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New Strategies For Iraq

Also, the continued U.S. support for Israeli military operations against the Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon has already played into the hands of the pro-Iranian forces in Shiite Iraq, led by Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Aug 08, 2006
How should U.S. policymakers respond to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq? Last week, hundreds of thousands of Shiite Muslims took to the streets in Baghdad chanting "Death to Israel" and Death to America." Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shiite Muslim cleric in Iraq has condemned Israeli military operations in southern Lebanon against the Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah, or Party of God, forces there.

Shiites in southern Lebanon have suffered the largest number of civilian casualties from Israeli air operations against Hezbollah, provoking strong anti-Israeli and anti-American sentiments throughout Iraq's 60-percent majority Shiite community.

All these events come after a five month period when Iraq's Shiite militias have inflicted casualties upon Sunni insurgents and innocent civilians alike on a scale far greater even than those the ruthless Sunni insurgents had previously been able to inflict.

These developments leave the 135,000 U.S. troops currently serving in Iraq in an exceptionally difficult situation. They were not numerous enough to prevent the Sunni insurgency wreaking havoc at will over the past three years, and on an ever-increasing scale. They certainly have not been able to deter or halt the far more numerous, better armed and better organized Shiite militias from going berserk over the past five months.

The New York Times Sunday noted that even the neo-conservative intellectuals who called most loudly for the United States to invade Iraq three and a half years ago now acknowledge that the war has gone catastrophically wrong.

"Those of us who still back the war are worried and alarmed," William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard and an early proponent of the invasion, told the New York Times. "We need to win the war, and if it's not going well, we need to change strategy."

The neo-conservative idea of a new strategy is simple: massively increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq. The New York Times article noted that David Frum, former speechwriter to President George W. Bush, argued this case in National Review Online last week.

But the Untied States simply does not have the additional troops needed to hold down Iraq in the face of full-scale guerrilla opposition not only by the Sunni insurgents but by the network of militant Shiite militias too.

Also, the continued U.S. support for Israeli military operations against the Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon has already played into the hands of the pro-Iranian forces in Shiite Iraq, led by Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army. Ironically, the more the Israelis can succeed in degrading Hezbollah's gigantic rocket arsenal and its threat to their northern towns and cities, the more they will increase the risk of a full-scale rising of Shiite militias against U.S. forces in Iraq.

Stabilizing the deteriorating situation in Iraq may already be beyond the resources of U.S. policymakers. As we have repeatedly noted in these columns, Iraq has been in a real state of civil war for the last five and a half months since the Feb. 22 Sunni bombing of the Shiite al-Askariya, or Golden Mosque, in Samara, provoked the furious Shiite response that has continued ever since.

The first thing the United States needs to do to try and defuse the most dangerous Shiite sentiments in Iraq is to move as quickly as possible to impose a cease-fire in Lebanon. Only when the killing stops there and the images of Shiite civilians being killed by Israeli aircraft and artillery is no longer being broadcast live on a daily basis by al-Jazeera and other Middle East television news networks will there be any hope of cooling the dangerously high anti-American emotions among Iraqi Shiites.

The second thing the U.S. Army in Iraq needs to do is study and apply as quickly as possible the British Army's political strategy for dealing with individual militia groups in Northern Ireland during the 30-year-long sectarian conflict there from 1968 to 1998. The U.S. Army would also benefit, as military analyst Willliam S. Lind of the Free Congress Foundation in Washington has suggested, of acquiring the services of veteran Los Angeles Police Department negotiators and intelligence analysts who have dealt over the years with the major ethnically based street gangs in Southern California. The U.S. military simply has no experience whatsoever of successfully keeping the peace in countries and cities splintered by sectarian civil war among rival militias and warlords. And it needs to acquire that expertise as fast as possible.

Third, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld needs to authorize his Pentagon military planners to give top priority to preparing detailed programs to supply current U.S. force levels in Iraq and, if necessary, far larger ones entirely by air. This could rapidly become necessary in the event of a widespread anti-American Shiite militia uprising against U.S. forces. It seems very likely that the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army and police would refuse to take any significant military action to prevent these militias from cutting off all the current land supply route from Kuwait and the Gulf.

Even taking all these actions combined will not come close to ending the civil war in Iraq, ending the killing there or preventing Iran from continuing to extend its influence there. But they would buy time, defuse tensions, and give U.S. policymakers the breathing space they need to review their extremely limited options.

Currently, pouring hundreds of thousands more U.S. troops into Iraq would only intensify anti-American sentiments among Shiites and Sunnis alike. It would even run the risk of getting them to temporarily bury their differences by joining to attack U.S. forces. That would not be an optimium solution for U.S. national interests.

Source: United Press International

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