Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Ignoring the real enemy

By Gareth Porter
Asia Times

"...In that setting, the most striking thing about the George W Bush administration's policy in 2006 was its inability to identify the primary enemy in Iraq.

Is it al-Qaeda in Iraq? President Bush often implies that it is the real enemy, suggesting that the US must fight the enemy in Iraq so it doesn't have to fight them at home.

Is it the armed Sunni resistance groups, who were the original target of a US counterinsurgency war that is now an all but officially admitted failure?

Or is it the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, which has been implicated in large-scale killings of Sunnis in the Baghdad area and which is aligned with Iran in the conflict between Washington and Tehran?

And what about the Badr Organization, which is known to be responsible for mass kidnapping, torture and what many now call ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from predominantly Shi'ite neighborhoods in Baghdad? .....

....The original source of the administration's confusion over its primary enemy in Iraq was the decision to sell the counterinsurgency war in Iraq to the US public in 2004-05 as a struggle between a nascent democratic state and anti-democratic forces in the country.

That public line obscured the underlying reality of a sectarian struggle for power complicated by the desire of the militant Shi'ite parties for revenge against Sunnis for Saddam Hussein's abuses.

Unfortunately, the White House and the Pentagon seem to have internalized their own propaganda line. When unmistakable evidence of the Shi'ite militias' sectarian violence against Sunnis emerged in 2005, the US administration was reluctant to admit that reality. Former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi lamented publicly in mid-2005 that US officials "have no vision and no clear policy" on preventing a downward spiral of sectarian violence.

That deficit in US policy was the consequence of the US administration's focus on defeating the Sunni resistance - an effort that required an alliance with the very militant Shi'ite forces who were behind the paramilitary violence against Sunnis.

But it became increasingly clear in 2005 that the alliance with Shi'ites against the Sunni resistance was not succeeding, because the resistance was growing stronger rather than weaker. In the latter half of 2005, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad became convinced that the United States had to win over Sunnis through a political compromise rather than defeating them militarily......

......The US administration has also warmed up to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and the militant Shi'ite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) in the hope of politically isolating the more openly anti-US Muqtada. Hakim and SCIRI, which are linked to the sectarian violence of the Badr Organization and are ideologically aligned with Iran, have been the strongest political force for sectarian war against Sunnis. They were the main target of Khalilzad's anti-sectarian rhetoric a year ago.......

.....Bush's de facto support for militant Iraqi Shi'ites against the anti-jihadist Sunni resistance has been a losing proposition from every perspective. It has increased regional tensions by appearing to strengthen Iraqi forces aligned with Iran, fueled sectarian war, and eased the pressure on the one enemy on which most US citizens might agree should be targeted - al-Qaeda in Iraq. Clarifying the murky logic driving that policy and its consequences may be a major preoccupation of US Senate committees in 2007."

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