised by the depths of poverty he had seen in Sadr city. He now recognizes that the government must relieve some of this poverty, if it hopes to achieve greater security in Iraq. His words suggest 1) members of the al-Malaki government are awfully detached from the plight of common folks in their country; 2) new manuals on counter-insurgency notwithstanding, the strategy the US and the Iraqi government to achieve security is still largely that of killing or capturing insurgents and criminals, rather than winning over the people that support them. Sheikly's change of mind -- his questioning that strategy -- reverses the cliché that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. Perhaps a voluntary hostage program by members of the Malaki government and the US command might help change their strategic thinking, like Sheikhly's was changed. Such human shields in Sadr City and other Mehdi army strongholds might also encourage the Malaki government to honor the cease fire it struck with Sadr that presumably included Baghdad as well as Basra. It would have the side benefit of reducing the bloodshed -- the killing of three bodyguards in Sheikhly's case -- that often initiate the guided tours of Shiite militia strongholds; it would also raise the probability of the tourists getting home alive and whole.

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