Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sucks to be al-Maliki. And, why Iraq is completely unlike Vietnam.

I suppose simply being an Iraqi politician sucks, since no matter which side you're on there are at least a few million people that want you dead. But Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has it bad even among this unfortunate bunch, because arguably his two most powerful supporters are demanding opposite things from him.

President Bush is planning on meeting with Maliki in four days. However, Muqtada al Sadr has just demanded that Maliki refuse to see Bush. Al Sadr commands one of the most powerful militias in Iraq, and his faction controls a huge number of Maliki's parliament seats. So if al-Maliki meets with Bush, al Sadr quits the government and the whole thing collapses. Alternatively, if al-Maliki refuses to meet with Bush, then US support will rightfully be removed and the government will collapse that way.

It seems to me that al Sadr is doing this intentionally. These actions will have no other effect than to bring down the current government. And ultimately that may not be a bad thing, as it clearly isn't working or even improving. We must not be quick to condemn al Sadr, though. His goals are a strong independent Iraq, free from Iranian domination, and he has in the past been willing to ally with Sunnis. He will be a natural ally in the future. Allow me to explain.

There are more battles going on in Iraq than just Sunnis vs Shiites. Within the Sunni community, the secular faction (former Baathists) are fighting the fundamentalists (Al Qaeda). In the Shiite community, al Sadr's group is fighting the Iranian backed Badr militia. These intra-sectarian battles aren't the major source of fighting at this time, but they would be as soon as US forces left the main part of the country.

With these differences in mind, the US should withdraw to Kurdistan and from there seek to accomplish four goals:

1. Negotiate a peace between the Kurds and Turkey, which would include getting the Kurds to reign in the PKK terrorist group that is acting in Turkey.

2. Supporting secular Sunnis against their fundamentalist enemies (Al Qaeda). This will be easy, since the secular Sunnis are already winning hands down from what I've been reading.

3. Be prepared to support al Sadr's nationalist Shiite movement against the Iranian-backed SCIRI and their Badr military wing. The Badr might accurately be thought of as an Iraqi version of Hezbollah.

4. Negotiate an alliance between these three national Iraqi groups (the Kurds, secular Sunnis, and nationalist Shiites). This would involve resolving points of dispute, such as the current Sunni-Kurd battle over Kirkuk. With some real diplomacy, I think these differences could be hashed out. And with American military power preventing a complete takeover by one side, I think it might even be possible to entice these sides to come to agree on a democratic government.

Regardless of what people are saying, Iraq is not Vietnam. In Vietnam, we were fighting a single powerful, well organized, and well funded adversary - the communists. When we withdrew from Vietnam, the communists immediately took over. But in Iraq, we aren't fighting one faction. We're fighting many factions that are roughly equally matched. We won the conventional battle of Iraq, but now we see that doesn't mean we won the war. Now some people are saying just because we're losing the battle to stabilize Iraq and establish an independent democratic government, we've lost that war.

They're wrong. America hasn't won, but neither has anyone else. This thing is far from over.

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