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Another edition of: We have no idea what's going on in Iraq

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The news that U.S. forces arrested a close relative (reports have varied, some saying son and others saying nephew) of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is infuriating for a number of reasons. Last week we arrested a convoy of people traveling from Iran to Iraq, which sounds to me like an intelligence tip-off rather than a random operation. There is a huge amount of traffic between Iran and Iraq, so to coincidentally go after a group that includes an extremely influential member of SCIRI, a leading Shia political party, seems unlikely. It's also unlikely that we knew it would include Ammar al-Hakim, judging by his swift release and subsequent official apology, so I'd be very curious to know how the operation was established.

However it happened, it is yet another clear sign that our executive and military leadership has no idea how to handle Iraq, either tactically or strategically. We can't identify people, we don't recognize political or tribal affiliations, and it's impossible to trust intelligence tips when there's a good chance they're being used to settle scores. In this case, we couldn't even figure out whether we were sorry or not -- Ambassador Khalilzad apologized but the military defended the arrest the very next day.

Hakim also alleged mistreatment, and reportedly some of the group is still in custody, but the quick release also brings up an important point: either he did something wrong, in which case we should have proven his wrongdoing instead of releasing him, or, much more likely, we arrested him for no good reason. Reports circulate widely (and wildly) that we incarcerate hundreds or thousands of people without charge or anything resembling due process, which is just horrendous as a counterinsurgency tactic, a bad way to establish democracy, and, of course, a disgrace for a country that values freedom and the rule of law.

Finally, we don't even know what side (or sides) we're taking in this ongoing debacle. Just a few weeks ago reports indicated support for an "80% plan", i.e., supporting the Shia (60% of the population) and Kurds (20%), and now we're apparently backing Sunnis across the region to repel some mythical Shia expansionism. So we toppled a secular and manageable Sunni regime to install a majority (Shia) government, and now the administration is mad about this? It really is unbelievable.

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