Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Watch on the Tigris

The Iraqi government and the Coalition face three broad threats within Iraq: the Sunnis hoping for a Baathist return; the Sunnis hoping for a Sunni religious dictatorship; and Shias who hope for a Shia religious dictatorship. Four if you count the rampant criminal gangs, but they just help create chaos that allows the other threats to fight.

I've long considered the Baathists as the main threat to Iraq. Since just after the fall of Baghdad when the insurgency appeared, I didn't worry about the Islamists too much since they were all about killing Americans and not winning. The Baathists wanted to win. Defeat them and the rest will be easier to isolate and defeat.

The Shias who look to Iran haven't been able to draw too much support from the public as the April to August battles against the idiot Sadr the Younger showed, despite Iranian support.

The Sunni Islamist terrorists are the most isolated but carry out spectacular and bloody suicide attacks out of proportion to their numbers.

The Baathists at least could hope to appeal to a good part of the 20% of Iraq who call themselves Sunnis. The Sunnis at one time even appeared to have some chance of pulling in a good number of Shias by pretending to be a national resistance to an American occupation. The interim government built up the trust of Shias to split them from the Sunnis enough that in November 2004, the Shias accepted what they could not in April 2004—the capture of Fallujah. Elections have solidified the Shia support for the new Iraq.

The Sunni Baathists have taken a back seat to the al Qaeda types in the insurgency since the January 2005 elections. Even now talks appear to be underway that could bring some Sunnis in from the cold:

A Sunni Arab politician claimed Tuesday that two insurgent groups were willing to negotiate with the Shiite-led government, a disclosure that comes after reports that the government had opened indirect channels to some insurgents. Ayham Al-Samarie, a former Cabinet minister, told The Associated Press the two groups make up 50 percent of the Sunni-dominated insurgency.

With the Sunni Baathists looking to come in and the Shias unwilling to either join the Baathists or follow Sadr, are the Sunni Islamists the main threat now?

I still say no. Although we must work hard to halt the attacks simply because it is our (Iraq and the Coalition) duty to protect civilians, the Sunni Islamists simply cannot take over Iraq. While we should take efforts to stop infiltration from Syria and to halt Syrian efforts to aid this infiltration, we should not make the mistake of expanding the theater of war to include Syria in the mistaken belief that this will end the insurgency. Syria supports the vilest of the terrorists but they cannot threaten the government. These terrorists are in Iraq simply to kill and gain martyrdom:

The stream of fighters -- most of them Syrians, but lately many of them Saudis, favored for the cash they bring -- has sustained and replenished the hardest core of the Iraq insurgency, and supplied many of its suicide bombers. Drawn from a number of Arab countries and nurtured by a militant interpretation of Islam, they insist they are fighting for their vision of their faith. This may put them beyond the reach of political efforts to make Iraq's Sunni Arabs stakeholders in the country's nascent government.

This doesn't mean that no military force should be used against Syria, but it should be done as quietly as possible if we can. Things and places inside Syria should blow up. The big picture, however, is that Syria can be pressured to change, I think, like Libya. The Syrian government wants to survive and if we put enough pressure on them, I think they will bend to our will enough to end the Sunni Islamist threat in Iraq. We can't fight everyone with our military in full-blown battle, and Iran's nuclear and missile programs make Tehran our logical next target for major action that could—not "would" I hasten to add—require American military power.

This long-range Iranian nuclear threat (perhaps only a few years away) combined with Iran's near-term threat to a free Iraq, means Iran's mullahs must go. The Iranians, with their hopes of creating a puppet Shia government in Iraq, are now the greatest threat to the new Iraq, it seems clear:

According to several top U.S. officials, Iranian intelligence agents are actively trying to take over Iraq. The Iranian operation to destabilize Iraq has been going full steam since the collapse of Saddam's regime in April 2003.

Iran's local quisling, Muqtada al Sadr, is still alive and walking (and yapping) freely, to my continued amazement. Already defeated in two uprisings, I suspect we will see him in a third, when Iran makes another serious attempt to destroy a free, pro-American Iraq. The Shias may not be willing to follow Sadr, but if the Iranians fully back a Sadr-led pro-Iran coup and infiltrate Iranian spooks to pose as Shia Iraqis, it could have a chance at succeeding long enough to convince Americans to pull out in frustration, leaving Iraqis at the mercy of well-financed and armed thugs from Iran.

We are beating down the various threats that have emerged over the last two years and are successfully standing up an Iraqi government and security apparatus that will be able to take over the fight in time. The Sunni Baathists are seeking a way into the new Iraq as they see their hopes of a restoration fading. The Sunni Islamists only piss off all the Iraqis as the terrorists blow up anybody within reach. The domestic Shia Islamists are marginalized. The criminals will be put down when the other threats are beaten down.

Not too surprisingly, some who successfully advocated snatching American defeat from the jaws of victory in Vietnam (via Real Clear Politics) are again at it over Iraq. George McGovern wants us to get out of Iraq very soon. He says it isn't a cut-and-run suggestion but since we are already training Iraqis to fight the terrorists so we can leave as soon as we can, how could McGovern mean anything else? Otherwise, McGovern would be writing to support our current policies.

We are winning in Iraq and the failure of so many to see what seems self evident is bewildering to me. While the killing goes on, political developments have advanced so decisively over the last year that the insurgents are clearly losing this war. Insurgencies are about political measures to deprive the insurgents of new recruits and support from the population. Military means are only the shield to buy time for political action to take root. This is why I've never been a fan of body counts when looking at the war except in the narrow sense of showing tactical abilities. Yes, in buying time we want to kill lots of insurgents, but the killing is not the measure of success. If the enemy can recruit to replace losses, the body counts mean nothing as far as judging the success of the counter-insurgency.

We are winning. Have patience. But this does not mean victory is guaranteed. Only the threat from Iran to stage a coup with local loyalists like Sadr remains as a force to be broken. But it could be a potent threat if we let the Iranians initiate the last battle.

So for Pete's sake, take down Iran's government. They are a nuclear threat and a sponsor of terror and a threat to a new Iraq. We can't afford to wait years for the people of Iran to rise up on their own to throw out the mullahs. We must help them rise up to overthrow the mullahs before the mullahs strike to overthrow the new Iraqi democracy. We must be ready with military support for such a revolution.

If Iran strikes first, this generation's McGoverns may again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.