But deliver us from evil
Westhawk goes directly to one of the key drivers of instability in Iraq. America's military success against the former rulers of Iraq has disrupted the very basis of its former stability. Sunni dominance. Westhawk quotes a Washington Post article which describes how the Sunni campaign to retain power has been slowly reduced to mere hope for survival.
The Washington Post’s story was based on a classified intelligence report prepared by Colonel Peter Devlin, USMC, a senior intelligence officer on the staff of II Marine Expeditionary Force, the headquarters in charge of coalition military operations in Anbar. Quoting the WaPo article:
The report describes Iraq's Sunni minority as "embroiled in a daily fight for survival," fearful of "pogroms" by the Shiite majority and increasingly dependent on al-Qaeda in Iraq as its only hope against growing Iranian dominance across the capital. True or not, the memo says, "from the Sunni perspective, their greatest fears have been realized: Iran controls Baghdad and Anbaris have been marginalized." Moreover, most Sunnis now believe it would be unwise to count on or help U.S. forces because they are seen as likely to leave the country before imposing stability.
The first and fatal miscalculation by the Sunnis was to think they could drive the US Armed Forces from Iraq, a gamble which they lost. Encouraged by the absence of a crushing campaign in northern Iraq, itself possibly caused by the absence of the 4ID from the OIF order of battle, and alienated by the American decision to "de-Baathize" Iraq, many former military Sunnis chose to continue resistance using guerilla tactics. By March, 2004 they were ready. The insurgent uprising of early 2004 that culminated in the abortive First Battle of Fallujah, which still saw the Shi'ites in as militarily inferiors. Moqtada al-Sadr's men were as yet limited to their bailiwicks and relatively weak. But doomed attempts to stand and fight against US forces eventually imposed crippling human and material losses on the Sunnis. The border with Syria was more closely patrolled. The US embarked on the what the Belmont Club called the River War to break up the logistical trail up and down the Euphrates. Sunni attempts to keep Mosul within the Sunni orbit also failed. But these were more than tactical defeats: they fatally undermined the strategic basis of Sunni power even as their ethnic rivals gained in strength.
The Sunni insurgency compounded its military failures by ruthlessly suppressing any attempts by their ethnic leaders to participate in political process sponsored by the Coalition and by murdering any Sunni who came forward to join the new Army and Police. The result was that Sunnis were underrepresented in both the Constitutional convention and in the elections of 2005. It was a double-whammy. Not only were Sunni military resources depleted, but they self-selected themselves out of the American sponsored Iraqi government. In my personal view, the Sunnis were encouraged along this path to disaster, not only by the mixed signals sent by the US, which alternately seemed to conciliate and confront them, but also by the coverage of the MSM which trumpeted the view that the Insurgency was growing more potent. Not only did the MSM penchant for listening to Sunni insurgent spokesmen undermine the US effort, it did even greater damage to the insurgents, who believed their own lies and reached for a brass ring fundamentally beyond their grasp.
What news stories missed until very recently was that the insurgent determination to fight increasingly sprang from despair rather than confidence in a Sunni restoration. The recent press release announcing the establishment of a rump Sunni "Caliphate" consisting largely of desert and absurd claims to oilfields beyond their grasp should have signalld how low their ambitions had fallen. But one person who understood how badly things stood for the Sunnis was Abu Musab Zarqawi. In the last months of his life, Zarqawi viewed with mounting alarm the American program to rebuild the Iraqi Army, largely from Kurds and Shi'ites -- since the Sunni insurgents did their level best to blow up any lines of Sunnis who applied for Iraqi Army or Police jobs -- and understood that unless he could drive America out of Iraq by other means all was lost. His solution was to unleash chaos upon everything. Whether or not Zarqawi was truly behind the attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra it suited his book. Zarqawi's only thought was to unleash Civil War to politically drive America from Iraq. It was the ultimate Scorched Earth tactic and one welcomed by neighboring countries eager to carve up what carcass would remain. What Zarqawi did not face, or could not face, is what would happen afterward.
Westhawk observes that American officers believe that "Iraq’s Sunni Arabs will continue to fight because they believe they face either extermination or banishment if they do not." With the Sunni military struggle essentially hopeless, efforts to redress the balance within the Iraqi political process arrived too late. The door had been barred by Shi'ite extremism fueled by Moqtada al-Sadr and separately, the agents of Iran. In a remarkable display of nonstatesmanship, the Shi'ite parties headed by Iraqi PM Maliki and goaded by al-Sadr proved less interested in building an Iraq than upon obtaining revenge upon their former masters. They failed to rein in their now powerful militias, increasingly able to harry the Sunnis at will. Then, having slammed two doors in their own faces: that of military victory and that of parliamentary viability, the Sunnis proceeded to bang yet another on their battered visage: the chance of protection under the Americans. After a sequence of failures, the gamble unleashed by Zarqawi ironically began to work all too well. The US electorate, disgusted by the internal slaughter, signalled in the mid-term elections of 2006 that it would consider withdrawal. And that, to the Sunnis spelled D-E-A-T-H. Without America to hold them back, the Shi'ite forces -- which the Sunni resistance and defeat ironically brought into ascendance -- would have no compunctions about slaughtering them. In the beginning the Shi'ite militias were only capable of attacking poor, isolated Sunnis. They are increasingly able to penetrate Sunni neighborhoods and to kidnap and kill former high-ranking Baathists. The Washington Post story continues and, caught in the need to project an American military defeat, completely ignores its own train of logic:
Between al-Qaeda's violence, Iran's influence and an expected U.S. drawdown, "the social and political situation has deteriorated to a point" that U.S. and Iraqi troops "are no longer capable of militarily defeating the insurgency in al-Anbar," the assessment found.
In an irony that must rank as one of the most curious in history, the insurgency in al-Anbar finds it must continue precisely because of the threat of a US drawdown. At the end of a sequence of blunders, Sunni strategists have managed to add yet one more. It is a continuation of a failed policy which begun with the Sunnis defying the US Armed Forces; that led to US Armed Forces building up a Shi'ite Army; that resulted in the crushing of Sunni strongholds. It continued in their absurd response to defeat: provoking civil unrest in an internal conflict they could not hope to win. That civil unrest has come within a handsbreadth of politically driving America from Iraq. And now they realize too late that an American withdrawal means their inevitable massacre in a war they are now too weak to win. The Sunnis find themselves, as Westhawk puts it, looking at a political "chasm" they cannot cross. And because they cannot cross, they fight, however pointless it may be. Westhawk understands that whatever the culpability of the Sunnis, unless they are helped to cross, the outcome will be slaughter in Iraq. Westhawk correctly reasons out what must be done:
Iraq has an unbridgeable divide. What can be done? Col. Devlin, the II MEF intelligence officer, had some ideas:
In a final section of the report, titled "Way Ahead," Devlin outlined several possibilities for bringing stability to the area, including establishing a Sunni state in Anbar, creating a local paramilitary force to protect Sunnis and to offset Iranian influence, shifting local budget controls, and strengthening a committed Iraqi police force that has "proven remarkably resilient in most areas."
Col. Devlin’s prescription implies the removal of the mostly Shi’ite Iraqi army from Anbar province. Tomorrow, President Bush and Prime Minister al-Maliki will meet in Amman, Jordan. Mr. Bush still dreams of a unified multi-sectarian Iraq, ruled by a strong central government. But what can the two leaders do, if anything, to get a bridge over the chasm to the Sunnis?
This situation is perfectly clear once it is realized that the Sunnis are beaten, and not as the MSM would have it, advancing from triumph to triumph. They are confusing the grim ferocity of despair with exalatation of triumph. They are not the same. What must be done now is give the Sunni population a modicum of the security and prosects that they have thrown away. Only by guaranteeing them the secure retreat guarded by a Sunni force is their any hope of teasing them back into a political process they have ceded on a platter to the Shias. But helping the Sunnis makes sense from the standpoint of US interests too. The Sunni blunders and American have upset the political ecology of Iraq. Only if the US is to save the Sunnis from their own blunders can some semblance of balance on the ground be restored, and by reflection in the political processes of Iraq.