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US Choices In Iraq Being Engulfed By Unforeseen War

File photo: An Iraqi Shiite insurgent.
by Mark N. Katz
Washington (UPI) Apr 03, 2006
Many observers believe that Iraq is about to be engulfed in a sectarian civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. Some think that this has already begun. If this civil war does indeed occur, it will present difficult choices for the United States.

If there is to be any hope of salvaging President Bush's plan for the democratization of Iraq, America must back the majority Shiites. This is because the victory of the minority Sunnis will necessarily result in a dictatorship since they cannot retain dominance democratically. The Shiites, though, could rule democratically if they choose to do so.

The U.S., of course, does not want a democracy which is a tyranny of the majority where minority rights are trampled on, and conflict continues. The U.S. wants a tolerant democracy, so lately it has been trying to reach out to the Sunni minority.

The problem with this, as the U.S. has discovered, is that Shiites unhappy with this can turn to Iran for support -- which would prefer to see a Shiite-dominated authoritarian regime like itself in Iraq, and not a democracy there which would inspire and perhaps even support Iran's own democratic opposition.

America, then, now finds itself in competition with Iran for influence among Iraqi Shiites. The more America does to reach out to the Sunnis, the more the Shiites are likely to turn to Iran.

America could, of course, abandon the Sunni minority and do everything it can to help the Shiites so that if they win the civil war, they will rule democratically and be pro-American, and not establish an Islamic republic and be pro-Iranian.

But if the U.S. does this, the Sunnis are likely to turn more and more to Sunni extremists such as Zarqawi.

Sunni-dominated authoritarian regimes in the Arab world may also help Iraqi Sunnis both to prevent Iranian-backed Shiites from gaining control of Iraq and threatening them, and to undercut the influence of Zarqawi and others linked to al Qaida.

One must not forget the Kurds either. They might well fear that no matter who wins a Sunni-Shiite war, the victor will then suppress them. The development of such a war, though, will give them the best chance possible of finally achieving independence -- de facto if not de jure.

If a full-fledged civil war does develop in Iraq that American forces cannot control, Congress and the next president (if not this one) may conclude that the most prudent, as well as politically popular, course of action would be for the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq. But if America leaves Iraq, a civil war could turn into a regional war if the Iranians intervene to help Iraqi Shiites, the Saudis facilitate the intervention of Egyptian and other Sunni-dominated Arab states to help Iraqi Sunnis, and the Turks intervene to suppress the Kurds. What is important to realize is that each of these interventions might occur not so much for offensive reasons, but because each of the intervening parties fears what might happen to it if its regional opponents become powerful in Iraq.

Obviously, the best thing America could do is to prevent a civil war from occurring and all these problems from arising. Many, though, believe that it is now too late to achieve this.

Considering that the U.S. has not been able to suppress Iraq's many armed movements, preventing not just these but entire communities determined to fight each other from doing so may well be impossible.

It appears that Pandora's Box has been well and truly opened in Iraq, and that there may no way to get the lid back on before the forces that have been unleashed destroy the box that once contained them all.

(Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University.)

Source: United Press International

Related Links

Drifting Towards Civil War In Iraq
Washington (UPI) Apr 03, 2006
Over the past week in Iraq, the same pattern that we noted in our last Benchmarks column has held: Not many U.S. troops have been killed there but an awful lot keep getting wounded. This pattern has now held for a considerable period of time -- at least seven weeks.

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