They were hugely outnumbered, but they made a deal with the devil and now the bill’s come due.

“Its not a good time to be a Sunni in Baghdad,” Abu Omar told me in a low voice…

He was more despondent than angry. “We Sunni are to blame,” he said. “In my area some ignorant al-Qaida guys have been kidnapping poor Shia farmers, killing them and throwing their bodies in the river. I told them: ‘This is not jihad. You can’t kill all the Shia! This is wrong! The Shia militias are like rabid dogs – why provoke them?’ ”

Then he said: “I am trying to talk to the Americans. I want to give them assurances that no one will attack them in our area if they stop the Shia militias from coming.”

This man who had spent the last three years fighting the Americans was now willing to talk to them, not because he wanted to make peace but because he saw the Americans as the lesser of two evils. He was wrestling with the same dilemma as many Sunni insurgent leaders, beginning to doubt the wisdom of their alliance with al-Qaida extremists.

That conversation happened in October; Abu Omar has long since disappeared, according to the author, but the second-guessing remains. A new local jihadi commander told him that U.S. troops are now allowed to pass through Sunni territory unharmed unless they have Iraqi army (i.e., Shiite) troops with them. “The jihad now is against the Shia, not the Americans,” he says.

Well worth your time to read all of it, as it has lots of other details about the fighting, including the business of jihad:

These days Rami gets most of his supplies from the new American-equipped Iraqi army. “We buy ammunition from officers in charge of warehouses, a small box of AK-47 bullets is $450 (£230). If the guy sells a thousand boxes he can become rich and leave the country…

According to Rami and other commanders, funding for the insurgents comes from three sources. Each family in the street pays a levy, around $8, to the local group. “And when they go through lots of ammunition because of clashes,” Rami said, “they pay an extra $5.” Then there are donations from rich Sunni businessmen, financiers and wealthier insurgent groups. A third source of funding was “ghaniama”, loot which is rapidly becoming the main fuel of the sectarian war…

“It has become a business, they give you money to kill Shia, we take their houses and sell their cars,” said Rami. “The Shia are doing the same.

This is the second time in two days we’ve had a report of one side telling its men not to fire on the Americans. Sadr has allegedly told his people the same thing. Why? Because he knows there’s a strong possibility we’ll be gone soon and he’ll be off scot free — made stronger today by the revelation that Maliki has appointed a mystery general to lead the Iraqi campaign in Baghdad and rumblings from the Pentagon that the U.S. might not engage the death squads in Sadr City.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has filled the top military job in Baghdad with a virtually unknown officer chosen over the objections of U.S. and Iraqi military commanders, officials from both governments said…

As the Iraqi commander for the capital, Qanbar would play a central role in that campaign, and any ties he might have to sectarian groups could undermine the new U.S. effort…

The appointment of Qanbar comes as the U.S. military is debating whether to attack Sadr City. As the Iraqi commander, Qanbar could have advance knowledge of U.S. operations.

He’s from the southern part of the country so he’s almost certain a Shiite. Like I said a few weeks ago, anyone who thinks Maliki is incompetent and timid is kidding himself. He knows what he’s doing: he’s consolidating Shiite power while paying lip service to Bush’s plans. Qanbar, his new general, is probably just the latest move on that front. Supposedly they’re going to add another layer of command, which would include Petraeus, between Maliki and Qanbar to make sure no unusual orders pass between them. Like say, “Liquidate the Sunnis in west Baghdad.”

More good news:

Within the Pentagon, not everyone agrees that attacking Sadr City is advisable…

An influential plan for Baghdad security drawn up by retired Army Gen. Jack Keane and military analyst Frederick Kagan strongly advised against moving into Sadr City. The plan, which was highly influential within the White House and is considered to mirror Petraeus’ thinking, argued that an attack on Sadr City would unite now-splintered Shiite factions against U.S. forces.

“We have an opportunity now to keep the Shiite parties separate and to avoid a full-scale military conflict with them,” Kagan said. “If we go into Sadr City, that will not be the case. We will find ourselves in a full-scale, very bloody operation, which probably will look something like Fallouja.”

Petraeus apparently isn’t keen on the idea either.

We end a grim post on a grim note — with this WaPo report of a U.S. unit in danger and on a wild goose chase in Baghdad, with little help from the underequipped Iraqi army. “I want to go back and play my PlayStation.”

Update: Ace wants to know why, given their deep and abiding concern for the lives of American soldiers, the left isn’t demanding that we lose as quickly as humanly possible.

[P]lease explain what possible benefit the US gets out of following the mainline, compromise Democratic position and killing more US soldiers in a doomed cause.

It’s rather obvious what good comes from a US victory, should such a thing be possible.

But what possible good does it do to waste more lives in a war you’ve already decided to abandon?

Greenwald and the rest of the leftwing CyOps brigade don’t favor the slow-motion surrender, but they seem to be willing to acquiesce in additional unnecessary deaths so long as it gets them the prize, the repudiation of Bush and the repudiation of further uses of American military force.

Update: Smart.

Mahdi Army militia members have stopped wearing their black uniforms, hidden their weapons and abandoned their checkpoints in an apparent effort to lower their profile in Baghdad in advance of the arrival of U.S. reinforcements.

“We have explicit directions to keep a low profile . . . not to confront, not to be dragged into a fight and to calm things down,” said one official who received the orders from the anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr…

The decision by al-Sadr to lower his force’s profile in Baghdad will likely cut violence in the city and allow American forces to show quick results from their beefed up presence. But it is also unlikely in the long term to change the balance of power here. Mahdi Army militiamen say that while they remain undercover now, they are simply waiting for the security plan to end.

They’ve moved their heavy weaponry out of Sadr City too, allegedly.

Update: According to the AP, Qanbar was Maliki’s second choice to lead the army in Baghdad. His first choice was torpedoed by the U.S.

Tags: White House