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Anbar Fantasies Part 2

File image of US Marines deployed in Iraq's Anbar province in 2006. AFP Image
By Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) July 24, 2007
The latest burst of celebration by Washington hawks about recent U.S. military successes against al-Qaida in Iraq's Anbar province needs to be tempered by restraint and a sense of context. For while the successes are real, they are tactical and not strategic. They are taking place in only one of Iraq's 18 provinces. And the limited success the U.S. armed forces are having in winning cooperation from local Sunni Muslim tribal leaders in Anbar is being more than offset by the dangerous deterioration in U.S. relations with leaders of Iraq's 60 percent Shiite majority.

Most of all, armchair strategists and super-hawks in Congress and the U.S. media are celebrating as if the war in Iraq is only about defeating al-Qaida in Iraq. But al-Qaida is only one of several groups in the Sunni insurgency.

Anthony H. Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, pointed out this aspect of the problem a few weeks ago.

"The United States naturally focuses on al-Qaida because of 9/11 and the fact it poses a serious international threat," he wrote in a CSIS study. "So do some Iraqi leaders, but largely because it is easier for them, particularly if they are Shiite, to blame as many of Iraqi's problems on foreigners and Sunnis as possible.

"Al-Qaida's attacks do make up a highly effective 15 percent and probably do the most damage in pushing Iraq towards civil war," Cordesman wrote.

"However ... al-Qaida's activities must be kept in careful perspective," he continued. "The counter-insurgency campaign in Iraq may be overestimating the role of al-Qaida in Iraq, at the expense of understanding the true nature of the Sunni insurgency."

As we have often pointed out in these columns over the past two years, Bush administration policymakers have been so fixated with magnifying the importance of al-Qaida in the Iraq conflict that they have disastrously ignored other developments in the country and assumed that if al-Qaida can be defeated, the main source of instability in Iraq will be removed.

But, as we noted after the Feb. 22, 2006, bombing of the al-Askariya, or Golden Mosque, in Samara, Iraq has since the democratic elections of late 2005 fragmented into a splintered society where real power lies in the hands of local militias, both Shiite and Sunni Muslim.

Al-Qaida, by its extremism and savagery, made the mistake of alienating significant organized elements of Sunni Muslim society in Anbar province, and this gave local U.S. military commanders there the opportunity to forge tactical alliances with several of them. But these relationships will remain local and temporary in nature.

Also, it is striking that even while U.S. forces in Anbar have reported increasing success against al-Qaida groups there, the rates of killings and terrorist attacks have escalated in other Iraqi provinces and in Baghdad, where the main effort of President George W. Bush's "surge" strategy this year was centered.

Further, success, even of a limited and temporary nature, in Anbar cannot translate into improved relations with the Shiite militias that control most of Baghdad and all of southern Iraq, where the 60 percent Shiite majority in the country is largely located.

On the contrary, the more that U.S. spokesmen boast of improved relations with Sunni Muslim notables in Anbar, the more they will generate suspicion among the Shiite militias and within the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

And when U.S. pundits boast, as Charles Krauthammer did last week, of the United States turning to a "20 percent solution" in Iraq by embracing Sunni leaders in Anbar, they increase the danger that eventually the Shiite 60 percent majority in Iraq may turn on the same U.S. forces who empowered them, armed them and trained their organized armed forces over the past four years.

Such a transformation is far from inconceivable and could happen very quickly if the U.S. Air Force launches airstrikes to destroy the nuclear facilities of Shiite Iran.

In such a case, not only would the already anti-American Mahdi army of Moqtada Sadr possibly rise against U.S. forces, but other Shiite militias including those run by the powerful Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq could do so as well.

If that were to happen, the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army and police would certainly be no help to the embattled U.S. forces. It is quite possible that large elements of them, or even all of them, could join the militias in attacking the suddenly beleaguered and outnumbered U.S. forces as well.

Consideration of such very real dangers should restrain any premature boasting and confidence about the limited successes against al-Qaida groups that the U.S. military has enjoyed in Anbar.

Source: United Press International

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Pressure Mounts To Dump Iraq Back On UN
Washington (UPI) July 20, 2007
The solution to the conflict in Iraq is not the American military but reconciliation through the United Nations, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said this week. "There will be no military solution in Iraq; there cannot be a military solution. There must be a political reconciliation," the maverick Republican senator and Vietnam War veteran said in a speech in Washington Wednesday at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

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