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The Collective
Monday, January 15, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Fareed Zakaria provides a serious point of concern regarding the “surge” policy and possible Shia-Sunni politics in its aftermath(Even If We ‘Win’, We Lose):

Joint operations against Shiite militias are far less likely, and not only because of political interference from the top. Groups like Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army don’t generally start fire fights with the Americans or attack Iraqi forces. Their goals are different, quieter. Another U.S. adviser, Maj. Mark Brady, confirms reports that the Mahdi Army has been continuing to systematically take over Sunni neighborhoods, killing, terrorizing and forcing people out of their homes. “They’re slowly moving across the river,” he told Hastings, from predominantly Shiite eastern Baghdad into the predominantly Sunni west. If the 20,000 additional American troops being sent to the Iraqi capital focus primarily on Sunni insurgents, there’s a chance the Shiite militias might get bolder. Colonel Duke puts it bluntly: “[The Mahdi Army] is sitting on the 50-yard line eating popcorn, watching us do their work for them.”

So what will happen if Bush’s new plan “succeeds” militarily over the next six months? Sunnis will become more insecure as their militias are dismantled. Shiite militias will lower their profile on the streets and remain as they are now, ensconced within the Iraqi Army and police. That will surely make Sunnis less likely to support the new Iraq. Shiite political leaders, on the other hand, will be emboldened. They refused to make any compromises—on federalism, de-Baathification, oil revenues and jobs—in 2003 when the United States was dominant, in 2005 when the insurgency was raging, and in 2006 when they took over the reins of government fully. Why would they do so as they gain the upper hand militarily?

In other words, if during this fight the Madhi army lays low while the joint US-Iraqi force takes on the Sunni militias, are we not therefore actually aiding in the further degradation of Sunni power while bolstering the Shia (and Sadr himself)? More disturbingly, will we ultimately be helping to purge Baghdad neighborhoods of Sunnis in general? While the policy will obviously not target civilians, if Sunni civilians feel insecure with the removal of their militias while the Shia retain theirs, the logical consequence of that action is for the Sunni civilians to flee Baghdad.

While the US goals will be to confront violent actors and to secure neighborhoods, there can only be confrontations if militias engage the military or otherwise engage in overt activity. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Shia militias have connections to the Iraqi police and military. So the idea that the Shia militias will survive the “surge” is quite likely.

Further, there are reasons to doubt Maliki’s intentions-not only has he needed Sadr politically and has made it difficult for US forces to combat the Mahdi army, he also just removed a Sunni general who would have overseen the Iraqi side of the surge with a Shiite. The Sunni general in question was seen as fair regarding the pursuit of militants regardless of sect. Whether this is true of the new general is unclear. The symbolism of the move is disturbing, however.

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Filed under: General, Iraq | |


  1. Even if the surge or whatever works ends most of the civil war, there will always be a Sunni insurgency against the Shiite-dominated government. Why can’t they just get along! It’s so frustrating. All over the world people along well enough that there’s no civil war…

    Comment by Simmons — Monday, January 15, 2007 @ 9:56 am

  2. […] Also, details in this story fortify issues raised in my earlier post: “We are implementing a strategy to embolden a government that is actually part of the problem,” said an American military official in Baghdad involved in talks over the plan. “We are being played like a pawn.” […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Disagreement Between US and Iraq over “Surge” Plans? — Monday, January 15, 2007 @ 12:38 pm

  3. Implication? I think it’s bigger than that. Letting Sadr and company deal with the nest of mad bombers is front and center in the current model. I think the whole idea behind the ’surge’ is to quiet things enough to give a graceful exit. Then the Shiites (including the Mahdi gents) can deal with matters in their own way.

    Iraq, especially Baghdad, isn’t a place that can be dealt with using Robert’s Rules of Combat that the US is under. It’s best dealt with using tactics that don’t flow well when recounted before congressional panels. Torture, disappearances, death squads, intimidation of families, and other fun and games will be necessary to get things back under control. Not something we can do easily, but clearly a sport the Mahdi Army excels at.

    Comment by Buckland — Monday, January 15, 2007 @ 9:40 pm

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