debkafile: Iran, Syria, the Iraqi insurgents, Shiite militias and al Qaeda on the move as Bush ponders next step in Iraq

Our Middle East sources report that all these elements are using the hiatus in Washington to snatch the initiative on Iraq and other regional issues. In Jakarta, President George W. Bush said Monday, Nov. 20, “I haven’t made any decisions about troop increases or troop decreases.” Before day’s end, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad summoned the Iraqi and Syrian presidents to a weekend summit, a gesture to demonstrate that Tehran rather than Washington is now making the rules for progress in the Iraq crisis.
Bush’s let-everyone-wait stance was reflected in the way high Pentagon officials speaking to the Washington Post talked about Gen. Peter Pace, head of the joint chiefs of staff, and the commission of 16 high US officers who served in Iraq or the Persian Gulf he appointed to examine three options: injecting more troops into Iraq, shrinking the force but staying longer or pulling out.
The panel was asked to say what is going right or wrong with the war and elaborate on options for progress. Gen. Pace plans to draw on these ideas for his thoughts and recommendations to the secretary of defense and the president, a process which is still immature.
For their part, generals on the spot, Maj.Gen William B. Caldwell, spokesman for the US military in Iraq who usually speaks for the war commander Gen. John Abizaid and general George Casey, US commander in Iraq, have said that adding more U.S. forces would “achieve a short-term solution, but it`s not going to achieve a long-term effect. … The key to this thing is we have got to get the Iraqi security forces able to operate in an independent manner, on their own.“
On Monday, Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, pushed anew for the military draft to be reinstated.
There have been indications that the special Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, will recommend a broader role in the region for Syria and Iran. The Iraq Study Group is likewise in no hurry to issue its report.
Reporting from the Middle East, debkafile notes that none of Iraq’s neighbors are hanging about waiting for a US decision. They are making waves as though American and British troop withdrawals from Iraq are already in sight. By the time the Bush administration picks an option, the Middle East will have moved on, rendering the recommendations from the various US panels irrelevant.
Some steps already in motion are:
1. Ahead of the Tehran summit this coming weekend, Syria and Iraq have agreed to restore diplomatic relations.
2. The Sunnis and Shiites are locked in battle over the domination of Baghdad, both camps gathering in all their manpower and resources from inside and outside Iraq.
3. The US military and Iraqi army are playing no part in this battle royal. They are operating on the fringes of the main combat sectors and stepping in only when their own security zones are threatened. In other words, large sections of the Iraqi capital have slipped out of the control of the Americans and the al Maliki government. This situation prevails also in other main cities.
4. It means in a nutshell that time has run out for building and training a competent Iraqi army capable of operating on its own to bolster central government, defend it and fight Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda.
5. The faint hope of driving a wedge between Tehran and Damascus – on the basis of the former’s backing for Iraq’s Shiites and the latter’s for its Sunnis – has likewise gone up in smoke. The Syrian and Iranian governments are now fully synchronized and equally determined to keep the US-British alliance from attaining any sort of success in Iraq.
6. Their collaboration against the US extends to other parts of the Middle East. In Lebanon, they have activated their pawn, Hizballah, to topple the pro-US anti-Syrian government headed by Fouad Siniora. In the Palestinian areas, Iran and Syria are pumping in hundreds of military instructors and tens of tons of explosives, missiles and cash to dethrone Mahmoud Abbas and demolish his Palestinian Authority. By escalating their missile attacks, Hamas and its radical partners are bent on forcing Israel to launch a full-blown war on the Lebanon War model to crush their strengthened terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.
Iran and Syria are therefore in full flight keeping the different Middle East pots on the boil and the pro-Western governments in jeopardy.

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