[Marxism] The strategy behind the "surge"

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at videotron.ca
Thu Dec 21 07:00:52 MST 2006

The US ruling class is not only debating whether to send more US troops into
Iraq in a final effort to secure Baghdad, but whether to aim at the Shia
Sadrists or the Sunni insurgents. On the one hand, US planners are concerned
that a blow against the Sadr forces would provoke an open revolt by the Shia
masses against US forces; on the other, that a strike against the Sunnis
would undermine its client regimes in the neighbouring Sunni states.

The likelihood is that US and Shia-led Iraqi government forces will first
try to clear the Sunni neighbourhoods before turning on the Medhi army - the
assumption being that the Shia residents of Sadr City would be less likely
to defend the Sadrists, now seen as their main line of defence against the
Sunni militias, if the threat from the latter were removed. This seems clear
from the strategy advocated below by Reuel Marc Gerecht of the influential
neocon American Enterprise Institute in today's New York Times.

It's equally apparent that, alongside the military preparations, the US is
manuvering diplomatically to coalesce a broad array of regional forces
behind this strategy - one aimed at isolating and destroying the Iraqi
militias and, beyond them, of disarming the Hezbollah and Hamas. This has
not only involved the mobilization of its own camp followers in Saudi
Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel but less-publicized
back channel peace feelers accompanied by promises of concessions to Syria
and Iran by the Baker group, the British government, and US politicians and

This is the "regional settlement" which is being contemplated, and these
moves are almost certainly being coordinated with the Bush administration,
despite the appearance the administration is giving for political reasons of
being opposed to the Baker group and its policy of "engagement" with the
Iranians and Syrians.
In Iraq, Let’s Fight One War at a Time
Op-Ed Contributor
New York Times
December 21, 2006

ONCE again American officials are growing dissatisfied with an Iraqi
government. In Baghdad and in Washington, officials privately and the press
publicly suggest that the Bush administration would prefer that Prime
Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki fell, and that Adil Abdul Mahdi, a
French-educated economist who is a vice president, would replace him. Mr.
Maliki is politically too dependent, the reasoning goes, on the young Shiite
militia leader Moktada al-Sadr, a scion of a prestigious clerical family and
the boss of a pivotal bloc of votes in Iraq’s Parliament.

Mr. Mahdi may look like a good bet for Washington. He is a far more amiable
gentleman than Mr. Maliki, and doesn’t appear to be emotionally distressed
when he is in the company of Americans. His group, the Supreme Council for
the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was created in exile in Iran; its militia,
the Badr Organization, has never had a serious clash with the United States
military and is less prominent in the sectarian strife than Mr. Sadr’s
followers, the Mahdi Army. In addition, the Supreme Council’s top man, Abdul
Aziz al-Hakim, has long dealt directly and pleasantly with American

Since President Bush is now immersed in a top-to-bottom Iraq review, in
which a substantial surge of American soldiers into Baghdad seems ever more
likely and the Army is again seriously considering directly confronting Mr.
Sadr, the appeal of Mr. Mahdi and the Supreme Council may grow in Washington
and Baghdad.

If so, the administration should nip in the bud such inclinations. Changing
the Shiite parts of the Iraqi government and quickly taking on Mr. Sadr
would do nothing to end the Sunni insurgency and the holy war of foreign
jihadists against the new Iraq.

Indeed, such a tack would not likely diminish the appeal or the power of the
Mahdi Army, which is largely made up of poor, radicalized young men whose
families were brutalized by Saddam Hussein and have been savaged by Sunni
Arab fighters since the fall of 2003.

Nor would changing prime ministers and confronting Mr. Sadr’s militia
advance the cause of reconciliation among the Sunni and Shiite Arabs and
Kurds, allow the Iraqi government to operate more effectively, or let
American troops leave Mesopotamia one day sooner.

In fact, attacking Mr. Sadr now and elevating the Supreme Council is likely
to accomplish the exact opposite of what we want. And it shouldn’t be that
hard to see why: the sine qua non for peace in Iraq, and for a democratic
future for the country, has always been unity among the Shiites. Any violent
struggle between the Mahdi Army and Supreme Council could provoke anarchy
throughout the entire Arab Shiite zone, including Iraq’s holy cities and the
oil-rich south. As bad as things seem now, such Shiite strife could
impoverish all of Arab Iraq, dropping the non-Kurdish regions to an
Afghan-like subsistence level.

In such a situation, we would likely see the hyper-radicalization of the
Shiites, who have already become more militant owing to the tenacity and
barbarism of the Sunni insurgency. In addition, whatever fraternal and
nationalist bonds remain among moderate Sunni and Shiite Arabs would
probably disappear in a Shiite-versus-Shiite bloodbath.

We would do well not to underestimate how these age-old familial and
national ties and sympathies still diminish the sectarian strife. A
genocidal Shiite-versus-Sunni conflict in Iraq — a real possibility — would
be much more likely after an intra-Shiite war that destroys the traditional
social and religious hierarchy that has remained vastly stronger among the
Shiites than among Sunni Arabs since the American invasion.

Yes, the forces of the Supreme Council might be able to beat Mr. Sadr’s
militia, the Mahdi Army. Trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, the
Badr Organization is a serious army that might handle Mr. Sadr’s more
numerous and passionate supporters. The mullahs in Tehran, who have aided
both Mr. Sadr and Mr. Hakim, would probably throw their support to the
latter’s Supreme Council in the event of all-out war. Such a confrontation,
beyond wrecking Iraq politically, would probably allow the worst elements in
the Supreme Council — those who envision a religious dictatorship along the
lines of Iran — to become more powerful within the party.

And an American assault on Sadr City, the impoverished Baghdad stronghold of
the Mahdi Army, would be militarily and politically counterproductive if
undertaken before the United States launches a serious new counterinsurgency
against the Sunnis.

Even with a substantial surge of soldiers along the lines recommended by
Jack Keane, a retired four-star general, and the military historian
Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute — approximately 35,000
more combat troops — the United States still wouldn’t have enough forces to
fight a two-front war against the Sunnis and the Shiites, as it briefly did
in 2004.

In Iraq, the United States is much weaker than in 2004. So is Grand
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the moderate bulwark of the Shiite establishment —
so the tentative support he gave yesterday for a plan to isolate Mr. Sadr
should be taken with a grain of salt. Because of the nonstop insurgency,
Shiite politics are fragile. We absolutely cannot afford to have an American
effort to pacify Baghdad be seen as a “pro-Sunni” military assault on the
capital’s densely populated Shiite ghetto.

If the administration first focuses militarily on the Sunni insurgency, as
called for in the Keane-Kagan plan — and the press indicates Mr. Bush is
taking the two men very seriously — the United States and the Iraqi
government would be better able to diminish sectarian violence. With more
troops, we can clear and hold Sunni areas in Baghdad and thereby prevent
Shiite militias from streaming out of Sadr City to attack defenseless

Shiite militias are clever predators. They fear American power — the
confrontation in Najaf in 2004, during which thousands from the Mahdi Army
perished, taught them about the destructive capacity of the American
military. If the Americans leave sufficient forces in cleared Sunni areas,
they will stay away. But if we pass the holding part of counterinsurgency
campaigns to ill-equipped units of the Iraqi Army and to the Iraqi police,
who often aid Shiite militias, they will pounce.

Only after Baghdad’s Sunni neighborhoods are fully secured can the Americans
turn their attention to the Shiite quarters, ensuring that American and
reliable Iraqi forces control the streets and municipal facilities necessary
to sustain city life. We may eventually have to confront militarily the
Mahdi forces inside Sadr City, but we want to do this only as the last step
in counterinsurgency operations in the capital.

Mr. Sadr and his radicalized followers — temperamentally, they are as much
children of Saddam Hussein as are the savage Sunnis who glorify the murder
of Americans and Shiite civilians — are unlikely to become peaceful players
in Iraqi politics. But Mr. Sadr’s reputation can be reduced and his charisma
countered if ordinary Shiites have more moderate alternatives, backed by
American power, who can protect them from insurgency-loving Sunnis and
death-squad Shiites.

It’s unclear how Prime Minister Maliki will react to any American effort to
diminish Mr. Sadr. His party, Islamic Dawa, is a bundle of mostly militant
contradictions. In the end, President Bush may have to ignore the prime
minister if the latter sides with Mr. Sadr.

And some Shiites, and perhaps most Sunnis, may threaten to walk out of Iraq’s
government and forsake reconciliation talks if the Americans get serious
about pacifying Baghdad and the insurgency elsewhere. Let them. If the city’s
and country’s Shiites, who represent about 65 percent of Iraq’s population,
see that the Americans are committed to countering the insurgency, any
protest from Mr. Maliki or call to arms by Mr. Sadr will have increasingly
less power.

No, it won’t be easy — but with American and Iraqi troops all over Baghdad
and daily life returning to some normality, the situation will certainly be
more manageable than what we confront now. The politics of peaceful Shiite
consensus, which is what Grand Ayatollah Sistani has tried to advance since
2003, could again rapidly gain ground.

No progress can be made in Iraq, however, if the Sunni Arabs, who have
regrettably embraced the insurgency and holy war in large numbers, are
allowed politically to check counterinsurgency operations.

The key for America is the same as it has been for years: to clear and hold
the Sunni areas of Baghdad and the so-called Sunni triangle to the north.
There will probably be no political solution among the Iraqi factions to
save American troops from the bulk of this task. The sooner we start in
Baghdad, the better the odds are that the radicalization of the Iraqi
Shiites can be halted. As long as this community doesn’t explode into total
militia war, Iraq is not lost, and neither is Mr. Bush’s presidency.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, is a
resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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