Sunday, December 03, 2006

Tilting Toward SOME of the Shia

Here are two excellent articles on the latest in Iraq War strategy: one from Robin Wright of the Washington Post, and another from Laura Rozen at American Prospect. I think the Laura Rozen piece is perhaps the best summary of the options under consideration by the administration.

I want to raise one question about the ‘tilting toward the Shia [plus Kurds]’ strategy. Wright said that “some insiders call the proposal the ’80 percent’ solution” because the Sunnis only number 20% of Iraq’s population. Wright’s article doesn’t mention the significant minority of Shia committed to Moktada al Sadr. Sadr controls 30 seats in the Iraqi 275 seat parliament and the support of these was necessary for al Maliki’s success in becoming Prime Minister. But many articles have recently made it clear that the ‘tilt’ strategy involves SPLITTING the Shia into al Maliki’s government plus followers of Abdel Aziz al Hakim’s Shia followers in SCIRI (Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq) on the one hand, and Sadr’s followers and his Mahdi Militia on the other. I’m not sure how to estimate Sadr’s following but Newsweek’s latest alarmist coverage of Sadr suggests he has wide support.

How would tilting toward SOME Shia actually work? Even if al Maliki and al Hakim’s groups could get together (and they have competed in the past), what would come of pitting some Shia against other Shia while the Sunni insurgency was free to roam? One of al Sadr’s consistent and central demands has been for the U.S. to withdraw; this demand is shared by “91 percent of Sunnis”. There was some temporary cooperation between Sunnis and Sadrists in the first battle over Falluja. Might Sadrists and Sunni insurgents not join against the U.S., at least temporarily?

Juan Cole recently wrote:
The al-Maliki government would be given "another chance" to crack down on Shiite militias such as the Mahdi Army and would be given greater freedom of movement in confronting them militarily. In other words, Bush is trying to set al-Maliki up for a confrontation with the Sadr Movement…. If Bush gets his way, we could see substantial Shiite on Shiite violence in the coming months, of which it is likely the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement will take advantage.
The notion that somehow siding with the al Maliki government plus al Hakim's SCIRI followers against Sadr and his Mahdi militia raises the question of what the actual likely consequences of such a tactic would be. It is important to think about this because I think it's clear from the recent US media bashing of al Sadr that something like this is afoot.

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