2007 November 25 Sunday
Will Violence In Iraq Go Up After Surge?

A New York Times piece reports that the Bush Administration has had to lower its expectations about political progress in Iraq aimed at reconciling the major factions.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 — With American military successes outpacing political gains in Iraq, the Bush administration has lowered its expectation of quickly achieving major steps toward unifying the country, including passage of a long-stymied plan to share oil revenues and holding regional elections.

These factions don't want to be reconciled. The Shias don't want to give anything to the Sunnis. The Sunnis don't want to submit to majority rule because majority rule is Shiite rule. The Kurds just want to run their semi-seceded zone as an unofficial Kurdish republic.

Keep in mind: The democratization faith is irrational. Democracy is not a universal balm. Sometimes groups have irreconcilable differences. They can either divorce or one faction can brutalize the other faction into submission. Sometimes dialog is not the road to a happy ending.

The Shiites feel less need to bow to American pressure because of security improvements. I bet the Shiite leaders feel they can simply rule as elected rulers of the majority since the Sunnis are looking defanged.

There have been signs that American influence over Iraqi politics is dwindling after the recent improvements in security — which remain incomplete, as shown by a deadly bombing Friday in Baghdad. While Bush officials once said they aimed to secure “reconciliation” among Iraq’s deeply divided religious, ethnic and sectarian groups, some officials now refer to their goal as “accommodation.”

"Accommodation". I think that's a code word for partial but unofficial partition.

Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post, who has spent a lot of time in Iraq and even wrote a book about it, says the Sunnis and Shias might just be holding back until US troop levels go down.

Kingston, Ontario: Mr. Ricks: Here's a two-part question. Do you think that the success in reducing violence in Iraq is because of a decisive breakthrough against the insurgency, or are the insurgents just biding their time? And do you have the sense that the Americans have any control at all over the political process in Iraq, or are the Iraqi factions just pursuing their own strategies? Thanks.

Thomas E. Ricks: Well, that's the big question. Are the warring sides standing down until Uncle Sam gets out of the way?

The Sunnis have largely stopped fighting while they seek to cut a deal to get a place at the table in post-Saddam Iraq. And the Shiites have stopped fighting the Americans for at least six months, they say -- and why not? With the Sunnis standing down, Uncle Sam would be focusing all his firepower on the Shiites.

But what if the Sunnis get sick of waiting? And what happens when U.S. forces start declining in number next year?

Ricks observes that the current level of violence only looks good because it is compared to what came immediately before the surge. We are currently at a level of violence similar to the 2005 period and that was considered pretty bad at the time. It is like oil prices. If oil goes back down to $70 per barrel some will point to that price and argue that worries about oil demand outstripping supply are unfounded. I guess we should have let Iraq get far worse before surging so that the amount of improvement possible could have been much larger.

Ricks also reports that US commanders in Iraq see the Shiite leaders as the biggest threat to the goals that the US wants to achieve in Iraq.

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq -- Senior military commanders here now portray the intransigence of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than al-Qaeda terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias.

In more than a dozen interviews, U.S. military officials expressed growing concern over the Iraqi government's failure to capitalize on sharp declines in attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. A window of opportunity has opened for the government to reach out to its former foes, said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq, but "it's unclear how long that window is going to be open."

Suppose the US unsurges in mid 2008 and the level of violence goes back up again. Then what is the point of staying? I think we should have left a few years ago. I can think of far more useful ways to spend a few billion dollars a week that don't even cost hundreds or thousands of American lives and which don't leave tens of thousans of others with permanent damage to mind or body.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 November 25 10:11 PM  Mideast Iraq Ethnic Conflict

Wolf-Dog said at November 26, 2007 2:22 AM:

Some of the main original purposes of the invasion of Iraq were
1) To prevent Iran from dominating the region,
2) And also to prevent Islamic extremism to gain control of Saudi Arabia.

After the US pulls out of Iraq, both 1) and 2) above will become important issues again.

Another point: During the Viet Nam war, apparently the U.S. Army was warning the government that without plenty of oil, it was impossible to continue that war. Thus if the U.S. loses the Saudi Arabian oil, then both economically and militarily there will be a very vulnerable era for the United States. At that time, it is conceivable that the U.S. military will force the government to legislate and allocate most of the remaining oil fields in the United States in order to be given to the military.

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