Friday, November 17, 2006

Best Friends Forever

Swopa (Laura, Spencer, Kevin, et al) adds a wrinkle to the potential for Iran and the US to find common cause in Iraq going forward (discussed in my prior post): Namely, that the US may be preparing to back Iran's favored Shiites in a joint attempt to once and for all neutralize the Sunni insurgent groups. (As an aside, I imagine this would render any potential deal with Syria dead on arrival, as it could not justify cooperating with such a plan, or otherwise crack down on its Sunni population's participation in the conflict.)

This development would, of course, have the potential to kill Osama via a crushing overload of joy. Keep in mind that Osama is trying to harness the force of a civilizational conflict between the Muslim world and the West in order to destabilize the "corrupt, apostate" Sunni regimes in the region and replace them with pure, Salafist regimes ala the Taliban. Osama hopes to radicalize the Sunni population, rally them to his cause, and spearhead a region-wide series of revolutions that would result in a unified caliphate stretching from Southeast Asia to Southwestern Europe.

If the speculation cited by Swopa, et al, pans out, Osama would be afforded imagery and accounts of an all out, no holds barred Shiite/US alliance vanquishing a once-dominant Sunni population. The scenes of death and destruction would be graphic. The blame would shift to the Sunni regimes with friendly ties to the US. The narrative would be compelling. A true propagandist's coup, making the Christmas gift of the Iraq invasion itself appear a mere stocking stuffer.

It would set the passions of neighboring Sunni populations ablaze with ferocity. There would be little chance to contain the sectarian conflict within Iraq's borders. A larger regional war would likely catch a fire, with all its destabilizing permutations. Al-Hayat (via the Badger) suggests that there are nascent signs already:

With the rise in the ferocity of separation, particularly in Baghdad, which has witnessed in the recent period of time campaigns of Shiite-Sunni separation (in particular neighborhoods respectively), the head of the Iraqi Accord Front [Sunni; 44 seats in parliament], Adnan Dulaimi, in a speech he delivered in Amman on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, called on the Sunni people to rescue Iraq from the Persian incursion, before Baghdad becomes a Safavid city.

It's one thing to try in vain to tamp a sectarian war as it rages, it's another entirely to pick sides without reservation - deploying our full arsenal in support of one faction. We've flirted with this in the past, and in some ways our posture now resembles such a role, but in other crucial ways, the Sunni population views us as a bulwark between them and the Shiite militias. We will have abandoned all semblance of neutrality.

The most compelling argument for maintaining a troop presence in Iraq is our ability to prevent the widening of the conflict. This would serve the opposite purpose. We would be better served by getting out now.

Swopa mentioned something else, though, that reminded me of some speculation on my part back in early October about the subterranean movement toward an alliance between Maliki (and his Dawa party) and Hakim (SCIRI) in their effort to contain and neuter firebrand upstart Moqtada al-Sadr. Said Swopa:

Just to be clear, the shape of the deal seems to be this: The U.S., Iran, and the Shiite-led government in Iraq all recognize that the situation there is dire, and there's not much room for playing games any more. In exchange for at least a nominal diminishing of gangster-cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's power (perhaps by taking away some of his faction's ministries), the U.S. will send more troops to try to contain violence in Baghdad -- even if this means boosting the clout of the SCIRI party (which is just as brutally theocratic and even more explicitly backed by Iran than Sadr's Mahdi Army, but which the U.S. has oddly seen as being more amenable to cutting deals).

It'll be interesting to see how "nominal" the diminishing of Sadr ends up being if this route is taken. I think it's plausible to speculate that Sadr could end up being the sacrificial lamb, or the fig leaf maintained by the US in its attempt to preserve the illusion of even-handedness in the impending sectarian conflict. If Iran signs on to the plan to marginalize Sadr, which already has willing participants in the US, SCIRI and probably Maliki, Sadr will have a tough time withstanding the weight of that alliance.

Perhaps the above "alliance" is why Dennis Ross and Vali Nasr appear so confident that the Bush administration will open negotiations with Iran.

While I favor negotiations with Iran with respect to Iraq, and other regional concerns, forging a common bond with Iran around the subject of targeting Iraq's Sunni population would make even the cold shoulder approach more attractive.

We will, in effect, become yet one more of Iran's proxies in Iraq (to the extent we aren't already) - unleashing the exact worst case scenario that justifies our continued presence.

That's one marriage of convenience that I'd just as soon see never consummated.

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