Monday :: Apr 5, 2004

Doubts Emerge About Our Chances In Iraq As Shias and Sunnis Join Forces Against Us

by Steve

Doubts about our chances in Iraq are springing up tonight from not only outside the Administration but from within as well. USA Today runs a piece in Tuesday’s paper quoting not only Juan Cole, but others who feel that Paul Bremer has blown it, so much so that Rummy had to cancel the rotation out of 24,000 troops late today.

"This weekend's violence was a major, major event," says Kenneth Katzman, an Iraq expert at the Congressional Research Service, discussing the deaths of eight American troops in clashes with al-Sadr's followers. "It could signal the start of the Shiite community turning against the occupation authority."

The starkest evidence that the U.S. position in Iraq has deteriorated was the Pentagon's decision Monday to suspend the rotation home of about 24,000 U.S. troops. After an emergency conference among military officials Monday, a top military official at U.S. Central Command said the Pentagon was holding the troops in place to help stop the violence in Iraq from spreading out of control. The Pentagon is also looking at options for bringing even more U.S. troops from bases overseas or in the United States.

Until now, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has vigorously rejected suggestions that more troops were needed to stabilize Iraq, although adding that the final decision would be up to commanders on the ground. The abrupt reversal carries political risks and conveys a message about U.S. progress in Iraq that seems much less confident than the one the administration has been trying to send.

In another ominous development, militants in Fallujah announced Monday that they were sending supporters to bolster al-Sadr, an unusual meshing of Sunni and Shiite extremists.

"Both sides are playing against the middle, and the middle is you," says Amatzia Baram, an Israeli who studies the Shiites at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington. He warns that the situation could become more violent on April 12, when millions of Shiites celebrate the second most important day on their religious calendar — the 40th day after the death of the Imam Hussein, a major Shiite figure whose death in 680 A.D. at the hands of the reigning Muslim caliph is a central element in Shiite theology. Baram suggests that coalition forces do not move against al-Sadr until after that day.

Some critics assert that the administration made a serious error by acting to target al-Sadr instead of continuing to treat him as a marginal figure. Al-Sadr has relatively low religious ranking and is too young to be seen by most Iraqis as an authority on religious doctrine. A majority of devout Iraqi Shiites follow the dictates of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a more senior theologian, who has criticized the U.S. occupation but urged Iraqis not to take up arms against it.

Al-Sadr supports creation of an Iranian-style Islamic state in Iraq and would like to see himself as Iraq's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Iranian cleric who led Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979, says Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan. By going after al-Sadr, the coalition has vastly increased support for him among Iraq's Shiite majority and Iraqis at large, Cole says. "We've not only elevated him but turned sympathizers into dedicated cadre," Cole says. "I'm flabbergasted. This was gross incompetence. The CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) is an extremely weak organization in Iraq, U.S. troop strength was going down and we're in the middle of a rotation to greener troops. At this point you open a second front?"

Cole says that if U.S. forces should try to arrest al-Sadr in the mosque, they would risk "another Waco," referring to the deaths of more than 75 members of the Branch Davidian religious cult when the FBI stormed their headquarters in Waco, Texas, in 1993.

Baram says pressure should be applied on Sistani and other mainstream Shiites to condemn al-Sadr. But Sistani has already expressed support for al-Sadr's goal of overturning an interim constitution that limits Shiite power. There is a danger that al-Sadr could "eclipse Sistani," Baram says. "And then I would say, you lost Iraq."

And such concerns are not just limited to those on the outside. Knight-Ridder got quotes today from not only those on the outside, but also anonymous Administration insiders who feel we’re in trouble.

"It's a lot more serious than the Bush administration is letting on," said Shibley Telhami, an analyst at the Brookings Institution, a center-left policy-research center. He returned last week from the Middle East. "At first we were told the opposition was Saddam loyalists, then it became the Sunnis in general, now we're told it's only one leader of the Shia. They are not coming to grips with the greater realities of the opposition in Iraq. It's far more widespread than the administration is letting on."

Talk of additional forces in Iraq is a major departure from White House predictions that the U.S.-led invasion would be hailed by Iraqis. "I really do believe we will be greeted as liberators," Vice President Dick Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press" in March 2003. A month later, Wolfowitz told foreign journalists that the U.S. entered Iraq "as liberators, not as occupiers."

A year later, analysts voice skepticism.

"The original premise that the Iraqi people would greet us with open arms, I haven't seen," said Edward Walker, the head of the Washington-based Middle East Institute. "They (Bush administration) forgot about nationalism, and that Iraqis have been taught over the last 15 years that we are evil, and that we favor the Israelis. I think they were naive."

Some senior U.S. officials now say that with both Sunnis and Shiites rebelling against the occupation, they see no way out of Iraq, no way the United States can oversee a smooth transition to Iraqi democratic rule in the foreseeable future and little chance that U.S. forces in Iraq can restore security without more troops.

"The last thing you want in the months before the (American presidential) election is escalation," said one senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because his remarks were unauthorized and pessimistic. "But seeing Iraq descend into civil war probably would be even worse."

No shit.

Steve :: 10:34 PM :: Comments (6) :: Digg It!