2004 August 29 Sunday
US Losing Control Of Iraqi Sunni Triangle Cities

John F. Burns and Erik Eckholm have written an excellent article on the failure of US strategy for controlling the Sunni triangle cities. (same article here)

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 28 - While American troops have been battling Islamic militants to an uncertain outcome in Najaf, the Shiite holy city, events in two Sunni Muslim cities that stand astride the crucial western approaches to Baghdad have moved significantly against American plans to build a secular democracy in Iraq.

Both of the cities, Falluja and Ramadi, and much of Anbar Province, are now controlled by fundamentalist militias, with American troops confined mainly to heavily protected forts on the desert's edge. What little influence the Americans have is asserted through wary forays in armored vehicles, and by laser-guided bombs that obliterate enemy safe houses identified by scouts who penetrate militant ranks. Even bombing raids appear to strengthen the fundamentalists, who blame the Americans for scores of civilian deaths.

When US troops pulled out of Fallujah Baathist generals were supposed to take over control of the city. But the Islamic fundamentalists have killed many of the Iraqi government officials and top officers The Baathists and scared the rest into cooperating with them. This is an important turn of events. If the ex-Baathists can not control a Sunni city then Iraq begins to look more and more like Afghanistan. Shiite fundamentalists battle for control in southern Shia cities while Sunni fundamentalists increase their control in the Sunni triangle.

It is hard to see how a central government can rule Iraq. Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is looking more and more like Afghan President Hamid Karzai whose own effective area of control doesn't extend much further than the outskirts of Kabul Afghanistan.

I've argued for partition of Iraq into Sunni Arab, Shia Arab, and Kurdish areas. Well, at this point de facto partition by regional militias appears to be well under way. The leaders who can motivate Iraqi soldiers to fight for them are regional, ethnic, and religious sect leaders. The central government is unable to motivate many people to really go to the mat for it.

Note that the Mahdi Army forms up, fights for a while, and then strikes a deal to end fighting for a while. By contrast, the Sunni fundamentalist fighters have been harder core. They have managed to maintain fairly continuous control over Fallujah and also are bolstered by a continuing influx of Sunni Jihadists (some of whom are notably reported to be Al Qaeda fighters) from the other Arab countries that are majority Sunni. The Arab Shiites, a distinct minority among all Arabs outside of Iraq, have not been able to draw on a larger body of co-religionists for support. Though no doubt Iranian agents are providing money, weapons, and other assistance.

If the Bush Administration had immediately put the old Iraqi Army in control of maintaining order after the invasion then the Iraqi Army might have been able to maintain its legitimacy in the eyes of many Iraqis. But the attempt to create a new Army makes it seem too much like a puppet of the United States rather than an independent entity with nationalistic legitimacy in its own right. The legitimacy now rests with the opponents of US occupation and with opponents of secular democracy.

At this point I am watching to see whether Sistani tries to build up his own Shia militia to oppose Sadr's Mahdi Army or whether Sistani might try to convert the Mahdis to obey him. As long as Sistani does not have his own military forces I think he's going to be in the position the Pope was in when Stalin famously remarked "How many divisions does the Pope have?" (and hundreds of years ago during some periods the Pope did command substantial military forces). Also, I'm watching to see if the Shia and Sunni militias start fighting each other. My guess is that if the US military was to pull back then the Shias and Sunnis might go at it. Perhaps if Kerry gets elected he will draw down US forces and let the Iraqis focus their fighting on each other.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 August 29 03:58 AM  Mideast Iraq

Tom West said at August 30, 2004 3:21 PM:

I don't think any American president can afford to allow the hundred's of thousands of deaths that would occur in the event of an Iraqi civil war. It would set American foreign policy back 50 years at a minimum (barring a massive change in American attitutes which allows for large scale death and destruction to advance American interests). American ability to intervene anywhere else such as North Korea, Iran or Syria will be lost for a generation. And given the proliferation of nuclear weapons, this may be an era in which the USA cannot afford to be sidelined.

There's (almsot) nobody left who believes that Iraq was a short-term security risk. If the efforts fail to produce a democratic state that influences the region, but instead leaves a humanitarian catastrophe, then pretty much any justification for intervention is lost.

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