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I’ve been skeptical whether we can re-make Maliki’s coalition, but the effort seems to be continuing apace according to this story in the Times:

The Americans, frustrated with Mr. Maliki’s political dependence on Mr. Sadr, appear to be working hard to help build the new coalition. President Bush met last week in the White House with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Iranian-backed Shiite party, and is to meet on Tuesday with Tariq al-Hashemi, leader of the Sunni Arab party. In late November, Mr. Bush and his top aides met with leaders from Sunni countries in the Middle East to urge them to press moderate Sunni Arab Iraqis to support Mr. Maliki.

The White House visits by Mr. Hakim and Mr. Hashemi are directly related to their effort to form a new alliance, a senior Iraqi official said.

This could mean a military confrontation with Sadr is on the way:

Though it is unclear whether Mr. Sadr has total control over his militia, if he thinks he is being marginalized within the government, he could ignite another rebellion like the two he led in 2004.

Some senior American commanders say that the efforts to make peace with Mr. Sadr through politics may have failed, and that a military assault on Sadr strongholds may be inevitable.

If that happens, Sadr’s fighters would be killed in the hundreds and perhaps thousands, and we might finally kill him too this time.

Meanwhile, at the White House Bush got advice from military experts:

The group disagreed on the key issue of whether to send more troops to Iraq, with retired Gen. John M. Keane arguing that several thousand additional soldiers could be used to improve security in Baghdad, and others expressing doubt about that proposal, according to sources at the meeting. But the five agreed in telling Bush that the Army and Marine Corps both need to be bigger, and also need bigger budgets.

The group suggested the president shake up his national security team. “All of us said they have failed, that you need a new team,” said one participant. That recommendation is likely to fuel Pentagon rumors that Bush and his new defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, may decide to replace Marine Gen. Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Also, the military is considering a jobs program in Iraq that is long over-due. I remember a friend of mine telling me right after the invasion that he would have had sound trucks driving through the streets saying “everyone works today” as part of a Depression era-style jobs program. In any case, Caterpillar deserves praise for this:

Caterpillar Inc., a $36 billion construction equipment firm, is one of the first U.S. companies to show interest. Gerald L. Shaheen, a Caterpillar group president and chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said he probably would be looking for low-tech supplies, such as hinges, but said the program dovetails with the company’s interest in expanding opportunities in the Middle East.

“But I can’t look at this solely as a business proposition. I’ve already got suppliers,” Shaheen said. “I’m doing this because I think there’s a social responsibility not only to the Iraqi people but to our troops.”

Finally, this bit in a Times story from over the weekend on a spasm of ethnic cleansing is straight out of the Balkans wars:

Sayed Muhammad described the aim of the Shiite attacks on Saturday as creating a Sunni-free corridor across northern Baghdad that would run from the Shula district on the city’s northwestern edge to Kadhimiya, a Shiite stronghold on the west bank of the Tigris river. The main area of Shiite strength in the capital lies on the east bank of the Tigris, principally in Sadr City, home to about 2.5 million Shiites, about 40 per cent of Baghdad’s population.

“It’s part of a much wider plan,” the cleric said. “What we’re experiencing here is the Shiite groundwork for a civil war.”



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