March 07, 2006

The Specter of Growing US-Shi'a Tension?

As the US increasingly (and rightly) engages in quasi-affirmative action programs for Arab Sunni Iraq police units and the like--it is not hard to sense the trend I cautioned about months ago continue to accelerate--namely, a (very relative) rapprochment between the U.S. and Sunni, and a growing chill/ distancing between the US and Shi'a. Analogize, say, to the Kosovo situation. When the Kosovars (Shi'a) were liberated, they were ecstatic/grateful to their NATO liberators (US Army). When NATO then had to focus more on protecting a Serbian (Sunni) minority increasingly being persecuted by revanchist majoritarian Kosovars (Shi'a militias), the Kosovars/Shi'a quickly turned into something of ingrates, growing increasingly hostile towards foreign forces that had so recently liberated them.

Zalmay Khalilzad, for one, is more and more going to have to grapple with this dynamic, one senses:

Two days before the Feb. 22 attack on the shrine, Khalilzad publicly delivered an unusually blunt warning to Iraq's Shiite political leadership: They must yield control of the powerful security ministries or risk losing U.S. funding.

Rage at the terrorist attack on the shrine became entwined with anger at Khalilzad's comments, which were perceived by many Shiite politicians as an attempt to strip them of the power they believe they are entitled to as representatives of the country's majority community. Calls for Khalilzad's removal rang out from the pulpits of Shiite mosques.

"Zalmay Khalilzad is interfering in our internal affairs, and sometimes his statements are not well thought out," said Mohammed Taqi al-Mawla, a senior cleric with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the more powerful Shiite parties. "Given that he's a Muslim, and an Afghan, he belongs to a specific group, and he shouldn't show bias toward that group."

The allegation that Khalilzad, as a Sunni, is biased toward Sunnis is gaining ground among many Shiites, said Othman, the Kurdish legislator.

"I don't think it's true," he said. "But people are joking now that we need two American ambassadors, one Shiite and one Sunni."

Khalilzad insists his words were not intended to favor one group but were only to press a message he repeatedly has delivered: Iraqis need to compromise.

Meantime, I prefer to steer clear of breezy quasi-triumphalist declarations such as "Dude, Where's My Civil War" and instead continue to monitor the very real concerns of residents on the ground. No, I don't think civil war is inevitable. But it's still very much a real possibility. And, frankly, blaming the horrible MSM, in the main, for this sorry state of affairs strikes me as the height of idiocy. Breathtakingly so. Did so awful MoDo fail to insert sufficient troops to maintain order after the fall of Saddam? Did Nick Kristof fail to adequately secure the Syrian border from foreign infiltrators? Did Paul Krugman drop the ball on adequacy of detention facilities/interrogation tactics and the first year or so of the training and equipping effort? And was it, I forget, Bob Herbert who failed to anticipate or game-plan an Iraqi insurgency? Look, have I reached George Will and William Buckley levels of frustration, ie. that the project is inevitably doomed to failure whatever we do? No, I haven't. But we are currently engaged in an effort fraught with massive difficulty and peril, one where I continue to be concerned that fresh thinking and leadership is urgently needed at the Pentagon. Focusing on the actual war leadership, rather than beating up on the media like fooolish hysterics, might just get us somewhere....

MORE: More on the state of train and equip from points MIT.


Posted by Gregory at March 7, 2006 01:05 PM | TrackBack (0)
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Freedom is on the March!

This is all better than doing nothing!

Hussein was prepared to destroy Western Civilization!

Remember 9-11!

Bin Laden is hiding in Hussein's mansions of mass destruction!

To destroy terrorism you need to destroy Hussein!

------------------------------

Fools! The lot of you!

Posted by: NeoDude at March 7, 2006 05:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg's post covers some well-trodden ground, so I will too.

I had essentially the same criticism of Khalilzad's statement two days before the Askariya mosque bombing -- while recognizing that the statement itself may not have had much of an impact on the events following the bombing. The message that "Iraqis need to compromise" is never going anywhere in the context created by the insurgency.

Why not? Because integral to the insurgency for over two years now have been repeated attacks -- numbering in the thousands by now -- on Shiite and Kurdish government officials, soldiers, policemen and civilians. Iraqi insurgents need to desist, not compromise; Sunni Arab leaders need to take the initiative to suppress, by whatever means, insurgents who will not desist.

Will they? That is the key question, because if they do not there is no way the non-Sunni Arab majority will do what Khalilzad is asking them to. Indeed, key elements of that majority will likely accelerate movement in the direction Khalilzad does not wish them to go, toward increasing sectarian control of the security services and increasingly frequent reprisal killings of Sunni Arab civilians.

Once again, no statement by an American ambassador should be expected to alter fundamentally the realities on the ground. But the comments about Khalilzad's statement before the Askariya bombing are telling. We are not dealing here with parties nursing similar, roughly equivalent grievances. However disagreeable are some of the elements in the Shiite community -- and some of them are pretty bad from any standpoint -- Iraq's Shiites are clearly the wronged party. Shiite leadership (and to a lesser extent its Kurdish counterpart) has long displayed far more forebearance in the face of the insurgency than we had any right to expect two years ago, and has gotten nothing for it except more suicide bombs and drive-by shootings. In this situation American spokesmen need to be especially careful to avoid statements that appear to confuse cause and effect; that criticize the Shiite response to the insurgency without recognizing that it is mostly the insurgency that is driving that response.

Posted by: Zathras at March 7, 2006 06:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hey Greg how come no mention of these facts: The "insurgency"got more than a year head start on planning and setting up because we went to the U.N. at the behest of our "friends" who were simultaneously stabbing us in the back. How about Sen. Jay Rockefeller who committed treason by alerting our enemies(Assad) that we were coming more than a year before the war started? How about Turkey bailing on us and not allowing the 4th I.D. in through the north? You know why? Because knowing that the Turks want to get into the E.U. Chirac and Schroeder you know were telling them don't even think about letting the americans through. What about the hundreds of millions of dollars in the area because of the oil for food joke? How about Saddam releasing 100,000 hardened criminals from prison on the eve of the war? The greatest generation lost more soldiers in one day on one beach inFrance than we have lost around the world in over five years. Instead of ripping on Don Rumsfield all the time maybe you can write something on his brilliance with unleashing the special forces in places like the phillipines, thailand, malaysia, singapore, indonesia, bangladesh, mali, niger, chad, tunisia, morrocco, senegal,mauratania, ethiopia etc. I'll take Bill Roggio over at The Fourth Rail over you every day of the week.

Posted by: allen at March 7, 2006 06:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jim Henley (http://www.highclearing.com/) ripped Mr. Peters' post, rending it from limb to limb. Suffice to say that the man is a liar or a fool.

I'd add that Mr. Peters seems to think that the normal way to observe Baghdad is from the middle of a US Army platoon; he didn't grab a Humvee and drive around, or take a cab. That, right there, says a lot - that an intelligence officer can't safely cruise the streets of the allegedly secured capital, almost three years after 'Mission Accomplished'.

Posted by: Barry at March 7, 2006 06:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The "insurgency"got more than a year head start on planning and setting up because we went to the U.N. at the behest of our "friends" who were simultaneously stabbing us in the back."

Er, ummmm.... huh?!?!

Who's your dealer? Where can I score some of that stuff? Whatever it is, it plainly launches you into a whole *other* reality.....

Posted by: sglover at March 7, 2006 07:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The competing reality visions in the Iraq debate are akin to the ceaseless creation/evolution jawboning, because with Iraq you also have a failure to understand human nature.

I was at a busstop once, and a couple started arguing, and the guy started slapping the girl. When I grabbed the guy to restrain him, the girl started hitting me, screaming at me to leave her man alone. That's Iraq, plain and simple. I ended up punching out both those crackheads to end the situation, and I left the scene not feeling one bit better about my "intervention."

Today the Sunni general in command of Bagdhad was killed by his own troops. We got to leave them bitches to fight it out alone.

Posted by: Creepy Dude at March 7, 2006 07:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's hard to know how to respond to some of the postings on this site. As the situation has steadily deteriorated in Iraq, the drummers for this fiasco have steadily moved through elation, jingoism, defiance, to the terminal stages of their fever, denial. It is quite simply a disaster for the USA at just about every level as even some of the leading drummers like Buckley, Fuyukama, Sullivan and Will are at last conceding. They are moving out of denial, why don't you join them because until we admit just how catastrophic this has been we are not going to be able to develop sensible strategies to get ourselves out of this hole.

Posted by: John at March 7, 2006 09:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Creepy, aren't you overstating it a bit? The general was killed by a sniper, there's no way to tell whether it was one of his own troops or not. And Casey said it won't impede the army he was commanding at all.

There were people speculating that the enemy had inside information, but it could just as easily have been sheer luck. A normal garden-variety ambush, and the general got out to look at it and they accidentally got him instead of somebody else.

This is pretty normal, the iraqi army is trying to use the roads and so they get ambushed; our own forces travel by air whenever possible. But the iraqi army essentially has no airforce. And of course their armored vehicles aren't nearly as good as ours, and a lot of units don't have armored vehicles.

I'm sure by the time they finish spinning it, it won't be anything unusual at all. The iraqi army can expect to lose maybe half a dozen generals a year, it's expected and nothing to be concerned about, and it's only the media jumping on it that makes it look like there's anything wrong there.

Posted by: J Thomas at March 7, 2006 09:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas- you're viewing a general getting taken out by a sniper as some lucky shot??? Talk about optimism.

What's next-you tell me fatal headwounds prevent Alzheimers?

Posted by: Creepy Dude at March 7, 2006 10:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Buckley, Fuyukama, Sullivan and Will "

Pardon but of those only Sullivan was a beating drummer, and he still seems to be prowar, though strongly antiRumsfeld.

Posted by: liberalhawk at March 7, 2006 10:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Zathras: Sunni Arab leaders need to take the initiative to suppress, by whatever means, insurgents who will not desist.

The problem here is that the insurgents have most of the military force, so the Sunni leaders who are negotiating with the Shiites and Kurds don't have the ability to suppress them.

People keep making the same mistake, which is to assume the Sunnis are a united group. Actually, they are highly divided, with the main political organization being various tribes that compete with each other. The tribal sheiks are at least half interested in cutting a deal with the central government, because they know the insurgency can never win. The problem is the insurgency is at war with many of the Sunni tribal leaders, and it is the insurgents who have the main military power.

Khalilzad is right that the Sunni tribal leaders won't join the government unless the Shiite militias are removed from the governemt. The problem is the Shiite religious parties want to establish a theocracy and know they can't do this unless their militias are in the goverment, so they are refusing to give in to the Sunnis in this matter. The whole situation looks pretty stuck to me.

Posted by: Les Brunswick at March 8, 2006 12:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Les has it right..."the whole situation looks pretty stuck". Iraq is not a unified nation but a nation of groups, tribes, religious sects and special interest groups. None of the groups are able to move off "stupid". If they dare, one of the other groups attacks them, physically, not just in the press, they attack, murder, assassinate, kidnap, terrorize. They, Muslims, Arabs whatever, seem to know no boundaries, they have little regard for what we consider basic civilized behavior. IMHO, we are just treading water here...damned if we leave and damned if we stay.

Posted by: JD at March 8, 2006 01:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Unleashing the Special Forces in Singapore!?! SINGAPORE!?!?!? Did they clear the Raffles Hotel of neferious elements sipping Singapore Slings? Close down the nasi goreng vendors in the food courts? Break up an Islamofascists ring of gum smugglers? I'm on the wrong side of 40, out of shape, and Singapore isn't my favorite place in SE Asia, but I'm willing to relieve the Special Forces of their Singapore duties until we can stand down by getting the Singaporeans to stand up.

JD, ever hear of Sierra Leone and the RUF? The LRD in Uganda? The "glorious" Tatamadaw in Burma? None of them are Muslim or Arab, so I don't know why the don't know any boundaries and have little regard for civilized behavior. Maybe it is just the nature of civil war.

Posted by: aiontay at March 8, 2006 03:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's the nature of humanity. Americans are no different. Check out the Sand Creek Massacre.

Posted by: creepy dude at March 8, 2006 03:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Creepy Dude,

I carry my great, great grandfather's name. The original Aiontay was married four times (he must have been a difficult man to get along with). My family comes out of the second marriage, but his fourth marriage was to a woman whose Kiowa name was "Cheyenne Woman". She was born and raised among the Kiowas, but Cheyenne Woman's mother was a pregnant 15-year old Cheyenne girl in Black Kettle's camp at Sand Creek when Chivington attacked. She escaped and made it to Kicking Bird's camp, which was to the west that year, and stayed with the Kiowas, never returning to her people. Chivington was a Methodist pastor, not a Sunni or Shi'ite cleric, and his troops weren't Arabs, but that didn't keep them from cutting off and out the genitals of men and women and proudly displaying them from their saddles as they rode back into Denver.

You're right; it is the nature of humanity.

Posted by: aiontay at March 8, 2006 04:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

That's heavy Aiontay.

I think there's also a good element in human nature too though. And I hope it wins out in Iraq.

Posted by: creepy dude at March 8, 2006 04:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg,

I applaud you for taking a clear stand against the despicable "the MSM lost us the war in Iraq" meme winding its way around the blogs of some more conscienceless demagoges.

Even leaving aside the blindingly obvious point that wars are won and lost by the people who fight them, I could wallpaper my house with MSM puff pieces published about this war between 2001 and 2005. Even the New York Times reliably prints one soldier's eye view, "I believe in the cause" story for every actual news story about actual events.

No media organization is ignoring the "good side" of events in Iraq. The public's negativity is here because they can tell the meaningless puff pieces from the stories about significant events. And there hasn't been a good significant event in Iraq since the purple fingers.

Posted by: glasnost at March 8, 2006 05:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The path of conventional wisdom Les Brunswick is treading goes in circles.

Sunni tribal leaders want, or maybe want, or might want, to "cut a deal" with the government. But, they have no military power, see, so they cannot confront the insurgents. Why, then, would the government want to "cut a deal" with them? A tricky question, that; fortunately it's not even an issue, because while the Sunni are this complex and misunderstood amalgam of tribes and traditions and what have you, the much more numerous Shiites of Iraq are dominated by unreasonable religious parties bent on establishing a theocracy through their militias.

Look, the problem is not that some Americans posting on comment boards can be a little obtuse about the effect being threatened, shot at and blown up over a period of two years or more can have on people. The problem is that the dynamic created by the insurgency is eroding the distinction between insurgents and other Sunni Arabs in the minds of other Iraqis. And it doesn't matter that I don't believe Sunni Arab leaders who claim to want to work with the government and oppose the insurgency, if only the militias aren't threatening them. The problem -- their problem -- is that fewer and fewer Iraqis outside the Sunni Arab population believe them. Honestly, considering insurgent tactics it is a wonder we are talking about a possible civil war now instead of having had to face it a year or eighteen months ago. The wonder is due largely to the forebearance of the very Shiite senior clerics of whose theocratic leanings people are so terrified. That forebearance is wearing very thin, among the clerics' followers if not among the clerics themselves.

Posted by: Zathras at March 8, 2006 06:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Allen, you are right about our 'friends' stabbing us in the back. However, you misspelled 'GOP' as 'UN'. Odd mistake, that. Must be the drugs.

Posted by: Barry at March 8, 2006 04:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"It's hard to know how to respond to some of the postings on this site. As the situation has steadily deteriorated in Iraq, the drummers for this fiasco have steadily moved through elation, jingoism, defiance, to the terminal stages of their fever, denial. It is quite simply a disaster for the USA at just about every level as even some of the leading drummers like Buckley, Fuyukama, Sullivan and Will are at last conceding. They are moving out of denial, why don't you join them because until we admit just how catastrophic this has been we are not going to be able to develop sensible strategies to get ourselves out of this hole. "

Posted by: John

John, it's because the supporters of this war have been generally either deluded, or deluding. The deluded find it hard to admit; the deluding are simply gonna continue lying. It's worked so far, and they've got to have something to keep the blame from themselves.

The "it's the media's/liberals'/Iranians'/Iraqis' fault" theme is strong in the air these days, and will undoubtedly get stronger.

Posted by: Barry at March 8, 2006 04:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Zathras: The problem is that the dynamic created by the insurgency is eroding the distinction between insurgents and other Sunni Arabs in the minds of other Iraqis.

There is a lot of truth to that statement. Fortunately, the Shiite leadership has so far kept its head and is still trying to negotiate an agreement with the Sunni non-insurgent leadership. You seem to agree:
Honestly, considering insurgent tactics it is a wonder we are talking about a possible civil war now instead of having had to face it a year or eighteen months ago. The wonder is due largely to the forebearance of the very Shiite senior clerics of whose theocratic leanings people are so terrified. That forebearance is wearing very thin, among the clerics' followers if not among the clerics themselves

As you half admit, the Sunnis, and in particular most of the tribal leaders, are not united behind the insurgency. If that were not the case, then the situation would be completely hopeless.

The tribal leaders have always been opposed to the Baathists. Tribes are basically little kingdoms, and the Baathist regime wanted to take away all the sheiks' power and transfer it to the central government. The Baathists did manage to buy off some of them, but now the Baathists are out of power and the tribal leaders see the insurgency can't win, and so they have an interest in joining up with the new government.

Here is something else on the situation:
http://www.strategypage.com/qnd/iraq/articles/20060308.aspx

Posted by: Les Brunswick at March 9, 2006 12:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Les Brunswick,

I think you and many of the other commentators are missing a big chunk of the equation. Everyone talks about the Shi'ite militias, but I haven't seen a lot of details about them. For example, how many different militias are there? How many members do they have? Have their numbers increased, declined, stayed steady in the last, say two, years? What economic resources have they siezed to fund themselves? Those are just basic questions, but if you answer them, then we're on the road to making an educated answer to the original question in this post.

The RUF never had any serious popular support, but that didn't prevent them from devestating Sierra Leone.

Posted by: aiontay at March 9, 2006 01:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, there is your problem. While the Shiite leadership, or most of it, seeks to negotiate with non-insurgent Sunni leaders, Shiites not in the leadership are losing whatever sense they had that there is such a thing as a non-insurgent Sunni leader.

Once again, it doesn't matter what I think of Sunni Arab tribal or other leaders' conduct toward the insurgents. I don't get to decide whether the optimistic and perhaps wishful reports about armed tribal opposition to al Qaeda in Iraq balance daily murders of Shiite civilians and government employees by Sunni Arab insurgents. All I get to do is say here that based on my reading of events in Iraq, whatever Sunni Arab leaders are doing to oppose the insurgency, it isn't enough. They have let too much water pass under the bridge to expect to avoid being blamed by non-Sunni Arab Iraqis for continued insurgent terrorism.

Posted by: Zathras at March 9, 2006 05:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yankee, Go Home!

Posted by: Billy Ali at March 9, 2006 05:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Great analogy with Kosovo(Albanians) vs Serbia. Amazing after oh.. 10 years or so of playing with the mess that is the Balkans the current
administration did not take long standing ethnic/religious animosities
more seriously.

Posted by: mike at March 9, 2006 11:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

While the Shiite leadership, or most of it, seeks to negotiate with non-insurgent Sunni leaders, Shiites not in the leadership are losing whatever sense they had that there is such a thing as a non-insurgent Sunni leader.

Two points. One is, while it seems pretty clear that more Shiites not in the leadership are totally outraged at the Sunnis than was the case in the past, I don't know what proportion of all Shiites they are. Does anyone have some recent survey data?

The other is that it matters what the Shiite leadeship thinks, because they are the ones making the decisions. From what I have read, when the Golden Dome mosque was blown up, the Shiite leaders urged calm. If at some time they give up hope on the Sunni non-insurgency leadership, then it's all over. So far, however, they have not done that, and that is why I think there is still some hope of an agreement.

Posted by: Les Brunswick at March 10, 2006 01:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Are you including the militia commanders in the Shi'ite leadership?

Also, the fact that the militias exist and, as far as I can tell, increased their numbers and influence over the last two years makes it pretty clear and concrete (you don't get much more concrete than a bunch of guys with guns) exactly what decisions the Shiite leadership has been making. They've already set in motion a dynamic that they'll have trouble reversing, even if they want to now.

I still hope for some sort of agreement as well, but I'm afraid, both for us and for the Iraqi people, that is something of an irrational hope. If there is any consolation for a pessemist like me, it is that I'll actually feel pretty good if I'm proven wrong.

Posted by: aiontay at March 10, 2006 03:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Charles K. has a very interesting commentary here : http//www.realclearpolitics.com/Commentary/com-3_10_06_CK.html wherein he points out that the Shia-Kurd "alliance" has deteriorated and there are signs that the Kurds are now alligning themselves with the Sunnis. I believe that the Kurds are also Sunni. This could be a very positive change in that it reduces the isolation of the Sunni minority and it is likely to open fissures within the Shia alliance. I have always felt that Sadr's very open identity with Iran and his admiration for the Iranian theocracy do not sit well with other elements among the Shia. I believe that Sadr's dream is to be the Supreme ayatolla (pardon my spelling) at the head of a fundamental Islamic state in Iraq. I also believe that other, cooler heads among the Shia do not feel that his desires are in the best interest of Iraq or of the Shias generally. Certainly we are not the only ones who see the failure to achieve a coalition gov't as leading to a breakup of the country with the Kurds seizing much of the northern oil fields.

I also feel that with the support of the Kurds, it is more likely that those of the Sunnis who are opposed to the insurgency will be more inclined to take on the insurgent elements both Baathist and AQ. This failure is what many of the above posts lament about.

This change in heart of the Kurds bears watching, if it is true.

Michael

Posted by: Michael Pecherer at March 11, 2006 01:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sadr can't possibly become Supreme Ayatollah. He doesn't have the education. He can only be a political, military, and social leader because he doesn't know how to be a great religious leader. He gets some status from his dead father and his dead brothers, but that only carries him so far.

Kurds and sunnis together still don't win elections, they still lose 4:5 -- other things equal. To win in a democratic system they'd need to ally with more than 10% of shias. Of major shia groups, Sadr's is the one that gets quoted most about reaching out to them ... but our news is filtered so thoroughly that we really can't figure much.

Kurds are sunnis and shias both, I don't remember which is the greater part. But here's an analogy that doesn't fit closely but that gets the idea across -- american blacks are largely protestant but some of them are catholic. If american whites got all upset and divisive between protestants and catholics, would you expect blacks to do the same or would they tend to consider their own interests apart from white interests?

Posted by: J Thomas at March 11, 2006 04:48 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Via steve clemons.,..

Nir Rosen discusses Iraq/Iran issues in Foreign Policy....

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=3412

Posted by: p.lukasiak at March 11, 2006 04:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


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