The politics of the "Surge"
Robert Haddick (Westhawk) has a remarkable article at Tech Central Station which examines the possible consequences of the "Surge" on Iraqi political unity and concludes that it may strengthen -- or completely shatter it. (Hat tip: Desert Rat) Haddick first addresses the question of whether America can be played like a violin to support the Shi'ite interests. But interestingly, there is more than one Shi'ite faction and the first thing they will squabble over is who will play the violin.
The American intention to simultaneously attack the Sunni extremists and al-Sadr's militia seems to favor Mr. al-Hakim. If the Americans (and Kurds) crush al-Sadr's organization, Prime Minister al-Maliki would seem to no longer have the support necessary to retain his office. The Americans have a replacement in mind: a moderate, cross-sectarian alliance of the Sunni Islamic Party, the Kurdish parties, and Mr. al-Hakim's SCIRI party. Mr. al-Maliki and al-Sadr have thus far convinced Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to refrain from blessing this arrangement on the principle that it would break up Shi'ite unity. It is ironic that the Americans may be determined to do with force what they cannot seem to accomplish through political negotiation and persuasion. ...
American pressure on Iraq's political situation will likely cause Shi'ite divisions, now in the background, to explode into the open. The U.S. army in Baghdad could find itself in the middle of not only the three-way civil war among Iraq's Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds. It could find itself among armed clashes between Shi'ite factions, as the British have observed in southern Iraq. The American "surge" campaign in Baghdad, rather than strengthening Iraq's central government, could instead shatter it. Is this what the U.S. intends? Probably not. But no one should be surprised if Mr. al-Hakim rises to power on the back of the U.S. army in Baghdad.
Whatever the US intends -- and it has probably made some sort of calculation -- what will result when the balls all carom off each other on the table may be altogether different. If the last four years in the Middle East hold any lesson it is that nothing can be safely predicted in the long term. Like any complex system, events on the ground can only be roughly estimated over the immediate future. But in fairness, the problem of blurred vision afflicted other parties too. Westhawk notes that the Sunnis kept betting on the wrong color; and they are now down to their underpants.
The Sunni insurgency is near its end. Far too late, the Sunnis now realize that only the Americans can protect them from the Shi'ite ethnic cleansing campaign. The Sunnis would like to be able to use the American army to protect them against the Shi'ite marauders. Amazingly, the Americans would like to help, as part of their goal of political reconciliation. But even the Americans can't help the Sunni Arabs now. The decentralized, cellular structure of the insurgency protected it, for a time, against American counterattacks. But now that cellular structure, without a central leadership, means there is no one in control and no one to talk to the Americans or the government to negotiate a truce.
Given the complex nature of Iraq and the Middle East in general, the real requirement of the surge is strategic clarity and operational agility. It requires a revolution in leadership as much as an increment in firepower. In the coming days, if Westhawk is right, America will face a series of tricky challenges; a sequence of questions -- all of which have to be answered correctly for the test to come out right. This puts a premium on clarity and decisiveness. The question is whether Washington has these attributes in any quantity.
(BTW the remark about a cellular structure being "without central leadership" with "no one in control" is one of the main reasons why WMDs in terrorist hands will be catastrophic for the Islamic World. I have argued elsewhere, principally in the Three Conjectures, that this development would not only probably compel a vastly disproportionate counterstrike against all the usual suspects, but in addition create the possibility of sectarian strife within militant groups of unimaginable destructiveness.)