[Marxism] Unleash the Shiites?
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 20 12:38:55 MST 2006
Unleash the Shiites?
The U.S. may be forced to choose sides in Iraq's civil strife.
By Laura Rozen
LAURA ROZEN, a senior correspondent for the American Prospect, writes about
foreign policy issues from Washington.
November 16, 2006
AS SECTARIAN violence rises in Iraq and the White House comes under
increasing pressure to revamp its strategy there, a debate is emerging
inside the Bush administration: Should the U.S. abandon its efforts to act
as a neutral referee in the ongoing civil war and, instead, throw its lot
in with the Shiites?
A U.S. tilt toward the Shiites is a risky strategy, one that could further
alienate Iraq's Sunni neighbors and that could backfire by driving its
Sunni population into common cause with foreign jihadists and Al Qaeda
cells. But elements of the administration, including some members of the
intelligence community, believe that such a tilt could lead to stability
more quickly than the current policy of trying to police the ongoing
sectarian conflict evenhandedly, with little success and at great cost.
This past Veterans Day weekend, according to my sources, almost the entire
Bush national security team gathered for an unpublicized two-day meeting.
The topic: Iraq. The purpose of the meeting was to come up with a consensus
position on a new path forward. Among those attending were President Bush,
Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, national
security advisor Stephen Hadley, outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H.
Rumsfeld and National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.
Numerous policy options were put forward at the meeting, which revolved
around a strategy paper prepared by Hadley and drawn from his recent trip
to Baghdad. One was the Shiite option. Participants were asked to consider
whether the U.S. could really afford to keep fighting both the Sunni
insurgency and Shiite militias or whether it should instead focus its
efforts on combating the Sunni insurgency exclusively, and even help
empower the Shiites against the Sunnis.
To do so would be a reversal of Washington's strategy over the last two
years of trying to coax the Sunnis into the political process, an effort
led by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad. It also would discount
some U.S. military commanders' concerns that the Al Mahdi army, a Shiite
militia loyal to the radical cleric Muqtada Sadr, poses as great a threat
to American interests as that presented by the Sunni insurgency centered in
western Iraq's Al Anbar province.
So what's the logic behind the idea of "unleashing the Shiites"? It's the
path of least resistance, according to its supporters, and it could help
accelerate one side actually winning Iraq's sectarian conflict, thereby
shortening the conflict, while reducing some of the critical security
concerns driving Shiites to mobilize their own militias in the first place.
"As an alternative Plan B, it has the virtue of possibly being more
militarily effective," said Thomas Donnelly, a military expert at the
Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"When you are trying to police [a civil war], all you can do is contain
it," said Monica Toft, a professor specializing in ethnic conflict at
Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. "Whereas if
you're backing one side, there are not as many variables to control."
But such a strategy brings with it significant dangers. Washington might
pick the wrong leaders on the side it chooses to back. Should it, for
instance, continue to back Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri Maliki, or
tilt in favor of his Shiite rival, Abdelaziz Hakim, and his party, the
Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq? Either choice could lead to
more intra-Shiite infighting and violence.
Or the strategy could drive Iraq's Sunni tribes to align themselves more
closely with Al Qaeda. And it seems certain to further alienate Iraq's
Sunni neighbors and erstwhile U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and
Jordan while strengthening Iran's hand in Iraq.
Among the risks of an unleash-the-Shiites strategy is that if it were
adopted, the White House would be unlikely to publicly acknowledge that
such a choice had been made. Like so much else that has contributed to the
U.S. difficulties in Iraq, it would be a decision taken in the dark,
outside the realm of public debate.
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