Karim and Amar; Update: Disputed?

Damien Cave, the author of the Times’s ballyhooed piece about increasing security in Baghdad, complained yesterday in a Q&A that bloggers were focusing too much on the improvements and not enough about what the next phase will look like, especially if Sadr decides to rejoin the fray. “A lot of people I talked to described the current moment as — in all likelihood, but hopefully not — the calm before another storm,” says Cave. Further to that point, take the time if you can spare it to read this long but fruitful report on the surge from the New Yorker. A passage describing an interview with Sunni tribal leader Sheikh Zaidan al-Awad:

Zaidan said that Anbar’s Sunni tribes no longer had any need to exact blood vengeance on U.S. forces. “We’ve already taken our revenge,” he said. “We’re the ones who’ve made them crawl on their stomachs, and now we’re the ones to pick them up.” He added, “Once Anbar is settled, we must take control of Baghdad, and we will.” There would have to be a lot more fighting before the capital was taken back from the Shiites, he said. “The Anbaris will take charge of the purge. What the whole world failed to do in Anbar, we have done overnight. Baghdad will be a lot easier.”

Many of the players in Iraq seemed, like Zaidan, to be positioning themselves for the next battle.

If you don’t have half an hour to devote to the piece, read the sections on Karim and Amar. The first one begins halfway down the page (“As it happened, an Iraqi whom I knew well…”), breaks off with the author requesting to meet Amar, and then resumes near the end (“Several days after I saw Um Jafaar…”). Amar, a Shiite who lives in Baghdad, was in a car with his brother and a friend when the Mahdi Army opened fire on them. He survived; the other two didn’t. I spoil the rest but it’s a case study in what happens to an honor/shame culture locked in a spiral of reprisals. Amar’s not a soldier; he’s not even an assassin. What he sounds like is a serial killer, but one whose motives aren’t entirely unsympathetic. If that’s possible.

At another part of the piece, the author, Jon Lee Anderson, writes, “In most of my conversations with the Iraqis working with the Americans, their true motivations struck me as unknowable.” David Ignatius touches on that same point today with an Arab acquaintance of his own, who says of the Sunnis’ rapprochement with America, “This will be known as the era of deception.” Meanwhile, after three months of security gains, U.S. public opinion is almost exactly what it was in August.

Update: Nibras Kazimi says Sheikh Zaidan al-Awad isn’t all he’s cracked up to be, and wonders how Karim and Amar plan to keep their secret identities concealed from the Mahdi Army now that the New Yorker’s revealed so much detail.

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