[Marxism] Unleash the Shiites?

Louis Proyect 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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