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Iraq stability worsens, Maliki plans to retake Baghdad

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Over the past few days, some encouraging signs and some worrying ones for stability in Iraq.

Shia infighting appears to be getting worse, especially in Basra, which I explained last week. Prime Minister Maliki is talking tough about Shia infighting, but he has to maintain enough support in Parliament to avoid a no-confidence vote, which means he can't anger any Shia group too much. Basra is especially hot because it has a ton of oil, and it is controlled by a party, Fadilah, that has relatively little power elsewhere. Basra's continued decline may be a harbinger of similar Shia internecine conflict in other southern provinces. The U.S. has thus far managed to help the Shia hold together. Should that tenuous unity collapse, Coalition forces must be careful not to get in the middle of intra-Shia conflict, lest we get caught in the cross-fire.

There is also a new push to secure Baghdad by mobilizing 75,000 "Coalition and Iraqi" troops in the city. I'd be curious to see the exact breakdown of those 75,000. If there are a large number of Iraqi troops who the U.S. is trusting to work side by side with U.S. forces, that's a good thing. And of course, if you don't control the capital, you don't control the country. To some extent this troop movement is an admission that Baghdad is out of control. Most people know that already, but without recognition of the problem, there can be no remedy, and this at least recognizes that Baghdad must be addressed. Now. Hopefully this show of force and crackdown will help, and not create more anger at Coalition troops and their Iraqi counterparts.

Finally, Joe wrote about the Bush visit earlier today, but it's worth reminding everyone that elected officials only do "surprise" visits when it's too dangerous to release the plans in advance. Why the media seems to get all excited about these visits is beyond me; all it means is that after three years of fighting, the country isn't secure enough for President Bush to arrive without secrecy. That's the important part of the story. And it's not like the problems are going to be solved by a few hours of face to face meetings . . . though I'm sure the photo ops will be lovely.

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