Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Wheel of Fortune

An earlier post, Beggar They Neighbor discussed the perils and attractions of setting one ethnic group against the other, both in Iraq and generally. Jim Dunnigan at the Strategy Page coincidentally tackles this very subject.

The Iraqi solution is the traditional one; punish the entire Sunni Arab community. Since the Kurds and Shia now have far more men under arms than do the Sunni Arabs, this approach would result in a series of battles against Sunni Arab neighborhoods (in large cities) and towns (out in the countryside). These areas would be cut off from the outside world. Food, water and electricity would cut off as well. Surrender or die. Those who surrendered would be disarmed, taken to a border area, and forced out of the country. In some areas, there might be massacres as well. It's an Iraqi tradition that's hard to shake.

The other approach is less popular among most Iraqis, and it is the American one. This involves getting Sunni Arab leaders to tame the terrorists in their midst, and become law-abiding Iraqis. ...

Militarily, U.S. troops are unstoppable. But American military success is not what will bring victory in Iraq, it's the willingness of Iraqis to stop killing each other. Ultimate success is a quiet Iraq and American troops going home. But the Sunni Arabs have had a real hard time living with the idea that they are no longer in power. However, four years of getting hammered by U.S. and, increasingly, Iraqi, troops, has caused a very visible shift in attitudes. But it's difficult to predict if, by September, the vast majority of Sunni Arab communities will have gone over to the government.

Two things are being asserted here. The first is that Sunni ethnic activity has produced or abetted Shi'ite ethnic counter-activity (think the Samarra mosque bombing and the reaction that followed) and caused Sunni communities to be driven from their homes and otherwise seriously inconvenienced. The second is that this catastrophe may now be driving Sunni to control their ranks. But there is another implied, but hidden proposition: that the Shi'ites, having experienced success in ethnic cleansing can be restrained from pursuing it to its ultimate conclusion. Left to itself, the system will shake itself to pieces. The hope for a peaceful Iraq then lies in the existence of an oil shock buffer and damper in the US Armed Forces. Helluva way to run a railroad, but let's follow the argument to see where it leads.

Unfortunately, the US is not the only player on the battlefield. While the US is trying to dampen down ethnic conflict, Iran and Syria are probably trying to stoke it. As Marc Ruel Gerecht argued in the Weekly Standard:

An assumption of the Iraq Study Group was that the clerical regime wants stability next door in Iraq. Hence it might be willing to work with Americans. Yet Iran has benefited enormously from Iraqi instability. Traditional, moderate clerics like Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who have been willing to work with Americans, have been battered and bruised by the violence. The radical Moktada al-Sadr, a little-known and little-admired scion of a famous clerical family, skyrocketed to prominence because of the strife and thanks to critical Iranian aid to him. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its more radical military wing, the Badr Organization, has also benefited enormously from the violence. SCIRI is a key Iraqi player that has received substantial assistance from Tehran. What is particularly regrettable about SCIRI is that the bloodletting has made life more difficult for moderates within the organization. And the violence has made it harder for SCIRI to pull away from Iranian patronage.

Does Iran want to stop this process? Iraq's Arab Sunni community--detested by the Iranians--has been routed from much of Baghdad, badly bloodied, and put to flight by the hundreds of thousands. This is a bad thing in the eyes of Tehran? Where does Iran have the most influence in Iraq? In Basra, where Shiite-versus-Shiite violence is at its worst. This is not a coincidence. Tehran has benefited massively from Iraqi Shiite division and internecine strife. What the United States should expect from Iran is that it will continue to ship its deadly explosives to Iraq and, through violence, feed the radicalization of the Shiite community. Success through Hezbollah in civil-war-torn Lebanon is the model to remember. Until now, it's been Iran's only successful foray abroad. "Stability" in Iraq means only one thing to Tehran: an American success.

America slams on the brakes and Teheran steps on the gas. Helluva way to run a railroad right? Well not exactly. Because there is one other option. America can make trouble for Iran by stirring up its fractious minorities. Then Teheran will have to step on the brakes while America steps on the gas. Which brings us right back to the subject of Beggar They Neighbor.


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