May 1, 2006
One of the little-noticed positive signs from Iraq lately was the agreement by the newly convened parliament to designate Nuri Kamil al-Maliki as prime minister. This represented a breakthrough for the cause of pluralism, a sign that the Shiite majority which makes up the "United Iraqi Alliance" recognizes that they must respect the Sunnis, in spite of the fact that many Sunnis sympathize with the terrorists. P.M. al-Maliki had been using a the first-name alias "Jawad" ever since he became an exiled victim of political persecution under Saddam Hussein, but he will use his real name from now on.
Secretaries Rice and Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Iraq last week, a high-profile show of support for the fledgling democratic regime in Baghdad. Today they briefed President Bush, who expressed firm U.S. support for the new government. One of their main concerns they conveyed to P.M. al-Maliki was the imperative of "establishing control over militias and other unauthorized armed groups..." See defenselink.mil. The previous likely P.M., Ibrahim Jaafari Ashayqar, was considered too soft on the (often fanatical) militia forces that are undermining central authority in Baghdad.
The Pentagon is considering reducing U.S. troop levels in Iraq from about 130,000 now to under 100,000 by the end of the year. That would correspond to a redeployment of five combat brigades back to the continental United States, leaving only ten brigades in Iraq. Of course, much depends on how well Iraqi army and police units perform. At the peak in December, providing extra security for the elections, 160,000 U.S. service men and women were in Iraq. See CNN.com. So far, so good, but let's wait and see who will try to take credit for this (probable) redeployment as the November elections approach.
Sixty five Americans died in Iraq last month, the first month-to-month increase since last October. The total number of American military fatalities in that conflict now stands at 2,379.
Note that the table of fatalities in past wars, and the list of military books, have been moved from the bottom of the War blog page to the new War introduction page, which also has background text that used to be on the Military forces page.